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Why the world faces a massive traffic jam

By Bill Ford, Special to CNN
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Ford wants you off the road, faster
  • Bill Ford: The number of cars on the road could more than quadruple
  • He says growing population will create demand for more mobility
  • Innovations are needed to prevent monster traffic jams, he says
  • Ford: Better transit, smart cars and infrastructure are solutions

Editor's note: Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Company, spoke at the TED2011 conference in March. TED is a nonprofit organization dedicated to "Ideas worth spreading, " which it distributes on its website.

(CNN) -- Sustainability is the biggest issue facing global business in the 21st century. While breakthroughs like improved battery technology will likely provide a solution to the CO2 challenge, another issue -- "Global Gridlock" -- is quietly taking its place.

Global gridlock can be defined by numbers. The world's population is growing and is becoming more affluent. There are approximately 6.8 billion people in the world today. Within our lifetime, that number will approach 9 billion. Today, there are about 800 million vehicles on the road worldwide, but by midcentury that number could grow to between 2 and 4 billion.

Watch Bill Ford's TED Talk

If we continue to follow the personal mobility model that is now in place, the world's roads are going to become too crowded. Commutes will become longer; traffic jams will become larger and more ubiquitous. Economic opportunity will be stifled. More time and resources will be squandered while people try to get from point A to point B. This all threatens the promises of both physical and social mobility, which in turn lessens opportunities to improve the world's standards of living. Robin Chase on Zipcar and her next big idea

There's no single answer to this new threat to our mobility, and it isn't going to be solved by one person or group. It's going to take corporations, entrepreneurs, NGOs, universities, governments and other interested parties all working together to build a global, interconnected system of transportation and mobility solutions. Smart businesses, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists will see this as a tremendous opportunity and a job creator.

Ford: A future beyond traffic gridlock
If we continue to follow the personal mobility model that is now in place, the world's roads are going to become too crowded.
--Bill Ford

We need to develop better mass transit systems and strive to find new forms of individual mobility. Cars will continue to evolve, but they will need to work in harmony with other cars, city infrastructure and other forms of transportation.

We need smart cars and smart infrastructure that communicate with each other while using real-time data to maximize their efficiency. We also need to tie in innovative and unique solutions that in their own way address global gridlock. Some of these solutions already are already being developed.

Masdar City is a carbon-neutral city in Abu Dhabi, being built from the ground up, where no internal combustion vehicles will be used within the city limits. People will get around on foot or bike above ground or with driverless pods beneath the city.

In Manhattan, 34th Street traffic will be managed better through dedicated bus lanes, private automobile restrictions, and optimally timed traffic lights. In cities across the United States, smart parking is already being enabled by phone applications that can alert drivers to parking spots -- and even reserve them in advance. This will work to eliminate one of the largest contributors to inner-city gridlock: drivers trolling around for parking.

At Ford, we are rapidly expanding our commitment to intelligent cars that can wirelessly talk to each other to help make driving safer, more efficient and more enjoyable. We're doubling our intelligent vehicle investment in 2011, and we've initiated a new 20-member task force of scientists and engineers to explore the technology's broader possibilities. Robots that "show emotion"

Other automakers also are investing in related technologies. The goal is for all intelligent vehicles, one day, to be able to talk to each other, no matter what name is on the grille.

Just as we all embraced the green energy challenge, we must now start attacking global gridlock with the same passion. We are starting to make progress, but we've got a long way to go.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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