By Andrew Nusca
Posting in Cities
What should transportation look like in the 21st century? Multi-modal, sustainable, IT-enhanced and door-to-door, according to experts at The Economist's Intelligent Infrastructure conference.
NEW YORK -- What should transportation look like in the 21st century?
A panel of experts took on this weighty question at The Economist's Intelligent Infrastructure conference at Pace University, agreeing that it wasn't one singular vision that would solve the world's mobility problems -- rather, it was a combination of modes of transport that would best serve a rapidly growing global population.
Larry Burns, director of sustainable mobility at The Earth Institute at Columbia University, kicked off the discussion with a bold suggestion: what if you could converge electrically-driven vehicles with connected vehicles so that you couldn't crash?
It's not such a farfetched idea, the former General Motors research and development chief said.
"Standards are going to be required to make this work," he said. "We're talking about safety and critical systems here. We're probably going to need some mechanisms to make sure we deliver on a level of safety, so the government's going to have to be involved in some way. But you have to engage consumers. The technology is there. It's converging."
What's more, there's plenty of room for energy efficiency along the way, Burns said.
"Just one percent of that energy is moving the person," he said. "The rest is moving the 3,000 lbs. of vehicle, and loss to heat and friction."
"I don't see the transformation in cars, I see it in transportation and transportation infrastructure," she said. "We think of that as roads, but we're beginning to think about multi-modal, sustainable, IT-enhanced, door-to-door transportation trip.
"The electric vehicle fits beautifully within this multi-modal system. And it's the system of the future."
"Both of these old industries are responding to changes in society," he said. ""It's very hard to project what the world will look like 30 years from now, but what we know is that Henry Ford and Thomas Edison won't be able to recognize the world as well as they can today."
That kind of change must come from within, cleantech entrepreneur Jack Hidary said.
"About 10 years ago, a lot of us thought innovation would come from Silicon Valley," he said. "It's actually been a lot of other companies that have verticalized the supply chain and squeezed out costs."
It may also require a change in thinking, he said.
"Traditionally, a lot of us asked, 'How many of these will be on the road?' " he said. "What I'd rather say is, what's the percent of passenger miles traveled? That's a very different percentage."
Why that matters: because it changes our approach to transportation. Instead of outlaying a high initial cost for a personal car and justifying its existence by using it all the time, new flexible ownership models such as car-sharing may be of greater appeal to consumers and companies alike, he said.
"Whether they're electric or shared, cars have a decentralizing effect on a region," she said. "Cars are what allowed us to leave cities. That has energy and climate implications beyond the car: larger, detached homes, a wider area to ship goods and deliver services."
The majority of long-distance trips in the U.S. still take place by car, Todorovich said. But the transport gap for distances between 60 and 100 miles -- where air travel once ruled -- could be addressed with rail networks.
"Rail has a centralizing affect on regions," she said. "High-speed rail can serve the highest-value, most-densely populated and productive mega-regions of our country."
In a Q&A session, one audience member asked how this vision of the future incorporates a major, unspoken part of the rail network: freight rail. Will commuter infrastructure build-out adversely affect logistics for this highly efficient part of the industry?
"Goods movement is so relevant to a systems point a view. It is multi-modal, IT-enhanced, door-to-door transportation," Zielinski said. "If we could move people just as well…if we have to share the space, that means we have to optimize goods and people movement so that there can be more space and that they can interact with each other."
Zielinski said change is ultimately coming as part of a new generation's outlook on mobility.
"We've got this whole systems approach that the younger generation, they get it," she said. "Having to own five cars is so last millennium."
People rely on public transportation where it makes sense -- but it's unavailable in too many locations, Todorovich said.
"Every time there is an uptick in gasoline prices, there is an uptick in Amtrak ridership," she said. "Most Americans don't have access to convenient public transportation."
It's not just high-speed rail, either.
"Regional rail systems have to be in place for high-speed rail to work best," she said. "We are going to add 100 million people to this country by 2050. We need more capacity."
Hidary said there are things that can be done now to increase usage of multi-modal transportation systems.
One example: information flow.
"Not just having in the subway system a little LED system telling you when the train is coming, but also having an app on my BlackBerry telling me a train is coming," he said. "That information exists. It's in the system. We must free the information."
More from the Intelligent Infrastructure conference:
Feb 21, 2011
Hello People, Peak Oil is here, petrol and other Oil based fuels,will soon be too expensive to operate: Cars, Trucks, buses, planes and other such transport. But don't worry, the free market will fix this problem, just like the so called free market fixed the GFC dillema when banks run out of money..... Ummm...In other words, the free market won't fix the poblem, Governments will have to do something drastic to again stop the first world from free-falling. (which may not be such a bad thing, exceot all the rich people will loose att their money) Question is What? I can bet you that it will be the easiest political fix, and not a proper thoughout SUSTAINABLE fossil fuel free Transport system. We really need a mixture of human and Electric based systems: Walking, cycling, trains, light rail, High speed rail, all connected (last mile) by PRT. Electric based system can be run by Wind, Solar, CRT (Concentrated Solar thermal with base load Molten salt / Geo thermal) power. Thanks.
There is plenty of capacity out on the streets and highways. I agree with Jack Hidary...it should not be about how many vehicles but how many passenger miles. A mile of freeway can carry 2,500 vehicles per hour. At the usual average of 1.1 persons, it carries 2,750 people per hour. But if all the vehicles were 50 seat buses, it could carry well over 100,000 people per hour. Each time we drive we impose an externality on everyone else. If it is during peak hours, that externality includes the wasting of time, energy, clean air, highway capacity, and so on. At almost no cost, if we could crack the code of ridesharing, and get people out from behind the drivers seat, on average one day per week instead of the current half day per week, we would suddenly have a transportation system that worked. That is all it would take!
every city street, country road, interstate, and urban expressway has been built by "government edict", and paid for by ALL the citizenry through property taxes, gas taxes, income taxes, and more. even those that don't own cars, have to pay these taxes to support free usage of streets and interstates. And many people and neighbourhoods have been involuntarily displaced through eminent domain, urban renewal, and other government edicts/actions - all in the name of building roads and expressways. There is NO "FREE" enterprise when it comes to provision and use of roads. As soon as there is a toll transponder for every street and road that covers the costs of construction, maintenance, snow removal, police protection, lighting, traffic signals, etc - then we can talk about "FREE" enterprise in america. until that day when your "FREE" enterprise system builds its own roads and highways AND charges YOU a fare/toll for the priviledge of using it, you can keep your snarky comments about transit, rail, and bus subsidies to yourself.
I must add, are people unaware that innovation has been singled out for taxation by legislation under the current administration. Free enterprise will point the way, so, quick, let's get a tax on that (to stop it).
Well, I too have been reading science fiction now for nearly 55 years. And the facts are that practical changes will take place when the FREE market presents a path recognized by the masses as appropriate and desirable. No government edict, as has most of out mass transit has been created so far, can or should be forced down the throats of the citizenry. ALL the proposals are more oriented to the control of people's movement, not providing for their transportation desires. And I just love the thoughts of electric vehicles. For all the hoopla, wind and solar are impractical and, to say the least, inadequate to power a grid up to the job of supporting universal electric transportation. Nuclear power, other that other environmentalist's favorite boogeyman hydroelectric power, is the only practical electricity producing source. But, for all the rhetoric, no administration is going to east the build and operational permits needed to create the necessary nuclear powered grid. And ridicules government subsidies for transportation which people do not want or desire to use will continue to lead to busted budgets and bankrupt cities, states and the national government.
Air travel once ruled for distances between 60 and 100 miles? That must be a typo. Rail travel, perhaps? What people seem to overlook when they discuss getting rid of, or severely limiting, automobile use, is that personal transportation has been the norm since before the invention of the wheel. (Walking is personal transportation.) Public transportation is the choice when personal transportation is too expensive or too time consuming. But public transportation is only less time consuming at great distances, by air or (rarely, yet) high-speed rail. Even for a distance of 200-300 miles, driving one's personal vehicle is usually less time consuming, due to the time it takes to switch from one form of transport to another at both ends of the "public" portion of the route. Living closer to work and activities is probably the answer to energy and pollution concerns, but this does not address the fact that personal transportation is still (probably) more desirable for most people. As an example, I checked transportation options for an area I thought I might be interested in living, and found that the trip to work would take 8 minutes by car, 24 minutes by bicycle, and 24 minutes by bus. Which transportation method will be my last choice, do you think? I would ride a bicycle when the weather permits, and drive my car otherwise; I think most people would do the same. As Susan Zielinski says, it must be door-to-door. Otherwise, it's going to be inconvenient, and people will only do it if they have no other choice. I'm not against using public transportation even for short distances, but I'm skeptical that it can become a reasonable alternative for most people in the next 89 years. Maybe it's a 22nd century thing.
I want a seamless system that will take me from my home to wherever I need to go, transitioning actual mode of travel without having to change seats. I envision mobile people-pods, capable of self-navigation, linked into a nationwide system, that simply ride onto the high-speed system when necessary.
THE 21ST CENTURY TRANSPORTATION INFRASTRUCTURE SHOULD BE IT-ENABLED. WE SHOULD TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE ONGOING ADVANCES AND POTENTIAL OF INFORMATION COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY (ICT). GADEMA KORBOI QUOQUOI PREIDENT & CEO COMPULINE INTERNATIONAL, INC.