Thursday, September 26, 2013
A 21st Century Transportation System: Pedal to the Metal
I frequently call attention to the “inconvenient truth” about transportation funding, which is that even the most ambitious funding initiatives that get bandied about at the federal and state levels are pretty much limited to patching up our inherited, legacy transportation system. They do little to plan, design, and build a 21st Century system (see my posting here). That comment is sometimes followed up by a question to me: so what does a 21st Century transportation system look like?
That’s a good question, and one that some of us are working away at.
One possible answer is put forward by Michael Hoexter and his recent “Pedal-to-the-Metal Plan” (posted on the New Economic Perspectives website here). Hoexter approaches the question from the view that the climate change crisis will require an urgent, radical response. He also deals with many non-transportation issues (the Plan is aimed at “energy system transformation”). But I’ll limit my remarks to his agenda for surface transportation. His main goal is to “electrify land-based transportation and machines,” under which he lists eights specific objectives:
1. Shift longdistance freight transport to electrified rail or electrified gridcharged or powered trucks. Build out rail infrastructure to allow modal shift to rail versus road.
2. Shift freight and passenger fleets to battery electric transportation with battery swap or inmotion inductive charging capability.
3. Build high speed rail, electrified express rail or equivalently rapid electrified public transit between major cities to replace much short and middle distance air travel.
4. Shift high traffic public transportation routes to electrified commuter rail, light rail, subway, elevated rail, trolleybus, street car or electric bus.
5. Build electric vehicle charging infrastructure in multifamily, single family residences, office parking facilities and public streets.
6. Build rapid charge, roadway charging, and/or battery swap infrastructure to facilitate electric vehicle travel over middle and longer distances.
7. Increase electrical energy storage performance by a factor of 2 per decade.
8. Facilitate transition from selfdriven to programmable computer driven autonomous vehicles (increasing capacity of existing road infrastructure and reducing emissions).
Interestingly, most of the technology to make these changes is already available or reachable within the near future. And all of them make pretty good sense to me. As always, the institutional issues are the tough ones. The toughest of these eight are probably number 1 and number 2, dealing with freight. Building an electrified Steel Interstate and shifting long-haul freight to it is not something we can easily figure out.
And in case you were wondering, the author recognizes the importance both of land use planning and of decarbonizing electricity supply.
Hoexter goes into a lot of other issues involving climate change and related social and political concerns – all controversial – but on the transportation side, at least, I’d give him high marks for a envisioning a real 21st Century transportation system.