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The Limits of Transportation Technologies

Our children are showing us what real transportation progress looks like, if we'll just slow down and absorb the lesson.

The World War II movie Fighter Squadron was on Turner Classic Movies. It reminded me of all the old airplane movies that chronicled the advancements of airplane propeller technology.

Current and former Lockheed employees are probably more familiar with this era of progress. Air speeds of propeller-driven planes increased from the first Wright Brothers plane through the present. The distances and altitudes that they could fly also increased. Cabins were pressurized, bodies were streamlined, and engines were improved.

Aeronautical engineers knew progress, and they also knew the concept of “counterproductive” change. If a change in an engine decreased speed, it was abandoned. If a change to an airplane body made it less aerodynamic, it was not used. Eventually, the limits of propeller-driven technology were reached.

Propeller-driven planes are still in the air and fill an important role in the transportation equation. But propeller-driven planes could not go fast enough, far enough, or carry enough weight. Progress required a new technology, not a small improvement in the old technology. The inspiration for jet propulsion came out of the limitations of the old technology.

Cobb County, with our economy so dependent on this “next generation” jet propulsion technology, should be aware that all technologies, especially transportation technologies, have limits. After all, Commissioner Bob Ott, a Delta pilot, doesn’t get in his plane and fly to the moon or even to the space station. Even jet technology has limitations.

I’ve watched our asphalt technology improve. Dirt and gravel roads have been improved with asphalt. Two-lane country roads have been replaced by four-lane roads with medians and guardrails for safety. Interstates, limited-access roads, have complemented existing roads and make long-distance travel by car easier.

The limits of asphalt technology have been reached, and we are moving forward into the counterproductive phase. Excessive widening of roads has been proven to create more accidents and slow traffic. “Hot lanes” dramatically slow traffic for 99 percent of commuters. “Reversible lanes” don’t improve traffic flow.

Those improvements make sense to those who profit from them, or get campaign contributions from those who profit from them, or if you have a strange ideology that makes the process seem reasonable.

There is no “next technology” in transportation. We won’t have floating school buses with jet engines and have Bob Ott drive them. The “new technology” uses existing technologies in new ways and zoning and development in ways that people want. Developers are now building multiuse residential/work/play communities that follow the path of transportation, often commuter rail, light rail or some type of mass transit. Subdivisions aren’t becoming obsolete, just falling behind the new competition.

We gave our kids a quality public education, and now they are moving inside I-285 to smaller houses, condos or apartments. Their commute to work is shorter, frequently on foot, on a bicycle, on a scooter, via mass transit or in smaller cars that are often electric-powered.

We gave them interstates, but they prefer livable communities to long commutes.

We gave them “hot lanes,” but they prefer living in mini-Mayberrys where they know their neighbors and can walk to the park, gym, pub, library or museum.

The Georgia State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA) and the Republican legislature are fighting a war that has already been lost. It just isn’t over yet.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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