Gita, LA CoMotion and the future of mobility

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Los Angeles used to be famed for its mobility. Now it is choked by immobility. LA CoMotion’s public festival in DTLA promises to show you transit and streetscape alternatives to a life shaped by the private car.

What do newly elected (transgender) Virginia lawmaker Danica Roehm, LA Councilman Mike Bonin and soon to be ex-New Jersey governor Chris Christie have in common?

Traffic. They have won or lost public support based on voters’ frustrations with their commute.

Mobility, or the lack of it, is driving people nuts. But it is also driving innovation, especially in Los Angeles which is both capital of gridlock and hotbed of ideas for getting out of it.

Is the only way to escape LA traffic to go up? Uber proposes flying taxis. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

These ideas include: a taxpayer-funded, massive expansion of mass transit; Elon Musk-stimulated, high-speed tubular projects (Hyperloop and a 3D Tunnel Network); and tech-juiced connectivity from ridesharing to self-driving vehicles to Uber’s proposed flying taxis that take off vertically.

Then there is the reintegration of “alternative” — read, traditional — modes of getting around like walking and bicycling. With these come bikeshare, improved streetscape and innovations in the pipeline like Gita, the autonomous container on wheels that follows its pedestrian owner (listen to the story on DnA, below).

Right now some of the concepts are colliding up against each other. Ride hailing services like Uber and Lyft were heralded as a means to reduce car-ownership and now studies find they are increasing the volume of cars on the road.

Efforts to increase bicycle use and rider safety through laying down bike lanes as part of road diets have met enraged pushback in neighborhoods like Playa Del Rey in Councilman Mike Bonin’s district, where car lanes were removed, without providing another form of transport for commuters who found themselves stuck.

A self-driving shuttle rammed a human-driven vehicle on its first outing; meanwhile no one has an answer yet for what happens to all those who will lose their driving jobs to autonomous cars when they do function smoothly.

Voters approved taxing themselves to pay for LA’s expansion of mass transit and yet ridership is dropping. There are many causes for this, among them ride-hailing services, and the unresolved challenge of the First Mile Last Mile, where the distance from home or work to the bus or subway is too far or unpleasant or unsafe.

Jeremy, a resident of the Crenshaw district, tests Gita, and says it’s “tight!” (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

All of these challenges will be under consideration at LA CoMotion, a ticketed conference underway, co-sponsored by New Cities Foundation, LADOT and range of transit-related companies and nonprofits; and a free public expo taking place Saturday and Sunday in the Arts District in DTLA.

The expo, called the LA CoMotion Mobility Festival, will showcase some of the latest bicycles, self-driving electric shuttles, modular street furniture and other concepts aimed at engaging people in a future not dominated by the private car.

Festival senior advisor and conference speaker Ashley Z. Hand says it is important to stop for reflection in the midst of this period of great change in transportation because “right now we have to set a vision for the future that we want, because there’s a real possibility things could go horribly wrong if we don’t think about designing towards that future that we want.”

Below are some of the objects you can test at LA CoMotion, plus information about the event:

Transdev aims to make an autonomous shuttle that won’t run into human-driven cars. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

French-based private operator of public transport Transdev will be deploying their Autonomous Shuttle on Colyton Street and participants will be able to test it throughout the two days of the event.

AutonomouStuff is a provider of autonomy-enabling technologies that specializes in perception sensors, GPS, and computing. They will run an autonomous car on the SAE AV Test Track from 9am to 3pm everyday.

Envision Solar is a San Diego-based sustainable technology innovation company. They will showcase their patented EV ARC™, a transportable, solar powered EV charging station.

Piaggio Fast Forward will showcase Gita, a personal robotic vehicle, described by designer Greg Lynn as “a mechanical mule.” PFF was founded in 2015 by the Piaggio Group, makers of Vespa scooters, to create lightweight, autonomous mobility solutions. DnA tested Gita, which observes legs and follows a human (see image higher on page) and talked to its designers. We found it be a delightful object and intriguing application of robotics to getting people to walk more. But it also raises a lot of questions; listen to our report here.

Delivery robot by Swiss company Starship Technologies (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Starship Technologies will also showcase a robotic vehicle, though this one is meant to do deliveries (image above) without a human companion.

Massachussetts-based company Superpedestrian will showcase its Copenhagen Wheel, a red hub that turns almost any bike into a smart electric hybrid. It contains a custom motor, advanced sensors, control systems, and a battery. Bluetooth connectivity enables you to personalize your cycling experience from your smartphone.

Bosch eBike – The eBike by German company Bosch is intended to ratchet up the performance capacity of eBikes, already a fastgrowing market in the EU, by “applying advanced battery technologies, innovative gear shifting concepts and intelligent connectivity.”

URB-E is a folding electric vehicle. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

URB-E is a folding electric vehicle designed in Pasadena and built in California using carbon fiber and aircraft-grade aluminum.

OjO Electric Scooter is another entrant in the field of energy-efficient ebikes and scooters.

The Mini MICRO Kickboard is scooter for young children with a ‘lean-to-steer’ design that allows children to steer the scooter by using their body weight to curve from side to side, enabling to feel like they can ‘surf the sidewalks’! Adult scooters will also be available to test.

SWITCH!, is a Gensler-designed prototype of climbable, flexible, modular street furniture that is part of LADOT’s “playstreets” initiative (see images below, and top of page.)

Gensler-designed SWITCH, a six-piece set of interlocking elements flat-packed into a 10’ x 6’ x 3’ volume. Seen during fabrication by Andreas Froech. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Where is LA CoMotion?

To access the Mobility Festival, you need to get through the LA CoMotion registration desk located at 1200 E 5th St on the corner of 5th Street & Colyton Street in the Los Angeles Arts District. Test tracks will be all along Colyton Street and in the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) parking lot. Questions? Call:  (213) 833 8841.

Who is paying for LA CoMotion?  

LA CoMotion is financed by a mix of institutions — primarily LA DOT and Metro — and private companies — Verizon, Transdev, Toyota — and multiple local companies including some of the exhibitors. Check sponsors here.

NewCities Foundation is featured prominently as a sponsor. Who are they and what is their role?

LA CoMotion is an initiative of the NewCities Foundation, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to “making cities more inclusive, connected, healthy and vibrant.” NewCities curates the Cities in Motion Leadership Conference segment of LA CoMotion which will take place on November 16-17; LA CoMotion told DnA the conference tickets are “reserved for policymakers and industry players.”

Other Attractions

The Roaming Workshop “Accelerating Transit Use” hosted by MoveLA

How can we accelerate transit use and create more transit rich areas while maintaining housing near transit affordable? The advocacy architects of Measure R and M will bring you to the Downtown Regional Connector as an example of how new transit projects will impact LA and its communities. An honest discussion will follow on the challenges of building both transit and housing.

1:30pm to 2:15pm, Sat. Nov. 18

Workshop – SCI Arc’s Creative Architecture

Students of Alexis Rochas, Director of Stereo-Bot present the design and work process for the LA CoMotion arch/stage architecture project. Stereo-Bot’s impressive structures, from Coachella to Detroit’s city of design UNESCO designation, are icons of placemaking and urban activation. In collaboration with SCI-Arc, they have created a unique arch and stage for LA CoMotion. Learn about the stages of creation, from the first drawing to the final structure.

1:30pm to 2:30pm, Sun. Nov. 19

L.A. New Mobility Challenge – Presentations by startups

The L.A. New Mobility Challenge will bring 15 finalists, selected from 100 applications from 15 countries, to attend LA CoMotion and share their innovations in zero emission transportation technologies, smart infrastructures, and mobility solutions.

2:15pm to 3:45pm, Sat. Nov. 18

BUSted Los Angeles: True Stories About Getting Around Los Angeles Told By People Who Don’t Drive

BUSted! Los Angeles is a live storytelling show and podcast for the green commuters of Los Angeles, featuring Angelenos’ stories of getting around LA by bus, subway, bicycle, by walking, horseback, skateboard… every way except for driving! Storytellers will take the stage to share their stories.

5pm to 6pm on Sat. Nov. 18 and from 4:15pm to 5:15pm on Sun. Nov. 19

LA CoMotion Block Party Celebration

Join the mobility party with DJ sets from collectives such as Red Bull • DJ Sleeper • Soulection • Kronika • DUBLAB • Induce • DJ Lady C • Slayron and food trucks such as Pink Taco, Made in Brooklyn, Amazebowls, The Chairman, Crispy Cuban, Grilled Cheese Truck, Roll’N Lobster, Pickles & Peas.

Starts 6pm, Sat. Nov. 16