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Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Dark Future of Transportation: "Beyond Traffic" a USDOT Report

As reported by The Verge: The US Department of Transportation (USDOT) just released "Beyond Traffic," a study best described as a dire warning about how the country's arterial lines will clog and implode over the next several decades. As far as USDOT secretary Anthony Foxx is concerned, pretty much everything is in bad shape and getting worse: roadways, railways, waterways, the whole nine yards.

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.

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," a slide deck highlighting the study reads.

Here are some of the major takeaways.
Beyond Traffic 1

We're basically doomed unless we radically change things

"America's transportation system is a fossil in 2045," reads the slide deck. That's not wrong: even today, American bridges are regularly cited as being structurally deficient with no replacements in sight. It warns about the rise of new urban centers — "Omaha is the new LA" in the DOT's dystopian vision of the future — and rail systems so overcrowded that trains never actually stop to pick anyone up. No one can get to work.
Beyond Traffic 6

The USDOT seems to be really excited about millennials and ride-sharing

The study makes reference to several trends unique to younger people — a downturn in driving paired with a huge uptick in the acceptance of technology. "Data enables innovative transportation options, such as car-sharing, ride-sharing, and pop-up bus services, and more rapid delivery of goods," the presentation notes. (Notably, Ford announced at CES this year that it's testing practically all of these things.) This might ultimately be terrible news for car lovers, but great news for the environment, infrastructure budgeting, and just about everything else.
Beyond Traffic 5

Self-driving cars are definitely happening, because the regulatory people are on board

It's widely understood that the biggest hurdle to getting self-driving cars on the roads over the next couple decades won't be a technological one — it's regulatory. Lawmaking is almost always a bureaucratic nightmare, with special interests pulling strings and naysayers gumming up the works. For companies like Google and major automakers pursuing their own self-driving projects, though, this is probably good news: Beyond Traffic makes reference to the advent of driverless tech. "Imagine eliminating 9 out of every 10 car crashes. That's the bright promise driverless technology holds over the next 30 years," the presentation reads. A three-decade time horizon probably isn't what Google has in mind, but at least they've got the Department of Transportation talking about it in a sharply positive light