Meet the Students Who Are Shaping the Future of Transportation in Cambridge

Glocal ChallengeThe Transportation Transformers team celebrates. Photo courtesy of EF Education First.

Eight teams of Cambridge Rindge and Latin Students will spend their summers making transportation in Cambridge more sustainable.

Approximately 35 students won summer internships with the city through the Glocal Challenge, a collaboration among EF Education First, the City of Cambridge, and CRLS that invites students to come up with creative solutions to local problems through global thinking.

The top two teams, Live Bus and Transportation Transformers, also won a trip to the EF Education First Global Leadership Summit in Berlin this summer.

This year’s prompt was “How might we improve transportation in Cambridge by 2020?”

Live Bus will involve mounting iPads in local shop windows near bus stops to show real-time tracking information, which will be helpful for riders who don’t have smartphones. The team expects to put up 10 to 13 displays.

The Transportation Transformers project will team up with the city and Hubway to offer students discounted Hubway memberships. Funding will go toward seminars on biking safety and purchasing helmets.

“We wanted the city to subsidize passes for Hubway for students, and since the city owns about a 26 percent stake, they would actually be profiting from each new customer who joins Hubway,” says Simon Simpson, 16. “So it was a win-win—for the students, because they get cheaper Hubway, and a win for the city, because they make money.”

Other finalists included teams working on a Waze-style biking route app, convertible seats on the Red Line that will make space for and secure wheelchairs, and interactive touch screens in bus stops.

Three honorable mention teams also earned summer internships with the city to conduct feasibility studies. Their projects involve turning a parking lane into a bus- and bike-only traffic lane during rush hour, converting a lane on Mass Ave. into a bike lane, and making a bike lane on Broadway.

Students from the eight teams will continue to develop their ideas throughout the spring and then complete their ideas or conduct feasibility studies during 120-hour summer internships that are tied into the mayor’s summer youth employment program.

During the planning period, the Glocal Challenge organizers brought in many experts to help guide the students in developing and fleshing out their ideas.

“We had the design lab, out of the Cambridge public school district, come and gave a pretty intense workshop on what is design thinking and how do you design an idea,” says Jennifer Lawrence, sustainability planner for the Cambridge Community Development Department. “Angie UyHam, who was one of our finalist judges, she came on one of the first days of the program and just talked to students about how do you start with this big, huge prompt and start to figure out what you might do to solve that challenge.”

Twenty teams made up of almost 100 students competed in the challenge. A panel of judges including representatives from MassDOT, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and Zipcar chose the winners.

There are still many issues to work out on the projects, the winning students make clear.

“Where can we put all these bikes? We were thinking around the library, there are more places, maybe they’ll put it over there,” says Rakeyah Ahsan, 17, a member of the Transportation Transformers team. “Also, moving the bikes—Hubway will take care of it, they will move the bikes every morning from CRLS to different stations so that students can come from those stations—so that’s the bigger challenge.”

Students worked on their projects during the school day, missing classes but keeping up with their coursework. This type of project that involves problem solving and team work is where “some students really thrive,” Lawrence says.

Miles Taylor, 18, is one of those students. He writes a blog called “Miles on the MBTA” where he reviews train stations and bus routes and just got a job with the T for the summer. “I guess I’m the resident transportation person in the school,” he explains.

“Everyone would be mad if you didn’t do it,” Rakeyah says to him.

“It’s so wonderful to have such a collaborative project, where it’s the school district, EF, our private partner, and the city, all working together on this amazing project,” Lawrence says. “It’s so nice to see how it can work that way, and we can all bring different pieces in.”

Past Glocal Challenge prompts have solicited ideas for how to decrease food waste and energy waste. Winning projects included an educational push about expiration dates and a kinetic energy educational display.