Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Commuting in the future

I was confronted the other day on the city-data forum, about the desires of some, here in Central Kentucky to widen the Versailles Rd (US 60) to 6-8 lanes each way as far as the Bluegrass Parkway, or maybe even on to Versailles and Frankfort. This, they claimed, was necessary for all the commuters from Anderson, Woodford and Mercer Counties. There must be a tremendous backlog during the morning and evening rush periods (I don't think I can call them hours) to justify 6-8 lanes, and if that is the case, why don't they travel together together instead of together separately?

Now I am sure that they will be quick to say that they ...may... need to alter the routine and travel at different times, every once and a while. But if that is so, then they can commute, one to a car, occasionally, but is it necessary every day? I know that some of them carpool, but car/van pool trips is a very small percentage of the overall trips. This situation literally cries out for a commuter rail solution which will not be answered by this group of city-bred, country-living youngsters.

From my experience, the larger number of these commuters are in their mid-20s-to-late-30s, of the so called "creative class", wanting to have a new home and a yard that they can afford. Housing prices in Lexington are to high for the size lot that they want and the inconvenience of the drive is not that great....yet. They travel out, to the point of commuting economics equilibrium and citify their little piece of the rural landscape. This is the exurbs of America.

When anything causes the equilibrium of the situation to become unbalanced, then the pieces fall apart. Many of us can handle one or two pieces getting slightly unbalanced but three, four or more in varying degrees of balance/unbalance and most of us cannot deal with it. I tried, unsuccessfully, to point out that just one piece of the balance (fuel prices) could cause great pain to those commuters.

One of the responses was that 'an automobile was now a requirement for even the simplest lifestyle', as common as a horse at the turn of the last century. Even if gas was priced at $20 a gallon, people would find new technology to power the cars. This confuses technology with fuel cost and affordability of the technology. Automobiles using hydrogen would still pay higher fuel prices as it would take a massive switch out to convert the present system to hydrogen at a great cost. Those using mag-lev or electricity would still be cost prohibitive to buy or charge up. Think about it, most would like to charge up in the off peak hours of electric usage, which then would not be in the wee hours of the night, there would be no off peak hours. We, the entire country would have to beef up the entire electric grid to handle the demand. He, the responder, even went so far as to suggest a nuclear powered auto, which my 15 year old told me, would be so heavy , from the lead shielding, as to negate as benefit of the propulsion. Also where and from whom would we have to buy the fuel rods, how would we dispose of them and how, pray tell, could we keep them from any known or unknown terrorist factions?

I also feel that if gas were to rise to $20 a gallon the jobs in Lexington would dry up and commuters would no longer need to get to town. But that is fodder for another post.

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