Communications technology has rocketed forward in my lifetime.
Your reading this is evidence of that.
There is more computing power in my Droid phone than, well, virtually anything in 1960, 51 years ago.
I can watch movies on my phone, whenever I want. Tens of thousands of people will read this essay.
The events in the Libyan revolution are coming at me in a Twitter stream. More reliable than any other source.
You can look things up on Wikipedia, even correct errors you find if you’d like to.
What is true for communication and information is not true for transportation.
I live in LA. It takes longer for me to get from the front step of my home to standing in New York’s Times Square than it did in 1960.
We won’t even talk about how much longer it takes to get around in LA.
In 1960, we got virtually all of our oil from domestic sources. Now, 58 to 63% of it, depending on whom you ask, comes from foreign wells.
In a nutshell, our ability to communicate has exploded and our ability to move around has stagnated.
DC-8 and 707 jetliners were linking the globe in 1960, and today’s newest airliner, the 787, isn’t one MPH faster. Add congestion to and from airports, parking, and (expletive deleted) security lines, and we have actually gotten slower in our continental travel.
There is less train travel available today than there was in 1960. And it isn’t any faster. Most of the stretches, on rusting rails, are slower.
In a nutshell, it takes me longer to get around town and longer to get to other cities in North America.
Truth is, we still get around on 1960 technology: paved freeways, gasoline-run cars and trucks, and 1960-era jetliners (which are really just WW2 B-29 bombers with jet engines).
The communication equivalent would be rotary dial phones and telegrams.
Here are some bad ideas:
- Build more freeways and add freeway lanes.
- Put the whole world in gasoline cars (1 billion in China, 1 billion in India, and hundreds of millions in Africa).
- Build more airports.
- Increase airport security.
- Build more busses. Trains can fly over or under traffic. Busses are stuck in it. Time to retire the “loser cruiser.”
Here are some good ideas, but only upgrades of what we have:
- Find cleaner fuel
- Generate cleaner energy
- High speed rail to regional destinations. (e.g. LA to Las Vegas, Chicago to St. Louis, etc.). North America is too big for high speed rail all the way across the country, we can already go three times as fast (600 mph) in the air vs. 200mph on TGV rails. It only works for medium sized trips, where it is, in total, faster than flying.
- Invest in urban public transportation. Go to Europe, Japan, or Hong Kong. You will never disagree with this again. I guarantee it.
- Increase bicycle usage in milder climates.
Here are some problems we need to solve:
- We need to become energy independent, at least as a North American continent.
- We need to find cheaper, cleaner sources of local and small-unit power (for cars, homes, laptops, flashlights, etc.)
- We need to find a breakthrough in distance travel (i.e. to New York from LA)
- We need to start building our housing developments around people (villages) and not around cars (lifeless, boring, isolating tract housing). Human scale. This also aids public transportation.
- We need to find an alternative to the gasoline car for China and India that will allow personal mobility.
- Figure out inexpensive continental overland freight transport. Semi-trucks are profoundly inefficient and require huge public highway subsidies.
Cheap, safe, fast transportation (of goods and people) is good for any society. It increases commerce and upgrades the ability to add value with others. Imagine a small business with 7 employees spread out over the whole country that could easily have lunch together every Thursday.
You see, speed of transportation took giant leaps between 1840 (it was about the same speed then as in Bible times) and 1960. That’s when progress stopped.
There will need to be cooperation between private and public sectors to make it work. It’s not an either-or. Private enterprise did not build the Roman Roads, and it took government direction to build the Interstates and to put astronauts on the moon.
But we are America. We can accomplish these things.