Crazy transit ideas over the ages

Something unusual cropped up the other day that reminded my of a crazy idea that a friend mentioned some years ago. When you work within a particular industry, you often find that people are keen to talk to your about your job.

When you work in transport, that desire to talk about what’s going on in your work life seems to be heightened: I think it may be because most people feel that they have some knowledge in this area. If I was a nuclear physicist, to take an altogether different scenario, then I suspect that the talk wouldn’t flow quite so freely. How many of us, after all, feel confident talking to an expert in that subject area, without running the risk that we’ll quickly feel out of our depth.

But transport is different. Most people know something about the subject: maybe they drive a car, take the bus, or hop on a train. If not, they almost certainly ride a bicycle, or even see traffic movements from the perspective of a pedestrian. That’s even before we begin to think about those who are involved in driving or using some other mode of transport for their own employment purposes.

We all, to a certain extent, can claim expertise in this area. That thought brings me back to that crazy idea that I was talking about and the trigger that reminded me of it.

The trigger was that I was searching for a new treadmill and was reading reviews over at shopfarinellis. I’m not really one for pumping iron at the gym and I’m fairly fit, but I wanted to get my hands on a new running machine. Maybe, I should have said that I wanted to get my feet on a new running machine!

Anyway, I was browsing and that reminded me of the conversation from a while ago. Thinking about it, I suspect that my old treadmill had triggered that original conversation.

My friend wondered why it was that we transport experts hadn’t cottoned on to a fairly simple idea. They’d recently been on holiday and had encountered a treadmill at the airport. It enabled their family (together with other passengers) to be moved along quite a long corridor, with their luggage too, with minimal effort. I’ve seen them too, as you may well have done: they were invented back in the 19th century and they are more commonly known as moving walkways.

They do the job in just the way that my friend described, helping to move people and their belongings around. But my friend had bigger and better ideas: why not have them installed throughout cities? You could use them to travel pretty much anywhere, but with minimum effort?

It was a wonder, my friend continued, that we so-called experts were still talking about trains, buses and subways. Why hadn’t we all switched on to this concept?

Taking the idea at face value, you may think that this isn’t too stupid. There are, however, significant drawbacks associated to using moving walkways, or treadmills, in this way. Chief among them being:

Manufacture and installation costs
Maintenance costs
Environmental impact
Safety issues
Susceptibility to vandalism
Lack of flexibility

Some of the potential advantages are, however, considered in a paper that was written in 2016 by Scarinci et al of EPFL. The fact that it’s been regarded as academic study tells you that it’s not the maddest idea that you’ve ever heard.

As if to confirm that, compare it to some other transportation plans that briefly breathed life at various times.

One idea from the past that I loved, but which sadly never took off, was the idea of having an elephant pull a hot air balloon. Yes, you did read that right. It was once thought that an elephant, being an animal of great strength, would be perfect for pulling a hot air balloon.

Let’s think about this concept for a second. A wild animal would be in control of a hot air balloon. I see three main issues with this otherwise great idea: Take off, flight and landing! I don’t know whether the inventor ever got as far as a prototype (I suspect not), but it does go to show that human beings have a wonderful ability to think of ever more crazy ideas. In fact, those treadmills at every street corner are beginning to sound more appealing by comparison!

In the 1920s there was one seemingly mad idea that actually caught on. People manufactured a vehicle and others bought it, for a time. The idea was seemingly simple: a motorised pram for children.

These vehicles, with a top speed of 4mph, had space for the parent (or nanny) to stand and steer using the handlebars. The poor child, meanwhile, was presumably too busy crying as a result of the overpowering exhaust fumes. The noise levels of those early engines must have been impressive too. Despite the seeming stupidity of the idea, I’m not sure that anyone was ever killed as a result of using such a contraption.

Charles Steinlauf is simply not as well remembered as he should be. In fact, it’s likely that you’ve never heard of him. This is a great shame, since he had a great idea for a vehicle and even tried it out with his family.

His wonderful invention was as follows: it would be great if he could travel around with his entire family. This sounds simple enough. He wanted it to be on some form of bicycle. Again, so far, so good.

It’s easy to imagine the entire family out riding a bike in this way, enjoying the country air. There’s not much wrong with the idea here, but it seems that Charles had identified a problem: his family bicycle would allow for increased leisure time and provided a fantastic transport solution, but what about the chores?

If they were all busy riding a bike, then who would deal with those all-important chores? Specifically, how would his wife manage to get her sewing done? The solution, you see was simple. Why not simply attach the sewing machine to the bicycle? With a seat, of course, so that Mrs Steinlauf could be comfortable, sewing on the move. A wonderful idea indeed!

As we can see, the history of crazy transit and transportation ideas is long and illustrious. Long may it continue!