ICE age

Internal Combustion Engine, R.I.P.

Transportation produces more than a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, 60% of which comes from “light duty” passenger cars. 

Weaning communities off the internal-combustion engine (ICE) is key to meeting climate-critical decarbonization.


High-density urban settings are well served by essentially 19th-century mass transit rail and bus, assuming these systems are well maintained, safe, and run reliably.

The suburbs, where 175 million Americans live (98 million are city dwellers; 46 million, rural) are remarkably diverse communities with one common history — they are all products of one of the 20th century’s defining innovations: the automobile.  

“Weaning communities off the internal-combustion engine (ICE) is key to meeting climate-critical decarbonization.”

Despite the dominance of urban knowledge economies post-2008 financial collapse, suburbs — not cities — have experienced greater growth.  Since 2000, suburban populations have grown 16%, urban counties 13%, with rural counties trailing at 3%.

Spatially diffuse, low density, with typically poor transit infrastructure and thus car dependent, suburbs are ground zero for urgently needed 21st-century transportation reinvention. 

The benefits of liquid fuel — light weight, inexpensive, abundant — are hard to beat. In the transportation sector, fossil fuel works really well for personal mobility where there is no mass transit alternative.

However, these narrow metrics of cost and efficiency collapse when the “externality” of a climate system on the brink is factored into our accounting.

Redeveloping large-scale brownfields, legacy properties of rustbelt manufacturing, offers opportunities to introduce new transportation infrastructure in suburban transit deserts toward reducing private car dependency.

Suburban infrastructure upgrades are significantly less expensive than retrofitting urban counterparts. Aging residents, a captive cohort eager to maintain mobility independence yet older than the typical user demographic for new technologies, could be early adopters of innovations such as autonomous vehicles.  Eliminating the first-mile/last-mile connection problem that limits mass transit options while expanding access to encompass suburban distances decreases road congestion and increases community cohesion.

From 19th-century horse-driven to 20th-century horse-powered, mobility in the 21st century keeps moving us forward.

The ICE Age is over.

Olli, the world’s first 3D-printed, electric, multi-person autonomous shuttle, test drive, Clarksburg, MD, April 4, 2018/TILL