Saturday, February 7, 2015

Automobiles And The Future Of Man

A Massive Support System Is Required For Automobiles
Nobody will argue both the automobile and mankind are solidly linked for the immediate future, however, it should be noted that the automobile is not a stand alone entity and requires a massive support system. Roads and highways, parking areas, repair stations and fuel stations are just a few of the parts that make up the system. Most vehicles are used on average about one hour a day, this means the rest of their existence is spent in storage. This is not an efficient use of space or resources and will have a major impact on how we plan in the future. Far too much of our assets are tied up in expensive concrete and pavement that is only used for brief periods during peak load.

Empty Roads At Night Come At A Great Cost
Our current system allows and is based on the largest vehicle using that space, even if it occurs infrequently. The issue of how large a vehicle "needs" to be is an area that needs to be addressed and rethought. For example, the insistence by the fire department to be able to turn around a large hook and ladder truck in a single family residential neighborhood is a bit silly and leads to an unintended consequence and urban sprawl. Several design flaws in planning modern communities create traffic patterns that make travel less efficient.

Incentives to vary times of travel thus reducing "rush hour" congestion, expedites the flow of traffic adding to efficiency. Increased efficiency eliminates the need for additional roadways and traffic controls, it would also save fuel and reduce pollution. Our goal should be to keep at a minimum the square footage of pavement necessary to accomplish efficient movement of traffic. The grid pattern, used in many cities after the inception of the automobile, has been replaced by a maze, or a can of worms design within a larger grid pattern. The case made for such a pattern in our neighborhoods is privacy, safety, better quality of life, and that it defuses traffic.  These traffic patterns often make it necessary for a person leaving their home to drive for several minutes just to reach the entrance of their sud-division that may be substantially closer as the crow flies.

A strong argument can be made that the more time a vehicle is on the road and the greater distance it has to travel causes environmental damage using more gas and creating more pollutants, this would call into question the logic and benefits of such patterns. Had the automobile not become so popular our culture would have developed in a totally different way. The two and three car family contributed greatly to the growth of sprawling suburbs in recent decades. I'm not in any way advocating doing away with cars or trucks, they are important and add to our quality of life, but it is important to point out that the support system for the automobile makes our footprint on the planet much larger than many people might want to think and tends to weaken our ability to sustain our current lifestyle.

We may soon see an expensive and unwise extension of this support system across America under the guise that we are creating new jobs by improving infrastructure. Get ready for a barrage of talk from Washington pushing the myth that infrastructure is a "silver bullet" that will boost the economy and drive growth. As usual, the politicians in search of easy answers often dust off an old idea polish it up and act as is they have a new magic formula. While most people and economist agree infrastructure is important I contend that the old 80-20 rule applies to this vital part of our lives more than they might want to admit. It is ironic timing for such a push to pour more concrete across America comes just as technology begins to explore using driver-less cars and trucks to more efficiently move both people and freight. Such technology would revolutionize and shift the movement of semis and large trucks to nighttime and off-peak hours.  

Much of this article is a rehash or extension of an article I wrote in the fall of 2012 that pointed out traffic problems are often complex yet the simplest changes often can make a big difference. Traffic flow can come to a halt over something as simple as to how or where cones are placed in a work area.  All inexpensive solutions to removing the "choke points" should be explored as an alternative to immediately super-sizing everything as we often do. In my book "Advancing Time" I also wrote about how our understanding of cities and people when dealing with urban planning is far from complete. In an ever faster changing world trying to apply a "one size fits all" strategy risk leaving everyone feeling poorly fit. We must carefully create homes for the "animal" known as man, instead of high maintenance concrete environments for the machines built to serve us.



Footnote; As always your comments are encouraged. If you found the article above interesting the two articles below may also be of interest to you. The first concerns what makes up a person's "true" energy footprint, I fear the answer is far more than what most of us would like to admit. The other explores the myth big business and politicians use to push huge infrastructure projects.
                       http://brucewilds.blogspot.com/2012/04/whats-in-footprint.html
                 http://brucewilds.blogspot.com/2014/11/politicians-to-hail-infrastructure.html

No comments:

Post a Comment