Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Super Highway for New Mobility

The Economist recently sponsored an excellent panel discussion about future mobility that I think you'll find well worth your 45 min. to watch.  And they weren't talking about plug in hybrids or ethanol fuel, either!

As the moderator, Vijay Vaitheeswaran, Global Correspondent for The Economist said, the US will be adding 100 million people and our infrastructure is already close to capacity for an increasing amount of time, so something is going to have to give.   

The panelists seem to be in agreement that the future we'll see smaller, lighter vehicles, new ownerships models (i.e. a lot more carsharing and ridesharing), plug a lot more reliance on communications supporting and, inn some cases in lieu of transportation.  The discussion about autonomous vehicles made a better case for them than I would have imagined.  One speaker made an interesting case for why 32 small vehicles might be better than a bus.  Sue Zielinski of the University of Michigan SMART program reminded everyone that where we're headed and what we need is a transportation system with many options.

The discussion is a good reminder that we're just coming to the end of our major (over)investment in the Interstate Highway system and that it will take a long time to build up new systems that are as comprehensive as it has been.  One speaker reminded us that in order for new systems to be embraced they have to be better than the what we already have.  (Hopefully, that doesn't mean our existing systems have to crumble and decay significantly before other alternatives start looking good!)

The participants are all heavy hitters in transportation.
Larry Burns, Director, Sustainable Mobility, The Earth Institute, Columbia University (formerly GM)
Bob Gilligan, Vice President, GE Energy, Transmission & Distribution
Jack Hidary, Founder, Jack Hidary Foundation
Petra Todorovich, Director, America 2050
Susan Zielinski, Managing Director, SMART, University of Michigan

By the way, the panelists refer to a "bubble car" video that wasn't included in the web segment.  Dan Sturges tells me it's referring to the GM-Segway EN-V concept vehicle and the video is likely this one posted on YouTube.  (Dan cautions that the video is a little misleading since vehicle is not designed to travel at the speeds that the simulation shows.  I guess you just can't get the "lure of the open road" mentality out of those old Detroit metal heads.)

And if you just can't get enough of this stuff, there's another interesting interview in The Economist video series with architect, designer and creator of the Curituba BRT system, Jaime Lerner here.