Group Envisions future of transportation in the Upstate

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Imagine a city with driverless, low-speed electric vehicles shuttling people around downtown.

Imagine a car-sharing system that could unclog the traffic nightmare that is Woodruff Road.

Imagine an intelligent traffic signal system that uses data from vehicles to change lights based on cars on the road, reducing the instances where cars idle needlessly. Or a system that can advise drivers of crashes or road closures so they can take an alternate route. Or a streetlight system that can alert a driver that a pedestrian is in the roadway.

Imagine automated podcars shuttling Greenville residents between college campuses or to and from parking at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport.

Envision Upstate is imagining all that.

Greenville was one of 10 cities chosen to participate in Envision America, a smart city initiative based on Envision Charlotte that seeks to help with challenges in energy, waste, water or air by connecting the cities to business and education partners to help implement their plans. Sixteen of 25 corporate groups that heard Greenville’s five-minute pitch at an Envision America conference in January indicated they want to work with Greenville, said Doug Webster, a member of the Envision Upstate team and chairman of the Greenville Green Ribbon Advisory Committee.

Greenville’s plan focuses on transportation, a sector that can help reduce energy costs, relieve congestion and help air quality. With the Upstate’s place in the transportation industry with automotive companies, the International Transportation Innovation Center, CU-ICAR and electric bus manufacturer Proterra, it makes perfect sense.

EnvisionAmerica6316-1“The transformation of the transportation industry in the United States is occurring much faster than anybody expected,” said Fred Cartwright, CU-ICAR executive director. “There’s a whole new set of players in the automotive industry – Cisco, Apple, IBM.”

With that, cars are smarter and semiautonomous, he said.

“A new car today can park itself, brake itself and steer itself,” Cartwright said, adding that Greenville is a perfect place to research, develop and test new technology with CU-ICAR, ITIC and a high concentration of automotive-related companies.

Envision Upstate is looking at a number of initiatives and Webster said it’s “not as important that we do it expeditiously as we do it correctly.”

“We’re really early in the process,” he said.

One key is that the initiatives solve a problem, Cartwright said.

“We don’t want to have a solution looking for a problem,” he said. “We have to make sure it will make a difference.”

Webster said he doesn’t think most people realize the opportunities for personal rapid transit and other innovations that could create a multimodal, multijurisdictional transportation plan.

Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport is seeking proposals for a podcar transit system that would be the first of its kind at a U.S. airport. The personal rapid transit system would carry passengers between the airport’s economy parking lot and the airport terminal building. The system would provide “on-demand” service and the electric-powered trip would take an average of five minutes.

Passengers at GSP could face an almost half-mile walk to get from the economy lot to the terminal.

Airport commissioners looked at buying a shuttle bus system similar to that used by the Atlanta airport, but it had an estimated price tag of $25 million to $30 million. The podcar system would cost about $20 million.

Proposals will be reviewed this summer.

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