Chicago’s Traffic Concierge service

Snow storm Friday 1-21-12

In Chicago, Snow has dominated the last 24 hour News cycle.  Last night with  stories of 4 hour commutes,  it’s not a surprise to learn that  Chicago now ranks as the most congested– beating out both Los Angeles and NYC with higher travel times/mile.  OK, last night was unusual, but not really for two reasons.

  1. This is Chicago and we get snow in winter and regularly, so in spite of experience and ample news warnings, why were all these people driving?
  2. Chicago ranks highest for average delays in annual hours (70) or daily minutes (12.9), In spite that we have the shortest daily rush hour length (5.75 hours)  and fewer daily peak period travelers or vehicles. (see comparative stats compiled by Wolfram research)

Prevention has not been possible in spite of  GPS , the interactive map below,  shown layered  with traffic and weather warnings built-in, and even  the continuous broadcast of early precautionary messages alerting travelers to avoid later headaches.  The inevitable loss of productivity and associated build up of frustration should be a bigger concern of public officials and its citizenry.  So why with all the  amazing inter connectivity made possible by the ubiquitous internet and telephony networks has there been no sea change in behavior?

Up the Ante for Work from Home

Sorry this is 2012, and traffic congestion is a trivial problem and we need to get over our resignation that nothing can be done.  Remember when smoking was commonplace?  A combination of forces joined hands to change the perceptions and associations of smoking with glamour and then there were additional restrictions imposed because the smoke was a public nuisance and cost everyone.  So  given the array of alternative work productivity technologies available through the internet, I think we could easily help change our driving behavior too.

The traffic congestion problem doesn’t persist because public officials  lack  imagination or attention. Like the anti-smoking campaigns it will require willing public-private collaborations.  I’m not talking  mere partnerships.  In order for  the  incentives AND more importantly opportunities to change the landscape of associational cues to be put to work we need a serious coordinated effort and I think the City is best equipped to lead it and help everyone  adopt new behaviors.

What am I talking about?

What IF  Chicago’s department of Innovation and Technology, Department of Transportation worked with some of the global technology powerhouses, e.g. IBM or CISCO or Avaya to promote a new campaign with help from the AD council.  Remember the slogan Chicago, the city that works? Well suppose it meant that the city COORDINATED  if not encouraged with some sweet cultural  incentives a work smart campaign.  Using the intelligence at the left, and the numerous other data now streaming, the city could create an interesting concierge service for the benefit of everyone.

Here’s what I  imagine and  believe is completely possible.  It requires public private cooperation but more importantly a significant investment in collaboration.

Typically, employees expect to head to the office daily.  Depending on the city, their commute, the costs in time and energy (personal as well as fuel) are completely borne by the employee.  Some employers provide some offset in pre-tax wages as transit checks, an “upstream” incentive to encourage use of public transit.  Imagine a default in which the employer, who in many cases, has already invested in technology to enable its workforce to work productively anywhere.  IBM for example has been doing this for a long time, and I’m sure there are other models.  Coincidentally, the City of Chicago’s new Chief Technology officer John Tolva familiar with many, his time permitting would be a great team leader on this effort.  He was hoping his own data initiative would help city travelers and commuters find the quickest route.   I’m not suggesting that all companies go the route of IBM, but what if on the really horrible weather days, or the days when public events in the city were going to work against the employee trying to get home, Companies let the city know that they had signed up for a work at home day?

I’m merely suggesting that a coordinated public service campaign promoting business to work smarter, and discourage driving all together a couple days a month or one day a week? If I’ve got a series of back to back conference calls or meetings , why do I need to be physically present. I do need  access to the same materials and an ability to contribute my thoughts when needed.This are small tasks that are all possible by today’s existing technologies that are part of the enterprise systems that operate in most large corporate enterprises.  Of course that doesn’t mean that every employer has 100% of its workforce and their respective workload utilizing computer connectivity to get their work done.

But the last time the Department of Labor bureau of Labor Statistics checked–October 2003, 55.5% of total employment used a computer at work, and two out of every five connected to the internet or used email.  (see BLS as of 6-22-2011 USDL-11-0919  The American Time Use Survey)Coupled with more current data from the NTIA showing 71% of US Household have the Internet.  Or findings from the Pew Research study of Americans connectivity in Fall of 2010 showing 83% of Americans own a cell phone, with 76% of Americans owning either a desktop or laptop computer.  Sure, there is discrepancy by age, race and geographic location in these stats, but the targets are the suburban dwellers and the corporate employers wherever their headquarters are located.  Sure I may get some heat from real-estate folks, and no I haven’t thought through all the risks to local establishments, but that’s why the collaboration is important.

Because the benefits are very obvious from pursuing this strategy that could be activated in inclement weather, or on a regular basis when traffic is usually a mess.  Reduced congestion provides both personal time saving and reduces aggravation and frustration as well as making passage easier for emergency vehicles.  The reduction in carbon from having fewer cars idling for long periods of time improves the air quality, only increasing the improvement if we could reduce the number of  cars on the road.  The longevity of  the basic infrastructure could be extended as less wear and tear results with lower traffic and guess what that saves tax payers money!

Fast company reported the top 10 smart cities and its coverage and description described much greater complexity that cities had manged to tackle with success. This campaign could certainly boost the reputation of my fair city Chicago,our mayor and improve gross city happiness by reducing the traffic congestion and enhancing collective productivity and comfort during the work day and week.
How about it? Anyone want to sign up to begin the conversation?

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