Sunday, November 20, 2022

Transportation Equity is Basic Physics

We have only one place left to go, and that is to question the unquestioned urban configuration of machines and humans competing on the same plane, terra firma. Put people and 2-tonne machines in the same place, and the machines will win. They've been winning for over 100 years. Here's a slice of time, from 1982:
"What a difference there was between the new and the old parts of Mexico City only 20 years ago [e.g., 1982-20 = 1962, 60 years ago]. In the old parts of the city the streets were true commons. Some people sat on the road to sell vegetables and charcoal. Others put their chairs on the road to drink coffee or tequila. Others held their meetings on the road to decide on the new headman for the neighbourhood or to determine the price of a donkey. Others drove their donkeys through the crowd, walking next to the heavily loaded beast of burden; others sat in the saddle. Children played in the gutter, and still people walking could use the road to get from one place to another.

"Such roads were built for people. Like any true commons, the street itself was the result of people living there and making that space liveable. The dwellings that lined the roads were not private homes in the modern sense - garages for the overnight deposit of workers. The threshold still separated two living spaces, one intimate and one common. But neither homes in this intimate sense nor streets as commons survived economic development.

"In the new sections of Mexico City, streets are no more for people. They are now roadways for automobiles, for buses, for taxis, cars, and trucks. People are barely tolerated on the streets unless they are on their way to a bus stop. If people now sat down or stopped on the street, they would become obstacles for traffic, and traffic would be dangerous to them. The road has been degraded from a commons to a simple resource for the circulation of vehicles. People can circulate no more on their own. Traffic has displaced their mobility. They can circulate only when they are strapped down and are moved...."
Silence is a Commons, Ivan Illich, 1982
The Spartan Superway team at San José State University is designing a mobility system that separates humans (+pets, deer, kangaroos…) from machines. The team of mostly mechanical engineering students is applying basic physics to design a mobility system that is intrinsically safe: "No two objects can occupy the same place at one time." (At the quantum level, it's called the Pauli Exclusion Principle.) Paying attention to fundamental physics beats the electric vehicle (still a car), the autonomous vehicle (still a car, friendly to the machine and hostile to the human), the bus (a car on steroids), light rail (slicing communities in half), "Safe Streets" (pure rhetoric), "Complete streets" (Would you drop your child off to daycare at a lions den?!), PR campaigns (edutainment trumps physics?), and laws against drunk driving (after the fact). 

Kids playing under the Spartan Superway

Transportation equity is the bicycle, unencumbered by life-threatening monsters on the streets.

Rise above!!