A video of a bus that skirts traffic congestion by literally driving over cars has made its way around the internet this week. It’s a bold idea, but it raises the question: Why simply deal with congestion when we can just get rid of it?
Chinese engineers debuted a scale model of the Transit Elevated Bus at last week’s High Tech Expo in Beijing. The vehicle would carry over 1000 passengers, and effectively form a tunnel above cars, moving forward regardless of what’s happening below.
Other purported perks of the “straddle bus” include that it would have its own right of way (the un-used air above the cars), and that drivers couldn’t get stuck behind it— sensors would alert drivers if they drift too close to the bus, or if their vehicle is too tall to travel underneath it.
But is this really worth building? And would it really help streets function more efficiently? While it might first seem like the elevated bus would solve the problem of congestion, this idea is implicitly treating congestion as though it’s here to stay, and that we might as well just try to work around all the cars on the road rather than find ways to give people other ways to travel.
Traffic jams aren’t a given
The thing is, congestion isn’t guaranteed; it’s far more fluid than it appears, and it comes and goes depending on how we manage traffic.
This is evidenced by the growing list of cities that have started getting rid of their highways— even when some predict chaos and gridlock because there won’t be as much space for cars, things work out just fine.
Locally we’re seeing the same with road diets and roads that have gotten or will get bike and transit lanes.
We don’t need the straddle bus to get rid of congestion. The solution already exists: Rather than building an eight-lane highway and running a futuristic moving tunnel with seats on top over it, let’s just give two of those lanes to regular buses and watch congestion go down.
We already have the technology we need
It can sometimes be far too easy to forget about the tools we already have at our disposal, instead pushing for new inventions and technology to revolutionize how we travel. The hyperloop will supposedly get us across California in 30 minutes, and Personal Rapid Transit will apparently be devoid of all the pitfalls that doomed the Columbia Pike Streetcar.
But we already have what we need. We can build bus lanes and bike lanes, and do more to encourage people to drive less rather than give them options for driving more. We don’t have to become the Jetsons to solve the problem.