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Just back from a panel on “Innovative Design and Development for World-Class Roadways for B.C.”  (One of several cross-Canada events held by the Transportation Association of Canada to celebrate its centenary).

Some quick notes:

  • Traditional highway design is significantly about influencing driver behavior.  Those sightlines and passing lanes are designed to give you an indication of what’s up ahead so you maintain a steady driving speed.
  • I’m struck again by the likely impacts of ‘autonomous vehicle technology’ – or so-called driverless cars.  Of the four factors that influence safety – driver, road, vehicle and speed – the vehicle will now be the one that can reduce injury and fatality the most.
  • So how much should we be concentrating on the others?  Why spend billions to build bigger and safer roads when we can eliminate most of the problem by installing collision prevention technology in the cars.
  • And then, what should be government’s role in requiring that cars be effectively automated, monitored and literally taken out of the hands of the least reliable factor: the human being?  How will that play out politically?
  • It may well be that insurance companies have the real power of change. Collisions cost $5.4 billion annually just in B.C.  A single fatality is estimated at $6.1 million – and last year there were 350 of them, plus 22,000 injuries (the rate, however, is dropping).   If that can be reduced to a fraction, shouldn’t costs be reflected in insurance rates: lowest for those who have the safest technologies, with the liability transferred to those who don’t?   The speed of change to new technologies could be a function of insurance rates.
  • Smart phones will likely be used to determine circumstances (and liability) related to accidents, rather than the installation of ‘black boxes’ in cars.  (Too political.)
  • B.C. is a leader in innovative design because we have had to be: it’s a consequence of our topography.  They aren’t that responsive to wild variations in curvature and grade in Saskatchewan.  Our firms (“the two Peters”) have often pushed the boundaries: in the hinge on the north tower of the Lions Gate Bridge (don’t ask, it’s the first I’ve ever heard about that) or the length of the Alex Fraser using that particular suspension technology (longest in the world at the time).
  • There are 54,000 lane-kilometers of road in B.C.   Repaving costs $90,000 a lane-kilometer – or $4.5 billion to redo all our roads.  Ecopave, a technology developed in B.C., gets that down to $50,000.
  • The Ministry of Transportation is in discussion with the B.C. Trucking Association about a ‘125-tonne’ corridor.  In other words, roads and bridges that can handle a single truck and load weighing 125 tonnes, possibly needed for LNG development.  I wonder who will be paying for that kind of upgrade.