Cool New Technologies that Could Revolutionize Transportation

I have no idea if these technologies will prove commercially viable, but they show the incredible range of creativity and innovation driven by our free market economy. If only our government systems could prove as adaptable!

First, the Air Car, a mini-car that runs on compressed air. The vehicle reaches top speeds of 68 and has a driving range double that of the most advanced electric car, making it ideal for city driving. The cost of re-filling the “gas” tank is about 1.5 Euros (less than $3). Oil changes are needed only once per 50,000 kilometers. Oh, and did I mention that it has zero pollution? Watch out, Detroit (and Tokyo), the car, designed by a small French firm, will be manufactured by India’s Tata Motor. (Read the BusinessWeek article.)

Second, the SeaPhantom, a powerboat capable of cruising comfortably at 120 miles per hour. Foils lift the vehicle out of the water, reducing the wave pounding and attendant shock on passengers that can take the fun out of riding it. Besides its obvious military uses, the SeaPhantom has potential as a fast water taxi with a range of several hundred kilometers. (Read the Gizmag article.)

Why would Hampton Roads crave upgraded railroad service when passengers could reach Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York even faster by sea?

Third, a slew of services that create a marketplace for parking spots. Parkingsearch.com is a “virtual exchange” that lists parking spaces for rent, lease or sale within a specific zip code, reducing search times for drivers desperate for parking spaces. Another service, Bestparking.com, allows motorists to compare locations and rates of commercial parking services. Meanwhile, XM Satellite Holdings is testing a service that downloads real-time parking data into automobile GPS systems. (The Wall Street Journal has that article here.)

The private sector can’t solve every transportation malady. As Ed Risse frequently observes, there are physical limits to society’s ability to provide mobility. But entrepreneurial innovation can open up options that never existed before. (Hat tip: Larry Gross.)


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27 responses to “Cool New Technologies that Could Revolutionize Transportation”

  1. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    I don’t care how calm it is. 120 mph is not comfortable to me.

    Or how about an air powered boat?

    See pictures of a sailing hydrofoil catamaran capable of 42 knots, with no engine. See the You tube video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xoA-N62318c or pictures at http://www.hydroptere.com/

    I had a friend, now deceased, who carried freight under sail well into the 1960’s. When fuel reaches $5.00 a gallon, we may see schooners plying the Bays and sounds again. Undoubtedly they will be high tech creatures far divorced from their ancestors.

    RH

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    A sailing hyrdrofoil catamaran? So very, very cool.

  3. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    I sent you the pictures. At 55 knots this thing has got to be a rush. Then again Iceboats are capable of 100+.

    The stress is enormous in these things. In one speed run Hydroptere failed a bolt that was supposed to be rated at 55 tons.

    This French program is, naturally, supported by the French aerospace agency. The plan is for a record transatalntic crossing, under sail, of five days.

    RH

  4. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    Actually, Hobie and somne others have much smaller versions that you can trailer and sail.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Compressed Air? ๐Ÿ™‚ what a HOOT!

    I can see it now… a plug-in hybrid combo compressed air vehicle.

    You know innovation is a tricky thing. The first innovative idea may end up being impractical… but then a spin-off innovation from the impractical one – works!

    It’s amazing how many amazing breakthrough generation-changing ideas were spin-offs.

    The thing I find so very fascinating about these smaller cars is that if you produce them in generic numbers for urban areas -they have the potential to become the ultimate personal transit vehicle – as ubiqutous as grocery carts at the WalMart.

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Think about an urban area or even a large multi-use community – both of them with facilities sized only big enough for these vehicles and these vehicles ubiqutous…

    The family SUV would still exist but it would only be used for trips to Grandma or the beach.

    For everyday trips.. especially home-to-work rush hour – these will become the preferred vehicles with their own dedicated lanes and facilities…

    all other vehicles will be restricted to fewer and more expensive facilities…

    I predict.. that the next thing after HOT lanes and Cordon Tolls – will be the emergences of these generic urban personal transit vehicles.

  7. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Larry, How about a planned community designed from the ground up — slightly wider “bike” trails, special parking spots — to accommodate Segways? There’s a proposal for such a community coming to Spotsylvania County very soon.

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Jim – I still have my hang-up with regard to exurban bedroom communities recast as multi-use.

    So.. we have a new planned community in Spotsy .. with Segways and bike trails but every Monday morning most all of the residents high-tail it out of there.. down gridlocked arterials to a gridlocked I-95 headed for NoVa.

    Is this the settlement version of lipstick on a pig?

    Don’t get me wrong. I am IN FAVOR of places for people to live – whether it’s in-community population growth or an influx of new workers for new jobs.

    So – here’s my question.

    How about 15, 20 developments just like the one you mention.. side by side down a major arterial containing tens of thousands of people – most of the them bound to/from NoVa twice a day – 5 days a week?

    At that point.. would it be proper to ask what the value of the bike trails and segways are in terms of settlement pattern – functionality – as opposed to tony amenities?

    So then I ask.. what if Spotsylvania said no.. no.. and no to exurban green-field mixed use and instead set up transportation impact fees for all of it’s roads that will serve dispersed by-right low density development.

    Which of the two visions would be better for Spotsylvania?

    Which of the two visions would be better for I-95?

    As I said.. I’m not opposed.. people WILL need to place to live.. and unless the world changes overnight – they WILL be commuting to work.. and many.. probably will be SOLO commuters.. unless we do something MORE than mixed use developments.

  9. Rtwng Extrmst Avatar
    Rtwng Extrmst

    There may be limits to mobility, but mobility is overrated. We need to invest more in technologies that will make mobility unnecessary on the scale we have today in urban/suburban regions. Technology and private industry can do alot to help here.

  10. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Larry, I got a preview of a major Spotsylvania development that will be publicly announced soon. I kept on thinking, “What would Larry say about this?” The developers have addressed many of your top concerns — whether to your satisfaction remains to be seen. I wish I were at liberty to reveal more, but I should let the developers speak for themselves.

    Rtwng extrmst, You’re right “mobility” is only half the equation. The other half is “access.” Telecommuting and teleconferencing can provide access without the need for mobility.

  11. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Jim – I come at this from two perspectives.

    First, the fundamental question of whether the project actually deals with the issues that often are at the root of controversy

    and Second – doe the development do what it says.

    So.. the three big questions that any development needs to answer:

    1. – Will it truly REDUCE traffic generation from the nominal 10 trips per day?

    2. – Will it truly provide the ability for someone to actually live and work WITHIN the development?

    3. – If 1 and 2 do not “work” very well and the development actually generates not only typical traffic trips AND a substantial number of those trip ARE, in fact, COMMUTE Trips THEN .. what kind of transportation infrastructure is proposed to mitgate the traffic that will emmanate from the development?

    And of course.. ALL bets are off if the developers either lie or demur on the central issues.

    Developers who face up to the issue – get points but then approval itself rests – not on rhetoric or artist renderings or motherhood/apple pie visuals but on the hard data about how much traffic will it generate and how will that traffic be handled?

    This is not rocket science – it basically means that an equitable bargain is the goal and developers that take that seriously have a good chance at approval in my humble opinion.

    p.s. keep in mind.. we’ve got Fall elections coming up and GROWTH (and too much of it) are still very much on the radar screens of voters.

  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m always amazed when we talk about mitigation.

    There is almost never an argument about schools.

    Hardly anyone finds the spectre of kids in temporary trailers as an acceptable compromise for new development.

    But then.. cars sitting in traffic, people late for medical appointments, meetings, or having to have MORE school buses and paid drivers because they no longer can traverse the same route in the same time – are – at least in the eyes of some – , less objectionable..

    …in part, because in years past – those who favored approving development with traffic consequences always had the easy and irresponsible answer that the road would indeed be put “on the VDOT list” – or some of them would actually have the temerity to proclaim that it was “out of their hands” and that no matter what we did – we’d get traffic and it was up to the State to “step up to the plate” on these transportation issues.

    Advocating that the State – “step up to the plate” is totally bogus from my point of view.

    1. – First – if you DO KNOW that the state is NOT going to “step up to the plate” – then why would you still go forward and approve development that will, in fact, generate traffic that you know – the State will not “step up to the plate” on and will become a problem?

    I think such an attitude is prime WEASEL and apparently acceptable for county leaders.

    2. – Second – Why would any locality across the entire State entertain a belief that out of all the other localities that THEIR LOCALITY deserves to be a Net Recipient of state funding for transportation?

    We can and should argue about allocation formulas – and work to ensure that they become more equitable but the bottom line is that until something changes – you don’t have the money – and not having the money – does NOT give the right to approve carte blanche!

    If local Government elected REALLY wanted to make a case.. they’d do one very simple thing.

    They tell ALL of their voters and residents ON THEIR County Websites – how much in total and per capita that residents pay in gas taxes and how much the county gets back from the State.

    Show the data. Make the case.

    But ALSO – be honest – show how much additional money that the county would actually be getting if they got their “fair share” –

    …. and show how that money WILL result in significantly better, faster transportation improvements – because even if one can show an inequity but the money difference is equivalent to a gnat on a dogs butt – why make it such a big issue to start with?

    In that case – the bottom line is that the locality IS responsible for land-use decisions AND the transportation impacts of those decisions –

    The “equity” issue is a smokescreen.

    just like the GA as much as said so this past session… and look at how many localities objected to the concept of linking “land use” with transportation and continued to insist that the State was evading it’s basic responsibilities – something they know is not the truth.

    A local Delegate was just quoted in the paper – on the issue of Transportation Funding that the GA did not rezone the county – that the elected BOS are the ones that did approve the rezones – and – continue to entertain projects that will impact traffic…

    but now claim that because they are “mixed use” (with Segways no less) that they are somehow “different” and therefore don’t have the same traffic generation baggage that more traditional development does have.

    I’m from the Reagan school of politics when it comes to developments.

    don’t ever believe what someone claims is true.

    Trust but Verify.

  13. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Larry, Stop hyper-ventilating! Your concerns are legitimate. Just don’t pre-judge the development proposal. There’s a LOT more there than Segways, trust me. I don’t feel that I can spill the beans right now. But when the developers go public, I’ll open up a thread where you can blog until your fingers turn into bloody nubs!

  14. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    If you DO KNOW that the state is NOT going to “step up to the plate” untyil there is a major problem – then why not go forward and approve development that will generate traffic so that you will become a bigger problem and move farther up on the list sooner?

    Certainly VDOT won’t step up to the plate for a problem that does not exist.

    RH

  15. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I do apologize for the hyperventilation!

    ๐Ÿ™‚

    This blog has been particularily useful in advancing the dialogue about development and settlement patterns and for that I am greatful.

    It’s forced me to think hard about mixed-use development in an exurban greenfield flavor – as opposed to the traditionally-understood context of redevelopment in an urban area.

    Mixed-use in an urbanized area where the development does not have “boundaries” but instead merges almost seamlessly with other development, pedestrian facilities, shopping, and transit is very, very different than stand-alone mixed use with discrete boundaries AND characterized by residents who do not/will not walk or use transit to get to work.

    AND… in fact.. will probably commute 50 miles to work – not much different than the guy 5 miles away who bought a 3 acre lot.

    In terms of impacts and benefits – what exactly is the benfit of exurban mixed-use development?

    OK… workforce housing perhaps.

    If the homes in such a development were .. say 200K and lower and/or rental .. then yes.. we’re starting to get into a realm (in my opinion) where the tradeoffs of traffic and schools is perhaps reasonable – especially if you’re talking about a place where entry level teachers could afford a home or deputies, etc.

    But if you’re talking about upscale 400K homes and the occupants are primarily NoVa commuters – and what you are selling is 400K homes that would cost 800K in NoVa… then what is the benefit to the county?

    You’ll still have an affordable housing issue. You’ll have 5-10 times the infrastructure issues with respect to roads and schools than you’d have with by-right development….

    Is the idea that.. it is the “duty” of Spotsylvania to allow development that would serve well-salared NoVa commuters who are looking for “more house”?

    If one thinks I am over-reacting… I would suggest that most of the Spotsylvania BOS (not all) have the same questions and so far… have not seen fit to approve multi-use developments – in part – because of some of the same questions that I ask.

    You know – at the end -of the day – this is about folks who want more house for their money – from a county that essentially was self-snookered in terms of the actual infrastructure impacts of development.

    The guys currently in charge are much wiser than their predecessors.

    I predict that they will not accept/approve ANY multi-use proposal (no matter how nice) unless that development offers significant transportation mitgation.

    We already had one proposal that offered a huge transportation package and it was still turned down.

    So the bar is set pretty high.

  16. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “Certainly VDOT won’t step up to the plate for a problem that does not exist.”

    nice try. That’s why we’re now in the mess we are in.

    Take a road.. 30K traffic and LOS D.

    Propose a developoment that will add 15K traffic and drive that road to LOS F.

    Under your theory – you approve the development and then that will “force” VDOT to fix it.

    Sorry.. VDOT does not have the money to start with.

    Their response will be – “what do you what us to do with the 13 roads that are already maxed out” for previously approved development?

    This is the entire purpose of having a development perform a traffic analysis study, the purpose of which is to determine… what exactly needs to be done – to accommodate the new development BEFORE the new development if completed.

  17. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    So, VDOT can’t/won’t step up to the plate,no matter what. If you set the bar high enough, developers won’t either: if VDOT can’t afford it then Joe’s Housing can’t either.

    You make an argument for which there is no way out. Halt all development and admit we are screwed.

    rh

  18. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    You’re not setting an arbitrary punitive bar. Instead you are setting a reasonable bar to adequately mitigate impacts.

    The theory here is to not include free air conditioning in a new car so as to make it more “affordable” to John Doe.

    That’s essentially the “it’s unfair to require mitigation” argument.

    If John Doe wants air conditioning in his car – then he needs to be thinking whether or not he can afford a Mercedes or a Chevrolet – WITH air conditioning.

    When I heared “mixed use” and the theory is that it is explicitly designed so that folks can live AND work in that development – why am I a bad guy for requiring that – such a development perform – as advertised?

    When you build mixed-use – and the cost of the housing in that development far exceeds what the folks who might work there can afford … and then the folks who CAN afford to live there.. COMMUTE to high-dollar jobs…

    and then the idea that such a development that essentially caters to high-end home buyers – that it is, somehow, “unfair” to require adequate traffic mitigation because it will make the homes in that development “unaffordable”…

    well.. excuse me.. while I go stick a finger down my throat…

    ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    Apparently, the only place we disagree is that I think the bar is arbitrary and punitive, and you don’t.

    RH

  20. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    right.. I just don’t believe that requiring development to mitigate it’s impacts is… unfair.

  21. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    Right, and I think it is unfair for people who have been enjoying benefits they never paid for for years, and who may also have been underpaying for years or decades, to now suddenly expect that they can protect their previous benefits and recoup all their previous deferred maintenance, by suddenly and drastically changing the rules, retroactively.

    I’m not signing up to the developer’s greed theory because I see plenty of greed on both sides. Furthermore, I think that those promoting this sort of thing are fooling themseves if they think it is going to save them money or prevent unwanted change. When the state has affordable housing programs for people earning over 100K per year, that cost is going to come home, somehow, some way.

    RH

  22. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    isn’t this a little like arguing that because all the folks before you who were allowed to dump motor oil in a creek that now it’s unfair to start with you in terms of making it illegal?

    How would you ever rectify things that were not right to start with?

    and .. we’d drive existing residents broke because.. no matter what the growth rate – the existing residents would get the bill for the infrastructure – causing their property taxes to go so high that many of them would have to leave.

    I don’t see this as “fair” to anyone.

  23. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    isn’t this a little like arguing that because all the folks before you who were allowed to dump motor oil in a creek that now it’s unfair to start with you in terms of making it illegal?

    No, it is completely different.

    What you are saying is that new housing is not allowed to drive on the street without payin additional but old neighbors are: new oil dumping is prohibited but old oil dumping is grandfathered.

    Everybody gets cleaner streams but only the new guys pay the bills.

    Anyway, dangerous pollution is one thing and perceived inconvenience is another.

    RH

  24. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    …”new housing is not allowed to drive on the street without payin additional but old neighbors are”

    Are you claiming that new housing does not generate new car trips?

    How would your approach work for say water/sewer and schools?

    Would you believe that new housing shouldn ot have to pay for expanding the size of water/sewer lines to accommodate higher capacity?

    Would you just let new folks hook up and let the system degrade to the point where water/sewer was no longer reliable?

    How about schools?

    Would you just have more and more kids stuffed into the existing schools?

    Would you have 50 kids sitting in a classroom designed for 25?

    Is your idea that you’d just keep increasing the property taxes of existing residents everytime a new school or water/sewer expansions were needed?

    You’d have a state law that said essentially that no proffers, no impact fees and no CDAs were allowed – right?

    Guess what – you have a law like that and no locality would EVER agree to a rezone.

    If you wanted to totally shut down growth – this is how you’d do it.

    So..I suppose the property rights response to that would be – of course – to have a State Law that forbid any locality to turn down a rezone request.

    Isn’t it interesting that “property rights” apparently don’t apply to the folks who already are paying taxes on “property”.

    Property Rights really only apply to folks who have UNDEVELOPED LAND and the “rights” of those who live on developed land are subordinate to other property owners.

    Now that sounds like an equitable concept.

  25. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    Are you claiming that OLD housing does not generate new car trips, or new kids in school? Isn’t part of the problem that everyone travels more, because travel is a smaller an smaller cosdt to us?

    “Would you believe that new housing shouldn ot have to pay for expanding the size of water/sewer lines to accommodate higher capacity?” I never said any such thing, Larry, but I’ll suggest three things: 1) If you need a major sewer expansion to accommodate new housing, then the original plan was insufficient. Had it been sufficient, then the costs might have been so high that the original homes might not have been built either. 2) If you invent new sewer standards in such a way that only the new residents have to pay for a higher quality of service, which benefits all, then you have a fraudulent requirement, the real purpose of which is greed.

    3). Yes, I believe that every time new facilities or new regulations are required at least part of that cost has to come from existing residents. To follow the path you suggest is one that can only result in abject failure. It sets the bar entirely too high, and it will result in even higher costs for everyone. What your plan means is that existing residents collect taxes from those with open space, that need no services, and use that money to subsidize a level of service that they are unwilling to pay full prce for.

    Thjere has to be give on both sides.

    RH

  26. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    “the “rights” of those who live on developed land are subordinate to other property owners.”

    Absolutely not. But they don;t get any additional rights, just because they got there first.

  27. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    If the people with developed land had paid 100% of their costs up front, and people with vacant land were paying zero, then your argument would have legs.

    But that isn’t the case, the existing residents never paid full price themselves, they have been coasting, based on the many subsidies and taxes provided to them by vacant land. They even advertise that fact. Now they want to raise a 100% of full costs up front barrier to protect their own selfish interests.

    BAH. You will never convice me othewrise: I’ve seen too much of it.

    RH

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