The Greeks believed the gods themselves traced the alignment of roads, but the Romans perfected roadways as an integral part of their Empire-building strategy. In modern times, roads have created artificial supports for unsustainable development, low densities, and long commutes. True mobility restores the connections between places, contributing solutions that invite more ways of moving than the restrictions of the automobile: sidewalks, trails, bicycle lanes, streetcars, buses, and subways.
Changing patterns of mobility are necessary to address the diminishing supply of easy fossil fuel, as well as rising levels of carbon and pollutants. Keeping fossil fuels in the ground has become the rallying cry to slow climate change, but the slow demise of fossil fuels has grave import for scattered communities. Without fuel, suburbs will become ghost towns, as their ability to connect to work, food sources, and essential services is impaired.
Energy poverty could result in improvements, such as increased rail travel, although it is unlikely that rail travel will ever return to the levels enjoyed a century ago. CSX advertisements boast that 2000 pounds of freight travel 468 miles on 1 gallon of gas, or 468 ton-miles per gallon. Inland barges move goods efficiently at 514 ton-miles per gallon, compared with air freight of 5 ton-miles per gallon.
People in the suburbs may never voluntarily abandon their automobiles and walk to every destination. Children play with toy trucks, teenagers work for driving licenses and their first cars, families save for mini-vans. We love our cars. But how will we move the growing populations worldwide without fossil fuel?
The innovations in battery storage by Eos, Alevo, and Tesla point the way to a new future of renewable energy with greater flexibility, long-term capacity of 1 MW, and up to a 15-year lifespan for a daily full charge/discharge cycle from solar- or wind-power generators. Fully electric cars, powered by these systems, are emission-free (not counting the cost of production; the “Prius fallacy” of product substitution proves dumping a car prematurely to buy a more efficient vehicle produces more waste than if it were well-maintained to the end of its anticipated service life.)
New York Magazine reports, “We’re starting to think of the car not as a passport to independence but as a toxic jail cell.”[i] Until autos are powered by clean and renewable energy, perhaps they, like chocolate desserts, could be saved for special occasions.
[i] Justin Davidson, “Can this Suburb be Saved?” 12 Feb 2012.