Does Personal Transportation really helps reduce jam ?


I think it’s a waste of time to keep talking about mass transportation, at least in the U.S.

People here love their cars, and for good reason; the country is too spread out for an effective mass transit system. The highway infrastructure is already developed anyway, and we shouldn’t ignore the benefits of it.

Focus more on individual vehicles and how to make them more efficient.

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

When I visited the US recently I stayed at a small college campus in the middle of nowhere in Florida. Everyone had cars and people were amazed when I made 5-10min walk up the road to the BP, a trip they’d always make in their car. So I think it’s more the case that people depend on/rely as opposed to ‘love’ their cars.

Mr 914…

I don’t think it is far off though. What would one need to have an autonomous automated vehicle? The ability to locate itself: GPS is already a mature technology. The ability to maintain a speed: cruise control which is fitted to most cars. The ability to maintain a proper distance to other cars: radar, which has filtered down to mid-level luxury cars already and will probably be everywhere in ten years. The ability to react to hazards: stability control controls the brakes and throttle of cars and will be fit as standard to every car very soon. Lane guidance: already exists, albeit at a beta stage right now on some luxury cars.

I often think about this. It reminds me of Jacque Fresco’s Venus Project. He argues that the majority of laws we create are the result of problems we can not solve, a fully automated vehicle would do away with the majority of traffic laws, reduce accidents, surely it’s the way forward? I can’t drive and would like to keep it that way for as long as possible, so I’m all for this, though I really can’t imagine the American people being so happy losing control of their cars.

The “problem” is that for America, marketing has long equated the automobile with one of the core cultural values, freedom. Worse, many of those same car owners have no idea that they have become a slave to the very thing that they perceive gives them freedom.


I’m going to defend the US a little here. The US needs cars because of the way the cities have developed. For an example, look at Phoenix, which just opened a 20 mile long light rail system. The train doesn’t even run half way across the city! A sprawling city of 2 million like Phoenix would need a rail network of the complexity of a city of 12 million like Tokyo for the system to take over the functionality of cars. There’s the problem, a city like Phoenix can’t afford the giant investment and maintenance cost of a rail network that complex. Worse yet, the reality is that most cities outside of New England are sprawling, low-density affairs like Phoenix.

So, if you are against cars, the only solution is massive and complete reconstruction of American cities into higher density urban areas. That will take a century, and cost a bundle. Moreover, it isn’t the car people will cling to, but the lifestyle. The large cheap house on large cheap land that is meters away from their neighbor’s. People often tell me of an ability to disconnect from work during their commute. The freedom to horde junk in a backyard. None of these factors are cars, but they are enabled by personal transport.

Also, I don’t subscribe to this lifestyle, I hate it. However, it’s reality for half of Americans today. In my opinion as a designer, I want to try to enable people to live this life, if that’s what they want. But, I also have the responsibility to reduce the impact on other’s that the lifestyle will have.

Boogeyman: I hear you! Since living in an urban environment, I make the same kind of walks you describe in the suburbs. I think people think I’m up to something evil.

The US needs cars because of the way the cities have developed

Actually, American cities have developed the way they are because of the car, and sadly Europe and Asia with huge out of down retail sheds, aren’t too far behind.

The US has GM (along with Firestone, Standard Oil of California, Phillips) to thank for trashing urban transit during the 40’s in an attempt to monopolize mass transportation. Sure, the car would have evolved to what it is today, but you can’t help but wonder what the US urban landscape would look like now if it wasn’t for that act of vandalism. Imagine too how the West Coast would work if there was a TGV or Shinkansen running between Seattle and LA, or Chicago and New York.

Still there’s hope: Cities like Portland Oregon are embracing light rail, as part of a coherent transportation infrastructure, and London with its successful Congestion Charge Zone demonstrate that there are real opportunities to rethink personal mobility.

I will also suggest you to look into Asian cities and how they tackle traffic. In countries like Taipei, Vietnam and Thailand, scooters are extremely popular. Take Taiwan as an example, scooters are the main transport for most families. Each adult will have one. It’s very well a part of the local culture. They are used locally. If they want to take it to another city far away, they can put it on a train. If not, they can ride it until their butts complain.

Problems that come with this:

  • More scooter means more pollution.
  • You will never get to your destination if you follow the traffic rules, so no one does.
  • Parking becomes a big issue. Most scooters are parked on places that are for pedestrians, illegally, and creates difficulty for people, especially the physically disabled, the old and young pedestrians.

Personal transport will be a solution that is beyond the device itself. You have to redesign the city’s infrastructure, like allocate special lanes, charging station(if it’s fuel cell or electric), parking space and mostly likely, a different set of traffic regulations to ensure that they are safely co-existing with bigger vehicles like cars and trucks. Most importantly, you need to do a very in dept analysis on the local culture and lifestyles. You cannot just create a cold system and expect every different culture to accept it. Unfortunately, that what happens a lot.

I don’t think that’s marketing spin, it’s a fact. I’m a student struggling to get by, and yet my wife and I were able to drive to Arizona and Oregon within the past few months to visit family and friends, and still afford it. Unless your commuting in rush hour, a car IS freedom. People aren’t addicted to oil, they’re addicted to freedom.

Mass transit is sweet, although not too cost-effective, and obviously it’s part of the solution for traffic-plagued cities. I grew up in Portland and light rail is fun and sometimes convenient. However, the car is not an evil to be thwarted. It’s something that needs to evolve.

^ So true. This is why there is no easy solution. You can’t just start with a clean slate when you’re dealing with millions of square miles and hundreds of years of infrastructure.

Congestion charging: A quick search says that traffic was reduced in the congestion charge area by 6%. We don’t know how much of that traffic was diverted however (people parking outside the zone, driving around the zone, etc). I don’t know if it’s that successful, especially at $10US a shot. Interestingly, smooth asphault roads can reduce emissions by 5%.

I don’t think everything should be blamed on GM/Firestone/etc. Car ownership increases in every developing society. We keep mentioning Europe, which does have incredible trains, and dense public transport, but car ownership still increased over the same period as the US. Would the US look that much different if we had driven Minis and 2CVs instead of Belaires and Galaxies?

Molestedcow: Scooters are interesting. I think sales have been increasing in North America lately, partly spurred by the introduction of cheaper Korean and Chinese scooters. Last time I looked, the dealer told me that polluting 2-strokes were being banned in North America too. I think electric scooters and more advanced engines could be a real alternative to cars. Most families could afford a scooter and a car. This would allow them to keep the flexibility they are used to, but save a little fuel in town. I don’t know if it would be worth it, but…

Definitely, bikers would like this. Man, I’d ride a motorcycle if it weren’t for car drivers (including me!).

Yes, scooters are definetely an interesting solution for medium distances. I use one daily and I love it.
The other night I saw a scooter zooming with some kind of “hissing” sound. Definitely Matrix. It was an electric of course but a large size not the moped-sized with removable batteries. I chatted with the guy a few second at the traffic light. It was a “Vectrix”, he loved it. It’s 9000 € (!) But to refill you just plug it on your garage.
I did the math and at 9000€ it seemed way to expensive to be interesting, money-wise. Otherwise the look and feel and the acceleration were really good.
Before posting this I checked and (according to their simulator) the Vectrix is the cheapest on Total Ownership Cost over a five year span !
Damn nice !
It’s 9000 $ in the US so it should be around 7000€, but you add importing cost and taxes I guess.
I have to say, after a mouthfull of European exemples, that I was surprised to discover this is an american company. Kudos to the american entrepreneurs !!

I’ve been following this thread in silence (lurking) but have considered nearly every aspect discussed thus far in my Thesis while at school. A few things to add/reinforce:

  1. Scooters are AWESOME and the environmental damage caused by 2-strokes is largely overstated, particularly in a low-density environment like the US. Current means of measuring account for the rate, but not the overall amount of pollutants. While 2T’s produce alot of smokey-smoke that smells bad and make people cough, the actual amount of greenhouse gas is comparatively low, =a 750cc streetbike. -And all at 100mpg and the reduced environmental burden of their compact size and fewer materials.

  2. Cars are really good at going long distances at high speeds to specific destinations, If any of those three parts of the equation are missing, you can do better. Otherwise the car is superior.

  3. Traffic on freeways is caused by poor road design, traffic in the cities is caused by congestion. -Specifically the width of the vehicle used. In a typical US city, there is no faster way of getting around an urban environment than a Bicycle or motorcycle.

  4. -As part of my thesis, I conceived a Narrow-Aspect Public Mobility Vehicle, at about 4’5" wide. It’s modular, hybrid and trackless. It’s not perfect, but could be incorporated in a larger, multiple asset system. -Which I believe is the only way to “solve” public mobility issues.

Nice to have the point of someone who spent a year on the subject.

But I disagree on some aspects :
Two stroke motors aren’t a clever branch of the gas motor. The lubricating oil is burned and sent to the atmosphere. Maybe not particularly global warming but polluting yes. The 4 stroke allows for way cleaner motors.

Furthermore the 2T is a gas guzzler in comparison with equivalent power 4T, because some unburned gas goes through the system. Sure à 125 cc still uses less than a 2l or 5 liters car engine but does use more than a 125cc 4 stroke.

It’s also louder.

The great advantage of the 2T is its simpleness then low weight. So it’s perfectly suited for handheld device like chainsaws. Or “grasshopper like” motorsports like motorbikes for Cross, Supercross or Trial.

Althought I’m a big fan of motorized city 2 wheelers I see no point in using 2T instead of 4T. I would be in favor of banning them in the cities.
Actually this is a growing trend : 2T motors are and will be increasingly banned in favor of cleaner 4T, be it in lawnmovers, chainsaw, scooters, marine outboard engines, small electricity generators…

I’m surprised you advocate this category after a year of extensive research…

Furthermore “traffic on freeways is caused by poor road design”. I just can’t believe it. Come on. Traffic jams comes from traffic density. Its like a physical law. You pour sand down a tube until a point were the sand get stuck.

Another way of saying it : the more cars around the more careful you have to be then you have to slow down, until full stop.

If you could you would go 200mph on an autobahn. If alone on the road. The more cars there are the slower you could go. Well try it if you don’t believe me. Go to Germany, find a nice perfectly straight autobahn (“good road design”) and hit the pedal full speed. Through the traffic. What’s the problem ? The road is perfectly designed ?!

This is the kind of argument I expect to see on “Road and Track” letters : “it the fault of the others drivers, its the fault of the road, its the fault of whatever if I can go full speed”. No it’s science. Try it on foot. Run through a crowd. Of course on a"perfectly straight curb"…Just send us a picture of you from the hospital after being smashed on the face by the crowd.

I’m being agressive there but, again, I can’t believe someone in higher education makes a thesis and write this kind of … phrases.

I’m surprised you advocate this category after a year of extensive research…

I’m being agressive there but, again, I can’t believe someone in higher education makes a thesis and write this kind of … phrases.

How much research have you done?

2t engines have far superior fuel economy and power outputs per their 4t cousins. Only in recent times have 4t motors started to approach 2t power potential per capacity. I accept that 4t motors will always be more reliable and cleaner, but during my research, it was clear that the manufacturing burden in terms of materials and pollution favors the simplicity and performance of the 2t engine, particularly the Ditech Engine -which produces 80% less pollution than other traditional 2t’s- and beg the question as to the viability of this “dead” technology.

As far as poor road design goes, consider where you are the next time a non-accident traffic jam occurs. My personal research, as well NDOT’s shows that most traffic jams aren’t occurring in wide open expanses of freeway, but around exits, on-ramps and other transitional locations, indicating that the design of those roadway elements is much of the problem.

That still has little to do with bad road signs. Traffic jams occur frequently at places that are known to jam frequently, and specific hours. People take the same route everyday experiencing the same jam, so most of them should know the roads well. Therefore, the design of road signs should only affect first timers.

You mentioned jams often occur at interactions. What does this tell me? This tells me that jams occur at points where more than one stream of traffic merge or intersect. It is the change of flow of the traffic that causes the jam. Again, road signs are not at fault here.

From personal experience, I have experience jams at places that are not intersections. Sure intersections are more prone to slower traffic flow, but higher density of traffic automatically increases the stress level of the drivers, therefore speed drops.

err… I should’ve been clearer. My Bad. By ‘roadway elements’ I wasn’t referring to signage at all, rather the size and geometry of things like entry lanes, exit lanes, distance between the two, how and where lanes merge and disect, etc… etc…

What does this tell me? This tells me that jams occur at points where more than one stream of traffic merge or intersect. It is the change of flow of the traffic that causes the jam. Again, road signs are not at fault here.

I agree! completely!

It’s god’s fault for not designing our brains to deal with hurdling down a stretch of tarmac at anything above walking pace;)

Didn’t anyone watch the video I posted here? Jams will happen because of the poor visual perception of the human brain. We naturally get too close to the vehicle in front and then brake to slow down. This causes a chain in the line of traffic until it grinds to hault. Better intersections and overpasses can help, but at the end of the day, if humans are in control, it’s going to happen.

Correction: I thought I read “road sign” is to be blamed for bad traffic when it’s actually “road Design”. My bad.

Sure there are certain roads that are badly designed, especially those where cars are coming on ramp and off ramp on the same lane, forcing dangerous lane merging between two flows of traffic that are trying to do the opposite. I have no idea who approves designs like that, but it’s everywhere and I simply try to avoid using those ramps.

Once I had to drive on a 4 lane road where they laid the tarmac but haven’t painted the lane lines yet. It was at night, absolutely chaotic. No body knew where they should be driving. Getting from one side of the road to the other was extremely stressful, and something as simple as maintaining a steady speed was hard because there wasn’t a lane(which automatically regulates the speed for that lane). I was glad it wasn’t long.

I don’t think M914’s reasoning is the MAIN reason. However it’s a big factor. Keeping a constant distant between cars may be harder than what people think. When the driver behind suddenly realizes that he’s closer than he thinks, he hits the brake and that action passes down. Here, there is a scary amount of drivers on cell-phones. I bet that has to a lot to do with the notorious traffic jams here.

TruTV recently had a show called “Driving me Mad”. All drivers should watch it.

“It’s god’s fault for not designing our brains to deal with hurdling down a stretch of tarmac at anything above walking pace;)”

i so disagree with this statement made. Of all things to blame, you blame God? Adam & Eve was perfect until they sin, shouldn’t we blame ourselves?

Do keep this discussion clean :exclamation:

  • keep track on the topic -

And thanks people for all the great opinions and sharing on transportation, as i don’t have as much insights & great information like the most of you have contributed.