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BiModal Glideway and Overview of the Future of Ground Transportation

There are currently two dominant competing approaches to the future of ground transportation – high speed rain and self-driving cars.  We believe the Bi-Modal Glideway is a third and better choice.

We Americans with our frontier heritage of individualism are wedded to our cars – no mere love affair this. No doubt this can and will change, but the divorce, however amicable, is going to be some time in coming. This is the first concern: autonomy or freedom to go where we want when we want, how we want.

The second concern is environmental. As population grows and the globe warms (or the climate changes), we need to do the same or more with less. We want a greener future for ourselves, our children, and their children.

Next is safety. The roads are more dangerous than they need to be. Too many injuries, too many deaths.

And of course, we are concerned with the speed of travel, particularly if we are faced with living and/or commuting in locales where gridlock has long become a permanent feature of life and landscape.

To these transportation specific concerns we add one more general onesgrounded in the economic reality of this time. How will different visions of the future of ground transportation help with building a transportation infrastructure for the future, provide much needed economic stimulus, and, always important and particularly so in dark and fearsome economic times, jobs?

As we survey the horizon of ground transportation, we see different approaches to meeting these concerns: High speed rail (the bullet train), electric cars (ala Detroit, Elon Musk, Shai Agassi, and others), Google’s self-driving cars, and the BiModal Glideway system.

High speed rail

The bullet train is a good idea gone awry.  As Dan Walters, political columnist for the Sacramento Bee in a piece published on 7/17/2011 commented:

Every single independent review of its project to link the northern and southern halves of the state with a bullet train has concluded that it's not working. No exceptions. Not even one.

The only ones saying that the bullet train will work as promised are the rail authority itself, its highly paid consultants and media cheerleaders, and those on the political left who hate cars and planes and love trains.

In addition, while if you build it they may eventually come, getting Americans out of the driver’s seat is no mean task. Our heads may tell us that high speed rail is the way to go, but our hearts remain attached to the freedom and flexibility of the passenger car.

Electric vehicles

Electric cars are here. They are being produced in Detroit, by Renault-Nissan, by the entrepreneurial Tesla Motors among others. Facilitating the spread and acceptance of electric vehicles is Better Place which is building battery swapping infrastructure which expands the range of the vehicles between charging and can eliminate the need for owner’s to charge batteries at all.

Good for green, but do nothing for congestion (speed), safety, and have comparatively little economic stimulus.

Self-driving cars

Google’s self-driving cars are literally and figuratively on the move. Literally, because they are already undergoing advanced testing. Figuratively, because the Governor of Nevada recently signed a bill requiring their Department of Motor vehicles to create guidelines for “autonomous” vehicles that use computer hardware and software to navigate on state roads.

This is an approach to ground transportation that not only has the wealth and ambition of Google powering it, but also one that has garnered a state government participation in the experiment, no trivial feat.

Google’ primary announced motivation for this innovation is safety – lower the number of traffic accidents and fatalities. In this it addresses one of our five concerns. It also meets the concern for autonomy and can also be green. Of itself, this approach does little to enhance the speed of travel and little to stimulate the economy.

The BiModal Glideway

The Bimodal Glideway project is a new incarnation of the 60 year old possibility of bimodal transportation. Bimodal transportation involves vehicles that can operate on conventional streets and highways and on separated guide ways. In the former they are driver controlled; in the latter they are system controlled and travel without driver intervention.  As with earlier bimodal concepts, the BiModal Glideway System incorporates vehicles that travel both on guide ways and on the present highway and street system. Automobiles using the BiModal technology enter onto a Glideway and automatically convert to all-electric, high speed vehicles, no longer requiring driver control. Riding on a single lane, grade separated Glideway, each bimodal vehicle travels at high speed controlled by vehicle-glideway interacting systems. On existing roadways the vehicles operate conventionally. Traffic would flow faster and more safely than conventional traffic, and drivers would be freed up for other activities while on the Glideway.

This system offers a unique combination of economical mass transit with individual freedom and flexibility.  The system would be fast, safe, economical and green. The overall savings from the implementation of the BMG system would make it much more cost effective both in construction and operation than high speed rail.

Addressing our transportation concerns:

Autonomy and freedom: Individuals and families can travel in bimodal cars or in shuttles and buses. Bimodal facilitates the adoption of public transit over time.  If we choose, we can transition to more public and less private transportation over time while still taking care of other major transportation concerns.

Safe: Bimodal vehicles are automated, electrically controlled and propelled transit buses, automobiles, or trucks, riding on small steel wheels between steel rails, elevated above all other traffic, on a single lane dedicated static Glideway (no moving parts). There are no crossings, no mechanical switches, no head to head collisions, no side crashes, no running off the road, no traffic stops, no lane striping, no street signs, no traffic lights, no night lighting, no highway patrol, and no pot holes.

Green: The BiModal Glideway System is minimal to non-polluting transportation. Building it involves minimal land disruption. Much of it can be built over existing right-of-ways. There is no pollution from tires when vehicles operate in Glideway mode. A single lane Glideway can replace or supplement a three lane highway.

Speed: The BMG system can operate at speeds up to 120 mph. This is possible because the Glideway is grade separated from all other forms of activity. It acts as a higher speed rail system with banked turns and minimum elevation changes. All entering and exiting traffic operates at Glideway design speeds.

Economic Stimulus: The wider the adoption, the greater the impact on the economy and on job creation. If adopted as part of a national transportation plan, the economic stimulus generated would equal or exceed that of building the now decades old Internet Highway System.

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