The historic technological advance in personal transportation has led us from two human-powered feet to four petroleum-powered wheels, with everything from bicycles, horses, and steam-driven trains in between. And, while at one point the departure from the use of horses in cities was actually a reprieve from poor environmental conditions (imagine tons of horse manure and rotting carcasses inviting flies and rodents in dense inner cities), today the cesspool has returned. From August 14 to August 24, 2010, Beijing suffered one of the worst traffic jams ever. According to several reports, a 100-km stretch of highway west of Beijing, which had suffered high congestion and slow speeds throughout June and July, finally hit the tipping point when a combination of goods delivery, road construction, and Great Wall tourists all converged at once.
It wasn’t all bad news; some reported remarkable civility among drivers stuck in its grasp. It also provided a boost to local economies. Enterprising locals took to the highway on bicycles selling food and water. From the looks of things, demand was high and supply was low, meaning prices could be nearly anything the seller chose them to be.
So, in the story of advance in transportation, where does this leave us? There have been several reports of the forthcoming Chinese 3D Fast Bus, a tall vehicle which literally straddles the lane beneath it, effectively creating an upper deck travel lane without the upper deck infrastructure. As many have suggested, couple the Chinese ability to act fast, produce and pilot prototypes with these dire straights in goods and personal transport, and we (the rest of the world) are left to the leadership of China.