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UW Students at the 2018 Ideathon
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These creative solutions could help fix traffic in Seattle

(Matt Hagen Photography)

University of Washington students competed recently in the Imagine Mobile Ideathon, where they were tasked with coming up with creative solutions to Seattle’s traffic problems.

RELATED: Region’s traffic congestion is ‘symptom’ of a larger problem

Forty-eight total graduate and undergraduate students competed, with judges including former Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire, former Washington State Department of Transportation Director Paula Hammon, and Amazon Vice President Babak Parviz.

Four groups of students eventually won out, with each one featuring its own unique idea to solve Seattle’s growing congestion crisis. With the city rapidly approaching what it’s calling a “period of maximum constraint” for traffic, this contest is apt in its timing to say the very least.

The winning proposal involved turning public schools into park-and-ride mobility hubs, something that KIRO Radio traffic reporter Chris Sullivan called a “great idea and a good use of space,” but hedges that by noting, “I’m just not sure how practical it would be.”

“You’ve got to find central locations — at that point, you’re basically running a transit service for a one-off. Buses become Lyft, which I don’t think would work in practicality.”

The second-place team pitched an idea to have “companies located within a few blocks of each other coordinate their work from home days and alternative transport days to reduce car travel to that area every day of the week.” Essentially, large companies would stagger commutes, and have employees with jobs that don’t require face-to-face interaction work from home.

The proposal would then utilize an app that would collect information from each company to track when employees stay at home or use alternative transportation, giving users access to their personal commuting data.

“Staggering commutes makes wonderful sense,” said Sullivan. “I think that would be tremendous, that would get a lot of people off the roads — it’s a viable idea.”

Third place proposed gamifying commuting, utilizing a system where “users will be able to score points the more they ride and visualize how much they help the environment. Virtual scoreboards allow them to see how they stack up against their friends, coworkers, and neighbors.”

“Providing an incentive to people makes great sense,” Sullivan agreed. “If that’s what it’s going to take to get people to ride rail or transit more often, that’s great.”

The fourth-place team’s proposal was relatively simple, advocating for more express trains with fewer stops, and standing-only streetcars. Special priority seating would still be available for children, the elderly, and otherwise mobility impaired riders.

In terms of the most realistic and effective solution, Sullivan is all aboard on staggering commutes.

“Without question, some sort of modified work schedule, however we make that work, that could pay dividends,” said Sullivan.

As the city closes in on the closure of the viaduct and the opening of the new SR 99 tunnel, traffic in Seattle is certainly in need of some creative solutions.

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