October 2013

The future of transportation

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Levinson predicts improved accessibility, more real-time transportation data, and cleaner cities.

What does the future hold for transportation? University of Minnesota civil engineering professor David Levinson shared his thoughts as part of a panel of transportation experts in a series of videos from The Week magazine. Some highlights from Levinson’s predictions are below.

Urban mobility in 10 years

Over the next 10 years, Levinson predicts the emergence of driverless cars on the road, more car sharing and bike sharing programs, and more real-time information about buses and traffic congestion. “The future is already out there in pieces, but it will be much more systematically deployed in 10 years,” he says.

He also predicts that cities will be cleaner, with more electric cars and lower levels of tailpipe emissions, even for transit vehicles and trucks. “Cities will be more pleasant places to live,” he says.

Mobility versus accessibility

“We’ll need to think about transportation not as providing mobility but providing accessibility,” Levinson says. “It’s not just how fast we move on the network, but about how many things we can reach.” According to Levinson, connecting people to the places they want to go is not only a transportation issue, but also a land-use issue.

The challenge, Levinson says, is that these issues are often governed by different organizations. “Land use is generally locally managed, and transportation is funded at least in part by the federal and state government…They have different objectives,” he says. Improvements in accessibility will require better coordination and alignment of these transportation and land-use objectives.

The role of data

According to Levinson, accurate and reliable transportation data are and will continue to be important because they can provide real-time information to help travelers plan in real-time. And although data are already being used to provide information to drivers, transit users, and flyers, there are still areas where data are incomplete—such as for travel time on urban arterials.

“We’re in process,” Levinson said. “We’re going to be doing a lot better in five years than we are today, and we’re doing a lot better today than we were five years ago. But we’re not there yet in terms of being able to fully exploit the information that’s out there.”