Friday, January 23, 2009

A Better Shuttle - Part II

In my previous blog entry, I referred to a story in the USA Today "Forget the Cab, Take a Shuttle Flight". This story explains how a new air shuttle service is being offered between a suburban airport and Atlanta's Hartsfield airport, 43 miles away, so that residents of Atlanta's suburbs can get to this major airport without having to deal with the horrendous traffic on the way. I proposed in that blog entry the use of VTOL airplanes to make the shuttle service even better. In this entry, I want to talk about how to solve the real problem: unrelenting and unpredictable road congestion.

There are numerous solutions offered to greatly reduce road congestion: better monitoring of traffic, building more roads and widening existing ones, congestion pricing, more mass transit, reserved lanes for vehicles with multiple occupants, and increasing automation of automobiles and trucks. These all have some merit, but I don't think any of them will come close to remedying the problem. Having (almost) all traffic on one level really limits available space for cars and trucks, unless we want to pave over every square foot of land everywhere. Elevation is prohibitively expensive with cement and asphalt roads, and even just adding more lanes to existing surface roads is expensive, causes all sorts of traffic delays in the process, and seems to invite more traffic, so that the enlarged road is congested not long after the construction is done.

The article about the new air shuttle service to Hartsfield airport makes another interesting point.
Traffic-congestion experts cite the problem of unpredictability: When people don't know which day they'll experience an hour-long delay, they have to build in that extra hour — wasted time when traffic flows smoothly.
Using the photo below from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) as an illustration, a person going to the airport could be traveling in the congested direction (right hand side), or in the uncongested (upper left) direction. He or she would have no control over the traffic going to the airport, and would have to allow the maximum time just in case traffic is bad. This means leaving earlier than necessary, else risking a congestion delay and a missed flight.

And, adding more lanes or elevating lanes to alleviate the traffic situation, can wind up creating the utopian vision below (photo also from the FHWA), which happens to show road realities in the Atlanta area.

No one should have to contend with real or anticipated traffic jams, and no community should have to add more and more ribbons of cement. The best way to get someone from their home to the Hartsfield airport is to implement the Aeroduct System that Aeromobile Inc. has pioneered. Air cushion vehicles in lightweight transparent or translucent guideways offer many advantages over wheeled vehicles on roads, not the least is the dramatic improvement in capacity. The guideways in the Aeroduct System are less expensive than roads; the air cushion vehicles are less expensive than cars or trucks. The lightweight guideways can be stacked vertically and horizontally, allowing almost infinite capacity. With this System, no one would ever be late to the airport due to terrible traffic, and no one would have to leave their job or home early just because traffic might be bad.

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