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Vol. 12, No. 4 - July/August 2001

The State of Innovation in Surface Transportation
Every year, MIT's Cooperative Mobility Program, whose sponsors include the world's leading automobile manufacturers, brings together senior representatives of the sponsoring companies for an intensive round of briefings and discussions on key transportation issues under study by the program's research team. As has been the custom, the latest meeting, on June 11-12, included a presentation of new findings from MIT's International Mobility Observatory. The Observatory, launched in the Spring of 1996 as part of the Cooperative Mobility Program, monitors and documents worldwide trends in transportation innovation as a service to the program's sponsors and research team. The presentation, delivered by your editor who serves as the Observatory's manager, is presented below in abbreviated form.

The Changing Complexion of Metropolitan Growth
The debate about suburban sprawl shows no sign of subsiding. But, as the report below suggests, the concept may be too simple to describe the population trends now underway. In a companion commentary, Wendell Cox argues that the campaign against sprawl rests on a mistaken notion that increasing development densities will result in reduced traffic congestion.

Streamlining the Environmental Review Process
Few issues have aroused the ire of the highway community more than the inordinate delays encountered in approving new construction projects. The chief culprit appears to be the unwieldy and overly bureaucratized environmental review and approval process. This has prompted state DOT officials and interest groups representing the highway industry to call for "environmental streamlining." Ironically, the most immediate beneficiary of environmental streamlining may be the aviation sector which has suffered similar delays in getting airport expansion projects approved. Whether streamlining of the highway approval process will be viewed with the same degree of urgency remains to be seen.

HOV Lanes: An Idea Whose Time Has Come... and Gone - Commentary
For more than two decades-from the late 1960s through the mid-1990s-transportation officials were wedded to the idea that high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes would lure Americans from their solo commuting habits and lead to reduced highway congestion, fewer travel delays, and better air quality. But the evidence is growing that HOV lanes have not changed Americans' driving habits. Instead of gradually gaining strength, carpooling has been slowly eroding.The time has come to reopen the public debate on HOV lanes and reexamine the orthodox belief that HOV lanes effectively address traffic congestion and air pollution problems. Credible demonstration of carpool lane benefits may be the only way to salvage the concept from mounting criticism. If the evidence shows that HOV lanes are not producing the expected results, decision-makers should admit it, abandon the current policy of uncritical HOV favoritism, and focus attention on ways to convert underutilized HOV facilities to more productive use.

Transport Innovations from Abroad

  • Road Pricing in the Netherlands
  • Distance-Based Truck Fees in Switzerland
  • French "Tram-Train"
  • Rome's Automated Vehicle Access Control
  • Japan's Hybrid Vehicles


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