The Upstate Mobility Alliance was created following a two-year regional analysis of mobility in the Upstate known as Connecting Our Future. In January of this year, Michael Hildebrand was hired as the Director of the Upstate Mobility Alliance to help move the initial effort from analysis to action. The challenges of COVID-19 have further magnified some of the mobility challenges in the Upstate, especially in our rural and lower-wealth communities.
Michael answered a few questions to provide an update on the efforts and focus of the Upstate Mobility Alliance as we near the end of their first year of action.
Q: The Upstate Mobility Alliance was created with a vision to make the Upstate a vibrant and connected region. What areas have the most potential for success?
A: When the alliance was created, four areas were identified that we would focus our efforts on. Those areas include Public Transportation, Active and Livable Communities, Mobility Investments, and Technology and Innovation. We believe that by successfully implementing projects in each of these areas we will see great returns for the Upstate region.
Q: Could you explain the types of projects you envision in each of the focus areas?
A: From a Public Transportation position, we currently have four, historically underfunded, public transportation systems operating in the Upstate. This lack of funding has led to these systems having limited routes and service hours, which prevents them from being flexible enough to meet the changing needs of our communities. By raising awareness of this issue and providing out of the box thinking about how to create expanded service and regional connections, we can help these systems expand to reduce our dependence on automobiles.
Our focus for Active and Livable communities’ centers around making safe connections to home, shopping, education, employment, and other activities centers. These connections such as sidewalks, bike lanes, and trails allow people to get to where they want to go with needing a vehicle. The Upstate has a great network of trails and other connections currently, and we would like to continue expanding this network to continue the benefits of this focus such as increased economic mobility for our communities while also making us a healthier place to live.
Unfortunately, the Upstate, and South Carolina in general, have limited resources to fund transportation and infrastructure needs. There are many different options for funding these projects, and we will create opportunities for conversations and education about these options so that we can more effectively fund our transportation needs.
Finally, our Technology and Innovation focus is looking to build on the Upstate’s innovative culture and encourage pilot programs around, and the adoption of, transportation technology. These areas include autonomous vehicle technology, signal prioritization, and 5G technologies to create a safer and more efficient Upstate.
Q: What are some of the current Upstate Mobility Alliance projects you are excited about?
A: One project that I am excited about is our work with the seven rural Upstate counties. Each of these counties have expressed the issues, such as lack of economic mobility or safety concerns, they have seen because transportation is limited. We are convening leaders from these counties to discuss what their specific needs are and provide them with options that will help their community. In October we are hosting a panel discussion with five transit providers from across the United States who will explain why they needed to establish transportation services, how the service is funded, and share lessons learned during the process.
Another project I am excited about is the creation of our strategic plan. Our Leadership Committee is made up of brilliant and diverse community leaders who embrace the vision of the Upstate Mobility Alliance. Using this collective power, we are developing goals that will not only improve transportation and mobility in the Upstate but make our region more attractive to individuals and industries looking to live and work in an area that is progressive and vibrant.
Q: What will the Upstate look like when you are successful?
A: We are creating an Upstate region that will be vibrant and accessible to everyone, regardless of how they chose to travel. The Upstate will be known as bicycle and pedestrian friendly, on the cutting edge of mobility technology, welcoming to mobility startups, and a healthy and inclusive community. I am excited about our possibilities.