Slate’s ‘Nimble Cities’ Hive Mind Project

Dear readers, I’m currently overseeing, for the next month, Slate’s second ‘Hive Mind’ project. The first was about how to live a more efficient life, personally, in energy terms; this one’s about how to make transportation in and among cities more efficient (not to mention safer, more pleasant, etc.) in the 21st century.

Here’s a taste to get you started, but I urge you to submit your own ideas (and I know readers here have ’em), and vote upon those you think most worthwhile.

You probably have a friend like Campbell Scott. Or, rather, the character Campbell Scott played in the 1992 film Singles. You remember: the idealistic transportation planner flummoxed by all the congestion generated by single people (caution: metaphor ahead!) driving alone. “If you had a supertrain,” he tells a friend, “you give people a reason to get out of their cars. Coffee, great music … they will park and ride. I know they will.” (To which his friend replies: “But I still love my car, though.”) This is the sort of person who waxes lyrical about things like modal splits and commutersheds; gets a wistful, thousand-yard stare as he reminisces about the 1970s personal-rapid-transit demonstration project in West Virginia (and can finger the culprits in its demise); and conspicuously vacations in places with active streetcar networks.

Or maybe you are Campbell Scott. Maybe you’re the one–sitting in a Mumbai traffic jam, waiting on a tube platform in London’s Elephant and Castle station, lost between connections at Tokyo’s Narita or cycling over the Willamette River–who, in a moment of pique or boredom or inspiration, suddenly envisions a better way of managing the commute. Perhaps it’s a sweeping, inefficiency-killing overhaul or maybe a minor design tweak that just makes the experience ineffably better: the “flash of genius” that does for traffic what the intermittent wiper did for windshields. And then you want to tell the world, or at least the taxi driver or pub companion who’s stuck listening to you, all about it.

Here is your chance. Welcome to “Nimble Cities,” the second in Slate’s Hive series, a project designed to harvest the world’s collective wisdom to solve the world’s most pressing problems. We are asking you, essentially, to become transportation hackers (and we’re talking not simply cars but the whole of urban and interurban movement). We are looking for your best ideas. They may be your own wild brainstorms, or they may be examples, whether grand or mundane, of things you’ve experienced in your own city or while traveling. But we want your best proposals for solving an increasingly relevant problem: how to move the most people around and between cities in the most efficient, safe, and perhaps even pleasurable manner. And then we want you to vote on which of those submissions you think are best.

This entry was posted on Monday, June 14th, 2010 at 8:23 am and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “Slate’s ‘Nimble Cities’ Hive Mind Project”

  1. Alex F Says:

    Love this idea, Tom. Bravo! Looking forward to all the ideas that come out of it.

    For me, beyond the quality of life, congestion, and environmental benefits of these new ideas, the potential health benefits are most exciting. The day you take people out of their cars, give them a reasonable walk to a bus/train or a managable bike ride to work is the day we reverse the health nose dive we’re experiencing.

    Keep up the great writing and excellent work! Will be following this closely.

  2. Don Says:

    Sorry but I don’t see anything happening until some very tough requirements are made on people, goverment, and businesses. I’m not trying to be hard or difficult here, but simply stating that there is a lot more to a person’s decision to drive to work than simply wanting to drive.

    For starters, I live in Staten Island, NY which is a borough of NYC. Traditionally in the past, I would have worked in Manhatten given my career choice.

    Several years ago while job hunting, I had to examine my commuting options as essentially all of the interviews I was going on was in New Jersey or on Long Island.

    For whatever reason (well I know the reason, but considering the mind set of a number of people that post here I’ll keep that one somewhat close to my vest), I put up a blog on Google’s Blogger site which unfortunately isn’t there anymore and I don’t know why.

    Anyhow, on that blog site I had posted analysis of my commuting options around the time I interviewed there. There were more than several jobs that my only option was driving. Most of the other ones, time simply wasn’t on Mass Transits side with many of them clocking in at 3 to 4 hours one way while driving even on a bad traffic day wouldn’t have touched an hour and a half one way.

    Not sure how I gained the handful of followers that I did, but I did get some feedback that what I was seeing wasn’t only a NYC thing. I mentioned a few times on that blog that I believe that not only has there been a residential sprawl out into the suburbs, but that businesses have started to do the same for whatever reason that they may have.

    Finishing my thought here, I had the chance to see some very nice small to medium sized business parks located in some very out of the way places. Considering these places probably had no more than 100 or so people per location, all living most likely from all different areas, it’s going to take some pretty amazing rethinking of mass transit options for me to believe something can be done.

    And as a side note, I’m pretty sure this is still happening as my wife’s job just left prime downtime Wall Street digs for a place out in New Jersey.

    And if I remember correctly, the breakdown is Mass Transit A was roughly $160 a month and 3+ hours round trip, Mass Transit B was $260 and 4 1/2+ hours round trip, and driving is $225 a month and 1 1/2 hours round trip.

    NOTE: Mass Transit A was out for other reasons as the bus part of it runs an extremely limited schedule.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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Metropolis and Mobile Life
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ISL Engineering
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New York State Association of
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