Modern Transportation: Introduction to the Pedicar

Picture this: It's 7 AM, March 3rd, 2007: Beeeep! Beeeep! Yes it's the @#^&!! alarm clock ringing again. You sit up and rub your eyes. The alarm, sensing that you are now awake announces: "Good morning. The forecast for the Ottawa area for today, March 3rd: partly cloudy with a 30% chance of precipitation. The high for today is 8 degrees Celsius, with a low of -3. The UV index for today is 8, moderate to high: some protection is advised. There is no air-toxicity warning for the area. Your newspaper has arrived."

 Not bad at all. Rather warmer than it once had been for that time of year, but not bad none the less. After a prolonged yawn you get up, brush your teeth, pack your clothes for work and put on your cycling clothes. In the background you can hear the last drops of orange juice dripping from the extractor, and the aroma of coffee has already inspired some confidence that today will be a good day. After taking a few minutes to enjoy your simple breakfast, you toss the newspaper, and out the door you go. Behind your building you find the garage. Your keycard allows you to enter and there, second row on the left is your personal vehicle bay. Inside is your pride and joy: A '3000 series' a 30 kilogram, fully-faired, pedal-powered, carbon fibre-and-titanium 4-wheel recumbent bike: a 'pedicar'. At $3000 (+GST!) you could easily have bought a cheaper, heavier version of the same, or a tandem, but this was a beaut. The performance and speed of this model were important, but it's always nice when people turn and look at your bike.

After putting your clothes, lunch and briefcase in the trunk, you get in. On telling the navigation computer you are headed to work, at a moderate speed, it invites you to provide some power - by pedalling of course. The computer guides you to the Skyway's nearest on ramp.

Made of plastic and aluminium, the Skyway is a network of enclosed tubes in which pedicars travel at fairly high speeds. While a single tube is a little over a meter and a half in diameter, which is just big enough for these vehicles which are roughly 80cm high, 110cm wide and 3m long. Larger tunnels for high traffic areas can accommodate three or more lanes in the same direction. Traffic in one direction uses the top half of the tube, while the other direction uses the bottom half. The Skyway travels underground, or elevated 2 or 3 floors, and even passes through the occasional building which means there are no steep hills and even the elderly or out of shape can use pedicars. Due to generous tax breaks, many buildings provide parking for pedicars. The Skyway was built using machines very similar in concept to the paving machines used for making freeways. Resting on concrete supports, the Skyway often follows existing roads. While able to handle much more traffic lane-for-lane than conventional roads, it can cost as little as a quarter as much to build, and maintain.

At the green light, the computer instructs you to go: the vehicle accelerates smoothly down the entrance ramp, your wheels engage the track, and you're off. The solid rubber wheels provide good contact with the ground, while causing almost no rolling resistance. Moments later you are reaching your cruising speed of 55 km/h. The central traffic computer, aided by a huge array of sensors, has already instructed your on-board navigation computer its route, taking into account any of the rare traffic interruptions, such as road closures. The on board-computer is constantly steering, monitoring traffic and keeping your pedalling at an optimum cadence by automatically shifting gears, allowing you to sit back and relax. The inside of the tube is maintained at approximately 16 degrees by solar panels and heat exchangers. This temperature varies somewhat with the seasons, but it is always comfortable. A slight surge suggests that you have just passed a 'boost station', which drives the air in the tube at an average speed of 15 km/h. These are used to aid pedalling as well as to circulate fresh air in the tube. These boost stations are driven electrically from stored solar and wind power. Your on-board computer has detected a slower moving vehicle beyond the turn and is gently applying the brakes until you are travelling at the same speed as the other vehicle, 'linked', by your bumpers. Once other vehicles have linked with the two of you, your vehicles form a super-efficient train, travelling at 70 km/h. When you need to leave the train, your computer gently applies the brakes, disengages you from the train, and then steers you to your exit. A few minutes later you reach your office building's garage and find your compartment. You have just travelled 15 km in under 15 minutes, an average speed of over 60 km/h! Heading to the showers (mandatory in all office buildings), you feel invigorated, with a clear conscience, knowing that you didn't foul the air, or use any energy source beyond the food you had for breakfast.

 Pretty unlikely isn't it? Not as unlikely as you may think. The mechanism leading to this may have already been set into motion: Several major cities are taking action to reduce the use of private automobiles. For instance, the city of Bordeaux in France has made 75 percent of its streets 'unfriendly' to cars. The centre of G”teborg, Sweden has been divided into 5 pie-shape cells, each accessible to private cars only from a ring road. In Paris 100 000 parking spaces have been abolished. Much of the on-street parking in Copenhagen is being replaced by bicycle parking and landscaping.

Cuba which had virtually no bicycles a little over a year ago, faced with the loss of cheap oil from the former Soviet Union, imported 1.2 million bicycles from China, transforming Havana into something not unlike Amsterdam, that is saturated with bicycles. Palo Alto, California (population 56 000), often considered to be one of cities most aggressively becoming more bicycle friendly, has recently enacted bylaws mandating that bike lockers must make up 10 per cent of all parking. It also requires that bicycle lockers be included in a secure area in multi-family dwellings. Bikes are allowed on the public transit and showers are mandatory for businesses occupying more than 930 square meters. In Canada, we are trying to catch up: Montreal, with 120 kilometres of bike routes, will buy a bike for any city employee who can prove that it will be useful to them on the job. The relation between this trend and the pedicar scenario? The source of power. Yes, as long as the bicycle has been around (which, incidentally is longer than the car), we have had at least a segment of society employing human powered vehicles. It would appear, in this time of concern for the environment and inefficient urban transportation, that there are hints that the solutions to modern transportation problems do not lie with the automobile.

The Skyway scenario presented above is largely based on an article published in Bicycling magazine, and is the brainchild of Jim Kor, a professional engineer and the vice president of KOR Product Design, a firm in Winnipeg, that has invested 3 years of research into alternative transportation solutions.

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