By Ashley Halsey III, October 21, 2014
Ask a transportation expert what America needs right now and
you’ll get a fairly simple answer: better roads and bridges, enhanced
public transit and improved rail lines, ports and airports. Ask a
transportation expert how Americans will get from place to place in 20
years, and often the answer is a lot less certain.
that seems like a disconnect — surely what we need today will be in use
for a couple of decades — there is a one-word explanation for the quiver
in experts’ voices when they talk about transportation’s future:
It has revolutionized transportation just as it has forever
changed most other aspects of life, and in the years to come it promises
to take transportation to a dozen forks in the road.
was one aspect made clear at a wide-ranging conference of
transportation experts brought together in downtown Washington on
Tuesday by The Washington Post.
conference attendees heard from mayors, past and present U.S.
secretaries of transportation, Vice President Biden and a bevy of fellow
experts, most with their own vision of the future.
central theme for most was the critical importance of investing in the
nation’s tattered infrastructure to keep the United States competitive
in the global market. Finding the funding to do that as revenue from the
traditional gas tax dwindles was a subset of that conversation, with
several suggesting a move to a mileage-based fee or tolling on
When it comes to a vision for the
future that lies just over the horizon, there were many ideas tossed out
that made certainty a bit elusive.
spread so rapidly through virtually all modes of transportation that the
challenge is in determining how it will continue to transform the
future. At few times in history has the pace of change come so quickly.
Questions that arose — without firm answers — from the presentations Tuesday included:
autonomous vehicles — driverless cars — are just over the horizon, will
drivers who no longer drive still need insurance? Or will vehicles and
their manufacturers be covered by product-liability policies?
highways of the future need things such as road signs or guardrails,
since the cars know where they are going and will stay between the white
●If electric cars are a major part of
the future — Tesla was represented at the conference — will there still
be a need for a gas station every few blocks?
autonomous cars able to toddle off and park themselves, will there be a
need for vast acres of underground parking garages in downtown areas
such as the District’s where land is at a premium?
the last parking meters wear out and disappear, and cars begin to park
themselves and pay for the space electronically, will parking tickets
become a thing of the past? And what will replace the ticket revenue
that cities have come to count on?
●Will public transit
be less popular when autonomous cars can deliver their passengers that
“last mile” from the transit stop to the front door?
●Will magnetic levitation trains running through tunnels deep underground carry passengers at 300 mph?
●And will cars fly?
A prototype of a flying car sat on 14th Street NW outside the conference.
we can use these technologies we’ve talked about here at the conference
and change some things,” said flying-car developer Carl Dietrich, head
of Terrafugia, whose Web site says that it “intends to lead the creation
of a new flying car industry.”
In an allusion to the prospect that packages may be delivered to homes
by unmanned drones, Dietrich asked: “How many years will it take of
seeing your packages flying above you before we say, ‘Hey, we could be
up there?’ ”