According to a report created by the Association for Commuter Transportation (ACT) in partnership with the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), traffic congestion is increasing in severity:
“In 1982, the average person living in one of the country’s 75 largest cities faced seven hours of travel delay per year. By 2001, that figure had shot to 26 hours of delay per year, and the most severely congested periods of the day — once known as the ‘rush hour’ — stretched to cover nearly six hours of each day … with the average ‘rush hour’ trip taking nearly 40 percent longer than the same trip at other times of the day.”
The prevalence, accessibility, connectivity, and speed of available technology over the past 10 years have made possible a slew of new ideas and strategies for eliminating traffic congestion across the country. In addition, the increasingly tight-knit and collaborative network of transportation authorities and efforts around the world allow traffic design to benefit from an exponentially larger pool of thought. Development is rampant and ideas are being tested around the world that could revolutionize traffic flow and congestion solutions over the coming decades. The following include three of the most prevalent themes in congestion control being tested and implemented across America and around the world.
Traffic Management Technologies
Smart road design: Strategies are being developed that would add additional functionality to the actual road surface that could streamline traffic and provide safety features that would reduce not only injuries and casualties but congestion-inducing accident scenes. One such example includes a section of highway in the Netherlands that has been converted to a testing plot for “smart highway” features. The first phase involved simply adding solar-charged photo luminescent powder to the road paint to make lane lines glow in the dark during the night to increase visibility in an area where the streetlights are often turned off late at night. However, proposed additions include temperature-sensitive indicators on the road surface to alert drivers to weather conditions, wind indicators, and even embedded induction coils that could recharge electric vehicles as they pass over.
Another interesting road surface development gaining traction in the U.S. is called Solar Roadways and is being developed by a husband and wife team. Scott and Julie Brusaw have integrated solar cells into panels that are combined and used as roadways. In words: “We’re building solar panels that you can drive on.” They earned a contract to test their technology in a parking lot in Idaho and finished the project in 2013. The results of the initial prototype were disappointing, but the firm is moving forward as of 2016 with a trial along a stretch of historic Route 66 in Missouri. Despite its shaky inception, the concept has been lauded by engineers, alternative energy investors, transportation planners, and other authorities. The idea may receive further attention and implementation as demand for alternative energies and electric vehicles increases.
Alternative transportation infrastructure: To increase the use of alternative transportation methods, cities and infrastructure planners have recognized the importance of providing the infrastructure necessary to ensure the safety and efficiency of these methods. Cities across America and around the world are increasing their investments in amenities including bike lanes, carpool lanes, bus-only lanes, bus tunnels, trolley or streetcar tracks, and more. According to an article compiled by Crowdsourced Transport, the degree of effectiveness expected from these types of designated alternative-transit infrastructures is increased by their degree of separation from conventional vehicle lanes. Thus, completely separated lanes or exclusive spaces more effectively streamline traffic than simply painting lanes or messages on existing pavement. Transit design will become an increasingly vital part of urban planning and revitalization efforts over the coming years.
Public transportation investment: In 2008, the United States Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) released an in-depth report revealing the necessity of increasing investment in public transportation offerings across the country. Cited reasons for increasing public transit use include reducing oil consumption (USPIRG estimates that even current public transit usage saves billions of gallons a year), reducing traffic congestion, and decreasing our national environmental footprint.
Additional quality of life and economic advantages that accompany being able to avoid personal car ownership have been cited as well. Investing in public transportation will also fuel job market growth more robustly than equivalent spending on highway maintenance or spending projects. While significant public transport overhaul can often be scrutinized by city planners or local legislatures because of perceived high cost, sometimes less is more. For example, Bogotá’s iconic Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system utilizes simple public buses and has revolutionized public transit at a fraction of the cost of a comparably functional metro rail system. Creative minds could take even existing public transit infrastructures and create brand-new possibilities that not only curtail a huge variety of growing problems but provide the capacity for growth for towns, cities, whole states or countries, and beyond.
The field of transportation technology and design is projected to experience new acceleration as a convergence of varying factors propel it to new heights of relevance and demand. Rising national and global populations, increasing demand to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, decreasing costs of alternative energies and technologies, and slow but steady societal behavior shifts propelling more and more people into alternative lifestyles that reduce personal vehicle ownership will increase demand for better public transportation.
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