Its Silicon Valley location has long been a boon to the tech-forward city of Fremont, but that proximity has brought with it a significant rise in commuter traffic. Now, city officials hope that joining the Startup in Residence program and leveraging a partnership with the makers of a popular travel app will help them manage gridlock by keeping drivers on the freeway.
An RFP is expected this month and the city intends to review applications from interested startups during November and December. A 16-week residency to design, build and test a solution should happen from January to May 2019, with a demonstration day likely in May or June.
Fremont is, in some ways, a victim of the region's explosive growth. The surrounding region added 152,000 jobs in the last four years, Public Works Director Hans Larsen said, but only around 28,000 new housing units — creating "huge, monster commutes." Fremont's location, between affordable housing to the east and tech jobs to the south, accounts for about 40 percent of its congestion as commuters enter the city on the freeway, but switch to surface streets and highways when it backs up.
Fremont’s existing Smart City Plan has helped it match innovation with the traffic challenges, Economic Development Director Christina Briggs said via email. In 2015, the city began working with Caltrans to monitor and adjust freeway ramp meters to meet vehicle volume and discourage leaving the freeway; with Nixle’s traffic alert system to text subscribers about road closures and highway incidents; and with Palo Alto's Waze.
City officials joined Waze's Connected Citizens program around 2016. The program engages officials in transportation, safety and related departments in an effort to build dialog around creative traffic management solutions. Talks with Waze led to the company sharing driver data with Fremont, allowing the city to get a detailed, real-time look at traffic flow and insight into how it could be better managed.
The city is home to employers like Tesla, Infosys and Logitech and wants to “emphasize innovation in as many different government processes as possible,” Briggs said. In August, the city announced its plan to join the latest Startup in Residence (STiR) cohort, partnering with the San Francisco-based group that connects government to innovation in hopes of easing traffic woes that regularly snarl its streets.
Officials said joining STiR could also help Fremont modernize its procurement process, as STiR’s streamlined approach could generate a potential cost savings.
“Participating in STiR is the perfect opportunity for the city of Fremont to support local entrepreneurship by integrating the innovative spirit of Silicon Valley startups into our problem-solving processes, especially as they relate to traffic communications,” Briggs said.
The city is also nearly ready to release a draft Mobility Action Plan (MAP), created during the past 18 months by a community task force that studied transportation issues and explored how to better educate the community about the causes of traffic and its solutions.
The MAP represents a five-year strategy to outline various traffic planning and mitigation efforts. Improvements to regional transportation, including added high-occupancy vehicle lanes and an extension of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) commuter rail line farther into Silicon Valley, may also bring needed driver relief.