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UW students tackle Seattle traffic in Mobility Innovation Challenge

Written by Meg Herndon / October 19, 2018

What if local schools doubled as transportation hubs, enabling more people to ride public transit and shorten their commute? What if we could alleviate Seattle traffic by turning riding the bus into a game? This past weekend, UW students dreamed up novel solutions like these to tackle Seattle’s growing traffic problems at  Challenge Seattle’s Imagine Mobility Ideathon. 

“The idea behind this challenge is to stimulate as much interdisciplinary thinking around complex problems as we can,” says Vikram Jandhyala, UW’s vice president for innovation strategy and CoMotion’s executive director. “It’s an opportunity for free thinking and exploration. There’s no such thing as a bad idea here.”

Roadwork ahead

During the challenge, UW graduate and undergraduate students used innovative thinking and creative problem solving to tackle a real-world problem, dubbed by transportation engineers as the “Period of Maximum Constraint”.  In January 2019, the Alaskan Way Viaduct will permanently close, adding thousands of drivers to other already congested roads, rerouting hundreds of busses, and leaving our city with a major traffic problem.

“Over the next five years, Downtown Seattle will experience massive construction and redevelopment,” says Jeanne Clark who spoke on behalf of Seattle Department of Transportation. “We have about 60 cranes dotting the Seattle skyline and over 1,000 construction projects slated until 2023. Mobility destruction will be unavoidable — and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

Site visits and commuter feedback

Thirty-six students from varying majors and grade levels worked in teams to find ways to alleviate congestion when the Viaduct closes. Students first visited eight neighborhoods from Bothell to Colombia City and interviewed residents in each area to learn about barriers to using public transit. Then, students went through innovation training with CoMotion’s Magali Eaton to strategically generate new solutions to these problems.

Four teams and their winning solutions

After three days of collaboration and innovation, an esteemed panel of judges including former governor Christine Gregoire, CoMotion’s Jandhyala, Amazon’s Vice President Babak Parviz, Jonathan Hopkins, executive director of Commute Seattle, and Paula Hammond, SVP, WSP USA and former Washington secretary of transportation selected the winning solutions:

Four of the student teams were awarded prizes for their proposed solutions which included:

  • Reshaping public schools to also function as mobility hubs, allowing parents to commute to shared workplaces together from their children’s schools.
  • Transit loyalty programs and gamification to incentivize using public transit
  • A platform for large employers to coordinate trip reduction efforts (like coordinating work from home efforts and days across companies) and other informational incentives for their employees
  • Capacity solutions for transit (express trains and having standing-only cars)

Perhaps one or more of these solutions will help us through the “Period of Maximum Constraint”!

Read press coverage here:   | Seattle Times |  Crosscut  |  KIRO 97.3 FM Ron & Don Show