TIFFS: Transportation, mobility on a slippery slope?

Number 10 in the Transport in a Fine Fix Series.

The point of all mobility – and transportation is included in that broad context – is to get from Point A to Point B. That’s it – nothing more, nothing less. But what matters most is what happens transiting-wise between points. In moving from place to place, the experience more often than not is less than optimal or ideal, as many can attest.

So, some of my more than a half-century of observations:

As a child growing up in a big city (in this case Baltimore, Maryland), I recall seeing streetcars plying city streets. I also remember how our family traveled – for the most part, by car. Used as the primary means of around-town locomotion, that mode of motorized transportation, suffice it to say, did more than an adequate job of doing what it was tasked to. If an out-of-town journey was in the cards, then travel could – and did – involve automobile, train or plane or a combination thereof, such as auto/train or auto/plane.

With the car there is reasonably good flexibility; good though this flexibility may be, it is limited. The car’s own physical limitations notwithstanding, it is the external constraints that can cause vehicle drivers and passengers to become weary or perturbed to name two, though breakdowns – mechanical and/or electrical – in addition to those adjectives just mentioned, can be discombobulating too.

As for the external constraints, what are some of those?

  • Characteristics of the traveled way, e.g., hilly, curvy, level, straight.
  • State of repair of traveled-way infrastructure, e.g., good, mediocre, poor, dangerous.
  • Transit or travel speeds, e.g., fluid, slowed or plugged.
  • Meteorological conditions: e.g., clear, foggy, rainy, snowy, windy.

Those constraints, alone or in tandem, can cause fallout, namely, polluted air, congestion, delay, wasted fuel, money and productivity and lead to poor health, and the costs associated with these negative consequences are in no way incidental either. They can be substantial.

So, here it is, a year after I posted: “Rationalization of transportation: Putting the brakes on delay, worsening air, etc.” So what’s different, what’s improved and how has what’s improved, improved?

To provide perspective, keep in mind U.S. car travel peaked right around 2004, well before the onset of the Great Recession in 2008. Since that time, after falling slightly, aggregate driving miles have remained relatively flat.

What’s also changed is that there has been leaps-and-bounds growth in the automated mobility arena in the area of technological development, and that has had a most profound effect – no question. Look for and expect that to continue.

Advancement in the development of alternative fuels has been unprecedented. Will this continue? We will have to keep a close watch. More importantly, will these and all other related programs and projects out there combined be enough to really get mobility and air to better if not good states of repair? Stay tuned.

Coupled with what I pointed out above, assessing infrastructure needs, evaluating funding allocation and distribution programs, analyzing costs and performance measures of the different mode types, keeping close tabs on the way land is utilized, determining future infrastructure needs all with a keen focus on responsibility and accountability in terms of doing what is in the best interests of the public seems prudent.

I’ve seen and am seeing improvement. In relative terms it is slow, but it’s there.

– Alan Kandel