Innovative Transportation

Mar 30, 2017

Innovative Transportation

Read a summary of the Alternative Futures engagement phase (April-August 2017), during which CMAP connected with more than 2,500 residents in 127 workshops and five topical forums, with another 61,000 providing input via interactive kiosks. Capping off these activities was a speech to the City Club of Chicago by CMAP executive director Joe Szabo.




What if technological innovations enhance transportation by 2050?

In 2050, innovative transportation technologies make travel convenient and improve the mobility of people and goods. Travelers, communities, and businesses have access to more accurate, real-time information to make smarter decisions. Faster and more convenient car travel leads to more auto oriented development on the region's edge. Automated cars, transit, and delivery vehicles change land use patterns in communities throughout the region. Automated vehicles provide increased safety and convenience for many residents but may not be accessible or affordable to everyone. High-tech freight shipping that incorporates multiple modes of transportation (e.g., rail, shipping, and/or trucking) grows in prominence, resulting in changing freight traffic and industrial space needs.

Check out an interactive graphic that looks at how commuters at different income levels get around today.

What is the primary driver behind this future?

In 2050, innovations in transportation technology -- including smart infrastructure and automated and electrified personal cars, trucks, and transit vehicles -- make travel and goods movement faster and more convenient. In this future, connected vehicle technologies would enable parts of the transportation system, like streets, traffic signals, road signs, and vehicles to send and receive information to each other to provide greater safety, comfort, entertainment, and convenience.

In addition, all vehicles would have some level of automation in 2050. Due to labor shortages and tight margins in the shipping industry, the first types of vehicles to be fully automated would be large trucks traveling long-distance routes. Automated shuttles could also provide last mile connections between fixed route transit and people's final destinations, particularly in lower-density areas where frequent fixed-route public transit is not economically viable. As 2050 approaches, technological advances and economies of scale in remote sensing technology could make fully automated cars affordable and widely available for individual purchase.

What will life be like in 2050 with innovative transportation technologies?

The region's residents will benefit from improved road safety and increased independence. By 2050, new transportation technology could dramatically reduce crashes caused by human error, resulting in a significant decline in crashes and injuries. Automated vehicles could also allow populations that currently cannot operate a vehicle to travel more easily. Elderly and disabled residents who can afford automated vehicles would be able to travel with less assistance, improving their quality of life. Other outcomes might include:

  • More convenient long-distance driving changes travel behavior: As vehicles control more responsibility for navigation, people who once focused on the road would become passengers, able to spend time on other pursuits. Public transit, which has long provided productivity advantages to passengers, may struggle to compete for customers.
  • More frequent delivery of goods increases freight traffic: Changes in freight technologies, as well as the increased consumer preference for on-demand and retail models, would increase the volume of goods moved across all modes. Smaller and new types of freight vehicles could be used to make deliveries in dense urban areas, reducing congestion and safety concerns on local roads.
  • Auto-oriented development patterns expand on the region's fringe: Easier, more convenient travel by all modes could fuel another round of suburban expansion. Substantial development on agricultural land and in natural areas could occur, requiring new and expensive infrastructure, including roads, utilities, and drinking water, sewer, and stormwater systems.
  • Land use patterns change within communities: Land currently used for parking or large retail districts would be available for redevelopment.
  • Infrastructure maintenance and modernization needs increase while revenue declines: Advanced transportation technologies require significant upfront capital costs. These new systems would need to be maintained and operated over time, requiring not only new forms of capital expenditures for transportation agencies but also new staffing requirements.
  • Not everyone may have access to new technology: In a future with innovative transportation technology, access to jobs, education, and other services would continue to be difficult for people without cars or income to afford new mobility services.
  • Air quality improves, but power grid becomes strained: With the potential for less drivers on the road, greenhouse gas emissions could decline, but the dependence on our local electrical grid would increase substantially.

Strategies to face this future

CMAP has collected more details about this future and strategies that can be taken now to prepare for the ways technology will change mobility in the Innovative Transportation memo.

Media coverage


CMAP wants to hear from you about this future. Make your voice heard by:
  • Registering for "Harnessing Technology for Future Mobility" -- an Alternative Futures Forum Series event scheduled for Thursday, June 22, at 9:00 a.m. at the Illinois Institute of Technology, which will deal with topics related to Innovative Transportation. 
  • Attending an ON TO 2050 workshop in your community. Email to arrange or attend a workshop.
  • Weighing in on Twitter @ONTO2050 with the hashtag #2050BigIdeas, or on Facebook at
  • Visiting one of two dozen interactive kiosks at public locations across the region. 
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