All That's Trucking

Beyond Traffic

By the year 2045, will U.S. transportation be fossil or fantastic?

March 10, 2015

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The year is 2045. A driver sits in traffic for hours, which may have been common in Los Angeles a generation before.

But this particular driver lives in Omaha, Nebraska.

In 2045, Omaha is the new LA.

Thus starts a presentation on the Department of Transportation's new study, "Beyond Traffic."

It predicts that unless we change things, by 2045, the U.S. transportation system will be a "fossil," in comparison with Asia, where electric buses travel endlessly without refueling, or with Europe, where driverless cars zoom around and car crashes are a part of the past.

The Verge, a website that "covers the intersection of technology, science, art, and culture," summarized it this way:

The problems are endless: ancient infrastructure is crumbling without the money to repair or replace it. Renewable energy strategies aren't materializing quickly enough. Rapidly growing urban centers are buckling under the weight of the commuting residents that occupy them. And all the while, the specter of global warming threatens to quite literally sink everything.

One of The Verge's takeaways is, "Freight is a huge problem and it's going to get bigger." The study projects that by 2045, freight volume will increase 45%, and online shopping will mean continued demand for small package home delivery. And, of course, all of the "stuff" that has to get moved across the country and around the globe "takes energy and space on the road, the rail, and the water."

Another takeaway? "No one wants to spend any money on infrastructure."

For those of us in trucking, of course, those takeaways are hardly news.

However, the DOT says it doesn't have to be that way, that "we can build a transportation system as amazing as the other is terrifying." Driverless cars could eliminate most crashes, it points out as an example, while "nextgen" air traffic control systems mean no more circling airports in a plane.

The frustrating thing is, the project doesn't do a lot beyond pointing out the problems. As The Verge puts it:

In a perfect world, the DOT would be coming to the table with a slate of solutions — not problems — but it's not. Instead, it's calling Beyond Traffic "an invitation to a conversation" about how to fix things. "Everyone uses our transportation system, which means anyone can help build its future."

The goal, it says is to ask the "big" questions, look at the "big" trends, and hopefully inspire some "big" minds to come up with some "big" answers, and offers infographics explaining how "big" the problem really is.

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

I'm not quite sure what he meant by, "Not having a plan is a plan," but we certainly don't seem to have a plan at the moment.

In a roundtable discussion at the Mineta Transportation Insititute, Foxx said, "This is not an action plan. It is a catalyst for public conversation about mobility issues and how we can best solve them. Lately, I hear a lot of people talking about the past – how we used to run our transportation systems. But in the past, people looked to the future. That’s how we built the trans-continental railway, how we created the federal highway system, and how we innovated the air traffic control system that’s used around the world.”

I do hope the DOT hand-delivered a copy to every member of Congress, but I fear it's going to take more than some slick infographics to get to answers.

If you've got an hour to spend, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx discusses "Beyond Traffic" in a Google talk:

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Deborah Lockridge

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All That's Trucking blog is just that – the editor's take on anything and everything related to trucking, with the help of guest posts from other HDT editors. Author Deborah Lockridge's career as an award-winning trucking journalist started in 1990.


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