I try to walk a few miles almost every day. It’s a choice – walk or starve myself to preserve my size 2 figure. Besides it makes my dog happy and it is doing my part to minimize climate change.
I get the motivation by combining my walk with life’s necessary errands. Walking to the grocery store or the pet store or the cleaners, the drug store, etc keeps me out of the car and off our gridlocked city streets.
Not everyone is as committed to walking as I am, but most of us hate the gridlocked traffic that defines our daily lives. More people would happily park their cars if public transit were more accessible. Access means easy to use – close to home and destination, affordable, and on a continuous loop rather than on a time-consuming schedule.
Enter the Moving Sidewalk
I walk to any destination within 1.5 miles (3 mile round trip) but not in high heels. I would, however, happily step onto a moving sidewalk (conveyor belt) at the corner and “ride it” to the shopping mall or to a transit connection center beyond a couple of miles – even in high heels.
The moving sidewalk would move along city streets more slowly than the personal automobile but eliminate signal light delays. When the passenger reached their destination, they would just step off at the corner – as easily as they had stepped on.
Avoiding the parking hassle, alone, probably would reduce total travel time! Tens of thousands of vehicle miles would be saved. Tons of carbon pollution would be eliminated. Parking facilities could be turned back into green space or recreational facilities.
The technology to make moving sidewalks already exists. Ever stepped onto a conveyor systems at the airport or a sports stadium? The moving sidewalk is basically the same thing. And it’s Made-In-USA – so you could say that building moving sidewalks is a jobs program!
The fact is that there have already been examples of successful implementation of moving sidewalks. The first in America was built in 1893 for the Chicago World’s Fair. Today the same technology is used to connect streets in Hong Kong. Generally speaking experiments have shown that at speeds above 9 miles an hour, it is wise to install some sort of seats.
There are lots of challenges to deploying the first moving sidewalk. Easiest are the technical challenges. Harder will be overcoming the inertia of politicians and planners and hardest will be overcoming the resistance of potential users – conditioned to transit systems that don’t work well.
The moving sidewalk must be designed to move continuously in parallel with existing roadways – without interfering with the flow of vehicle traffic. To meet this challenge, the sidewalk must move over or under intersections by combining existing escalator technology with existing flat floor conveyor technology.
It’s unlikely that the first generation of moving sidewalks would be able to control heat and cold. But a roof to cover the sidewalk and walls on either side of the conveyor – between intersections – would eliminate both direct sun exposure and offer protection from precipitation
Moving sidewalks will not get built just to eliminate the hassle of getting to the shopping center or the movies. To amass the required user base, the moving sidewalk has to facilitate getting workers from their neighborhood to jobs many miles away faster and with less stress than driving.
We have the technology to deploy long distance people movers in urban 21st century America. The biggest obstacle to widespread deployment and adoption is getting people out of their cars for the first 2 miles of the journey.
The moving sidewalk is technically feasible but getting politicians to fund the first proof point will be much harder. Building such a system requires foresight. Foresight requires risk. If “we” – the politicians – “build it, will they” – the residents and tax payers – “come” to use it? “Will they reward our foresight at the ballot box?”
Sadly our politicians are so afraid of leading rather than following their constituents. That fear has made them comfortable only with making pigmy-type climate change decisions like banning plastic bags in grocery stores or Styrofoam containers in takeout restaurants. All the while, they are doubling down on repaving the existing traffic-gridlocked-paths – the primary causes of pollution and environmental degradation.
If you “are madder than hell” and believe moving sidewalks are one 21st century alternative to the SUV, then you have to become involved. You must be willing to challenge every assumption of every planning, development and traffic decision that maintains the status quo. You have to go to meetings, to contact the local media, to identify alterative (private) funding sources, and to engage existing manufacturers, energy companies etc.
Your activism will create an environment that attracts and elects politicians who have BIG Ideas, who don’t whisper why but SHOUT why not!
Photo Credit: WingLuk/Wikimedia Commons