Fri Nov 21 2008

Future transit

One of the greatest memories I have from when I was a kid is of me riding in the back seat of our family car through the highway down south for the summer. I remember thinking that it would be amazing if every person had their own personal road that they could take everywhere.

I imagined a few different ways that might work. They varied from wide individual roads (an obviously insane waste of space - admittedly I took waste of space pretty lightly then), to intricate monorail networks between points (much like a graph system for futuristic cars to navigate). I even remember drawing some of these ideas and regret having lost those, as they’d be perfect to illustrate this post.

Anyway, when you’re a kid there’s not a lot you can do about an idea like this except dream about it and believe that maybe one day “big people” might do something like it. I’m a little bummed that over 20 years have gone by and I still experience the same transit system I did when I was young.

We are in weird times and I believe, in a potential tipping point. The climate crisis and the financial crisis combined require innovative solutions to some of the pressing problems of our age, and I like to speculate that solving the transit system problem is going to be pretty important soon. Interestingly, 2008 was (apologies, I can’t remember the source) the first year when travelling by car between cities declined dramatically in several countries due to the economics of transportation.

Anyway, all this to say that all is not lost, and while there’s no definitive solution to what I believe is a real problem, there are a bunch of projects walking in this direction, highlighted in this Tech Talk by Bengt Gustafsson of Beamways at Google. It may prove an interesting weekend read, if this is the kind of thing you like.

A personal note: I like to theorize about these problems and naturally I come bearing no mass-transit soutions of my own. But I do predict I’ll keep thinking about these problems regardless of their complexity, and cheering on those whose vision is to redefine how we move from place to place. Even if only to remind me that we’re all creative (and maybe even a bit of visionaries) when we are younger. Shame we lose that a bit with age.

Image credits: The images in this post are (lacking my own kid-sketches) from “Tomorrow’s Transportation: New Systems for the Urban Future”, a report from (brace yourselves) 1968 for the US congress. Even though this is only an excerpt, it’s fascinating how prescient is is. Have a look, if you’re interested in a bit of old visions of the future.