On Maui, where rainfall continuously shapes volcanic formations into deeply incised valleys and green, steep-sided ravines, coastal roadways are often obstructed by mudslides. Locals have devised a workaround: Drivers on opposite sides of the slide will wade through the mud and swap cars, agreeing to return to the same spot after the slide is cleared and swap back.
Maui’s improvised car sharing system was among many facts, technologies, and first-hand anecdotes exchanged among participants in a live web chat on the future of transportation hosted by Rocky Mountain Institute on February 15.
In addition to car sharing, chat participants discussed other strategies for reducing vehicle miles traveled as a means of increasing convenience, reducing travel time, and moving the U.S. toward a fossil-fuel-free transportation system.
In a poll asking about 400 chat participants to identify the single most effective means of enhancing personal mobility in the future transportation system, 53 percent responded that the key was to create walkable and bikeable urban environments—key components of an approach often referred to as “smart growth.” Many participants were particularly keen on greater use of bicycles, citing the success of bike-friendly cities in Europe. Thi is consistent with RMI’s transportation-related findings in its roadmap to getting the U.S. off oil and coal by 2050, Reinventing Fire. “In some bike-friendly major cities in Europe, 30-40 percent of commuters walk or bike,” the RMI book says. “Paris has had enormous success with its Vélib’ (vélo libre) free public bicycles, now numbering 17,000 in 1,200 self-service stations throughout the city center.”
Beyond demand-side measures to reduce vehicle miles traveled, another recurrent theme of the chat was the supply-side technologies associated with future vehicles. In particular, participants discussed lightweight materials as a means of not only increasing vehicle efficiency, but—perhaps more importantly—enabling efficient powertrain electrification. RMI shared details and recent progress in the automotive industry among technological innovators, such as BMW and Volkswagen, which have recognized the powerfully efficient combination of a carbon fiber autobody with an electrified powertrain.
The promise of a design approach emphasizing lightweight vehicle bodies in combination with efficient propulsion extends beyond just autos. Chat participants inquired about the role of the aviation sector in driving greater usage of advanced materials in transportation. RMI responded by citing recent production-scale airplane designs such as the Boeing 787 and Airbus A380 that have opened the door to increased use of carbon fiber in vehicle bodies. In a poll on the most promising future aviation fuel, chat participants indicated strong preference (64 percent) for biofuel over electricity, hydrogen, or natural gas, emphasizing that it should nevertheless be produced from second and third-generation processes that do not use edible feedstocks.
Overall the chat touched on many of the key elements composing a transformed future transportation system and provided a lively, real-time forum for two-way learning.
Replay the live chat.