News | IDEO's Jonah Houston Speaks on the Future of Urban Mobility

Stop the Video




IDEO's Jonah Houston Speaks on the Future of Urban Mobility

Sunday, November 18, 2018

by By Sarah Erickson

Despite the numerous ways that transportation has reinvented itself, it still has not solved the problem of moving people efficiently over short distances. In a seminar held at the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis on November 2, transportation leading mobility innovation expert discussed some emerging forms of transportation that will make us re-evaluate how we move in dense, urban environments.  

Jonah Houston, Senior Portfolio Lead at IDEO’s Transportation and Mobility Practice, was featured speaker at the seminar sponsored through ITS-Davis’ partnership with the Pacific Southwest Region University Transportation Center.


Jonah Houston speaking at UC Davis Seminar


Entitled, “The Second System: The Future of Urban Mobility Might be Smaller and Closer than We Imagined,” the seminar spotlighted micro-mobility as an unlikely form of transportation that stands to bridge the gap between natural systems and our own man-made ones.

Houston started out with a heartwarming story of his son cutting his thumb and innocently inquiring, “Why didn’t all the blood rush out?” He explained to his son how blood moves from arteries to veins to capillaries, and the efficiency by which nature found a way to transport blood to the rest of the body. Why, Houston wondered, does it seem so difficult for our own man-made transportation systems to follow the same model?

Houston believes we have not correctly aligned our transportation “capillaries” with the right transportation technology. While we have solved the problem of transporting large amounts of people or things time after time again, that system doesn’t flow well into the network of our city streets. Current advances in electric and battery-powered mobility, however, have provided a perfect opportunity for a new mode of transportation to fill this gap: micro-mobility.

In the past year, e-scooters have grown by remarkable 3.6%. By comparison, other car or bike share services have averaged <1% post-launch annual growth rate. What makes micro-mobility so special, according to Houston, is that it addresses the critical size issue we are facing in our transportation system. It provides the final step of our very own urban capillaries.

Houston points out that many of our current vehicle trips could be replaced by an alternative micro-mobility solution. He emphasized the almost limitless possibility of this sustainable and economical technology in the future of transportation. Having spent his nearly his entire life in the automotive industry, Houston says he has never been as excited as he is today for what will come next.


Students attending the seminar on November 2, 2018.


Houston joined IDEO in 2000 and has worked on broad range of systemic transportation projects, imagining the future of security for the Department of Homeland Security as well as the future of urban transportation in 2030 for the U.N. Climate Change Conference. His project work has also gone inside the car to help Fiat “democratize connectivity” for their A/B level cars in South America.

Prior to IDEO, Houston was a co-founder of American Suspension, the only domestic manufacturer of suspension forks for motorcycles. With the other founders, Houston co-developed over 50 products in under two years. He was the team manager for the Russell Racing school at Laguna Seca and was responsible for keeping 40 race cars on the track 150 days per year. Houston was also a member of Team USA in the 1995 Camel Trophy, one of the most world’s most rigorous off-road races.

You can view a full recording of Jonah Houston’s talk, part of the ITS-Davis’ weekly seminar series, by clicking on Watch Video at the URL:

About the Author:

Sarah Erickson is an administrative assistant for the 3 Revolutions Future Mobility Program of ITS-Davis and the UC Davis Policy Institute. She splits her time between her work with these institutes and her work with the UC Davis Coastal & Marine Science Institute, where she is a communication specialist. This past year, Sarah earned her Bachelor of Science from UC Davis in Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology with a minor in Professional Writing. She aspires to use her background in science to find innovative ways to connect research with both policymakers and the public.