When I was a college student in the 1970s, policy was largely driven by the fear that we were running out of fossil fuels. That fear drove the development of new technologies for exploration and extraction, which now tell us that global fossil-fuel reserves are almost three times bigger than we knew back then, with one trillion barrels of oil burned since 1980.[i]
As a result of these changing perceptions, today’s policy issues have morphed from fear of running out of hydrocarbons to the realization that we are running out of time to deal with the pollution they create. There is no more stark reminder of this than last week’s Washington Post report, which found that extreme climate change has finally arrived in the United States.
How does this relate to transportation, you ask? My point here is that policy issues change over time and the challenges that need to be addressed today have often been created by past policy decisions, which for the smart transportation industry means cities, counties and states throughout the country have a crucial role to play in planning for the future mobility and sustainability of our roadways.
And this ultimately comes down to the way we make budgeting decisions for our transportation networks.
Fast forward to today and cities are now well into the first quarter of their 2020 annual budgets, where they determine which services, programs and projects should be prioritized for the year ahead as part of the Fiscal Year Operating and Capital Improvement Program, which, again, is heavily based on guidance coming from a policy level.
Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which is a funding and authorization bill that governs our federal budget for transportation, is currently under consideration for reauthorization, and ITS America, of which Iteris is a Board member, is recommending policies that include:
- Lead a global transition to zero-emission vehicles by implementing a 21st century infrastructure with 600,000 Level 2 plugs and 25,000 fast-charger plugs by 2030, and up to 3,300 hydrogen stations to serve a market of millions of fuel cell vehicles by 2035; and
- Build transformative and adaptive infrastructure for deployment of intelligent transportation technologies to mitigate climate change, including smart traffic signal operations that lay the foundation for future vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications.
These policies can and should guide local agencies as they consider how their budgets can create and sustain public value in operations of transportation networks. This depends on the perspectives of:
- Knowing what modes – vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians – are using your roadways so that appropriate space and pace can be allocated to move all modes safely and efficiently; and
- Continually looking ahead to understand what drives superior performance.
This dynamic isn’t limited to the U.S. of course. At the global level, the United Nations International Transport Forum Decarbonizing Transport project is calling for policies that encourage innovation to increase mobility and decrease emissions via decarbonized transport.[ii]
Innovation in ITS
Superior performance is increasingly driven by intelligent transportation systems technologies that equip roadways to interact and cooperate with vehicles and other roadway users, enabling the safer and more efficient movement of people, goods and services. By counting and differentiating all modes and informing approaching vehicles about what’s ahead, a combination of smart sensors and software-as-a-service solutions can set the table for improved safety and mobility for vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists and scooters.
How can city budgets create and sustain public value? Dr. Marshall Toplansky from the Chapman University George Argyros School of Business Administration recommends that cities get smart by:
- Adjusting RFPs to include the ability to collect and aggregate data; and
- Embedding sensors in their roadway infrastructure to provide operational intelligence.
My upcoming guest lecture at the University of Southern California’s graduate-level Institutional and Policy Issues in Transportation course will present a practitioner’s view of transportation policy and budgeting from the lens of my 22 years of city transportation manager experience, and 10 years with Iteris working in the smart sensor and smart cities space. The focus will be on new technology and new strategies for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions from the transport sector – a challenge I’m confident we can solve, providing we get our priorities straight.
About the Author
John Lower is Associate Vice President, Roadway Sensors at Iteris.
Connect with John on LinkedIn.
[i] Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration