Friday, October 28, 2016

Door to Door

Door to Door provides a look at transportation in America. Ample coverage is provided on ports and the movement of freight. (Ironically, most people don't realize the importance of the ports, such as the resident that complained of the port traffic being useless to here because she could just get things at Wal-Mart. Little did she realize how Wal-Mart got its things.) People are reluctant to build roads that would be mostly used by freight. They would prefer to optimize roads for less-efficient single occupancy vehicles.

Freeways tend to induce demand. The story was told of the busy California freeway that was closed for reconstruction and expansion. Calamity was expected when it was closed, with drivers clogging local roads. Instead, drivers simply did not drive. The traffic on other roads was lighter than normal, even with the freeway closed. However, once it was opened with additional lanes, traffic picked up with a vengeance, with times being even slower than they were before the expansion.

Cars are just plain dangerous. Distracted drivers are given a few tons of metal to do what they see fit. Early on, cars were seen for the danger that they were. However, through the careful PR work of the automobile interests, we have the language of "accidents". The incidents are viewed as things that could just as well happen to anybody and need not be punished. The author gives an account of a number of fatal "accidents" that happened in a single day. We have become "immune" to the serious scourge in our society. We demand recalls when small parts have problem in cars, but do very little for the large scale problem we have with cars. Modern "stroads" that combine large multi-lane highway design with strip malls and other attractions are another significant danger of the modern car culture.

The author of the book is very keen on driver-less cars. They are seen as a great help that can improve cities and make the roads safer for everyone involved. The cars can respond instantly to dangers and incursions. They can also be communal taxis, not needing to occupy real estate in dense city centers. Will they catch on? Or will the auto interests find a way to encourage more personal ownership and make roads even more inclusive to automobiles. I have been a driver-less skeptic, but the arguments presented here are quite persuasive. However, the "road bullies" driving their own cars could still be a concern in a driverless world.

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