Futureways Are Coming
Please bear with me while I provide a little personal context for this blog as I try to make a case for introducing a massive infusion of internet technology into highway management. From my standpoint technology is simply a fancy name for tools, tools that make work easier. As a kid, I like to think that I did a lot of back-breaking work with my dad, who was a landscape gardner. At least I remember finding myself behind a wheelbarrow a lot more than I wanted to be. In those days, when looking at a construction site, you would see men digging, lifting, and carrying heavy loads by hand, often with the aid of other men or with mules. There was no other way. Now, in this country at least, similar job scenes are alive with machinery doing most of the grunt work. Every time I see machines doing heavy work I think to myself, “Way to go. What a great age to live in.”
With that introduction, I hope I have shed a little light on why I take a special delight in seeing ever more exciting uses being made of our newest tool, the Internet, doing grunt work like making over-burdoned systems like our highways work better.  I believe that the internet has advanced so fast and so far that it is ready to be used to improve our out-of-date, automobile-based transportation system beyond all expectation.
The Old Way and a Failed Promise
As it is, automobile traffic is pretty much like a cattle stampede. With little regard for speed limits, traffic lanes, other drivers or driving conditions, cars are put through maneuvers that follow only the desires of each impatient driver. Impatience makes highways deadly even though getting down the highway faster than the next person seems to be the norm. Traffic officers can catch only a few of the offenders, many of whom seem to thrive on getting caught as an indication that they are working the system to the limit.
For many years we have been promised that remote-control technology will be feasible. Like elevators today, such driver-less cars were going to take people wherever they wanted to go at the touch of a button, but we have yet to see it. In fact such capability is probably a very long way off. In the interim we could be using the internet, a technology that is robust and already widespread, to greatly improve everyone’s driving experience, and I think we should make an all-out effort to do so.
The Internet Way
Because the internet can be reached from anyplace in the country by personal devices, and because the speed and position of each car could be determined by the same devices, it seems reasonable for the driving public to request the government to set up a system to dynamically process such information into a system that optimize everyone's driving experience via internet communications. We wouldn’t need police chases to follow and finally stop criminal drivers. We could just follow them on computers and when they stop on their own be there and pick them up. Also, there would be no need to pull speeders to the side of the road to ticket them. The system could sense when they are in violation and deal with them accordingly.
Even more beneficial, a road usage fee could be levied based on current traffic conditions, such that the cost of using the roads could vary with traffic -- high traffic, high cost. Drivers would soon ask for a display of the cost by route and pick the least expensive one to travel or, if they can, even wait awhile until the cost for the road they want to use goes down to their price range.
Of course even though the information could be used with effect by law enforcement agencies, as mentioned above, I think compliance would come most quickly if everyone's driving activities were also reflected in their insurance rates. In fact if the traffic information system were to be designed in coordination with a consortium of automobile insurance carriers, such that the information is available to them too, good drivers could be rewarded by lowering their insurance cost.
The Internet is here today and access to it gets better and better. It's time to get started toward changing our freeways into futureways.
Monday, August 10, 2009
From Freeways to Futureways