Tuesday, June 8, 2010
I am in the civilized world once again. Well almost. The bus I took from Dartmouth to Boston had wi-fi – just no AC receptacles. My poor old laptop only holds a charge for about half an hour these days, so the planned two-hour bloggathon had to be cancelled. That made me wonder what will happen when those upcoming electric cars start stopping on the road for lack of juice. Yeah, I know, they will be have low battery alarms, quick swap battery packs, and there will be charging stations… But that won’t do it.
With gasoline, when your tank is almost empty, you have a certain amount of time to get to a gas station, and it is a fixed amount. A limited amount gasoline will always get you roughly the same distance, even if your car is old. Not so, batteries. When they get old their performance falls off of a cliff. That means that just because a 60% charge got you home with juice to spare 4 months ago, there is no guarantee that a 75% charge will get you home today. Couple this with the high costs of batteries, people struggling to make ends meet, and human nature, and it will be roulette by the masses, with many making shorter and shorter trips, until one day it happens to them, just like it happened to my laptop on the bus. I was almost finished with my research when BOOM! Windooze lived up to its name. Involuntary hibernation. I predict that the only meaningful way to solve this dilemma will be to automatically slow the car down to walking speed before the battery is finally exhausted. That will force people to deal with the problem or at least get them on to the shoulders. Someone should patent that. Oops.
Another thought occurred to me, sitting on that bus. I was considering the effort that was taken to blast away the granite hills to make way for the road. And such a wide swath of land. I guess the wide median is to make oncoming traffic lights less blinding. And now it will need mowing forever more. It made me consider the hypocrisy of “saving the rainforest” without starting first a little closer to home. When my computer died I was trying to learn a little something about “carbon credits”. The whole concept of paying someone not to burn to offset the burning that you must do would seem to be a concept with some relevance to systems like PRT. I wonder, for instance, about the carbon emissions of a highway, about viewing a given stretch of highway as a CO2 producing system, including factoring in the loss of CO2 sequestering forest that such a system requires. (I wish they could also factor in habitat loss and fragmentation) Isn’t a highway a bit like a coal burning power plant? What if highway land had to be offset with carbon credits? Thought of in that way, elevated PRT starts looking pretty good.
As I approached Boston, computer tucked away, I couldn’t help but notice how expressive cars are. These days there doesn’t seem to be much taste for expensive, formal clothes, so that leaves the car as one of the few mobile ways to resister our social status to the world. That’s a very basic primate behavior and not easy to break. And it runs so much deeper than just status. Carmakers can make us feel masculine or feminine, outdoorsy, socially conscious, sophisticated, elegant, fun loving, daring, young, reasonable, powerful. Take your pick. You’ll feel that way and project that self-image to the world. That role is pretty hard to replace with a public transit system. Even one with wi-fi and AC.