FutureStructure

Beyond Traffic - Planning for the Future of Transportation

In Washington, in state capitals and in city halls, it is time to sound the alarm bell: the future is calling.

by Chad Vander Veen - Editor, FutureStructure / February 3, 2015

In thirty years, the transportation system in the United States will be a fossil – a relic of the 20th century that utterly fails Americans in 2045. That’s the dire scenario U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx predicted February 2 while in Mountain View, Calif., at the Google campus. After a short jaunt in one of Google’s automated electric vehicles, Foxx – along with Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt – unveiled Beyond Traffic, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s new framework for building an intelligent transportation network and avoiding the transit nightmare the agency envisions if the current system is not modernized.

Timing the Beyond Traffic announcement to coincide with the President’s $478 billion transportation infrastructure funding proposal, Foxx said he hopes to stimulate a public conversation about the future of transportation while also warning elected officials that failing to act will have disastrous consequences.

“For too long, our national dialogue about transportation has been focused on recreating the past. Instead, we need to focus on the trends that are shaping our future,” said Secretary Foxx. “In Washington, in state capitals and in city halls, it is time to sound the alarm bell: the future is calling. Beyond Traffic gives us a view into 2045 and the basis to plan for it. But not having a plan is a plan.”

 

According Beyond Traffic, leveraging technology and innovation in areas like autonomous cars, vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, big data and data analysis will be essential for the nation’s transportation system as the U.S. population swells by 70 million more people over the next three decades, the vast majority of whom will reside in 11 so-called “mega-regions”.

The current urban migration, coupled with climate change, the U.S. energy boom and improving economy, will continue to overtax the current transportation system that was conceived under the Eisenhower administration, said ITS America Senior Vice President for Government & External Affairs Paul Feenstra, who praised Beyond Traffic as an important step toward transforming the fundamental nature of what it means to move.

“We’re thrilled the U.S. DOT is engaging the tech and intelligent transportation systems community and that they’ve taken this concerted effort to look forward to what the needs of the transportation system are going to be not just today but thirty years from now,” Feenstra said.

Beyond Traffic, which the U.S. DOT calls a “blue paper” (as opposed to a blue print) for the future of transportation, envisions a world in which driverless cars virtually eliminate crashes and next-generation air traffic control technology clears the skies of congestion.

But getting to that future means addressing a number of critical questions, according to Feenstra.

“How do you use all the tools we have at our disposal to manage traffic better, to help give people the information and options they need to get around more efficiently?” Feenstra said. “As we have more cars and buses and trucks, bikes and pedestrians all interacting with each other in increasingly crowded environments, how do you use technology to prevent cars from crashing into each other and into pedestrians and bicycles? How do you help truck fleets and owner-operators use technology to get their goods from point A to point B more efficiently and predictably?”

The U.S. DOT hopes some of those answers will come from the public. To that end, the agency is inviting anyone to share with them their ideas about how to transform transportation such that it will be able to meet the needs of society in 2045.

“It is important to note that Beyond Traffic is not an action plan and is not intended to be,” Foxx wrote in the simultaneously-released, 316-page paper Beyond Traffic 2045 Trends and Choices. “It is a survey of where we are and where current trends may take us if left unaddressed. The federal government alone cannot achieve resolution of all of the issues and concerns the future will bring; much decision making belongs to other stakeholders, including state and local governments and the private sector…We hope it prompts a long-overdue national conversation.”

Feenstra, meanwhile, believes the explosion of data and real-time information is creating opportunities for the public and private sectors to work in tandem to lay the groundwork for truly intelligent transportation system.

“A big challenge is bringing the traditional transportation community together with technology firms and with innovators that have a whole different outlook on advancing [transportation] technology,” Feenstra said. “One of the things we’ve been doing at ITS America is we have a group called our Leadership Circle which brings together the public agencies with the private sector leaders, as well as the universities and research leaders, to figure out how we address things like the pace of innovation within transportation. We’re thrilled to have [Google] as a member of ITS America. We’re thrilled the U.S. DOT sees Google as a partner and one of many players in the industry that can bring new technologies to bear to improve transportation, safety and mobility.”