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November 16, 2021Episode 21. Innovation U: In a transportation research rivalry, everyone is a winner.
FEATURING: Greg Winfree, Zac Doerzaph
Greg Winfree and Zac Doerzaph, leaders of America’s two most prominent transportation research agencies, share their insights on the nation’s mobility priorities, and what university-based research can do to support those priorities. (They talk a little about motorcycles and teleportation, too.)
About Our Guests
TTI Agency Director
Greg Winfree became TTI’s agency director in 2016 after working at the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). He began his USDOT service as chief counsel in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology and was later sworn in as assistant secretary. He also served as deputy administrator and administrator of the Research and Innovative Technology Administration. Prior to those appointments, Greg served as corporate counsel for a number of Fortune 500 corporations, and also worked as a trial attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice.
VTTI Executive Director
Zac Doerzaph is the executive director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) and a faculty member in the department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics at Virginia Tech. Under his direction, VTTI and the team of faculty, staff, and students are working on a variety of solutions that will create ubiquitous safe, effective, resilient, and sustainable transportation for the world. VTTI and TTI collaborate regularly within the Safety through Disruption National University Transportation Center, a grant from the USDOT's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology, University Transportation Centers Program.
Bernie Fette (Host) (00:03):
Welcome. This is Thinking Transportation — stories about how we get ourselves and the things we need from point A to point B, and all that can happen in between. I’m Bernie Fette with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.
Bernie Fette (00:32):
We’re visiting today with the leaders of the two most prominent transportation research institutes in America, where novel and assertive thinking is helping to meet mobility challenges and enhance our daily lives. Greg Winfree has been the agency director at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute for about five years. Zac Doerzaph has been leading the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute for just over a month. Gentlemen, thank you both for sharing your time with us today.
Greg Winfree (guest) (01:04):
Welcome, Mr. Fette. It’s a great pleasure to be here with you and great pleasure to be here with my good friend and colleague, Dr. Zac Doerzaph.
Zac Doerzaph (guest) (01:13):
Likewise, I’m thrilled to be joining the two of you on your show. So I have to share some of our knowledge, lessons and exciting stories about the future of transportation.
Bernie Fette (01:24):
We’re happy to have both of you. So TTI and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute are the two biggest agencies of their kind in the United States, more than $100 million in funded research each year between the two. Technically, we’re competitors. But we certainly do share a common interest fundamentally. How do each of you see the nation’s mobility priorities and how do you see your university-based research supporting those priorities?
Zac Doerzaph (02:00):
You know, it’s good. There’s always the big three that, you know, we’ve all focused on for some time. And first and foremost is the safety challenges that lay before us. When we’re looking at the big mobility priorities, that’s always number one for me. It is not appropriate to continue killing people at the rate they die on our nation’s highways. And, you know, unfortunately some of the early data from this past year is looking like we’re trending in the wrong direction, with early estimates coming in potentially over 38,000 lives lost just here in the United States. You know similarly, we have our mobility challenges, you know, too many Americans spend far too much time in traffic these days. It’s time to get us moving — people and goods, swiftly, equitably, providing access where it is deficient — all of those sorts of challenges, which in many cases appear to be trending in the wrong direction as well.
Zac Doerzaph (02:51):
And then of course looking at what is happening in the, with things like climate change, we need to be very mindful of transportation’s impact on the earth and the other environmental impacts as well, so that we can find ways to curtail that impact and to start turning those trends around as well. You know, so I think about what is going on in the mobility priorities in my head and what an institute like ours can really do to make a difference is first recognizing that we’re in this incredible age of smart mobility and it really is now. We have these disruptive technologies emerging regularly providing a variety of new ways to look at these old problems, not only to look at them, but then to really create new solutions, to address them in ways that we’ve never had the ability to do before. But that also means we really have more work laying in front of us than behind us, because a lot of these methods are new. So we have to find ways to apply them appropriately and not fall down into a pit of unintended consequences for applying them in a way that we didn’t anticipate the outcomes and really maximizing the benefits and minimizing those unintended consequences.
Bernie Fette (04:04):
That sounds like a really full plate. How do you see those priorities, Greg?
Greg Winfree (04:09):
Well, you know, the first thing I would say of course is a, I agree 100 percent with everything Zac set forth. The other observation would be, uh, you know, even though we reside in universities in different parts of the country, the competitiveness ends on the football field. So from a scientific community perspective, we’re aligned on many of the objectives to help move the nation forward. But the other thing, you know, there are just some sayings we used to have when I was at USDOT. One of those was the first 50 years of automotive technology was spent in helping occupants survive crashes. The next 50 years are about avoiding crashes altogether. I mean, we still have ridiculously high number of roadway fatalities that receives very little fanfare or attention from the public and the media. So 38,000 individuals lost, but more importantly, 38,000 families that have lost a loved one, a breadwinner, a contributor to our economy. The detractors of the grieving process on that family, a loss to our economy of productivity of injury and, and other expenses affiliated with that, whether they’re hospital expenses or rehab.
Greg Winfree (05:35):
So it’s a tremendous drain on our economy just to look at it from solely a numbers perspective, but there are the human and the interpersonal effects as well. And many other observation I would add, you know, we really can’t build our way out of the challenges that we face. Our roadway, our, our interstate system is, even though it’s no longer completely optimal for the level of traffic we have, it’s still amongst the finest in the world. So what I think, uh, we can add as researchers better ways to utilize what we have, because again, we can’t build our way out of it. We need to figure out how to better utilize what we have. Uh, there are 24 hours in the day. So that gives us a platform in which to think creatively about how to better, better spread out that demand over time and reduce the instance of roadway crashes. Uh, you know, when everybody’s on the road at the same time, that’s what contributes to those numbers. So, I mean, there are things we can be doing. Some certainly at the front end are common sense. Others require scientific rigor and rectitude, and that’s certainly what Virginia Tech and TTI bring to the table.
Bernie Fette (07:00):
I want to share something with you that we learned from talking to some people who are much newer to this line of work than the two of you are. Not too long ago, we worked on a video to help the Transportation Research Board observe its 100th anniversary. And we interviewed a lot of students, a lot of young people about the future of transportation. And we asked them a number of questions. One of the things that we asked them was, what the transportation of tomorrow would look like. And no kidding. Several of them actually said “teleportation.” In the research universe, we like to talk a lot about innovation, which I guess teleportation would fall into that category. What does the notion of innovation mean to each of you?
Greg Winfree (07:48):
Well, you know, that’s an interesting observation, Bernie, and as certainly someone who grew up watching Star Wars and Star Trek. I can understand that perspective if you spin the clock back. Probably not that many years ago there very well could have been my answer, um, tempered somewhat by the realities of having watched the movie, The Fly and what happened, uh, when the fly got into the teleportation chamber. But so when you look at what innovation is thinking about at large, I would say sci-fi, science fiction, provides a lot of ideations that ultimately get when technology catches up and the realities of technology catch-up, actually become truisms. And it’s funny, I was sitting with my assistant in my office and the phone rang and she answered the phone on her iWatch. Now I grew up also with Dick Tracy as a Sunday newspaper cartoon and, and Dick Tracy talked to a watch. Now in the late sixties, early seventies, early eighties, nothing seemed more impossible than that.
Greg Winfree (09:01):
That seemed completely beyond the realm of technology — certainly the technology we had at the time. So ideas that are the province of sci-fi can infuse the innovation process to make them reality. So I would certainly add that observation, but innovation in certainly in the world in which Zac and I operate, very well could be recasting ideas or products that are currently out there for a new purpose, right? So innovation can be rethinking how you use something that currently exists as much as it could be thinking of something from whole cloth, either from basic or exploratory research and creating a brand new widget. So, so it’s a very broad category and I would, you know, target those three areas as spurring, uh, human thinking and human endeavor to match ideas that have been generated once technology makes them realizable.
Zac Doerzaph (10:04):
Yeah, that was great, Greg. I mean, I think innovation is a really fascinating term and it, you know, I’d say it is often misused as well. You know, one of the things that’s good to keep in mind is the innovation is an outcome of sort of a new, you know, something new that has emerged and is adopted and fundamentally changes the preexisting state of whatever we were doing before the innovation. So, you know, it’s very close to us. And in fact, every day when I walk into the front doors of the building, I walk under a tagline that we have posted, which is “advancing transportation through innovation.” And we very much have things that we have accomplished over our 25 years that are certainly fall into the category of, of being considered an innovation. The naturalistic driving method is a great example of one of those.
Zac Doerzaph (10:50):
It’s a method which may seem fairly commonplace today of embedded in data acquisition systems into two vehicles and letting those cars with our drivers, do whatever they would normally do and observing what it is that leads to things like crashes and near crashes through other types of transportation challenges. And that early work we did in the late mid- to late- 90s, ultimately has led to a new method for collecting data and understanding the transportation problems, and it’s widely adopted across the world. So it’s sort of, we’re very proud of those kinds of innovations. It is trickier to think about where that innovation will lie in the future. And I think your example using the teleportation is spot on because it’s really difficult, perhaps fundamentally impossible to know when an innovation is occurring until it has occurred. That said, we can start to look at that lens of where the innovations will be through these disruptions, disruptive technologies.
Zac Doerzaph (11:50):
We often like to call it that seemed to be emerging, you know, around us every day. And nobody really thought something like Uber or Lyft would so fundamentally change the way that so many people move around in such short order. And there was no amazing fundamental technology at that particular moment. Moment in time, there were a number of enablers and some group of smart people came to a realization at the right time to stand up a new way of helping to move people around. A really neat part of being in the university system is that we’re not sort of bound to, to shareholders or to a future product or to other forces. And rather, we can look at these problems with a more altruistic mindset and understand how they can do the greatest public good and focus our attention on, on ensuring that we maximize those potential benefits as the technologies do become innovation.
Bernie Fette (12:40):
Greg Winfree (12:41):
Bernie, I was just going to touch back on a point Zac made real quickly, ’cause I’m,
Bernie Fette (12:46):
Greg Winfree (12:46):
That Uber – Lyft point that he raised is really key. And I’ve got a real world example of why I wanted to get back to it. So I joined USDOT in March of 2010. It’s at the corner of New Jersey Avenue and M Street in Southeast D.C. And whenever we would travel around the region, um, you know, uh, within the city to other agencies or to the Pentagon or whatever, we would go out onto the corner. And literally at every stoplight, there would be five to seven taxis. Many of them were in transit. They’re always two to three that had the little yellow light lit that meant, “hey, I’m ready and available to pick up fares.” Where you fast forward to literally two weeks ago where I stayed at a hotel, a block away and needed to get across town and stood on a corner, a block away.
Greg Winfree (13:41):
And I was there for 15 minutes and not a single taxi came by. So the fundamental change that Zac mentioned from this innovation of Uber and Lyft, sometimes you don’t realize how impactful or how fundamental the change that they can instill is until you look backwards over time. So I was just struck by the fact that, you know, 10 years ago, when I was standing on that same region, I can hail a taxi just about it will. And 10 years later, if you didn’t call the Uber or Lyft, you had an interminably long wait of an undetermined time. So yeah, I mean, sometimes innovation sneaks up on you and you don’t realize how impactful its been until you look back over time.
Bernie Fette (14:31):
Until you’ve had a point of reference, it sounds like.
Greg Winfree (14:34):
Right. That’s right.
Bernie Fette (14:34):
Some historical reference. And I think Zac, what you said was you don’t know that it’s an innovation until after it happens, right?
Zac Doerzaph (14:41):
Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. You can, you certainly can gather a sense that it could be. What we can do is invent, right? And that’s certainly what we do a lot. We invent sometimes brand new ideas. Sometimes inventions do fall more in the category of improving. And, but those through research and invention, what we’re really doing is helping to create and stimulate and really accelerate the innovations because you can’t make real significant lasting change until it is an innovation. A real strength of, I think both Greg and I’s shops is that we both represent land grant universities, which is a pretty amazing thing. And for those who don’t know, there’s three pillars of land grant mission. And each one of those, we apply to all of the work that we do, you know. First is learning. And so as we think about the education process, being associated with universities, that’s all about helping to bring up the next generation so that they can continue the good work that we’re starting.
Zac Doerzaph (15:43):
So having that first pillar of learning is a real strength of universities in something that we at the institutes both really kind of elevate in our role to help create, um, students who have firsthand experiences and can enter the workforce really understanding how to make positive impacts through advanced research and development on the transportation system, which leads you to the second sort of three legs on a stool, which is research. Um, and of course, both of us, I believe have an extremely large focus on research and that is bringing to fruition all of the new tools, techniques, methods, approaches that we’ve been talking about to really improve the transportation system and doing that through objective scientific approaches so that we can be confident in the outcomes of those changes that occur as they emerge. But the third is equally as important, and that is ensuring that the good work that occurs within our facilities doesn’t stay there.
Zac Doerzaph (16:42):
You know, I like to think of it as engagement in the broader sense of working really in incredible collaborations, whether that’s TTI and VTTI working together, but also with our partners in the automotive industry, whether that be manufacturers and suppliers, but also reaching into our public partnerships as well through, um, the federal government, national traffic safety administration and federal highway and other organizations charged with the performance of transportation at the national level, as well as our, our operators here in our states, whether that’s at the state level or down to the locality level, who can all take the good work that we perform and implement it.
Bernie Fette (17:23):
The whole concept of applied research, right? Making sure that it actually gets put into use.
Zac Doerzaph (17:27):
Absolutely. And, and here at VTTI, we certainly do basic research. Our bread and butter, where we really like to exist, is in the application space where we can see the effects of the work that we do in the near term.
Bernie Fette (17:40):
I think it’s fair to say, Greg, that we certainly have that same, uh, sensibility here, trying to make sure that the research doesn’t just sit on a shelf, that the operating agencies that fund our research actually gain the benefit of better practices from the work that we do, right?
Greg Winfree (17:56):
Absolutely. You know, I like to call it real-world solutions for real world problems.
Bernie Fette (18:01):
Greg Winfree (18:01):
So, you know, that’s what we bring to the table. I’m a big fan of exploratory and basic and creating things from whole cloth, but a lot of the satisfaction that our professionals get, and it’s not just in the transportation sciences. I mean, we have a world-class team that works on communications across the system, whether they be video and television productions or, you know, the, our policy group. So we can be impactful and really get our message across with respect to providing, uh, implementable ideas, solutions, and technologies, whether it’s in the hard science side or all the way through with many of the other things that we offer at the Institute.
Bernie Fette (18:48):
We’ve already had a couple of references to the teaching side of this and the young people that you both get to work with occasionally. In addition to your research responsibilities, you’re both in academic roles too, if I understand right. So you have a lot of contact with that future workforce for this industry. What are the challenges that they’re facing that maybe you didn’t have to face? And conversely, what advantages do you think they have that perhaps you didn’t enjoy?
Zac Doerzaph (19:19):
You know, I’ll go back to the importance of the educational component in terms of ensuring that we’re working on, on the problems over the long term. And I have the, as you alluded to, the privilege of serving in a joint appointment role where I’m also in the biomedical engineering and mechanics department, and that allows me to teach directly. So I still spend time in the classroom. The department has been good enough to provide me with the latitude to focus on advanced vehicle systems research and development as a topic for my primary course load. So these students are entering the workforce with a great understanding of how to actualize research into implementation. And, and I do that by really creating a lot of hands-on opportunities so that really experiential learning in the classroom. And then we take that out of the classroom at VTTI by ensuring that we have roles like graduate research assistantships and internships, and we fund and support senior design projects and, and help to support competitions.
Zac Doerzaph (20:15):
And really all of that is to create these amazing experiences, which to get to your question is part of what I think has become critically important because a lot of the education system has become hyper-focused in some ways on the classroom component. And we’re really good, frankly, at teaching in the classroom, teaching to the books and creating very smart students. What I think we inadvertently leave behind at times is ensuring those students understand how that knowledge is actually applied in the real world. And I think that is something we really bring to their experience. So how is that different from when I was there? And I think part of it is that I did have a lot of experiences when I was a student and those really made me part of who I am, but I also would say that the pace of technology development and all of the options one has to seek knowledge, these days, feels as though it’s expanded significantly. It’s like the, the pace is moving so quick that by the time we teach on a subject, it’s often becoming outdated. And I feel like students are challenged by keeping up with that. And one of our jobs as researchers, who’s try to stay on that cutting edge is to be sure that we’re teaching on the cutting edge as well.
Greg Winfree (21:29):
Yeah. You know, and Bernie, Zac and I kind of had different pathways to these roles. Uh, I came into transportation from my prior career as a practicing lawyer. So I joined as chief counsel of the research division at the U.S. Department of Transportation. And then ultimately made my way on up to assistant secretary. The reason I tell you that is during that tenure, when the administration was close to winding up, I was invited to visit with Texas A&M to start to talk about what would a role look like for a lawyer that had transportation experience to be a liaison between the, at the time new law school, the Texas A&M School of Law in Fort worth was fairly recently acquired shortly before those visitations back at the 2015 timeframe. So what did it look like to have somebody that had a foot in both camps with the TTI side, as well as with the legal side and the Bush School of Public Policy to kind of try and tie those together?
Greg Winfree (22:41):
So my role, even though I have an academic appointment to the law school, it’s less from a traditional teaching perspective. And more from an, “we’ve got an old guy walking around here with a gray beard that’s had experiences outside of the state of Texas that may be impactful and instructive for students looking at outlets as they enter the profession.” So, you know, I started out at a private law firm in Washington. I went to the Department of Justice as a career, trial attorney. I then had three engagements in Fortune 500 corporations then as a political appointee in the Obama administration. And now of course at TTI. So looking at that span and in growth over time, they thought that my experiences would be helpful in providing a broader perspective for law students as they started to consider where they wanted to invest their time career-wise.
Greg Winfree (23:50):
So that’s kind of what I’ve been engaged to do. So we haven’t started teaching courses yet, but I would say that would be the first outlet where I would have that one-on-one interaction with students. Right now, it’s kind of a catch-as-catch-can, you know, when I’m in and around Fort Worth, but I will say the students that I’ve engaged with have found it tremendously rewarding to have someone to bounce those kinds of ideas off of, and to talk about clerkships whether they be in D.C. and the halls of Congress, or in Austin in the halls of the state legislature or judicial clerkships, opportunities with corporations. So there’s a lot that I can help them again, scope out career planning. And that’s what I really find rewarding about this opportunity at Texas A&M.
Bernie Fette (24:42):
What you’re both describing certainly does illustrate among other things, how the whole concept of education in this field has really evolved over, not that many years, just the last decade or two.
Greg Winfree (24:54):
Well, that’s certainly the case. And, and certainly in the case of lawyers, you know, I can tell you that there isn’t an ideation of career opportunities in transportation. Many of the lawyers will find themselves there came up through the office of general counsel ranks and that’s to be expected, but there are many areas where legal training could be applied across the industry, right? So, so helping them think more broadly has been key. And that’s something that I didn’t have. You know, we, if I’m honest, I found myself again in a, in a lawyerly role, but having the opportunity to progress as folks moved around in that governmental opportunity is what really made me a prime candidate for the TTI role. So yes, those are some of the things I didn’t have early on. And that’s what I’m hoping to provide to the next generation of law students, but also undergrads that are aspiring to move in this direction.
Bernie Fette (25:51):
Zac Doerzaph (25:52):
I think you raised something very interesting there, Bernie, which is, um, to reflect on the extent to which basic degree path and the expertise that one follows has changed drastically over my 20-ish years in the profession, which is pretty staggering, to be honest. You know, mechanical engineers dominated the design of a vehicle as an example, you know, you certainly had a lot of other people in the mix as well. Fast forward to today, car cars are moving computers, right? You’ve got huge numbers of software engineers and other expertise that have emerged and even specialties in automotive engineering and other professions, which are really keenly focused on developing incredibly complex vehicles and infrastructure that we have today.
Bernie Fette (26:32):
Yeah, exactly. I mean, it was just a few days ago, the last, and this was actually a slightly used car that I bought and the salesperson said, this is, this is a computer on wheels.
Zac Doerzaph (26:43):
It absolutely is. If you’re, it gets back to the pace of technology a bit. But if we look at, you know, an old vehicle, you’re looking at zero lines of code right? Now, all the way up into the 80s timeframe. And then, you know, in the 90s, we start having things like fuel injection and computers sorta start sneaking their way into a small system here and there. And, you know, if you fast forward to the modern electrical vehicle architectures, you’re starting to look at million-lines-of-code level. And most estimates talking about highly automated vehicles are in the billion line of code. That’s a staggering difference to the point where you realize you can’t even realistically put human eyes on all of that, right? So you’re relying on really advanced methods and machines even teaching themselves or teaching other machines in order to create the level of intelligence needed. That’s that staggeringly different.
Bernie Fette (27:28):
Yeah. And I, I really enjoy the way my boss and your friend Greg liked to describe the environment we’re all going to face in not too many years with all those cars, with the billions of lines of code commingling with the ’57 Chevys and the ’69 Mustangs. And I think what Greg likes to refer to as a mosh pit of transportation. You both could have pursued several different lines of work. I mean, even though you had some variety until you got to your current positions, I’m curious about why you chose this path. If I can be so bold as to say, in 25 words or less, what revs you up to come to work every day?
Greg Winfree (28:12):
Well, I was one of those in my parents would say weird kids that had always had an affinity for science and technology. I had a subscription to Popular Science when I was eight and read it cover to cover. So I had always been attracted to that kind of thinking and those that operated in that arena. So if you look throughout my career, certainly with the corporate opportunities, I’d always been drawn to, uh, either medicine or heavy engineering, uh, that continues of course, into the transportation industry. But to me, that was my highest and best use because I kind of developed a niche as a lawyer that had the ability to break down complex scientific concepts for laypersons, or even worse, judges. So that’s still a role that I, I would say I thrive in and I find it tremendously rewarding to be engaged in that fashion.
Zac Doerzaph (29:16):
I wasn’t counting there. That can’t be 25.
Greg Winfree (29:18):
That couldn’t have been 25. That’s the best you get from a lawyer. Sorry.
Zac Doerzaph (29:26):
So I’m a lot like Greg in terms of just, uh, an innate curiosity about the world, which has led me to the understanding that I wanted to be in the engineering realm from a very early age, uh, more certainly in the technical career path, but you perhaps more importantly than that, as I’ve, I’m a gear head / car enthusiast and practically came out of the womb that way, best I can tell. Certainly, yeah, there’s no better toy than a Hot Wheel as a kid. And one of my favorite games that I used to play, uh, you know, with my dad a lot while we were driving around was “name that car.” And it was who could figure out not just what make and model that car was, but you had to get year of the vehicle before the other person. So, you know, and it’s, uh, it’s probably not the average thing that the kid today with an iPad in the backseat while they’re cruising down the road.
Greg Winfree (30:16):
I played that game, and I remember playing it at night because it was then you had to identify the car by the tail light. That was the master’s edition.
Zac Doerzaph (30:24):
I actually bought my first car when I was 14 years old, which means a year and a half before I was eligible to get behind the wheel of any car, much less one that I owned. Um, so that was, that was fun. It was a classic car. I spent two years taking it down, literally every nut and bolt all the way to piles on the garage floor and, and rebuilt every component on that car from the ground up, including all new engine work and paint and the whole ball of wax. So that was a really great opportunity to understand the inner workings of a vehicle and how that applies to the way that those cars operate and what emerged as I was in my undergraduate degree was the realization that I also really enjoyed science itself and being able to carefully look at a problem, understand exactly what is happening in a way that you could objectively explain it and repeat. I thought that was the coolest thing ever. And that stemmed my interest in, in sticking around for postgraduate degrees. And really transportation just continued to be, to be a big factor in that. And so it it’s a little funny, but ultimately, you know, Virginia Tech really attracted me and back then VTTI in its infancy was this amazing find, you know, stumbled across it on an early website and thought, wow, I had no idea these things existed. And so I, I literally got sucked into the career, uh, and never left.
Bernie Fette (31:47):
One thing I understand that you guys share in common is your interest in motorcycles. Do you think that that interest has shaped your approach to your work in any way?
Greg Winfree (31:57):
You know, I would say absolutely. And it was one of the passions I carried forward, uh, into my role at USDOT was my observation that law policy regulations were often drafted and after they were issued, then came the collective forehead slap — “oh, gee, we forgot about motorcycles.” So even in the conversations now that include vulnerable road users, you hear routinely pedestrians, bicyclists, you’ll even hear e-scooters, and every other means of personal mobility, but motorcycles are still left out inexplicably uh, to be quite honest. If you look worldwide, motorcycles are probably one of the predominant means of inexpensive transport for many peoples around the world. They remain so in this country. I think it’s been unfortunate that it has been branded as somewhat of a rebel activity. Hollywood hasn’t helped in that regard, but, you know, there was an old commercial that said, you know, you meet the nicest people on a motorcycle.
Greg Winfree (33:10):
It didn’t quite say that. It was talking about Hondas. But that’s true. And it remains a low-impact transport option that would reduce congestion writ large, would reduce the need for limited space in cities, for parking, et cetera. They are relatively clean operating at least compared to larger vehicles. So for all of those reasons, they should be a viable option at the center of the conversation. Particularly as we talk about mobility going forward as we sit here today. So yes, that’s informed a lot of how I think about transportation and the safety aspects, making sure that motorcyclists are always at the forefront of thinking from a vulnerable road user perspective.
Bernie Fette (33:57):
Well, and you not only meet some nice people on motorcycles, but at least in your case, Greg, I know that people would have an opportunity to meet a nice dog on a motorcycle, because I know that Maya hangs out with you whenever you’re on your bike from time to time.
Greg Winfree (34:14):
She does. She is the lone chihuahua.
Bernie Fette (34:14):
Chihuahua in a pouch on a motorcycle.
Zac Doerzaph (34:16):
That’s amazing. I’ve never tried to ride with a dog. I thought passengers were hard enough. That sounds like next level, Greg. Man, I’m not, I’m not sure I could keep up with this guy.
Zac Doerzaph (34:27):
Yeah. It definitely shapes my thinking. For example, in 2019, I believe motorcyclists were 20 times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than their counterparts in the vehicles. And to Greg’s point, there seems to be a, you know, a perception at times that they’re rebels, and they must have a death wish. But I think it’s really important to realize that motorcyclists are no different fundamentally. They want to get to their destination just as safe and smoothly as everybody in the car does. And the problems really aren’t all that much different. You still have speed. You still have alcohol involvement. So we can apply the same treatments to both systems. And I think sometimes, sometimes we neglect to characterize them and to think about them up front in the same way that Greg described. And that’s really doing that population a disservice. I believe it’s really important as we look forward to understand that some of the new systems that are emerging can really make a positive impact on this space because to Greg’s point, they’re not going anywhere.
Zac Doerzaph (35:23):
They’re not going anywhere because they are a great mode of transportation, but they also are more than just transportation. This is, people own motorcycles because of the experience of riding a bike is different and they enjoy it in a different way. And it’s, can be compared to the jump back to the classic muscle car. You know, I’m not going to pry the, the 1967 GTO out of somebody’s hands because I think I can put them in a newer car that would be safer. That’s not a practical solution to the problem. Motorcycles are the same way, and you can extend it to all these other, you know, electric skateboards. And there are many ways to transport and we really need to be considering the whole system and how we can address each of those users within. And I sort of always say, you know, transportation begins and ends with a human, and we have to think about all of the ways that the human is involved in that, regardless of what it is they happen to be using to carry themselves from point A to point B.
Bernie Fette (36:21):
It gives us a lot of reason for optimism.
Greg Winfree (36:22):
Bernie Fette (36:23):
Greg Winfree and Zac Doerzaph. Leaders of TTI and VTTI. Thank you, gentlemen. This has been very informative and it’s been fun, too. Thanks very much.
Greg Winfree (36:37):
Thank you so much.
Zac Doerzaph (36:37):
Bernie, my pleasure. Appreciate it. Happy to come back anytime.
Greg Winfree (36:41):
Had the pleasure of hanging out with you again, my friend.
Zac Doerzaph (36:44):
Likewise, Greg, maybe in person before too long, huh?
Greg Winfree (36:47):
Let’s do it, for sure.
Bernie Fette (36:52):
For a nation and society to be prosperous and secure, safe and reliable mobility is a fundamental requirement. To ensure that future, we will need living transportation laboratories where curiosity is commonplace and adventurous problem solving can lead to genuine innovation. All in a day’s work at both the Texas A&M Transportation Institute and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
Bernie Fette (37:24):
Thanks for listening. We hope you’ll join us next time for a conversation with Jolanda Prozzi and Juan Villa, about how the pandemic has made us all learn a bit more about how supply chains work — and what can happen when they don’t. Thinking Transportation is a production of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, a member of the Texas A&M University System. The show is edited and produced by Chris Pourteau. I’m your writer and host, Bernie Fette. Thanks again for listening. We’ll see you next time.