Our premise at OnGoing is that in order to develop a grand, shared vision for future transportation, a multi-disciplinary team must be brought together to consider all of the possibilities.
Q: What is OnGoingTransportation?
A: OnGoingTransportation is a movement calling for America to consider and approach transportation as a fundamental matrix to its future economic and social progress.
Too often, America’s transportation needs are dealt with as piecemeal, band-aid fixes – a bus-rapid-transit project here, a rail line there, another lane along this stretch of freeway – and always to alleviate issues that really will not be solved by the fix.
Just as the brain needs a supply of oxygen, a vibrant society and economy needs effortless fluidity of movement. As the United States contemplates its position in a new world order, one thing is certain. If it does not reinvent itself boldly, swiftly and intelligently, it will no longer be a tier-one, global superpower. How its people and goods flow will determine how agile and awe-inspiring its economy will be in an ultra-competitive global economy. How America’s mobility works and appears can again set it apart as an aspirational nation rather than simply a cost effective nation.
OnGoing advocates that a national, transportation vision should be seen as America’s differentiator from the rest of the world. Extraordinary transportation has always been a strong part of America’s history: covered wagons on the Oregon Trail, the railroads opening up the west; the Model T Ford; the world’s largest freeway system; the world’s largest steam locomotives, pioneers in flight, Greyhound buses, big-rig trucks. These and more have all been powerful symbols to the outside world and important components of America’s evolution and economic power.
Now, when everyone is wringing his or her hands about losing its global edge, the USA needs to take another leap ahead in reinventing its transport future. OnGoingTransportation.com intends to speak loud and clear about that.
Q: Have you started the process already?
A: Yes, we have already started. It has grown out of our careers as transportation designers, as educators in the field of transportation design and our particular passion and belief in the need for a sustainable future. Our activities have included the annual Sustainable Mobility Summits series at Art Center College of Design. These linked us with many extraordinary thinkers and doers - all with the same sense of mission. Our opportunity to testify in front of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming only made us more determined to see a sea-change in transportation thinking.
Q: How long will this take?
A: We think that assembling the core team and creating the Futurama 2.0 Vision will take at least 18 months with funding in place. Following the vision, the blueprint will emerge in stages. However, creating the whole blueprint of the vision in a format that will inform policy makers, companies and the public will take several years, if it is to be done to the thorough level that our nation deserves.
Q: Will technology be the only factor in providing us sustainable transportation?
A: We currently live in a very technology focused era. The truth is that there will be many contributions to achieving truly sustainable transportation and living, besides technology.
A principal contribution will be a collective change of how we regard our way of life. For many of us, a large proportion of our travel is not voluntary, nor welcome. We do not choose to commute 30 miles each way to work. Many, individual circumstances require us to do this. We would rather not have to frequently travel hundreds of miles for one business meeting or take three-hour journey to see a medical specialist. These are patterns that have become unwittingly normal for a variety of complex reasons. Certainly technologies can and will help us to avoid many involuntary journeys in future, as are already beginning for instance for on-line conferencing or remote surgery procedures. We need new paradigms in the relationships between living, working, learning and playing. This requires us to understand how all sectors of society, whether urban, rural, remote, and of all socio-economic groups really live and how transportation can support their lives better.
Similarly, partly because of the artificially low cost of energy, we think nothing today about consuming food or products that originated thousands of miles away. While certainly manufacturing and computing technologies will help to regionalize the production and distribution of goods, other developments such as economics thinking, the realities of climate change and availability of natural resources will change each of our priorities in our day to day lives – in some cases, quicker than we anticipate.
The metrics of energy cost, economic principles and information about the world about us are frequently based on some truth but not always the whole truth. To achieve a robust, sustainable, mobile future, we must get into the habit of basing decisions and development of systems on proven scientific fact and human-centric principles.
Some might argue that our relentless pursuit of technological development has exacerbated our predicament. Technology will undoubtedly continue to develop but a huge help towards sustainability and choosing the right technologies will be our future attitude to nature. We live in an age where nature is regarded as something for human beings to conquer and master. We must return to an attitude that regards nature as our partner. Treat your partner well and he or she will return the favors.
There are an infinite number of lessons that we can learn from nature at every level: from molecular level to galactic level. It might well be that our ability to live graciously and sustainably in 50 years’ time will be because our technology looks to nature for solutions. Swarms of birds, the connected intricacies of ecological cycles, the emergent patterns of weather all hold fundamental secrets, relevant to sustainable mobility and transportation. We need to seek to understand these natural principles and emulate them in our “technologies” rather than assuming we have to invent our own principles.
So technology will be important but only as part of changed ideals, respect for the elegant solutions that nature has already developed, re-mapping of economics fundamentals and insistence on thoroughly validated data and information.
Q: Will cars still play a role in future?
A: Undoubtedly, the car has had the most profound effect on American’s mobility of any means of transportation invented so far. The majority of people still prefer it as their first choice for journeys from half a mile to a couple of hundred miles. The perceived journey control and privacy that an automobile gives is highly valued. It is difficult to imagine a future without cars.
However, it is also difficult to imagine a sustainable future with cars that will perpetuate the gridlock, environmental impact and consequent health and safety issues that have grown with the car’s popularity.
If cars are to continue to play an important role in our future, they must adapt to a new set of criteria. They must reduce their individual and collective ecological footprint to as close to zero as possible. They must flow down our existing roadways smoothly, quietly and without accident. They should consume no non-renewable energy. These three requirements imply major advances in lightweight materials; a high level, if not total, degree of automation; and breakthroughs in renewable energy production, distribution and storage. Some of these requirements might seem unrealistic or unpalatable but the reality is that they have to be a prerequisite for future automobile systems.
Cars that reliably drive themselves will rarely crash. This will allow them to be dramatically lighter in construction and reduce death and injury to a fraction of what they are now. Automated driving technologies will also allow robust, smooth and efficient flow of vehicles down our infrastructure. As vehicles will be able to travel swiftly in close proximity to each other, the width of current freeways and highways can be significantly reduced giving room for other modes of transportation to share the rights of way. In some urban areas, these reduced widths or totally redundant traffic corridors can be repurposed for solar energy capture, parkland, development or urban agriculture.
The emergence of automated, lightweight, non-crashing, free-flowing vehicles along with a reduced need for personal mobility on the first place have the opportunity to make gridlock unknown.
There are still some technical hurdles to clear on the road to automated vehicles but the “effort to sustainability reward” ratio is very much in its favor compared to some other futuristic modes of transportation.
Nevertheless, when alternative means of transportation are properly conceived and designed as part of a complete integrated system, we will frequently find them more convenient, efficient and enjoyable than cars.
So, yes, the car probably does have an important future role to play but only if it and its industry adapt. It is probable that there will not be the need for so many cars. This should only be good news for car enthusiasts, who can possibly look forward to a future when cars can be driven on un-congested roads again for pleasure rather than necessity.
Q: Where will you do all the work?
A: Our strategy for assembling a core team assumes that individual team members would be currently located all over the United States.
Q: What type of partnership do you see happening between public and private entities in developing this vision?
As stated in our white paper “Futurama 2.0: Mobilizing America’s Transportation Revolution” a great many disciplines and areas of knowledge will need to contribute to the Futurama 2.0 vision and in particular for the research needed to develop the blueprint. While the core team will remain small to remain manageable, it will rely heavily on the interaction and collaboration of many other groups during the creation of the vision. It is foreseen that companies, private research groups, publicly funded research groups, universities, non-profit organizations and government agencies will all be sought for input, specific expertise, research and validation activities Just as the implementation of Futurama 2.0 will need to be a careful collaboration between the public and private sectors, so will the creation of the vision and the subsequent blueprint. Financial and knowledge investments from both sectors can leverage progress for mutual benefit.
We are under no illusions about the hurdles to be cleared with this public/private approach. Equally though, there should be no illusions about the consequences of failure.
Q: Will this vision still allow the private sector to freely compete?
A: Absolutely! It would be unimaginable not to be competition in the private sector in the United States of America. The principle behind our initiative is to create a future transportation blueprint that has the general acceptance of the American people, its elected government, business and industry so that clear, coherent and highly effective policy can be created. Having established the operating guidelines, the private sector is free to compete for all its worth on a level, transparent playing field.
Q: Why is Design so important?
A: Over the years, plenty of research has been done to try to solve transportation issues, whether they were environmental concerns or trying to reduce urban gridlock. The conclusions and recommendations of the research are usually well intended, based on excellent scientific data with logical reasoning and development. Unfortunately, the results are frequently presented as very scientific documents, full of data and at best boring to read by the intended audience, who are often not well versed in the subject matter. However, they are often responsible for making big decisions. This is not a good recipe for moving proposals towards implementation. Not only that but during the research, little or no consideration is given to whether the public will actually like using the end result.
When contemplating the creation of huge transportation and infrastructural projects, it is really important that all stakeholders understand the implications at every stage of the project. Equally important is ensuring that when completed, people will be excited to use it enough to warrant the investment. This is why it is crucial to have designers involved right from the beginning of a project – not just in the traditional role of making everything look cool and stylish but to ensure that objectivity is balanced with subjectivity, every step of the way.
Design is about: defining and understanding the problems to be solved, facilitating open-minded inquiry, exploring abstract ideas early in the process, spotting opportunities that are not at first obvious, working with diverse stakeholders, balancing the needs and expectations of end users with those of enterprises or providers, and presenting complex ideas in a format that anyone can easily comprehend.
The working culture of design offers un-rivaled levels of facilitation that allow multi-disciplinary teams to develop valid solutions for the future. Design processes can provide the special leadership, skills and environments within which diverse disciplines and cultures can function properly.
© 2021 OnGoingTransportation