Sunday, February 19, 2012

Pyramid 2012 Washington DC completed successfully

Yesterday, a little over 5:30 pm, when the venue had already officially closed, we reached a capstone agreement and put a star-spangled banner on top to finish off a successful Pyramid workshop in Washington, DC!

Result: thesis competition for transit system optimization
Our group had come together to address the mobility challenge: how can mobility in DC be made sustainable for all? At the end we reached the following agreement: we propose a thesis competition among mathematical students studying at DC area universities, to optimize route and timetable design of the area's bus services for better accessibility, simplicity and overall efficiency. Interested students, organizers, university departments, transit organization or sponsors are encouraged to contact us. You're not alone.

Getting a virtuous cycle going
After discussing what was going on in DC related to transportation from the perspectives of the four sustainability compass points - Nature, Economy, Society, Wellbeing - and exploring the interlinkages between the trends and the extended causes, we found that investments in public infrastructure take a central position. For instance, investments in public transit to improve the quality, the speed, the accessibility and safety can potentially set off a virtuous cycle. It could make public transit a serious alternative for travel by car. That would change the widespread negative perception of public transit (especially buses) and increase ridership even more, reducing road congestion, improving air quality and increasing revenue for the transit companies, allowing better maintenance and upgrades and increasing support for public spending on transit. However, support for additional spending is currently low. Therefore, we opted for another way to intervene in this loop, to improve attractiveness of bus travel without adding costs. We know of examples where mathematical modeling yielded large, unexpected improvements in public transit system layouts and planning (e.g., this one). That's why we propose to find out if and how this could work for the Washington DC metro area's bus systems.

More solution ideas
A set of five excellent ideas shared second place. We offer them here to inspire anyone to go to work and realize them.
  1. Let embassies in Washington DC share international best practices for sustainable mobility.
  2. Erect 'air sniffer poles' alongside roads where air quality frequently exceeds standards. The poles would show drivers the level of pollution and whether it is considered too much.
  3. Create a greater DC urban planning office if it doesn't yet exist. If it does, it should be given sufficient authority.
  4. Create satellite "seats 2 meet" offices to reduce commutes.
  5. Make better and smarter use of IT opportunities in public transit, to improve communication and operations.
We feel that within the short time of one afternoon, the Pyramid process proved to be fun and effective, not in the least thanks to the enthusiasm and creativity of the participants!
Also, check out the global Pyramid 2012 website for results from other Pyramid workshops across the globe.

Eva and Mark

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