Sunday, April 18, 2010
Because Earth Day is coming up I decided to bring up a point that needs to be driven home again and again to a world that just doesn’t get it. I have resurrected (and added to) a drawing from my second post to help make it.
The point is this: The automobile/road system, as a primary transportation means, is so inefficient that scrapping it and replacing it with something better, like PRT, would simply transform the world.
This is a hard sell, because we have hundreds of years of societal conditioning telling us that we are doing the right thing. Paths became roads became highways. Wagons became cars. Everything seems to be advancing. We have become experts in roads designed for heavy freight and fast passenger vehicles designed for those overbuilt roads.
But it’s more than the roads being hugely overbuilt for the 1.2 passengers carried by the average car. It is the whole tradition of terrestrial travel. If we look at the process of moving people into and out of a city as an industrial machine the inefficiencies become abundantly clear. For example, can you imagine designing a factory where two assembly lines cross, so only one can work at a time, and you have to alternate production from one to the other? This is obviously a horrible, ridiculous design, one that would cut productivity in half. Yet we do the same to ourselves every day with stoplights. Don’t even get me started about coming to a complete stop at empty intersections with stop signs! A partial solution was found with the introduction of overpasses and the cloverleaf, an innovation that revolutionized road travel. But traditional roads are too costly to elevate except where absolutely necessary.
In the factory example, the design would be summarily rejected because of the effect it would have on the bottom line. But what about YOUR bottom-line? Somewhere along the way we seem to have forgotten that systemic societal efficiency brings prosperity. What is holding us down economically? Every stoplight. Every stop sign. Every traffic jam. Every accident. Every traffic cop, and every ticket. Every tow truck. Every parking lot. Every flat tire. Every oil change. Every insurance payment. Every car note. Every license renewal. Every pot hole, every drop of gasoline, and every minute spent pumping it. You and I are paying for this and much more. And for those of you that do not know, an automobile engine is, at best, 20% efficient in the first place. (when stuck in traffic it is 0% efficient) It’s all money and time thrown down the rabbit hole of an archaic system.
I know we will still need roads, especially for heavy trucks and interfacing with rural communities. But consider the tax revenue that would be gained by even returning 10% of a city’s streets back into commercial use, and how much taxpayer money would be saved by cutting back on the constant road widening. Or, from an Earth Day perspective, consider the “green-space” and bike trails you could get out of the deal, not to mention the 80% reduction in energy use per passenger-mile.
Each major advancement in transportation technology has historically ushered in a bright new economic cycle lasting decades. We could sure use that right about now…especially if the boom was also a way out of this (climate-change/dwindling reserves) pickle we’re in.