From a booming tech industry to a beautiful environment, Seattle has several qualities that are the envy of cities around the world.
Its transportation infrastructure, however, is certainly not one of them.
That’s why leaders from the region’s public and private sectors are working together to utilize new technology and come up with solutions that improve how Seattleites get around — both today and in the future.
Challenge Seattle, a new non-profit initiative led by former Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire that includes participation from 17 of the city’s top companies like Microsoft, Boeing, Amazon, and others, today announced a strategic vision to create a better transportation system in one of America’s fastest-growing cities.
Gregoire spoke at an event hosted by the University of Washington and was joined on stage by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray; Microsoft President Brad Smith; UW President Ana Mari Cauce; Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff; and PATH CEO Steve Davis.
“The number one issue for people in this region is transportation,” Gregoire said today. “This means transportation is the number one issue for our employees, our families, our neighbors.”
Compared to other growing cities worldwide, Seattle’s transportation infrastructure ranks among the bottom. While the city is making an effort to expand its light rail system and investing nearly $1 billion over the next decade to improve transportation, Challenge Seattle thinks that the private sector can help create even more solutions to alleviate traffic congestion and improve safety, among other goals.
The group, which also plans to tackle pressing issues like K-12 education and job creation, today outlined its grand vision to improve transportation in Seattle. Part of today’s announcement included a six-pronged collaborative strategy plan with goals like turning Interstate-5 into a “smart corridor”; building a better framework for coordinated operations and planning; putting citizens at the center of transportation planning; maintaining existing assets; creating a sustainable funding model; and integrating planning and policy development officials.
Challenge Seattle, funded by the participating businesses, plans to measure success based on five factors:
- Reliability: Average travel time and variability on key commuting routes.
- Safety: Number of fatalities and serious accidents.
- Equity: Proportion of income of residents/families spending on their transportation needs.
- Environmental: CO2 reductions based on vehicles.
- Business: Percent of single-occupancy vehicle transit by employees of major employers.
Challenge Seattle also today announced a new Mobility Innovation Center at the University of Washington which will bring together local government, the private sector and academic transportation experts to develop innovative solutions that improve the regional transportation infrastructure.
“Transportation affects our environment; it affects our economy; it affects our quality of life,” Cauce said today. “Dealing with these issues requires a collaborative approach, uniting the public sector, private sector, and academia. The University of Washington is proud to contribute to the regional prosperity and well being as a driver to the Puget Sound innovation ecosystem.”
Challenge Seattle also committed to have no more than 35 percent of its employees commuting via single-occupancy vehicles by 2035.
“This is about us all collectively coming together,” Gregoire said. “It’s not about pointing fingers or blame; it’s about embracing technology and innovation.”
Microsoft, meanwhile, will offer space on its campus to test intelligent highway solutions as part of the initiative. Smith told GeekWire that his company has a “responsibility to help.” He added that while Microsoft may not be developing autonomous vehicles, it has technologies that are needed to create smarter roads and connect cars on the transportation grid.
“From sensors, the Internet of Things, data analytics, machine learning, and things like Azure, we believe we have the technical resources to help contribute to solving this problem,” Smith said.
Tom Alberg, managing director at Madrona Venture Group, is also part of Challenge Seattle. He’s passionate about helping come up with transportation-related solutions, especially as it pertains to new technologies like self-driving cars and ride-sharing.
“I think our transportation planners haven’t caught up yet,” Alberg told GeekWire. “There’s going to be a big transition period and I think we need to move quickly to figure out how to integrate these technologies because they are coming.”
Challenge Seattle certainly has some ambitious goals. But the fact that Gregoire has been able to bring together top leaders from both the public and private spheres to tackle pressing issues like transportation says a lot about the shared mission of helping make Seattle a better place to live and work.
Rascoff, Zillow’s CEO, told GeekWire that his company’s success is directly linked to the “desirability and success of our region.”
“Challenge Seattle gives us an opportunity to amplify our influence,” Rascoff said. “When all these great companies come together, we can make a bigger difference than any of us could have on our own. It’s non-partisan and there are no specific political objectives or bend. We are tackling issues and solutions that really everybody should be able to get behind — we all want less traffic, we all want more educated kids, and we all want the region to have a better reputation as being economically vibrant.”