Transportation Summit & Expo shows the possibilities of new mobility options By Mark Wey
Expert speakers, a fully autonomous vehicle (AV), beautiful cars and smiling faces energized the 2020 Transportation Summit & Expo, held Feb. 6-8 in Seaside. Sponsored by the Seaside Institute, the expo brought together Walton County planners, nationwide transportation experts and the public at large to discuss the future of mobility along 30A. The first day focused on specific issues around transportation and a view of the future with AVs. Learning from challenges and experiences of other congested cities such as San Francisco, the goal was to provide a meaningful backdrop to the county’s mobility plan and attempt to eliminate the ideas that were ultimately less effective than anticipated.
The summit focused on five key topics:
• Designing roads and walkways for safety
• Moving people, not cars; providing options to single-family autos
• Sharing and managing data (measuring progress)
• Coding the curb (i.e., controlling the curb space, such as reserving early morning hours for deliveries)
• Changing behavior through pricing
As could be expected, with over 70 people attending, the dialogue was extensive, insightful, and at times, highly debated.
The first key takeaway from the discussion is the need for significant changes along 30A around infrastructure, roadway design, pedestrian and bicycle paths, parking, and drop-off and delivery zones. The county planners have done a great deal of homework and have considered several options. Conceptually, the separate speed design lanes appear to have broad support. Still, the final designs and details have yet to be decided, giving county officials and 30A residents time to discuss the various solutions to implement while mitigating the impact on the residents and tourists.
The second is the concept of reducing congestion to reduce traffic flow. Although the plan doesn’t take everyone off the road, it reduces congestion ‘just enough’ to create a continuous flow of traffic.
Seasonality and annual averages provide different challenges to the overall designs, and county officials are targeting a 20 percent reduction with their plan. The plan intends to eliminate approximately 3,600 trips per day at peak and 2,400 trips per day on average.
The third is the significant increase in the infrastructure needed to deliver valid AV transportation. For most AVs, the network and Internet capability for them to operate extensively does not exist today, nor does the overarching infrastructure to support them.
In particular, the ability to see pedestrians who dart into the street is a capability in the newer versions of the AV. However, it is not a feature in all AVs. The redesign of “in-vehicle” hardware and software architecture for autonomous operation exists today, but where they have been most successful is in purpose-designed AVs for large scale deployment.
Lastly, electric vehicles, more popularly seen on the roads, have their advantages and drawbacks. Although they are environmentally friendly, their range is generally short, they take time to re-charge and charging stations are not readily available. Compatible space needs to be created in the overall design.
The expo began on day two, highlighting vendors and the AV. Seven vendor booths displayed multiple forms of transportation, and the county mobility plan concepts. Beep, a fully autonomous vehicle that can hold up to 12 people, conducted an estimated 60 demonstration trips with more than 450 riders over the two days of the expo. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive from both the riders and Beep. The expo provided Beep the opportunity to operate in a real-time, real-life environment in our crowded town square.
Alternative forms of transportation were on display for the general public to explore. The Beach Trolley, reminiscent of San Francisco trolleys, will soon be operational along 30A. The expectation is March or April 2020. The Electric Cart Company displayed a total of four new carts, which included a 12-passenger mini mass-transit vehicle, named the “bus.” Pedego also displayed electric bikes, with many attendees taking test drives. All were surprised at just how fast they were.
On the more traditional side, Porsche of Destin wowed attendees with three 2020 models, including the new all-electric Taycan. Also on display was the Porsche Cayenne Hybrid and the 911.
Saturday included luxury car owner clubs who joined the fun. Mercedes, Porsche and Tesla, both corporate and owners, brought more than 45 cars for guests to see and experience. Porsche was by far the most significant participant on Saturday, bringing 27 cars, highlighted by a beautiful 1960 classic.
Walton County displayed the 13 road change concepts for the 30A Corridor and engaged the general public for comments, suggestions and questions as to how the specific vehicles might fit within those concepts.
The energy and excitement of the three days of activities was contagious. The productive dialogue continues to move the process forward with the public, county, and transportation experts coming together to make this a significant, meaningful and successful expo.
The evolution of our roads shifts as cities grow and societies transform. Initially, street designs focused on vehicles, first horse and buggies, then automobiles. Today, road designs have multiple purposes and more types of transportation to consider.
The future brings even more choices. The emergence of the AV promises exciting things to the world of transportation, including safety, decreased carbon footprints and reduced congestion.
Let the conversation and progress continue.
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