History, Geometry and the Future of Mobility
For over a century the personal automobile has served as a highly adaptable transportation tool and an aspirational symbol of wealth and freedom. However, two megatrends would appear to spell its doom: climate change with the recognition of the need to reduce CO2 emissions, and urbanization with the unprecedented size and density of new emerging megacities where significant vehicle ownership would result in ‘total gridlock’. Surprisingly, both of these are actually questions of geometry – and a little physics – informed by the history of cities in the developed world. We argue that history and geometry suggest that the end of the private car is neither desirable nor inevitable. The real issue will be fuel. While personal transportation is most amenable to electrification – presumably from zero-carbon generators – physics dictates that aviation and freight will rely on liquid hydrocarbon fuels for the foreseeable future. This poses the ultimate challenge of how we can invent, design and deploy a renewable fuel infrastructure quickly enough to avert the worst impacts of climate change.