It’s no surprise to see that Elon Musk is getting a flat review for his concept of tunnelling across North America as this article from Fast Company discusses. There is a growing uneasiness of someone trying to solve a problem that never really exists. The aptly named Boring Company plans a transcontinental tunnel to make personal cars go faster and quicker, so named by transportation writer Jarrett Walker as “elite projection, the belief among relatively fortunate and influential people who what those people find convenient or attractive is good for the society as a whole.”
When Culver City’s city council heard a 45 minute presentation on the first leg of the tunnel between Hawthorne California to West Los Angeles, it may have dawned on them that this new tunnel proposal replicates Musk’s own personal journey to work from Los Angeles to Hawthorne. “Conceived by Musk in 2016 in an effort to circumvent traffic, Boring Company’s putative purpose is to construct networks of subterranean tunnels in California, Chicago, and the East Coast, through which personal cars and multi-passenger “pods” would travel on electric skates at speeds hovering around 125 to 150 miles per hour, with no stops between origin and destination. Beneath the veneer of its otherworldly grandeur, however, the company has had little to show for itself, investing far more in publicity gambits—namely, its buzzing campaign to sell branded flamethrowers—than in its own blueprint.”
But what is the problem that Musk and his boring tunnel was trying to solve? And why does the Boring company not want any governmental subsidies or public investment? Is it to completely control the “boring ground” space? “The evidence that the Boring Company will deliver on its central promise of mitigating traffic appears to be sparse. Theoretically, one or more additional layers of roads would reduce the number of cars on surface streets, thereby decongesting them. The company, however, has neglected to address the mechanics of the surface-level points of entry and exit above the tunnel—on-ramps, of sorts, that could far too easily cause jams.”
The way to reduce traffic is to reduce cars on the road, not to offer cars the chance to burrow below where they will still emerge into traffic once they pop up to the surface like prairie gophers. Relieving congestion means moving away from the use of the personal automobile, not burrowing it. There are also suggestions that this private tunnel network will serve only the wealthy Los Angeles West Side, and include a tiered pricing model. Instead of connecting neighbourhoods that use transportation for shops and services, the Boring tunnel threatens to exclude the poor neighbourhoods that will have no access to the tunnel. While the Boring Company continues to take up the time on the plan to privatize a car burrow below ground, municipal organizations should consider whether the private car is part of any answer to future smart movement and congestion.