Sacred relics

Thinking Highways
By David E Pickeral November 13, 2014 16:43

Sacred relics

What are the dangers of becoming too attached to the past? The 1977 Pontiac Grand Prix was a great car - but rather of its time

To get ITS systems where they are today required a lot of effort that is worthy of recognition, but it is just as worthy to not cling too much to the past, says David E Pickeral.

Not long ago on my travels I happened to walk by the showroom of a classic car store and spotted a 1977 Pontiac Grand Prix.  I had owned one of these for eight years in my late teens and early 20s as a student and then Naval Officer.  It had been the top of the line, the SJ, with the high-performance engine package, power sunroof, sport wheels and premium 8-track cartridge sound system with a built-in citizens band (CB) radio, all state-of-the-art for its day.  It was also the last of several decades of ‘bigger is better’ North American automobiles, before our first energy crisis finally brought the first dose of the reality that much of the rest of the world had been dealing with for decades.

In 1991 as I made plans to leave the Navy in San Diego for graduate school back East, I finally had to give up the nearly 14-year-old Pontiac, by then quite worn out mechanically and suffering from rusting pierside for months on end while I was at sea, surviving as it did a couple of ignominious hit-and-run collisions with shipyard vehicles.  I briefly considered having the vehicle restored as I had a shipmate with a cousin in nearby Tijuana who did that sort of thing, but after agonizing deliberation opted to trade in the GP and seek out a more sensible and modern transportation, a Mazda RX-7.

So here, more than 20 years later, appeared the chance to recapture a bit of pristine, low-mileage ‘big iron’ glory with all the ‘numbers’ matching up.

I quickly realized that the GP would have to be kept outside on the driveway (or on the street) because at 212.7” (5.4 meters) it was far too long to pull into the garage and still be able to close the door.  Most significantly, the massive 6.6 liter engine averaged something like 12 mpg, making it both environmentally and economically inconsistent with the 21st Century.

So, I took a pass on the “retro ride” and walked on, but this experience got me thinking about how all of us, not just as transportation professionals but as human beings, can get attached to the past in a way that defies practical reality.   How guilty are we, at times, of wanting to hold onto ‘sacred relics?’

Like the ’77 GP, the original ITS technology that was developed over the past several years was exceptional in its day and much of that equipment, remaining in service today, will continue to provide good service for years to come; just as I am sure that classic GP will provide a good driving experience for some lucky driver with more garage space and time than I have for an extra car.

However, whether through replacement or restoration and enhancement to extend its life cycle, it is essential that our ‘daily driver’, our mainstream ITS infrastructure, be kept as current as possible, as budgets allow.  The foundation in achieving this lies, fundamentally, in the policies of government and industry to support innovation and implementation.  The discussion could not be more relevant than in the context of the 21st ITS World Congress in Detroit-Windsor.   Indeed this latest North American ITS WC represents probably the most critical opportunity in almost a decade in terms of the shift in and indeed towards smarter transportation thinking.

 At another US-based ITS World Congress, the 12th in San Francisco in November 2005, we likewise saw a significant shift in public policy on top of fast-emerging technology with the enactment of SAFETEA-LU[1].   Far more than its predecessors, TEA-21[2] and ISTEA[3], which were innovative enough in their own right as evolutions of what had been for decades prior a largely carbon-copy program to fund ongoing Interstate construction and other highway improvements, SAFETEA-LU represented a vastly different philosophy in funding and encouraging transportation innovation, and in accounting for the promise to infuse ICT in all segments of the value chain.  Though the “dot com” boom and bust had by then already occurred, few in the industry doubted that from the back office to the roadside to the vehicles themselves great change was afoot, and the stage had been set.

 During the years leading up to San Francisco the ITS community had been busy, as many of us will recall, on several fronts.  As a then practicing attorney and member (and later Chair) of the Federal Bar Association Committee on Intermodal Transportation, during that time I worked to incorporate advanced ICT to allow for seamless, paperless transfers of passengers and freight between modes, and to incorporate emerging driver fatigue monitoring technology into the ongoing revision of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Hours of Service (HOS) regulations revision for commercial vehicles.[4]

 Through the Federal Communications Bar Association (FCBA) as well as proceedings before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for individual clients I helped advocate for the allocation by the Commission of what became 75 MHz of the 5.9 spectrum band for dedicated short range communications (DSRC).  Perhaps most importantly through the former IVHS/ITS-A[5] Legal Issues Committee we worked, in the wake of the demise of the Intelligent Vehicle Highway Systems Act of 1991[6], to directly advise Congress through the Federal Advisory Committee Act on the need to supplant Interstate-era lane-mile metrics facilitating the turning of spades and the pouring of concrete with more modern performance measures based on the efficiency and effectiveness ITS could provide above and beyond that.

30 Sacred relics 2

There can be no room for nostalgia in a 21st Century transportation environment

These efforts and the efforts of countless others paid off.  In essence San Francisco represented the transition of ITS from an academic and research environment into the consciousness and planning process of the entire transportation industry and the government regulators that oversee and fund it.   Now as the world prepares to come to Detroit the current successor to SAFETEA-LU, MAP-21[7] has (at this writing in early August) just been temporarily extended.  Its successor and other issues such as the Highway Trust Fund, various new types of road user charging schemes (distance, miles, time, variable, congestion, etc.) and the implementation of Connected Vehicles are coming toward a resolution, and not just among politicians, practitioners, academics and engineers (or combinations thereof).

 From a technological perspective, the idea of the “Information Superhighway” so prevalent nine years ago has now been supplanted by a more focused vision: much of the digital content will be hosted in the cloud versus in a plethora of roadside cabinets and devices.   Data once held in separate proprietary stovepipes like ATMS, EFC, ETC or CCTV systems will be accessible through open standards and integrated, allowing a level of access and ubiquity unimaginable even a few years ago.

From a time when mobile data had been little more than sending email via BlackBerry, more types of mobile broadband devices within and beyond vehicles are being be deployed to make the wired and wireless ecosystems much more seamless.  Social networks are allowing transportation community members to connect as never before, but even more importantly through applications like Waze and Uber, the public are becoming active participants, even practitioners, in the evolution of transport networks.

Most importantly, the application of analytics to all of this data, wherever located, will increasingly yield not only a wealth of new information, but the ability to predict in better than real time, respond to incidents before they even occur, and tailor content to the specific and immediate needs of each individual end user in the system.

The 2014 ITS World Congress, I would go so far to suggest, will mark the transition of the ITS and Telematics co-industries into the awareness of the public at large in terms of where they will expect investments and improvements to be made, from the cars they buy to the roadways they drive them on, to the places they park (and charge) them, as well as across many other modes from cycling to carsharing to subways.  In such a visible transition there can bee no room for sentiment or nostalgia. Just as a large segment of the population no longer relates to hood ornaments and chrome bumpers, so too will they tend to measure speed, reliability and capacity as much in digital terms as they will in mechanical, not really separating the two in evaluating the entire machine as a ‘mash-up’ of different but utterly inseparable technology.

Alongside this enlightened user community will come a new wave of investors, both public and private and at times both, who will expect that not only will everything work, but do so in a way that ensures return on investment.  The industry must be ready, and I optimistically expect we will be as long as we help each other remember to keep moving past that showroom window.

David Pickeral is Transportation Sector Lead for the IBM Industry Smarter Solutions Team


Thinking Highways
By David E Pickeral November 13, 2014 16:43