I was running late this morning, and then I saw the sign — “Delays Ahead, Exits 39 to 44.” Soon I saw the red taillights popping, and I was immobile on I-95. I sat staring at the frozen grin of a dead roadside raccoon, while the clock ticked and my appointment evaporated.

There has to be a better way. I kept picturing myself in some kind of Jetsons-like transporter — clean, fast, efficient. But the motorist of 1965 drove exactly the same highways that we drive today, at the same top speeds, and didn’t meet nearly as many traffic delays. Our cars are much more sophisticated today — our parents couldn’t listen to music on Pandora when they were stuck in traffic — but they don’t get us there any faster. We’re actually going backwards.

I write about cars for a living, so people assume I love them. Actually, no. They’re a pain in the butt, and ill-suited for the way we live today, in increasingly crowded cities and suburban towns. We should be, we could be, moving around mostly on public transportation by now.

Electric cars are a step forward, of course, but they don’t solve the basic problem of taking up space and needing highways to get around. If I’d been driving a Tesla Model S instead of a Buick this morning, I’d have been just as stuck.

Hyperloop drawing

We need people movers. There are no shortage of great ideas around. Elon Musk’s 700-mph Hyperloop, for instance. It’s a high-tech tube transporter that could theoretically get you from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes, no car needed. I’m thrilled to learn that a pair of high-level engineers have signed on to the project, and don’t see any major obstacles to making it reality — except funding, of course.

high-speed mag-lev trains

Some very worthwhile and creative ideas for environmentally friendly transportation have been proposed, but they’re not going anywhere without major cash commitments. (See this and this from my archives.) We could have high-speed mag-lev trains, monorails, moving sidewalks, flying cars, whatever, but show me the money.

So here’s the good news: Hyperloop, powered by some witches’ brew of air, solar, electricity and magnets, is going the crowdfunding route. It happened this way, says Forbes:

Andrew Quintero, one of the principals at JumpStartFund, knows Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s President and COO. Through that connection, Quintero apparently suggested JumpStart could try to run with the concept and, literally and figuratively, get the elevated train-like system off the ground.
CEO Dirk Ahlborn of JumpStartFund told the New York Daily News that the first small-scale tests could be underway by the end of next year.

Even better, it’s going to be open source, and JumpStartFund is set up to be a clearinghouse for contributions to the design. Let’s do this — it’s not Musk’s design, but everybody’s. If we can get the international engineering community behind a concept like Hyperloop, maybe we actually can, in the near future, finally move beyond the traffic jam and our antiquated allegiance to highways. Here's an explanation of how Hyperloop would work, via a hip science video:

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Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.

Why we should support Elon Musk's Hyperloop
We need modern people movers, and Elon Musk's ultra-fast Hyperloop has the momentum