* One thing's for sure: our system of roads, speeds, the mutual infringement of pedestrians, pedal power, locomotives and other vehicular traffic --perhaps separated by painted white lines --is nuts.
2/8/2019: * In recognition of Tesla's Roadster-2.0:
For those who don't closely follow the development of
performance cars, Tesla's second generation Roadster is scheduled for production
in 2020, the first thousand or so being earmarked for those who've paid
in advance, then to those who've invested a $50,000 down payment. That
first generation Roadster which went into orbit around the Sun was Elon
Musk's personal 2008 model (built on a Lotus chassis).
* Dale Maharidge wrote an excellent article for Harper's magazine concerning the nation's crumbling secondary roads and bridges. It's my expectation that overlaying our deteriorating transportation infrastructure with "self driving" cars will prove to be a Donnybrook. From watching a Ford car commercial (5/22/2017) I gather that they already sell self parking cars and I see we're getting news reports about accidents as self-driving cars are being road tested. I await drawn out court battles over who's responsible, findings that the (deep pockets) manufacturers are at fault, bigga recalls, and finally: handing the reigns and the liability back to human drivers.
* An accumulation of accidents and deaths (as of 4/3/2018) brought the road testing of self-driving cars to a halt in several states. It turns out that one of these vehicles ran into a concrete divider after an audio and visual warnings failed to alert the human at the wheel (who was streaming a movie) that things were getting out of control. (If I recall news of the day: there was a suggestion that the highway's painted white lines were out of specification, the crash was followed by run-away shorting and flash ignition of the batteries. The fire department had to stand by, hesitant to direct water onto the burning car's carcass until Tesla engineers could come and disable its electrical circuits. That strikes me as a jobs program for lawyers.
I suggest that that sensors and computers are simply not up to the wary alertness it takes to navigate a vehicle at speed, deal with the psychology of others on the road, to anticipate, to creatively, and even unconsciously avoid hazards. And if the driver's attention isn't supposed to wander, then just what is the point of a "self-driving" car?
* Aside from the complexities of programming a self-driving
car, even the far simpler tasks of engineering things like air-bags that
don't kill us and steering wheels that don't come off has proven to be
a challenge. Ford had to recall 1.4 million cars in 2018 because their
steering wheels were coming loose --some of them came completely off at
speed. (Of course, when Ford starts fielding self-driving cars, we won't
need no stinkin' steering wheels, right?)
* Bullet trains: Considering our unwillingness to maintain bridges and roadbeds, recalling the recent railway accidents in which engineers failed to slow down for curves, it's hard to imagine our (USA) culture operating European and Asian style "bullet" trains. Why not run trains at modest speeds, such that derailments are not fatal?
* The single most effective factor in traffic safety is speed. How very cheap and simple it is to save lives and reduce injuries: just reduce speed.
Since the kinetic energy of a collision is proportional to the square of miles per hour, an accident at 30mph is 4 times worse than at 15mph. At 45mph, it's (3 squared =) 9 times worse.
* Should you be enamored of "extreme sports", the "need for speed", the thrill of risk taking --then this page is probably not for you. It's a gentler crowd that I encourage to seek out and build alternative (new cities, "intentional", "gated"/CC&Rs) communities and lifestyles. I quite discourage vain attempts to impose such pastoral ideas upon thrill seeking mainstream Americans.
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Let's start with some extreme "counter-culture" notions.
* Travel, change, "growth" and even "progress" -- are not inherently "good things". Those are hard arguments to make, since we live in a culture/society that's so desperately in need of fundamental changes.
Glimmerings of such understanding are among us. Recall
the familiar: "happiness is in your own back yard", along with that old
fashioned admonition against "change for change sake". (Yes: we all feel
needs, both practical and recreational, to venture some distance away from
home. I'm talking matters of degree and range --of course.)
* Perhaps the first argument I hear against drastically reducing our speed limits is: "we don't have the highway capacity". However, being mindful of those public service announcements that we should count a second's worth of travel between vehicles (or a car length between for each 10mph --about the same), then --nominally-- a capacity of something like 86% as many cars should pass a given point along a highway at (say) 30mph as at 60mph. (The math here is for 16 foot long cars.) More likely, and over time, vehicle miles (if not hours) would considerably diminish (due to closer destinations), such that highway capacity would effective increase.
* Dissent #2 (and maybe it's #1): "it would take twice as long to get there". However: that there "there" --the destination, is pretty arbitrary, is it not? So just why did you decide to build and drive to your cabin on "the lake" for the weekend --instead of somewhere (say) nearer to Canada? Answer: you picked a nice destination that was do-able --at 60/whatever MPH. But then: why not 120mph? With more investment in highways, vehicles and fuel, is that so unreasonable? Would Canada then be reachable from your home?
Obviously, if it had long been a "given" (and accepted)
that the highway speed limit is (say) 35mph^, then you'd
have simply built a cabin on a lake that was nearer to home --and maybe
commuted to work for a company at about half the distance you now travel,
plus: you'd stand a much better chance of driving to those destinations
and living to a ripe old age --with lower life and car insurance
premiums along the way. (I'm originally from Minnesota, which has lakes,
lakes, lakes, everywhere to choose from --and mosquitos.)
The Car of the Future
General Motors' futurecasters at the 1939 World's Fair thought that super highways and 100mph family cars would be routine by the 1960s.
Contrast that with the Panama-California International Exposition of 1915-16, which introduced Clyde Osborn's "Electriquettes":
Below 50mph, the profile and streamlining of a vehicle is much less important, so boxy, slower vehicles could be designed for comfort (shoulder/hip room, luggage capacity, rain shedding visors over the windows), as well as having more usable interior volume and engine accessibility --due to needing a much smaller engine/motor. (Perhaps you could pull an engine block by hand.)
* At "parkway speed" (35mph^ and below), air flow over a car ceases to be so turbulent. Open your windows. Listen to nature's birds and crickets. (Hey: try that sometime. It's very pleasant on a warm summer evening.)
At 35mph and below, wild creatures stand a fair chance of getting out of the way, so road kill goes way down --and ain't that nice.
* Not only could engines be significantly smaller at modest speeds, the whole drive train, wheels, tires, and chassis weight gets sharply reduced, so cars become more affordable to build and to purchase --as well as to drive.
^** Surprise(!) --it's already been
done! In May of 1942 a national speed limit of
35 MPH was decreed in support of the war effort to conserve tire rubber
and gasoline. The State of Utah kept track of the results: auto accidents
decreased by 35%, traffic deaths were cut in half, and this was despite
a 5% increase of vehicles on their roads and highways over the same period
of time (1941 to 1943).
** Of course: fuel consumption goes down with speed, and the more so if a car is designed for the targeted speed range, since it also goes down with reduced vehicle weight (a factor which dominates at speeds below 50 MPH).
More "car talk" *here*.
^^ Portraits of American Presidents - copyright NBC News/Questar - 1992