Data, Analytics Guide Transportation in San Diego

The information harvested from e-scooters and newer forms of mobility has helped San Diego shape the way these types of vehicles will become a part of the city.

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In various parts of the country, cities are using performance analytics and other mainstays of smart city technology to drive climate, transportation and development goals.

In San Diego, a city where roughly 80 percent of residents use a personal vehicle for transportation, leaders of the smart city effort have put in place climate action plans to reduce car use and incentivize high-density development.

“Nobody likes traffic. So I think if you can frame a number of the initiatives you’re taking in the mobility space, the smart city space, the climate space, as ‘this helps with traffic,’ that can get you a long way,” said Almis Udrys, chief of staff for innovation and policy in the mayor’s office in San Diego, speaking during a virtual panel discussion at the Smart Cities Connect Conference and Expo last week.

In 2014, San Diego established a Performance and Analytics department and formed a “Complete Communities” project with an aim to increase housing density, and thereby reduce vehicle use and traffic.

“But also, try to encourage development more in the urban core,” explained Udrys. The city is in the process of drafting a policy that would increase fees in areas where development would increase traffic.

“We’ve set the city up into four zones, and depending on which zone you’re in, you pay a higher fee, or are required to build mobility infrastructure with the project,” said Udrys.

In San Diego, newer forms of mobility like e-scooters arrived abruptly several years ago, prompting the city to quickly become a leader in the scooter management wars that cities found themselves in nearly overnight. Since then, officials have put the significant hauls of data the devices have collected to work to get deep insights into where bike lanes and other micro-mobility infrastructure should be located.

“It either confirmed where we thought we needed to put bike lanes, or it created new places where, ‘who knew that that’s the way people choose to go,’” said Udrys. “And then we were able to pivot if we needed to on where we were installing bike lanes.”

All of these efforts circle back to a central goal around using data and analytics as part of the mechanism to move San Diego toward a more sustainable horizon.

“Much of the leadership for our smart city initiatives does come from just our desire to be mindful and helpful to mitigating all the impacts around climate change,” said Udrys. “So whether that is the advent of the scooters, and wanting to encourage as much of that as an option for folks to want to get around as possible, because of greenhouse gas emission reductions, or our housing plans, which is about creating density and trying to reduce VMTs [vehicle miles traveled], all of these things are measurable.”

A longer version of this article first appeared in Government Technology, Techwire’s sister publication.

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas for Government Technology magazine.