Playlist TEDx

8 talks with big ideas for our roadways

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It’s an experience that can inspire road rage in even the calmest person: an urban traffic jam where cars crawl along at a pace of inches per hour.  As Jonas Eliasson, a professor of transportation at Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), explains in today’s talk, traffic congestion occurs in almost every major city across the globe, despite constant efforts to dissolve it.

At TEDxHelvetia, Eliasson suggests a subtle approach — give people small incentives not to drive on crowded roadways at peak hours. Why not do more? Because keeping just a small percentage of drivers off the roads is enough to clear traffic.

Eliasson gives an example from his hometown, Stockholm. In January of 2006, the city instituted a pilot test of charging a small tax—just one or two Euros—for vehicles to cross the city’s main bridges, which bottleneck because they are very narrow. With the new tax, traffic on the bridges dropped by 20% almost instantly, leaving the roadways clear. When the pilot test ended in July of the same year, traffic returned the very next day—along with traffic jams.

In surveying drivers, Eliasson noticed an interesting pattern. When congestion pricing was first introduced, 70% of people opposed the tax. However, over the next few months, support quickly grew to 70% wanting to keep the tax. Almost no one felt that they were being inconvenienced.

“You have to admire car drivers, they adapt so extremely quickly … Each day people make new decisions,” says Eliasson. “Each day all of these decisions are nudged ever so slightly away from rush hour driving in a way people don’t even notice.”

To hear more about how congestion taxes can work, watch Eliasson’s talk. And after the jump, watch seven more talks with powerful ideas that might change our commutes.

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Robin Chase on Zipcar and her next big idea
Robin Chase revolutionized the car rental game with Zipcar, making it possible to rent a car for just a few hours. In this talk from TED2007, she rings a warning bell that fuel-efficient cars aren’t enough to solve our climate crisis. She gives a suggestion for how to truly transform the way we relate to our vehicles—road pricing to inspire efficiency and carpooling.

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Anna Mracek Dietrich: A plane you can drive
Human beings have wanted to create a flying car for the past 100 years. So why has there been no real breakthrough yet? In this talk from TEDGlobal 2011, pilot Anna Mracek Dietrich shares how she and her team approached the problem from a different angle: why not make a plane that can be driven on the road, thanks to foldable wings?

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Bill Ford: A future beyond traffic gridlock
Bill Ford’s great-grandfathers were Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone. And yet, he’s hugely concerned about what will happen as more and more cars flood our roads. In this talk from TED2011, Ford introduces us to “smart roads,” “smart parking” and “smart public transportation”—all of which can communicate with each other, and with drivers to help them make better decisions. The hidden benefit: saving fuel and the environment. 

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Gary Lauder’s new traffic sign: Take turns
Roundabouts are far superior to stop signs when it comes to preventing accidents and saving gas. In this short talk from TED2010, Gary Lauder suggests a less costly approach—“Take Turns” signs that combine the best of “stop” and “yield.”

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Sebastian Thrun: Google’s driverless car
Yes, Google’s driverless car looks cool in demonstrations. But the real purpose is to reduce accidents. In this talk from TED2011, Sebastian Thrun of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab shares his personal quest to save a million lives a year with this new technology.

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Kent Larson: Brilliant designs to fit more people in every city
In this talk from TEDxBoston, Kent Larson imagines a new way to park in cities—with a folding car that pilots itself and takes up just 1/7th of the space of a traditional vehicle. This innovation would mean that far fewer parking lots would be needed to serve a much greater number of people. 

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Shai Agassi: A new ecosystem for electric cars
The entire country could be oil-free by 2020, says Shai Agassi. In this talk from TED2009, he shares a fascinating plan — a network of battery-charging and battery-swapping stations that can charge electric cars while they are parked and on the go. As it works out, stopping for a battery change would still be less frequent than stopping for gas.