Most transit discussions in Austin area talk about the city in general, Thursday’s Williamson County Growth Summit brought in a new twist in talks that spoke about the challenges facing the transportation sector.
The panel discussion hosted the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein, Uber Technologies Director Leandre Johns, RideScout LLC founder Joseph Kopser, and ArgoDesign’s Jared Ficklin, who is a transportation product designer proposing an aerial vehicle system for Central Austin. Their discussion mainly focused on how technology is transforming the face of transportation in Austin and across the world.
Mr. Heiligenstein said that new technologies such as ridesharing apps such as Uber and driverless vehicles could speedily transform the transport infrastructure and that the Austin area needs to grow its transportation capabilities, particularly by constructing smarter roads. It’s the only way to meet the demands of a rapidly growing city where most of the growth happens in the suburbs like Williamson County. The chairman, Mr. Alan McGraw also emphasized on the issue concerning policy-making in the city, and he said that the land-use-codes and buildings should remain flexible so as to accommodate future technology. He also said that when one has an autonomous car, people are still going to be using the same roads and parking garages but in a different way.
The parking garages of the next century will only have measurements of five feet as their height, meaning that they’ll only be an inch taller than the vehicle itself. It will also have multiple levels, with a service station on one level and a charging station on the other level. Currently, this doesn’t fit any description of our current garages now.
The idea of autonomous vehicles came up severally in the discussion but Mr. Heiligenstein was cold on the matter, and all he said about it is that Austin’s adoption rate for those kinds of vehicles is going to be slow. As the meeting came to a close, Mr. Johns raised an issue concerning commuters in Austin requiring the first- and last-mile solutions so as to get them off and onto public transportation.
About Mike Heiligenstein and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority
The CTRMA is an independent government body developed in 2002 to upgrade the transportation system in Travis and Williamson counties. Their primary agenda is to implement multi-modal and innovative transportation solutions that ease traffic and make transportation choices that employ economic vitality. CTRMA made of a team of seven members.
The Governor brings in his selection of the Chairman, while the Williamson and Travis county commissioner’s courts elect three members to serve them. Mike Heiligenstein, the Director of Mobility Authority, leads the small group of professionals. He also hires private contractors to provide staffing support when needed.