Thursday, May 12, 2005

Moving Roads

Guys, its time to go back to the original theme of this blog - Crazy ideas !

There's congestion on every major highway in the world and I dont think its getting any better. In fact, there is another version of the picture above where the caption reads "Next 20 Years" instead of "Next 2 Miles".

Now, there are more cars in the US than human beings and even high oil prices don't seem to be dampening vehicle sales.

And traffic congestion is costly - 3.7 billion hours of travel delay and 2.3 billion gallons of wasted fuel in 2003. The average person had 47 hours of traffic delays, with the average Los Angeles inhabitant spending 93 hours stuck in traffic in 2003.

There are several reasons for the grid lock. One reason is the sheer volume of traffic. However, another big reason is poor driving - This leads to accidents that can jam up long sections of highways (with a 2 car accident during rush hour slowing down traffic for upwards of an hour). In addition, there are several people who just can't drive and slow down traffic through their incompetent driving.

Stuck in snail paced traffic one day on I-95 in Northern Virginia (in a stick shift :-(), I wondered whether there was a better alternative to continual highway broadening which is costly and causes further congestion in the process. One is to reduce the number of cars, but thats not going to happen in the US ...

I thought of another alternative - What if roads could be replaced with huge conveyor belts ? Cars would have to enter the belts at highway on-ramps and then they could shut off their engines. The conveyor belts would run constantly and move the cars along.

This would only be used in the busiest of highways. There would be no accidents and traffic flow could be coordinated using a speed/route algorithm. I would think that the resulting smooth flow of traffic would reduce congestion by a good deal.

There would be a toll to run these conveyor belts equivalent to the cost of gas that would have been consumed. Each lane would have its own belt, with different pre-set speeds - Normal, Express, Super Fast with different prices for each ...

I have no clue whether this is feasible to execute, both from engineering & financial points of view. Thoughts, anyone ?

Response from a Civil Engineering professor at Georgia Tech:

If you run the energy calculations (and maintenance estimations) on your idea, I think that you’ll discover the major issues that you’d face. You have technical issues to face in moving vehicles into and out of the system. There are some related ideas on providing external power that are probably more promising… run a web search on Tube Freight.

The other constraints are capital costs, and operations and maintenance. Also Don’t forget the liability issues as well when something with the system goes wrong and 200 vehicles crash at once.

Hmm, this is one idea whose time has'nt come ! However, I think you could move vehicles in and out of the system using accelerating and decelerating conveyors ..


Sami said...

ummmm.....sounds really crazy ammu!
just imagine the extent to which the designers will have to scratch their heads to design a belt that would move the cars. It is like this: On a highway, the cars are likely to surpass the 150 kmph speeds. So, one needs to design a belt that moves the static cars at this speed, so that the drivers do not feel the loss of time! And the very basic priniple of Physics: Inertia comes into play, which is likely to give nightmares for the static drivers.
And finally, imagine the traffic jam in the stretch that precedes the "belt area"!

Thu May 12, 08:50:00 AM EDT  
Jai said...

This defeats the purpose of driving . I think it curbs your freedom to drive. What about taking the numerous exits on the way . Thats a logical nightmare in itself. If this was implementable, I would not shell out 35K for a car. I'd rather buy a folding chair and head out to office . A wild idea but deserves appreciation neverthless.:-)

Fri May 13, 12:28:00 AM EDT  

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