Thursday, April 3, 2008

Transportation Transformation: The Great Pragmatic

Let me be explicit: I prefer getting around in this order:

  1. Walking
  2. Busing
  3. Train
  4. Plane
  5. SUV or AWD stationwagon

I walk to work, own no car, and live in the inner-city where all the services I need (and also my workplace) are within one mile.

But for America, the great transportation solutions are not going to resemble my lifestyle choices. My transportation profile is so politically over-correct because I live in a city. For a majority of Americans, especially the poor and struggling end of the middle class, suburbs and rural areas are the only place they can afford housing.

These places the poor reside are often dangerous, also. Keep in mind I am not referring to the urban street in movies, but the wide and fast suburban streets of today. I can think of no more dangerous place than walking along some of the suburban or rural highways of the midwest or southeast. One must be enclosed in a car, with doors locked, and preferably moving; in order to be safe in the modern American (lower to middle class) suburb.

And what about all those commuters in Montana, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah? They need to travel 20 - 60 miles by mostly Interstate, across a mountain pass, to work. In snow.

For transportation solutions that get away from a gas-guzzling scenario, we need to fulfill these market needs. People in cities already have enough options: scooters, buses, walking, and mini-cars. Green alternatives need to offer something that gets a person across a snowy mountain pass, fast, twice a day. Stop designing for the places that already have the solution, and design for where very little exists.

I know many will say the adaptation will come in migration, all those remotely flung people will move back to the town center. What a beautiful thought, that will not happen. A lot of people have lost the social ability to exist in a collectivist, neighborly, resource sharing culture. They will resort to reducing other things, even food for their children, or selling drugs, rather than try to master an alien lifestyle.


The Serpent Lord said...

The need to move fast through the intergalactic void between towns is the same as it was 150 to 200 years ago. The difference is that now fewer animals are brutally abused to accomplish this. As then, our high speed transportation network is as much a military operation as a commercial one. What kind of physical transportation network could better serve the needs of suburban USA? Here's a modest proposal:

First the amount of physical transportation can be minimized through local recycling and fabrication. This will require small towns to be somewhat centralized. I envision something like a commons that combines the usual store and gas station with a community center, communications and security hub, medical clinic, laboratory, shop, recycling plant and open market.

This micro-downtown/sodo would be a virtual piece of more richly networked cities around the world, solving another major problem of small towns and suburbs. No town is so poor it can't have some kind of facility like this, and they could be much more dense in populous suburbs.

Second, mini-airports and neutral bouyancy vehicles can deliver people and goods faster and possibly as safe as ground travel. Road development costs would be reduced, physical and political barriers avoided. In some areas highways between towns might even disappear.

Defense needs could be reduced by automated surveilance. This could be locally controlled and completely transparent to address concerns of privacy or autonomy. It's already hard to keep secrets in a small town (suburbs less so.)

A town with it's own airport, which can survive for months or longer on it's own resources, protected by a swarm of floating eyeballs and networked to itself and the world for intelligence gathering and analysis is probably one of the best modern fortresses you can build - certainly better than a class-segregated neighborhood with a high fence.

This system is friendly to commerce and can evolve using market forces. It will take a while for the technological and cultural shifts to happen, but it will be a much better world than the popular vision of sustainability: Rail monopolies and isolated economies don't serve as many people fairly. A traffic jam of fantasy solar or fusion powered buses would pave the last green places most people will see with fossil fuel in the form of asphalt containing heavy oils.

LanceMiller said...

This is a great vision, Seth. Your "comment" should be the lead post.