Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti shared plans this week for the city's first Transportation Technology Innovation Zone in the West San Fernando Valley, designed for private companies and innovators to test tech-driven transportation solutions.
The innovation zone's first project will pilot a zero-emissions, last-mile delivery service to help connect homebound residents with food from local businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative was selected based on feedback from community members, businesses, and innovators.
The innovation zone is a flagship program of the nonprofit Urban Movement Labs (UML), a transportation-solutions accelerator launched by the mayor in 2019. The lab is advised by the mayor's office, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT), the Port of L.A. and the Los Angeles World Airports, with founding private sector partners Lyft, Waymo and the L.A. Cleantech Incubator.
Private and public sector leaders have sometimes struggled to align goals and expectations for deploying new technologies, including in Los Angeles, which saw significant rancor and legal action between scooter companies and LADOT over the agency's Mobility Data Specifications (MDS). The innovation zone creates an easier way for the private sector to introduce those technologies to the public sector, said Urban Movement Labs Executive Director Lilly Shoup, especially as the city recognizes that new modes of transportation like urban air mobility and drones are on the horizon.
"It’s really a way for the city to learn alongside the companies [about] what works and what doesn’t," Shoup said. "And to see in real-time what the impacts of new technologies are on the public right-of-way so that the city can have a better understanding of what policies or incentives or regulations might be needed to ensure that those technologies...are regulated appropriately by the city."
The innovation zone will first pilot a contactless delivery service via delivery robots throughout the area around the city's Warner Center, which includes a retail center, business headquarters and some residential areas. After a few months piloting the robots, the city and an undisclosed participating company will evaluate the pilot based off a set of mutually-agreed upon performance metrics like reductions to vehicle miles traveled and emissions.
The innovation zone's second pilot project is expected to launch in spring next year and will feature mini-mobility hubs throughout the Warner Center, aligning with one of the area's goals to create more options for people to get around without cars.
Beyond the initial pilots, the innovation zone will be a place to workshop ideas that can help the city cut greenhouse emissions, lower water consumption, try new green transportation technology and test new infrastructure like "cool pavement," said City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield.
"Nothing will get done unless we can prove things work here, so we need to continue to bring ideas to the table and help further tackle our own role in reversing climate change," Blumenfield added.
Those efforts have been given renewed focus in the past couple of years, with Los Angeles preparing its transportation network to host the 2028 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games and LA Metro recently approving a $400 billion long-range plan that promises better transit, less congestion with innovative solutions to help solve those problems.
"These technologies are coming to cities and cities really need to have a way to learn about them before they come at-scale," Shoup said. "And at the same time, technology companies are really hungry for opportunities to test those solutions in urban spaces because they’re really eager to see how they interact with pedestrians or drivers or busses or buildings. So this is a way for both the public and private sector to learn together about what works and what doesn’t for cities."