Thursday, November 08, 2007

Blindingly obvious

I'm really interested in issues of transportation, and my position is fairly simple: Governments all over the world need to push public transportation, especially trains. Banking on cars is a losing proposition. Not only is there the obvious problem of oil, but even if someone invents engines fueled by other means (electricity, ethanol, fumes from Republicans' brains), we will have to deal with 1) how to actually pump out these new sources of energy and 2) the enormous gridlock that will come out of millions of additional vehicles on the roads.

Reading "Running on Fumes," Elizabeth Kolbert's review of two new books about the automobile industry and a potential "car of the future," I was struck by the fact that she never brought up public transportation. Actually, it kinda blows me away. Of all people, the ecologically minded Kolbert should at least mention the fact that the car cannot possibly be considered the be-all and end-all when it comes to going from point A to point B; the very terms of the discourse are impossibly narrow in America. When I read about new super-cheap cars, it makes me tremble. Our short-sighted elected officials should focus on figuring out how to efficiently replace cars whenever possible, not on how to make them cheaper. Kolbert says that "There are nine personal vehicles per thousand eligible drivers in China and eleven for every thousand Indians, compared with 1,148 for every thousand Americans." Okay, so China and India will have cheap cars, but perhaps their governments should look into bullet trains as well? (It goes without saying that the U.S. should look into them too; it just won't happen with the current administration.)

Leaving issues of pollution aside, I've been living in New York for 17 years and in that time I've witnessed the metastasizing of auto traffic in the city. Unless you drive at 3am, it's a given you'll get stuck, no matter where you are or where you go. It's blindingly obvious that physical space isn't infinitely expandable: Where, pray tell, are all these extra cars going to go?


s.j.simon said...

:) You know, the swiss were very late to lay rail tracks. check this out

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

I've never had the chance to ride the Swiss railways, but I'd love to if only to check out that infamous rack-and-pinion system!