Gabe Klein understands cities. With experience in the private sector (VP of Zipcar), the public sector (former transportation commissioner for Chicago and DC), and as an entrepreneur (CityFi and many others), Klein brings a unique perspective to how cities, businesses and citizens can work together on the issues that matter. In the below interview, our 2019 Annual Meeting keynote speaker covers a lot of ground about all that's changing in the world of transportation and cities:
Midtown Alliance: When did your travels last bring you through Atlanta?
Gabe Klein: I was just in Atlanta for the T4America Smart Cities Cohort meeting in December and, as usual, thoroughly enjoyed Atlanta's wonderful streets, weather, and people.
MA: We're excited to have you back in Georgia in February. So what are some of the projects you’re working on right now with CityFi?
GK: We are working around the U.S. and beyond, and worked on the Atlanta Transportation Plan in 2017 and 2018 with Tim Keane and the Planning team and other consultants. We launched the Colorado Smart Cities Alliance with The Denver South Economic Partnership as well as 19 cities to test new technologies within the public and private sectors. We also just signed on with the Knight Foundation to facilitate their five-year plan to bring new mobility and autonomous vehicle pilot efforts to five cities, with a relentless focus on the people at the center of the equation. We work with a host of private companies, large and small, on strategies to work more effectively with government to make needed changes, quickly. We are really honored to get to work with so many public, private, and non-profit entities to help make positive change for people.
MA: You've been monitoring disruption in the transportation industry for years. Where did the dockless mobility movement begin?
GK: In Amsterdam with the white bikes in the 1960's? Or you could argue it began with autos themselves and taxis, but the modern movement began with lock-to bikes, many pioneered by Social Bicycles with city contracts over the last decade.
[Editor's Note: "Lock-to bikes" refers to docked, shared bikes similar to Atlanta's Relay Bike program.]
MA: Is there such as a thing as effective, one-size-fits-all legislation that can manage all the different kinds of dockless devices emerging, from scooters to bikes to mopeds and whatever else is coming?
GK: Yes—and no. We are working in Los Angeles with a spectacular LADOT and consultant team on policy around dockless mobility, and I think what we are all learning is that the city code needs to reflect the actual code. They have a saying in LA: "code is the new concrete." It means a lot of things, but the regulations need to reflect the programming code, and the code needs to reflect the regulations. So they have set up a Github where any company wanting to operate scooters (and soon, many other forms of shared mobility) can see the requirements to operate within the city and what data will need to be shared with the city to verify their compliance. In some ways, it is simpler than we have been making it. Of course, there are a million details in the background, but the companies also need a way to weigh in with feedback, criticism, etc. so software developers can build on the data.
MA: What is an example of an intervention that is working in cities where you’ve consulted to preserve pedestrian access around the dockless vehicles parked on sidewalks?
GK: I would encourage people to read a piece I wrote in Forbes last month about how we need to share space going forward and retrofit public travel spaces around speed. But in a nutshell, I think many scooter companies are going to move to a lock-to format for this reason, but also to avoid vandalism and theft.
MA: You mention in the conclusion of Start-Up City the potential for all of this disruptive change to lead us back to a simpler time—when our sense of community was stronger on people-oriented streets. Can you elaborate on this a little?
GK: There is a lot that goes into this, so come see my speech! But in a nutshell, the best tech is the tech that runs in the background vs. the foreground. People crave a simpler life, which is what technologists have promised us. I think there is a roadmap to actually get us there, and it starts with focusing on outcomes vs. hype and then a triple-bottom-line approach to business and government with humans and nature at the center of the equation vs. an afterthought.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Hear more from Gabe Klein at our 2019 Annual Meeting. Get your ticket today.
Join us on February 19 at the Fox Theatre as we examine the importance of making connections between people and working together on the issues that matter, from accessible transportation to thoughtful building design and improved quality of life.
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