How will self-driving vehicles “drive” us?

During your lifetime, it is very likely you will encounter a self-driving vehicle on the road. But I will not try to convince you into this fact. My intention is to try to steer up some of your thoughts about this emerging technology.

Connected vehicles

Connected vehicles – NHTSA

The development of sensing, communication, and in-vehicle computing technology has enabled the development of new technology – vehicle will be able to detect the surrounding environment, talk to other vehicles or the road infrastructure, and compute all the needed parameters in real time using its own computer. Continue reading

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20 Years of 18.4 Cents Per Gallon: We Need to Raise the Gas Tax

You probably haven’t heard because of all the press coverage over the government shutdown and the looming debt limit, but October 2013 represents an annoying milestone for people like me who care about our nation’s transportation infrastructure. Twenty years ago, the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 went into effect, and buried on page 203 was a provision raising the federal gas tax to 18.4 cents per gallon. The gas tax pays into the Highway Trust Fund and the Mass Transit Account, both of which support maintenance, operations, and expansions to our surface transportation systems.

(photo: hermitsmoores)

(photo: hermitsmoores)

Today, the gas tax still stands at 18.4 cents per gallon, even though inflation has eroded the buying power of those 18.4 cents by 40%, leading to expensive bailouts from the general fund to keep the Trust Fund and Transit Account solvent. Isn’t it time we finally stop dodging the issue and address our inadequate transportation funding? Continue reading

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A Hidden Treasure of the Rail Industry

Written in collaboration with Jonathan Walker, Sr., P.E.

When we think of famous inventors, names such as Thomas Edison and Leonardo Da Vinci easily come to mind. Excluding the Wright brothers, the transportation field is not particularly filled with memorable inventors. This is probably because technological advances in transportation are often incremental, without the glamorous breakthroughs that most people generally associate with inventions – take for instance our recent post on the history of the traffic signal. Additionally, the ubiquity of transportation facilities, vehicles, and devices also helps to downplay the significance of the works of these innovators.

One such inventor is Granville Taylor Woods. While he was not the first to develop third rail power, he was granted patents for advancing third rail power technology. Woods also contributed to many other advancements in railway transportation including locomotive braking controllers, railcar intercom systems, telegraph communication for moving trains, and underground track power for streetcars in New York City during the late 1800s and earlier 1900s. He was the first Black American to be awarded at least forty-nine patents, a feat which has been documented in a new book by author and electrical engineer, Jonathan Walker, Sr.


A trailer for the new book by Jonathan Walker, Sr., P.E.

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Making Public Transportation Sexy

You may have recently seen the advertisement from Danish transit agency Midttraffik, which introduces new riders to see their buses as refreshingly cool. Traveling by the bus is supposed to be so cool that you will be fighting to get on. If this ad doesn’t make you want to take the bus, then nothing will. Produced by Midttraffik’s in-house communications department, the ad aims to showcase the new buses that Midttraffik will be deploying on its routes.

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Making Up Time in the Air: How Airlines Keep Flights on Schedule

Have you ever had a flight depart behind schedule and yet somehow arrived in at the scheduled time? While airlines may have a reputation for being obsessed with efficiency, there are a few ways that your plane can make up some time in the air. However, it’s not like the airlines are holding out on us – there are good reasons why our planes can’t just fly faster.

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How did we end up with traffic signals?

Figure 1: Countdown traffic signal (available at http://www.dailymail.co.uk)

Picture this situation – you are waiting at a red traffic signal. The seconds are passing, and you are wondering why is the signal not turning green? At that point, a thought is passing through your mind – who invented these things after all? Why did it invented it to work in this way? And why is the signal having three colors? Well, for all those of you who ever had similar thoughts, the following historical review might give you some answers.

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How about ecodriving your car?

Gas prices per country – available at giz.de

People often complain about the increase of gas prices. However, it is a fact that gas prices in US are lower then in the majority of the countries in the world. In fact, the only countries that have lower gas prices than the US are usually those that have large supplies of crude oil. The probability is high that gas prices will only continue to grow and we have to adjust to a fact of having permanently high gas prices.

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Is Your Megabus Always Late?

A typical Megabus table seat by iheartpandas on flickr

If you’ve ever traveled along the Boston to DC corridor for leisure, there is a good chance that you decided to take one of the “curbside buses” (e.g., Megabus or BoltBus). If you’re driving by yourself, making the trip is extremely cost-prohibitive and does not significantly reduce overall travel time compared to the bus. Tolls alone can exceed $20 and increasing gas prices could easily add an additional $45 each way. Keep in mind that you’ll also need to find a parking spot in these often congested cities. On the other hand, taking the bus can cost less than tolls alone. Plus, you get access to electrical outlets and Wifi at no additional cost. You can basically use that time which you would spend driving to conduct other business or even indulge in some pleasures. Additionally, it also turns out to be a great opportunity to meet new people.

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What Causes “Phantom” Traffic Jams?

Photo by michaelrperry on Flickr.

Have you ever been cruising blissfully down the highway only to find yourself stuck in massive traffic jam? You wait, and wait, and wait, wondering what on earth could be causing such delays. Is it a crash? Construction activities? Rubbernecking from a big fire off to the side? Finally, you get to the end of the jam… and there’s nothing there. Transportation engineers call these delays “phantom traffic jams”, and they’re remarkably common.

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Watch This Space

PeopleMovers is alive!

We are a group of transportation professionals and graduate students covering a wide range of specialties within the field of transportation engineering. Over the coming weeks, this blog will become host to a variety of thoughts, insights, and news regarding new developments about the systems and infrastructure that move us on a daily basis.

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