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Lecture 1 - Transportation - Current Trends, Challenges, And Opportunities

Sustainable Transportation Curriculum for Universities

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INVEST - Sustainable Highways Self-Evaluation Tool (logo).

LECTURE 1: Transportation — Current Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities

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Defining Transportation

  • Transportation broadly refers to the movement of people and goods
  • Transportation systems include:
    • People/goods being moved
    • Vehicles transporting them
    • Physical infrastructure (e.g., roadways, railways, terminals, and stations)
    • Operations that facilitate the movement
Multi-level highway interchange.

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Current Trends and Challenges

  • There are several trends in transportation driving unprecedented change
    • Mobility Transformation
    • Electrification
    • Connectivity
    • Autonomy
  • Each has challenges for infrastructure
  • Climate change, sustainability, and resilience also remain global issues

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Infrastructure Needs and Challenges

Adequate infrastructure is fundamental to transportation systems.

Illustration showing several aspects and modes of transportation: air travel; truck, ship, train shipping; roads; and bridges.

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Infrastructure Needs and Challenges

  • The effective operations of transportation systems in the future depend on physical infrastructure becoming increasingly interlinked with and operated using digital infrastructure
  • Digital infrastructure refers to the foundational services that are necessary for information technology capabilities including internet backbone, fixed broadband, mobile telecommunications, communications satellites, network infrastructure, and data centers

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Key Trend #1: Mobility Transformation

Changes in our travel choices and the way people access and utilize transportation options, goods, and services

Graphic illustration of a person making travel choices to reach a specific destination based on the information and travel modes available to him.

Source: Mobility Innovation Outpacing Policy, Report Finds. Sarah Wray, SmartCitiesWorld.

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Key Trend #1: Mobility Transformation

  • People are changing how they travel and access goods and services
    • Increased telecommuting/work from home
    • Delivery services instead of shopping trips
    • Use of innovative mobility solutions such as ridesharing, carsharing, ridehailing, bikesharing, and microtransit
  • Mobility on demand (MOD) and mobility as a service (MaaS) could potentially drive a shift away from personally owned modes of transportation and toward mobility provided as a service
  • Technologies enable customers or goods to seamlessly transition between modes of transportation in a data‑enabled environment.
Person driving while holding a cell phone with 'Uber' displayed on the screen.

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Key Trend #2: Electrification

Electrification is increasingly seen as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector

Hand-made sign stating, 'There's no planet B.'

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Key Trend #2: Electrification

  • 60% of carbon pollution from the transportation sector comes from passenger vehicles
    • Large-scale consumer switch to electric vehicles (EVs) can reduce emissions
  • EVs have a growing market share in the U.S., with several new models becoming available in the market
View of a congested urban roadway through several traffic signals.

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Key Trend #3: Connectivity

A connected vehicle (CV) has various communication devices (embedded or portable) that enable in-car connectivity with other devices

The image represents the C-V2X (Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything) connectivity, which gives the vehicle ability to communicate with each other, pedestrians, roadway infrastructure and to the network.

Source: How C-V2X in 5G Will Transform Cars and Save Lives (Analyst Angle). Keith Mallinson, RCR Wireless News.

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Key Trend #3: Connectivity

  • CV technology systems enable units in vehicles, or on-board units (OBUs), to communicate with units built into transportation infrastructure and vice versa (V2I communication)
  • Other types of CV technology allow vehicles to communicate with other vehicles, data networks, or pedestrians, all using the same OBU that is needed for V2I communication
The image represents vehicles on a road with on-board units for connectivity.

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Key Trend #4: Autonomy

Automated vehicles (AVs) represent a switching of the responsibility for the driving task from human to machine

  • Offer potential safety and other benefits

Society of Automotive Engineers Levels of Driving Automation
(Adapted from SAEJ3016TM)

Diagram of the six levels of driving automation.  The lower levels (1, 2, and 3) are termed 'driver support features' because the human is driving even if the features are engaged.  The higher levels (3, 4, and 5) represent 'automated driving features' because the human is not driving if the features are engaged.

Source: SAE International.

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Key Trend #4: Autonomy

  • Highly automated vehicles, which either remove the driver from the driving task under certain conditions or totally, rely heavily on machine learning systems
  • Society of Automotive Engineers defines six levels of automation
Diagram of the six levels of driving automation.  SAE driving levels 0 through 3 include driving support features. SAE driving levels 3 through 5 include autonomous driving features.

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Implications for Transportation Infrastructure

Mobility Transformation

  • Ensure safe, multimodal, equitable access


  • Provision of charging infrastructure, moving beyond home-based charging


  • Upgrading roadway infrastructure with digital communications infrastructure


  • Adapting infrastructure designed for human drivers to handle autonomous vehicles as well as both humans and AVs at the same time

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Critical Issues Facing Transportation

  • Several organizations have discussed key issues that transportation faces in the U.S.
  • Key priorities include
    • Safety and public health
    • Equity
    • Resilience and sustainability
    • Innovation
    • Addressing new technologies
    • Addressing changing demographics
Covers from 4 reports.  (top left): Cover page of the USDOT strategic plan for 2018-2022. (top right): Cover page of the NCRHP 750 Report Series. (bottom left): Cover page of the TRB Critical Issues in Transportation 2019. (bottom right): Cover of the FHWA Climate Change Adaptation Guide.

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Scenario Planning and Sustainability

  • Over the long term, the issues facing transportation will be influenced by
    • Governmental regulations
    • Social changes
    • Environmental protection
    • Economic growth
  • The Transportation Research Board studied several possible scenarios for the future of transportation, with a focus on sustainability
Cover page of 'Sustainability as an Organizing Principle for Transportation Agencies,' NCHRP Report 750, Volume 4.

Source: NCHRP Report 750: Strategic Issues Facing Transportation, Volume 4: Sustainability as an Organizing Principle for Transportation Agencies. National Academies Press.

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Scenarios to Consider

  • The scenarios range from optimistic to pessimistic, in terms of the environment and climate change
  • Differences in economic outcomes, technological progress, and urbanization levels are also reflected in the scenarios

Crisis World
Acute events and transportation disasters exacerbate problems due to climate change

Mega World
The gradual and continuous concentration of the population and economic activity into megaregions

Suburban World
Gradual decentralization to small towns, suburbs, and areas outside the megaregions

Wonder World
High economic growth and numerous technology breakthroughs

Green World
Radical shift in favor of a green and sustainable future

Source: NCHRP Report 750: Strategic Issues Facing Transportation, Volume 4: Sustainability as an Organizing Principle for Transportation Agencies. National Academies Press.

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LECTURE 1: Transportation — Current Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities




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