Saturday, August 20, 2011

Transportation Reinvented

Yes, Americans love their cars, and with good reason: Plunking yourself down into the private sanctuary of your car, with a comfy seat and temperature adjusted precisely where you like it, listening to just what you want or to nothing, you leave precisely when you want to go wherever you want, point-to-point.

Contrast that with mass transit. For the vast majority of the country, even in most cities, mass transit is a bad alternative. One typically needs to walk or drive to get to the train or bus station, try to find a parking spot, wait for the bus or train, deal with the uncomfortability of being crowded into a mass conveyance, too often exacerbated by loud or physically threatening youths. You must wait for each stop, and on arrival at your stop, take another bus or train and/or walk, rain, shine, or blizzard, to your destination. Door-to-door time can be two to three times as long as driving. Especially in our ever busier, more stressful lives, enduring mass transit is just not a satisfactory solution.

My favorite alternative to building more roads is the flying car. Because it could fly anywhere, not just on a road, the existence of a practical flying car is the equivalent of creating hundreds of times the current number of freeways and other roads for free. The skycar would take off vertically, so no airport is required. Lest you think this is a Jetsons-cartoon-like fantasy, the SkyCar exists in prototype and goes 350 miles per hour and gets 20 miles a gallon using clean-burning ethanol. Another brand of flying car, the Terrafugia, requiring an airport, has already been approved by the Federal Transportation Safety Board and will be available in 2012. Those experimental vehicles provide evidence that within a decade--the time these days it takes to get a freeway approved and built--a mass-affordable, safe flying car could be available.

In the interim, I believe we must not focus on mass transit but build more roads and add lanes. We simply cannot ask people to sit in ever greater gridlock, while their idling cars spew ever more pollutants.

However, more effort needs to be made to innovate in freeway construction, for example, factory-prebuilt road sections (like sections of model train tracks), constructed of a nanotech-designed (honeycomb?) amalgam of recycled materials. The modules would be shipped by truck from factory to the road site and laid, one next to another. Compared with conventional road building, it would be cheaper and faster, avoiding the years of traffic delays that occur every time even a new lane is added.

Toll plazas, even with transponder toll-paying, greatly increases traffic congestion. An answer: in counties containing toll roads, bridges, or tunnels, add a fee added to each driver's annual car registration. Some would argue that would be unfair to drivers who don't use those roads, but all our taxes pay for services we may not use, welfare, for example.

I support sharp increases in CAFE standards: the average gas mileage of a vehicle manufacturer's cars and trucks. Such increases restrict people's freedom minimally while improving our energy independence and reducing pollution. And higher CAFE standards lower our cost not only of fuel but of our vehicles--lighter vehicles cost less.

Every year, 13,000 people die in vehicle accidents caused by drunk drivers. Countless more are injured. I advocate that all steering wheels be required to contain an alcohol sensor that, if the person is intoxicated, locks the car's engine. Those are already available, indeed used in a Nissan concept car.

Bicycles, mopeds, and motorcycles are cost-effective, energy-saving alternatives to the car but their use is limited because of safety. Among the biggest safety problems is that drivers fail to see two-wheel vehicles, especially at night. So I advocate that all two-wheeled vehicles be required to have strips of highly reflective tape affixed to their frames. HERE is an example.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.


Jeffrie said...

As a consumer of mass transit, I cannot agree with you more that it is a terrible solution. But as for more people getting into cars, there was at least one thing you forgot to address: additional parking.

On the street where I live and others surrounding it, parked cars line the street almost 24 hours a day. Rarely do I see an empty space anywhere on my street, let alone near my apartment. Just about everybody has a car, and more and more, there are homeless people sleeping in their vehicles taking up space that could be occupied by the vehicle of a resident with a nearby house or apartment, or their guests.

And of course, parking is worse in big city centers, where you have to pay for most spaces on the street or in a lot. If you can find a spot.

How would you solve this?

Marty Nemko said...

It is a conscious desire of liberal governments to discourage driving, so they allow as few spots as possible without triggering an insurrection.

I advocate the use of double-decker street parking spots: you drive up a ramp to a row of parking spots right above the row of street-level ones.

Anonymous said...

With an ever increasing need for government extracted revenue it would be too difficult for armed tax collectors (cops) to shake down "violators" to protect their job security. Cowboy cop car chases would have immeasurably more serious consequences for innocent ground standers. Before old uncle Charlie could "pass the peas" he'd have a cop in his soup and his brains splatterd over roast beef. Anyway, when most Americans can no longer afford to drive cars and most Chinese suddenly can, the former could trade their gas guzzlers for Chinese bicycles.


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