Is the moving sidewalk an sf-nal idea whose time has come? Tom Vanderbilt at Slate asks whether urban transportation networks could be significantly improved by making the walkways of the city move like the ones at the airport [via SlashDot].
It’s actually a much older idea than Heinlein’s “The Roads Must Roll”:
The moving walkway, of course, is a firmly entrenched and familiar transportation technology, but it has been largely limited to controlled (and typically transportation-related) environments, like airports, train stations, or theme parks. Its history unspools further back than you might imagine. As Paul Collins has written, the first moving sidewalks were unveiled at Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exposition (where they could shuttle 31,680 passengers per hour), again at the 1900 Paris Exhibition, and seemed well on their way to conquering cities like New York. As Collins writes, Max Schmidt, the creator of the Chicago walkway, “proposed a flurry of similar projects around Manhattan—running down Broadway, along Wall Street, over the Williamsburg Bridge and across 23rd and 34th Street. To Schmidt, the advantages of the moving walkway were so compelling that he was convinced they would supplant some subways rather than supplement them. By 1909, he was pushing a massive $70 million scheme that would provide Manhattan with a network of subterranean moving sidewalks.”
Vanderbilt draws no solid conclusions, but much of the material he mentions suggests that there are enough downsides to the idea to make it counterproductive. For my money, urban centres with hugely reduced motor vehicle traffic could simply build wider walkways (and more cycle paths), which would make pedestrian movement not only faster but safer and more enjoyable…
… yeah, yeah, I know, I’m such a utopian.
Serendipitous and contextually relevant bonus material: Shareable has just republished Benjamin Rosenbaum’s story “Falling”, which starts with a man standing on a moving walkway in a future Frankfurt. Short, sweet and a little bit visionary.