- Sat May 22, 2010 6:13 am
With the advent of the automobile we have created a world that requires some of us to drive over fifty miles a day just to commute to work. Somewhere someone came up with the idea that we can actually design a need for these horseless carriages and turn them into everyday commodities. Automobiles, aside from being the second most expensive purchase most people make in their lives, have become a method of self expression and pride to many Americans. Driving is sometimes seen as an extension of the way we wish others to perceive how we live our lives ( i.e. “life in the fast lane”).
It is incredible that we rely so heavily on these machines for our everyday lives. When someone's car breaks down it can be a significant source of crisis and stress, both mentally and financially. However, it seems a necessity that we spend whatever ridiculous fee we are asked just so that we can get back on the road and be along our merry little way.
Our cities and towns used to be built with accessibility in mind. Now they are built with parking in mind. The proximity of a town to an Interstate can often mean economic boom or bust for its residents and business owners. This is an indicator that automobiles have transformed the way we live and the way we do business.
In other parts of the world this is not the case. People from all over the globe, from Europe to Japan enjoy a variety of different methods of moving themselves and their goods to and fro. One of the biggest differences is the availability of trains. In the U.S., trains are almost seen as a novelty item or a way to ship heavy loads of slow cargo. We do not have the high speed train lines like the Train au Grande Vitesse ( TGV) in France or Shinkansen Magnetic Levitation (or MAGLEV) train in Japan. These trains can turn three hour drives in cars into thirty minute rides on smooth, efficient, sometimes luxurious trains. These are safer, easier to use, and more fuel economical than non-electric cars will ever be.
The way we are building our urban and suburban environments is incompatible with population growth. Everyone in the world is not going to be able to own their own car and their own house in the suburbs and commute fifty miles to and from work every day. Modification of our existing infrastructure would not only allow us to cope with the demands of the future but effectively allow us to manage them. Attitude change is required more than anything.
Methods used in planning the building of roads, trains, airports, buildings, towns, and cities are overdue for an overhaul. Instead of coping with rising demand and taking on projects after they are overdue and needed, we need to plan ahead and build for the future demands. Perhaps we should build a train where we predict a superhighway will be needed. Lets invest in a better road system before it is needed. What if we built schools and parks and libraries that our kids will need in the future, instead of just the present?
The difficulties with this kind of thinking lie in logistics (or money) and technology. If we build a library with books in it today for the kids of tomorrow how do we know they will even use it? What if all of the books in that library are “Googleable” by the time the kids need to read them? Where does the money come from to pay for that library and its books? Herein lies the conundrum. Here is where our thinking needs to change and we need to expand or completely revamp our models for planning and estimation.
Although the initial investments are quite large, building a large scale high speed transit system based upon the before mentioned MAGLEV design would help avoid the gridlocked airports and packed highways we see nationally today. Building these trains on smaller scales for inter-city or intra-city use could solve the same problems on local levels. These electrically powered trains could effect a change in our economic, environmental and foreign policy arenas.
We live in a car dependent country. Discussing the effects that this phenomena has on the daily routines and social interactions between people can be accomplished by comparing patrons of internet cafes to internet users in their own homes.
While all of the people are all online and connected, those who choose to use the internet in a public setting experience other people's ideas, comments, and conversations more than those sitting online in their pajamas eating Cheetos in their living rooms. When each of us travel in our own, individual cars, the only interaction we have with other people is honking horns, flashing lights, and on occasion a kind wave of a hand or finger. Using public transportation methods frees us from having to manage the actual transit portion of getting ourselves from point A to point B. This allows us to talk to people, have phone conversations, use computers, read books and periodicals, share information with one another and engage our minds in that portion of human interaction which fuels the creativity we all possess. It is sometimes said “its not what you know, its who you know.” This could be an opportunity to get to know someone new, to learn something, to be exposed to an idea or concept that you may have never even considered by yourself.
(Excerpt from 'Planes Trains and Urban Sprawl'. An essay by Arthur Johnson)