Transportation in Contemporary Society: A Complex Systems Approach [Via MIT World]

From the abstract: “In the nineteen fifties and sixties, students of transportation focused on building infrastructure and applied lessons from the physical sciences to designing mobility. Mobility was facilely linked to the engines of economic growth and expanding GDP. In time, that perspective was replaced by a focus on transportation systems and networks. There was a newfound emphasis on environmental impacts, land use, and intermodal freight. There was also a growing concern on unpriced externalities. Today, Joseph Sussman explains, with many of those problems still unsolved, transportation has entered a new phase– a period of immense complexity or CLIOS, which stands for complex, large scale, interconnected, open and sociotechical is an acronym that is becoming the mantra of transportation engineers. While it is not as far-reaching as “chaos” to a physicist, it is an approach with far-reaching consequences for the transportation field. To participate in “Complexity 101” engineers must take account of stochastic systems, difficulties relating cause and effect, and non-linear behaviors. They must also recognize complex feedback loops between macro and micro issues; time scale anomalies, and evaluative complexity brought by new stakeholders. Sussman observes, “Even if we could wish away behavioral complexity, it would not mean that we know what we should do.” He says that transportation engineering must now embrace management, the social sciences and planning and he warns us eschew narrow representations of complex systems because they are implicitly easier to solve.”

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