A small city outside Portland may have found a way to make commuting more efficient, pleasant, affordable, and good for the environment.
Hillsboro, Oregon is a finalist in the Mayors Challenge, a competition run by Bloomberg Philanthropies that calls on cities to find new solutions to urban problems. (There's a $5 million prize for first place, and $1 million awards for four runners-up.)
The 20 finalist cities, announced yesterday, also include Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. They offer innovative ways to reduce violence, improve education, eliminate food deserts, and more.
Hillsboro, 19 miles west of Portland, is the center of "Silicon Forest," home to Intel's largest site, as well as Yahoo! and Epson facilities. While it has bus lines and a light rail system that connects to Portland, the city's infrastructure is suburban. Many commuters rely on cars — often driving alone — to get to and from the office.
Called "GoPoint," Hillsboro's idea is simple: Use new technology to make different forms of transportation accessible. These include car share programs, carpooling, bike sharing, and public transportation.
Rather than leaving travelers to seek out each one individually, Hillsboro would provide a "dashboard," accessible on smartphones, computers, and "mobile hubs" placed around the city. It would display information like where available cars and bikes are parked, which users are interested in carpooling, and public transportation schedules.
GoPoint would encourage users to try new ways of getting around by showing that driving is not the only convenient way to go, Hillsboro sustainability manager Peter Brandom argues.
The idea is not a flashy one, and that may count against it. It is hard to get people interested in something that seems boring or complicated. But while it is not as bold as China's plan to build a huge city where cars are unnecessary, it has a significant advantage over that project.
GoPoint makes existing infrastructure and programs more accessible and efficient (while encouraging their expansion). That means it can be put into effect without trying to build new metropolises altogether. More to the point, it saves money.
Hillsboro estimates the plan will cost $1.2 million to implement, and about $300,000 annually to maintain and expand. That price pales in comparison, Brandom says, to the money Hillsboro spends on creating and repairing roads. Fewer cars translates to reduced need for new roads and maintenance.
Scalability is a criterion of the Mayors Challenge; the ultimate goal is to have cities around the country implement the winning idea. "We envision enough flexibility that a major downtown area" could put the GoPoint program in place, Brandom says.
Whether or not being told that driving is not the only way to go will encourage commuters to change their commutes remains to be seen, but Brandom is confident.
Even in areas without Portland's enthusiasm for the environment, he believes the rising costs of driving and co-benefits of not driving (like extra time to read or work and reducing traffic-induced stress) will outweigh the traditional preference for travel by car.
More From Business Insider