In the first half of 2017, Elon Musk let us know his ideas for preventing traffic jams. He presented his idea of cars doing 124 miles/hour using buried tunnels. The idea behind his plans is to diminish the traffic problems that occur in big cities like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, etc.
In this article, we will analyze these plans, and we will see if they are feasible in the real world or are just perfect for a utopian society. Let’s find out:
Elon Musk was interviewed by TED’s head curator, Chris Anderson. In that interview, Musk offered details about his plan. He wants “a 3D network of tunnels to alleviate congestion.” Still, he explained that drilling a tunnel for a mile would cost up to one billion dollars. So, right from the start of the plan, we have an issue.
Of course, Musk said that he wants to reduce that cost by reducing the diameter of the tunnels, just to accommodate the car together with the skate that the vehicle would use. So the tube diameter would be roughly twelve foot.
To diminish the costs even further, Musk suggests using boring machines. These would function at an increased capacity and would also consolidate the walls that the machines dig.
An Expert’s Opinion
Sam Schwartz, a former traffic commissioner, said: “I think it’s wonderful if he can improve on the tunnel boring machines we have.” He is also a specialist in transportation and urban infrastructure, so he said that Musk might encounter some problems from a physics and financial point of view.
What Are the Problems?
The vehicles would have to be aligned on the streets in order to go into the tunneling system. The vehicles would enter the system using an elevator. The problem is that while the car descends, the hole that remains on the street’s surface would have to be secured. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that holes or open shafts on streets are a terrible idea.
Another thing that Schwartz pointed out is the fact that once the car completes its underground journey, at high speed, it would need an exit. That exit will also need space on surface streets, and it will have to be closed, just as the entry hole.
Also, there is the financial problem. Schwartz says that in order to construct such tunnels, you will need an astronomical sum. He mentioned “Let him turn his attention to public transportation, and let’s have more tunnels around L.A. for the high-speed subways.”
A UCLA assistant professor of urban planning, Michael Manville, also thinks that Musk’s plan isn’t something that should be followed. He states that his city cannot construct a tunnel because of various political issues.
He points out that the school district in Beverly Hills undergoes a legal and regulatory campaign against building a tunnel under its property to develop the city’s subway. And there are many other cities in the same situation.
Michael Manville also points out that this new system of transportation wouldn’t last too long, no matter how much the technology of tunneling would be improved.
In the end, Manville says that when it comes to finding a solution for traffic jams, you don’t need high-end technology. It’s all about how people drive and use the streets. For example, dynamic tolling might solve the congestion issue. Also, people should use other methods of transportation to avoid traffic jams.
In the end, while Musk’s plans might sound promising, they are out of our reach due to financial and political reasons. Also, there are some physics issues that make his plans challenging to put into action.