“Innovation” is a word that gets bandied about a lot these days, but it’s a buzz word that means very little to the average person. To me, innovation is a mindset that truly can transform cities and regions, and, ultimately, our national economy.
At MPC, we’re doing more to identify and encourage innovative policies and practices that contribute to sustainable, strong economies. At our roundtable luncheon last Thursday, 104 transportation decision-makers, community planners, and elected and appointed officials learned more about congestion pricing, which gives people the option of paying a fee to drive in a less congested lane, to take an alternative route, or to take transit. It has been proven elsewhere to reduce congestion, clean the environment, and expand transportation choices – benefits we could use in metro Chicago, where a 2008 MPC report showed we lose $7.3 billion a year due to excess traffic congestion on our roads.
Roundtable attendees heard about initiatives to battle bottlenecks from Jeffrey Lindley of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). I was especially inspired by a report from Nick Thompson of the Minnesota Dept. of Transportation, who deconstructed the Twin Cities’ success with congestion pricing techniques along two major highways. Illinois Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur brought it home by discussing how the Tollway is driving innovation. Attendees got the first look at a draft study by MPC and Wilbur Smith Associates, commissioned by the Tollway, that explores options for implementing congestion pricing on three segments – the I-90 Jane Addams Tollway, I-90-94 Kennedy Reversibles, and I-55 Stevenson Expressway.
Congestion pricing is a perfect example of innovation: It’s a cost-effective way to make better use our existing transportation system, saving us all money and time. When we begin to put policies like this into practice, we drive demand for innovative products, such as smart meters and intelligent transportation systems – bringing the conversation back to jobs: Who will manufacture these systems? Install them? Monitor them? Innovation creates jobs, provided there’s a workforce ready to fill them.
Chicagoland has no shortage of innovators. I was reminded of that when I received a well-timed e-mail last week from a colleague about the ninth annual Chicago Innovation Awards. By recognizing the most innovative new products and services brought to market each year in the Chicago region, the awards position Chicago as a "hot" market. Scholarships are provided by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School for award nominees to participate in an executive education program.
This year, the Chicago Innovation Awards is launching its third phase, direct action. Rather than simply identify products and services that have already demonstrated market impact, the Chicago Innovation Awards is making connections to manufacturers in the Chicago region – which will create jobs for the local economy.
So please nominate a product or service for this year’s awards by July 31. Details are available at www.chicagoinnovationawards.com.
In the coming weeks, I’ll write more about true innovation. As a regional partner of the Brookings Institution, I’ve been learning more about the need for regional economies nurture key growth sectors, including exports and green products and services. Stay tuned for more the week of July 26.