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How Will We Get Around Near-Future Earth? 974

Slob Nerd points to this BBC article on future transport possibilities. It begins "The prospect of a revolution in air travel has been raised by Nasa's successful test of a 5,000mph plane. But are we likely to see similar advances in other forms of transport? Dusting off the crystal ball, what changes might come in the way we get around? What big ideas are out there, and do they have any chance of seeing the light of day?"
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How Will We Get Around Near-Future Earth?

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  • High speed trains (Score:5, Interesting)

    by s0rbix ( 629316 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:39AM (#8722205)
    I'd like to see more high speed trains in the US. It's a lot more economical than air travel, can be just as fast (with aiport wait times and all), and is just as if not safer than flying.
  • Faster planes? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SetarconeX ( 160251 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:50AM (#8722297)
    The last time I checked, commercial airplanes in the US weren't allowed to fly past the speed of sound to prevent sonic booms (which, incidently, growing up next to an Air Force base, I can tell you is really something you get used to quickly).

    The way I see it, my getting across the country isn't a matter of airplanes not being able to go faster, it's airplanes not being allowed to go faster.

    Now, a couple of Maglevs might be nice....
  • Bike.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Hello this is Linus ( 757336 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:51AM (#8722309) Homepage
    I prefer transportation by bicycle...

    Good'ol human powered transportation never hurt any one..or has it?
  • by ChiralSoftware ( 743411 ) <> on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:57AM (#8722348) Homepage
    The technology is all there. AC Propulsion just took a trip from LA to Vegas [] in a lithium-battery car. That's all the range we need for a practical car. They did it using thousands of off-the-shelf mobile device lithium batteries. How much would it cost if automotive-size lithium batteries were mass-produced? I'm guessing prices would be competitive with the price of a new ICE car, except that electric drivers won't ever have to worry about gas going to $3/gal.

    Also I hope that cities start being designed to be anti-car, meaning they are designed to be accessed on foot or by public transit systems. If you've ever been to Singapore you know what I'm talking about.

    Create a wireless web [] site

  • Re:I dunno . . . (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:57AM (#8722354)
    Yes and no.

    With a fusion reactor, you've got (on current technology) a great big blob of plasma at incredibly high temperatures. Not something you want to have escape into the environment. Against that, though, it's not particularly radioactive -- yes, there are radioactive isotopes in there, but they're short lived. Most of the byproducts of fusion will be helium-3 or helium-4, both of which are stable from a nuclear point of view. You may also get helium-2, which would decay pretty damn fast to deuterium (aka hydrogen-2) and tritium (hydrogen-3) which decays (half life of about 12 years) to helium-3.

    So the short term effect of a fusion accident would probably be worse than the short term effect of a fission accident. But I'd rather be cleaning up the result of a fusion accident after a couple of days than the result of a fission accident. And if I were told I had to live in a post-accident zone, I'd be choosing the post-fusion zone, not the post-fission zone.

    As for the radiation released by a fusion reaction, most of it is a few neutrons (deuterium fused with tritium, for example, will produce helium-4, plus a neutron). That'll irradiate structures, but can be controlled without too much trouble.

    In short: I'd be happy with a fusion reactor in the back yard. Just give me enough room that the super-heated plasma won't cause me grief if it spills out, and shield the neutron emissions, and we'll get along fine.

  • End of Oil? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DarrylKegger ( 766904 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:58AM (#8722359)
    Many automotive pundits believe that hydrogen fuel cells are the way of the future, but what is often misunderstood is that hydrogen is merely an energy carrier, not a source, and as such has to be produced from some other source, ie oil, nuclear, solar, squirrels on a wheel etc. Finding a viable alternative to petroleum based transport is vital if some of the prominent oil geologists are to be believed, many of their predictions see oil production unable to meet demand as early as 2010. For further info google "peak oil hubbert"
  • by big!theory ( 678960 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @12:59AM (#8722367)

    the jury is out on whether high speed rail systems are economical. the fingers are typically pointed at systems in Europe or Asia that aren't analogous to the geography and population density of much of the United States.

    part of the cost and inefficiency of air travel is caused by our hub-and-spoke air network system. this forces a lot of connections and short hops that could be unnecessary.

    James Fallows wrote an interesting book about the very-near future of air travel. He makes the case that we need smaller regional airports and smaller high efficiency jets. These would allow many of us to make direct city-to-city flights without the need to go thru congested hub cities.

    Check out Fallow's Free Flight at Amazon. Free Flight []
  • Re:High speed trains (Score:5, Interesting)

    by UniverseIsADoughnut ( 170909 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @01:06AM (#8722423)
    I agree Highspeed trains will be nice. But even the fastest trains still are far slower then getting on a airplane to go cross country. Also the US is simpley huge. Think of how long Europe has been working on their train networks, both slow and highspeed. Now think of the US which barrly has any train network, and then finaly remember the US is bigger then all of Europe. It could take 100 years to get close to what other countries have. Also to be effective it needs to get to every town, which is really hard to do when everything is so spaced out. In areas where one city bumps into the next they work much better.

    No the flip side, trains are great expecialy if they come by all the time and you can just go down and buy a ticket and get on. That would be great. Also since I hate planes I would love them. I'm a mechanical engineer, I just can't deal with planes. All the way through college everything seamed to be about how airplaces fail, and riding in them I over-think ever sound they make. So I would love trains, the price has to be right though. I saw something saying a Acela (sp?) train ticket from DC-Boston was like 280 bucks, (note this could be wrong, it was something like that). Thats crazy. I would expect it to not be more then 30 bucks or so. If trains arn't dirt cheap it won't work. It shouldn't cost the same as a airplane ticket.

    Now here is something else. Planes have numbered days unless they come up with something. Planes need fuels like Kerosene and Diesel, that is, heavy hydrocarbons. Without such energy dense fuels they can't get off the ground. There is a limited supply of fossil fuels. It's projected to run out at any moment in the next 20-400 years (yes thats was making fun of dooms day predictions). Without such fuels airplanes are screwed. You can make fuel like Fisher Tropes Diesel, but that takes a lot of energy and isn't very clean to produce. It's hard enough to make the cost number works for planes as is, double the cost of fuel and hell really breaks loose.

    So as it stands now planes are screwed in the future, thus why most things talking about the future don't mention planes. You can't make an electric plane that would go very fast. And to power it you'd need a nuclear reactor up there. This makes you wonder what we will do for trans-ocean travel.

    So even though trains will be a bitch to move to and take a long time, they might just happen do to no other good answer.
  • energy source (Score:2, Interesting)

    by huxrules ( 649822 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @01:08AM (#8722434)
    I guess it will really depend on what energy source that will be invented next. I don't think that hydrogen will ever be a adopted fuel (to cold or too high pressure) for internal combustion. So I think that for cars we will eventually have to go to batteries or fuel cells- which sucks performance wise. As for large transport- trains do have a advantgage in that they don't need to cary their fuel if they are electric. Large fusion plants can supply the power to high speed trains trains. The big problem will come with airplanes- if we ever start running low on oil these contraptions will be to expensive to fly, or require to much space for an alternate fuel. Short term I am hoping the boeing sees the future and begins to fund its Blended Wing Body. A air transport that is truly massive and efficient.
  • Re:Faster planes? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by satanami69 ( 209636 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @01:19AM (#8722506) Homepage
    They are already working on ways to silence a sonic boom. []

    Just changing the shape of the aircraft seems to lessen the sound already.
  • by idiot900 ( 166952 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @01:25AM (#8722539)
    How about building cities so you can walk or ride a bike to where you need to go, instead of building strictly for car-sized vehicular traffic?

    I live in Manhattan and do not have a car. I walk everywhere or take the subway, since everything I need is so close, and even if I did have a car driving in this traffic would be aggravating and expensive besides. It works fine, but I really miss the Good Old Days(TM) when I lived in suburban environments and had a car.

    - Purchasing large objects: In a carless city, I don't know how I would buy large things, such as furniture. I get that stuff delivered nowadays but if there were no roads how would it get to my door?
    - Groceries: Walking back to my apartment carrying a bunch of grocery bags is no fun.
    - Weather: Walking in general is not fun in the snow. Getting takeout food is a pain in this situation, and I don't really have much option since I didn't buy groceries (see above).

    Once the carless city expanded beyond a small town, it would quickly become inconvenient to live there, if my experience is worth jumping to conclusions from. A subway/train system really helps, but you have to run it with an iron fist if you don't want it to become a urine-soaked pit. (Side note: Singapore's train system is spotless and all around wonderful. But the necessary authoritarianism wouldn't fly here in the US.)

    On the other hand, maybe I'm just lazy. Manhattan would be a much cleaner place without cars, and maybe the tradeoff is worth it.
  • Re:High speed trains (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @01:31AM (#8722578) Journal
    i don't want to see them either, public and mass transit sucks. give me a care a anyday.

    you know if they start building them it will end up being funded by tax payers against thier will. not good if you ask me.
  • by Baldrson ( 78598 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @01:32AM (#8722582) Homepage Journal
    Foresight Exchange's "SOorb" claim [] reads as follows:
    Claim Sorb - Suborbital transport dominates Category: Science & Technology:Space

    bid 41, ask 44, last 42

    Suborbital transportation will exceed high-mach air transportation by the year 2020. "Suborbital" means any high-mach, non-orbital flight where the majority of the distance is covered without benefit of locally available gasses as the primary propulsion reaction mass. "High-mach" means the majority of the distance is covered at a speed of mach 2.5 or greater. "Non-orbital" means the total flight path distance is less than the circumfrence of the earth. "Locally available" excludes gasses that have been stored within the vehicle for more than 3 minutes. The metric for comparison will include passenger, luggage and cargo ton-miles over the entirety of the year 2020 as published in standard industry surveys.

  • Re:High speed trains (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Yet Another Smith ( 42377 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @01:35AM (#8722600)
    Not sure that you're 100% right on the 'least railed' nation. It's true that we've got one of the lowest rates of passenger rail ridership in the free world, but we're not really that poorly served by rail freight.

    I'm no expert, but I do recall a couple of discussions with a British trainspotter who contradicted me when I denigrated America's freight system along with her passenger system. Apparently (and again I'm no expert and am almost 100% quoting a trainspotter) America's transporting a fairly high percentage of its freight by rail, compared to Europe. Almost 100% of US track-miles are owned by railfreight companies, whereas most European rail is devoted to passenger traffic.

    The one anecdote that I can add to that that approaches first-hand experience was hearing said Brit trainspotter proclaim, following a road-trip from Denver to Dallas, that the mile-plus-long trains he'd seen rumbling along beside US 287 between Amarillo and Dallas were unlike anything he'd seen in Europe.

    Of course its equally important to point out that the Shinkansen and Eurostar, and even the more modest Swiss and Finnish passenger trains beat the hell out of the old Silver Meteor I once took from South Carolina to Florida. I don't even know if that line still runs.

    Still, a lot of Europeans are finding that for the a lot of long-distance travel, air is vastly prefferable to rail. Especially now that Europe has allowed discount airlines to begin operating, ditching the protected national carriers.
  • by core plexus ( 599119 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @01:35AM (#8722602) Homepage
    From the section about Jet Packs: "They will be handy for retrieving cats from trees, cleaning hard-to-reach windows and arriving in style at a party."

    Think about it: have you ever seen a cat skeleton in a tree? They find their own way down. Firefighters around here don't even respond to one of those calls.


  • Re:High speed trains (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MsGeek ( 162936 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @01:40AM (#8722633) Homepage Journal
    Well, there has been perennial talk of an LA to Vegas service.

    However, now the LA City Council is dicking around with stuff like a train from West LA to Ontario Airport and another from West LA to Palmdale Airport. What's the goal? To shunt travelers who would normally fly out of LAX to lower traffic airports that are also managed by the same people who manage LAX.

    After the hell that is the drive from the San Fernando Valley to the Silicon Valley, I am personally quite partial to an LA/SF route. Since there is Caltrain and BART service to feeder you out from SF to everywhere else in the Bay Area it would make a lot of sense. If there were a stop in Santa Barbara along the route it would be a tourist's dream. An hour to Santa Barbara? Two to San Francisco? I'm there.

    Considering how badly fuxored the California economy is, I'm not holding my breath.

    One last thing: Amtrak isn't a bad ride. Van Nuys to Santa Barbara/Goleta is a pleasant run, I make it several times a year. It's not really that expensive, either. Especially when you consider the expense of gasoline...
  • by Skim123 ( 3322 ) <mitchell AT 4guysfromrolla DOT com> on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @01:42AM (#8722648) Homepage
    I live in a part of San Diego [] where they've taken your suggestion to the extreme. For 50 square city blocks, you have either:

    • Typical commercial buildings (grocery store and the like)
    • Tattoo parlor or bar
    • Apartment building or duplex or condo building (a single building with typically 5-10 units).

    And I'm not kidding about the 50 square blocks of nothing but the above. Literally, you walk several blocks in any direction and it's condo building next to condo building next to condo building next to apartment building next to condo building. No big yards. No single family homes.

    What's the result? It's packed. If you don't have off street parking, try finding a spot after 5:00 pm on the weekdays, or on the weekends at all. (It's a hot spot for 4th of July, and my first year here I foolishly gave up my spot to drive (!!!) to the grocery store when I could have walked. It ended up that I had to park more than half a mile from my place upon returning.) It's populated primarily by college students and 20-somethings. Being in that demographic myself, I have no qualms, but my biggest complaint is that they're mostly renters so they don't give a damn about the area. So it's not uncommon to find several beer cans / beer bottles on the street/sidewalk after a Friday/Saturday night. Plus, it can be very loud at very late hours (thankfully I live on a cul-de-sac on the quiet side of town, so it's only noisy maybe once a month, when the folks in a neighboring condo unit throw a party).

    I am here, though, because I love it. Not the noise, or pollution, but the beach (less than 1 mile away) and the feeling of the town. Everything is walkable. I walk to restaraunts, to the grocery store, to the drug store, to the office supply store, to Blockbuster, to the dry cleaners, to the bar, to the 7-11, to the beach, and to the basketball courts. I've had my car out here for close to four years now and have put less than 25,000 miles on it since moving here.

    The point is, being crammed together does have its advantages, but it also comes with a slew of disadvantages as well (increased noise, pollution, etc.). Also, most Americans really like large living spaces, and who can blame them? I'd love a huge house with acres of back yard, but that's not affordable here (a two bedroom condo, 1,200 square feet, would likely go between $400k-$500k). I own a place in a condo building with 7 units. I have 1,050 square feet to my name. It's ok, it's just me and my fiancee for now, but it would be tough to raise a family in such cramped quarters. I fear we'll have to move further inland to more of a typical suburban type place once we start a family...

  • Re:High speed trains (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @01:49AM (#8722691) Journal
    One of the main reasons we have given up on rail transportation like we did (not totaly but lessend the value)was because durring ww2 we noticed that when we took out the rail lines we halted the axis production. The interstae highway system was supposed to be a redundent network of roadway that if one was taken out it would allow another to be used easily. Not only did this look good for stategic defense but it made sence for taking products to market.

    Trains can't steer around a bad piecs of trac or a downed bridge. Cars and trucks can redily take an alternative route that usually wouldn't be more then a couple of hours out of route time. Europe has never concentrated an effort on an organized road system like the us did untill recently (if they ever did). So rail transport other there still makes sence. In the U.S. road transportation is faster and makes even more sence not to mention the way train companies loose cargo. happens alot especially durring a union dispute.
  • by aauu ( 46157 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @01:50AM (#8722697) Homepage
    Setting up the grid is easy. Just designate a direction for each altitude in a clockwise manner from sea level with increasing velocity. You spiral up/down until you are heading the direction you want. Some adjustment will have to be made to the speed zones based on the altitude of the local topography. No collisions since everyone at the same altitude is going the same direction and speed. Reserve the first x ft above ground level for vertical flight only with separate landing and takeoff zones.
  • by ArsSineArtificio ( 150115 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @01:58AM (#8722748) Homepage
    I have also heard it suggested that doing so would probably create many jobs in the US as the building and operations infrastructure was being put into place, not to mention the increased commerce between disparate parts of the US. I don't know the validity of these claims, but they seem reasonable enough. A good kick in the pants for us USicans economy if true, no?

    Setting aside the idiotic abbreviation "USicans" (hint: the proper term for citizens of the United States of America is "Americans", for citizens of the United States of Mexico is "Mexicans", etc.)...

    Although its passenger rail system could be accurately described as "completely useless" everywhere outside the coastal strip between Washington DC and Boston, the freight rail system of the USA is generally considered amongst the world's finest. With its already developed state, and tight integration with roadway freight, it's difficult to imagine in what way commerce between disparate parts of the US could be "increased" by building more rail links.

  • by NeMon'ess ( 160583 ) <<flinxmid> <at> <>> on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @02:19AM (#8722857) Homepage Journal
    The answer lies in waiting for AI to mature enough to drive cars / planes automatically. All the vehicles communicate with some form of wireless. Perhaps some centralized computers analyze traffic. Many sensors per vehicle monitor parts for degradation, like SMART does for hard drives. Deteriorating vehicles are allowed more space and eventually must seek maintainance. Otherwise they are not allowed in the Autopilot Lanes on the freeways or skyways. To prevent aircars from crashing and cluttering the sky, cars would still stay in sky-lanes. North / South traffic might be at 1000 meters. North-East / South-West traffic at 1200 meters. East / West traffic at 1400 meters... Sky-interstates from Seattle to Portland on to Sacramento, Bay Area, Los Angeles, San Diego at 2000 meters.
  • Paradigm shift... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Genda ( 560240 ) <> on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @02:20AM (#8722865) Journal
    I think we're addicted to the wrong questions...

    The question should be how are we going to support a world with 10,000,000,000 people in it, while maintaining some semblance of quality of life. This idea of half a billion people in the U.S. going anywhere they feel like, any time they feel like, each in their own vehicle, which if by current standards continues is 7 feet high, 18 feet long, weighs 12 tons, sleeps 10, and get's 8 MPG, is at best insane. It ignores sanity on so many fundamental levels, I'm not even going to bother listing.

    Designing living habitats that provide people with clean, safe, lawful, aesthetically pleasing environments, that are high density and preclude the need to travel more than a few hundred meters to receive/deliver any needed service, would immeditely transform our society. At that point the edge of the metroplex, might provide a variety of transportation for folk going to and from other island cities. The metroplex is a three dimensional hive, with business, housing, and recreation all built tightly into an interactive, engineered space, with little or no impact on the surrounding land. This allows people instant access to everything they need from work to pleasure... while only being minutes away from wild spaces they can visit and enjoy. Literally tens of millions of people can exist in a tiny hive like city. A place that has been optimized for crime prevention, cleanliness, well lit open airy spaces. In short a perfect controlled environment.

    High speed rail, tube, or supercomputer networked controlled superconducting ribbon highways could easily manage regional transport. Ultra high speed air travel would be useful for travel to distant regions or other continents. Cable travel to geosynced space depots could carry passengers to cities on the moon, mars, callisto, europa, and ganymede. As well they might carry asteroid miners and their products to and from earth.

    Even horseback becomes a viable form of transport into the natural spaces surrounding the cities (horses being highly efficient for that particular use... hover cars, like the Moller being viable for trips longer than a days horseback ride.) One might even relegate such vehicles to rental only since anyplace in the hive could be accessed in minutes by people movers and other metroplexs could be accessed by mass transit.

    Any given form of transportation would only be viable depending on it's speed and efficiency. Each would inherently be designed and optimized to operate in a specific level of social/geographical granularity.

    The tremedous advantage in societal cost, safety, improved environment, ease of living, efficiency, and quality of life would make living in such a place, a slice of heaven. Enhanced taxbase, with tremendously reduced cost of living, would allow money to be available for fantastic free schools, enhanced medical care, and a gorgeous, sparkling infrastructure. Who wants to move in? I know I do!

  • by kenjib ( 729640 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @02:20AM (#8722868)
    I hope that the automobile will go down as one of the great engineering disasters of history and a strange historical footnote. While the infrastructure impact has been massive economically, the large numbers of deaths every day related to automobile use, the destabilization of international politics cause by oil dependency, and the devastation of the environment are simply a huge disaster.

    Current mass transit systems have serious shortcomings that prevent 100% adoption though, so what problems do we need to resolve for a public transportation system to be appealing enough that private transportation is no longer a desirable alternative?

    1. It needs to get you there quickly. You shouldn't have to transfer between different lines and different modes of transport and arrive at your destination 45 minutes later when you could have been there in 10 minutes via car.

    2. It needs to provide door to door service. You shouldn't have to walk a few blocks, hop in a car, or take a bus, to get to a station and board public transportation.

    3. It needs to be cheap. Public transportation already wins here when you factor in all the extended costs of car ownership. Most of the time your car sits unused in a driveway, garage, or parking space, and in the bigger picture that's just money ticking away by the minute in terms of us having a *much* larger fleet of vehicles overall than we need.

    4. It needs to always be available. It can't stop running from 12am until 6am.

    5. Travel needs to be private/not shared between passengers. You should have a car/coach/capsule that is private for you or you and companions for the duration of your trip.

    6. It needs to be comfortable. A public system could have many advantages here, not having to drive is one of the biggest.

    7. It needs to be be ubiquitous and extend everywhere. You should be able to go anywhere using the system that you can with a car.

    I think all of these criteria could be met by replacing our entire road system, down to the last street and cul-de-sac, with a tube or rail system and having numerous individual cars/capsules that arrive on demand and take you where you want to go, all routed by computers (kind of reminiscent of the old pneumatic tube message systems). The cars/capsules could be privately owned, but I think it would work much better if they were shared/pooled to dramatically reduce the costs. I can think of ways to combine/support both options.

    You would only need private/off-grid vehicles for specialized tasks. They could be designed to connect to the grid to get to a location and then detach and run independently at the job site.

    I wonder how, cost-wise, this would compare to the entire road and automobile infrastructure, including what we each pay for private car ownership and maintenance. There are lots of interesting implications to this. What effect does it have on the idea of a neighborhood? The commercial strip? What do we do with all of the reclaimed space if roads are replaced by something with a much smaller footprint (do urban homeowners all get their lots extended by several yards or do we create some new system of a public greenspace grid)?

    Is this a bad idea? What kinds of systems are being proposed out there for this kind of a broad shift toward something that is more humane, convenient, and cost-effective, then the mess we have today?

  • by Un pobre guey ( 593801 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @02:34AM (#8722920) Homepage
    I think you were doing fine until you got to

    I think all of these criteria could be met by replacing our entire road system, down to the last street and cul-de-sac, with a tube or rail system and having numerous individual cars/capsules that arrive on demand and take you where you want to go,

    The massive infrastructure cost and environmental damage would be comparable to paved roads and highways.

    Tough nut to crack, but perhaps one can imagine a system of public electric automobiles that you just grab, use, and abandon. Unfortunately, it begs questions such as where the electricity comes from; how the cars are manufactured, distributed, maintained, and disposed of; what happens when you go somewhere and you have the only car, and someone takes it soon after you get there; how is all this paid for; etc.

    Back to square one, or maybe I'm unable to switch entirely out of the private vehicle mentality.

  • by drago ( 1334 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @02:39AM (#8722937)
    Shipping containers are also transported by rail in Europe, I don't think that's much of an issue. But another reason for trains being more profitable in the US is that the dense of population is far less in the US than in Europe. A train can operate most profitable if it can cross vast amounts of miles without having to stop (the same goes true for planes of course). Only on long trips high speeds can be achieved and going from the west coast to the east coast _is_ a long trip. In Europe theres a station every 5 km or so and even the high speed trains stop every 100 km, which is barely enough to go on full speed even provided the rails go straight enough, curving around villages and smaller cities every few kilometers.
  • Re:High speed trains (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fucksl4shd0t ( 630000 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @02:46AM (#8722959) Homepage Journal

    Perhaps you should point out to him all the potential economic benefits. Austin has many people that commute to D/FW for work, believe it or not, and vice versa (believe it or not!). A high-speed train that would cut their travel time from 6 hours roundtrip to 2 hours roundtrip without costing a fortune would make a killing.

    Everything from D/FW down to San Antonio needs to be stuck on some sort of high speed rail system. It's rapidly becoming one metropolitan area, and it makes perfect sense to combine them in public transport, but public transport for that whole area does require high speeds to be useful.

    And if the airlines could see a decent ROI on getting regular commuters at a regular commuting price rather than weekend travelers at airline prices, I'd bet they'd jump on it. SW has had trouble in the past flying around Texas itself...

  • Re:Not by walking (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cgenman ( 325138 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @02:54AM (#8722990) Homepage
    I think you hit on the big reason for alternative transportation in cities.


    The North End in Boston is one the of the best places in the United States to get truly amazing Italian food, but don't bring the car. You'll generally spend an hour circling around, only to find a spot so far away that you're basically home. Chinatown isn't quite that bad, but don't bother bringing a car on Friday Night. And anyone who wants to park on Newbury street had better have either a ton of patience or a Commercial plate.

    Thanks to the Big Dig traffic through Boston isn't so bad, but parking is still a nightmare. Better to just take the T wherever you need to go, and get some reading done.

    New York and San Fransisco are similar. Expect to find parking at best five or six blocks away after circling for an hour (or pay 40 dollars for a spot in a lot, making cabs much cheaper).

    Transportation infrastructure isn't going to change significantly until something significantly better arrives, or the current situation gets significantly worse. Driving is getting worse and worse every day.

  • Robotic taxis (Score:3, Interesting)

    by erice ( 13380 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @03:15AM (#8723069) Homepage
    Some sort of AI based network of vehicles that are available on demand (the nearest parked car will come to you -- or to the nearest "junction"). No one needs to "own" a vehicle. They will all be safe too.

    Functionally, we have that today. They are called taxi's. Of course they are operated by humans rather than AI's so the cost is rather high. Still, I think it is clear that you need quite lot of density to make this reasonably cheap and convenient.
  • Distributed Maglev (Score:2, Interesting)

    by galgon ( 675813 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @03:24AM (#8723092)
    Here is the idea: convert all major highways to maglev tracks. Then sell cars that can double as a maglev train. So you could drive to the interstate input your destination and use the computer controlled maglev system to take your car to your exit. You can read the newspaper, sleep, watch dvds, ect. until you reach your exit. No more waiting for planes (except intercontinental travel and coast-to-coast journeys) and you still have your car when you get to your destination. This system would solve all of the major problems with highway transportation, cut down on commute time and cause a huge drop in fatal car crashes.

    Yes, this system would take probably 50 years to implement throughout the country and yes, the cost of such a system would be ungodly, however baring the invention of star trek like transporters this seems like the best idea for the future of transportation.
  • by caridon20 ( 766957 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @03:50AM (#8723211)
    have a look at
    Their consept solves some of the major problems that have keept the car a better option than comunal transportation.

    skytran has:
    1) no waiting (spare "pods" on every station)
    2) point to point transportation. (every "pod" is independently routed)
    3) high point to point speed (no intersections and no intermediate stopps.)
    4) cheap. (no driver so costs are only material)

    There are still several tecnical hurdles to overcome but this is the best idea for a future trasnsportation i have ever seen. /C

  • Re:High speed trains (Score:2, Interesting)

    by silence535 ( 101360 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @04:17AM (#8723315) Homepage
    But even the fastest trains still are far slower then getting on a airplane to go cross country.

    Not if you take into account all the check-in and check-out time and the time it takes you to get to the airport. High velocity trains can go with more than 300km/h and take you right into the heart of the city. I can hop on the train just a minute before it 'takes off' and buy a ticket inside.

    If trains arn't dirt cheap it won't work. It shouldn't cost the same as a airplane ticket.

    If you get the same transport (in terms of being taken to another place) in the same timerange (give or take 10-15%) as with airtravel, then why the heck should a trainride be cheaper than an airflight?

    There is a limited supply of fossil fuels.

    And a lot of the fuel in a plane is used to keep it above the ground, whereas trains simply roll on the rails. In short, trains are much more energy efficient, which means that even if they use fuel directly or indirectly through electricity, the fossil energy will last much longer.

    Other environmental effects are often neglected. Planes produce exhaust gases way up in a zone where they reduce the ozone layer which is shielding us from radiation. Ever been in Australia? "Between eleven and three, slip under a tree!", that's what they teach their children in the kindergarden down under.


  • Well (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ShooterNeo ( 555040 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @04:24AM (#8723336)
    There's really an obvious 'nearly the best' answer to this question. It's simple : we build small, automated carlike vehicles that traverse a network of tracks all through a city. The tracks take over most existing roadways to reduce costs : no need to make them elevated; private vehicles, except for limited uses, would be completely banned inside the areas covered by the network. Each vehicle uses a very simple collision avoidance system that talks via the track or through some other method to know when track integrity has been violated (so there are sensors all along the track to detect if someone cuts the fence around the train, or if a track subsystem has failed), and uses a simple laser or radar distance sensor to measure the distance to the next car.

    When the car is go mode, it jacks up the current to the motor controlling the wheels whenever the distance to the next car is far enough. It hits the brakes when, based on recent braking performance and current speed, the distance to the car in front is either too short or changing too fast. When coming to intersections, the track itself has an embedded system that tells our vehicle where other vehicles are that the car cannot see and what 'window' in traffic to use for merges.

    So a series of simple embedded systems for the transit system, each run by a miniscule microcontroller running a tiny loop of assembly code. (except for the routing computers, which would be big and complex, but nobody dies if these fail) I am sure slashdot readers can appreciate how reliable the final system could be if engineered in this manner (pretty much never failing, except during initial trials or deliberate sabotage. Maybe a few accidents from unexpected flaws the first decade the system is used)

    For boarding, each citizens presses a button on their cell phone and specifies what time and which transit station they wish to board at, as well as destination. Routing computers actually tell all the cars where to go and how to get there, and so a personal or group vehicle will wait at the transit station. It could be anonymous, with a photograph taken of the cars interior before and after each trip by an interior camera to determine if someone has vandalized the car. If that is the case, the transit card used loses it's deposit : no disclosing of the identity of the people using the system would be necessary.

    Each car is made of fiberglass composite or some other cheap material, is fairly basic and utilitarian with completely standardized body panels, though some are very nice inside. Propulsion and braking is electric, and every vehicle used in the transit system uses the exact same hardware, for radically reduced construction and maintainence costs. Some vehicles, which cost more per trip, have leather interiors and full high definition television or internet access. Some contain cushions and bedding and curtains so that people could sleep or engage in sex while traveling.

    Speed : each vehicle could reach the maximum practical speed for electric vehicles and steel rails : probably 120 mph for a typical system, at ALL times (well, obviously, acceleration times but these are brief and use special 'speed up' tracks for merging onto the main feeder, so other people are not inconvenienced by vehicles entering the traffic stream). Since each vehicle reacts in microseconds to changing events, much higher speeds than human drivers can handle are safer. In addition, congestion is kept to a minimum (except when a system failure occurs) because even on 'highways' slowdowns from human faults don't occur. Bumper to bumper traffic at full speed. The routing computers try to prevent any path from becoming too congested, and of course route vehicles around areas where the system has failed.

    Transportation related fatalities could vary from low to virtually never occuring, ever, depending on how much money was invested in the system. But a general rule : these things would be at least 10 times safer than cars for the average driver in the av
  • Re:No more cars (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MourningBlade ( 182180 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @05:41AM (#8723561) Homepage

    I think that private transportation will remain the norm. The emphasis on ownership, of your transportation being your property, is very strong in the US.

    One of the other problems with mass transportation is that we seem to have "mass transportation = government operated" embedded in our minds. This is a real problem in car-oriented places, as people who don't use mass transit don't want to pay for it, and gov't operation somehow seems to lead to collective payment/subsidy.

    Maybe if we had some sort of efficient delivery method for packages, faster than the mail. So you could go shopping and your purchase would be home before/as you got back. Maybe then there wouldn't be such an emphasis on private transportation.

  • by chain_from_hell ( 599670 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @06:40AM (#8723708)
    Sure. With the current American Justice System. The first person who 'll hurt his pinkie when the car does a bit of a hard landing while not wearing his seatbelt, will sue the crap outof the manufacturer. It's not about technical possibilities, but about liability.

    If you smack against a tree with your car it's your driving that's the cause except when someting is seriously wrong with the car. If it's an automated system, it's not gonna take a long time for the first sue. That's why they don't een consider automating the current infrastructure.
  • by brunes69 ( 86786 ) <slashdot&keirstead,org> on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @08:39AM (#8724116) Homepage
    ... and reflect an old wives tale based on 70's and 80's era estimates of populaiton growth.

    The fact of the matter is that in modern times nearly every country in the entire first world has sub-replacement population growth. Combine that with the recent paradigm shift in population growth in countries like China which previously had a major influence, and the probablye future advancement of third world countries, and you don't see anywhere near as dramatic an increase as what you say.

    Until a few years ago, the United Nations and other institutions preparing population forecasts assumed that fertility would increase to replacement level and that subreplacement fertility was only a transitory phenomenon. This assumption is supported by the argument of homeostasis as discussed in Chapter 11 . In this view, fertility levels are not seen as the sum of individual behavior, but as one aspect of the evolution of a system in which individual behavior is a function of the status of the system (see Vishnevsky, 1991). Under such a systems approach the assumption of replacement fertility in the long run seems a defendable possibility. Therefore, we assumed a TFR between 2.1 and 2.3 in 2030-2035 as the high-fertility assumption in the five industrialized regions.

    It is difficult, however, to find many researchers who support this view. Too much evidence points toward low fertility. The return to replacement fertility has been criticized as an assumed magnetic force without empirical support (Westoff, 1991). Many significant arguments support an assumption of further declining fertility levels. They range from the weakening of the family in terms of both declining marriage rates and high divorce rates, to the increasing independence and career orientation of women, and to a value change toward materialism and consumerism.

    Read this [] for more info, specifically this graph [] show what the trend will more likely be like in the future.

  • Re:Paradigm shift... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ugmo ( 36922 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @08:57AM (#8724220)
    I am a great believer in such concepts of living close to services so that cars are unnecessary. I grew up in NYC, much of which still holds onto a pre-car layout putting people close together and de-emphasizing the car.

    I find it interesting that urban sprawl and suburbia really took off after WWII due to Federal Highways and Federal Mortgage programs. Such programs could have encouraged living in more compact designs by only lending to people purchasing condos in central cities. Instead it made it possible for people to purchase homes further and further from the city center.

    It may have all been coincidence, but Suburban sprawl does happen to spread out the population and the factories they serve. During WWII a major stategy of the US was to bomb enemy cities to deny the enemy armies material and supplies. With the invention of the Atomic bomb it became easier to wipe out compact cities. If the US became one big sprawl from coast to coast, it becomes harder to knock out population and factories leading to greater survivability in war. Was this encouraged or accidental?

    Unfortunately, this strategy is proving a vulnerability now. It depends on fossil fuel under the control of foreign, sometimes hostil countries. It is now a matter of national security to move to a plan like you propose. But such densly populated structures are vulnerable to terrorists as well as nukes.

    We may need to wait for world peace to have sensible living arrangements.
  • by peatbakke ( 52079 ) <> on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @09:03AM (#8724246) Homepage
    Bah. Anyone who's lived in a densely populated, culturally diverse area knows that this is a load of tripe. Diversity and "place" thrives where people come together to share ideas and goods.

    People cling to their native cultures and societal structures with rabid tenacity, particularly when "threatened" by outside influences. Take a look at Europe, India, or supposedly homogenous cultures like China, and you'll find that a sense of place is still very, very much intact. In fact, as our population grows and mingles, more "places" are created -- all of our cultures, societies, and sacred "places" are the product of thousands of years of travel and communication.

    I agree that it is good to preserve the aspects of your culture that are important to you, but it's also critically important to learn from what others have to offer: it's quite possible that they have better ways of doing things; better in the sense that it "fits" you better, not necessarily that it's faster or easier.

    Place, culture, society -- these are all dynamic things. Utopianism and antiwhateverisms are the seductive illusions you speak of, not the essential human tendencies to move about and socialize.

  • Horseback (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ChaoticCoyote ( 195677 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @10:00AM (#8724605) Homepage

    I'm brushing up on my horseback-riding skills. While they're certainly not a perfect solution, horse have a certain charm and simplicity. Plus, they don't need fossil fuels, and they do produce something that would keep my methane-powered generator going... ;)

    An impractical solution for many locales, horses are still an option to consider if your live in the right place.

    Why does everyone have to rush around so much? Does it really matter if I'm in London by 2PM as opposed to 4PM? Must we bounce around like mad blips in a vdieo game? Give me a quieter, more evenly-paced life, less frantic and more thoughtful...

  • by tarsi210 ( 70325 ) <> on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @10:53AM (#8725080) Homepage Journal
    I'd like to see something that I've thought about for a long time -- different licenses for different roads.

    Here's the concept: You have one general driver's license that gets you anywhere, basically, on standard roads. But a new driver's license that allows you onto a type of super-super-highway to be built across the USA. This highway would be several lanes wide for ease and safety, and the speed limit would be high -- say, 150mph. The minimum would be at least 85 or 90mph.

    The idea being here that if I am a driver with a good record, I can take a high-speed driving course and if I pass and install some standard, high-speed accessories in my car (3 or 4-point harnesses, etc), I am allowed to drive on the super-super highway and make a cross-country trip in very little time.

    The fact is, there's plenty of morons who should never go over the speedlimit due to the fact that they can't even use a turn signal, let alone drive correctly. But there are plenty of safe, alert, attentive drivers who would benefit from being able to run their well-designed fast cars on a highway suited to their needs.

    Plus, that way I wouldn't feel bad about kicking it up on a back highway because the day is gorgeous and 60mph is just too slow. :)
  • by chihowa ( 366380 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @11:10AM (#8725217)
    Ahh, see I live in a small city in the US with 3 universities. We students overtook all of downtown with out bikes and feet. Driving anywhere near the center of town is nerve racking. Bikes and pedestrians everywhere. It's wonderful.
  • by Derek Mason ( 767027 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @11:47AM (#8725549)
    This is an idea I've been thinking of myself for some time. But don't think that the energy requirements aren't huge - nanotechnology notwithstanding, there is still a huge amount of material that has to be broken up and moved. And where would it all be put - into space?

    The same network could be used for product delivery, mail, etc... It's a well-known (and hopefully true!) statistic that half of the world's GDP is taken up with inefficient transportation and associated industries (e.g. oil, shipping, cars, airlines) so a global underground subway could save a vast amount of resources and energy.

  • by JANYAtty. ( 678934 ) on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @07:20PM (#8731109)
    I think the future of travel (50 years of more from now) is replacing long distance travel with underground tunnels that are in a vacuum and have mag lev trains running at speeds over 1000 miles per hour. Eventually I think we'll have a network that will stradle the globe! Very expensive to build but once its ready its very efficient! The other solution will be Arcologies. a building big enough to house a small city!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 31, 2004 @09:05PM (#8731976)
    What we really need to do not just on a national level but also on a global level is build an infrastructure in space.
    To do this we need to do the following:
    1. We need to build a low cost launch, reusable Earth to orbit Vehicle.
    2. We need to build a reusable Earth to Moon vehicle capable of hauling a large amount of cargo or personnel.
    3. Finish off the Space station and make it a lot more usable.
    4. Create a Moon base for mining, manufacturing & exploration.
    5. Create a reusable long range space craft capable of traveling to Mars and beyond for; exploration, base building & cargo hauling.
    6. possibly building a Mars base for mining, manufacturing & exploration.

    This would do more for the world economy then anything else would.
    Then benefits have already been proven in the 60's.
    The benefits are global and I will list them:
    1. Spin off technology.
    2. Increased jobs.
    3. New manufacturing plants, methods & products.

    The history of this planet has always been to grow your economy open up new areas to exploration, and you will create new markets.
    Create new markets and you improve your economy.

    Either you're a part of the problem, or a part of the solution.
    Which have you chosen to be.
  • I've long supported THIS very concept:
    About: the Caspian Sea Monster []
    Much development remains with LARGER Sizes, Leading Tandem Monoplane configurations, and Sidewall Hovercraft Surface manoevering;- aspects being possibilities in solving various problems.

    Enclosed Fan Propulsion can solve high-power noise problems, and be used to augment swift-climb requirements!

"An organization dries up if you don't challenge it with growth." -- Mark Shepherd, former President and CEO of Texas Instruments