By Tripti Chanda
The idea that the pedestrian is the king of the road disappeared the day the marketing of motor vehicles began. Where streets were once a public property, where the people could do anything from setting up shops to conducting meetings are now looked at with fear of a hit and run death.
Elon Musk in his latest statement has put forth a new vision of the streets. One where the streets invite people to be a part of it again. With a plan of constructing a futuristic “tunnel-based” transportation system called the “urban loop”, is Musk changing the future here?
The company behind the plan
The Boring Company is an infrastructure and tunnel construction company founded by Elon Musk in 2016. The goal of the company is to alleviate traffic. A departure from the conventional solution of building high rises, the company looks inward instead. Though we imagined flying cars in the future, a tunnel-based hyperloop would be much more convenient and achievable.
Even though it may seem like the solution to all our problems, there are many factors deterring the tunnelling itself and the company realises that. Tunnelling costs, disruptive vibrations, natural disasters, excessive dug out soil are just some of the matters that they have to deal with now.
Currently, tests and projects testing the concept are being run at various sites by the company. Hawthorne has an initial test tunnel while in Los Angeles a permit has been acquired for the biggest tunnel yet. In the Washington DC-Baltimore corridor, which is expected to extend to New York, the company has been successful in beginning the construction.
There are two phases of the project in Los Angeles with Phase 1 underway and Phase 2 still to be decided based on the feedback from the public. Phase 1 would nearly have a 10.5 km long tunnel which would provide as a proof-of-process piece. It would run from Los Angeles to Culver City. The tunnel would be used for system testing, operative procedure verification, line-switching demonstrations construction logistics verification and safety testing.
The man…the visionary
Elon Musk first presented the idea of passenger transport at high speed in 2013 by publishing a white paper which outlined a plan for transportation systems using sealed tubes. At that time such a concept did not seem possible and was out of reach. Today, not only the Boring Co. but many other companies like Virginia Hyperloop One, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies and Arrivo are taking strides towards making this a reality.
What Musk has done differently here is that he has used electric skates in his tunnels. So instead of making the car move at that speed like a bullet out of a gun, the vehicle is locked onto a harness which moves the car using multiple electric motors. Additionally, this is not just for making private transportation faster, but public too.
His vision sees it as a supplement to the already existing public transportation systems along with stations for this system which would be the “size of a single parking spot”, making it a part of the city easily. This would reduce traffic congestion greatly and if the shuttles are fast enough available in large numbers, the waiting time for each shuttle would be reduced, as per the plan.
He says that the system may cater to the private users but only after the demands for public mass transit have been met. He wants to be fair to the public, saying that not owning a car should not make a one-second priority. His recent tweets show a lot of enthusiasm and portray success but the authorities are still guarded.
Will the public agree?
Elon Musk is talking big but will his plans really benefit the public or is this a marketing strategy to involve the public in a new business venture? More importantly, do the people actually want the streets back for themselves?
The tunnel system promises a speed of transport not imagined before. Without a limitation to the amount of layering that can be done, it is possible in the future if this venture is successful to move the entire transportation network below ground. This would greatly soothe the environment and also help the scarcity of land that we are soon about to face.
Most importantly, this would bring light to an issue that is much ignored by the general public. The blatant breaking of traffic rules, extreme traffic congestion, long commutes and high-speed accidents are horrors that we face and still contribute towards. Making the pedestrians more important would help in raising the lower strata of the society and also help us disassociate ourselves from private ownership, bring us closer as a society and making us a little more selfless maybe.