SOUTH WALTON BEACH, Fla., (November 9, 2015)
One of the country’s top R&D organizations for clean transportation and advanced vehicle communications recently conducted a workshop in South Walton Beach to address traffic woes in the 30A region. What transpired was an eye-opening vision of a future Walton County free of traffic congestion and becoming a national model for automated and emission-free transportation.
Walton County hosts some of the nation’s most pristine beaches and resort communities, all assembled along a small county road (Florida Scenic Highway 30A) with limited access and even more limited expansion opportunities. It is what gives this part of the Panhandle its small town character and what for decades has defined the region that locals simply call “30A.” Now 30A’s charm is threatened by its very success — overcrowded roads and gridlock typically associated with urban centers like New York or Los Angeles. How to address this dilemma has confounded local leaders and residents alike.
To address the problem head on, Seaside founder and resident Robert Davis sought the advice of one of the country’s foremost authorities in the field of transportation innovation, Dr. Joachim Taiber, Chief Technology Officer of the International Transportation Innovation Center. Intrigued by what he learned, Davis contacted Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jim Boxold and arranged for Taiber to lead an envisioning workshop for state and local policymakers, technology experts and transportation and logistics analysts. On October 19 -20, the group gathered at Seaside Assembly Hall and heard Taiber’s perspective on what could be done to alleviate traffic woes in this idyllic resort community and what it could mean for residents and tourists.
A different kind of mass transit.
One possible answer is mass transit, but not the kind commonly used today. Instead of roads filled with hulking, environmentally unclean commuter buses, planners discussed many options from electric bikes and scooters to golf-cart style vehicles that pilot themselves; even Tesla-drawn trolleys capable of carrying passengers from one village to another along this scenic byway. Operated autonomously by computers, riders simply sit back and enjoy the view with family and friends.
According to Taiber, “The future is shaped by automated vehicles, and the automotive industry and the ICT (information and communication technology) industry is investing heavily in the development of driver-assisted and driverless technologies. Fully automated driving requires infrastructure adaptations that could be made in South Walton, making it one of the nation’s leading living labs in mobility innovation. ITIC is excited about this potential and the opportunity to work with local leaders to deploy these new technologies in a safe and reliable way.”
Transportation Secretary Boxold said, “The unique communities that border County Road 30A are one of Florida’s treasures along the Emerald Coast. We look forward to working with local leaders and residents to maintain its character while managing future growth using innovative solutions.”
Joining Secretary Boxold at the workshop was Florida Transportation Commission Chairman Jay Trumbull, Sr., who lives and works in neighboring Bay County.
“I see a tremendous regional benefit to what was discussed at this conference,” he said. “We can serve visitors arriving at Beaches International Airport and offer a place where research and development in this field of transportation can occur and then be tested in a real world environment. It offers an exciting opportunity to make Florida the leader in cutting edge transportation solutions.”
Meanwhile, Davis sees an opportunity to create a more diverse and sustainable model for Walton County’s future growth. Davis’s idea is to lure people to live here much of the year, moving the economy beyond tourism.
“Tourism has a limit,” he said. “We want visitors to so love their experience here that those with the flexibility to live anywhere will choose to live in Walton County and create knowledge industry jobs. We want our children to come back here to live after college.”
In coming weeks, local residents will be asked to offer their thoughts about the ideas discussed at the workshop. In addition, Walton County has commissioned a transportation study that should be available early in 2016.
To learn more about the workshop and future planning for transportation innovations on South Walton’s 30A coastline, go to http://30amobility.com.