What will go where?

Trusting a species with an average IQ of only 100, and motivated by selfish desire, to drive their own cars is a crazy idea. Compared to trusting horses to pull along buggies, I guess cars seemed all well and good in the 20s. But compared to technologies on the horizon, and advances in pedal power, private car ownership is, as I say, a crazy idea.

So let’s assume humanity goes on finding new sources of energy, and does not blow itself up. What transport technologies will occupy which spatial layers as we reorganise our cities around the safer and more efficient modes that are coming on stream? What will go on the street? What will go underground, overground wandering free? And will go in the easements?

Futurama 1939

Futurama 1939

The mistake of the interwar period was giving cars the ground plane at street level, and pushing pedestrians right off to the side, or even into the air. Interestingly, the first major thought experiment to look at the question, the Futurist Manifesto of Architecture from 1914, mentioned cars occupying a subterranean layer. It was the obvious way. And although Sant’Elia’s drawn visions would be a bit more confused, the basic idea of a machinery layer away from pedestrian traffic would remain a firm underpinning of his speculations.

steve_atkinson_santelia

Now that cars are being squeezed off of the ground plane in the world’s leading cities, I wonder if cyclists and pedestrians can hold onto that territory, or if we will be swept aside by the next wonder machine to promise liberation and profits. I’m very dubious of Bjarke Ingels’s Audi sponsored vision of ground planes where cars and toddlers all mix, in the hope that computers will intervene before anybody is hurt or bullied aside.

Audi initiative, by Bjarke Ingels

Audi initiative, by Bjarke Ingels

But let’s not be naive. Driverless taxis are coming to town. I would rather they didn’t. I look at the working prototype at Heathrow airport and imagine disasters unfolding if Personal Rapid Transport did replaced cars, but I know how readily most people let themselves become smitten. Already Singapore’s minister of transport has mentioned driverless taxis as the future for that country’s roads.

The problem is one of nomenclature. While ever we call these things cars, podcars, or taxis, we assume they will step into the same space cars have occupied for as long as anyone can remember. But the great promise of these point-to-point single car systems, is they could go somewhere else, leaving the street free for walking and cycling. The obvious place to put them is on monorails, out of the way, where those disgusting lazy boorish corpulent blackguards who don’t want to cycle can be hidden from view. (Disclaimer, some of my best friends are disgusting lazy boorish corpulent blackguards who don’t want to cycle… Actually, come to think of it, I blew them all off. The description remains.)

About Steven

I'm on a mission to put cycling on the agendas of architects, urban designers and fellow academics, who see the potential for bicycles to change cities and buildings. My PhD is in architectural history and my interdisciplinary research spans art theory, philosophy and cultural studies. I teach architectural history and theory and design studio at The University of Tasmania, Australia, and formerly worked as an architect designing large public housing projects in Singapore.
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