PLAINFIELD – Several experts in industries from ridesharing to particle physics offered their ideas to improve transportation at a public forum Thursday hosted by U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Plano, at Plainfield Village Hall.
About 40 people attended the Community Leadership Forum. Panelists included Hultgren; General Motors Executive Director Harry Lightsey; Fermilab Chief Operating Officer Timothy Meyer; Mark Blankenship and Kevin Price, both with the Illinois Department of Transportation; CSX Transportation Regional Vice President Thomas Livingston; and UBER Chicago General Manager Chris Taylor.
“So much of the work that government does ... relates back to transportation, helping people get from point A to B,” Hultgren said. “The idea of this forum was bringing together leaders of different industries to talk about how technology could impact transportation.”
Cars, roads and rail
Lightsey, who heads the Global Connected Customer Experience for GM, was the event’s keynote speaker, giving several examples of how automobile technology aims to stop crashes.
“The last 40 to 50 years we’ve been designing to withstand a crash, accepting the fact that crashes happen,” he said. “Now we’ve begun a pivot. Now it’s all about preventing crashes from happening altogether.”
Technology such as anti-lock brakes or backup alert cameras will be a trend, Lightsey said. Other advancements include key fobs that allow parental monitoring of driving habits and vehicle-to-vehicle communication.
Fermilab is known for its breakthroughs in particle physics, but Meyer said the science is being applied to help drive economic growth.
“We push the technology of accelerators,” Meyer said. “If an accelerator can be used to make tires harder, stronger and more durable, why not pavement?”
Meyer said a couple scientists are working on ways to decrease potholes by reinforcing asphalt through new technology.
Livingston, an executive for Joliet-based logistics company CSX, said railroads have been integral to the economic development of the country for years, and will continue to be important.
Recent innovations include wheel heat sensors that can prevent drag and derailment, smart locomotive engines, web-based applications for first responders, and a crash mitigation system called Positive Train Control, to be implemented by 2020.
Traffic and ride sharing
Blankenship spoke about IDOT’s new Safety Portal, which makes reporting crashes to the state simpler and quicker for law enforcement.
“Our fatalities [in traffic crashes] are up,” he said. “What we’re really finding is there is really no particular cause to many of these crashes. It’s human error.”
The data can help make transportation safer, Blankenship said. Other state initiatives include installing LED road lighting, putting more speed feedback trailers and portable signs in construction or high-traffic zones, and a new online map tool for truck drivers.
Ridesharing also was a topic of discussion at the forum. GM’s Executive Director Harry Lightsey said mobile app services like UBER and Lyft give drivers another flexible option.
“Already we’ve seen how [UBER and Lyft] ... knows where their drivers are,” Lightsey said. “They created a smartphone app. It’s a fascinating way they’ve done that. People are looking very hard at ridesharing in general. Maybe car ownership is not as important to them as it was.”