Transportation in the new era of connection

by: Terry Bennett | 07/18/2015
Estimated Reading time: 7 - 11 minutes

Co-author: Peter Gertler, Autodesk

Transportation infrastructure, like the world around it, is becoming more integrated and interconnected.  As such, the way we plan, design, build, and maintain transportation systems and supporting infrastructure will require that all modes and all lifecycles of those modes be considered as an integrated and interconnected system, and not as discrete elements. The needs are too great, financial means too small, and public expectations too high to allow for the inefficiencies of the past in the future of transportation.

Big changes are ahead for all civil engineering disciplines, particularly those that serve transportation infrastructure. We do not need to look any further than the rapid advancement of technology and related convergence of smart connected devices into social networking tools, unpinned by the cloud to see the impending impact on all matters of planning and design, construction and operations. These changes can seem scary and costly, but can also dramatically change our personal and professional lives in ways we could never imagine, creating many avenues of new opportunity. This is referred to as disruption.


Disruption occurs “When changes in technology and business affect the value proposition of goods and services.” Today we are experiencing a rapid and unprecedented rate of disruption. Technology is advancing so quickly, that businesses should focus on adapting and evolving with the disruption, not waiting for it to pass only to begin that journey. This will put you well behind and always playing catchup while leaving the door open for more intense competition from those who do adapt with the disruption and leverage new opportunities. BIM is a process that  is evolving to adapt to these disruptions.

The nature of this disruption will occur along 3 axis’s: Production; Demand; and Products.


Future of transportation – distruption


Production is how we think about and deliver all types of transportation solutions, both intellectually and physically. Production is being disrupted in two ways. First, how we think about planning and delivering transportation projects (intellectual production) is different because of greater access to information and an enhanced ability to collaborate, communicate and share that information. All of these factors result in better, faster and more frequent information being presented to stakeholders and decision makers. Second, how we actually deliver a transportation project (physical production) has changed with technology and services that allows us to take advantage of crowd-sourcing to inform and fund projects, advancements in technology which transmits designs directly to machines on the construction site (ex. GPS machine control), pre-fabricate infrastructure components on and off site, and eventually emerging innovations such autonomous 3D printing of transportation components like bridges and more.


Demand, informs how we make choices and investments in all infrastructure including transportation. It has been disrupted by three pressures: first, the need to be more sustainable; second, the need to accommodate a greater concentration and growth in urban centers; and third, the advent of a shared economy. Sustainability has put pressure on developing solutions that are cleaner, more efficient and less impactful – the triple bottom line of social, environmental and economic impact; concentrated growth in urban centers will shift infrastructure and that the mobility investment priorities; and the shared economy (as evidenced by Uber, Zipcar, autonomous vehicles and Google buses) have shifted our demand from owning to sharing.

Also, did you know that Gen-Y will be even more influential than the Baby Boomers?  That’s right, and this will have implications on transportation.  Their demands will be different that that of previous generations. Listen to this podcast with the author of The Age Curve, Ken Gronbach and Terry Bennett for more on Ken’s research and the implications it has on the US transportation industry.

These represent the change in modes of transportation and the various differences in cities, regions and countries.

Future of transportation - biking

Future of transportation includes growth of bike commuting


Products are the artifacts we use such as smart phones and tablets, laser technology and drones. Products influence our decision making, information dissemination, knowledge and understanding. These things did not exist 5-10 years ago. Products are also the mix-modal transportation systems we use on a daily basis. We are transitioning from the thought that the objective of a transportation project is to produce a single asset versus the understanding of how the application of that project will affect and benefit the larger system

30 years ago, the introduction of computer aided design (CAD) took pencil to paper 2 dimensional lines and digitized them, radically changed how we design everything. That was the era of Documentation.   Just under 15 years ago we started another shift with the introduction of BIM. In the last 10 years we have progressed and extended BIM into the era of Optimization, where we have continually added intelligence to the modeling environment, such as environmental, utility, geotechnical, and stakeholder data. In the era of optimization we have the capability to do powerful modeling, visualization, and simulations. In effect, we can now optimize our designs on our computers versus past processes that involved making changes on the fly in the field which was costly and time consuming. This has resulted in major changes in our efficiency and effectiveness to plan, design, and deliver projects.

With the convergence of new technology backboned by the cloud we are now moving into the era of Connection. Not only can we optimize our designs but, we can access, share, collaborate and communicate our designs in ways we could never imagine, through the advent of infinite cloud computing, reality capture, smart mobile devices, and other tools. This in effect, is changing how our customers expect to make decisions earlier, more frequently, and with better and more accurate information. Also, not only can we optimize a transportation design before its built but, because we can make critical decisions earlier we can now optimize the process to reduce errors, waste and inefficiencies earlier in a project lifecycle. It will also allow use to look at long term resiliency of the system and scope in modularity – the ability to swap out and adjust components to match changing demand or use.


Future of transportation is multi-modal


Source: Making life simple and green with public transportation – More info here:

Applying Building Information Modeling (BIM)

In the era of connection, the step-wise progression has been eliminated with a more continuous, seamless, and transparent process that results in significant improvement in project performance. The era of connection is about applying BIM processes and workflows for the entire lifecycle of a project. Applying those processes well into operations while using predictive analytics to help shape the assets performance over its life expectancy and the conditions that will exist at that point in time. Transportation systems can have a 50-to-100-year return on investment so it not only affect our generation but future generations. Therefore, more than ever we need ensure greater predictability, reliability, quality and resiliency in how design, deliver and operate and manage transportation projects to protect and ensure our investments. BIM is an environment and process to enable our industry to adapt and capitalize on the era of connection as it will be the basis for the richer set of analytics and connected information to come.



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