Transportation and Infrastructure

Header for Transportation Trends

Emerging trends within the transportation and infrastructure sectors are changing how we get around, how we access critical services, and where we live and work. Planners may look to these trends as input for their long-range and current planning processes, to practice strategic foresight during community visioning processes, for scenario planning, or simply to inform future decision-making. 

Trend Timeframes

The trends are structured in three timeframes, which indicate the urgency of planners' action:

Vehicle-to-grid Technology

Recent blackouts and unreliable electric grids in the U.S. have highlighted the urgent need to improve grid resilience, especially as the need to accommodate electric vehicle (EV) charging grows with the number of EVs sold. While a stable electric grid will be crucial for these and other electrification efforts, EVs can also help in this endeavor. With evolving vehicle-to-grid technology, EV batteries can be integrated into the grid and help balance peak energy times by serving as energy storage that can be charged or discharged as needed. They can also be used as backup power supplies during power outages. Volkswagen has announced it will begin a bidirectional charging pilot in Sweden in the coming months.

New charges for car externalities

Interest from state and local governments in new ways to disincentivize vehicle use is growing. In 2022, Bogota, Colombia, piloted a project with ClearRoad, a U.S.-based transportation and technology company, that used smartphones to monitor movement along streets within a congestion-pricing district to address the city's extensive traffic. The state of Oregon is experimenting with a road usage fee program in which drivers pay a fee based on the number of miles driven, and New York City will soon begin to use congestion pricing to reduce traffic and related pollution in Manhattan and fund its public transit system. There is general openness to private-sector innovation around the issue of congestion, but equity concerns, such as rerouting delivery trucks through lower-income communities, require further consideration by planners.

Similar to congestion pricing, some cities are adopting new fees based on different negative impacts associated with cars. In the UK, London and other cities have started to enforce emission-based parking charges to tackle traffic-related air pollution. A similar idea has been put in place in Lyon, France, where parking fees increase with the weight of the car to discourage larger cars — which are usually more polluting, need more space for parking, and cause deadlier accidents — from entering the city. In the U.S., legislative bills related to fees based on vehicle weight have been discussed in California and Colorado.

Electric trucks

Though larger EVs such as freight trucks and buses have been slower than electric passenger cars to appear, change is on the horizon. Not only has California voted to ban new sales of gas-powered cars by 2035, but it is requiring half of all heavy-duty trucks sold in the state to be fully electric by the same year. Recent data shows that today's electric medium- and heavy-duty trucks can travel more than 300 miles on one charge, though long-haul routes will require charging stops along the way. Swappable batteries could resolve that issue for both heavy-duty trucks and personal EVs, though the global resource consumption implications of increased battery production remain, as do infrastructure concerns relating to heavier vehicle weights.

Another concern is the cost of electric trucks — up to three times as much as diesel ones — though Mack Trucks recently introduced a subscription program for its medium-duty electric truck, with the option to purchase the truck at the end of the plan. Other large vehicles are going electric, with Portland unveiling its first electric garbage truck and Amtrak debuting its first electric bus route in Seattle. The electrification of large and heavy-duty vehicles has begun, and planners must be prepared to accommodate these changes in both urban and rural areas.

Electric vehicles

Decarbonization and electrification of transportation and the trend of electric mobility have been accelerating. At least five U.S. states, along with the EU, have announced that by 2035 they will ban the sale of combustion-engine cars. As a result, local, state, and federal governments are trying to catch up by providing the needed EV infrastructure. The 2022 National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program provides $5 billion in federal funding over five years to expand the U.S. EV charging network. While the length of time for a full charge varies among different types of charging stations, the process still takes longer than filling a gas tank. Offering EV charging facilities with parking in places where people spend time, such as homes, offices, and entertainment venues, may make conventional gas stations obsolete in the near future. For more on public charging EV infrastructure and how to equitably distribute it, see PAS Memo 115, "Planning for On-Street EV Charging Infrastructure."

While EVs are part of the solution to decarbonizing transportation, their potential negative effects continue to raise concerns. Even Norway, the country with the highest rate of EVs, is taking a step back as the e-mobility transition is increasing car ownership and raising equity questions. Equity is also an issue in the U.S., where nearly 72 percent of public EV chargers are situated in the wealthiest 20 percent of counties. Other tensions, such as the need for battery recycling, have yet to be resolved, though innovations and potential solutions are being proposed. Recent reports of hackers targeting EV chargers have also raised cybersecurity concerns, especially in the light of personal data that is being shared with EVs. Safety is another big question, as the heavier weights of EVs make crashes more deadly and put extra stress on roadways and parking garages. Simply replacing gas-fueled cars with EVs is not a sustainable solution. Planners and local governments must also embrace the wide variety of alternative transportation options available today. For more on EVs, check out "Electric Vehicles Are on the Rise. Is Your Community Ready?" from the July 2021 issue of Planning and the October 2022 issue of Zoning Practice, "Preparing for the Electric Vehicle Surge."

New public transit needs and related struggles

Most U.S. public transit systems are still struggling post-COVID-19. With commutes declining, fare revenue has not returned to pre-pandemic levels. More federal funding is needed to improve transit quality and safety and to adapt existing systems to new climate realities, such as extreme heat. From India and Norway to New York, agencies are making transit free for all or for certain groups. But to increase ridership, transit agencies will need to improve their services. Transit needs are changing —not just the times when people use public transit have changed, but the destinations have as well. A reevaluation of transit routes will be needed to accommodate these new behaviors.

Declining road safety in the US

Among industrialized nations, the U.S. is the deadliest for pedestrians. Pedestrian deaths have increased by 77 percent from 2010 to 2021 in the U.S., while in most other industrialized countries they have gone down. In 2022, 7,500 pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents, a 41-year high. People of color are disproportionately affected by this trend. And in 2021, almost 1,000 bicyclists died in motor vehicle crashes, a five percent increase from 2020. While Vision Zero gains more attention in the U.S. (see PAS Memo 118, "Achieving Vision Zero in Practice," to learn how Jersey City, New Jersey, achieved zero traffic deaths in 2022), still more needs to be done.

Curb management tech

Increased dependence on e-commerce, food delivery, and ridesharing services has created conflicts over curbside space and a concomitant need to update curb pricing models. Transportation planners can use curb management tech to manage congestion, improve safety, and generate city revenue. It will be crucial to implement equitable curb management solutions that don't harm the most vulnerable. "Create a Curb-Management Framework in 7 Steps," from the January 2022 issue of Planning, discusses some key strategies for curb management in a time of technological change.

Micromobility, e-bikes, and cargo bikes

Micromobility is on the rise. Due to the increasing popularity of these lightweight, usually single-person vehicles, planners need to meet demand by rethinking bike plans, street and sidewalk management plans, bikeway design, and "first-mile/last-mile" policies. Yet micromobility brings challenges, as noted in PAS QuickNotes 86, "Managing Shared-Use Micromobility." Road bumps have included Paris banning electric scooters and e-scooter company Bird filing for bankruptcy in 2023.

But electric bikes are still booming in the U.S. and across the globe. Funding and tax credit programs, such as Connecticut's $500 e-bike rebates, are expanding. Cargo bikes are also a growing trend. European cities such as Vienna and Copenhagen have been deploying cargo bike programs for years, and U.S. programs have been launched in Madison, Wisconsin, Portland, Oregon, and Boston. However as cargo bikes are bigger than conventional bikes, planners may need to consider wider cycling lanes and other features to ensure the safety of both riders and potential passengers.

Mobility as a Service

(MaaS) — the integration of various forms of transport and transport-related services into a single, comprehensive, and on-demand mobility service — can change the way people move. MaaS is already deployed in many cities across the globe and its use is projected to grow. MaaS can help provide more equitable transportation options for residents and support sustainability goals. Read PAS QuickNotes 104, "Mobility as a Service," to learn more about this emerging urban mobility paradigm.

Universal basic mobility

Expanding mobility is a positive step toward making cities more accessible and inclusive for all. The cities of Los Angeles, Oakland, and Pittsburgh have launched pilot programs that give low-income residents access to basic mobility services, such as transit or shared mobility programs, to advance social and economic development goals. In a similar vein, Los Angeles and other U.S. cities, including Kansas City, Missouri, Boston, and Columbus, Ohio, have piloted free transit programs to help riders save money and make transit more accessible to low-income residents.

However, data from these pilots show that factors such as the first-mile/last-mile issue and inconvenient schedules, frequencies, or routes are also key in enabling transit use. Planners should evaluate the outcomes of these programs to determine if similar approaches may improve mobility access for all in their communities.

Eliminating parking minimums

Eliminating parking minimums can both reduce the number of cars on the road and lower the cost of building new housing, which is urgently needed as the housing crisis grows. This movement has been trending in the U.S. for several years. More than 1,400 cities have eliminated parking requirements in some portion of their cities, with at least 40 abolishing or reducing parking requirements citywide. Examples include San Jose, the biggest city to approve the removal of minimum parking requirements, and Austin, Texas, which in 2023 passed a resolution to remove all mandatory parking requirements for new developments.

Fixing U.S. infrastructure

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), or Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, provides $1.2 trillion for transportation and infrastructure spending. This allows cities to refocus their spending on urgently needed infrastructure repairs. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers' 2021 Infrastructure Report Card, six billion gallons of treated water are wasted every day in the U.S. as a result of water main breaks, and over 40 percent of public roadways are in poor condition. Based on an analysis of mayoral speeches, fixing and repairing roads, bridges, and water systems are amongst the top priorities for mayoral spending in the coming years. As of November 2023, less than half of direct spending through the IILJA has been awarded, and still less has been given out through competitive grants, meaning there are plenty of opportunities for communities to seize on this funding.

Reconnecting communities

The trend of removing highways that harmed or destroyed surrounding communities has gained further attention. The U.S. Department of Transportation's Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program will provide $1 billion over five years to reconnect communities that were harmed by past transportation infrastructure projects, replacing that infrastructure with projects that will bring people together and connect them with opportunities, including education, healthcare, and jobs. Initial awards were granted in early 2023. Learn more about such efforts in "From Urban Renewal to Highway Removal" from the December 2020 issue of Planning.

Autonomous vehicles

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) have made headway, as prominent AV companies have been successful in securing local licensing agreements and in bringing consumer vehicles to market. More than 40 AV companies have licenses to drive in California alone. In 2023, Waymo and Cruise had the largest fleets, with operations in San Francisco, Austin, and Phoenix — though reflecting challenges in AV deployment, including accidents and interference with emergency response vehicles, Cruise had its operating permit revoked in California following a high-profile accident in October and shortly thereafter opted to pause operations of its remaining fleet. Tesla has deployed its Autopilot software to thousands of vehicles on the road. However, a string of high-profile accidents and lawsuits have made regulators and consumers wary of the technology.

Similar to concerns about widespread EV adoption, critics worry that AV expansion will disincentivize public transit use and impede pedestrian mobility. Planners should continue to monitor the challenging rollout of AVs and consider the potential implications of the widespread deployment of this technology at the local level. PAS Report 592, Planning for Autonomous Vehicles, offers a comprehensive discussion of how planners can best prepare for AVs in their communities today.

Car-free cities

European cities such as Oslo, Paris, and most recently Stockholm have converted their downtown districts or city centers into car-free areas. Research shows that car-free environments result in healthier people, thriving local economies where people can shop in walkable places, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and better environmental outcomes.

Some U.S. cities are moving in this direction as well. Los Angeles is piloting Barcelona's superilles (superblocks) concept, and the new car-free Culdesac communities in Atlanta and Tempe, Arizona, offer residents enhanced shared mobility and transit options. Giving cities and streets back to the community as places where people can spend their leisure time has been a trend. It should continue to be considered by planners when planning for healthy, environmentally responsible communities. To read about open street pilots in the U.S., check out the April 2021 Planning article, "Our Post-Pandemic Future Could Be a Lot Less Car-Centric."

Hydrogen in transportation

The use of non-petroleum-based fuel alternatives such as natural gas, biofuels, hydrogen, and electricity is increasing. While the electrification of transportation has been a growing trend, planners should keep watching the decarbonization developments around hydrogen and other non-petroleum-based fuels and their pros and cons.

This includes the transportation sector, for which the use of green hydrogen for passenger trains could be a game changer for climate-friendly or climate-neutral transportation — both for rail operations and potentially even heavy commercial transport. Germany attempted to transition to hydrogen trains in 2022, but by 2023 decided that electric would be a cheaper way to achieve its climate goals. Still, Italy has allocated money to advancing the hydrogen train sector, and California has signed a contract to secure intercity hydrogen trains in the U.S. With the debate over the viability of hydrogen in transportation — experts at the 2023 Smart City conference declared it would never be possible and should instead be used for heavy industry — planners should stay aware of developments in this space.

Advanced air mobility

The concept of flying cars keeps moving closer to reality. A variety of different electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicle (eVTOLs) prototypes are now being tested, and the global urban air mobility (UAM) market is projected to reach over $15 billion by 2030. Several companies, including Alef Aeronautics, Archer, Volocopter, and Joby Aviation, have received FAA exemptions to operate in U.S. airspace for research and development and have begun piloting test flights in different cities. A Chinese eVTOL company recently completed the first passenger demonstration of its vehicle. This technology has attracted airlines in particular, which are partnering with eVTOL companies to establish routes between airports and downtowns.

Critical to the success of UAM is the construction of vertiports — hubs for eVTOLs — and companies are already negotiating deals for their development in the UK and Australia, with the FAA also releasing vertiport design standards. Integrating these structures into existing environments may pose a challenge, especially given the number that will be required (likely 20–30 for dense cities, plus twice that number of landing pads). Other barriers include safety, operations, regulations, and public perception of the technology. Though widespread deployment of UAM is still a long way off, planners can look to PAS QuickNotes 91, "Urban Air Mobility," and a forthcoming PAS Report on advanced air mobility to help them prepare for the coming of this potentially disruptive new transportation sector.

U.S. high-speed rail investments

Significant investments in high-speed rail are reshaping transportation in the U.S. The $1.2 trillion U.S. infrastructure bill allocated a historic $170 billion for the enhancement of railroads. One project under development is the new Amtrak Acela high(er)-speed trains, which will begin operations in 2024 and connect Boston, New York, and Washington. However, a critical challenge to high-speed rail implementation across the U.S. remains outdated infrastructure that can't support high-speed service.

Aside from its environmental benefits, high-speed rail can also stimulate economic growth across various sectors. Projects like the California High-Speed Rail and the Brightline West, which will connect Las Vegas and Southern California, are driving economic growth with strong union worker participation. However, the construction of new high-speed rail infrastructure in the U.S. is significantly more expensive and often takes far longer to complete than in Europe and other countries. But these recent U.S. investments in high-speed rail signal a potential shift away from cars in the federal government's approach to inter-city transportation.

Green aviation transformations

Sustainable initiatives are transforming the aviation industry. Examples include an American Airlines pilot program using AI technology to successfully cut climate-warming contrails by 54 percent, demonstrating AI's potential to reduce aviation emissions, as well as France's short-haul flight ban for journeys less than 2.5 hours by train, promoting more sustainable travel options and reducing carbon emissions. Sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) are also seeing more investment, and in November 2023 the first fully SAF flight flew from London to New York. These initiatives aim to mitigate the environmental impact of air travel, aligning with global efforts to reduce the aviation industry's carbon footprint.

While these trends signal a positive direction, it's essential to recognize their limitations. France's short-haul flight ban only applies to routes with direct and frequent train services and excludes connecting flights, leaving most air travel segments unaffected by the ban. Moreover, flights attempting to avoid contrail formation by altering flight paths consumed approximately two percent more fuel. These debates underscore the complexities of achieving sustainability within the aviation industry and highlight the need for comprehensive solutions.

EV charging roads

The latest experiment in electric charging? Roads that can directly charge EVs. Multiple pilots have been operating in Europe for a few years. In 2022, the Michigan Department of Transportation entered a five-year agreement with the company Electreon to pilot a one-mile-long wireless in-road EV charging system in Detroit, which will allow EVs to charge while driving or idling. The first quarter-mile of the road was completed in November 2023.

Skyscraper cemeteries

In places where land is scarce, or to provide more affordable interment options, building up is a popular alternative for burial grounds. Vertical cemeteries and their taller cousins, "skyscraper" cemeteries, are already a significant and growing trend in burial practices across the globe. The 32-story Memorial Necropole Ecumenica is currently the tallest in the world, though projects are underway and in development in both India and Israel. Beijing has a goal of reducing the total land area for public cemeteries to 70 percent of its current boundaries by 2035 to balance land use needs for the living and the deceased. COVID-19 was a wake-up call for municipalities to rethink burials in the wake of looming health and environmental crises, with many acknowledging a need to rethink traditional burial methods. This is another indication that zoning, especially traditional zoning in the United States, must become more flexible to adapt to growing resource scarcity issues.

3D-printed infrastructure

From houses to solar farms to the moon, 3D printing is vastly expanding in scope. This includes the use of a variety of materials, such as a stainless steel pedestrian bridge installed in Amsterdam (though it was removed in 2023 following the expiration of a two-year permit). Experiments with 3D-printed facilities demonstrating the versatility and adaptability of this technology include smart infrastructure in Cambridge, England; public toilets in Dubbo, Australia; and a school in Lviv, Ukraine. 3D printing could prove to be an attractive solution to multiple challenges the U.S. is currently facing, from the housing crisis to the infrastructure crisis. It may also resolve issues such as supply chain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and labor shortages.

4D printing

The latest innovation in the evolving 3D-printing industry is 4D printing, which adds a fourth dimension: time. 4D printing uses smart materials that can change their shape over time. As flowers open during sunlight or close during rain, these materials respond to external stimuli like heat, light, pressure, and others by bending, twisting, shrinking, or expanding. While this technology is still in its early development stages, its application would be a game-changer in multiple industries including medicine, manufacturing, construction, and automotive. Innovations such as self-repairing infrastructure systems could revolutionize planning, as could flexible stormwater pipes that expand during extreme rain events and contract as needed.

APA's foresight research is made possible in part through our partnership with the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.