There is little or no question that education is a key to success. As the responsibilities of transportation professionals broaden, there is needed education in all areas: the suites of disciplines in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) but also digital technologies and their various disciplines and off-shoots, social sciences, human resources management, public relations/communications, organization development and change, project and program management, business, finance, accounting, project controls (scope, schedule, budget), audit, English/editing/writing, planning, project development, design, construction, operations, maintenance, engineering and its disciplines, architecture, systems engineering/management, biological/environmental/climate sciences, geology, hydrology, political science and government, law, economics and economic development, jobs sustained and created, analytics, quality assurance and control, history, leadership, and many others. These are needed along with the skills, talents, and innovations to address the spectrum of transportation and mobility and associated challenges. It is difficult to find comparable data on countries’ STEM graduates. However, it appears while the U. S. produces the most Ph.D.s and 40 percent of India STEM graduates are women, India and perhaps China produce more STEM graduates than the U. S. (Buchholz, 2020; Sindwani, 2020; Gray, 2017). Regardless, the United States needs to keep focused on the importance of STEM programs and adjust to increasing technology and automation (Långstedt, 2021; Dilven, 2021). The competition for talent and skills will only continue in the future. A recently announced leadership development program is a partnership between Kiewit Corporation and University of Nebraska called the Kiewit Scholars Program (Crouch and Reed, 2021).
Marcia McNutt, President of the National Academy of Sciences, provided an excellent overview as the 2021 Transportation Research Board (TRB) Key Note Speaker on where we have been, where we are, and where we’re headed in her presentation: “Delivering science in a crisis: our critical role in helping society build back and forge a more resilient, sustainable future” (https://youtu.be/wuMOSM8BEoA). The TRB celebrated its 100th anniversary November 11, 2020, and as part of the National Academies, signed into law by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.
It is also important to remember that leadership is about people (Bock, 2021).
Strong generalist, systems and servant leadership are essential to bring this all together, setting the vision, mission, strategy, goals and objectives, priorities, policies, and standards through the people to overcome the many challenges—social, environmental, economic—we face (Smith, 2020; Renjen, 2020; Baldoni, 2020; Renjen, 2019; Moore, 2019; Bruce, 2020). (Some of these topics are also discussed in other articles on this website www.leadershipintransportation.com). In addition to the many talents leaders have needed in the past and present, they must continue to learn, adjust, and understand digital technology, at least at a conceptual and conversational level about what it can and cannot do (Joy, 2021; Cheng, et al, 2021). These are in addition to the many characteristics and intangibles that make good leaders—providing vision and direction, listening, asking questions, being responsible and accountable, giving credit, taking blame, being open, transparent and honest, doing outreach, building trust and strong relationships, and many more.
Some good transportation leadership articles written in a plain and direct manner are worth reading (McClain, 2013; Russell Reynolds Associates, 2015; Fohr, 2020). There is also the greening of transportation career fields (National Center for Sustainable Transportation, n.d.).
Top leaders must also develop a strategy that is simple, disciplined, and based on a clear value proposition on which customers, employees, suppliers, partners and stakeholders can mobilize (Oberholzer-Gee, 2021).
Regarding leadership, the Biden Administration has proposed a vast $2 trillion infrastructure package while the Nobel Foundation is hosting a “Nobel Prize Summit: Our Planet, Our Future” in April 2021 in efforts to address the many social, economic, and environmental needs (Tankersley, 2021; Renshaw and Holland, 2021; Schlesinger, 2021; Schapker, 2021; The National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine, 2021; Wehrman, 2021). Some are even promoting a $10 trillion infrastructure package over 10 years (Anderson, 2021; Winck, 2021.)
It is likely that we will see more changes in the transportation and mobility space in the next 10 years than in the previous 100, and education and leadership are more important than ever. It is no understatement that the race to the future will require skilled leadership and a well educated and skilled workforce. With the dramatic pace of change, perhaps there is nothing more important than to be life long learners. This writer has learned this lesson many times.
It has perhaps never been more important and necessary to step back and look at the world anew, think anew, and act anew, as a whole, not just its parts and sum of its parts, but as more than the sum of its parts—the built-natural environment we call earth—our home. This, leadership, and education, will continue to help us find a better path forward.
We live in a global economy, driven by multimodal transportation across the earths surface—land, air, and water.
This writer has tried to separate into shorter sections the social, economic, and environmental issues but found separating them was artificial and not real, losing or subordinating the inter-connectivity in the process. While disciplines are important and reasonable to separate out for “deeper dives,” separating them into categories defeats the purpose of a holistic or systems view. Thus, these issues are addressed as they appear—one ecosystem, or mobility ecosystem in this case, with related parts—in at least an attempt to reflect a systems view. Segueing from Part 9, it is also worth noting that without a functioning democracy we have nothing, including meaningful progress in the transportation and mobility space and all of the issues tied to it.
While the current Covid-19 Pandemic was not caused by our global transportation system that drives our global economy, there is no question that the pandemic’s rapid spread was a result. Similarly, the “cure” will be more rapid because of this same transportation system.
The pandemic has lost some of its acceleration as counter measures and vaccinations have taken place although there is concern over variants and a race for booster vaccinations occurs, similar to annual flu vaccinations. Still, more than 30 million Americans, or one in every 12, have been diagnosed positive for COVID-19 with over 550,000 deaths in the U. S. and nearly 3 million deaths globally, as of this writing. The expectation is that the total U. S. deaths will exceed 600,000 deaths by the end of 2021, before the pandemic is “under control” in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, estimates the actual number of Covid-19 infections may exceed 83 million in the U. S alone (CDC, 2021). Worldwide there are currently nearly 140 million recorded cases. (Wu and Chiwaya, 2020; Worldometer, 2021; Baker, 2021).
The year 2020 was the worst year for economic growth since World War II (Siegel, et al, 2021). Moreover, there was no “playbook” of how to respond economically as we continue to try and understand and plan for the future (White, 2021; Ross, 2021; Achenbach et al, 2021). It has changed everything in our lives—how we work, how we shop, how we socialize, how we commute, how we travel, education, business, entertainment, the environment, the economy (Vasel, 2021; Reese, 2021; Lobosco, 2021; Stern, et al, 2021; Watson, 2021; Dickler, 2021; Hughes, 2021; Wikipedia, 2021; Wikipedia, 2021; Parker, 2020; Spear et al, 2020; Pesek, 2021; Burns and John, 2020; Reuters, 2021; Bauer, et al, 2020; Patton, 2020; McKinsey & Company, 2021; Craven, et al, 2021; Entrepreneur, 2021; Davidson, 2021). The Pandemic persists even as vaccinations progress; new variants emerge; some states set aside recommended CDC measures, and a potential 4th surge emerges (Khemlani, 2021; Dearman, 2021; Rodriguez, 2021; Guenot, 2021; Dilven, 2021; Diedrich, et al, 2021; Murray, 2021). This is also changing how we think about cities, remodeling them in ways that could make urban life, and rural life, more attractive and sustainable (Goldsmith, 2021). More specifically, state department of transportation leaders recently discussed the impacts of Covid-19 on transportation (AASHTO, 2021). The “15-minute city” concept is emerging around the world—dwellers should have everything they need (work, grocery stores, bars, restaurants, shops, schools, healthcare, leisure) within a 15-minute trip, on foot or bike, from home (The 15-Minute City Project, 2020; Moreno, n.d.; Sisson, 2020; Harley, 2021). To be fair, there are also concerns about the 15-minute city with potential to increase inequality (O’Sullivan, 2021). Lockdowns gave working from home proof of concept, challenging the notion that cities need to be divided into separate areas for working and living. Many city dwellers experienced life with fewer cars and more bikes on streets and those cities will have to decide whether to make these “healthy streets” permanent (Whittle, 2020). A new smart city work philosophy concept is emerging for companies—smaller workspaces to meet all over the city, closer to people’s homes. The traditional idea of a city, one where smaller communities form around one central hub, is changing. Future cities may become vast urban areas made up of several smaller communities, each with their own center.
There is also the issue of communities holding onto some of the good things that have occurred during the pandemic (Descant, 2021). Besides the Herculean effort to develop and deploy vaccines, there are many other efforts that have been generated in these dark times. In another Herculean effort, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers led the conversion of hotels and other buildings into needed COVID-19 hospitals. They also created an intelligent HVAC system that will likely find many uses in indoor spaces, and perhaps the transportation space as well (Carter, 2021).
None of this discounts the attractiveness of living and working in rural communities because there is much to like in these wide-open, needed spaces, that produce much of the food and other products we consume. Access is through mobility in all its forms. While agriculture is main stem in rural areas, the beauty of wild spaces has an important part in the United States, the world, our psyche, mental health, health of our planet and the life that it supports (Williams, 2017; Louv, 2011).
Even as we deal with this pandemic and its impacts to our lives and economy, there is need to learn lessons and prepare for the next pandemic, including in the transportation/mobility space (Wall, 2021).
The pandemic has caused us to rethink the ways we work. Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, predicts companies will much more begin to question taking a trip “just to discuss things,” reducing business trips by more than 50 percent. Home offices have grown exponentially, turning business meetings into video calls. This way of work is likely here to stay, reducing “office life” by more than 30 percent. (Entrepreneur, 2020).
As mobility emerges as a human right, equity, social and racial justice, equality, environmental justice, and mobility for the under served, disabled, minorities, communities of color, and poor are part of the core mission for transportation agencies. Moreover, as technology evolves and holds promise for improving lives, the digital divide must be closed and made accessible and affordable to all. This is an opportunity and will require strong strategic partnerships with private sector partners such as IBM, Apple, Google, Verizon, GE, and others. These necessary public-private partnerships might include joint committees, agreements versus contracts, and collaboration with other partners and stakeholders. Transportation agencies also would be well served by having offices or positions for experts in these areas and are well integrated into planning, design, construction, operations, and maintenance activities and collaborate with other partners, interests, and departments as appropriate. Updating the American Disability Act and related laws and rules must also occur.
The February 2020 ITE Journal is dedicated to exploring equity, what it means for transportation, strategies, how to put equity at the center of our work, micromobility to reach the under served, and how to make transportation systems better for all. This is a valuable resource for transportation professionals (ITE, 2020). There is evidence that transportation and mobility can help defeat poverty (Korman, 2021). There are also emerging tools and experience for measuring and advancing equity and social values (Fujiwara and Dass, 2020; Alexander et al, 2020; Citizens Utility Board, 2018).
Dorval R. Carter, Jr., President of the Chicago Transit Authority, received the 2021 Thomas B. Deen Distinguished Lectureship from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine Transportation Research Board (TRB). Mr. Carter was recognized for his leadership in the transit industry and legal community, and for spearheading significant advances in public transportation. His presentation, “Our Work is Never Done: Examining Equity Impacts in Public Transportation”, provides an excellent narrative for where equity has been and where it is going. His presentation, given as part of the TRB’s 2021 Annual Meeting on January 25, 2021, can be viewed via YouTube at: https://youtu.be/IBMgn5Ivm3c.
Environmental justice, similar to mobility, is emerging as a human right as it should. Its premise is essentially that all people deserve to live in a clean and safe environment free from industrial waste and pollution that can adversely affect their well-being. Those involved in creating and maintaining the mobility space must take responsibility for insuring this space is accessible, affordable, and with a clean and safe environment for all, including the under -served, minorities, communities of color, poor, and dispossessed. In addition to strong environmental offices and positions, environmental laws and rules must be updated. The impacts of greenhouse gases can have impacts far from their source (TRB, 2021).
In 2020 during the pandemic, the U. S. saw a 10.3 percent reduction in greenhouse gases, the lowest drop in annual emissions since World War II. See Figure 11. (Larsen, et al, 2021). This was a result of an estimated reduction of 15 percent vehicle miles traveled (VMT) compared to 2019 and a 13-40 percent reduction in demand for primarily passenger vehicles and as much as 18 percent reduction in diesel in April and May. This also resulted in delays of many projects as transportation department revenues from fuel taxes cratered.
While this allows the U. S. to exceed the 2020 Copenhagen Accord target reduction of a 17 percent below 2005 levels, this should not be considered a permanent change in meeting the 2025 Paris Agreement target of 26-28 percent reduction from 2005 levels. In addition, the 2020 reduction has come at an enormous price to the economy and human suffering. Serious work to make meaningful structural changes must continue to improve environmental health and limit global warming.
Over the past year, the world has been fixated on the pandemic and its effects on our lives, and for good reason. But an even bigger threat could change the way we live in a less rapid but more permanent way—the climate crisis—an existential and intergenerational quality of life threat. The threats range from the profound to the more subtle (Guterres, 2018; Xu, et al, 2020; Roston and Wade, 2021; Deutsche Welle, 2021; Cassella, 2021). Transportation agencies are some of the largest land owners in the world with responsibility for the land, air, and water. As such, they play a significant role in fighting climate change.
Global warming has already forced an estimated 20 million people to flee their homes every year (Oxfam, 2019; Ropeik, 2021; Newburger, 2021; NOAA, 2021). Rising temperatures combined with population growth means three billion people — one third of the projected global population — could be living in “unlivable” conditions by 2070 (Fleming, 2020). The inevitable result will be mass migration to “climate havens,” or cities sheltered from extreme weather with the capacity to grow (McDonnell and Shendruk, 2020). Preparing for this future can no longer be put off, and heads of state, members of the scientific community, the private sector, NGOs and youth groups will meet to discuss the issue at the world’s first Climate Adaptation Summit in January 2021. As cities around the globe develop climate action plans (C40 Climate Leadership Group, 2020), expect to see more zero-carbon housing projects (C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, Nordic Sustainability, 2019) and green belts replacing asphalt (Totaro, 2020). “The questions we should be asking is how to protect the most vulnerable residents,” says Greg Lindsay, Director of Applied Research at the nonprofit NewCities Foundation. “How to develop new carrot-and-stick approaches to steer people away from the highest-risk areas.” (Lindsay, 2020).
Florida is ground zero for sea level rise and the costs are rapidly escalating into the multiple billions of dollars. Miami is raising their roads two feet and others are preparing to abandon, roads, bridges, and homes (Mitchelides, 2016; Harris, 2019; The Weekly Staff, 2020; Carroll, 2021; Sea Level Rise.org, n.d.). Rising sea levels are threatening Route 1 through the Florida Keys. The costs of raising the roads will amount to $500,000 per resident according to an a narrative without reference (Latanision, 2020). Regardless, published reports state some roads would cost $25 million per mile to adjust for sea level rise (Brackett, 2019). Using that cost and that US1 is 113 miles long over the Florida Keys with an estimated population of 73,000, the cost would be about $40,000 per person. Regardless of which is more reliable, these costs will likely continue to grow and ignore other impacts such as abandoned homes and businesses, property being flooded and below sea level, and ultimately a cost the State of Florida cannot afford.
Florida is not the only location at risk due to the rise in sea level. New Orleans is a case in point where it has been below sea level for many years—protected by sea walls and gigantic U. S. Army Corps of Engineers pumps (Twillie, 2018; Prior, 2019; Dunn, 2020; Laskow, 2017). Add to this that by 2050 70 percent of the world’s population is estimated to live in large cities, and these cities are sinking, literally, under their own weight (Parsons, 2021; Koop, 2021; Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2018). The cumulative effects of storms, land subsidence, and urban cities subsidence could have dramatic impacts on life and the way we live, including transportation and mobility since they are never mutually exclusive from the built-natural environment. Soils have elastic and plastic properties. There is a propensity for cities to expand development through building new land with fill material, on wet soils, or adjacent to water bodies. Thus, it is relatively easy for these saturated soils to be prone to liquefaction, especially in seismically active areas. This is made worse by infrastructure, including roads and bridges, not being seismically designed or retrofitted (Chalmers, 2018; Oregon.gov, 2013). This writer is reminded of the many studies on the risks and catastrophes of building on permafrost, helping to better understand the built-natural environments, including before construction of the Alaskan Oil Pipeline (Péwé, 1979). Engineering has limitations and we frequently learn as we go, or hopefully.
Climate change has resulted in billions of dollars in flood damage (National Centers for Environmental Information, Feb 2021; National Centers for Environmental Information, Jul 2021; Kann, 2021). There is also the threat of land subsidence that may affect 19 percent of the world population by 2040 (Herrera-García, et al, 2021).
There are yet other issues that are likely to have negatives impacts. As many as 572 airports are also threatened by global warming and associated sea level rise by 2021 (Yesudian and Dawson, 2020). A record number of hurricanes, wildfires and floods cost the world $210 billion in damage in last year, much of it due to global warming. There were a record number of disasters during 2020 which occurred in the U.S. (NOAA, 2021).
This does not even mention the many negative impacts to a healthy environment (some of which were mentioned in earlier blogs of this series) that we depend on and continue to emerge (World Wildlife Fund, 2021; Rosane, 2021; World Wildlife Fund, Feb 2021). There are also many negative impacts to our environment, including from global warming, but some may not be attributed directly to climate change (Burt, et al, 2018; University of California – Santa Cruz, 2021; PEW, 2020; McPherson, et al, 2021). .
The recent winter infrastructure crisis in Texas is indicative of the importance and cost of infrastructure upon which society depends. In many cases, the repair, replacement, updating, contingency planning and preparation has been deferred, delayed, and perhaps overtly ignored for decades. This has been made worse by the impacts of climate change (e.g. changing weather patterns, warming/acidic oceans, etc.). Millions of people have gone without power, electricity, heat, water, waste water services, transportation and mobility for days, in some cases weeks. Fish and wildlife have also suffered. This is largely avoidable, if not substantially mitigated, by relying on science and proactive planning. This catastrophe has also impacted other states and communities. This human catastrophe is a failure of leadership. It is a virtual certainty that we will see more of these built-natural environment catastrophes in the United States and around the world. And, it is the most vulnerable, poorest and least able to cope that will suffer the most. (Gonzalez, 2021; Giusti, 2021; Meier, 2021; Fowler, 2021).
Defining carbon zero by 2050 targets, as well as roles and responsibilities, is yet another area that must be clarified and is critical to addressing the challenges of climate change in the United States and around the world (Buddoo, 2021; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine, 2021; Global Carbon Project, 2015-2020).
The Internet of Things, or IoT, holds promise to mitigate and improve other climate changes in other ways such as biodiversity and habitat loss (McClellan, 2020). Ecological bridges, essentially bridges over roads or other man-made structures, serve to connect wildlife habitat, connect and sustain gene pools necessary for healthy ecosystems (Hui Min and Pazos, 2015; Machemer, 2020). Otherwise gene pools become fragmented, exacerbating the challenges of habitat and species loss due to climate change.
While this author was a researcher at the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station, the Corps adapted a Wetlands Evaluation Technique developed by Paul Adamus for the Federal Highways Administration (Adamus, 1983). The valuing of nature has continued to evolve to the present. More recently, Dow Chemical Company and The Nature Conservancy developed a technique called the Ecosystem Service Identification and Inventory Tool that is available publicly (www.esiitool.com). This technique quantifies ecosystem services using a nature screen and a nature scoreboard to develop the business case for using nature in lieu of or in conjunction with other man-made systems. Dow has committed to generating $2 billion of value to nature, having achieved $500 million thus far. This system continues to evolve as do the efforts of private and public organizations in creating a sustainable world. On the horizon are what have been termed “stacked benefits.” That is, bringing together many partners, from up stream and downstream, so to speak, to pool resources and funding toward a greater benefit to the natural and built environments. This is part of Dow’s commitment to identify $1 billion in net present value through their Valuing Nature Goal, and work processes developed to support the goal, as well as challenges and successes in driving culture change (Polzin and Molnar, n.d.; Engineering with Nature, 2021).
Recently, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) intends to funnel up to $10 billion into preventing climate disasters, the most ever, preemptively protect against damages by building sea walls, elevating and moving flood-prone homes and businesses, and other steps as climate change intensifies storms and other natural disasters—“Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities or BRIC”. While this is an important step, it is doubtful this will be enough given the costs that climate change will exact. The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers National Nonstructural Committee (NNC) has had a relocation program from flood plains and other areas prone to natural flooding and that has met with some success but resistance as well (National Nonstructural Committee). There is a continuing discussion of resilience (Campbell, 2021). There is the idea of “seasteading”, houses and other buildings built on floating platforms that would rise and fall with the tides and changing sea levels (Cusick, 2020). Although this can seem a bit far-fetched, the Dutch have been doing this for 400-500 years. As with many things in our society including transportation and mobility, lower income families and the dispossessed are disproportionally impacted (Cusick, 2020).
There are also landscape designs emerging to protect cities and property as flood plains of rivers are shrinking, much of it led by the Netherlands, and have relevance to transportation infrastructure (Mossop, 2021; Rijkswaterstaat, 2019). Research also indicates promise for measuring risks and optimal rerouting of traffic during flash floods, minimizing exposure to motorists (Corns, et al, 2021). A lot can be learned from biomimicry as well (Fairs, 2021).
During the devastating 1993 Mississippi River floods the St. Louis District Engineer stated that “you cannot control Mother Nature.” That was true then and is true now. We can, however, work with Mother Nature, perhaps more as native and indigenous peoples did as they had little choice but to live in harmony.
The climate crisis is an existential threat. Roadway traffic alone accounts for about one-third of greenhouse gas emissions. As such, there are many opportunities for transportation professionals to have a positive impact in reducing and mitigating the climate crisis and associated impacts to our transportation and mobility system (Gates, 2021; Adler, 2021). Some examples (Plummer, 2021):
Rethink transportation grants
Make states measure emissions
Mandate cleaner vehicles (go electric)
Lend a hand to public transit
Push congress for new laws
Still other areas hold promise (Schapker, 2021):
Surface transportation authorization
Highway Trust Fund solvency
Project delivery reforms
Most recently, Buttigieg and his modal administrators spoke to the AASHT0 Board of Directors on February 25, 2021 and spoke to the pillars that will drive federal transportation policy:
Breaking down barriers within the U. S. Department of Transportation, between other federal departments, and with state and local agencies
He and his modal administrators also discussed a variety of initiatives and potential initiatives such as environmental justice, jobs, a partnership with auto manufacturers to alert drivers of on coming trains, user-friendliness/less bureaucracy with smaller communities, a dedicated rail trust fund, increasing bus lanes, sustainable funding, a coordinated government setup on climate change, and others. (Cho, 2021).
These are all critical issues for the transportation and mobility space. These and other critical issues have also been reported elsewhere (see most recent TRB critical issues in transportation report).
Still, our society operates in largely economic terms so we must speak in those terms (Milberg, 2021; Wachs, 2011; Cramer, 2018). One recent example is from Florida, of which the state legislature requires a report on the economic impact of transportation investments (Florida Department of Transportation, 2020). Similarly, the Oregon Transportation Investment Act III first priority required by the state legislature was economic stimulus. That was measured in various methodologies including jobs created or sustained (HDR, n.d.).
Tribal Nations as native Americans have a unique status in our country as dependent sovereignties and they have unique challenges. As such, the USDOT and BIA programs at the federal level are important and must be reviewed for reasons similar to reviewing and updating the funding and allocation that is needed for states and communities, urban and rural, and in a partnering framework. Similarly, this is true for territories as they are American citizens as well.
Eventually, transportation and mobility should be addressed holistically in social, economic, and environmental terms on a routine basis, whether in planning, needs assessments, establishing priorities, or other processes. It is the only way to achieve a sustainable and healthy built-natural environment.
Engaging people is critical to success and all means must be exhausted in the effort, virtual as well as physical. Sometimes the process of making a decision together as a community is more important than the decision made (Couros, 2021). This will require significant outreach, public meetings, education, listening, and a sense of humor yet sober seriousness. The United States and world are filled with good people who want to live good, happy, and safe lives. It is only by engaging and educating people and working together that we will achieve the future we all desire. One recent example by industry was announced December 10, 2020, a coalition of 37 leading company CEOs (www.OneTen.org) has formed One Ten to hire and promote one million Black Americans over the next ten years into family-sustaining jobs with opportunities for advancement. As a meritocracy, we must find ways to yoke the intellectual talent and diversity of all Americans regardless of race, color, creed, sexual orientation or other differences.
There are many, many examples where effectively engaging people has been critical to success, as it is a part of virtually any successful venture. One example, the Nebraska Department of Transportation led a statewide safety summit that over a period of a few years reduced roadway fatalities by 50 percent. More recently, the Kansas City area is engaging people for ideas to reduce roadway fatalities and injuries (Mid-America Regional Council, n.d.).
We have a generational opportunity to transform and improve America’s infrastructure (Buttigieg, 2021), and in a post-pandemic world (Cisneros and Fulton, 2021).
There is much to do and there are many ideas. We need them. Still we need a strategy to guide and align these efforts. Transportation agencies have much in common around the world and state departments of transportation have had a dominant presence in the United States—safety, traffic control, infrastructure planning, project development, design, construction, and maintenance. Because of the rapid move to digital technology, one of the more promising services is cloud technologies or computing and its inherent flexibility, agility, scalability. It offers economies of scale through large, centralized server banks and services that provide hardware, software, and applications through the Internet vice the expense of having them on site. The risks must be weighed, but there appears to be considerable upside, to include improved customer facing outcomes vice “back room” or organizational business processes.
Some of the leaders adopting these technologies include toll agencies who are continually seeking ways to improve customer outcomes which include not only the physical infrastructure and traffic speed but paying tolls as easily as possible. As the move toward a mileage-based system continues, especially given Tesla, VW, etc., and increasing pledges of 100% manufacture-only of electric vehicles by 2035 by Ford, GM, and others, transportation agencies may be operating a lot more like a utility in the near future. As such, the experience of toll agencies may allow them to take the lead. Certainly other transportation agencies can learn a lot as this future evolves. The potential for people and freight to move seamlessly, easily, and without cash, through one multimodal mobility ecosystem is possible, if not highly probable or a virtual certainty. (Wehrmann, 2021).
As the mobility ecosystem continues to change, it is in a unique position to be a substantial help in improving society, the economy, environment, and people’s lives.
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Xu, C., T. A. Kohler, T. M. Lenton, J. C. Svenning, M. Scheffer. (2020, May 26). Future of the human climate niche. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 117(21) 11350-11355. Retrieved March 21, 2021, from https://www.pnas.org/content/117/21/11350
While there is never enough money to address the needs, there is not a transportation agency in the Nation that is not struggling with the lack of funding, largely due to the Pandemic 2020-present whether it’s fuel taxes, general funds, bonds, public-private-partnerships, wheel taxes, vehicle registrations, or other funding sources (American Society of Civil Engineers, 2020; Stofan, 2021; NPR, 2020; Jimenez, 2020). Still, are we talking about infrastructure the right way? That is, are we talking to and the about the people that use it (Milberg, 2021)?
In 2019 the U. S. federal government spent $96 billion on building and updating infrastructure, $67 billion was transferred to states. In 2017, the most recent data available, state and local infrastructure spending totaled $162 billion excluding these federal transfers. At the same time there has been a shift toward increased spending on operations and maintenance and away from spending on new capital projects. Some estimates are that roughly 2/3 of dollars go to keep infrastructure functioning (i.e. maintenance, repair, replacement, or system preservation) while roughly 1/3 of dollars go to upgrades (i.e. new capital projects). While this allocation can be disputed depending on the audience and perspective, keeping infrastructure functioning (system preservation) is the highest and best use of dollars and most economical in serving the public good. How dollars are best allocated for system preservation and new capital projects needs to be continually assessed, typically on an annual basis in conjunction with needs assessments and specific criteria. The current (2017) American Society of Civil Engineers, or ASCE, Report Card identifies an estimated $2 trillion gap in the $4.6 trillion needs required to achieve a state of good repair over the next 10 years (American Society of Civil Engineers, 2017). For surface transportation alone the gap is estimated to be $1.1 trillion gap in the over $2 trillion needs over the next 10 years. Perhaps more sobering, the world is facing a $15 trillion infrastructure gap by 2040 (George, et al, 2019).
Since the creation in 1919 by the State of Oregon, the fuel tax has been the primary federal and state funding mechanism for transportation/mobility infrastructure for over 100 years. The past two decades have seen a decline in those fuel tax revenues as a result of little or no increase in many fuel taxes, improving fuel efficiency, alternatives fuels, and now a pandemic. To close those gaps, general funds, wheel taxes, vehicle registrations, bonds, and other sources have been used. Still the gaps exist.
A question: should the US align with the UN’s “people first” model for public-private infrastructure projects? The model evaluates projects on five criteria (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, 2016):
Increasing access and promoting equity
Improving environmental sustainability
Improving project economic effectiveness
Engaging all stakeholders
While there is important movement in this direction, it probably comes down to whether the needs of all stakeholders can be reconciled—consultants, builders, financiers, politicians, businesses, the public and others—that oversee infrastructure development and come to consensus on what they are doing. These can be powerful interests and getting people to work together, much less collaborate and come to consensus, will continue to be a challenging task to scale up the funding to meet growing needs.
So, what is the likely funding source for the future? That is unknown. A few years ago many believed that a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax being tested over the past two decades in Oregon and other states would prevail and might yet. However, emerging technologies, declining personal car ownership, electric vehicles, alternatives fuels, remote work, changing business models, sustainability, climate change, access, equity and social justice, and future physical infrastructure needs may warrant new funding sources. Regardless, it is clear a new, reliable, and sustainable transportation/mobility funding model is needed that balances urban, rural, and multimodal needs and with an eye to the future. This includes a review of criteria for allocating funds, taking into account the needs of urban and rural communities, connecting roads and modes, and the capabilities of smaller communities who do not have the staffs to accommodate the substantial federal processes. The federal government must partner with states, communities, and other partners and entities to make funding and its allocation as effective and efficient as possible. While traffic is much higher with more costly infrastructure needs in urban areas, there are also critical needs in rural areas although there is less traffic (NAFB, 2021).
The funding space is also changing. Black Rock Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Larry Fink, in his 2020 letter to CEOs has stated “In the near future—and sooner than most anticipate—there will be a significant reallocation of capital” (Fink, 2020). This is driven by their investors demand for investments that are sustainable and that will limit climate change. Black Rock is the world’s largest asset manager with $17 trillion under management, has said its clients are looking to double their environmental, societal, and governance (ESG) investments in the next five years. Institutional investors have said they will stop investing in companies that are not sustainable (CISION PR Newswire, 2021; Losavio and Tsai, 2021). This has implications for transportation, infrastructure, and mobility. To that extent it is not a surprise that stocks such as Tesla experienced dramatic growth in 2020 as investors look for positive and sustainable environmental, societal, governance, and economic outcomes.
There is a mounting need from city and road planners to evolve current ground-based infrastructure, especially across transportation networks (Deruytter, 2020). There are a number of technologies, and collections of technologies, that are changing and impacting the mobility space. In Part 4, this writer neglected to acknowledge one of these leading transportation technology centers that is bringing the industry together to develop transportation and mobility solutions—the Infrastructure Automotive Technology Laboratory, or iATL, and iATL Partner Alliance in Georgia. The Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITSA)—Smarter, Greener, Safer—began in 1991 and has been a primary convention and driver for use of transportation technologies in the intervening 30 years. Below is a brief scan of some of these technologies, each of which could warrant a book to provide a complete coverage.
Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I): These are the two primary connected vehicle areas and encompass CAV (connected and automated vehicle). The advantage of V2V is to gain capacity from infrastructure and improve safety (NHTSA, n.d.). This technology may also enable increased speeds and reduce travel time. V2I is beginning to advance as a means of further advancing capacity, safety, and speed. Both V2V and V2I offer the potential to expand other technologies such as battery charging while moving, autonomous routing of vehicles, and providing intelligent infrastructure with the capability of autonomously sending condition and other reports back to a central office for planning and response for repair or replace (RoboticsBiz, 2020; 3M, n.d.).
Intelligent Infrastructure: In addition to being able to send condition and other reports for action to a central office, emerging AI technologies are allowing for self-healing materials that repair themselves (Flower, 2020; Mazzarol, 2012; McFarlane, 2015; McMillan, 2017; ScienceDirect, n.d.).
Internet of Things or IoT: Infrastructure and transportation agencies are leading the way in adopting many IoT technologies, and that will continue. Why? Because they provide tangible results (Center for Digital Government for Spectrum Enterprise, 2019).
3D Printers: These printers have existed for some time but are expanding for construction. This includes the printing of the small 3D plastic models for completing concrete bridges to the printing of steel bridge models (U.S. Bridge, 2020). The basic limitation is only the size of the printing machine and whether that is cost effective.
Materials: Whereas 3D printers are limited by the size of the printing machine, new research is revealing the possibility of rationally designing materials to specification at the micro and macro scale and with broad engineering applications (Jenett et al, 2020). Plus, traditional materials continue to be improved such as ultra-high performance concrete (Carter, 2019).
Artificial Intelligence (AI): This is a leading technology of technologies, combining various technologies into new ones that can perform tasks thought to be science fiction. One of these is “robotic swarms” of meta materials that turn into buildings, vehicles, bridges—delivered in boxes by drones (Jenett, 2020; Wyss Institute, n.d.). The technology currently exists and the U. S. Army has initiated this development in partnership with the private sector including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Still others are in use such as Building Information Technology or BIM. Others include AI-driven asset management for bridges, monitoring the condition of assets on a real and near-real time basis (Stone, 2021). Yet another focuses on road maintenance (Holliday and Frick, 2021). Ford Motor Company has expanded to leverage AI and machine learning to predict and prevent traffic crashes (Mendoza, 2021). The future of AI is enormous in the transportation and mobility space, and society as a whole (The Washington Post, n.d).
Virtual (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR): Beginning in the gaming business, these technologies continue to rapidly develop, especially in the design and construction arenas. A recent augmented reality innovation by VW and Mercedes Benz enhances safe navigation through an AR blue line down the center line of the lane, allowing the driver to stay focused on the road ahead (Ligon 2021).
Robotics/Drones: These technologies have been in development and use for decades. Like other technologies that reduce the requirement for labor (typically the largest single cost for many organizations) within the mobility space these technologies are increasingly used for terrestrial and aquatic inspections of all kinds, vegetation planting, surveying, aerial photography, movement and delivery of materials, and others. There is continuing discussion on the use of drones, including the potential to lease air space above roads and perhaps generating a new revenue source (Skorup and Harland, 2020; Pressgrove, 2021).
Machine Control: Expanding on robotics and drones that are currently used is the programming of autonomous earthmoving and other equipment, surveying, inspections, etc., on construction sites (TopCon, n.d.; UK Plant Operators, n.d.). These have been in use for some years and allow for greater efficiency at a lower cost. Using currently available technology, other systems are emerging for other activities such as hauling dirt, delivery and placement of materials. Expanding on this area, some years ago the University of Nebraska developed remotely controlled orange work zone barrels to move without the labor required for moving each barrel (Bauer, 2004). This technology could be adopted to other systems, such as the Lindsay Company Road Zipper which moves concrete Jersey barriers on a near-real time basis to adjust lanes and contra flows in conjunction with traffic flow needs, separate bicycle from vehicle traffic, adjust to the needs of construction zones, etc. In effect, this could be done remotely or autonomously. The options are endless and open to continued innovation.
Cloud services: There are a growing number of organizations that are leveraging the cloud for more efficient operations. Among them is Amazon Web Services (AWS) which has a growing presence in the transportation and mobility space (Silver, n.d.). Municipal and state agencies continue to expand use of cloud services for construction oversight and other activities (Yoders, 2021).
5G: This technology holds tremendous promise as it increases the speed and capacity of communications essential to the mobility ecosystem (Abbosh and Downes, 2019). The Internet of Things or IoT is a driver of 5G with three broad categories of use: enhanced broadband, massive IoT sensing, and critical IoT. The massive IoT sensing alone will allow 10 times more devices to connect at 100 times the energy efficiency compared to LTE-Advanced (Little, 2019). Smart cities are being advanced thanks to 5G and other technologies (CBS Interactive Inc., 2020; Abbosh and Downes, 2019). 5G and its capabilities are expanding as this is written. 5G and AI will continue to drive mobility development.
Lidar: This technology has been around for some years, allowing for rapid 3D surveying by law enforcement, surveying by drones, autonomous vehicles, improving safety, enhanced BIM (Building Information Modeling), and other diverse applications that go on and on (Shacklett, 2021). One recent application makes transportation infrastructure more efficient and safer (Clark, 2021).
Global Positioning Systems (GPS): Although around for decades, GPS is worth mentioning because of its importance in pinpointing locations, navigation, and its ease of use (available on smartphones and many other devices). This is critical for many technologies including autonomous vehicles.
5.9 GHz: This bandwidth had been identified for public safety with important uses in the transportation arena. However, recently the Federal Communications Commission or FCC has given this bandwidth away for other commercial purposes. This sorely complicates an important safety tool for the transportation industry (Fisher, 2020).
Communications, integrated and interoperable-voice and data: The most common lesson-learned following disasters is the difficulty of communicating between all parties in both voice and data (FEMA, 2020; FEMA, 2014; OnSolve, n.d.; U.S. Fire Administration, 2015). As such, many states have developed more robust and interoperable communications systems. Nonetheless, effective communications is literally a key to success in responding to man-made or natural disasters and will need to be continually improved and maintained.
Solar: Solar power is developing slowly, but surely, as one of the most important renewable energies. For over 100 years, petroleum-based fuels and electricity generation have been separate industries. Oil was for vehicles, coal and water were for electric power. Drillers versus miners, petrostates versus power utilities. With EVs the distinction between petroleum-based fuels and power markets is blurring. Solar power is rapidly becoming the cheapest form of energy in much of the world, which means that as power markets grow to meet the new demand from EVs, oil is being largely displaced by power from the sun. For nearly 20 years, the International Energy Agency has underestimated the rise of solar power. Every year, their estimates expected the rate of solar growth to plateau, but every year it grew (Figure 7).
Solar roadways have been developed in France these past few years. It was recently announced that the first solar roadway to come on line in the U. S. will be in Georgia (Cooke, 2017; Edelstein, 2020).
Cyber-security: There is an arms race going on to hack and secure data. As technology has developed so has the need for adequate cyber-security. It is wise to have one, if not at least two, backup systems to protect transportation/mobility systems, including autonomous vehicles. Every organization continues to struggle with enhancing security (Center for Digital Government, 2020).
There are literally thousands of other technologies and associated tools in the transportation/mobility industry, and other fields, that continue to be developed, some proprietary and some not, in an effort to increase sales/profits and benefit-cost. A scan of printed and electronic trade journals, conferences, proposals, and sales presentations reflects the stunning scale of these developments. A brief scan reveals advanced and integrated project and program management, data collection and workflow automation, big data and analysis, remote piloted aerial and aquatic vehicles or drones, machine learning, Lidar, ground penetrating radar, geomatics, geophysics, Reality Mesh Services (i.e. 3D models out of unordered photographs or laser scans), Building Information Modeling (BIM) across the project life cycle while incorporating Reality Capture for Digital Twins and integrated for Asset Management, and many, many others.
This also does not discount the importance and value of the myriad existing methodologies that continue to advance, have been around for years, and that can increase system efficiency. Just a few include data collection and analysis, signal timing, static signing, variable message signs, 511, video cameras, radar, roadway weather notifications, traffic operations centers and infrastructure sensors, materials, recycling, planning, design, construction, maintenance, operations, and so on.
Motorized vehicles began with the advent of electric vehicles as evidenced by the first recorded powered vehicle fatality in the United States in 1899, from an electric taxi (see Part 2 of this series). Technology advances in the intervening 100 plus years have given rise to fully autonomous vehicles which are on the horizon.
The summary (abstract) provided by Clements and Kockelman (2017) is superb and provided in full.
“Connected and fully automated or autonomous vehicles (CAVs) may soon dominate the automotive industry. Once CAVs are sufficiently reliable and affordable, they will penetrate markets and thereby generate economic ripple effects throughout industries. This paper synthesizes and expands on existing analyses of the economic effects of CAVs in the United States across 13 industries and the overall economy. CAVs will soon be central to the automotive industry, with software composing a greater share of vehicle value than previously. The number of vehicles purchased each year may fall because of vehicle sharing, but rising travel distances may increase vehicle sales. The opportunity for heavy-truck drivers to do other work or rest during long drives may lower freight costs and increase capacity. Personal transport may shift toward shared autonomous vehicle fleet use, reducing that of taxis, buses, and other forms of group travel. Fewer collisions and more law-abiding vehicles will lower demand for auto repair, traffic police, medical, insurance, and legal services. CAVs will also lead to new methods for managing travel demand and the repurposing of curbside and off-street parking and will generate major savings from productivity gains during hands-free travel and reduction of pain and suffering costs from crashes. If CAVs eventually capture a large share of the automotive market, they are estimated to have economic impacts of $1.2 trillion or $3,800 per American per year. This paper presents important considerations for CAVs’ overall effects and quantifies those impacts.”
See Table 1 for a summary of the economic impacts of autonomous vehicles.
In the columns headed “Dollar Change in Industry” and “Percent Change in Industry,” signs “+” and “-”, respectively, denote a gain and a loss for the industry, whereas the industry-specific total for the dollar change in industry is the sum of their absolute values. Figures in the “$/Capita” columns and provided as overall total represent the sum of net economic benefits enjoyed by consumers.
According to an estimate by Intel Corporation and Strategy Analytics, announced in June 2017, the economic effects of autonomous vehicles will total $7 trillion in 2050 (Figure 6). The dollar amount represents a newly created value or a new ‘passenger economy’, calculated based on the assumption that fully automated Level 5 vehicles will be on the roads by 2050.
They also assumed that consumers and businesses will use Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) offerings instead of owning cars, and those who had been commuting to work by car will become passengers and spend the commuting time doing something else. Furthermore, transportation companies suffering from a serious labour shortage – such as long-haul truck operators and home delivery service providers – will introduce autonomous driving services, thereby enabling them to change their business models drastically. As such, the estimate reflects a very broad range of potential effects, which also include a wide variety of new commercial services such as onboard dining and retailing (Tomita, 2017).
Advancements continue almost daily. CNN Business (Farland, 2020) reports a self-driving and electric robotaxi from Amazon’s Zoox can travel up to 75 mph and never has to turn around, reversing directions as needed to navigate crowded city streets. In an effort to become a leader in this sector, China is advancing autonomous vehicles quickly, including fully autonomous highways (Metha, 2019; KPMG International, 2019).
There are a myriad of challenges to realize fully automated vehicles and that will require an accumulation of massive quantities of data and learning processes to enable the development of AI capable of coping with navigating the rules, laws, traffic control devices, unique infrastructure, and nuances in each city, county, and state, not to mention internationally. Moreover, developing soft infrastructure, including laws and regulations, and setting rules for liability arising from accidents involving autonomous vehicles will be challenging. Similar to the open ITS architecture established by USDOT, there is a need to establish AV architecture within the U. S., if not internationally.
The advent of fully automated driverless vehicles will have a tremendous impact on our society, bringing fundamental changes to the entire economic and social systems. When fully automated vehicles come into operation, they will become a major means of mobility for the elderly and infirmed in rural areas, in addition to agriculture uses. Urban areas will likely experience the greatest changes, the number of cars owned for personal use will drop, eliminating congestion and the need for parking spaces, and car-sharing services will continue to grow.
Companies are investing enormous money in both electric and autonomous vehicles. For example, Microsoft is investing $2 billion in Cruise, that is majority owned by GM, for a valuation of over $30 billion (Colias, 2021). Apple and Hyundai-Kia are planning to start production of a fully autonomous electric car in 2024 (Lebeau, 2021). It is interesting to note that the smart phone market is about $500 billion annually of which Apple has roughly one-third of that market. By contrast, the mobility market is about $10 trillion annually so Apple would only need two percent of that market to match their iPhone business. It is little wonder the interest in the autonomous and electric vehicle space.
Although some estimates are that it will be at least 2040 before fully autonomous vehicles will be dominant, how should we cope with these forthcoming changes? How should we redesign and change the urban and rural infrastructure and landscapes, land use, and the economic and social systems?
There are test beds spreading around the nation in an effort to bring these and other technologies to market—Contra Costa County California formed a Transportation Authority (CCTA) and developed the leading facility in the nation—GoMentum (https://gomentumstation.net), the University of Michigan established Mcity some years ago (https://mcity.umich.edu), Waymo is planning a test facility in Ohio (Moderation Team, n.d.), and Missouri just formed a Missouri Center for Transportation Innovation (https://mcti.missouri.edu). These test beds, and other efforts, reflect the drive toward an autonomous and safe mobility ecosystem future. What do they have in common? They are built on partnerships and collaboration. Of course, the National Academies Transportation Research Board (https://www.nationalacademies.org/trb/transportation-research-board), U. S. Department of Transportation, state departments of transportation, universities, and the private sector represent the best minds around and continually add to our body of knowledge on all aspects of mobility and transportation.
Autonomous marine, freshwater, river, air, truck, and train vessels
This discussion does not even mention other modes and types of autonomous vehicles such as marine, riverine, freshwater, trucks, trains, planes, drones or unmanned aerial vehicles, aircraft, or space craft. Although they share many of the same challenges as cars and similar vehicles, many of these are likely years away before widespread use. Nonetheless, they are on the horizon. Of course, the elimination/reduction of operators will require careful planning to help people find other jobs in addition to negotiations with unions, changes in business models, and changes in society. The following links provide more information on these topics.
As with other subjects, the literature and development of electric vehicles (EVs) and oil is vast and evolving. What can be gleaned, generalized, and estimated is this (Reichert, 2017; Idaho National Laboratory, n.d.; Skeptics, n.d.; Evannex, 2018; Schmidt, 2017):
there are growing advantages to electric vehicles
a battery charge can go 400-600 miles
there are approximately 20 moving parts in a EV versus 2,000 moving parts in internal combustion vehicles
there is zero maintenance except for tires
EVs are 90 percent cheaper to operate
The estimated life of an EV may be 500,000-1,000,000 miles
Globally, peak car ownership is projected to occur by 2035. Cars are used only 4% of the time, and by 2023 it is estimated that EVs will reach parity with the cost of gas-fueled vehicles (Ingham, 2019; Weiland, et al, 2017; Gearino, 2020). As younger generations consider the cost of car ownership, a review of vehicle registration records in more than 200 metro areas revealed that per-capita car purchases increased 0.7 percent on average in the years after Uber, Lyft and other e-taxi giants deployed their fleets, compared to projected registration rates prior to the entry of the companies. These were very slow years for car dealerships, partly due to the pandemic in 2020 (Naughton and Welch, 2019; Wilson, 2021).
The first nine months of 2020 saw car sales crater (Figure 2). Every major automaker was impacted with the exception of Tesla. The electric automaker sold more cars than ever before. Even as the rest of the economy froze, Tesla posted its longest stretch of profitable quarters, increased stock value over 750 percent, is now the largest U. S. vehicle manufacturer, became the 6th largest U. S. company, and ended the year with inclusion in the S&P 500 stock index. A closer look reveals AVs in general managed to thrive even as sales of traditional cars declined. Both Volkswagen and Daimler saw record-setting losses in total sales while sales of their EVs doubled.
While the sale of electric vehicles has been increasing for some years, there is also a need for the infrastructure and charging stations to support it (Figure 3).
The Biden Administration wants to increase charging stations by half a million as part of their effort to cut carbon emissions to zero by 2050. As such, new gas-powered cars and trucks would have to be phased out rapidly, probably by 2035 or sooner. That means aggressive action would have to continue. (Welch, 2021).
The energy sector is undergoing a major transformation and it will intensify as more and more consumers, especially in the transportation industry, change their purchase decisions to cleaner and less expensive options in the marketplace (i.e. EVs over internal combustion vehicles) (Figure 4).
Batteries are a technology, not a fuel, which means the more that are produced, the cheaper they are to make. However, up until now, EVs have been more expensive to build than gasoline cars. That’s changing (Figure 5).
This past year saw the first companies producing batteries at a cost of $100 per kilowatt-hour. That’s the point that analysts believe will bring the cost of building electric cars in parity with similar gasoline vehicles. After that, EVs should only get less expensive.
Volkswagen, the biggest automaker by cars sold, confirmed that its batteries had reached the $100 threshold for its 2020 ID.3 sedan and upcoming ID.4 compact SUV (Matousek, 2019). China’s CATL, the world’s biggest battery supplier, also claimed $100 battery nirvana as it struck deals across the auto industry (Schmidt, 2020). In addition, Tesla plans to manufacture battery cells, a first for any automaker, and to reduce battery costs 56% by 2023 (Spector, 2020).
Most recently, President Biden has announced his intent to convert the federal vehicle fleet of 645,000 vehicles to electric (Dow, 2021). Still, we need to remain aware of the basic infrastructure required for migration to electric vehicles, charging stations scattered across the Nation, and power generation and network to provide adequate electricity.
General Motors has announced it intends to stop making gas- and diesel-powered vehicles and go all electric by 2035 and be carbon neutral by 2040 (Colias, 2021).
Amazon is also in the process of having 10,000 electric delivery vans on the road by 2022, and 100,000 by 2030 (Hawkins, 2020).
In spite of the Pandemic, 2020 experienced a 30 percent increase in electric vehicle sales and that is expected to increase to 72% in 2021, charging stations infrastructure has lagged (BlastPoint, 2021).
We are near a “tipping point”.
Another aspect to consider, the cost and weight of a power train goes up for large EV vehicles (trains, heavy trucks, and buses), essentially losing any EV advantage. That is a reason Cummins Diesel is looking to use hydrogen fuel cells for these types of large vehicles (Nagel, 2020; Ohnsman, 2020).
A dirty secret of EV— the extraction of minerals such as cobalt used to make batteries is frequently done by child labor (Broom, 2019).
There is likely not a transportation agency or company that does not consider safety as their number one priority. This is how it should be. The very first roadway powered vehicle fatality in the United States was on September 13, 1899, when Henry Hale Bliss, a 69-year-old local real estate dealer, was dismounting a southbound 8th Avenue trolley car in New York City when an electric-powered taxi cab struck him. Bliss hit the pavement, crushing his head and chest. Bliss died from his sustained injuries the next morning (Eschner, 2017). A plaque was dedicated at the site on September 13, 1999, to commemorate the centenary of this event. It reads:
Here at West 74th Street and Central Park West, Henry H. Bliss dismounted from a streetcar and was struck and knocked unconscious by an automobile on the evening of September 13, 1899. When Mr. Bliss, a New York real estate man, died the next morning from his injuries, he became the first recorded motor vehicle fatality in the Western Hemisphere. This sign was erected to remember Mr. Bliss on the centennial of his untimely death and to promote safety on our streets and highways.
Since then, it has been a continual challenge to reduce fatalities, injuries, and property damage. Entire industries have grown up during this time (insurance, roadway policing, etc.).
More recently, while technology and autonomous vehicles hold promise to reduce and perhaps eliminate crashes, it will be many years and probably decades before a significant impact occurs. The United States alone averages 30-40,000 roadway deaths a year. Globally there are 1.35 million people annually killed on roadways around the world (3,700/day) with a $1.8 trillion economic cost in 2010 U. S. dollars (Road Traffic Injuries and Deaths—A Global Problem, n.d.). In the meantime, efforts must continue to protect people. Within the past decade, many in the industry have set goals for zero fatalities. As an example, one of these is Houston’s Vision Zero Action Plan (Begley, 2020). The city’s plan identifies 13 “priority actions” the city is committing to take. Among them:
construct at least 50 miles of sidewalks annually
build at least 25 miles of dedicated bike lanes annually
evaluate road projects for options to include sidewalks, bike trails and other amenities
redesign 10 locations with high numbers of incidents every two years, and make those changes within the following calendar year
Additionally, the plan calls on the city to train its employees on how to talk about crashes to avoid victim-blaming or playing down safety issues. It also calls for a detailed analysis of Vision Zero’s progress to be made publicly available.
These are not particularly unique actions to improve safety, as professionals work every day—through planning, design, construction, operations, maintenance, education, and collaboration—to reduce, if not eliminate, crashes and the circumstances that lead to them in an effort to keep people safe. However, “action” is the operative word just as Houston is doing.
Smart Cities and Concepts
Advances in policy, planning, partnerships, and innovation are being developed at all governmental levels in an effort to provide a framework for the public and private sectors to work in unison within an architecture to increase effective and efficient mobility. An early example of this is the Intelligent Transportation System or ITS Architecture developed by the U. S. Department of Transportation in conjunction with many partners and issued in 2001.
There are a number of concepts that can and have been referred to as “Smart Cities” or “Smart City Concepts”. These have evolved especially during the technology revolution of the past two decades. This list is far from exhausting the myriad concepts or disciplines. The following discusses some of these disciplines and concepts, in no particular order, and none fit neatly within one topic.
Some disciplines in these concepts:
Strategic Planning. This is the starting point for virtually everything else. It is, of course, preceded by the necessary outreach, listening, team building, and collaboration needed to build a strategy.
Performance Metrics. Tracking progress toward meeting the goals imbedded within the strategic plan is equally important. Any plan becomes useless without progress toward obtaining it and performance metrics provide that tool to measure progress.
Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAV). Driven by rapidly developing technologies, CAV primarily provides more capacity from infrastructure, essentially reducing costs and improving safety.
Clean Energy—Maturing Alternative Fuel Technologies. The Industrial Age and resulting pollution and climate change that resulted have demanded clean energy in all its forms—solar, wind, hydrogen fuel cell, and electricity. Electricity is currently most dominant.
Electrification. As electricity emerges as the clean energy fuel, vehicle manufactures and governments are rapidly moving forward to increase electric vehicle use and reduce carbon-based vehicle use. The Governor of California has mandated no new internal combustion vehicle sales within California after 2035 while electric vehicle use continues to rise, and many states and communities are encouraging their use with supporting infrastructure. California has led many areas in the mobility space so this is one to watch.
Hydrogen Fuel Cells. Recently, the diesel engine manufacturer Cummins is developing hydrogen fuel cell engines that they believe will be efficient and compete favorably with electricity for heavy vehicles such as buses, heavy trucks, and trains.
Mobility as a Service/Mobility on Demand. Mobility as a Service, or MaaS, also known as Transportation as a Service, provides services typically with a joint digital channel that enables users to plan, book, and pay for trips. This is part of a more global shift from personally-owned vehicles to mobility provided as a service. Micro-mobility and micro-transit are also emerging (Regional transportation study suggests ‘’micro-transit’, 2020).
Car and Ride Sharing. Car and ride sharing has been around for decades, but the technology of recent years has allowed it to become much more effective and efficient as evidenced by the rise of Lyft and Uber.
Increasing Biking, Scooters, and Pedestrian Mobility. In recent years as a means to reduce car usage especially in metropolitan areas, bike lanes, trails, sidewalks, and scooter/bicycle rentals are increasing. These have the ability to also improve health while reducing congestion and increasing the capacity of infrastructure.
Big Data. This is the best of continuous improvement. Virtually every organization has legacy systems of data, physical (e.g. file cabinets) or electronic (e.g. servers or the cloud). For a variety of reasons, these data have resided in ”silos” and are not easily accessed and analyzed from broader, more complex perspectives. New technologies and related tools are now allowing “big data” to be accessed and analyzed with resulting increases in efficiency and performance.
Risk. Risk has always existed and is dominant in mega and giga projects as evidenced in projects such as the California High Speed Rail. While private companies have had risk management programs for years, the most recent federal transportation act (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation or “FAST Act,” 2015) requires states to have a risk management program. Using different tools to anticipate potential challenges (e.g. lost revenues) as well as opportunities (e.g. lost opportunities to increase revenues), these tools allow proactive development of strategies to mitigate and address the challenges as they occur vice the turmoil and problems associated with surprises. Of course this does not eliminate surprises termed “black swans” but these tools do significantly reduce most risks.
Resilience. Infrastructure is the backbone of our economy, connecting people, enhancing quality of life, and promoting health and safety. But climate change is revealing infrastructure vulnerabilities (Will infrastructure bend or break under climate change?, 2020). Like risks, resiliency or the lack of it, has always existed. As our built environment has increased, come into conflict with, and impacted the natural environment, the demand for protecting the built environment has increased. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (Lindsey, 2020) estimates a sea level rise of one foot to 8.2 feet by 2100. The variables are such that it is impossible to project more precisely. These apparently man-induced climate changes have increased hurricanes, other storms, coastal erosion, flooding, and other events that erode or destroy man-made structures including roads and bridges. This has demanded more resilient infrastructure through better materials, protective structures, relocation to less exposed areas, improved construction practices, and others (Parsons, 2020). One of the more recent efforts to improve the built-natural environment coexistence is the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers initiative “Engineering with Nature” (https://ewn.el.erdc.dren.mil/).
Environment. This discipline, like other disciplines, interacts together. As living beings, we depend on and are part of the natural environment. Thus, while risk and resilience are critical to the built environment, the healthy functioning of the natural environment is essential to our well-being. There is general recognition that climate change, biological diversity, populations, species loss and other insidious environmental impacts are undermining the natural world on which life (including humans) depends. (Will infrastructure bend or break under climate change?, 2020; UN Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’, 2019; Bongaarts, 2019; Duckett, 2020; Sofia, et al, 2020; Kann, 2020). There are emerging lab cultured meats that may reduce greenhouse gases 20-30 percent, slaughtering of 80 billion animals a year, improve land use, and reduce creation and transmission of diseases such as coronavirus. In the end we must take care of our natural environment. There is an increasing demand for the transportation/mobility space to not only mitigate but improve the natural environment. While many techniques are not new, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers initiative “Engineering with Nature” increases the attention to the importance and techniques to live well within and take care of the natural environment.
Internet of Things (IoT). This is technology taken to a high level. There is increasing demand for seamless mobility and IoT provides tools to achieve that future. As the title of this blog infers (The Mobility Ecosystem), the IoT allows an increasing emphasis on a “systems perspective” of our lives. Technology is allowing us to not only see the mobility ecosystem more clearly but how to improve its performance in all of its myriad impacts and relations…economic, social, environmental etc. (Joshi, 2020).
Some Smart City Concepts
Incentivize High Density Development. Our society has seen in an ebb and flow in regards to this concept—rural agriculture migrating to cities during industrialization, migrations to suburbs during metropolitan growth, migrations to more rural areas with increased opportunities for remote work, and a return to metropolitan areas primarily for work. This latter has dramatically increased traffic congestion and no one likes that. So, metropolitan areas are employing solutions to address this issue, such as providing incentives for high density development, not only of businesses, but housing and support services such as health care and grocery stores that are within walking distance. Due to population densities in European and Asian metropolitan areas, high density development has been occurring for some time. The United States is a much younger country so, we can learn from looking at their experience.
Incentivize Core Downtown Development by Charging Fees for Increases in Traffic. This is more of a technique than a concept. Nonetheless, charging fees for development that results in traffic increases can be a powerful tool while developing downtown areas, reducing traffic congestion, and increasing pedestrian/bicycle/scooter traffic.
Electrify Transportation: While electrification is a discipline, its application to traffic is considerable and is rapidly occurring. The economics driving this are discussed in a later post in this series.
Use More Shared and Connected Transportation. While shared transportation providers such as Uber and Lyft are becoming increasingly ubiquitous and used by many, especially millennials, there is little question that these and other providers will continue to expand. Connected transportation is beginning to emerge essentially in two forms. One is connecting various modes into one seamless multimodal transportation system, largely through technology. The other is by linking buses, trucks and cars into essentially “trains of vehicles or platoons” with little or no separation (i.e. virtually or physically connected). This has the net effect of increasing the capacity of infrastructure and increasing the productivity (and safety) of vehicles.
Use Traffic Calming Devices that Slow Cars and Enhance Pedestrian, Bicycle, Scooter, and Transit Mobility. This is likely one of the less obvious smart city concepts. However, the use of traditional traffic lights, traffic circles, pavement markings, and signs can have the net impact of slowing cars and enhancing pedestrian, bicycle, scooter and transit mobility.
Adopt User-Friendly App(s) for Routing and Paying for Multimodal Trips. This may be more of a technique for increasing connected vehicle use by a user-friendly app that allows for routing and paying for multimodal trips. These are being developed in locations such as the Denver RTD.
Free Public Transportation. As population densities increase and the impacts are valued and assessed via more “systems thinking,” the results may be that free public transportation may be more advantageous and cost-effective than alternatives. Dunkirk France concluded that free public transportation was more advantageous and cost effective than other alternatives, and thus provide free public transportation. Kansas City, Missouri, is providing free public transportation in a one year test to determine whether to do the same.
Stay Healthy Streets. Making more use of streets has gone by various names including complete streets, but Stay Healthy Streets is a more recent terminology. Essentially, this concept increases the usage of roads from motorized vehicles to pedestrians, bicycles, and other micro-mobility. This can be accomplished by closing or limiting streets to vehicle access, pavement markings for bicycle lanes, etc. The cities of Seattle and Minneapolis saw increases in pedestrian and bicycle traffic during the COVID-19 Pandemic while other cities saw little or no change. The question now is whether to keep these Stay Healthy Streets or not.
The fDis Global cities of the future (fDiintelligence.com, a service of the Financial Times LTD) also offers a variety of great insights, including by competitions to identify the best practices for future global cities.
Smart Rural Concepts
In an effort to be holistic, it is appropriate to provide some discussion of Smart Rural Concepts. The needs in largely agriculture-based communities for access to hospitals, schools, jobs and other communities is equal to that of more urban communities although the challenges may vary, including longer travel distances. Nearly every element in the above discussion of Smart Cities also relate to rural areas, the need for strategic planning, clean energy, electrification, big data, resilience, 5G, ITS, variable message signs, CAV, GPS, IoT, user-friendly apps for routing, etc. One exception is that most rural communities are not burdened with traffic congestion in their downtowns so incentivizing high-density development downtown makes little sense. However, many rural communities strongly desire more downtown traffic as a perceived means of economic development. Traffic can be a two-edged sword depending on your perspective. Truck traffic routing is another area rural communities may struggle with more than more urban communities.
One of the more challenging aspects of rural areas is that 45 percent of the nation’s fatalities are on rural roads while only 19 percent of the nation’s population lives in rural areas (Rural/Urban Comparison of Traffic Fatalities, 2020). This warrants counter measures not usually used in more urban areas. With more than 30 people a day dying in roadway departure crashes on rural roads, inexpensive countermeasures like SafetyEdge, rumble strips, lane markings, signage, and edge lines can and are bringing that number down.
Bongaarts, J. (2019, September 4). IPBES, 2019. Summary for policy makers of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Wiley Online Library. Retrieved January 14, 2021 from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/padr.12283
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
― Albert Einstein
This is the first in a series of blog posts on The Mobility Ecosystem: the changing landscape and need for fresh new ideas.
There is no one in our society who does not depend on and is impacted by mobility in its various forms. Moreover, mobility, its near-synonym transportation, and their associated agencies are increasingly responsible for helping to resolve an expanding number of issues—economic, societal, environmental, etc. While some are at the margin, others are at the core.
This narrative interweaves the perspectives and insights of multiple disciplines—engineering, economics, technology, natural, environmental and climate sciences, analytics, equity, anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, business, philosophy, and history—and borrows from entire bodies of scholarship and discussions that I have sought to learn from, synthesize and build upon.
The primary reason for the title “The Mobility Ecosystem” is biomimicry, which is defined as the design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modeled on biological entities and processes. The imitation of natural biological designs or processes in engineering or invention is not new. It has existed for thousands of years and has inspired airplanes from birds flying and roads from animal trails. Recently, Netherlands-based architecture firm GG-Loop along with engineering company Arup is developing ‘Mitosis’, a modular building system created by a parametric design tool following biophilic and user-centric design principles inspired by nature (Netherlands-based firm brings biophilic regenerative architecture to urban developments, 2020). The human society development has been largely inspired or driven by the natural world. We are continuing to learn from nature in creating and saving our world from human impacts.
A more thorough review of the increasingly rich, diverse mobility literature with citations, bibliography, notes, or epigraphs is beyond the scope of this blog and is intended for a longer future article.
Mobility is emerging as a human right, literally and figuratively, and an inherent part of freedom. Governments, city builders, and communities are faced with seemingly limitless possibilities which can be both liberating and paralyzing at times—a virtual smorgasbord.
Setting the Stage
There is general recognition that mobility, broadband, and cloud services are the 21st Century infrastructure. Infrastructure development (physical and digital) is a catalyst for economic development and jobs. There is a universal dislike of traffic congestion, fuels and technologies are changing, and personal vehicle ownership has begun to decline. These trends and others are part of what is emerging as transportation or mobility as a service, are changing our world, and collectively incorporate many of the aspects of this blog series.
It is impossible to identify a point in time when technology began to emerge. It pretty well parallels the evolution of humankind. While the real shift to digital technology began with the launch of the first personal computers in the 1970s, the fielding of the first Apple iPhone in 2007 was a dramatic advance in technology. With that event, the rate of change and demand for collaboration and technology increasingly accelerated, act synergistically, and offer the potential to improve safety, the economy, the environment, society, and people’s lives.
The Future of Transportation
The future of transportation may be reflected in the incoming Biden-Harris Administration priorities of defeating the COVID-19 Pandemic, economic recovery, racial equality, and climate change. Within those priorities are some likely Biden-Harris Administration transportation priorities as reflected by John Porcari, former Deputy Secretary of Transportation and member of the Biden-Harris Administration Transition Team.
Transit and passenger rail
Trends and issues on the horizon involve revisionist urban systems and identifying tangible, integrated solutions that exceed the status quo’s diminishing returns. The ability to envision and improve communities, public spaces, networks, and services is critical to influencing the path ahead.
What’s needed? A truly safe, seamless, multimodal 21st century transportation system for the movement of people and goods (Figure 1). The future is exciting, limitless, and rapidly changing. These are tenants for the mobility ecosystem.
Safety: reduce crashes, fatalities, injuries, and property damage
Mobility: reduce congestion, increase the capacity of existing infrastructure; connected and intermodal=one seamless transportation system
Economy: improve access to jobs, products and services, origin, destination, transport
Society: mobility is emerging as a human right; equity, social justice, equality, mobility for the under served
Environment: environmental justice for all is emerging as a human right; improve air, land, and water
Costs: reduce overall costs
Time: reduce travel time
Support: leverage advancing technologies, business intelligence/analysis, data, and decision-making systems
The above eight tenants and the contents of this blog do not supplant the process of good, sound planning, project development, design, construction, operations, and maintenance. At least until there is a better way, these tenants also do not supplant many other important elements such as a strong safety culture and program, annual needs assessment of infrastructure condition and their associated scope and cost, preserving the existing system, utilization of asset management tools, and monitoring and managing traffic speed and volume. It is the utility of all tools that will optimize outcomes in creating a better world for us and our posterity.
The future of transportation/mobility is about leadership. Seven tenants to improve this include:
Safety: reduce crashes, fatalities, injuries, and property damage
At its base, every department of transportation, their partners, and stakeholders hold their first priority as safety. This is the value we put on life. As the future of transportation and mobility evolve, driven by demand for technology and collaboration, a safe system can be achieved with zero crashes, fatalities, injuries, and property damage. However, human nature cannot be controlled and periodic mishaps are bound to occur. Nonetheless, the future is bright for a safer transportation/mobility system.
Mobility: reduce congestion, increase the capacity of existing infrastructure; connected and intermodal=one seamless transportation system
Every transportation department, their partners, and stakeholders were formed to improve mobility, whether that was getting out of the mud or the interstate highway system. Earlier, these departments were focused on engineering and construction using concrete, asphalt, and steel to predominately build a network of roads and bridges. The complexity for these departments has long since become increasingly multi-faceted, demanding additional disciplines, skill sets, and more understanding. The future of transportation and mobility, again driven by increasing demand for digital technology and collaboration, portends the opportunity for one connected, intermodal, seamless transportation system. The parts to this system are fast emerging in autonomous vehicles, one shop stop apps for routing, transfers and payments, and increasing demands from the public to make it so. This latter is driven largely by demand for access, social justice, greater diversity and other social values for fairness.
Economy: improve access to jobs, products and services, origin, destination, and transport
There is a strong argument that transportation and mobility have been a primary driver of economic growth. This is an especially strong argument in valuing the interstate highway system. Other countries recognize that, too. That is why China is building the “One Belt, One Road” which will result in the largest road network in the world and India’s National Highways Development Project which will result in a road network of over 30,000 miles as an element of their industrial revolution. Our entire society depends on transportation and mobility for access to jobs, public safety, health care, food, recreation, and many others. This access can be as large as the interstate highway system or as small as handicap ramps at intersections and curbs. Transportation and mobility are important at every level of our society although many take it for granted. Increasingly and rightly so, departments of transportation are using various and emerging systems to more directly value the impact of transportation and mobility in the economy. In fact, many have this reflected in their mission statements.
As the future emerges and more efficient, environmentally friending fuels come into the market, the future transportation and mobility system may include a newer user-based system such as a vehicle miles traveled tax or VMT, emerging from the fuel tax invented by the State of Oregon in 1919. This has been demonstrated as feasible for over 10 years by Oregon and other states. As such, the transportation and mobility system may operate more like a utility than it does now.
As the demand for digital technology and collaboration has increased, it requires a workforce that knows and understands how to use them. The rate of change is so rapid that the entire transportation and mobility industry, educators, and job seekers are challenged to keep up.
Environment: improve air, land, and water
As the social consciousness of environmental pollution, impacts, and climate change has increased, the efforts to control, mitigate and cleanup those impacts have correspondingly risen. While the environment and the impacts put upon it are often complex, the ownership is often ambiguous. Although many businesses are leaders in improving the environment, governments at all levels are frequently the leaders in regulating, mitigating and cleaning up impacts. As such, it is increasingly common for departments of transportation to be looked to lead in the environmental arena and mitigate the impacts on air, land, or water. My own sense is that these departments are generally very sophisticated and are up to the task.
Costs: reduce overall costs
Most people, governments, and businesses look closely at the costs in dollars since that is a primary measurement of value in our society. We view our savings, reduced costs, or costs avoided to a lesser degree. These can be significant, especially when viewed broadly such as the time-value to the driver either sitting in traffic, not being able to get to work or appointments on time, emergency responders including ambulances being slowed or stuck in traffic, and the increased opportunity for secondary collisions. Still, other impacts on the environment may be affected and add to global warming. What are the impacts on plants and animals which share our planet and sometimes may represent the “canary in the coal mine”. While direct costs in dollars serve an important purpose, viewing the wider range of costs, including those that are difficult or may not lend themselves to being valued in dollars, can be a challenge. In fact, progress in some areas such as environmental impacts and climate change may not be adequately valued in dollars, in spite of the fact that there are real financial impacts. Taking the “big picture” of the real or estimated costs in dollars or other value systems is difficult. Still, this must be done to more fairly assess the impacts to and within the built and natural environments. Otherwise, decision-making, which always has inherent flaws or risks, will not result in optimal judgments. Our ability to make more informed decisions on the total costs is evolving and improving in many parts of our society, including in transportation and mobility. Some of the systems enabling decision-making are well founded and continue to be well used, such as engineering economics. Others such as balancing the built and natural environments are more challenging but are improving within the emerging discipline of sustainability.
Time: reduce travel time
There is only so much time. Most of us are very protective of it. If we cherish our time, then it makes sense to place a value on it. Increasingly this is done. For example, placing a dollar value on a driver’s time and doing a calculation for a construction contractor’s incentive if work is completed early, or conversely charging a disincentive if work is completed late. Driven by increasing demand for digital technology and collaboration, the transportation/mobility system future promises a transition from a fragmented multimodal system to one connected, seamless, intermodal system that will optimize travel time for each of us.
Support: leverage emerging, business intelligence/analysis, data, and decision-making systems
The six previous tenants are ideas that cannot be achieved without an underlying support system. While these are based on education and research and development, emerging technologies are building tools for creating better built and natural environments. The rapidly evolving arena of the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, business intelligence, and analytics, augmented and virtual reality and others are great, especially when considering the Apple iPhone was only released in 2007. Digital technology is a significant driver in this brave new world of transportation and mobility. Another significant driver is our human ability to collaborate for the greater societal good. Using these emerging tools to create a better transportation and mobility system will be a significant step.
The above seven tenants do not supplant the process of planning, design, construction, operations, and maintenance. At least until there is a better way, these do not supplant many other important elements such as a strong safety culture and program, annual needs assessments and their costs or savings, preserving the existing system, utilization of asset management tools, assessing and documenting infrastructure condition, and monitoring and managing traffic speed and volume.
It is the utility of all tools that will optimize outcomes in creating a better world for us and our posterity.
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
Transportation and transportation infrastructure (heretofore referred to simply as mobility) have been around since the beginning of humans. In fact, the history of people and civilization could be told in terms of mobility. Mobility allowed our species to move out of Africa and around the world in roughly 50,000 years (starting around 60,000-80,000 years ago and completing this global journey around 15,000 years ago). Early components included walking on animal trails and along waterways (rivers, lakes, and ocean), increasingly large and sophisticated floating craft (boats, canoes, ships, and others), and animals domesticated to increase transport (horses, alpacas, camels, and others) over larger and larger expanses. The invention of the wheel (and associated axle) appears to date back to about 5,000 years ago and was a milestone that has resulted in vehicles of increasing size and capability ever since. For at least the last few thousand years virtually all of the mobility system developed based on available data, mathematics, and trial and error. Over time, these components have evolved into an increasingly sophisticated mobility system. The Apian Way allowed the Roman Empire to travel and dominate much of the known world. The Silk Road and others increasingly expanded trade and cultural exchange over vast areas of the globe.
Our forefathers had a great interest in roads, particularly in a “National Road” to connect the emerging United States of America. What eventually became the National Road (also known as the Cumberland Road, Cumberland Pike, National Pike, and Western Pike) was created by an Act of Congress in 1806 and signed into law by President Thomas Jefferson. In many ways, it was an early precursor to the Interstate Highway System. The Act was revolutionary and called for a road connecting the waters of the Atlantic with those of the Ohio River. Federal funding began in Cumberland, Maryland. The predecessors of the National Road included buffalo trails, Native American footpaths, Washington’s Road, and Braddock’s Road. The latter two were developed over part of the Nemacolin Trail, an Indian pathway, as part of the British campaign to evict the French from the forks of the Ohio River. Congress paid for the National Road, in part, by establishing a “2 percent fund” derived from the sale of public lands for the construction of roads through and to Ohio. Construction took longer than expected and the costs of maintenance were underestimated. As a result, tolls were eventually collected to pay for maintenance. To this day underestimating the cost of maintenance is likely true in many states and communities.
In 1919, Oregon was the first to develop a reliable funding mechanism—the fuel tax—which has been the primary funding mechanism for roads and bridges. By 1929, all states had a fuel tax. It was not until 1956, that the federal government created a federal fuel tax—Federal Highway Trust Fund— to pay for construction (not maintenance) of the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, commonly known as the Interstate Highway System. As of December 2007 (“Peters Quick Action” in Better Roads), the U. S. Secretary of Transportation reported that 40 percent of the Federal Highway Trust Fund is used for other purposes. While much of the first half of the 20th Century was spent “getting out of the mud”, the 50 years subsequent to 1956 were spent building and maintaining the interstate highway system under the responsibility of state departments of transportation. In large part, the 21st Century appears to be ushering in an era of system preservation, due largely to inadequate funding.
As indicated earlier, data for improving mobility is not new and it is reflected in virtually every aspect of the mobility ecosystem. These include engine oil diagnostics which serve to extend engine life, data-based preventative maintenance checks and services and scheduled services for all types of vehicles, data-based structural and functional capacities of roads and bridges, data-based pavement management systems, data-based bridge management systems, data-based needs assessments and estimated costs for repair and replacement of infrastructure (roads, bridges, buildings, runways, etc), data-based asset management for determining priorities of spending within and between modes, analytic tools such as life-cycle costs, return on investments, and many others. In fact, it would be difficult to identify an element of the mobility ecosystem that is not or cannot be managed by data. Of course, this requires good data and that does not always exist. There are many examples of entities that attempt management without good data that is fairly analyzed and with actionable outputs.
In 2007, the first iPhone was fielded, and this serves to mark the beginning of a new era, one driven largely by rapidly evolving digital technology but other elements as well. These elements include other technologies and increasing demand for collaboration. While 2007 was not the beginning it is convenient to view it as an inflection point, especially for mobility. The United States is, and has been, a leader in mobility and that has been a significant multiplier in building our nation’s strong economy.
While much of the rest of the world has lagged behind the United States in the mobility space, it is rapidly catching up. Two examples are China’s “One Belt, One Road” which will result in the largest road network in the world and India’s National Highways Development Project which will result in a road network of over 30,000 miles as an element of their industrial revolution.
Transportation is the aging term. Mobility reflects the emerging mobility ecosystem and marketplace. This ecosystem is at an inflection point coupled with the Internet of Things (IoT) and new ways of thinking in the 21st Century. It is an exciting time, with more changes in the next 10 years than perhaps the previous 100, driven by increasing demand for technology and collaboration. It is not an overstatement that today’s new gadgets are tomorrow’s antiques.
While some things will remain the same, this new mobility ecosystem will move inextricably forward as it evolves. We’ll increasingly think and speak in terms of one seamless, connected, efficient, user-friendly, intuitive, multimodal mobility system. Over time we will speak less in terms of buying and owning vehicles, “hard” infrastructure without embedded technology and planning individual modes to get where we want to go. Moreover, this new emerging mobility ecosystem will better connect one global community and economy, with all of its challenges, risks, and opportunities.
In short, mobility is being reimagined.
The mobility ecosystem is complex if it is anything. Modes vary across the world. These modes and some components include planes, trains, automobiles, trucks, transit providers of all types, buses, bicycles, motorcycles, pedestrians, airports, marine/lake/river ships, roads, rail, bridges, marine and freshwater ports, dredging to enable navigable ports and rivers, pipelines, public safety providers, governance in both the public and private sectors, and many others. These provide us access to jobs, medical care, food, fuel, emergency response, vacations, and many others. The size and capacity of many vehicles are growing increasingly from large to gigantic in an effort to gain economies of scale in moving people and goods as much of the supporting infrastructure races to keep up.
Using the United States as a yardstick, the first half of the 20th Century was marked by increasing motorized road, rail, air, and river and blue water conveyance. The second half of the 20th Century was marked by improvements in all areas of conveyance but largely by the creation of the Interstate Highway System. Simplistically, these can be referred to as the motorized conveyance era and Interstate era, respectively. I think it is important to note that the Interstate era also increased the emphasis on safety in an effort to decrease losses in lives and property. This is critical and continues to this day, as it should.
According to historian Jonathan Kenoyer, the concept of using a valueless “technology” instrument to represent transactions dates back 5,000 years, when the Mesopotamians used clay tablets to conduct trade with the Harappan civilization. While cumbersome, a slab of clay with seals from both civilizations certainly beat the tons of copper each of which had to be melted down to produce coins. Fast forward to the mid 20th Century, the Diners Club Card was the first credit card in widespread use by 1951. American Express introduced the first plastic card in 1959. Within five years, one million American Express cards were in use. In the 1950s-1960s my father, who worked for DX Oil Company, talked about them working on a card that could be used to pay for gas and enable self-service dispensing of fuel. The card became one of the ubiquitous credit cards. While credit cards have been upgraded over time to include passwords, security codes, and chips, today’s technology changes at increasingly rapid rates (the iPhone with its camera, GPS, apps and other associated technologies is just one example).
With the rapid advances in technology in the early 21st Century, the opportunities for mobility to be reimagined has never been greater and this has only just begun.
New technologies do not have to function on their own and frequently do not. For example, Iteris and Lindsay Corporation recently announced a smart work zone collaboration, leveraging the existing Lindsay Road Zipper for placing concrete jersey barriers and the industry-leading technology of Iteris. This collaboration promises to improve safety while getting more capacity at a lower cost with existing infrastructure. This also holds promise, on a temporary or permanent basis, for real-time lane reconfiguration in separating today’s traffic from autonomous and connected vehicles.
Currently, much of the mobility ecosystem is siloed to protect proprietary interests, growth, and profits. Silos must be broken down to achieve one efficient, connected, and seamless mobility system focused on the movement of people and goods, not vehicles alone. This can require a significant change in mindset.
New models and methodologies are developing. The emerging 5G coming out in 2019 is estimated to be 100 times faster than current mobile technologies, have more capacity, and dramatically reduce power consumption and communication response times. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is advancing, driven partly by more effectively “mining data” such as IBM’s Watson. Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones) has undergone dramatic growth in recent years in an increasing number of markets. Fully autonomous vehicles have arrived although it will likely take longer to have a significant impact than many have projected. Semiautonomous vehicles are increasingly mainstream as manufacturers add new technologies. Final destination methodologies are increasingly deployed whether through mobility as a service, Amazon, FedEx, ridesharing (Uber, Lyft, and others), high-speed transport such as high-speed rail, Hyperloop, and others. Finally, we are on the cusp of technology providing “one-stop shops”, such as Expedia does for airlines and hotels, for simple, connected, seamless, user-friendly trips for people. This has been ongoing in the primarily private sector-based freight industry which is driven by economies of scale, efficiency, and profit. Business to business has recognized for a long time the value of breaking down silos in spite of their need to protect their proprietary interests, growth, and profit. The public sector is more dominant in the movement of people and they seem to struggle more in breaking down silos, in part, to protect public interests including personal data and privacy. Breaking down the silos between public, private, and public and private entities, makes the task of creating one mobility ecosystem enormous. Still, this is an opportunity as the demand for collaboration increases to provide more efficient, cost-effective, environmentally and economically sustainable mobility for the movement of people and goods. This has become a quality of life issue for our planet and our global society.
The future will be what we make it. It will likely be messy, and no one has the answers. The Transportation Research Board 2019 report on Critical Issues in Transportation reflects a smorgasbord of issues, challenges, and opportunities. The report states, “Changes are coming at transportation from all directions, including potentially revolutionary technologies such as drones and automated vehicles, rapid innovations in urban transportation services, unreliable funding for infrastructure and operations, and possible changes in national policies affecting trade, climate, environmental protection, and sources of energy. The potential consequences of these changes could make future congestion, fuel consumption, and emissions either markedly better or markedly worse. Correspondingly, these potential changes could positively or adversely affect commercial truck, rail, aviation, and waterborne networks, with significant implications for the delivery of goods and services, personal travel, and the economy.” What will likely not change is the general systematic process for developing vehicles and infrastructure—planning, design, construction, manufacturing, operations, maintenance.
Despite concerns over privacy, identifying travel patterns is important. Technology has enhanced our ability to do this enabling plans and designs to be developed for improvements.
Sharing data is another important component. How? Simple vehicle/people trackers are available and used while protecting privacy.
Gaining trust is critical and that takes time. This is also easily lost, and everyone must stay mindful of how important this is for the system to work properly, even efficiently. The technology should include the ability for the user to turn the location off unless it has potential safety risks or system impacts which may relate to safety and/or efficiency.
So, what’s in it for me? This has the potential to reduce costs financially and environmentally while improving the overall quality of life, decrease travel time, increase the efficiency of the system, maintain and/or increase the profits of data collectors/owners.
A determination should be made of what is the proprietary in both the public and private spheres.
What are some drivers in reimagining mobility? These include reducing costs for users and the environment, reducing congestion, increasing the capacity of existing infrastructure, reducing travel times, and increasing safety.
What are some obstacles? Privacy continues to dominate, including as an issue in exploring a replacement for the fuel tax such as the vehicle miles traveled tax (VMT) initiated by the State of Oregon. Fielding is another issue. How do you efficiently field new technologies into a fleet of varying types and ages? That is likely messy and will require a long transition. Consolidation, analysis and meaningful output is likely another obstacle. Collecting data is only useful if it can provide meaningful outputs. While 5G will greatly enhance rates, the overall capacity of the system is a predictable obstacle to include adequate data storage capacity. Data centers being developed by Facebook, Microsoft and others may be examples of what will be needed to accommodate this new, emerging mobility ecosystem.
How to Move Forward
Finding a framework is key for the needed public-private partnership to develop. The Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) architecture developed by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) may be a good model. This architecture attempts to define a system of governance and key architectural elements that must be met by participants, public or private, while not being overly prescriptive. This can be a fine line to walk. The Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITSA) is a consortium that continues to bring the public and private sectors together to augment USDOT in developing and deploying emerging technologies. In 2019 the Transportation Research Board published the results of a three year study on the future of the interstate highway system, originally planned for a 50 year life, that made several recommendations including that its future should be modeled after the original interstate approach, adjusting the federal fuel tax to the original 90 percent federal share, creation of an Interstate Highway System Renewal and Modernization Program (RAMP), increasing the federal fuel tax to a level commensurate with the federal share required of the RAMP investment and adjusting the tax as needed for inflation and vehicle fuel economy, and with an assumption that it would be at least 2040 before large scale automation occurred. These frameworks of governance have worked in the past and there is every reason to believe they will work in the future. It is critical that the federal and state governments, and their conventions such as the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), lead the way.
It is important to tie this effort to safety, congestion reduction, climate change, resilience, security, economics, quality of life, health, business, asset management including the true costs of travel and supporting infrastructure, sustainability, and overall system performance. This also has the potential to improve other associated elements to include social justice, equity, diversity, increased access, reduced energy consumption, and others. Reimagining mobility has the potential to improve all of these.
In a mobility ecosystem, everything is related to everything else and the progression to it will be challenging, messy, and a long road (no pun intended). However, there are some human elements that will enhance, if not be critical to, success. These include being resilient, collaborative, maintaining a focus on the big picture goal, not getting stuck or lost in the details, and continuing to leverage emerging technologies.