News Release

Human-centered mobility and transportation options for disadvantaged communities is the goal of new partnership

UC San Diego researchers are working hand in hand with community organizations and the San Diego Association of Governments

Feb. 24, 2021--The University of California San Diego is teaming up with several community-based organizations and the San Diego Association of Governments to improve access to transportation for the county’s low-income and underserved neighborhoods. The team is adopting a human-centered design approach to their work to try and repair the harm done by car-oriented transportation policies of the past. 

The project was selected this month to be part of the inaugural Civic Innovation Challenge, a partnership of the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the Department of Homeland Security. The competition’s goal is to empower communities to tackle issues such as transit, housing affordability and operating safe schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The UC San Diego team is one of 52 groups across 30 states to receive a $50,000 award during the first stage of the competition. The teams have four months to refine their projects, after which NSF will select a smaller number of groups to receive awards of up to $1 million for ready-to-implement pilot projects with the potential to produce scalable, sustainable and transferable solutions to address community-identified challenges. 

The UC San Diego team is headed by Todd Hylton and Colleen Emmenegger of the  Contextual Robotics Institute and the Design Lab. Contextual Robotics Institute Director Henrik Christensen is also a co-principal investigator on the grant.  Thanks to the $50,000 NSF award, researchers will assess the challenges and feasibility of an integrated mobility service with representative communities. With the help of partner community organizations, they will conduct day-in-a-life interviews and real-world observations. They will also deploy questionnaires and wearable sensors in several disadvantaged communities.

Working with SANDAG, the team will employ data-driven methodologies including the analysis demographic data, transportation services data, survey data and transportation modeling in these same communities.

The project’s primary research objective is to assess the integration of these techniques and their utility in understanding the needs of disadvantaged communities and in formulating solutions that are both responsive and feasible. 

In the project’s second stage, the team will implement an integrated mobility pilot in one of these communities that is responsive to the real needs of the community; addresses the long-term strategic plan for transportation and sustainability in the region; and can be expanded to other communities in the region. 

“We anticipate that the pilot will demonstrate improved access to employment, recreation, shopping, education and public transit via the integration of mobility services including, for example, pooled ride-hailing, neighborhood electric vehicles, microtransit, e-scooters, e-bikes, and carshare,” Hylton said. 

The project intends not only to address needs in particular San Diego communities, but also to inform SANDAG’s planners about the types of services, incentives, and operating models that are needed to ensure alignment with a community’s needs as they implement a bold vision of the 2021 Regional Plan known as the “5 Big Moves.”


Media Contacts

Ioana Patringenaru
Jacobs School of Engineering