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Innovation and Government: Creating Cities Designed to Work

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Editor’s note: Yesterday SFMTA’s Director of Transportation, Ed Reiskin, welcomed the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) to San Francisco for their Designing Cities conference. Below are his remarks that he delivered in his role as President of NACTO to open the “Transportation Innovation Day” portion of the conference at SPUR.

Ed Reiskin stands at a lecturn speaking to the NACTO Designing Cities 2014 conference. The conference blue sign with white text is behind him.

Welcome to the great city of San Francisco. We are so pleased to kick off NACTO’s annual Designing Cities conference here in our beautiful city by the Bay. You picked a wonderful week to come. October is summer in San Francisco, and because it’s an even numbered year, of course the Giants are in the World Series. It’s also one of our most popular months of the year for bicycling and walking around the city.

San Francisco is a city of short trips. We’re only 49 square miles, which means it’s easy to get most places on foot or bike. Most of us who live and work here walk for at least a portion of our commute. This emphasizes the importance of making sure people who get around on foot for some or all of their trip can do so safely in our city.

This year we set out to achieve an ambitious goal of zero traffic-related fatalities by 2024. We call it “Vision Zero,” and like NYC and several European countries before us, we are committed to trail blazing our work across city departments and with stakeholders and advocates to achieve the goal.

Yes, it’s ambitious, and, no doubt, it will require innovative approaches and committed funding. But, what could be a more worthy goal than to ensure people feel safe and that our streets are livable. We’re thankful we have city leaders, partners and advocates who share this vision.

With the tech sector right in our backyard, so much is happening in the space of transportation. There is no shortage of technological solutions gaining attention and often improving our lives in ways both big and small. Experimentation and clear advancements are happening before our eyes and changing our lives in ways that could hardly be imagined only a few years ago.

And we’re paying attention. Both to the challenges and to smart options that help make our streets safer and our lives better.

Today technology and policy are at a crossroads. Technology is moving so fast. Policy is playing catchup. Yet, just because something is innovative, doesn’t mean it’s good. Innovation can have unintended consequences.

The question is, will we, as policy leaders, get out in front to provide the governance necessary to ensure that technology is happening for the good of the people.

We need to facilitate the ability of technology to scale up in a way that benefits users and the general public more broadly. And we need to consider the impacts that technology-based innovations have on our still digitally-divided city.

It is part of our role as leaders in city government to provide fair and open platforms for everyone. Access and equity are two hallmarks of government—for everything from highly-prized street space, to information, to connectivity across the city.

We must guard against creating a city for only the privileged few. And we must encourage—even demand—that our partners be civically responsible for engaging us all in their quest to create new technologies that improve our lives and the livability of our city.

Yogi Berra famously said, “If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”

In government, as in life, we need to know where we’re headed to ensure we end up where we want to be.