In 2007, for the first time in history, the majority of the human population lived in cities. And this urbanisation is accelerating.
By next year, there will be 59 metropolitan areas across the globe with populations greater than five million – up 50% from 2001.
Many of those city dwellers will be driving cars, and the products they consume will be arriving in trucks – making gridlock the norm.
What might the future hold?
New Zealand currently has one of the highest car-ownership rates per capita in the world. Because of this culture, congestion in the big centres is a major problem.
Quite simply, our transportation infrastructure and management approaches can't handle the world's traffic.
In Australia, the latest estimates put the cost of time spent sitting in traffic at $11.1 billion annually.
This figure doesn't include the cost of the fuel burned waiting for traffic to move, the cost to the environment or the flow-on costs to the nation's health system.
This isn't smart – but it can become so, if we stop focusing only on pieces of the problem: adding bridges, widening roads, putting up signs. Instead, we need to look at relationships across the entire system and all the other systems that are touched by it: our companies, our supply chains, our environment… the way people and cities live and work. Traffic isn't just a line of cars: it's a web of connections.
How do we make this connection ‘smart'?
“Smart traffic” isn't yet the norm, but neither is it a far-off vision of tomorrow.
In many places, IBM is helping to make it happen today.
All of this is possible because cities can infuse intelligence into their entire transportation system — streets, bridges, intersections, signs, signals and tolls — which can all be interconnected and made smarter.
These new traffic systems can improve drivers' commutes, give better information to city planners, increase the productivity of businesses and raise citizens' quality of life. They can reduce congestion, shrink fuel use and cut CO2 emissions.
Our rapidly urbanising planet depends on getting people and things from here to there. In the 20th century, that meant highways from city to city and state to state. In the 21st century, “smart” traffic systems can be the new milestone of progress.
Let's build a smarter planet.