Times Square traffic patterns are a world onto themselves. Times Square traffic patterns are a world onto themselves. Times Square traffic patterns are a world onto themselves. (Photo: Andrey Bayda / Shutterstock)

Israeli tech to help ease New York City traffic woes

Gov. Cuomo traveled to the Mediterranean country for help fixing the beleaguered MTA.

Having a car in New York City can often be a pain, which explains why the majority of its residents rely on a combination of taxis and public transportation to get around. If you're on the Upper West Side, it's simply easier to hop on a subway to Lower Manhattan than to crawl your way through traffic.

But public transportation in the Big Apple has its fair share of problems as well. While other international cities like London and Paris are quickly expanding their subway systems, new upgrades in Manhattan have frequently been plagued by delays and cost overruns. “It’s sort of like a dark money pit where money just keeps getting thrown at projects,” Corey Johnson, who is running for mayor, told New York Magazine about the Metropolitan Transit Authority. “When the projects are being negotiated, many, many times, the MTA just signs off on what the contractors put in front of them. There’s no forensic auditing or effort to see if costs have been inflated in an unscrupulous way.”

New subway stations in New York City can cost billions of dollars. New subway stations in New York City can cost billions of dollars. (Photo: Carlos Alcazar / Pixabay)

That topic was on the mind of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who traveled on a recent trade mission to Israel. He was joined by MTA Managing Director Veronique Hakim. While in the Mediterranean country, they met with several Israeli startups in the hopes of finding new technologies that could help ease New York's transportation woes.

One such company was the Tel Aviv-based Axilion, which is a leader in the "smart mobility" space. Among other things, their technology coordinates traffic lights to give preference to oncoming public transportation vehicles like buses. Their software can result in a 40% shorter commute time as well as a substantial reduction of emissions.

Cuomo announced that he would also be looking for transportation ideas from Cornell Tech – a joint venture between Cornell University and Israel's Technion Institute – that is located on Roosevelt Island. The school was founded in 2012 and brings together academic minds from both continents.

A view of the campus of Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island in New York City. A view of the campus of Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island in New York City. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

In recent years, Israel has taken the reins when it comes to transportation technology, leading some to call Tel Aviv the new Motor City. The popular traffic app Waze, which was acquired by Google in 2013, is based in Israel. Dozens of car companies – from Toyota to General Motors – have set up incubators there. Mobileye, the world's leading driverless car company, launched in Israel.

And it's not just big multi-national companies that are making headway there. For example, a small startup called City Transformer designed a car that can fold while you're driving it so it can weave through traffic and park in smaller spots. A team of college students built a robot chauffeur, which you can put into any car.

On the campus of Ben-Gurion University, Professor Eran Ben-Elia has built a high-tech lab devoted to studying traffic issues. Inspired by behavioral economist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, a fellow Israeli, Ben-Elia wants to figure out why people make certain decisions when they're in a car. When you approach your destination, do you cruise around the area looking for on-street parking, or do you skip that and head straight to a parking garage – even though it might be a little further away. Are you a risk taker or do you prefer a sure thing? He's now working on a new project that could impact all commuters – he may have discovered the perfect route to work.

Back in New York, the state has long had strong ties with Israel. More than 500 Israeli-founded business now call New York home, in industries from the restaurant business to fashion. In total, these companies generated $18.6 billion in revenue in 2018. Israeli-American architect Michael Arad beat out 5,201 entrants to win the open competition for designing the National September 11 Memorial. Last year's Tony Award for best Broadway musical went to "The Band's Visit," which was based on an Israeli film.

It's no wonder that Cuomo was optimistic upon his return. "On our solidarity trip, we focused on key areas that present real opportunities for collaboration with Israeli companies," he said, "because when Israeli startups choose New York, there is tremendous potential for growth for both economies."

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Israeli tech to help ease New York City traffic woes
Gov. Cuomo traveled to the Mediterranean country for help fixing the beleaguered MTA.