Dear Alumni & Colleagues,
As transportation professionals we are continuously being challenged to find solutions to a diverse and ever-expanding number of problems including how to maintain supply chains, how to keep travelers safe from COVID and minimize crashes, and how to deliver transportation systems that allow everyone to access jobs, shopping, and health appointments. Now with many people returning to work and travel, congestion has returned, and it feels like it is worse than ever. A recent trip from Orlando to Gainesville took me four hours, when under normal circumstances it should be only two! There were more than 5 major crashes along I-75, and my navigation app was showing the entire route as mostly red. As I was driving that day, I kept thinking, surely, there is a better way? Trying to come up with answers, I kept returning to a list of four main principles. First, we need to provide more alternatives to the personal vehicle. For my trip to Orlando, I would have much preferred to take a train or a bus, and I am guessing many other people along I-75 that day felt the same way. Even if it takes a bit longer, if someone else does the driving, I can spend my time more productively and with less stress. Those of you that have travelled to Disneyworld in Orlando have experienced their system of buses, which is very effective at moving thousands of people daily, with minimal congestion. Why can’t we plan something similar at the city level? Plus, more alternatives means that people who cannot drive or don’t own a vehicle can have access to jobs, health appointments, and recreational activities. We need more transportation alternatives between, and within communities, especially those that allow us to “re-package” demand. Second, we need better databases to help us make more informed decisions. The transportation community is collecting a lot of data, but databases rarely talk to each other. It would be very useful to know how many people are traveling from Gainesville to Orlando (or Tallahassee, or Jacksonville) daily, what times they travel, and what the purpose of their trip is, so we can determine what alternatives would make sense. We need to construct databases to help us make these decisions at the neighborhood, city, and state levels.Third, we need to encourage hybrid work schedules to reduce traffic during the typical morning and evening peak hours. A silver lining of the COVID pandemic is that many of us have adjusted to working from home. Therefore, we can be more selective and travel only to those meetings that must be in- person. We don’t want to lose personal contact with our colleagues, but as we have found out we can conduct a large portion of our meetings on-line. We need to find the happy medium between work-at-home and travel-to-work such that we can be effective at our jobs while minimizing traffic and environmental impacts. Fourth, we need to ensure the transportation professionals of the future understand these challenges and they are equipped to address them. The next generation of transportation planners and engineers will have enormous challenges, including adaptation plans for climate change, transportation equity, development and deployment of advanced communication and vehicle technologies. We must make sure they are well prepared to address these. Congestion is not going away anytime soon, but we (mostly) know what needs to be done to alleviate it, so let’s challenge ourselves to make a difference through research, education, and professional development activities within our transportation centers.
Dr. Lily Elefteriadou