Today’s Choices, Tomorrow’s Future

Whether you think the transportation decisions made decades ago were sound or major mistakes, there’s no denying that market forces are moving quickly to bridge gaps in our networks.

The forces driving these changes aren’t governments and tax dollars. They’re smartphones and private enterprise, which will remake transportation to the same degree the expansion of the interstate highway system did in the 1950s and ’60s. In 15 years, innovations like Uber and self-driving cars will “re-invent how our roads, transit systems, and freight and logistics networks function.” That’s the conclusion of a study done by the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management in Re-Programming Mobility.

The consequences of these technology-driven changes could be strange and far-reaching. How planners and policymakers react to this new technology will also impact how our transportation network is shaped, and whether some of these scenarios come to pass.

Here’s a look ahead at the Rudin Center’s scenarios, and what they could mean for U.S. metropolitan areas.

ATLANTA in 2028: Solar powered sprawl

Screen shot 2014-11-05 at 10.16.29 AMWhile density is the goal of many cities, the report’s authors predict Atlanta will actually embrace sprawl, thanks in part to solar technology. Solar panels will allow suburban residents to charge electric vehicles cheaply, and will provide power for the city.

Google, the report predicts, will make Atlanta a test city for self-driving cars and integrated products like Waze, Nest, Fiber and Maps, forging a public-private partnership with the Georgia Department of Transportation to run “G-Roads” for its self-driving pods.


LOS ANGELES in 2030: Self-driving Adds to Congestion

Screen shot 2014-11-05 at 10.17.28 AMInstead of making roads more efficient, the report predicts that self-driving cars will add to gridlock in L.A.’s future. Some drivers forget how to drive, and some won’t give up manual driving, making the roads chaotic. The report predicts this scenario will have L.A., and the rest of the country, rethinking self-driving vehicles.


NEW JERSEY in 2029: Transit Takeover

Screen shot 2014-11-05 at 10.18.10 AMAfter years of extreme weather decimate New Jersey’s road infrastructure in the early 2020’s, the report hypothesizes that the state will reinvest in public services. By 2029, rail and e-hailed local jitneys will mix with high-speed rapid bus transit corridors that will move travelers along existing highways and arterial roads.



BOSTON in 2032: Walking Rennaissance

Screen shot 2014-11-05 at 10.18.54 AMThe report predicts that Boston will go in the opposite direction of Atlanta, taking compact living to a new level. Micro-apartments will attract young city dwellers, and walking and cycling will become the most common ways to get around. City streets will be pedestrianized or converted to bike lanes, and all deliveries made at night, when people are asleep. In this hypothetical scenario, the city will plan to phase automobiles out of central Boston by 2034. A “wave of placemaking” takes hold not only in the central parts of the city, but in the village centers of surrounding suburbs.


While many of the scenarios certainly won’t come true, they might help you think about the possibilities. That, rather than actual prediction, is the point, according to the author Anthony Townsend. “We could make the case that the business opportunity now being exploited by startups and tech giants alike is the result of 50 years of transportation planning failures.  As these new digital band-aids bridge gaps in our existing physical transportation networks, planners need to become more agile in anticipating and adapting to rapid technology-enabled shifts in mobility. Transportation planning is just as important as it as always been, if not more so – but the kinds of plans and areas of inquiry we make must adapt to this new reality.”

Let us know what you want Austin’s future to look like!


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