Zendrive’s Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs Noah Budnick recently served as a guest speaker at Stanford University and its Defining Smart Cities program. His presentation, “Measure What Matters,” provoked vigorous discussion and a deeper understanding of cities that have become at once humanistic, scientific, and ecologically sound.
The Defining Smart Cities course posits, “in a rapidly urbanizing world, the city paves the way toward sustainability and social well-being. But what does it mean for a city to be smart? Does that also make it sustainable or resilient or livable?” Each week, lecturers present on topics such as big data, human-centered design, urban sustainability, and natural capital.
The subject of humankind’s innovative advancements gave way to Budnick’s assertion that the city is perhaps our most catalytic invention. The city, he suggests, is in a constant state of evolution and definition, and he presented a host of approaches that civilizations continue to take to improve their communities: healthier and more environmentally-friendly use of public space, designing safe streets for bike riders, pedestrians, transit riders and drivers. And, he noted, data is constantly being collected, organized and leveraged to serve as the key building block of smarter civilizations and more efficient living spaces.
Budnick spoke about 20th century urban development in the U.S., and how certain friction points that technological advances have created continue to put cities at risk, like the impacts felt and decisions made as a result of an increasingly car-dependent culture. With the way most American cities are designed today, roads are dangerous; nearly 40,000 people are killed in traffic incidents every year in this country. Here are some of Budnick’s positions that focus on course correcting these challenges, starting with the points that frame Vision Zero, the time-bound commitment to eliminate all traffic-related fatalities:
- People are imperfect and make mistakes: Street design and policy must encourage people to make better choices and minimize the potential danger when mistakes are made
- Thanks to data and sophisticated technology we know why traffic crashes happen and have much keener insights into them now
- We can leverage that data to arrive at the important decisions that will prevent crashes in the future
- Traffic deaths and injuries are preventable; it’s up to us to prevent them
- The end goal should be to foster communities where no one is killed in traffic
- The great challenge now is rethinking and moving away from our current city structure, which has been damagingly impacted by dangerous roads
To Budnick, it starts with the shift from today’s status quo of limited and inefficient methods of collecting data and measuring transportation, to a richer, more dynamic and cost-efficient means. Technology platforms like Zendrive’s collect large amounts of accurate, up-to-date data to support decision-making that results in saving time, money, and lives.
“The data and analytics we have to offer [cities] is more detailed, less expensive, and faster for transportation planners,” said Budnick, adding that it can save money and allows them to deliver city planning projects faster and answer questions from the public in more detail.
”When we have streets that are designed to protect the most vulnerable–children and the elderly,” said Noah. “This really signifies the health of the city.”
Budnick suggests that cities are coming back to life because communities around the country are reclaiming and humanizing their streets. If they want to significantly reduce traffic injuries and deaths–and enjoy a Vision Zero reality–leaders also need to be able to measure what is happening and why it is happening. Then they can make the most efficient use of their resources to make greatest impact quickly.