Monday, May 19, 2008


The next time you are driving in bumper-to-bumper four-lane traffic in Minneapolis, or six-lane bumper-to-bumper traffic in Phoenix, or eight-lane bumper-to-bumper traffic in Los Angeles, I want you to remember the term “3-D Transportation.” I believe the problem with modern city transportation systems is that they are two-dimensional with all movement taking place on a flat plane surface severely limited by designated roads and highways.

Now think about a 3-D transportation system that not only utilizes length and breadth of a driving area, but also incorporates depth into the equation. In three separate newspaper articles this week, there were three new or relatively new transportation concepts described.

The first was an article about the Swiss-built Pilatus Porter aircraft. This is the first prototype of a set of rigid eight-foot wings powered by four jet turbines strapped to the back of a human being, which allows a person to fly above the earth at speeds up to 186 miles per hour. The pilot wears a protective suit and helmet; beyond that, the pilot is just hanging out in midair, suspended under the wing span. From a distance, he or she just looks like a big bird soaring up in the sky.

The second article describes a Japanese-built one-man helicopter, the GEN H-4, which has a chair and footrest for the pilot, two opposing rotors for stability, four engines, and a handle bar. It’s able to travel up to 56 miles an hour and is capable of ascending 165 yards into the air, although it is safer and more efficient at about 100 yards off the ground. Again, the pilot sits in the open air under the rotors and maneuvers the helicopter using the handle bar.

The third story was about the Segway personal transporter, which has been around for several years, but is now being proclaimed the most recent medical breakthrough for amputees and the disabled. There’s even a charitable organization called Segs4Vets which raises money to provide Segways to the huge number of military amputees and disabled vets returning from the war in Iraq.

So how does the 3-D transportation system work? First, at the highest altitudes will be the Pilatus Porter commuting crowd, the jet-powered wings capable of traveling several thousand feet in the air at high speeds. While the Pilatus Porter commuters would have to fly below regular commercial airline traffic patterns, they are able to go any direction, unconfined by roads and highways. Is the Pilatus Porter ahead of you going only 170 and you prefer 185 mph? No problem. With 3-D transportation, just dip below it or rise above it for a quick pass.

The second layer of 3-D transportation would be the GEN H-4s, the personal commuter helicopters that would be relegated to an altitude anywhere from 20 feet to 165 yards into the air. Again, they would not be confined by roads and highways, but could utilize transportation routes based on the shortest distance from Point A to Point B.

The Segways would be the designated handicapped vehicles. Just like we have handicapped parking spots in places that other vehicles cannot park, the Segways would not be limited to roads and highways. They could utilize road shoulders and ditches, cut across parks and parking lots, buzz through buildings using handicap accessible ramps, and otherwise make use of routes unavailable to automobiles and motorcycles.

So the 3-D transportation relieves traffic congestion by adding depth to the equation, and also by extending the flat plane of 2-D travel to include non-street/non-highway accessiblity for the handicapped.

So here’s the question: What then becomes of the lowly automobile and all the roads and highways currently in place? This is the true beauty of the plan. The automobiles and roads become the sole domain of us geezer drivers, who now are free to drive as slowly as we want, change lanes without turning on our blinkers, pull out in front of oncoming traffic, and drive down the middle of the line separating two lanes of traffic. We can now leisurely putt-putt our way from our morning coffee klatches to our volunteer jobs at the local ARC store to our $2.89 blue plate senior specials at the Dew Drop Inn without the constraint of traffic laws or impatient fellow drivers. The buzzing of the Pilatus Porters, the GEN H-4s, and the Segways above us and around us won’t be a bother; we can’t hear them anyway.

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