The Transportation Futures project [Open Thread]

I am pleased to announce we were awarded funding from MnDOT and the Local Road Research Board (contract pending) for The Transportation Futures Project: Planning for Technology Change:

Objective: Examine a series of technologies in-depth: autonomous vehicles; mobile telecommunications; advanced information and communications technologies; vehicles as a service; quantified self; electrification; dynamic pricing and new logistics.
Principal Investigator: David Levinson, University of Minnesota

Project Summary:
The surface transportation sector is facing a large number of technological shifts that could change how people travel. This research will explore these technologies, ascertain their potential market, consider their interactions, understand what might happen to travel demands and address how planning and forecasting should respond.

This project will develop a series of high-level policy briefs based on the analysis of each technology, its direction and its implications for Minnesota. This extends and complements the MnDOT 50-year vision expressed in Minnesota GO. It also extends the work of the NCHRP 750 project, Strategic Issues Facing Transportation, in a number of directions, and tailors recommendations to Minnesota.

As suggested, there are lots of technologies we are going to look at, from new energy sources, through autonomous vehicles, to new logistics.

Ideas however are more than welcome, as a few words cannot hope to fully capture the various directions these technologies may take, and the way policy and plans should respond.

Put your scenarios, ideas, and topics in the comments, I hope we can generate some interesting perspectives. We aim to finish this project in 2015, so it’s on a fast (for research and government) timetable.

7 thoughts on “The Transportation Futures project [Open Thread]

  1. Proposal: to reduce urban traffic congestion and trasport linked emissions switch urban food distribution over to a solar-sourced electric fleet from e-trucks to e-trikes. FOODLOGICA ( ) links local food, consumers and businesses in Amsterdam’s city center through transport that reduces emissions, congestion and pollution.


  2. I’m more fascinated by the potential of sharing economy, passengers and freight; things like Uber, MoneyParking, ParkCirca, BlaBlaCar, Bridj, HubCab, Spinlister, etc. Also, the potential application of crowd-sourced data from apps like Boston Citizen’s Connect, Strava, etc in transportation planning and operations are also interesting.


  3. If not already covered under the advanced communications item (I cannot tell for sure), Connected Vehicles would be a valuable topic to explore. With NHTSA’s rulemaking anticipated for 2020, GM’s claim to rollout CV in 2017, and USDOT’s pilot projects kicking off in 2015, there may certainly be a surge of this technology within the next 5 years, and policy and planning at a local level may be forced (without pre-emptive planning) to align into a “reactive” approach or follow general AASHTO guidance when examining what data is out there and what can be done with it.

    Perhaps Minnesota (progressive in all things transportation) is already examining this closely, hence the absence of a need for further investigation, but if not, connected vehicles would surely be something worth adding to this study.


  4. As you explore the potential and possibilities offered by autonomous vehicles (ranging from large freight trucks, to large passenger vehicles, to cars, to ultra-lightweight electric vehicles to deliverbots and (sidewalk friendly) service vehicles/robots) you may come to realise just how limited any single or limited group of study on this topic will be – and how difficult putting it into the larger perspective is. Just looking at the potential deployment scenarios on any one type of vehicle opens up such a huge spectrum of possibilities and outcomes. I have a list of over 20 research topics that could be worth pursuing around the subject of autonomous vehicles – one of which could be of huge benefit to the Highway Trust Fund. Morgan Stanley estimated that autonomous vehicles will save the US $1.3 trillion/yr when fully deployed – I think that this is an underestimate – just another possible research topic of interest. The socio-economic ripple effects from autonomous vehicles affect almost every aspect of daily life – will your studies be limited to transportation perspectives? How will you accommodate the competing demands from all stakeholders as opposed to just the transportation sector? Autonomous vehicles have the capability to transform society as much as the invention of the modern automobile did some 150 years ago. I am happy to discuss more if there is an opportunity for involvement in any studies.


  5. What I’ve read about AV’s suggests they will speed up travel through congested freeway segments, but not travel on congested city streets or uncongested freeways. What does this mean about land use?
    Routes that must traverse multiple bottlenecks will become faster, while off-peak travel times and travel through city streets will not change so much. To me this means there will be more development in the inner-ring exits of cities and on inner-ring limited-access major arterials (i.e., state highways), especially cities with many freeway-intersections like LA and Houston. As your grant is from MN, it occurs to me that the Twin Cities would become much nearer together at rush hour. One could make a trip East across downtown Minneapolis to St. Paul in less time at rush hour if the bottlenecks there did not block all the capacity.
    On the other hand, if everyone in the city travels through the same bottlenecks in each direction, as per the East Bay-SF commute, then I really only see the location of queueing moving inward to city streets. European cities who do not have large freeways emptying into downtowns should not see much change in their downtowns either.


    1. Also, reliability: if AV’s get into fewer accidents, then travel times will come to depend more on the simple physical constraints of the road network and less on day-to-day chaos. This should make logistics and the prediction of infrastructure outcomes much more deterministic.


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