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Car Based Mass Transit

Driving a car and public transportation--The best of both worlds!
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Living in Los Angeles, it simultaneously amuses and depresses me to watch the continued efforts of the city, as well as the state of California, to get people to use mass transit in lieu of driving. All the while, traffic gets worse and worse due to a steadily increasing population and an infrastructure that peaked in capacity decades ago, with little improvement since. Not to mention the fact that public transportation in LA is abysmal. Ride the bus? Sure, if you've got three hours to kill. Take the subway? Fine, but what are you going to do in the Valley without a car?

The fact is that LA is a car-based town, and unlike many other cities it's just a real pain to get along here without a car. And this is the biggest impediment to public transportation, as well as the primary reason why the freeways are perpetually clogged. So instead of trying to fight this fact, what we need to do is accept it and figure out how to get people to their destinations WITH their cars, but WITHOUT using the roads.

The answer is a ski-lift type system that operates along the major freeway routes. Much like the high-speed chairlifts that are common at ski resorts, the system will pick you and your car up at one of a few stations throughout the city, and transport you rapidly along a continuously moving rail or cable based network to some other station, much like a giant conveyer belt. Speeds of 100MPH would be fantastic, but even a guaranteed speed of 40MPH or so would be a major improvement compared to what we have now.

This would of course be a benefit to people using the lift, but the ramifications are even more significant. By taking care of all of the long-haul commuters (e.g. Santa Monica to the Valley), it would make the freeways much more attractive for medium length commutes (e.g. Westside to Mid City), which would take those commuters off of surface streets (if there's one thing LA drivers are known for, it's finding "shortcuts"). The overall result would be a vast reduction in traffic--and therefore energy use--across the board, making both the average Joe commuter as well as the tree-hugger factions happy.

Would it be expensive? Sure, but if we can spend $40 billion on high-speed rail to San Francisco, it doesn't seem so out of reach. Would it be an engineering nightmare? Perhaps, but then again we managed to build a subway system in a part of the world where the primary natural disaster is earthquakes, so how hard can it be? But the most important question is, would people use it? You bet they would. And that alone makes it different from any other form of mass transportation that has been so far foisted upon an unwilling public.

ytk, Nov 10 2010

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       Interesting idea - the infrastructure costs would probably kill it but I like the idea of keeping people in their own cars, as having to leave the security and comfort of their own cars seems to be the thing which keeps people off public transport. The often-suggested alternative to public transport of autonomous cars following guides in the road I'm not sure is a solution as it uses exactly the same amount of fuel as having people drive the cars.
hippo, Nov 10 2010
  

       I think the tricky part is automating the getting on and off part. All it would take would be one car to stall, or break down, or somehow fail to get integrated onto the system, and the whole thing grinds to a halt. People have trouble getting on and off tube cars, holding the doors, and holding up a whole trainful of folks, imagine that across LA, with cars! Also, it would exclude monster-trucks from the benefits of public transport.
zen_tom, Nov 10 2010
  

       I like it - it would make people's commutes so much less of a headache, and the smog reductions would be wonderful. [+]   

       Since almost all users would be repeat users, you could run this on a pass-only basis, and make people take a lesson on using the transporter device, maybe? Since "lifts" would be detatachable, stations could presumably have a "breakdown lane" for cars with problems.
gisho, Nov 10 2010
  

       I suspect people have spent large amounts of money trying to figure out why traffic slows down. It is not intuitive. Occasionally factors causing slowdown are obvious (truck blocking lane) but often they are not at all. People assert the things that cause traffic slowdown from first principles in an Aristotelian sort of way. I wonder what the real reasons are.
bungston, Nov 10 2010
  

       In terms of cost, in the long term, would it not be more effective to have controls on cars that would allow them to be guided safely at high speed and density along a dedicated roadway?   

       I'm sure this has been done to death here, but I'm envisaging a lane in which all the cars relinquish control and are guided at a high and uniform speed (but under their own power), almost bumper-to-bumper, until they reach the end.   

       Must be cheaper to lay a guide-wire for use by suitably equipped cars, than to provide a long-distance ski-lift.
MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 10 2010
  

       The 2 main problems are rapant population growth (as usual...) and the fact that a vehicle designed to carry 4 (or 7 or...) people typically has only 1 or 2 in it. A cheap, single seat, narrow car/enclosed bike (probably electric) is a much better solution for commuting, when all you have is yourelf, your lunch and your laptop. At other times, when there are family or a heap of stuff to transport, by all means use a large vehicle.
Oh, and I'm sure I've read about something similar (not identical) to this before. But I could be wrong...
neutrinos_shadow, Nov 10 2010
  

       Who wants a tiny car, though? Why keep two cars, and try to guess which one you'll need on any occasion? Let me keep my big comfy car which can accomodate unexpected shopping or passengers. Just make fewer people.
MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 10 2010
  

       One reason this would be preferable is that it could be run on electricity. Until electric cars become ubiquitous, this would allow people to spend large portions of their commute without running their engines.
gisho, Nov 10 2010
  

       Yes, but by the time this gets implemented, electric cars will be close to being ubiquitous. Your proposal would probably still be more energy-efficient at peak times, but would be horrendous to build. Cheaper to make the car buyers pay for the equipment that allows their cars to be controlled externally for optimal speed, density and economy.
MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 10 2010
  

       Highly impractical and therefore ideal for both this site and my vote.   

       I've read some tales in National Geographic regarding cars shipped in containers in Russia and it was not ideal - close, stinky, no fire precautions.
normzone, Nov 10 2010
  

       //ski-lift type system\\ Very good, I'm sure all practical difficulties can be solved +.
zeno, Nov 11 2010
  

       the gross inefficiency..... fix the hole in the bucket by putting it inside a second, slightly lighter bucket, and so on ...
WcW, Nov 11 2010
  

       If people sitting n cars being ski-lifted or trucked or hooked together are still in control of the A/C and heating systems on said cars they will use them. Thus contributing to pollution, heat, etc. They will continue to do stupid things because they can.
cudgel, Nov 11 2010
  

       The energy advantage of public transport, in the main, is that you are transporting people and their goods, and not the 2 tonne steel containers they come wrapped in. There's no energy saving here that I can see - although, as someone has pointed out, the ski-lift system could be powered by a non-carbon emitting source.   

       I can see this working to relieve traffic congestion though, as proposed. I'm not sure that it works out better or cheaper than building cross-town direct freeway lanes, bridge style, over existing road reservations.
BunsenHoneydew, Nov 29 2010
  
      
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