Mass Transit Ideas for President Obama

18Apr08

I found a fun little piece about “The Public Transit Projects That Should Have Been” over on io9, the science fiction site run by Gawker Media. There is no economic analysis, but a couple of the proposals (and their “artist’s conception” illustrations) are fun and there are some nice links to historical background information. In particular, I was surprised and pleased to read that Seattle is planning to turn the Monorail from the 1962 World’s Fair into an actual transportation system.

The Seattle Monorail (as those of you who grew up in and around Seattle will know) started out as a “gee whiz” demonstration of cutting-edge transportation technology as part of the World’s Fair. From that auspicious beginning, it proceeded to failure miserably as a new model for urban transportation. The world continued to build roads for wheeled vehicles while a mere handful of monorails eked out an existence in theme parks and airports.

The Monorail’s failure was so complete that it became a historical marker; a souvenir from that early Sixties moment when Americans believed that we would all soon have flying cars with big fins, anthropomorphic domestic robots, vacation trips to Mars, and world peace via the United Nations (the last maybe requiring a little help from Gort). When I was growing up in Seattle, the Monorail was sometimes viewed with mild nostalgic affection, but often just tolerated because of the expense of tearing the thing down. I remember being astounded in the mid-Seventies to discover that someone of my acquaintance actually used the Monorail for transportation.

But now this article is telling me that the Monorail is, really, after all this time, actually going to become a real mass transit system. OMG. I don’t know what to make of it. In the course of my life I have, naturally, abandoned a great many illusions from the Sixties, large and small, and it is positively disorienting to have one of these pipedreams suddenly re-emerge triumphant and victorious. I suspect I may be having a flashback. The next thing you know they’ll be trying to tell me that the Civil Rights Movement succeeded after all and that we’re about to elect our first black President.

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