Long Range Transportation Study Considering 19th, 21st Century Modes | WGLT

Long Range Transportation Study Considering 19th, 21st Century Modes

Oct 7, 2016

A Google autonomous car driving on Google's campus in Palo Alto, CA.
Credit Roman Boed / Flickr

The McLean County Regional Planning Commission (MCRPC) is trying to gaze into the future, with the help of area residents. The MCRPC has launched a survey asking people to answer questions while imagining conditions 30 years into the future. 

MCRPC Transportation Planner Jennifer Sicks and Melissa Dougherty-O'Hara, an associate planner with the commission are managing the survey. 

The survey asks respondents about their willingness to "invest in technologies that support innovations in the transportation system," such as driverless cars. Dougherty-O'Hara said the future road network will need to take into account all modes of transportation.

"How are driverless cars going to relate to bikers, how are they going to relate to people still driving a car," said Dougherty-O'Hara. "A lot about autonomous cars is how are the streets laid out. Are the streets all connected? It's about a connected network to make those driverless cars really work."

Sicks said driverless cars may end up relying on technology already being honed by companies providing non-autonomous services. 

"The companies who are really heavily investing in this, and a lot of major ones are, are going to look at the kind of networking process that is currently used in a non-autonomous version by companies like UPS which has a sophisticated algorithm for routing drivers and goods," said Sicks. "That kind of thing is sort of the first step, a kind of an analog step toward what the autonomous vehicles might do." 

A bike lane sign on Blair Dr. in Normal, IL
Credit Ralph Weisheit

And while the survey tries to gauge respondent attitudes toward investing in the future, it also asks about transportation technology developed in the late 1800's.  Neither Sick nor Dougherty-O'Hara envision bicycles going by the wayside in the next 30 years.

"They're cheap, or can be cheap. They're practical. They are person driven rather than requiring fuel which is always a good thing. And we already see they are popular. There's no reason why that would change with the trends we see," said Sicks.

She said bikes may become more refined, but they're not going anywhere.

"We have the beginnings of a good bicycle network," said Sicks. "Part of it, the Constitution Trail is off road. But we're starting to play with the idea of using street networks as bicycle facilities as well as cars. they already are, we just need to make sure everyone recognizes that."

"Both municipalities have adopted complete streets policies which talk about inclusion of all modes in the road network, so both communities are moving forward to be more inclusive in all modes we're using," said Dougherty-O'Hara.

The survey also asks question about whether a future transportation system should be an economic engine and whether it should promote health and safety. Additionally, respondents are asked to spend a symbolic $100 on several transportation priorities, such as maintaining the current network and improving conditions for pedestrians and transit users. 

Sicks says the survey doesn't include questions about the much talked about East Side Highway. A public hearing on that highway, proposed east of Towanda-Barnes Road, is scheduled for Oct. 19. The Long Range Transportation Survey is available at the MCRPC website through Oct. 15.


Editor's Note: Mike McCurdy who conducted this  interview and reported this story is the president of a bicycle advocacy organization. He also serves on the Connect Transit Board of Trustees.