When you talk about developing a new concept, a long lead-time is required. Right now everyone seems to be focused on producing an emissions-free vehicle. For more than 15 years automakers and scientists have developed electric cars, hybrids, fuel cells and emissions-free gas engines, and I think that is great. Cleaner air is a laudable goal.
But the more important question is: Where are you going to put all the cars? When I retired, a little over a decade ago, I no longer had to conform to a firm schedule. So if I had to travel around the city I tried to time it to avoid the rush hours and the traffic jams that went with them. Now, no matter what time of the day, if I have to travel in the city I will usually find myself stuck in traffic.
They say if the population grows just 1% a year it will double in a little over 70 years. Seventy years isn't really that far away. I don't know if that means cars also will double during that period, but there will be a significant increase in the car population. That will mean big-time problems that will require some big-time solutions.
We may think that a problem that's 70 years away gives us lots of time to come up with a solution. In fact, if auto executives, city planners and government officials don't get together now to come up with some creative thinking to solve the problem as it evolves, it may start to cause problems a lot sooner than 70 years from now.
And ultimately a solution has to go beyond current thinking. I'm not confident that proposals to slow population growth by restricting immigration, or allowing only one child per family as in China, are that effective; besides they sound un-American.
Mass transit and bullet trains may have worked 40 or 50 years ago when people lived and worked in more concentrated areas, but today the areas where people live and work are spread all over the place. So they would still have to travel from scattered locations where they live to a station and from a station to their scattered work places.
There is a lot more talk of adding expressways, widening freeways, putting in more exits, or building double-tier roads. All I can think of when people talk about this as a solution is the time and money involved in getting rights of way, condemning land and, worst of all, the construction that's going to be required - and the even larger and more frequent traffic jams this will cause.
I'm sorry, this solution just doesn't light me up. It may provide a short-term solution, but if you are talking 70 years away, I don't think it's the answer.
A solution will require real creative ideas. I'd like to throw out a thought, just to see if I can get the ball rolling.
Visualize a number of relatively small cities or satellites, scattered throughout the country, all connected by highways.
The core of these satellites would be workplaces, factories and offices. Residential areas, with schools, recreation and shops would surround the workplaces. This should be no problem because workplaces 70 years hence are environmentally correct, quiet, clean and easily blend into residential areas.
There also is no reason to separate offices and factories. This should economize on the facilities and improve communications. There are no mega-malls, but smaller shopping areas that blend into the neighborhoods. Each of the various areas would be within an easy commute from one another. You could walk, jog, or ride a bike to work. The highways that connect the satellite communities would be used mostly by commercial vehicles transporting goods.
The biggest hurdle to making something like this happen is current zoning laws, which contribute to the traffic problem because they separate commercial and residential areas, making it necessary for extensive travel from one point to the other.
Unless the powers that be recognize that this is a most serious problem requiring immediate attention, the mammoth traffic congestions that are sure to come will give new definition to the meaning of gridlock.