Now that the dust has settled from the 2011 Southern California Transportation Summit hosted by Mobility 21, I can reflect a little on this year’s event, and start to dream about how to make your experience next year that much better.  So we tried a little something new this year: interactive polling in the general sessions.  We relied on a technology called PollEverywhere  that utilizes your own cell phone, smart phone or tablet device.  On the one hand it was low cost for us and most folks these days are used to texting or tweeting, so we thought it would give the great majority of the attendees the chance to weigh in on some key issues. On the other hand, it does take a little time to get used to how to answer the questions, and that might have been a bit of a distraction for folks.  I thought it was pretty revealing that when asked if they would give up a trip to Starbucks a month to fund transportation infrastructure investment 100% of those who responded said yes.  Even in a transportation-friendly crowd that’s a pretty amazing statistic!  The funny thing is when you translate that 4 bucks a month into a hike in the gas tax or a shift to vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fee the acceptance rate drops. Even among fans of transportation like our members and conference goers.  I’m not sure what the hang-up is, but if we can’t find a way to surmount it within our own ranks, we have an uphill battle in front of us with foes of transportation investment.

Each year the Summit offers top notch speakers and provocative breakout sessions. I’m proud to say, this year was no different.  Mayor Villaraigosa of Los Angeles stepped up to take on the mantle of regional transportation champion by showcasing what the America Fast Forward program can do for job creation in Southern California.  Media response to his call for action and his urgent message to Congress to pass an extension of the surface transportation bill to avoid losing critical funding for transportation projects was tremendous.  We are lucky to have a leader willing to be so visible on this important issue for our Coalition. The closing session featured outspoken regional leaders Karen Spiegel, Larry McCallon, Diane Dubois, Bill Fulton, Paul Glaab and Pam O’Connor.  If you missed their animated conversation about what’s coming up for capital projects in the next 18 months, your competitors who stayed have got the drop on you!  Spiegel in particular issued a clarion call to her fellow elected leaders in our region to work together to ensure that top projects that will spur our economy forward make it into construction and create thousands of good paying jobs. And that is right where Mobility 21 comes in — to educate local, state and federal elected leaders, to provide the glue that keeps the region moving forward together, and to give voice to the frustrations that we all feel every time we have to wait too long for a bus, miss a train, sit in gridlock behind a truck, or enter into a lane of traffic because the bike lane we were riding in just ended mid-block.

Breakout session panels were smaller this year and we hoped that would make it more interactive for our audience.  And our panelists were not wall flowers either.  Did you catch Caltrans Director Malcolm Doughtery and CTC Chairman Dario Frommer revealing what’s ahead for the state in 2012? Metro CEO Art Leahy, never one to shy away from speaking his mind, did not disappoint. Mobility 21 Chairman Will Kempton showed himself to be one of the most articulate and knowledgable transportation officials in the country.  Jeff Davis had up-to-the-minute information to share with conference-goers about the happenings on the Hill. Even our student moderator, Simon Oh, adroitly led the future-focused iMobility panel which featured personal rapid transit expert Steve Raney. And lest we forget, business took a lead role this year with Tom Smith of NBCUniversal, Noel Massie of UPS, Rick Aurit of Wal-mart and B.J. Patterson of Pacific Mountain Logistics telling it like it is and giving our attendees real insight into why a world-class transport system is needed to maintain California’s place in a global economy. I think my personal favorite was the panel on making the last mile connection featuring Andrea Kjoss-White, Hilary Norton, Suja Lowenthal Alexis Lantz and Alan Thompson.  It really is the little projects that matter. Show-stopping transit is made so much more viable when we focus on the ways people will access the system.  Which session was your favorite?

With 10 breakouts to choose from it was hard to pick just two.  Good thing we’ll post content from the whole Summit soon, you can replay your favorite presentations or watch the sessions you just didn’t have time for that day.  As the Summit grows, we try to include panels that interest a wide range of transportation professionals, elected officials, business executives, and community leaders.  Let us know what you’d like to see next year, and what’s been done to death.  Later this week we’ll issue our formal feedback survey and post all the video and presentations from the Summit sessions.  I hope you’ll take the time to let us know how we did, and what you’d like to see different (or the same) for next year.

And speaking of next year, I bet you want to know where we’ll be.  The official announcement will come soon but here’s a hint: M-I-C…”See ya real soon!”  K-E-Y  “Why? Because we like you!” M-O-U-S-E…