UC Berkeley, San Francisco to continue urban transit collaboration

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Despite not winning a major $40 million federal grant, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Chancellor Nicholas Dirks agreed Sept. 2 to continue exploring and developing urban transportation infrastructure improvements for the city of San Francisco.

Even with the memorandum, however, none of these innovative ideas may come to fruition, since significant sources of funding have yet to be secured. Although San Francisco ultimately lost the bid for the Smart City Challenge to Columbus, Ohio, the application process served as a valuable unifying mechanism, said Darton Ito, deputy director of innovation for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, or SFMTA.

“What this Smart City Challenge (did) is it gave us something in particular to focus on, which really helped to bring together the mayor’s office, SFMTA and UC Berkeley to kind of quickly identify what other opportunities this grant would allow us to pursue,” Ito said. “(It’s the) start of a new, stronger, ongoing partnership.”

Proposed urban mobility improvements from the Smart City Challenge application included an integrated transit app for public transportation information, the expansion of free Wi-Fi for lower-income residents and connected autonomous electric vehicles for ride sharing.

The exact framework of the partnership remains undetermined, but Ito emphasized that the campus offers a wealth of data and research while the city provides a place to pilot program initiatives.

“(UC Berkeley) has relationships developed … with private companies to get data that we need to understand what the (infrastructure) challenges are and how to inform some of the things we do moving forward,” Ito said.

City departments involved in the proposal have already applied for several federal grants — including a multimillion-dollar advanced congestion management grant and an $8 million on-demand transportation grant —  and are waiting for a response.

“While we may not be able to pursue the whole (Smart City application) as a package without the grant, there are opportunities to move pieces of that forward,” Ito said.

As the city looks to improve its urban infrastructure, San Francisco, in partnership with UC Berkeley and the City Innovate Foundation, hosted BRIDGE SF last week. The conference serves as an annual incubator for civic innovations, and included a hackathon this year.

In addition, UC Berkeley and San Francisco helped open the SUPERPUBLIC lab — a center dedicated to solving transportation issues by bringing together the private and public sectors with academic partners — in July, according to Susan Shaheen, co-director of the campus Transportation Sustainability Research Center.

“It allowed us to create a living laboratory and I’m excited to share it with the UC Berkeley campus,” Shaheen said. “We did lose (the grant) but I think we won. We have a partnership.”

Contact Gibson Chu and Katherine Yen at [email protected].