Changing Lanes: Watch What's Coming on Tomorrow's Roads

By Adams, Ronald; Brewer, Terry | The Futurist, July-August 2002 | Go to article overview

Changing Lanes: Watch What's Coming on Tomorrow's Roads


Adams, Ronald, Brewer, Terry, The Futurist


Unlocking gridlock will require more efficient use of the space we already have for transportation. One answer is designing smaller vehicles and putting them on safe guideways above highways and within existing rights-of-way.

Just as steam engines replaced the water wheel and electric trains took the place of horse trains, so the twentieth-century car-and-highway transportation system is due to be replaced by something dramatically different in the twenty-first century.

Since the halcyon days of its introduction, the automobile has produced half the world's carbon dioxide and hollowed out cities in the United States, and it is now doing the same in cities all over the developing world as their inhabitants rush to embrace industrialization and its mistakes. The car-and-highway system has proved to be a disastrously inefficient land-use choice for high-density urban transport in the United States.

Henry Ford's common-man cars and highways to support them were achievements of the last century. However, the ability of ordinary Americans simply to go where they need to is being vitiated by the sheer volume of vehicles in the system. We can't build enough highways where they're needed to accommodate the traffic that's already there, much less provide for what's coming.

We've reached a stage of almost constant traffic jams in urbanized areas. In a megalopolis, popular destinations add more and more traffic to the system. We simply have no more room for new roads or highways within the present system's architecture. To survive the onslaught of more and more cars, our system must double the capacity of urban roadways, and do so without taking up any new real estate.

Dangers of Mixed-Use Highways

One irrational feature of today's jerry-built highway system is the unholy mix of vehicles crowding onto roads and highways--from oversized cars to huge trucks mixed in with buses and vans. Today's Commuter Joe feels he must drive the biggest SUV and duke it out with monster double-bottom trucks on the trip to work. But an 18-wheeler can still squash even the biggest SUV when a truck driver pulls one shift too many and dozes at the wheel.

Since England first ran massive steam-powered trains, we have known that dinky horse-drawn vehicles could not safely share the same right-of-way with them. Main-moths shouldn't mix with mice on the road. But the U.S. highway system has us locked into this unsafe condition.

While traffic balloons beyond the system's ability to cope, oil-consuming nations can no longer rely on a free-flowing supply. Now is the time to redirect energy policy away from oil and toward clean, electrified transportation using a different, more-sophisticated roadway system.

Super-Productive Lanes

The only way to increase capacity in urbanized areas is to maximize vehicle payload and roadway productivity.

A correct mix of Intelligent Vehicle Highway Systems (IVHS) elements and the more arcane dualmode guideways--two new transportation architectures--plus wayside electric power can produce cost-effective, safe, high-density rights-of-way. And it can be done without using additional urban space by allowing certain kinds of vehicles to run in super-productive rights-of-way shoehorned into existing roadways or even above them.

By making vehicles and highways more efficient in terms of both transporting people and cargo and consuming energy, we can move toward a more secure future. Reducing petroleum imports as we phase out the carbon-fuel economy in favor of electricity means slowing global warming as we build a new post-petroleum civilization.

Why Intelligent Systems Aren't Smart Enough

In Intelligent Vehicle Highway Systems (IVHS), the road and the car work together to do the driving. Touted by the professional highway community since the 1980s, IVHS has important features for new roadway system architectures. …

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