What’s new in transportation innovation: Part 1

transportationThe flying car? It’s being manufactured. Now, Zintro experts list their top five coolest trends in transportation innovation.

Rick Rybeck, director of Just Economics and an expert in urban policy, says that (strangely enough) one of the coolest trends in transportation is simply getting back to basics. “In the last half of the 20th century, people wanted to flee congested cities. Some experts believed that spreading development away from the cities would reduce congestion. We became obsessed with mobility. This was all about how far and how fast we could go. Interstate highways made it possible to live far away from where we worked, shopped or went to school. And the attitude of government officials, with regard to highways, was everything for everyone, everywhere for free!” says Rybeck. “We have now learned that the premise of spreading out development to reduce congestion is simply mistaken. While low-density rural areas will have much less congestion than cities, it is the middle-density suburban areas that experience the worst congestion. Why? Because every single activity requires an automobile trip while in cities some of these activities can be easily accessed by walking, cycling, taxis or transit. These modes of transportation take up a lot less space per traveler than car travel. An urban grid network of streets makes it easier to bypass congestion than on suburban arterials and highways. “Not surprisingly, roads for everyone, everywhere for free is very expensive and not sustainable.


One of the coolest trends in transportation that Rybeck has identified is that some planners are replacing mobility with accessibility. “Instead of asking how far and how fast, planners are asking about how many activities can be reached quickly and conveniently. Now, the new transportation focus is linking land use and transportation. Compact, mixed-use development near  provides many travel options by mode, by route and by time. It reduces the need for automobiles and reduces congestion,” says Rybeck.


This approach to compact, mixed-use development is accompanied by the notion that people should pay for transportation based on what they consume and on the amount of congestion that they impose upon others. “The Metrorail subway system in Washington, DC charges patrons according to both the distance they travel and according to the time of day. Rush hours are the most expensive. This encourages people who are making discretionary trips to travel at off-peak times. This saves scarce rush hour capacity for people making essential work trips. Thus, good pricing provides information that helps people make wise decisions about using the transportation system more efficiently,” Rybeck says. “When we tell people that it is free to drive and park in congested places at congested times, it can hardly be surprising that so many of our roadways are nearing gridlock.”


Rybeck tells Zintro that Washington, DC is exploring the use of performance-based parking prices that set parking meter rates according to the level of demand. Prices rise when demand rises and fall when demand falls. The goal is to maintain about 15 percent of the curbside parking spaces available to incoming travelers. This prevents cruising for parking which can account for up to 30 percent of the traffic on some city streets. And Maryland is charging drivers based on distance and time-of-day to use a new highway, the Inter-County Connector.


Dominic Scholfield, a low emission transport trends analyst, says that his top five cool trends would include some practical stuff and some off-the-wall ideas. “Number one in the practical category would be running heavy duty vehicles on biomethane from waste. Here in the UK I’m working on a major trial of running long distance trucking on biomethane, but I’ve also been talking to a client about a project in Kenya,” says Scholfield. “The prospect for major agricultural operations in developing countries to use waste to generate energy and fuel vehicles is very exciting. I’ve also been working with a Caribbean island government to look at using algae from offshore ponds to generate biomethane for vehicles.”


When it comes to urban transport, Scholfield says that there are great opportunities for using smartphones to connect up multiple modes. “The technology is here to offer real time transit information and smart ticketing to provide travelers seamless access to whatever is the most appropriate form of transport for each leg of their journey,” he says. “One of the off-the-wall ideas that I am interested in is providing new intercity links with airships instead of new rail or airport connections. Modern airships can travel at around 100 mph and need very little infrastructure. Plus, they don’t use energy to get airborne like conventional aircraft. Another idea is building cable car systems for urban transit instead of trams; they work in ski resorts. And, there is interest in moving more freight by bicycle. I worked with Office Depot on bringing that idea from France to London.”

By Maureen Aylward

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