Saturday, August 05, 2006

Death of the HOV Lane

Back in the days of shift labor and blue collar factory workers the HOV lane was born. It encouraged people to share rides, expenses and reduce pollution and road wear. These were great ideas and served their purpose well.
Yet, America Grew. The common worker found the suburbs and factories started automating. Locating someone who worked the same place and shift as you, became more difficult as schedules changed and population spread out.
Then, "Just in time" supply came into its own in the late 80's and 90's. Just in time ceased shift work as we know it. Employees worked when there was work and went home when there wasn't. Hours became more random and orders became more specialized. We no longer built item "X" and sell it to everyone. We now build similar products with unique properties for each purchaser. This change in how labor is used and the times and structures it falls under has hence changed dramatically.
The once great idea, HOV lanes, has now lost its luster. It is no longer the saving grace of the big city, but has instead become the bottleneck and the producer of pollution. We have produced a labor force that can no longer exist on the original premise of the HOV purpose.
In an attempt to save a dying idea hybrids were added to the HOV. After all, it is an attempt to reduce pollution and save energy. These modern marvels have unfortunately done nothing to solve the grid lock experienced by most cities. In the last couple of years we have seen much greater options in the hybrid, but still the HOV lane remains the desert of the highway. Hybrids and Buses in the HOV lane will only post-pone the issue that really needs to be addressed, should labor be standardized in order to save our cities from gridlock?
If we created some form of labor pool rotation and offered tax incentives for businesses to adopt such programs, could we reduce the perpetual grid lock. Mass transit (the Bus) has never been able to solve the people moving problem. The current “Just In Time” system only further demonstrates how poorly the mass transit model works. Yet, what if we could create a grid by grid rotational traffic pattern that allowed for steady and sustainable traffic movement. I realize that some cities will never have enough roads or highways to move the volume of traffic but what about those who haven’t fully sunk under the weight of their population. I am talking about the cities where rush hour used to be an hour in the 50’s and 60’s. Where rush hour is more like three or four hours and still shows some gaps where good management could smooth out the flow.
If businesses had tax incentives to start and end shifts on specific quarter hour designations and employees were experiencing reduced grid lock and shorter commutes to and from work, would people buy such a plan. The result would be reduced pollution, increased productivity and better family lives.
Reduced pollution would be fairly obvious given the reduction of grid lock. Imagine traveling at or near the designated speed on your commute. Would this not reduce stress? The driver would naturally arrive at their destination better prepared to take on the tasks at hand. The results would benefit both the work and home environments.

Well, what say you? It’s a new idea. I haven’t heard it tried any where. Let’s try and flesh this out a little. What ideas or issues do you see and what other solutions could make this even better?


Blogger A Jacksonian said...

Mostly not tried because no one else in the world lives like Americans: a highly mobile culture, intent on seeing things and coming to move from cities as sources of industry and now used as central nexus points for communication.

The problem itself is self-solving in the 'Edge City' phenomenon. Large cities are now growing up distant edges in what used to be small town and bedroom communities nearby and transit is no longer hub and spoke, but radial around the edge. Many things in life need high density living, but manufacturing and commerce are no longer in that realm. This is more than just 'white flight' it is the mass migration of economically affluent middle class families away from urban centers so as to get a 'piece of the american pie'. Why own a flat or part of a building, when you can have your own home?

Urban planning has never properly worked in the US as it has in the rest of the world due to this mobility phenomena. The US started off very strongly European and with cities as central to everything, but then the needs of agriculture were on the wane and industry on the rise, so that by the 1930's the US was no longer a mass employer via agriculture. This trend intensified in the post-war boom and Americans, wanting to get out of target zones and the tightness of urban living, went to the suburbs. We started to decentralize everything, first at a small scale for necessities, food and medication... and the strip mall boom arrived in the 1950's and 60's. The early 1970's saw a shift of consumer goods stores from urban centers to new shopping malls, which then quickly proliferated across the Nation. Today even *that* infrastructure is becoming old with actual 'to the door' sales increasing and store shopping flattening out. Seen as a general store chain, E-bay ranks #3 in the Nation behind Wal-Mart and Sears/K-Mart/(whoever else they can buy out).

As you pointed out we are coming into the era of Mass Customization, first seen in the printing business in the early 1990's with Print on Demand and learning how to customize advertising and sales circulars to address individuals. Magazines with a subscription base were able to get a premium for marrying up their lists with advertisers to provide customized ads based on name, sex and demographics. By the late 1990's mass customization was moving into consumer goods, such as Nike and various other sporting goods suppliers, which would offer customized variety for color, logo and even name or other identifier placement for a premium. Mass production has moved offshore to cheaper labor sources or has become highly automated to the point of needing few individuals to over see automated production. These trends are set to not only continue but increase.

Japan has tried to move ahead of the curve in robotics, as their population gets older, fewer youngsters will be able to care for elderly parents, and so the concept of a *home companion robot* is one that is being pushed extremely hard there. The Aibo and other toy devices are a leading edge of this, and there are already plans for a *sleeping comfort* robot that will monitor respiration, body temperature and such and notify authorities if things are out of the ordinary. What this portends in Japan is a collapse of the entire real estate market as fewer individuals will be left and there will be much, much more living space than necessary.

In the US the baby boomer greying out will also change demographic spending habits from *family necessities* to *luxuries* as this will be the first *affluent* older generation in history... sustainability of *that* is questionable, however. Already we are seeing housing markets in small towns heat up as boomers start to abandon suburbs and get back to slower and cheaper living... and by flocking to such places raise the cost of actually living there.

The longest term trends are *not* in the manufacturing of goods centrally, but in true distributed manufacturing from either mass-produced pieces or straight from raw materials. We are into the first generation of *one piece* engineering shops, where a design plan with necessary engineering limits sent to a shop and they will produce a single custom piece via computer for the individual. This will *lose* the efficiency of mass production, which generally lowers price as quantities of goods produced increases, but will *gain* in flexibility so that nearly *anything* can be made to order.

HP is addressing this in another way via their research into 3D *printing*. This is being initially targeted at the medical community for the production of replacement organs. When they compared droplet size to size of cells of the human body, HP realized that they could offer a precision creation of organs via their standard inkjet technology, with the only problem being the addition of a lowering platform so that as each layer was sprayed on the platform would lower one-cell or a group of cells depending on type, size and nozzle velocity.

At the end of this spectrum is nanotechnology and quantum computing able to do things currently not feasible with standard linear silicon microtechnology. Such things as being able to manipulate molecules at the atomic level to create customized medications that can be pre-analyzed for your entire genotype and active genes so as to eliminate those medications with unwanted side-effects is something to look forward to in 20 years or so. At that point in time actually doing such work no longer takes a manufacturing plant, and a home device to make such things looks like a much better solution.

Where does that leave the US? Pretty much trying to follow where the population goes... we have tried engineering to restructure lives and have, instead, created monuments to the previous generation... cities will always be vital cultural and event hubs, but as communications distributes the workplace, work, itself, becomes distributed throughout the day. A true *always on* Nation... and THAT will change how we approach where we live and what we do unlike anything since the invention of agriculture.

2:00 PM, August 05, 2006  
Blogger ablur said...

Great post a jacksonian. You accurately depicted the history and direction we are going but what solutions do you offer to the current problem. I personally would not be willing to wait 20yrs for this to come together. We need "today" based solutions to what is becoming a more and more intolerable problem.
I do look forward to the future but I don't plan on waiting in my car for it to show up.

3:47 PM, August 05, 2006  
Blogger A Jacksonian said...

ablur - My thanks! The short of it is: engineering for tomorrow with today's limits doesn't work unless you are willing to live with today's limits, too.

Europe, due to lack of expansion room and concentration in cities, has lived with those limits and enshrined them. The US, not having that tradition, does not. We adjust and adapt continuously, but with goals in mind, not ends.

9:24 AM, August 20, 2006  

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