Monday, January 12, 2009

Mass transit

The major problem with mass transit is, frankly, that it's inconvenient for the things people commonly need to do. Stuff like shopping, or quick runs to random places. It's hard to bring anything back, let alone large items like a television or a full load of groceries for a family, and usually the busses and trains take twice as long to get there as a car would even after allowing for traffic snarls. I don't see a fix for this as long as mass transit is designed around large-capacity transports running on fixed routes on a fixed schedule. What we need is a completely different design, which will require a street network designed to accomodate it.

First, the basic local unit is a transit pod running in a dedicated guideway. Stops are cut-outs where the pods can get out of the traffic flow. Pods would be in 3 sizes to cut down on the number of varieties needed. 2-seat pods are designed to hold just people, no cargo, to provide a physically small unit for getting individuals from point A to point B when they don't need to carry much more than a backpack or briefcase. Larger pods are 2-row and 4-row versions, with the rear rows designed to fold flat into the floor to convert seating into cargo deck as needed for that particular trip. These don't run on fixed schedules or routes, people call them to a stop as needed based on how many people are in their group and how much cargo they expect to have and pick the destination once they're in. Pods are routed automatically by the shortest, least-congested path. Guideways don't have to run on every single street, but they should run on enough that it's never more than half a block from any house to a pod stop. For instance, in a residential neighborhood the guideways might run on every east-west street so you have to walk no more than half a block north or south to a guideway. The preference, though, would be to have a guideway on every street so pods can stop literally at your driveway. With this kind of routing, you avoid the waits to change lines that're typical of conventional bus and train systems.

Pods would operate in a large area, and in theory you can take a pod for the entirety of a trip anywhere within a sane distance, but for longer-distance travel inter-area trams would be used. These wouldn't run everywhere. They'd connect transit hubs, and be organized into lines much the way trains are currently. There would, however, be more interconnection than is typical of train lines, so you could take a direct route with less going out of your way and changing trains at a central station. I call them trams rather than trains because I'd design them using dedicated guideways like the pods rather than rails, so a tram could at a hub choose between multiple ways out. That way the system can dynamically allocate trams to routes at each hub to accomodate traffic. If you're going further than a few miles, you'd typically take a pod to the nearest hub and grab a tram to a hub near your destination. If you picked up cargo that couldn't be delivered, you'd take a pod the whole way back.

Using guideways also allows another trick: commercial pods could be designed that'd run on both pod and tram guideways. A store could, for instance, load up a delivery pod with loads for several customers in the same area and route it out (on a pod guideway to the nearest tram hub, then over the tram guideways to a hub near it's destination, and finally via pod guideways to a stop near the delivery address) to drop off deliveries for customers.

The major problem I see with implementing this is that you'd need to majorly disrupt the street network to build the guideways. You literally can't do this on top of the existing streets, you'd need to redesign the streets to accomodate the guideways (no more on-street parking, the guideways will be occupying that space) and have a whole new way to handle cars crossing the guideways without interfering with pod traffic (probably requiring traffic-control gates). IMO it'd be worth it once implemented, but the up-front cost of implementing it makes it a hard sell.

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