Intelligent Transportation Systems Fork in the Road Design Department

Automobiles and the highways we drive them on are wonders of technology -- old technology. Like the suburbs that sprang up after the interstate was born, little thought was given to how these marvels of road building would hold up in the future. Today's traffic is a worsening problem with no clear solution.

Like climate change, the best strategy to soothe traffic woes is likely a combination of solutions. Except for a few pockets of hope, U.S. public transportation ranges from laughable to nonexistent. As much sense as a high-speed rail service would make in populous, spread-out places like California and Texas, the cost and political will it would require doesn't make it an option. What remains is constructing more roads and an amalgam of technologies known as intelligent transportation systems (ITS).

Unfortunately ITS doesn't herald a new age of '60s-era transportation futurism. There will be no flying cars or downtown monorails. What ITS can do, however, is make traffic more bearable. While anyone with a modicum of foresight knows that gasoline-powered cars plodding along occasionally widening, often-crumbling freeways isn't a sustainable solution, ITS may help bide time to truly solve the transportation problem.

Rubber, Meet Road

Many drivers already use ITS in some fashion whether they know it or not. John Q. Public may be oblivious to ITS because the term covers so many different technology pieces.

California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) Chief Deputy Director Randy Iwasaki did his best to sum up what exactly ITS encompasses.

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Chad Vander Veen  | 

Chad Vander Veen previously served as the editor of FutureStructure, and the associate editor of Government Technology and Public CIO magazines.