Forward Thinking with Susan Zielinski

We ask the transportation expert what “new mobility” means—and why it’s the road ahead for cities around the world

Susan Zielinski, managing director of Sustainable Mobility and Accessibility Research and Transformation (SMART) at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute

Susan Zielinski is a real go-getter. Raised in Toronto, she was a long-time transportation planner for the city, and is now managing director of Sustainable Mobility and Accessibility Research and Transformation (SMART) at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, helping cities and companies find better ways to move people and goods to where they need to be.

CAA Can you define “new mobility”?

SZ People want to go to, and live in, places that don’t have nine-day traffic jams! It’s an economic benefit for a city—and for the people—to have [transportation] options that are talking to each other. Things like buses, cycling, walking, transit, trains, taxis and car share are all parts of the whole picture. It saves money to make everything connect seamlessly, so people can have a whole bunch of choices.

CAA How does SMART help cities develop those options?

SZ We do an inventory on one map—we overlay everything and put a red dot where two or more things connect. We’ve done it in 20 different cities, like Rio, Beijing and Delhi; it’s magical. Entrepreneurs will say: “Hey, I can write an app to fill that gap.” Or you realize somebody could start a shuttle service where two systems don’t connect.

CAA Which cities are improving transportation in smart ways?

SZ There are a ton of places that are doing really cool stuff. Oklahoma City, with a very conservative, tax-averse government, [has] done a whole active transportation program [creating more complete networks of improved bike lanes and connected sidewalks].

CAA Why are cities asking for SMART’s help now?

SZ The world [is] urbanizing, and cities and countries need to come up with solutions to get more and more people around in smaller spaces, in a really nice way. It’s easier now because you’ve got wayfinding on your mobile phone and—in some cities—[transit] fare payment that’s integrated. We don’t want “more” or “bigger,” we want “smarter.”

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