Power by Design
MSS 02 - 07 - 2010

We depend on many forms of transportation to make World Tour possible. When it comes to getting around, our group of over forty people requires an especially diverse array of reliable transit systems. In thirty-five days abroad, we have collectively used nearly twenty different types of transportation. Buses - private and public coaches, shuttles Trains - passenger and overnight cars, streetcars, trams, metros Planes - international and domestic flights Boats - ferries, motorboats, sailboats, cruise ships Animals - horse carriages, camels Cars - taxis As a design principle, public transportation is far more sustainable than methods of private, individual transportation. Relatively little energy is used to move each person in most forms of mass transit, whereas moving one person alone requires more energy. While most of the vehicles we have used are equipped with fuel-burning engines, it has been most interesting to use those that function without any liquid fuel at all. In particular, the electric trains we have boarded throughout Europe appear to rely only on locally produced electicity. By providing cost and energy efficient service in many cities, electric trains are amazingly effective ways to move the masses. One of the greatest differences between electric and diesel trains is the infrastructure that they each require. Diesel trains need places to refuel. Any electric train needs a source of current that runs along the entirety of its rails. This special requirement has been very interesting throughout our travels because each city, each railway, handles this specification differently. At a stop in Montpelier, France, we were surprised to see a jungle of wires, poles, transformers, and other equipment covering the rails just outside of the station. In Avignon, France, at the modern TGV station, this source of power was neatly spread out and even appeared graceful inside the station. Additionaly, each streetcar and every underground metro system we have seen so far has depended on electricity for propulsion. As sustainable as electric trains may be, their functionality must cooperate with their appearance, and vice versa. Power can be displayed attractively if it is carefully designed to do so. In America, our cities would undoubtedly benefit through a sustainable, nationwide mass transit system. In order to attract people to use such a system, it must not only be available, but genuinely exciting. Power, whether it is electricity, electomagnetism, biofuel, or something else, could be one of the greatest draws. While stations and trains themselves are highly designed, artful infrastructure could become greatly appealing, and even educational, throughout our urban, suburban, and rural landscapes. Top right: TGV station in Avignon, France. The massive wires and poles are surprisingly attractive, giving a sort of grace to the trains' source of power. Bottom right: Elevation diagrams of electric trains in Avignon and electric streetcars in Rome. The engines only need one point of contact along the wire to transfer electricity to the entire train. In Rome, support for the electric wires covered the entire width of the street like a web, perhaps unnecessarily.

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