Building the World

Year 2018: Transport

Transport. Image: wikimedia commons.

It’s what brings there to here, them to us. It’s connection. It’s the Silk Road and the Silicon Road.

Global transportation infrastructure is estimated to grow at a rate of 5% to 2025, with Asia and Africa leading. The transport sector creates revenue, growth, and jobs. In Europe, the auto industry contributes 12 million jobs; in Japan, 5 million. In the United States, 1 in 7 American workers holds a transport-related job, 60% of those in freight. Transport contributes over $1 trillion to the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or 10% of the country’s economy.

Transport may be a victim of its own success. City roads are clogged with idling cars and trucks. Beijing traffic jams are so epic that one was made into a movie. In the film, the viewer sees a river of slow-moving shapes and colors—cars, buses, bicycles, trucks—stretching far out toward the horizon. Such a scenario is not unique to Beijing. Mexico City office buildings allocate 42 percent of the land they own to parking spaces. Employees who commute to jobs in the Mexico City district of Santa Fe spend the equivalent of 26 days per year stuck in commuter traffic—more than all national annual holidays combined. Some workers pay 20% of their salary just for gas.

All those idling engines create smog. Did you ever wonder just what smog is? It is tiny bits of soot and metal, lumped together in the form of particulate matter, that spew into the air from cars and trucks. Perhaps this explains why children in Beijing and Mexico City draw a gray sky in their school art class renderings. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, transport is the biggest contributor to pollution in the United States, emitting over 50% of the carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, and 20% of climate-killing greenhouse gases.

Despite these consequences, the United States—arguably the birthplace of the automobile—maintains enormous appetite for transport and mobility. Americans consume 25% of the world’s supply of petroleum; 70% of that amount is used for cars; there are 700 cars for every 1,000 people. China has 1.3 billion of the world’s 7 billion people, but only 100 million cars. The world reached the milestone of one billion cars on the road in 2010, but that number is projected to double by 2035. Demand for greener cars means green pastures for automakers. A 2014 survey of drivers on the road indicated that 44% would purchase autonomous vehicles. According to a Boston Consulting Group study, the autonomous car market is estimated to be $42 billion by 2025; by 2050, $7 trillion.

Transportation is not just about cars. From bikeways to hyper loops, from biplanes to solar aircraft, transportation may be said to be the paradigm shift that signals each new era. Throughout history, eras of culture and civilization have changed with transport breakthroughs and advances. Think of the changes opened with the automobile, or the airplane. Every era could be said to be characterized by its transport:

Ships and sea-faring stories and discoveries are among the earliest records – the initial human migration may have been on foot, but targeted exploration was by water. Oceans crossed, waterways and canals signaled a new era, from the Grand Canal that transformed a region into a nation, to the Erie Canal that changed the American economy and created the power of an urban harbor connected inland through waterways. Cost and time of moving goods improved 95%. Can waterways prove effective in mitigating the effects of sea-rise?

Bridges link there to here. The arches were so important to city planning and security that at one time only the pope, and a cadre of bishops, had the right to authorize a bridge. It is from this historic fossil that we get the word, pontiff. Bridges have changed the future of cities. London bridge may have been among the first shopping malls, with stalls along the span, improving the economics of city access. The Brooklyn bridge created a link between New York and the port city; the span was the subject of an epic poem by Hart Crane, The Bridge. Will bridges of the future employ new technologies that allow longer and wider spans, such as those developed in China?

Trains and railways: the Trans-Siberian and Canadian Pacific railways transformed continents into connected markets. Workforce expansion moved from the Navvies who build the Erie Canal to the field crews who crossed vast lands to connect the Transcontinental Railroad. Trains remain an efficient and effective way to transport people and goods. China’s network of trains includes magnetic levitation; Japan’s high-speed trains reach speeds that leave the rest of the world in the dust. In the United States, Amtrak is a poor representation of what was once a world-leading system. Should there be a World Training Center, inspired by the cooperative vision of the Russian Railway Service Corps, where students and practitioners could learn the latest methods of train and hyper loop technologies, based on an international exchange program from leading train enterprises and governments?

Vehicles stimulated the construction of highways and autobahns that criss-crossed the land to reframe commerce. With the advent of self-driving cars, there may soon be a new and more correct meaning to the term “automobile.” Will networks of charging facilities, such as European joint-venture Ionity, redefine the “gas station?”

Tracks, Roads, Tunnels, and Tubes make the going faster. Train tracks were carved, often by shovel and pick, across continents: the Golden Spike ceremoniously photographed when two sides building the United States Transcontinental Railroad met. Highway systems, perhaps inspired by Germany’s Autobahn, upgraded cross-country travel from 106 days to 10 coast to coast. Tunnels and tubes are a form of road, keeping transit within specified bounds that both contain and improve velocity. Tubes may be the expediting structures of the future, with Hyperloop leading the way. The Channel Tunnel improved the environment: will tunnel technology continue to explore emissions mitigation?

Flight: Daedalus dared it but the first heavier-than-air powered flight from Kitty Hawk on 17 December 1903 (with acknowledgements to Alberto Santos-Dumont) changed the sky that within a century would become filled with props, jets, and solar wings. Air travel is beyond the purview of the Paris Agreement, COP 21, because airways are beyond national. However, industry standards can result in advances that will benefit the industry and the environment. Will the International Civil Aviation Organization continue to curb emissions? In 2016, nations numbering 191 met in Montreal to agree upon a global emissions-reduction program that will reduce greenhouse gases by cargo and passenger flights. Voluntary for the first year, the agreement, airlines fund forests. The cost is about 2% of industry revenue. Setting a standard for a benchmark, the industry chose 2020 as the measurement point, with the aim of “80% of emissions above 2020 levels offset until 2035.”

Internet and Satellite: connecting the world, the Internet moved even remote communities into the future via a cellphone and a screen. Comsat set the stage for ether to become our medium. The ancient Library of Alexandria may have found its future in Instagram; the Greek chorus in Twitter.

From the Silk Road to the Silicon Road, transport means movement of know-how. Transport is exchange, the mingling of music in the caravanserai to the cloud of sound, the source of fusion cuisine and the spread of ideas. Where will transport take us in the future? Surely upward, as space technology accelerates. But what happens here on earth may determine the destiny of the planet. Transport contributes 27% of the climate-crushing emissions in the United States where 90% of fuel used for transportation is petroleum, both gas and diesel.  Any improvements in the environmental efficiency of transport will go a far way to changing the planet’s prognosis. It’s true globally. A recent study in Germany found that environmental costs associated with a heavy goods vehicle versus an electric freight train would drop by 90% in the choice of the latter.

Transport is by definition an interlocking industry. Standards are shared quickly; design and production adapt to new technologies and new standards. Transport advances spread quickly.  Therefore, transport demonstrates potential to improve the environment through cooperation of industries. Perhaps not since the medieval craft guilds has industry had the power to set standards that shape the future.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License



Milman, Oliver. “First deal to curb aviation emissions agreed in landmark UN accord: Global scheme, agreed by 191 nations, applies to passenger and cargo flights that generate more than 1,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases annually.” The Guardian. 6 October 2016.

Reuters. “Was the airplane’s inventor Brazilian?” 10 December 2013. Accessed 7 January 2018.

Energy, Environment, and the Transport Sector:

Umwelt Bundesamt, “Environmental costs in the energy and transport sectors.” August 2013.

Electric Vehicles:

Brooke, Kathleen Lusk “Charging the Future.” 10 November 2017. Building the World Blog.

McHugh, David and Geir Moulson. “Carmakers join forces in Europe to make electrics widespread.” Associated Press/Chicago Tribune, 5 November 2017.

Silk Road and Caravanserai:

Ciolek, T. Matthew. 2004-present. A Catalogue of Georeferenced Caravanserais/Khans. Old World Trade Routes (OWTRAD) Project. Canberra, Australia.


Beijing Traffic Jam video:


Inland Waterways International.


Earns, Lane R.  “Where Do We Go From Here: Russian Railway Service Corps.”

Russian Railway Service Corps. Original Document.


Brooke, Kathleen Lusk, “Comsat.” Building the World Blog 2012.


CASE STUDY: Grand Canal

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through cavern measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.

So twice five miles of fertile ground

With walls and towers were girdled


So begins the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, suggesting that Kublai Khan, grandson of Ghengis Khan, was legendary for domes and what went on in them.  It is notable that 8% of the males living in the area that once comprised the Mongolian empire (at the time, the largest in the world) are DNA-related to Ghengis Khan. Early among the now 16 million descendants was grandson, Kublai Khan.  Besides being a builder of certain domes, Kublai founded a new dynasty in China, created a new capital, and completed the Grand Canal (begun dynasties earlier) to bring the internal waterway to Dadu. Today, we know it as Beijing.

Kublai Khan, drawn by Anige, court artist. Image: wikimedia.

Kublai Khan, sent by older sibling to what was then an outpost, China, did not take long to wrest power from a team of advisers and shape a new vision. Founding the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368 ce), Kublai Khan directed that grain from the fertile south be transported northward to the newly-established capital: Dadu. The southern valleys of the Yangtze River were lush with water yielding abundant harvests. The system worked, for a while. Khan, and the new capital, received 816, 000 tons of grain annually. More than half – 537,000 – came from the southern valleys. Transport from the south to Dadu, however, proved difficult. For most of the way, grain could be floated from the south via the Grand Canal. But at a certain point, the canal stopped and the grain had to be lugged the final 20 miles (32 km) to Dadu, by local draft animals. Using local animals to pull carts of grain meant the absence of same beasts of burden from their habitual working environment: farms. Fields went fallow. Animals, unable to survive this kind of life, died on the route. Something had to be done.

Khan solved the problem with a solution that may have shaped history.

Mongol Empire in the days of the Khan. Image: Minneapolis Museum of Art. Wikimedia commons.

With the addition of China, the empire extended from Eastern Europe to the Sea of Japan, from Siberia to India and Iran), the Mongol empire was the largest in the world, at that time. Kublai Khan became a macro thinker. Once a new dynasty and new capital established, communication became essential. It was before the telephone, even before the postal system. But there was one channel: the Grand Canal. The world’s oldest waterway is also the longest, far greater than Suez or Panama. At over 1,000 miles (1,795 km), the Grand Canal of China has 24 locks and 60 bridges. Building began in 486 bce and is still under construction, with the latest phase scheduled for completion in 2050.

Extending the Grand Canal the final 20 miles, so that the world’s first internal waterway reached the new capital, Kublai Khan brought the nation together. In the process, Khan improved the Grand Canal, straightening the route and making the waterway more efficient. The Grand Canal is, in some ways, the history of China. Earliest endeavors to build an inland waterway were to avoid pirates on the external route. Then came the realization, by the Qin emperor who decreed additional sections of the channel, that with a connected means of communication, governance was possible in a way heretofore unknown. Administration and management of the large empire required a central means of communication. Until then, each area of the regions had a slightly different linguistic form. But the Qin emperor standardized the written form of Chinese, making it the official language. With language, came other shared standards.

Another paradigm shift happened when the Grand Canal became open to private enterprise. Since then, the Grand Canal has been continuously and actively used, with improvements and upgrades as required by the changing times. In 2002, China decided to reverse the flow of the water in the Grand Canal by creating a south-to-north diversion, bringing water from the moist and agriculturally rich south to the more arid north. An estimate for the first phase: $22 billion, with the western route, largest of the three planned, costing $36 billion. The Grand Canal macro rebuilding may prove to be the largest project of its kind ever planned and undertaken. For a work begun in 486 bce, 2050 may set another record: longest continuous construction project in history. Why was, and is, the Grand Canal so consistently important? Some might say the world’s first major built waterway was the successful means of uniting a region into a nation.The liquid communication might be said to have been the Internet of its day.

Grand Canal of China. Image: Wikimedia commons.

Water is the leading edge of transport. Surely, the oceans were the means of exploring new territories, but it may be canals, dug and crafted on land to use the powers of water to float new ideas as well as new products, to which we owe the beginnings of commerce and connection. Ships on oceans and barges on rivers began exchange. Shipping continues to be the means of moving goods: 90% of all the products in the world get to us by ship. In this age of the automobile and the airplane, we may not personally travel much by boat, but our world does.

What can be learned from the world’s first, longest, and most continuous transport success?

Grand Canal of China – Lessons Learned:

Sharing Water: Internal waterways, or pipelines, may be an effective way to achieve an “ever-normal” water supply. The Grand Canal brings the moist benefits of the south to the dry north. Are there other areas of the world with moist and arid sections where a waterway might create balance?

Straight: To be effective, the Grand Canal had to be rebuilt, straightened. The waterway is so long that it had to be built in sections, the last of which was accomplished by Kublai Khan. Once complete, the waterway was more efficient, and more effective. What existing infrastructure does the world have that could be significantly improved by rebuilding?

Connection: China changed from a feudal region into a unified nation with central language and central vision because of a consistent connection. As China considers an engineering and technical building of the New Silk Road, with the Belt and Road Initiative, will there be a means of sharing a unified vision, perhaps dedicated to environment and inclusion? Could an educational exchange network parallel the interlinking of ports, railways, roads?

Center of Power: In the instance of the Grand Canal, the capital brought the water to its door. In the case of the Erie Canal, many centuries later, the waterway made the capital, if not of government then of commerce. New York became a powerful port once the Erie Canal linked the city to the rich inland and made accessible now to the ports Manhattan and Brooklyn on the Atlantic. Can future capitals be linked to major routes of connection?

Public/Private: At first, the Grand Canal was strictly for government use. And then, later private enterprise began to use the waterway. What opportunities for public/private developments might derive inspiration from the way China manages the Grand Canal. See appendix for laws, ancient and modern.

Homeland Security: Before the Grand Canal offered an inland waterway that could be controlled, patrolled, and protected, China’s commerce was subject to piracy and plunder along a coastal route. When the Song Dynasty established a new capital at Hangzhou, the Yangtze River became like a giant moat of protection. Are internal waterways a means of security?

Commerce: During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), the Grand Canal opened to commercial enterprise. It was an important expansion from the earlier government-only use. The Institute for Qing History of Renmin University might offer insights that will guide not only the future use of the Grand Canal but also the commercial policies of other waterways.

Culture: The Grand Canal has inspired art since it’s inception. Early depictions are of the bridges. More recent art is a bridge of another sort. The southern terminus of the canal is home to a prominent art academy. It might be noted that some of the most successful macro engineering feats have an artistic expression. The Suez Canal begat Verdi’s Opera Aida, commissioned for the waterway’s opening. Itaipú, hydroelectric power giant straddling Brazil and Paraguay, inspired Philip Glass’s symphony of the same name; it means “singing stone” in the Guarani language. Should macro transport systems express values and culture through public  art?

Environment: China’s Wang Jing may extend the vision of the Grand Canal to Nicaragua. A new waterway vying for position to overtake the nearby Panama Canal, planned for five years and $50 billion but but other obstacles. Environmental concerns for the new supertanker channel involve one million acres of rainforest and possible contamination of Lake Nicaragua affecting drinking water and irrigation for most of the country. (Shaer 2014). What is the ideal size and use of an internal waterway? Will innovations be taken from Inland Waterways International’s World Canals 2019 Conference in Yangzhou?


Gracie, Carrie. “Wang Jing: The man behind the Nicaragua canal project.” 18 March 2015. BBC News.

Inland Waterways International.

Institute for Qing History. Renmin University.

Mayell, Hilary. “Genghis Khan a Prolific Lover, DNA Data Implies.” 14 February 2003. National Geographic News.

Needham, Joseph. Science and Civilisation in China.

Shaer, Matthew. “A New Canal Through Central America Could Have Devastating Consequences.” December 2014. Smithsonian Magazine.

Solomon, Steven. Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization. Chapter 5: “The Grand Canal and the Flourishing of Chinese Civilization.” HarperCollins, 2010. ISBN-13: 9780060548315; ISBN-10: 0060548312.



“Problems, problems.” Artist: Ion Chibzil, 2011. Image: wikimedia commons

8 Billion Hours

 The car is a great success—perhaps too great. Highways are clogged with vehicles Americans spent 8 billion hours stuck in traffic in 2015, about 42 hours per person annually, thus wasting a full work week. In Washington, D.C., commuters languish behind the wheel for more than 82 hours per year—the equivalent of two weeks on the job. American highway traffic jams result in the loss of $160 billion per year, according to the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University.

This is not just an American problem; other locations are equally severe, or worse. China’s legendary Spring Festival/New Year in 2016 drew so many vehicles on the roads around Beijing that the resulting traffic jam was made into a movie. Most people consider an everyday commute of 30-40 minutes each way to be long enough. But for those living in Moscow, the daily one-way commute can range from 1.5 to 4 hours.

Economist Matthias Sweet looked at 88 urban areas in the United States over the years 1993 to 2008, measuring traffic and business growth. Findings revealed that, initially, traffic is a good sign, but then it quickly becomes a deterrent and drag on the economy. The perfect measure of good traffic might be 35 delay hours per driver per year. That works out to about 4.5 minutes per day. Interestingly, no level of traffic density stopped business growth entirely. But when delays got too long, according to the Research and Innovative Technology Administration, National Transportation Library, one of the developing results was telecommuting.


Badger, Emily. “How Traffic Congestion Affects Economic Growth.” 22 October 2013. CityLab.;2013/10/how-traffic-congestion-impacts-economic-growth-7310/.

Research and Innovative Technology Administration. “Transportation Implications of Telecommuting.” United States Department of Transportation.

Sweet, Matthias. 10 October 2013. Urban Studies.

More Than Time Is Lost

Street Accident: HK Cheung Sha Wan Night Street Accident Firefighters. Image: wikimedia commons.

More than time is wasted: tragically, lives are lost. One person dies every 25 seconds in traffic accidents around the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).  Addressing a combination of overcrowded roads, poor infrastructure, and regulatory problems, 90% of the world’s road traffic fatalities could be avoided. For example, WHO found that only 28 countries with just 7% of the world’s population have laws regarding the five main risk factors for traffic deaths: speeding, driving under the influence, lack of helmet, lack of seat belt, lack of child restraint.

Six Signs of Road Fatality Risk:

  • Speeding
  • Driving Under the Influence
  • Texting While Driving
  • No Helmet
  • No Seat Belt
  • No Child Restraint

In a 2015 study, WHO reported that 1% of the world’s registered cars cause 16% of the world’s deaths; these cars are located in areas with poor road conditions, shaky infrastructure, and few regulations. Some areas of the world would yield the greatest improvement in traffic fatalities with attention to roads and related safety issues. In Africa, the chance of dying in a traffic accident is 26% per 100,000 people. Another vulnerable population: motorcyclists (23%), pedestrians (22%), and bicyclists (5%). It is notable that 77% percent of road fatalities happen among males. Worldwide, there are 17.4 road deaths per 100,000 people. In the United States, the figure rose with lower gas prices combined with dangerous texting while driving. In 2016, the National Safety Council reported a 6% increase from the previous year, which would mean a 14% rise since 2014 when deaths began to occur more frequently.

It is not just death, however, but injuries that must be counted. In the United States, for example, in 2016, over 4 million people were victims. Many lost jobs , incurred medical expenses. There were property damage. Added up, traffic injuries cost $432 billion – per year. Would one of the answers to road dangers be autonomous vehicles?


Korosec, Kirsten. “2016 Was the Deadliest Year on American Roads in Nearly a Decade.” Fortune.

World Health Organization (WHO). “Violence and Injury Prevention: WHO Report 2015: Data Tables.” Geneva: World Health Organization.

Roads and Highways:

Roads are in various states of disrepair across every country, continent, and region. In areas where the oldest roads can be found, more repair and rebuilding are needed. Regions with climate challenges like floods may experience more frequent deterioration. In some areas of the world, initial building of roads is urgently needed. But costs are considerable and subject to many variants in the formula used for calculating costs:

“The unit cost of road construction in dollars per kilometer is the sum of the subunit costs of the road construction activities. Road construction unit costs are estimated by dividing the machine rates by the production rates for the various activities involved in road construction: surveying, clearing and grubbing, excavation, surfacing, and drainage.” – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

Countries with the greatest road network size rank (2017): United States, India, China, Brazil, Russia, Japan, Canada, France, South Africa, Australia. Africa may be on the list soon: the Trans-Africa Highway project could combine nine highways for a network stretching 35,221 miles (56,683 kilometers).


Duddu, Praveen. “The world’s longest highways.” Road Traffic Technology. 3 November 2013.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/FAO. “Cost control in forest harvesting and road construction: estimating road construction unit costs.”

Sessions, J.B. Professor of Forest Engineering at the College of Forestry, Oregon State University, USA., “Cost control in forest harvesting and road construction: introduction.”


Tunnels: Accident Prevention or Accident Peril?

The probability of an accident occurring and the probability of being injured is lower in tunnels than on open stretches of roads. However, if an accident does happen in a tunnel, the severity of injuries sustained is significantly higher than on open stretches of motorways. Traffic safety is significantly higher in tunnels with uni-directional traffic.” reported Cornelia Nussbaumer of the Austrian Road Safety Board. (Nussbaumer, 2007)

Some tunnels are death traps, never designed for high-speed, high-volume traffic. More modern tunnels, like the Channel Tunnel, might improve both velocity and safety through design innovations including a third service tunnel, to be used for maintenance and also evacuation in the case of accident. The third tunnel proved life-saving when a fire occurred mid-route, but the passengers were able to exit and walk to safety. Should tunnel design standards mandate parallel service/escape tubes?

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) in a study of tunnel safety for the European region there are four factors influencing safety in tunnels.

Four Factors Influencing Safety in Tunnels:

Road Users

Operation of Tunnels



The UNECE reported that it was not possible to take into account the accident in the Gotthard tunnel that occurred 24 October 2001; the investigating report by Swiss authorities would follow. The report did, however, consider the 1999 fires in the Mont Blanc and Tauern tunnels. In the case of the Mont Blanc Tunnel, a truck, carrying margarine and flour, elements used by bakeries, crashed. Intense heat from the exploding volatile ingredients baked the lives of 39 people. Motorists died while sitting in their cars worrying how to escape, while fire and resultant smoke choked the air captured in the tunnel. Just two month later, a truck collided with four smaller vehicles, smashing them into another truck that was filled with spray cans. The Tauern accident killed 8 people in the impact and another 4 who succumbed to smoke inhalation. The two accidents in the same year intensified the need for improving safety in tunnels.

France and Germany immediately began inspections, tunnel by tunnel, resulting in new laws for safety checks. Three kinds of tunnels factored into the studies: tunnels under rivers in urban areas; tunnels in open countryside, tunnels through mountains. Breakdowns occurred most frequently in urban tunnels; fewest in open countryside.

Troubles and accidents happened more on sloping terrain than flat stretches; gradients over 2.5% showed more than five times the number of breakdowns.

Fires are the fear. Conflagrations resulted not from impact but from cargo, as demonstrated in the Mont Blanc and Tauern tunnel fatal accidents. Of the worst tunnel fires worldwide, 12 of 14 resulted from accidents (TRANS/AC.7/9, P. 17).

Beyond fires, other tunnel hazards involve damage to the environment. The closer a tunnel is to groundwater or surface water, the more danger of polluting via road surface water collected by road drainage systems.

With exploding cargo remaining a chief concern, the OECD and PIARC created five dangerous goods cargo groupings that could be agreed and recognized at an international level. Before authorizing transport of dangerous goods, a system dynamic decision support model, recommended by the commission, could run possible risk and action paths including finding alternative routes and itineraries. (Measure 1.07 “Regulations for dangerous goods transport.”) Moreover, drivers transporting dangerous goods must be trained, tested, and certified, with retesting every five years.

Finding that “incorrect behavior of road users is the main cause of most accidents,” UNECE and other studies suggest that rail tunnels, or vehicle pallet-transport such as that designed by David Gordon Wilson of MIT, may be safer means of transport through terrain best burrowed

Sources: Nussbaumer, Cornelia. “Comparative Analysis of Safety in Tunnels.” Austrian Road Safety Board. 2007.

United Nations Economic and Social Council, Economic Commission for Europe, Inland Transport Committee 10 December 2001, TRANS/AC.7/9. “Recommendations of the Group of Experts on Safety in Road Tunnels.”


Innovation is inclusive. “Book of the Hours” 15th century, image: wikimedia.

Innovation is the correction of a blind spot, often discovered through failure. Success causes repetition: failure causes change. Innovation in response to vehicular traffic may include specialized cars and buses, as well as bikes and pedestrian greenways, welcoming those previously prohibited. Innovation in every industry will also be inclusive of the environment: emissions mitigation in every form of transit, from ships to cars, trains to planes, is the leading edge of engineering design. Including the environment means accepting the wider circle of nature, with humans in the middle of the circle, perhaps by reason of the exploring hand, but in a circle that firmly includes all forms of life. Finally, innovation may prove to be about the evolution of rights, balancing inequities by bringing roads to lands without access, power to those with none. In so doing, will the rights of those near the new become the basis of advanced innovation?

In this section, one may find examples of innovations that might address some of the problems now pressing the effectiveness of transport. It is hoped that innovations will give note and importance to inclusion.


Self-Driving Cars: Partial Solution to Traffic Fatalities and Injuries

“Firebird II” General Motors, Concept Car 2007. Image: wikimedia.

“As a boy, I loved cars. When I turned 18, I lost my best friend to a car accident. I decided I would dedicate my life to saving one million people every year. I can’t get my friend Harold back to life, but I can do something for all the people who died. Do you know driving accidents are the number one cause of death for young people? Do you realize that almost all of those are due to human error and not machine error, and can therefore be preventable by machines?” stated Sebastian Thrun, in TED Talk “Google’s Driverless Car” (2011).

Driverless mobility may seem to be the future, and a $42 billion market by 2025 sounds promising, but the technology is not new. In 1927, the world’s first driverless railway wound beneath the streets of London, delivering mail to eight postal districts linked by 6.5 miles (10.5 km) of track from Paddington to Whitechapel. After years of reliable service, the railway was discontinued in 2003, but found a new career in retirement: tourism. Visitors to London’s Postal Museum, opened in 2017, can ride for 15 minutes along the ancient loop. Fast-forward, Google patents the driverless car.

DARPA, (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), helped develop the Internet, later creating the DARPA Grand Challenge for autonomous ground vehicles. Prize money? $1 million. After the first event in 2004, the award doubled. By 2007, there were monetary rewards for first ($2 million), second ($1 million), and third ($500,00). Teams from universities, business organizations number 100 in the first year. Finding a safe spot, DARPA created a race track in the Mojave Desert: initially, no entrant finished the 150-mile (240 km) route. Next year, a few completed the course: Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, Gray Insurance Company, and Oshkosh Truck Corporation. In 2007, the competition launched the Urban Challenge: Tartan Racing won with a redesigned Chevy Tahoe, engineered by Carnegie Mellon, team captain: Chris Urmson, who succeeded Thrun at Google’s Driverless Car initiative.

Urmson and team categorized urban driving problems into three main areas: road driving, intersection handling, and parking. Technologies for motion planning control road and parking. Perception sensors integrate data from radar, lidar, and vision to “track vehicles and model road shape and obstacle locations.” (Urmson, 2007).


Google, Patent for Driverless Car:

Society of Automotive Engineers.

Thru, Sebastian. “Google’s Driverless Car.” TED Talk, March 2011.

Urmson, Chris, et. al, “Tartan Racing: A Multi-Modal Approach to the DARPA Urban Challenge.” 13 April 2007.

Self-driving Cars: The technology, risks and possibilities


Autonomous (a/k/a) Driverless Cars

 Nevada is gambling on the future. The state Department of Motor Vehicles and the Nevada legislature passed legislation that enables individuals to test and operate autonomous vehicles. Applicants require prior road testing of 10,000 miles, a well-outlined safety plan, and driver vetting. With this information, one can request an “Autonomous Vehicle Business License Application Packet–OBL 326.” To make driverless cars obvious to everyone on the road, license plates on those cars are red.

According to research by Boston Consulting Group, the market for autonomous vehicles is sizable. In a survey of U.S. drivers, 44% said they would like to buy a driverless car. Beyond the U.S., Europe and Japan are also vibrant potential markets. It is estimated that the autonomous vehicle market will grow to a worldwide $42 billion by 2025 – and with it will come growth in related services, such as insurance, maintenance and repairs.

Autonomous vehicles may be the fastest-growing form of personal transport in this century. Laws enacted regarding driverless cars in the United States go back to 2012 when both California and Florida enacted legislation that regulates the testing of such transport on state roads. Soon to follow may be actual permission to operate given to individuals with a valid driver license, for example, Florida House Bill 7027, making its way through the 2016 state legislature. Joining California and Florida between 2013 and 2016, were Michigan, Nevada, North Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Washington, D.C., each of which passed similar laws in various stages of definition.

Each country will undoubtedly enact its own laws concerning autonomous  cars and highway traffic. But is also the need for common standards. The United Nations established a forum, called WP.29, to harmonize regulations for vehicles. WP.29 appointed six working parties on issues such as pollution and energy, brakes, and public safety. Overall guidance builds on the six levels of automated driving issued by the Society for Automotive Engineers (SAE), and the UN’s Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS)/Automated Driving.

Rolling towards the future: “Tire Wheel of Nissan LEAF.” Image: wikimedia commons.

A “Who’s Who” of the Driverless Car Movement

There are many innovators that are developing, testing, and perhaps bringing to market an array of autonomous vehicles. Who are the leaders? If you ask a banker, she or he might affirm that it is a market requiring considerable financing but it also offers enormous return on investment. Here are some top contenders as of 2017. The driverless (or should it be termed driver-free) vehicle market is developing so rapidly, that a printed book exploring the subject can only be an arrow pointing in a direction. With that admission, here are some directions and directors.

Automobile Manufacturers

  • Mercedes-Benz: The Mercedes S5000 Intelligent Drive went 100 km (62 miles) autonomously between Mannheim and Pforzheim, Germany in 2013. Two years later, Mercedes wowed the market at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas with its F015 Luxury in Motion. But it was not for sale—yet.
  • Nissan: Testing in Atsugi, Japan and California using the LEAF, its electric vehicle.
  • Audi: As a participant in the DARPA Grand Challenge, Audi achieved a milestone in 2015 by driving 901 km (560 mi) from Palo Alto, California to Las Vegas, Nevada, in a driverless car. Further, Delphi Automotive, an auto parts manufacturer, has been testing in California and Nevada on the Audi SQ5S.
  • Bosch: Using a BMW chassis, Bosch has been testing in California, Michigan, and its native Germany.

Uber Advanced Technology Center

Not far from Carnegie Mellon, this center works on vehicle safety and mapping. In another collaborative effort, Uber partners with Carnegie Mellon’s National Robotics Engineering Center.

VisLab, University of Parma, Italy

Alberto Broggi, head of the lab, has 15 years of experience in driverless cars, with a notable success in 2013 navigating different terrains and traffic situations in Parma. Earlier, in 2010, Broggi and his team successfully accomplished a 13,000 km (8,078 mi) journey from Italy to China. Marco Polo undoubtedly would have approved.

Oxford Mobile Robotics Group, UK

Paul Newman is the project leader for an autonomous vehicle called the Wildcat. Production includes localized participation in a pan-European effort to build a robotic pedestrian assistant.

Easymile, France

A joint-venture of Robosoft, a software specialist, and Ligier Group, manufacturer of vehicles. The vision is a driverless shuttle (EZ-10), in cooperation with Citymobil2.

Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, Singapore

The alliance is focusing on urban mobility and “last-mile” transportation including the use of autonomous golf carts. The Future Urban Mobility/Singapore MIT began in 2010 with support from the Singapore National Foundation. Both passengers and freight are the focus. “The confluence of relevant developments: advances in computing, communications, and sensing technologies” are cited as the conditions making such research and development possible now. SimMobility is the platform on which factors such as commercial and human activities, land use, transportation, environmental impact, and energy use can be tested.

HiTech Robotic Systemz, India

Do you ride on a university campus shuttle? Look to Novus Drive, where research centers mounted on shuttles operate between schools and other locations. Deep Kapuria, chair of the company, took a campus shuttle numerous times when a student at Harvard Business School, which perhaps caused him to think about transport opportunities. Perhaps CEO Anuj Kapuria, when pursuing a Master’s degree in Robotics at Carnegie Mellon, or the managing director, Pranav Kapuria, with a black belt in Six Sigma manufacturing from Motorola University?

Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI), Korea

Where do robots and cognition meet and work together? ETRI is pursuing an autonomous vehicle shuttle. Like so many others, the ETRI team credits the DARPA Grand Challenges that took place in 2004 and 2005 in the Mohave Desert. Then only five vehicles completed the course. Two years later, the Urban Challenge was held, and six teams finished, many of them from Stanford University. The authors of an ensuing paper credit DARPA’s competitions as the funnel through which a common configuration for autonomous vehicles was refined.


So much is going on in China that it is difficult to pinpoint specific instances, according to some reports. Those who read China Daily note that the National University of Defence in Beijing, and the Military Transportation University in Tianjin, tested driverless prototypes in 2011 and 2012. In addition, National University worked with First Auto Works to develop commercial adaptations.

Driver-free Cars and The Legal Landscape

Technology may be racing ahead of the legal and regulatory landscape through which autonomous vehicles zoom. Because the internet and wireless communication are central to driverless cars, there are cyber-security and privacy implications. Insurance and liability regulations may need retooling. In 2017, George Washington University Law School convened a conference on the legal aspects of autonomous vehicles.

Autonomous Vehicles: worth $7 billion by 2050; environmental benefits, too.

Economic Impact

By 2025, sensor components alone will account for $15 billion. Demand for vehicles will drive the market to a total of $126 billion. By 2050? $7 trillion worth of new economic activity combined with improved efficiencies. Ride-hailing of driverless cars will reach $4 trillion.  Source: http://fortunecom/2017/06/03/autonomous-vehicles-market

Sources: Accessed 25 May 2016.

European Robotic Pedestrian Assistant, service robots. Accessed 20 June 2016.

“ESTRO: Design and Development of Intelligent Autonomous Vehicle for Shuttle Servicein the ETRI” by Jaemiin Byun, Ki-in Na, Myungchan Noh, Joochan Sohn, and Sunghoon Kim:

“IA Exhibits.” Society for Industrial Archeology Newsletter, p. 7, Vol. 45, No. 2,  2016, and

“Driverless car market watch: Gearing up to save lives, reduce costs, resource consumption: Key Players.” (

Strohm, Mitch. “6 firms that are testing driverless cars.”,

Wilson, David Gordon. “Palleted Automated Transportation – A View of Developments at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” IATSS Research 13, no. 1 (1989), pp. 53-59.

George Washington University Law School, Innovation and Internet Initiative Program, “Driverless Cars: The Legal Landscape.” 14 June 2017.

“Driverless Cars will Be Part of a $7 Trillion Market by 2050.” Fortune. 3 June 2017. http://fortunecom/2017/06/03/autonomous-vehicles-market/.

Smart Highway Networks:

Highways are being transformed by autonomous vehicles. While short stretches of hinterlands may prove beneficial for testing grounds, such as sections of Nevada, increasing development of roads welcoming driverless cars and delivery trucks might change neighborhood and communities opting for the future. The Villages, Florida, signed an agreement to bring driverless cars to the large retirement community. Begun as a housing development for “snowbirds’ who might drive from northern locations, park their regular car in an attached garage, and switch to golf cart for local purposes, The Villages pledged to bring driverless vehicles to its thousands of residents. It was deemed a good match: many elders do not drive, for various reasons, but still need transport.

But longer roads may be candidates for electric highways and autonomous vehicle routes and sportsways. The world’s longest highways are:

World’s Longest Highways

Pan American Highway: 48,000 kilometers, 20 countries. 

Highway 1: 14,500 kilometers, Australia.

Trans-Siberian Highway: 11,000 kilometers. St. Petersburgh to Vladivostok (with section AH6 spanning the Asian Highway Network) and another E30 coinciding with the European route through Kazakhstan.

Trans-Canada Highway: 7,821 kiloeters. 10 Canadian provinces, links most major cities in Canada.

Golden Quadrilateral Highway Network: 5,846 kilometers. India, connecting Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata.

China National Highway 010: 5,700 kilometers. China.

Could road networks of macro scope become the sites for advanced technology? Perhaps dedicating one or two lanes to palleted transport, or landscaping greenways on the shoulders of the world’s longest road routes would offer ways to advance speed, alleviate congestion and traffic, welcoming autonomous vehicles in designated lanes, could rebuild the road infrastructure in some of the world’s most popular routes.

Duddu, Praveen. “The world’s longest highways.” 3 November 2013. Road Traffic Technology.



“Malinda Tunnel” Corridor, Philippines. Photographer: Makisig, 2008. Image: wikimedia commons.

Earliest tunnels were home improvement projects; cave dwellers appear to have used them to enlarge their living quarters. Ancient Babylonians were among the first to use tunnels for irrigation and secret passages: archeological evidence indicates a passage under the Euphrates River that might have connected a palace to a nearby temple.

Tunnels reduce vehicular pollution. The Central Artery split the city of Boston, Massachusetts, creating a messy scar that ran from the North End to the South Shore. When it was successfully replaced by a system of tunnels, the environment benefitted in two ways: emissions were reduced, while a new surface greenway brought increased oxygen and recreation areas to the city.

The Channel Tunnel between England and France (50.5 km/31.4 mi) provides considerable economic and environmental benefits. Even as the British GDP increases steadily each year as a result of simplified connections between the two countries, greenhouse gas emissions are being reduced, earning Eurotunnel the Carbon Trust Standard award in 2009.

Tunnels do not eliminate harmful emissions, but they do confine and redistribute emissions through various means, including ventilation stacks. Advances in collecting and processing emissions may make tunnels the transport infrastructure of the future. Should there be a ‘tunnel vision’ award for using tunnels and tubes to channel environmental pollution?

Not all tunnels are for cars or trains. Mexico City is home to the world’s largest wastewater tunnel: Tunel Emisor Oriente, which runs 62,500 meters (38.8 miles). The Qinling Tunnel, connecting the Han River to the Wei River in Shaanxi, China, is a water supply tunnel stretching 98,300 meters (61.1 miles), similar to the New York City water tunnel of 96,560 meters (60 miles). Both are in planning stages as of 2016 with expected openings in the early 2020s.

Yet another kind of tunnel cannot be overlooked: those built to elude detection: drug-supply tunnels between the Mexico, the U.S., and Canada; Hamas tunnels between Palestine and Israel; tunnels carefully (and tediously) carved out to enable a prison escape; and military tunnels such as those from North Korea into South Korea, and the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam.

Tunnels on land set the stage for greenways. According to the engineering firm Bechtel, a partner in the construction team, the so-called “Big Dig” involved 260 lane-kilometers (161 lane-miles), 50 percent of which was in tunnels, thus simultaneously reducing automotive pollution below ground and adding 300 acres of parks and greenery to the city’s landscape. Should there be a tunnel under the Pan American Highway where rights are already secured, improving regional connection while creating a greenway unequaled on earth?

TranAtlantic Tunnels?

If tunnel technologies continue to advance, perhaps an underwater transatlantic train will finally become a reality. MIT professors Ernst G. Frankel and Frank P. Davidson designed a submerged oceanic tunnel for a supersonic train decades ago. The 4,000 miles-per-hour, magnetically levitated train would enable one to have lunch in Manhattan and arrive in time for the theatre in London—despite the time difference.

Norway studied neutrally buoyant tunnels that could be submerged 150 to 300 feet beneath the ocean’s surface and anchored to the ocean floor. “From an engineering point of view, there are no serious stumbling blocks,” according to Frankel. For Davidson, a test case might mitigate concerns: “Maybe a tunnel across Lake Ontario would show how it reacts to dynamic conditions and give us a better understanding of the costs.” Estimates for the venture: US$88‒$175 billion. Recent opinions are strengthening the possibility of building tube trains in ocean environments. In a 2016 Forbes magazine, Bruce Dorminey updates the idea proposed by Frankel and Davidson. The train would carry 800 passengers, 80 per car, in ten cars or pods. Travel speed: 1200 mph. Cost: US$200 billion. But a US$12 billion test model of, say, a tube train running from Boston to New York, could be the test model. If successful, then a transatlantic version might be built: Malmo, Sweden to Hamburg (or Berlin) Germany; Rome, Italy to Nice, France; or Singapore to Hong Kong.

Hyperloop Transport

The well-documented problems of California traffic, and the cost of one possible solution, high-speed rail, prompted Elon Musk to design a magnetically levitated train running through a tube, called Hyperloop. Planning to transport passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco, Musk’s design seeks improvements on three fronts: speed, sustainability, and economics. Speed could reach 1,287 kph (800 mph), delivering passengers in 30 minutes. Sustainability would be seen in reduced emissions and the use of solar power. The economics are promising: the 563 km (350 mi) distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco might cost $6 billion, but passenger revenues could be high.

Hyperloop One built a 100-yard track in the desert and ran a test; a 5-mile test track soon followed. Funds came from, among others, GE Ventures, SNCF (the French national railway), a Russian joint venture between the government and private partner Summa Group. For Russia, such a concept might be one way to improve its aging transport infrastructure, still in use by 16 million people. There was also discussion of a transformative new Silk Road: a cargo hyperloop that whisks freight containers from China to Europe in a day.

While some companies are focusing on city-to-city services, skyTran wants to use the same approach intracity. skyTran is a system first proposed by inventor Douglas Malewicki in 1990. Lightweight two-passenger vehicles suspended from elevated magnetic levitation tracks are expected to achieve 100 mph (160 km/h).

Other ideas for hyperloop lines and services sprang up quickly after Musk posted his own design “white paper” online as open source. Hyperloop Technologies or Hyperloop One and its Hyperloop One Global Challenge mounted a competition “to identify and select locations around the world to develop and construct the world’s first hyperloop networks.” Case studies included a connection between Helsinki, Finland, and Stockholm, Sweden. Shervin Pishevar (Sherpa Capital) and Brogan BamBrogan are co-founders. Hyperloop Transportation Technologies was crowd-funded, and proposes routes such as Pittsburgh to Chicago (45 minutes), and New York to Washington (30 minutes).

Musk’s SpaceX, where the idea was announced in 2013, is not affiliated with any of the Hyperloop companies. Instead, SpaceX launched the Hyperloop Pod Competition, calling for proposals and demonstrations by university students as well as independent entrants. Over 1,000 teams entered; 115 succeeded enough to participate, and 30 were invited back to compete. MIT’s Hyperloop Team was awarded best design in the early stage of the competition; teams from Delft, Virginia Tech, and University of California Irvine also placed highly. Musk spoke to the gathering at the Hyperloop Pod Award Ceremony on 30 January 2016. SpaceX also contributed land at its Hawthorne, California location to test winning pod designs. All SpaceX’s findings will be open-sourced.

As Hyperloop One developed from idea and prototype to proposal for first operational system, locations around the globe were considered. In 2018, Hyperloop One stated that a system would be authorized, built, and initially transport cargo.

Pan American Highway rights are already established; could the world’s longest highway accommodate transport such as Hyperloop? Image: wikimedia commons.

In the long-term, would more extensive hyper loop and mag-lev tubal systems be designed for significant routes already established? For example, the Pan American Highway: so, long that estimates vary between 30,000 and 48,000 kilometers (about 20,000 miles of connection) from Alaska to Argentina. As George Schultz, former United States Secretary of State and also former leader of Bechtel, observed, it is sometimes harder to get permissions than to build. In the case of the Pan American route, beginning with the Alaska Highway, permissions have already been obtained. Advantages of building an overhead system include a “fly-over” for the Darién Gap, a preserve that is the only spot on the regional expanse that does not have an existing road. Could the environmental prohibitions regarding the Darien Gap be respected by overhead transport? If so, the land beneath the system could become another kind of stretch, perhaps even the world’s longest greenway of cultural exchange. Mexico completed the first portion of the highway in 1950; will Mexico continue leadership in promoting the route’s update?

 TransAtlantic Tube Trains

 Even before Robert Goddard’s rockets, ideas for trains in tubes, with pneumatics, were proposed as a kind of super-subway for New York City—in 1870. Alfred Ely Beach experimented with a commuter train subway line using a very large pneumatic tube, similar to the tubes used in banks and department stores. More information and illustrations are available at New York’s Columbia University where the archive of the Beach Pneumatic Transit Company are managed by Joseph Brennan. The collection includes material on “atmospheric railways in England” linked to the work of George Medhurst and John Vallance. Once steam locomotion was invented, the atmospheric railways constructed around 1840 (two in Ireland and two in France) fell into disuse. But the idea lived on in the London and Croydon Railway that ran seven miles at 70 miles per hour. Another example was the South Devon Railway, operating between Exeter and Newton Abbot in 1847-1848, under the guidance of chief engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Brunel’s father was the builder of the Thames Tunnel, and today, there is a Brunel lecture series at MIT, founded by Frank P. Davidson.

Using hyperloop technology, or related earlier research, could an ocean be traversed? Could floating tubes serve as the support structure? Current success with tube travel such as the HyperLoop, suggests that tubes may be the ideal tunnels. At a meeting at MIT in 2007, professors and engineers met with American Land Consulting. It was there that Zhang Yaoping, from Southwest Jiaotong University in China, became involved in what he called “evolutionary transportation.” Zhang stated that tube-contained maglevs could possibly reach 193,000 kmph (120,000 mph).

Daryl Oster, an American engineer, sold licenses for a patented evacuated tube transport (ETT) technology, and China purchased 12. Oster’s ET3 predicts speeds up to 4,000 mph are possible, making Musk’s Hyperloop seem slow. Could one travel for Los Angeles to New York in less than an hour? New York to Beijing in two hours? Oster says yes to both. In a perfect environment, lands where cities are separated by flat, dry terrain with only a few people and no freezing temperatures, top performance could be reached.

A proposal for the “Concorde of the tunneling world” emerged in a competition organized by think-tank IPPR North, in Manchester, England. Extending Elon Musk’s Hyperloop idea, the train in this proposal would be an express run from Manchester to Manhattan. Simon Horton championed the idea of a train that would transit the Atlantic in four hours if a maximum speed could be sustained.

Another player in the field is James Powell, co-inventor of maglev transportation. Powell envisions a tunnel similar to a cannon, and calls the system Startram. MIT’s Ernst Frankel commented: “Rail technology is almost 100 years old now. Airways are terribly congested and getting to the airport is time-consuming. The time is right.”


“The World’s 18 Strangest Tunnels.”

Stockebrand, Thomas. “The story of a model evacuated tunnel for the demonstration of high-speed transport.” pp. 225-230. In Tunneling and Underground Transport: Future Developments in Technology, Economics, and Policy. Frank P. Davidson, editor. New York: Elsevier, 1987, ISBN: 13-9780444011305.



Brennan, John. “Beach Pneumatic.”

Davidson, Frank P. and Kathleen Lusk Brooke. Building the Future, Chapter 2: Transportation, p. 41.

Griffiths, Sarah. 16 January 2015. “Forget the Hyperloop: Plan for vacuum tube travel between UK and the US unveiled – but is it just a pipe dream?” Daily Mail, MailOnline,

Harper, Mark. “New York to London in an hour – by train. On the return, leave the UK at noon, arrive in Manhattan 8 a.m the same day, U.S. firm is selling licenses to patented technology, China’s buying. All aboard the vacuum express!” 4 June

Karsten, Matthew. “Inside the Notorious Darien Gap.”

McKendrick, Joe. “It runs in tubes: the first high-speed rail, circa 1870.” 15 March 2010. ZDNet.



The Chinese language is among the most ancient, and perhaps most developed, of thought-systems. Linguists have observed that the Chinese word for “crisis” in logograph script is an intersection of two elements. Wēijī does mean crisis and the first syllable, wēi, means crisis in the sense of “danger.” Much has been made off the second element, . Some have said it means “opportunity” but that is understating: rather, it means “critical moment” and that moment is “when things are about to change.” Nuances of meaning include: “germinal principle,” “pivotal junction.” (Mair, 2009). Perhaps those who study the I Ching, or Book of Changes, would see parallels.

Crisis may be among the most effective triggers of innovation. But opportunity is even more of a lure. Problems in the transit sector are apparent. Traffic results in time wasted, pollution from idling cars, and urban bottlenecks. Worse, highways are the scenes of fatalities and injuries. Moreover, existing roads, bridges, city streets, and rail routes are in various states of disrepair, furthering dangers. Shipping and aerospace are not without problems. Are there, within these problems and crises, germinal principles and pivotal junctions? How do problems lead to innovation?

Transport may show more potential to adopt emerging innovations quickly, through marketability. For example, autos that run on electricity and run without drivers are quickly taking over the traditional car market. Canals widen to accommodate wider ships, that widen to carry more cargo.

Because markets open more quickly to standards of inter-operability – gas pumps have to be the same along a route, charging stations have to have universal connectors – transport may be a faster means of change on a regional, or global, scale. One change that may help to facilitate: common measurement scale. When will the United States join the metric system?

Nations may set guidelines for emissions but the environment is not a national phenomenon (although hot spots can be unbearably local) but a regional and global reality. Pollution travels across land, and across – and inside – oceans. There are few transnational ways of addressing environmental considerations: transport is among them. Industries may set standards, as seen increasingly in shipping and aviation, that go beyond national pledges. Perhaps transport may be the key to rapid response to climate change.


Mair, H. Victor, Professor of Chinese Language and Literature, “Danger + Opportunity: How a misunderstanding about Chinese characters has led many astray.” University of Pennsylvania, 2009.


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