September 2, 2008
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For the next few years, the biggest field for immediate transportation gains will be in transit. Getting more people onto buses, trolleys and trains will be critical to maintaining economic competitiveness, improving the environment and maintaining personal mobility.
But it's hardly the only area for rapid innovation. As a conference at the Microsoft Executive Conference Center beginning Thursday will underline, a healthy transportation future is also about switching from oil to electricity as the prime source of power for vehicles.
The conference, sponsored by the Discovery Institute's Cascadia Center for Regional Development and a number of partners, will draw an impressively broad range of experts from clean-energy groups, business and government. "Beyond Oil: Transforming Transportation" looks at the many changes that would be required and the ways we could accelerate some already under way and get going on others quickly. Those include building the network for recharging plug-in vehicles, developing high-tech ways to manage traffic without congestion and improving the alternative sources for electricity generation.
To a certain extent, clean energy development and reducing oil dependence are becoming the mainstream ideas they have to be. Strong mass transit is a major need, particularly if it is increasingly electrified. But we shouldn't count either the auto or this country's capacity for innovation with cars out of the picture for a better transportation future.