Researchers from universities across Michigan are hoping to revitalize transportation in the state that’s famous for its once illustrious auto industry.
The University Research Corridor — an organization composed of administrators from the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University — is starting a new multi-disciplinary consortium that will work toward formulating solutions for transportation problems in the state.
The new program, called Transforming Transportation: Economies & Communities, will host a summit in Detroit this October, in order to jumpstart the brainstorming process.
Matt Seeger, chair of the Department of Communication at Wayne State University, said the goal of the consortium is to bring together a group of scholars interested in addressing transportation problems in the state.
Seeger said the state’s transportation challenges are multi-faceted and that solutions that focus on just one area won’t be successful.
“It’s not a technological fix by itself; it’s a systemic fix,” he said. “We have to be able to understand human behavior, economics, politics, as well as the technology to be able to address these problems.”
Seeger said the topics discussed at the summit could have a huge impact on the Detroit area, where transportation largely affects the economy.
“Southeast Michigan is a really wonderful network for exploring these questions,” he said. “We know that transportation resources can really be the heart of economic transformation. This is the place where the car was invented and this is where transportation can be reinvented.”
At the upcoming summit the consortium plans to bring together scholars and researchers from many different fields, in addition to representatives from stakeholder groups and the national transportation community, Seeger said.
“This is an opportunity to get everyone together at the same table and have discussions about what are the important issues and how can we put together research teams across the universities and across disciplines to explore these issues,” he said.
Susan Zielinski, managing director of the Sustainable Mobility and Accessibility Research and Transformation initiative — a part of the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute — wrote in an e-mail interview that the most pressing transportation challenges are in urban areas because half of the world’s population lives in cities.
Overcrowding in cities poses a challenge for the transportation industry, as it leads to problems like congestion, social inequity and commuting, according to Zielinski.
Zielinski wrote that she would like to see the consortium discuss integrated transportation systems that would allow opportunities for people to share car rides and use free bicycles.
She also wrote that she would like to see new advances in technology, with ideas like “door-to-door wayfinding,” a method in which someone would be able to enter their origin and destination into their computer or mobile phone, and then find out all modes of transportion they could take to reach their destination.
Though the initiatives will begin in Detroit, Zielinski wrote that the consortium’s ideas are beginning to move to a national and global level.
“Given the context of urbanization and economic challenge, all areas of the country benefit from more sophisticated, optimized, cost effective and user-focused systems,” she wrote.