As the world faces the COVID-19 pandemic, innovative minds are being
harnessed around the globe to find the best mitigation strategies, the
most effective therapies, and the earliest possible vaccine. Tell Google
to search for the term “COVID-19,” and you will immediately find nearly
three billion results. By contrast, “autonomous vehicle,” a perennial
hot topic for nearly a decade and the focus of this magazine issue,
delivers a mere 120 million hits.
While the situation is dynamic
and rapidly changing, the experiences of early-wave countries suggest
that life can return to normal when accompanied by a rigorous testing
and containment regime. At the same time, it seems safe to predict that
the knock-on effects of COVID-19 will be felt in unexpected ways for
decades to come.
It is too early to assess the specific impacts of
COVID-19 on our transportation infrastructure and the advanced
transportation systems that travelers crave. But, already mid-crisis, a
few things stand out.
First, mobility means community spread. No
matter where disease originates, it thrives best when carried by a
human—on a bike, a train, a cruise ship, or a plane. As we make our
infrastructure smarter, a vital data point will be the health of the
Second, micromobility is not just about convenience.
The humble bicycle was declared “essential infrastructure” in major
cities around the world so that riders could avoid the cramped spaces of
subways and buses. Delivery drivers bringing groceries and carryout
items helped many more people obey stay-at-home orders.
most optimistically, building consensus around a shared purpose and the
need for universal solutions can dramatically speed up results. Private
individuals and pop-up advocacy organizations have worked alongside
governments around the world to deliver reliable apps and real-time data
resources to help societies make smarter decisions.
losses and severe lessons of the pandemic have made our hearts heavy.
But as we mend, let’s hope that these experiences force us to look
beyond medicine and public health preparedness to reflect on how quickly
change can happen when there is a collective will to move forward. It
will be interesting, and hopefully inspiring, to see how the
transportation sector responds. ei
Chairman, NEMA Board of Governors