Eugenie June Lee
Seoul International School
High School Student
Better Transportation for a Better World
Effective transportation is the key to a better century. The past century and a half has seen the advent of the car, train, airplane, and bicycle. With this explosion in transportation options, humankind has rushed forth in a veritable race, using every mode of transportation available to expand into new territories in ways never before imaginable. Such a rapid expansion in transportation networks has led to great inefficiencies. Pollution, crumbling infrastructure, and dangerous travel conditions are only a few of the detrimental effects of how transportation has flourished in the past century. Humanity now has a need to harness the technological advances of the past few decades to create clean and efficient transportation networks worldwide. Doing so will have a myriad of positive effects that will last in centuries to come.
To begin with, we must reduce our dependence on fuel-consuming modes of transportation to reduce global pollution and curb humankind's impact on climate change. This includes less use of personal cars, buses, and old trains. The goal of eliminating them completely is both draconian and likely impossible, but attempts must be made to improve other modes of transportation to provide better alternatives to gas-powered vehicles. Transportation in the 21st century ought to be based on rapid mass transit, mainly in the form of high-speed railways and electric buses with special lanes on both local and express routes. Daily intra-city commuters facing shorter distances should rely on bicycles and electric motorcycles or buses. In larger, denser cities such as New York, London, or Tokyo, municipal governments should implement a general phasing out of car traffic in the most congested areas of the cities. This approach, coupled with an extensive network of bicycle sharing systems, specialized bus lanes, and other modes of mass transit, would have a hugely positive effect on reducing pollution across the globe.
In addition to reducing pollution, changing the way humans think about and use transportation in our daily lives would increase lifespans across the globe and lessen, if not eliminate, transportation-related casualties. Despite the fact that human lifespans have generally increased over the past century as a result of medical advances, much can still be done to combat the effects of the modern urban human's sedentary lifestyle. Implementing a system where most urban dwellers would have to either walk or use a bicycle to complete daily tasks would translate into an overall healthier lifestyle centered on constant and moderate exercise. Human health (as well as that of plants and animals) would also benefit from reduced levels of pollution resulting from a decrease in fuel-burning vehicles. Furthermore, with fewer and fewer people using personal cars on a daily basis, traffic-related casualties would drop significantly. Not to mention the fact that stress levels typically associated with long commutes and heavy traffic would all but disappear in larger urban areas with sophisticated mass transit networks and no personal cars on the road.
Reduced congestion and cleaner air would be among the first and most obvious short-term effects of a global transportation network based on rapid mass transit and the reduction of personal cars. The longer term effects for this century and centuries to come would be far deeper in their scope. Cityscapes rid of cars would take completely new shapes. Humans would interact with public spaces in ways not seen for hundreds of years. New parks would emerge, pedestrian areas would dominate urban centers, and humans would interact with each other on a daily basis whether on the street or on a public train. I argue that such ways of life and interactions would create closer-knit societies, with higher degrees of empathy among the population. It is easy to honk in anger at the car in front of you, but someone bumping into you on the street generally elicits a polite and genuine smile with a gentle apologetic exchange. As societies learn to rely less on private modes of transportation, humans would become more in tune with a harmonious, collective approach to living, not unlike how our ancestors lived centuries ago. It is key to note that a more sophisticated and modern transportation network would allow humans to re-embrace aspects of our own past that have since been lost, only to ensure a better future.
Beyond improving society as a whole, a better transportation infrastructure would also have more tangible effects. For example, faster, safer, and more efficient modes of transportation means that goods reach markets faster. Also, envision a world where perishable goods are twice or three times as fresh as previously possible. These more concrete effects of a better global transportation system mean better productivity and healthier economies. High-speed transportation systems would also bring people together faster and more efficiently, which would have positive ramifications for not only doing business but also bringing far-flung families and friends closer.
Improving transportation systems such as I have described is not an unattainable goal. With the exponentially beneficial effects building better transportation systems would have on society at large for the following century, governments at every level should make transportation reform a top priority. A beneficial political side-effect of such a push would be the potential transportation reform would create for better relations between certain countries. The governments of those countries with existing sophisticated transportation networks would have a responsibility to share technical knowledge with countries who lag behind. Formal and continuous cross-national exchanges of this sort between scientists, politicians, and consultants would create a forum for positive international exchanges. This could then lead to positive exchanges in other ancillary topics such as climate change or human health issues.
The effects of a coordinated global reform of transportation networks would be staggering. Air, water, and noise pollution would be curbed in ways previously unimaginable. Humans would enjoy healthier lifestyles by renouncing a sedentary way of life that has proved to lead to countless chronic ailments. Traffic accidents, one of the leading causes of death in most industrialized and industrializing nations, would become as rare as polio. Cities would be transformed and beautified for the benefit of all society. Positive coordination and interactions among countries would increase. Ultimately, the building of an effective transportation network would be the cornerstone of a better century ahead.