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Can Technology Help Relieve Traffic in Southern California?

I’ve been struck recently by the ways in which technology can help us do more with less. At this year’s Summit we’ll have a breakout session that will be geared to this phenomenon as it applies to transportation. How can technology help us get more throughput from our highways, how will a new “smart grid” be used to deploy electric vehicles, what zero emission freight movement technology will help us move goods without negative impacts to the environment, what does the future hold for “driverless” cars, how will designers tackle the transportation network of the future? There are some really smart people working on these and many other seemingly revolutionary transportation topics.

I wonder: will we embrace these new ideas and nurture them to their full potential, or will we fear change enough to fall back on protecting the status quo. Certainly change can be slow. And it can be anywhere from uncomfortable to downright painful. But, if we always do what we always did we’ll always get what we always got. Meaning, I guess, that if we don’t have the courage to work through the change then we will stumble along with a transportation system that doesn’t meet our needs and a way of funding the system that falls short.

When I speak to young people about transportation I am universally impressed by the passion they have for taking care of their environment and their communities, and the optimism they seem to have about what our world will be like in that nebulous idea “the future”. The choices we make now will foretell how that future unfolds.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do we want to face the fact of peak oil head-on from a pragmatic problem-solving approach, or do we want to skitter around it and hope that gas prices won’t continue to rise to astronomical levels?
  2. Can we embrace design principles that help our streets work better for all users, focusing on moving people across modes?
  3. Can we challenge ourselves to look for small changes in our own lives that can make a big difference overall and perhaps make the necessary impending change less daunting?
  4. Do we want to kick the can down the road when it comes to making sure our streets, bridges and rail systems are safe for users and wait for a catastrophe to befall us or do we want to do something now to fix the 65% of bridges in this country that are structurally deficient, spend the money on train collision-avoidance technology, and implement “complete streets” design techniques that have been proven to reduce pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities while enhancing transit options and improving the driver’s experience?
  5. Can we envision a more mobile future for our region?

This year, Mobility 21 will focus on Transportation NEXT at the 10th Annual Southern California Transportation Summit. We invite you to tell us what that means to you. Sound off here on the blog, and let us know what you think the future holds for transportation. Know about a cool project or technology we should share at the Summit? Drop us a line at mobility21@me.com. If you’re a student interested in being a moderator for our iTraffic: How technology is driving transportation innovation breakout session, submit an essay here. And if you have a little one at home, we’re looking for kids to tell us their ideas about transportation for our video program. Post a video clip on YouTube and send us the link.

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