by Worldchanging Portland local blogger, Ethan Timm
Gliding over the interlocking lanes of Interstate 5, the Terwilliger Parkway and Lair Hill's 19th century urban grid; gazing from the tranquility of a gleaming aluminum capsule; one can be forgiven for imagining that this could be the future of inter-neighborhood, inter-nodal transit. Perhaps efficient aerial transit could be to car-clogged streets what cell phones were to tangles of wires and switchboards. Trams could represent both a literal and figurative technological leapfrog beyond the rubber-wheel, asphalt age.
"Leapfrogging" is the notion that areas which have poorly-developed technology or economic bases can move themselves forward rapidly through the adoption of modern systems without going through intermediary steps.
Requiring only landing points and area sufficient to mount support poles, the tram occupies much less space on earth to accomplish a task which would otherwise require a continuous ribbon of cement. Extrapolating this condition regionally elicits visions of revitalized landscapes, reclaimed waterfronts, abandoned and overgrown interchanges giving way to habitats and wild places as we glide effortlessy, quietly above.
The prospect of aerial trams replacing and/or augmenting Cartesian street grids as transportation networks is enchanting - and begins to explain the immediate interurban envy elicited by the new puddle jumper in the NYtimes and at Worldchanging*New York.
In her laudatory article "Such Great Heights," Amy Jenniges argues that the tram may be just what Portland needs to "grow up." By grow up, she suggests a bigger, bolder Portland. Perhaps, however, it is Portland's youthful irreverance and imagination - its leapfrog potential combined with its commitment to stay small and tread lightly - that is embodied in these quiet, efficient, flying metal buses.
Perhaps a couple of trams would be a thing of beauty. Perhaps dozens of trams constituting a comphrehensive transportation system would be not so beautiful, and perhaps, chaotic, and ugly from the perspective of those on the ground.
In the real world, we would end up with both the trams and the continuing proliferation of streets moving people about with tons of cars as usual.
We try to imagine a future but we only need to parts of existing cities like Barcelona, which, yes, have tons of cars (small) but also have extensive sections of the city which cannot physically handle more than a few occasional cars, emergency vehicles, and trash collecting trucks.
Rather than technological flights of fancy, we need to remove the streets, build over the streets, crowd out the streets, and redesign cities to mostly get rid of things that require massive amounts of energy, pollution, and noise to get us about.
Besides, I thought getting rid of overhead wires was a step in the right direction. A whole city with miles and miles of overhead wires. I don't think so.
Travelling, we are moments along a beam, a cable, a roadbed, an airway.
In order to help diversify and stimulate the transport sector, there are several economic claims that cities, towns and rural regions can reserve as part of their community of assets - their rights of way.
The "value over our roads" is a trillion dollar frontier that is seldom considered in the heat of great discussions about energy options, new types of vehicles, transit systems and the shaping of community development.