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How can US transportation be ‘re-envisioned’?

First publishedin ITS International
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US policymakers may need to take a different view of transport © William Perry | Dreamstime.com
In her address to this year’s ITS America Annual Meeting, congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, chair of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, called for a ‘re-envisioning’ of transportation. Her speech is below – and ITS International asks a number of US experts what they would like to see ‘re-envisioned’…

Iwould like to welcome ITS America to the nation’s capital. When it comes to transportation, the Congress could use some intelligence! I am serious about that, my friends, not only with respect to the issues on which you are all focused, the issues of the present - I am afraid too many members of Congress have seen them as issues of the future.

But I am also focused on writing a new transportation and infrastructure bill, and I’m trying to convince my good friends on the other side of the aisle that this is one bill you can’t write without money. And if you think that that’s a truism, I refer you back to the bill we wrote four years ago, where – and by the way, the bills in this committee are very bipartisan: my party is in the majority now; I was in the minority then but I had as much to say with writing the bill because the transportation and infrastructure committee is just that kind of bipartisan committee and understands that there are no Republican roads and Democratic highways.

But when it came to money, we had to do a five-year bill rather than a four-year bill because there was not one cent of new money in the bill. So to make it look like there was an increase we simply reduced the number of years! We have had problems getting some on the other side to understand that the so-called ‘gas tax’, which of course is not a tax on you and me, but a way that people who use the roads pay for that privilege. [It] should be self-evident.

Routine increases

I’ve been on this committee ever since coming to Congress, and I remember in the ‘nineties, when we routinely increased the fuel tax, and in fact understood that very important issue when it comes to making sure our roads and our bridges and our infrastructure are up to date. Well they are way behind, my friends, and your focus is where Congress needs to be when we write a new transportation and infrastructure bill on what you call ‘intelligent mobility’.

These issues simply were not on the table just a few years ago when we wrote the last bill: technology and smart infrastructure, things we routinely think about today – or should. New modes of transportation - wherever the committee is, or Congress is, cities like my city are way ahead on such matters. So the Congress is behind where jurisdictions have felt it necessary to go. Nothing less than a re-envisioning of surface transportation is necessary when we write this new bill. Now, when I look at the kinds of issues that are on the table, I know that I am looking at the issues that for many of you will be routine – like mobility on demand and microtransit.

In my own city we have 14 electric buses, we are a leader in that. We have not looked closely in the committee at reserving a part of the 5.9GHz spectrum for connected vehicles and technologies. All of that is new to this committee and only beginning to be explored. So when I look at the new bill, I am looking at technology, new construction materials, new modes of travel, and climate change. I was not looking at a single one of those issues when we wrote the last bill. The fact is that today’s infrastructure, our entire system, is built on the Eisenhower-era model of the 20th century: the interstate model that connected one part of the country to the other. That’s a very important model, I do not want to deprecate it. That interstate highway model played a major role in making the US a major economic power. But today as we look at what our forefathers created, we have to ask ourselves are we up to doing what the 21st century demands?

Upgrading infrastructure

And that boils down in my judgment to three elements: first, maintaining and upgrading our current infrastructure, where we are woefully behind. Then, simultaneously, we face modernising our approach to infrastructure, including – perhaps first and foremost – coping with changing weather patterns and how you build infrastructure today. The third element – again, it’s not as if these can go one, two three, they have to be done at the same time – is mobility, the new ways to move people and goods, using new technologies. The American Society of Engineers (ASE) has done the study on the investment gap and they come up with a daunting figure that I don’t even want to think about - because I can tell you that the Congress of the US isn’t prepared to go anywhere near that figure. While you’re in Washington I hope you’ll bring us closer to understanding what has to be done by visiting members of Congress.

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Eleanor Holmes Norton - ITS America June 2019.jpg
Holmes Norton: appeal to ITS industry

 But according to the ASE, the investment gap is $2 trillion over the next decade. Bus and transit systems need approximately $90 billion simply to be brought into a state of good repair - so that isn’t even getting to smart transportation. What we’re facing, in other words, is long-term under-investment. Yet as we face the investment that is needed, it would be incredibly wasteful not to make strong investments in the current systems – to be so focused on the new technology that we let the current systems continue to fall into disrepair, forcing us to lose ground. So the 2020 reauthorisation will mark the first focus on wholesale modernisation of existing systems and approaches to transportation. We face a population increase over 100 years; if we look at 1950 there were 150 million people; if we look at 2050, there will be 400 million people. So on top of everything, on much the same infrastructure, [there will be] twice as many people. The next 30 years will also see increased freight movement of up to 40%. So in addition to demands created by growing population, there will be increased use.

The reality of climate change is not yet real in Washington. We have passed a bill recognising what needs to be done in the House – the new Democratic majority. But I cannot tell you that this issue, which I regard as the most important issue in the world today, has been faced by the Congress of the US. Still, the Congress is full of deniers of climate change – even as they experience it in their own districts. There is no leadership from the top of the government, from the administration, on this issue. It is incredibly serious. On greenhouse gas emissions, our sector - the transportation sector – contributes almost 30%. Passenger vehicles and freight trucks together account for over 80% of greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector.

Emerging mobility

Climate change must be at the top of the list as we look at alternative modes of transportation – and quickly get where we need to be. Congress has to face that it has got to provide some of the funding necessary, for example, to develop electric bus fleets – of the kind I mentioned the District of Columbia is already leading on. I am particularly fascinated by emerging mobility solutions. This city is fascinated by them: if you go on the streets of Washington, you will see that we don’t yet know how to regulate scooters but nobody’s waiting for that to happen. They are plentiful throughout downtown Washington, and in the neighbourhoods we’ve got to figure out – with this mode of transportation that the people have thrust on us, that our brilliant economy has brought forward – how do you make sure that it is compatible with existing modes of transportation. So I’m just trying to find a way to bring scooters to the Capitol and invite members to come out and ride, and see what needs to be done. I’ve already got six scooter companies ready and willing to come. There are shared bikes now, not to mention scooters, transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft, microtransit options which are already being tried in cities like my own, providing flexible solutions for groups of passengers.

Reducing congestion

All of these have important roles and need to be incentivised with the increase in ridership that is already happening in these alternatives. They can, and must, reduce congestion. I live on Capitol Hill and it took me three times what I thought it would take me to get here, just being stopped in traffic. These demand mobility options are very much the wave of the future because they can increase service frequency, with greater efficiency and with fewer cars on the roads.

So, my friends, your sector has – as far as I’m concerned – come to the forefront of what we need to be doing in transportation and infrastructure today. I cannot tell you that the entire Congress is aware of that. And that is why your visits to members of Congress should be seen as educational; should be seen as helping Congress come up to date on where transportation and infrastructure needs to be. The opportunities for strengthening and improving our infrastructure system and our transportation are as exciting as they are challenging. They require nothing less than the re-envisioning I opened with: re-envisioning of transportation itself; re-envisioning of what we mean by infrastructure; and then carefully – but quickly – planning for what needs to be done and charting away to get the USA there. Thankyou for coming – help us out!

This is an edited transcript of congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton’s speech to the ITS America Annual Meeting in June.

Chris Sanders

Lindsay Transportation Solutions

“I think congresswoman Holmes Norton makes some interesting points that fit well with what we are trying to suggest to departments of transportation around the world. Many highway engineers are still approaching urban congestion by adding more lanes to existing freeways per her ‘Eisenhower era’ statement. As we have seen, that is very disruptive to local communities and only solves the problem temporarily. Mass transit and other modes of transport will continue to develop and change our cities and will increase with proper funding - but these solutions will take time and a concerted effort to implement. Another approach is to design and build more flexible freeways. In many cities we have tidal flows of traffic either daily or periodically and often have unused pavement capacity on one side of the road or the other. If we could better use existing technologies like moveable barriers to dynamically adjust highway corridors by adding more lanes in the direction they were needed, we might build a more cost-effective system. ITS technology exists so we can sense and manage changes. We now need to implement smart corridors where the infrastructure can be flexible enough to adapt. The I-15 corridor between Los Angeles and San Diego is a perfect example of smart planning and implementation. They have integrated bus rapid transit, high-occupancy vehicles and regular cars with a flexible highway within a highway allowing them to better manage what they have over a 30- to 40-year lifecycle. After 10 years of economic cycles and growth, I think they are seeing the results they hoped for. I once spoke to one traffic engineer who said: ‘Never build a fixed barrier in an urban area.’ That may not be 100% practical but the concept of planning and building for flexibility is.”

Andy Taylor

Strategy director, Cubic Transportation Systems

“From my perspective there are three areas of transportation that need to be re-envisioned.
1. People’s needs for mobility and the way they want to carry out their mobility are changing. The on-demand world now applies to transport, and as such the way mobility is offered to an individual should adapt to meet the changing needs of the travelling public. Private and public transport solutions need to come together in a region to offer holistic services to the communities that are fit for their specific needs. We need to get away from empty buses running in the middle of the day to right-sized solutions that deliver the mobility options, on demand for any individual.

2. Cities need to review and look at their region’s transport network holistically. As public transport and some private transport solutions all use the same road infrastructure, traffic impediments for road users can impact the majority of the network. Cities need to monitor and control the entire transport network in order to break down silos within the region and optimise the transport network infrastructure more effectively.

3. Government needs to step up and look at proactively changing policy and regulations pertaining to funding of public transport. In a time of shrinking budgets and demand from private solutions, the public transport network is under intense pressure to deliver services to all the citizens of a region, not just those with the financial capability to use private cars or private transport solutions. New models of funding and financing of public transport operations and infrastructure investment need to be developed to allow public transport to thrive and be the backbone of mobility in the cities and regions.” ITS

John Peracchio

Interim CEO, Conduent Transportation

“There is a convergence increasingly in the perception of the travelling public about transportation. Just a decade ago, people might have thought about ‘taking a drive’ from point A to point B. Today, especially among millennials, they think about getting from point A to point B across transportation modes. This is very important to Conduent, particularly in terms of managing transactions: whether you’re taking a toll road, or public transit, and throw in parking – and if you have an electric vehicle (EV), if you don’t have a parking space reserved with a charging station you might not get home because you’ve run out of juice. We have to focus on these things. It’s a societal change, especially with respect to the younger generation: they’re not going to put up with queueing up to put a paper parking ticket in their windscreen – to them, that’s equivalent to stone knives and bearskins. They’re going to want to look at their smart device to find what’s going to happen and pay for things seamlessly. You are likely to need more than one account but you are going to want those accounts linked, at the very least. We need the cooperation of agencies to do this, and I believe they ultimately will. Agencies rightly have safety, cybersecurity, and other concerns but, on the other hand, the travelling public is demanding change. At the federal level, congresswoman Holmes Norton is right about policymakers lagging behind the ITS industry. But when you move down to the state and regional levels, in the next two years you are going to see agencies talking about ways of collaborating with one another. For example, Conduent manages E-ZPass and in Montreal we are dealing with 23 different agencies: there is no technological impediment for performing the same services for tolling and transit, and parking payments could be managed as well. It is not hugely challenging. Also, we have to get our arms around the funding of infrastructure in the US, and my personal view is that we will need public-private partnerships. It’s very complicated, but the bottom line is that we have this challenge and we have to meet it or see our productivity and overall economic health decline. I think it’s stark, immediate, and we have to look at innovative solutions. I also have a working theory that we need to focus on our most vulnerable travellers: the disabled, elderly, and children, who often ride public transit as well as other modes of transportation. If we can take care of these groups, we can take care of anyone.” ITS

Dr. Bill Sowell

President, Eberle Design & vice chairman, International Road Federation

“The US Congress, and legislators around the world, have been setting their transportation priorities quite incorrectly. The US alone loses 40,000 persons annually in traffic collisions. Most of these unnecessary deaths are due to driver error. There is a keen lack of sense of urgency, with respect to the funding and deployment of connected and autonomous vehicles (C/AVs), which could dramatically reduce - and eventually eliminate – traffic-related injuries and fatalities. With badly needed US Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) guidance, the expedited deployment of a proper transportation communications backbone - either DSRC and/or C-V2X 5G C/AV-equipped traffic control equipment and fully adaptive central traffic management systems - driver, pedestrian, bicyclist and freight carriers would have a much safer and operationally efficient environment in which to live and operate. Taking human error out of the mix reduces injuries and deaths right away, not 30-plus years from now. The focus upon moving to electric-powered vehicles, scooters and bicycles does not impact the greatest number of road users, nor resolve the immediate challenges of population transition to residing in urban centres, and moving more vehicles through limited surface transport infrastructure. The use of fossil-fuelled vehicles makes the greatest sense in the near term, as there are not enough public electric charging stations deployed to meet demand. Ride-sharing is a great alternative for those unable to drive, or without personal vehicles – however, this actually increases vehicular traffic. While multimodalism and new technologies are all fascinating, they are truly distractions of what can and should responsibly be done immediately to save lives, by expediting the deployment of C/AV-equipped transportation infrastructure. C/AV vehicles are rolling off the auto assembly lines right now, why not take advantage of it? What is the price of even saving one life sooner rather than later? The life you save may be your own, or that of a family member or neighbour. The game of politics is again costing money on things that truly don’t make a difference in our daily lives. Safety should be our first priority, and it is not the focus of our elected or appointed leaders in most cases.” ITS

Shailen Bhatt

CEO, ITS America

“Re-envisioning transportation means we should not accept 36,750 fatalities on US roadways. We have designed cars and roads to be as safe as possible, but tens of thousands of people every year still don’t make it home. We have technologies that can significantly reduce or prevent crashes - it’s time to deploy connected vehicle communications on a large scale and reverse the tide in traffic deaths.” ITS

Bruce Belmore

President, Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE)

“Safety, funding and technology are the ITE priorities among the full set of reauthorisation principles adopted in July by ITE’s Board of Direction. Safety must be our top priority. In re-envisioning surface transportation, we must address the rising number of fatalities, particularly among vulnerable users, with a Vision Zero mindset and by employing safe systems approaches. While ITE supports continuation of existing programmes that have proven to be effective, we must move beyond the status quo. Federal leadership and funding are necessary to capitalise on the change and innovation occurring in the transportation landscape. We must increase funding and drive more of it down to our growing metropolitan areas while providing jurisdictions with the flexibility to invest in improved operations and maintenance of the existing system, not just new infrastructure. We must support research and deployment of advanced technologies. If used appropriately, these technologies offer opportunities to dramatically enhance safety, increase mobility choices, improve access in both urban and rural areas - and address transportation equity issues.”

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