Ithaca Mobility Solutions Summit

posted Jul 25, 2016, 12:17 PM by Josie Maroney   [ updated Aug 11, 2016, 9:45 AM by Nick C. ]

Ithaca Mobility Solutions Summit

 June 2016

As people that live in Ithaca will and, in all likelihood, have already told, the city is a pretty nice place during the summer. No students, Purity Ice Cream, some type of market for farmers, and so on.  Fair.  Ithaca is a nice place during the summer, probably even very nice.  So nice, in fact, one might argue against using it as the backdrop for a three-day Mobility Summit/Transportation Camp.  After all, who would really want to compete with "Ithaca-in-the-summer" and all its glory?  And what if the three days were the first Thursday, Friday, and Saturday(!) of summer?  And what if the event location was a movie theater?  I'd say that the person organizing the event was facing quite a challenge, to say the least.  Not three weeks ago, Chief Transportation Planner at Tompkins County D.S.S Dwight Mengel did this very thing.  

There can be no denying that the conference, or Mobility Solutions Summit as it was officially titled, met all of the crucial criteria.  It was engaging.  It was fresh.  It was fun.  First of all, the sessions were held in two movie theaters at Cinemapolis, an independent non-profit cinema on Ithaca’s Commons- an interesting choice, but one that makes total sense; large screens, terraced seating, and good acoustics are, after all, essential to quality experiences in both arenas.  Second, and most crucial, the sessions were exceptional.  Topics were loosely grouped into two categories, shared-use mobility (bike share, apps, Uber, etc.) and better practices.  The sessions dealing with car-sharing programs around New York State were excellent, albeit slightly foreboding.  In better practices, the conversations about rural mobility and more transit-centric models vs. volunteer-centric models were thought-provoking.  What is transit’s role in rural mobility?  What will it be? Shouldn’t that be something we think about?  Lastly, the first day featured catering from Agava Restaurant, which was on point and definitely worth mentioning.  Other standout features of the Summit included:

  • 5 minute rapid fire talks about various germane topics
  • Enlightening and sobering discussions about vehicle insurance
  • An extra-curricular evening session featuring short films and movie trailers about bicycles and cycling (very cool) 
All of these things happened on Thursday and Friday.  Saturday featured Transportation Camp, an unconference, which means attendees spend 30 minutes at the beginning coming up with ideas for sessions, and the rest of the day leading those sessions.  The idea is to make things less formal, less restrictive, and in doing so, encourage more creative and different ways of thinking.  One of, if not the best session of the entire three-day stretch was the very first of Transportation Camp.  In that session, ten or so people built from the ground up an entirely new, rough, and idealized, but potentially feasible model for rural transportation.  And really, the exercise of creating an entirely new transportation model from scratch can serve as a microcosm for mobility work, in general.  Sometimes, maybe even most of the time (probably most of the time), the problem one confronts is not best-resolved using the tool or strategy that is being used right now, even if that tool is a serviceable one.  The best tool might not even exist right now.  Once that idea is established, it becomes important to say, “wait, why are we doing this again?” It’s important to say, “wouldn’t it be better if we…?” or “maybe we could try…”.  That’s how positive change is effected, after all.  

So yeah, the day was relatively mellow and a bit nontraditional, but still, it was engaging, entertaining, and really, not a bad way to spend a Saturday.  Rumor has it there will be another Mobility Solutions Summit in Ithaca in the near future.  Maybe next year.  If it’s anything like the one held back in June, you’ll be sorry to miss it.  Saturday and all.

Nick Cecconi
Assistant Director, MMSCNY