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7.05.2007

The future of transportation in the US

Contrary to what my views on Algore, global warming, and his movie suggest I am quite concerned about the future of transportation in this country. But it has nothing to do with carbon emissions. Here are my top 3 reasons for worrying about the state of getting around in this country:
  1. Energy independence, and the national security problems it could solve and prevent
  2. Economic waste enabled (or encouraged) by the current system
  3. Personal convenience and economic benefit
First off, I will comment on the energy independence part of this. Being able to sustain your own economy yourself has been a key strategic goal for countries and empires for the length of recorded history. Now, we should certainly not take steps like the Japanese did in their WWII actions, but we must consider the need to sustain ourselves. If we were to be cut off from our foreign sources of oil for any reason our economy would stop in an instant. We need to change the way we acquire, use, and distribute energy. Everything should be on the table solution-wise, and the government should use incentives (tax cuts) as opposed to disincentives (new taxes or hikes) to encourage behavior changes in the citizenry.

Second, the amount of wasted resources is a drag on the economy. Having traveled to many large international cities in the last few years I can attest to the fact that public transportation systems can work, and work beautifully, if they are setup and constructed in line with the public's way of life, transportation needs, and economic situation. Subway systems like NYC's impress me on all these levels. They deliver value and benefit to everyone who uses them - and the same goes for my experiences in Tokyo and London. By contrast, failed efforts like the past ones here in Austin are doomed from the start because they do not match up well to this criteria. For example according to the most recent proposal, the routes and operating times do not match for anything other than workday commuting - ignoring the huge amounts of people traveling downtown for the much touted, and pushed by the city, nightlife and entertainment district. Also, the only route is on the western half of the city and would not service large portions of the suburban population that could be ideally served. In the end, there is no way this is an economically viable option, yet it keeps being pushed. We need to design solutions that work and serve the public, not ones that are designed to appease some environmental agenda and give the city council a warm fuzzy feeling.

But here is the main reason I feel like we need an overhaul of the national transportation systems - my own personal convenience and benefit. I know, I know, that's a selfish reason - but at least it's a real one. I truly think the quality of life in this country can be improved by a shift in the way Americans think about transportation. Now, as I have stated before, I do not believe this is cause for big federal projects and an excuse for more ugly earmarks, but an issue that local and state governments follow market based principles can influence and shape. I have one good example, Austin does need a rail system. "But wait," you cry "you were just complaining about a proposal for one!" Yes, but that was because it was a badly designed idea. Here is what needs to happen:
  • Recognize that buses cannot serve the full metro area well enough to be viable for the large numbers of riders. Adjust routes and funding from the city accordingly
  • Resurrect the downtown rail trolleys as a starting point. Many of the tracks still exist and could used with work
  • Build a line that works well and start small. Maybe only run it out to northwest Austin and out a bit to the south as well to start, then add on as ridership grows
  • Build a central station - that's actually downtown! The first plan had the hub ridiculously far from downtown. No one would walk or cab it that far
  • Build your schedule around peak travel hours, and peak downtown use, not just commuting hours
Now, I am no expert but that looks like a much more sensible plan than the one proposed prior. If one that is useful to the people cannot work then one must look for alternatives, not keep trying to shove a square peg into a round hole.

I don't have all the answers obviously, but I do think that a discussion needs to take place at the local and state levels to address our transportation infrastructure and growth. This needs to be a rational discussion that searches for economically viable (not even money making, hot about just not money losing ventures!), beneficial, and energy efficient solutions. In a free market economy to reach those kinds of solutions we need to focus on incentives, research and development, and trust the consumers. Remember, the beauty of the free market is its ability to allocate limited resources more efficiently than any other system, and shouldn't that be our goal as conservationists?

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6 Comments:

  • I agree...a broader discussion needs to occur on this subject. As I see it we need to rethink some of the current assumptions on transportation. Check this out..

    www.pptproject.com

    This is my idea of where transportation needs to go. Not sure how to actually get there, but I find it inconsievable that we will still be driving our vehicles in the future. Computers can do such a better job. And you simply cannot improve on the efficiency of pure electric motors.

    Thoughts?

    gary

    By Blogger gary, at 12:36 AM  

  • PPT, PRT, etc. are called "gadget transit" and are largely red herrings (pushed partially by road interests, even, as distracting efforts).

    LRT as in 2000 would have gone right by UT, the Capitol, and straight downtown (Congress Ave.). Check my crackplog for the long sordid history:

    http://mdahmus.monkeysystems.com/blog/

    By Blogger Mike, at 8:24 AM  

  • > PPT, PRT, etc. are called "gadget transit" and are largely red herrings

    That's it? A comment with with no basis at all? Just because you say so? Honestly I wouldn't expect a solution to our energy problems to come out of Texas anyway...

    gary

    By Blogger gary, at 9:28 AM  

  • gary,

    I've spent about ten years studying transportation, five of those serving on the UTC. PRT and PPT are notorious in the business for being nothing but demonstration projects to derail (no pun intended) alternatives which might actually threaten highway dollars.

    http://www.avidorstudios.com/PRTisaJoke.html

    By Blogger Mike, at 10:36 AM  

  • Mike,

    Let me ask you a serious question. Do you think people will still be driving vehicles in 100 years? Or will vehicles move about fully by computer control?

    For what it's worth, I have no connection to any of the better known PRT concepts. So I can't speak to your points about them having alterior motives.

    gary
    www.pptproject.com

    By Blogger gary, at 11:26 PM  

  • Mike? Are you still there?

    >I've spent about ten years studying transportation

    ...which makes your perspective all the more important to me. I see past PRT concepts as mostly unrealistic, so we may agree as much as we disagree.

    gary

    By Blogger gary, at 9:39 PM  

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