This editorial article is a part of Tech + Government Month 2022 of Technical.ly's editorial calendar. This month’s theme is underwritten by Spotify. This story was independently reported and not reviewed by Spotify before publication.
Today, the District of Columbia government and the Southwest Business Innovation District (BID) are debuting a new model for transportation tech by launching the city’s first mobility innovation district (MID).
Courtesy of a $3 million grant over three years from the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED), the MID is a mixture of testbed, transport and growing transit infrastructure. MID leaders said that they hope to boost sustainability, equity and safety through mobility innovation.
This is the third innovation district created in Mayor Muriel Bowser’s fair shot budget, which included the Penn West Innovation District and the Anacostia Arts and Culture District.
“We want to improve the lives of locals with a new mobility district that prioritizes access, safety and inclusion,” Brandon Pollak, a spokesperson for the MID and senior advisor at Cityfi, told Technical.ly. “There are a number of pillars that really make the mobility innovation district really unique and really exciting.”
According to Deputy Mayor John Falcicchio, the southwest was selected for the project given such recent area-based successes as the Wharf reopening. This will draw people to the quadrant, he noted, and he’s hopeful the MID will help find ways for residents to move around. Following the southwest quadrant’s victories, he added that there’s potential to expand over to the Navy Yard and even into Anacostia.
“The Southwest MID is really exciting because what it helps us think about is how people move around this quadrant of the city,” Falcicchio said.
One key pillar of the MID is the idea of a technology testbed to demonstrate new tech and business models that can catalyze economic development. Alongside increased parking and public transportation opportunities, the MID will also be a hot spot for things like electric vehicles and infrastructure. The MID is also looking at general electrification and even a mobility wallet, Pollak said.
As part of the launch, the MID announced that micro-transit company Circuit was the winner of a call for projects for the MID, which opened in May of this year. Circuit will be creating an all-electric shuttle service that will circle the neighborhood to transport both residents and visitors. The MID hopes to launch the project in 2023.
With the launch, the MID is also opening two more calls for projects, focused on universal basic mobility and electrification solutions. The basic mobility ask is for transportation benefits that residents can use on a number of public and private transportation options. The electrification is for ideas on how the district can accelerate its electric and other sustainable vehicle options.
“We’re really looking for the companies, if you will, to come to us and showcase some of that innovation and why their solutions could be impactful to what our goals are,” Pollak said. “So we’re not trying to put companies in a box with this, because we’re looking for interesting ideas.”
Right now, the MID is under the jurisdiction of the MID, but Pollak said there is potential to bring in MID-specific talent in the coming months.
Alongside the technology testbed and new project proposals, the MID will also be prioritizing safety — specifically around pedestrians. The DC Department of Transportation is involved with the MID, Falcicchio said, though he didn’t specify how, and the city’s Vision Zero goals are top of mind. Overall, he hopes it can be an asset to the residents of the southwest.
“This is a high-opportunity area with a good presence of affordable housing,” Falcicchio said. “So for the residents who live there, we want to make sure that they can get around to those jobs and those opportunities that are present in the neighborhood.”
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