27
$\begingroup$

How would build a road system or transportation system that respected nature with the following constraints:

  • No paved roads or less than 10% paved roads
  • can’t use gasoline (oil)
  • allow nature to thrive and migrate with little to no impact
  • food and resources can be bussed in or grown locally to reduce transportation
  • it can involve new technology or possible new technology

Why?

I visited somewhere that has 8 lane highways in suburban areas. Eight lanes....

Where I grew up there were two lane or one lane roads. Even then you’d see roadkill daily. This suburb was completely transformed from its natural state. Something that the wild life may have depended on for survival.

I think in the future we will have villages or forest garden like cities that are smaller with less travel and less harmful travel with respect to nature and plant and animal life.

I've seen examples of this in many retro future artworks. But in some of those they still have roads that interrupt nature or flying cars.

How would you solve this if this was your issue to solve?

Update:
to clarify, it would be ok to have some paved roads mostly outside of villages and towns. or have dirt roads or side walks. people might walk, bike, or some other transport much more locally. yes it might require a change in the way of life.

$\endgroup$
13
  • 14
    $\begingroup$ What's wrong with rivers? $\endgroup$ – Erik May 4 at 11:24
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ Is this about mitigating current habitat destruction and fragmentation so --for example-- packs of wolves can be re-introduced in the next county to keep the deer population under control? Or is this about undoing past habitat destruction so --for example-- bison can migrate long distances again? $\endgroup$ – user535733 May 4 at 13:01
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ why roads? why not use trains, which transport more people and require less of a geographical footprint? $\endgroup$ – jackwise May 4 at 15:17
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ Your first required step will be to kill off 95% to 98% of the current human population. Because without roads, neither food nor fuel will move to where it is needed, and we would need to regress from a metropol/urban to a rural/village level of infrastructure. $\endgroup$ – PcMan May 4 at 16:50
  • 12
    $\begingroup$ all of Europe was completely transformed even before cars. There isn't much left of original forest, it's all farmlands (most of it big intensive fields) and managed forests. So even without roads, big chunks of the land are not exactly "respecting nature" $\endgroup$ – njzk2 May 4 at 21:20

20 Answers 20

35
$\begingroup$

Mass transit and alternatives to cars

There are many countries that are focused on cars. As I'm from the Netherlands it's easy to think about grabbing a bike. Every person/group of persons on a bike for short distances (which can still be quite a lot of km, depending on the person) will be a car less.

The thing is that some countries, like the USA, can't imagine going without cars. An example is from a channel I watched called "notjustbikes" on youtube. It stated that small shops inside urban areas is for them unimaginable. Their lives revolve around big one time pickups at huge shops, all by car. In contrast there are many counties where you can walk to a shop for daily groceries, removing most of the shopping by car. This is but one example, but a lot of reduction of traffic can be gained by a different mindset in planning and the populace. Having most commodities like work, shopping and relaxation easily reachable by foot or bike will reduce the cars by a huge margin.

We're not there yet. Cars have been planted in many brains as a flexible and easy transport that can get you anywhere. In the USA you take a plane or a car to another state. Why? Because a long bus ride is horrible, trains are barely existent and there are no other alternatives. However, if you invest more into other transport like busses, trains or other instead of cars, they become more viable. Multiple people in a vehicle reduces the amount of vehicles on the road. Not all vehicles even need a paved road. Would you take the car if you can't park and there is a cheap, fast and easy train connection? Would you take the car if you're only allowed 50 maximum on not well maintained roads while beautiful well maintained mass transit is available?

It is again partly a mind problem, but the message is simple. If there are better, faster and cheaper alternatives to cars, they will use them. Removing most if not all cars will allow you to reduce the road network. Simple as that. In addition, many mass transit examples can use electricity, which can be created with nuclear, tidle, wind, solar and other green alternatives to fossil fuel. You can immediately change from gas to hydrogen, which can be put into cars as a consumable fuel and be produced from (excess) electricity. This can be both burned (for example to cook) and used to directly make electricity in special cells.

I'm thinking that we can't reduce it to 10% of the original. You still need some trucks to deliver things at the shops and such. But there we see the problem! My mindset can't think without trucks for the shops. But a full change in this mindset can solve this. Maybe there are solutions where it is passed on automated rails underground to each shop from a railway distribution center. Maybe you use a fleet of cargo bikes from a smaller distribution center instead! There are options, but we need a new extensive infrastructure and mindset to make it happen. There are multiple combinations of options for this, so no single answer.

There is also some bonus points for growing locally. Using a mandated amount of roof space for growing food can already make a huge impact. Furthermore you can have more green where you grow these things. If people get a mindset where things like permaculture (round the year mixed food production. Work itensive but little land produces more) are commonplace, you can reach such targets quite quickly.

$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch May 6 at 7:20
25
$\begingroup$

Just the other day I was reading an history atlas about the city where I live. The chapter I was reading mentioned that the works for the first paved road from the town to the local administrative center started somewhere in 1700 and went on for about a century, among lack of funding, quarrels with other towns on the route of the road and wars.

The main complaint at that time was coming from merchants, who had to get an additional pull of horses when the paved road ended and they needed to transport their goods on the natural roads. Guess how where the natural roads made? Mud in rainy weather, sand in dry weather.

When the town folks would have to rely on local production for their sustenance the population was about 300 people, and that was for good part of the first 500 years of existence of the town.

In Italian there is a saying that goes "wanting the full jar and the drunken wife" for addressing two mutual conflicting goals, and this is what you are aiming for: natural unpaved roads are a very poor choice for transportation, as already the roman empire had understood.

If you want to limit roadkills and allow animals to move despite the barrier represented by the road you could go with something like the "nature bridges" built in the Netherlands, where a bridge is built over highways to allow animals crossing them with no danger of being hit, like the one you see below.

enter image description here

One can also lay pipes of suitable diameter below the roads and use fences to allow safe crossing to wildlife, which is something I have seen on Dutch local roads, too. In the screencap below you see the fences and an intermediate well for an underground animal crossing, in a road that cuts through a forested area.

enter image description here

But as you can see those systems use paved roads, because those are way better than unpaved roads for transportation.

$\endgroup$
7
  • $\begingroup$ As a side note, I know of at least one such bridge in Belgium too. $\endgroup$ – Laurent S. May 4 at 14:24
  • $\begingroup$ There are plenty of such animal crossing tunnels in the UK as well. $\endgroup$ – alephzero May 4 at 15:11
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ The Romans certainly knew how to build long lasting roads from local materials. When the Humber bridge was built in the UK (opened in 1981) part of the access road on the south side followed the route of an old Roman road. The modern civil engineers discovered that the original Roman road foundations were still in place and as good as new, after nearly 2000 years of zero maintenance.. $\endgroup$ – alephzero May 4 at 15:16
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @alephzero however, the Roman roads took forever to build. It is estimated that one person could only produce 1 1/3 to 2 meters of road per day as it was sixteen feet wide. You, of course, had a planning and gathering nightmare. There are roughly four and a half million meters between NYC and Los Angeles. $\endgroup$ – Dave Harris May 5 at 4:03
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @DaveHarris, so you'll need at least a couple of people on that job then $\endgroup$ – Separatrix May 5 at 8:39
24
$\begingroup$

Frame challenge.

Your complaint is about suburbs not roads. Suburbs are horribly unsustainable, they are the least desirable type of living in terms of environmental impact. Suburbs can't even support their own infrastructure monetarily. Suburbs maximize the local environmental impact of humans and fall pretty high on the overall impact. Suburbs also maximize the amount of roads.

Suburbs are crap you want to eliminate them.

So what do you do.

Urbanize: people living in cities give the least environmental impact per person and and can financially support itself. Concentrate all the things you don't want in as small an area as possible. You don't want smaller cities; you want bigger ones. The smaller the city, the more of them you need. But you want urban cities not suburbs.

But how do people get around? Sidewalks and rail. Rail is a lot better than cars on roads for the environment. It kills far fewer animals because the traffic is spaced out so there is plenty of time with nothing on the line so animals can cross. Even busses and trolley can have a huge benefit.

Build many urban streets underground, minimize the impact on nature by moving it way from nature. More and more, so called "carless" cities are coming into the public mind.

Here is an image from a planned city that may be helpful for getting a rough idea. enter image description here Note the car and truck travel is basically limited to the middle layer with train on the lowest layer. As a side benefit, this make AI driven vehicles much much easier. A good city planner can still leave natural corridors and parks, or convert existing roads into them while minimizing the foot print of the city.

Note the big downside of this is your city needs to invest is some intense storm water management systems.

But what do you do with the rural areas?

Again use rail whenever possible. Public transport like buses are also a big help. The fewer vehicles, the fewer dead animals and the smaller the roads need to be.

You will need to pave some roads, the more traffic there is the more paving will help, this is good for the environment too, pavement is the most recycled material on the planet. Rural areas are fairly low impact on wildlife, honestly the farming has a much bigger impact.

You want paved roads.

You want paved roads. Any other alterative results in far more environmental impact. Let's be clear: animals get killed on roads because they can just walk across them. Paving the road does not make this any worse. Not paving them just makes the road shittier which puts more traffic on the few paved roads (meaning they have to be bigger). You want almost all your public roads paved. You will never eliminate roads, animals make roads just by walking over the same ground over and over. Paving a road can actually help keep animals off a road by eliminating cover, animals don't want to stand around in the open with no cover and no food.

More importantly you want to wall off your larger roads and build wildlife corridors over or under them. this minimizes the number of animals on the road. Animals are not that stupid. If there is a path to avoid traffic, most will take it.

enter image description here

Depending on how fictitious you want to go, these corridors can get wider and more numerous until you essentially have all long distance roads underground.

Side note: Food is only a small fraction of the goods that need to be moved. Also you don't want only local food, you want local food when local is possible. So you still need a massive transportation network, the ideal is to centralize and concentrate it as much as possible. Of course you can't concentrate it too much or you risk people getting cut off by natural disasters.

Eliminating gasoline just means switching to mostly electric and some biofuel. Public transport is extremely good at switching to these. Many already use them.

$\endgroup$
15
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ Eliminating combustion engine personal transport also removes much of the limitation on tunnel length as you don't get the same issues with buildup of toxic gasses. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix May 5 at 8:45
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ The "pedestrian layer" and "service layer" makes me think of many dystopian future movies where the rich live in sunlight while the poor toil underground. $\endgroup$ – user9824134 May 5 at 13:39
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @gerrit Europe has plenty of car oriented single family home suburbs, they are less spread out than American ones but they are still suburbs with all their problems. If the area is almost entirely high rises (1 floors or more)its almost certainly urban. $\endgroup$ – John May 6 at 4:12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Isn't it way cheaper to elevate the roads instead, providing the animal crossing underneath them? Inside tunnels you have countless problems, like drainage, gas exchange (CO2 for O2 - yes, even if you are "green", humans still breathe inside there), and the obvious one: you have such great and immaculate wilderness and can't even enjoy it with your eyes. $\endgroup$ – tfrascaroli May 6 at 11:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I am actually thinking of going in the totally opposite direction. Instead of 1 big city -- which has a big impact where it is, and requires a large area to drain resources from -- disperse the population in many small semi-autonomous villages. By semi-autonomous I mean that one should aim to produce as much locally as possible -- certainly vegetables, fruits, dairy, ... The key idea is to avoid transportation altogether: if few people and little material needs to move, there's less traffic overall. $\endgroup$ – Matthieu M. May 6 at 13:50
12
$\begingroup$

Maglev (Trains)

I'm surprised nobody has come across Maglev railways as a suitable alternative to vehicular transport, being not only significantly faster and cleaner*, but also having significantly less moving parts. To move goods from New York to Los Angeles would take only 7 hours and would require only a single "railway" of space, minimizing damage to habitats and wildlife.

As for the wildlife, the real-world application has already been implemented and is similar to a number of the answers regarding nature bridges and the like.

*Now a key part of Maglev is that it uses high currents of electricity, and that electricity must be generated in some fashion. In today's world, a good portion of the generated power is from fossil fuels, however this is not necessary should nuclear/solar/wind power be the prevalent form of energy generation in your world.

Done correctly this along with MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) can be situated underground entirely, avoiding a good number of the headaches of animals depending on the depth of the railway.

$\endgroup$
9
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I was going to say that NYC still has elevated train tracks. The only thing that touches the ground are the beams that hold it up and the stairways or elevators that go up and down. But instead I'll add it to your maglev train. Together they might be the answer. $\endgroup$ – Len May 4 at 14:35
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ How would this improve short and medium distance travelling? Or restocking a store? Getting groceries? Going to work? Is it all meglev? $\endgroup$ – Trioxidane May 4 at 14:49
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @Trioxidane. The Maglev probably isn't part of going to get groceries. However there is a concept people call by the silly buzzword "20 minute neighborhood". Basically it is the idea that everything you need on a weekly basis should be within 20mins walk of home (eg. work, groceries). The idea has "buzz" at the moment, which is a bit odd as it has always been how I plan where to live when work takes me to a new city (as I assumed it was for most people). Paths for walking/cycling are probably low-impact enough to satisfy the OP. $\endgroup$ – Dast May 4 at 16:31
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Trioxidane Short and medium distance are actually the preferred mode of transport with this. It's trivial to use Maglev as a subway system, but the cost is usually not justified versus the cost of cars. I would imagine similarly powered electronic rail cars would help (think monorails or MRT[Mass Rapid Transit]) $\endgroup$ – Anoplexian May 4 at 19:41
  • $\begingroup$ I was also going to suggest an elevated train system. Using a smaller maglev system could be used for the "last mile" delivery. Similar to the vacuum tubes used in delivery in Futurama, using a small rail system to take boxes, mail, and other items to a local distribution point (every X blocks) could be significantly more efficient than 1000 UPS, FedEx, and Amazon trucks in town, all hitting the same locations. Instead smaller USPS type trucks could be used and return for more, shorter trips around a small area. Rural areas may still need delivery trucks, though. $\endgroup$ – computercarguy May 4 at 20:14
11
$\begingroup$

Canals.

https://westerncivguides.umwblogs.org/2013/12/03/britains-canal-system/

canals

Before there was tech to make those 2, the British built many canals and they worked great. As regards efficiency canals are third best to railways and roads. If you prohibit paving and oil then canals are again #1. They are a proven method of inland travel and suitable for individual travelers or large bargeloads.

The idea of updating canals with modern tech is pretty sweet - battery powered boats or steampowered woodburners. As regards keeping the airclean I again ponder my scheme for the riverwater exhaust bong...

$\endgroup$
5
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ This breaks up the land based animal routes in the same way as a paved road would. Unless you believe all animals can easily swim across a channel while boats are speeding by. $\endgroup$ – computercarguy May 4 at 20:15
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @computercarguy - the problem with a road is that it looks crossable, but sometimes it is not. Animals try to cross and die. Animals understand they cannot cross a canal. It looks exactly like what it is. Animals will walk along the side and look for a crossing. $\endgroup$ – Willk May 4 at 21:52
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, the will walk along until they find out they can't get across by land, then attempt to swim anyway. You end up creating more hazards for animals and humans. Consider seeing this on your trip, where you can't pass and the younger animals risk drowning or simply being separated from their parents. youtube.com/watch?v=m78rcfJVU8A $\endgroup$ – computercarguy May 4 at 22:26
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Most canals have pretty frequent bridges, @computercarguy. Still, there are problems with water usage: every time a boat goes through a lock, a lockful of water descends from the upper pound to the lower. The busier the canal is, the more water it needs. The summit pounds need to be fed by reservoirs. This can be mitigated to some extent by pumping. $\endgroup$ – TRiG May 5 at 10:42
  • $\begingroup$ @TRiG, so if they need bridges all over the place, then this solution is more like John's, but more resource intensive, since it uses so much water, like you are saying. And this still disrupts the animals significantly while it's being built. Not to mention that these still need wide swaths of vegetation removed, where a system of trains can avoid removing it except for a narrow rail. Also, with canals, if a dam or lock fails, that's pretty catastrophic to the system and everything it floods. Not to mention the constant maintenance and cost of running the pumps. $\endgroup$ – computercarguy May 5 at 15:33
8
$\begingroup$

You seem to assume that 10% unpaved is a requirement to achieving your goal. However your 8-lane highway would still be dangerous to animal life if it was unpaved.

So let me offer you an alternative: bridging all your roads.

Most of the time questions like these you would look for digging underneath and building tunnels, but you don't seem to care about existing infrastructure. So if you "simply" build many tunnels over the highway instead of digging into the ground you can create large continuous stretches of covered road.

The top of this tunnel can be covered with ground and seeded to stop erosion. This is similar to the Ecoducts that L.Dutch refers to. The effectiveness of such ecoducts is undeniable, even though the ecoduct isn't that broad it can be silent enough there for animals to lie down and sleep. You have much longer stretches, if not almost all roads covered. Alternatively you could build buildings on top. Naturally like all tunnels there will be a need for periodic ventilation shafts up out of the ground, although since the road is covered rather than dug in you can poke shafts sideways.

To reduce gasoline you can use powerlines on the roof of your tunnel structure. This is something already considered for trucks: https://www.cleanenergywire.org/factsheets/electric-highways-offer-most-efficient-path-decarbonise-trucks

Your vehicles could have a relatively small battery to save weight and simply draw most of their energy directly from the powerlines, only replenishing their batteries whenever they needed to shift lanes or disconnect from the powerlines for other reasons.

$\endgroup$
6
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ To handle the same level of transport, the 8-lane paved highway would need to become a 23-lane unpaved wasteland. $\endgroup$ – PcMan May 4 at 16:51
  • $\begingroup$ Such an electric highway already exists near where I live. $\endgroup$ – gerrit May 5 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ The significant downsides of the trolley bus style overhead power are overtaking + swapping lanes. One broken down vehicle blocks everything. It’s not just a simple matter to disconnect + reconnect. At that point, why not just go for RMT systems like trains (or trolley busses) which are lower KW / person moved? $\endgroup$ – Tim May 6 at 12:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Tim why wouldn't it? Its a boom that can be extended or lowered to connect to the lines above. With technology available today, like camera's that check if you remain in your lane, you could steer when the boom extends or lowers to make switching or disconnecting easy. The article also doesn't mention any problems with connecting or disconnecting from the top. This makes driving as easy as today. $\endgroup$ – Demigan May 6 at 13:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Demigan have a look at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolleybus#Comparison_to_motorbuses_2. It’s more than just a “boom” that can be extended. Driving certainly would not be “as easy”. $\endgroup$ – Tim May 6 at 14:12
6
$\begingroup$

You want DENSITY.

Lets say we have 10 million people to house. You are right, spreading them out over some huge suburban concrete-scape with 8-lane highways connecting it all together is going to be a big problem for any wildlife in the place you are building.

One way to reduce the impact is to concentrate it. Lets say those same 10 million people lived in an environment like Manhattan. Skyscrapers, underground trains, sidewalks, and yes some roads too.

By focusing all our people into this small area we can leave the rest of the space empty. So maybe 90% of our area has no roads at all (or almost none). This way nature gets its untamed wilderness, and the people get the convenience of high quality roads and pavements where they are.

Obviously people like living near nature. But at least in terms of environmentalism it would probably be better if they didn't.

$\endgroup$
4
  • $\begingroup$ I've read enough science fiction that suggests this idea to know that you'll introduce many more problems than you solve, including needing massive amounts of psychologists and police to handle the situation. But yes, it would solve most of the problem with nature. $\endgroup$ – computercarguy May 4 at 20:19
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @computercarguy except, Japan already pulled it off, and New York is half way there. Yes, it's caused problems, but it's viable. Lots of Swiss people in cities also don't bother buying cars, because the trains are so good. $\endgroup$ – Mooing Duck May 4 at 21:38
  • $\begingroup$ How will you take care of logistics regarding mining and agriculture (including forestry)? $\endgroup$ – gerrit May 5 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ @gerrit You would still have farmland, and even the "wilderness" will be managed and thus have some roads, at the very least connecting different cities and industries. The overall idea is to avoid suburbs that use a lot of space to house not many people. The space inefficiency has the knock-on effect of leaving people spread out too much to walk where they need to go, and too spread to easily serve with trains, leading to the many lanes of road the OP is complaining about. It doesn't need to be that high-rise to help (5 story buildings and plenty of parks is fully doable). Just no suburb. $\endgroup$ – Dast May 6 at 14:16
5
$\begingroup$

Monorail

Even though maglev was mentioned, a monorail is the core idea.

The Shweeb is hanging monorail cars good for personal rapid transit: enter image description here

The inventor made an entertainment attraction of them in New Zealand.

enter image description here

The tops could use maglev trains for larger, heavier, cargo and longer distance routes.

enter image description here

Unlike how the picture shows, it would disrupt ecosystems less if they were built higher up above tree lines. Although, flying animals will be disturbed, especially certain breeds of birds.

$\endgroup$
2
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I can't help trying to picture a 70 year old lady trying to get in the first contraption much less use it. $\endgroup$ – John May 5 at 3:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @John Accessibility and the concrete implementation is of course to be developed, but the concept does not forgo using powered pods for those with less physical prowess. Alternatively they can join a "train" of other pods joined together, whose riders provide enough power to pull the entire train. And if the sides of the pod can be opened far enough, there is nothing too difficult in getting into one. $\endgroup$ – zovits May 5 at 9:31
5
$\begingroup$

A key issue is geography which is not addressed in the initial question. E.G. Mountainous/hilly environments vs dry desert plains or low lying coastal or river flood plains and marshes etc. Different environments would require different solutions.

That said I note the following;

General Point;

  1. Paved roads are, in most cases a more suitable road surface than unpaved roads. Apart from the safety issues they eliminate soil erosion and runoff/silting of local water systems due to heavy rain or flooding etc. Plus they require less maintenance. This is important for heavily used roads because energy and other resources are wasted on both the repairs and the road diversions put in place during repair which lengthen trip times/routes. So I would still go with paved roads as the better long term option.

Specific points.

  1. Proper waste water run-off infrastructure. Where possible waste water needs to be directed from the gutter into well maintained settling ponds. Ideally before leaving the ponds most of the water should undergo at least basic filtration to remove heavy metals and other contaminants. Depending on local need it can then be; A) Fed into commercial filtration plants for additional cleaning prior to being recycled for human use or; B) Otherwise diverted into local water courses.

  2. Harvesting energy from main roads. Systems have been designed which extract electricity via photovoltaic or piezoelectric tiling. It would be too expensive/impractical to pave entire networks with these system but the best/most productive sections could be. E.g. busy intersections for piezoelectric or exposed sunny stretches for photovoltaic.

  3. Use environmentally friendly materials in road bases and cement. Use of recycled or green materials as substitutes for (or to reduce the use of ) traditional materials.Glass recycled plastic fibers etc can increase the durability and ductile strength etc of cement and or road bases.

  4. Use of green power for street lighting (every little bit helps).

  5. Use of road verges and medium strips as green zones for selected local plants, specifically native wildflowers and grasses etc so that they provide refuges for local insect populations and increase the diversity of food sources for pollinators.

  6. Mandatory reintroduction of hedgerows on local rural and semi-rural roadways as ecological refuges for animals insects and plants.

  7. Mandate local governments to 'green' local streets (where practicable) using sidewalks planted with native species - and not just trees but particularly local flowering plants and grasses.

  8. Construction of regular animal overpasses or tunnels as mandated by geography on highways. Greened walkways with associated fencing to divert migratory animals along these pathways. Include overhead rope ways for arboreal species.

  9. Fencing on local roads at environmentally sensitive 'choke points' to prevent/minimize road kills.

  10. Plant shade trees in cities along along all main roads to help cool green the local environment in conjunction with roof top or vertical lawns and gardens and green spaces etc.

  11. Diversion of all possible heavy transport off roads and onto rail freight.

  12. Reduce demand for roads by having well designed and subsidized mass transit systems - railways, subways, buses and trip share/taxi services.

  13. Plan and design roads networks in advance to avoid or at least minimize damage to key local environments e.g. wetlands.

There are probably more I could think of but these cover the basics I think, noting of course that not all of these suggestions would realistically be practicable or affordable at all locations across the entire the road network. The most likely outcome being a mix and match strategy based on a cost benefit analysis of local geography and traffic demands etc.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

I'd just lift the whole road some 4-6 meters into the air, making them essentially into bridges across the country, allowing vegetation to grow under them and making it all but impossible for animals to get on the road (except maybe birds and squirrels?). This coupled with gasless cars (either electric or hydrogen-powered) basically nullifies the negative effects a road can have on the local nature, leaving only noise pollution and light pollution issues, which are already reduced by lifting the road and can be diminished further.

It is more expensive to build, obviously, but caring about the environment is more expensive by default than just going the path of the least resistance of not caring about consequences.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

Living Tree Bridge

Not exactly an answer that you will want but a little reference for your help.

A living root bridge is a type of simple suspension bridge formed of living plant roots by tree shaping. They are common in the southern part of the Northeast Indian state of Meghalaya. They take decades to build but stay strong for hundreds of years. Refer to these for details:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Living_root_bridge

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/india-living-tree-bridges-stand-hundreds-years

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-asia-india-39364422

enter image description here

$\endgroup$
2
  • $\begingroup$ That looks awesome, but I struggle to see how this can scale to a size that can accommodate, say, the freight needs between China and Europe. $\endgroup$ – gerrit May 5 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ Freight? If you're worried about the environment, you manufacture locally as much as possible to minimize freight. $\endgroup$ – Thorne May 6 at 1:05
3
$\begingroup$

Underground

Say goodbye to your snowplows - these roads keep a constant temperature year round. The air is locally processed to remove pollutants, and recharged with oxygen in one of the many small underground nature preserves for threatened species before it is returned to the roadway. The terrible noise of highways infesting the countryside is a thing of the past.

No roads needed

Cars have been retrofitted with wheels that can extend metal projections that can be controllably bent at many joints along their length and automatically fluff out into origami pads that precisely match the calculated contours of the ground just before they meet it. The extension and retraction of these projections is halted by regenerative braking so that they have little real energy cost. The car can seem to coast for long trips over bog and woodland, using sophisticated imaging from itself and stored map images to plot out a path that goes between the trees where they are sparse, or climbs right up over the canopy when they are not. Maximal efforts are taken to capture pollution and noise before they leave the vehicle. The machine still has more of a footprint than if it were underground, but if done well they may be quite light.

Roads? Where we're going...

No, we can't unleash jet turbines - that would be awful. Instead our Necromancers have something better -- gossamer strands of graphene, each of which is tethered to a mighty bird, each of which is genetically engineered and electronically modified to provide maximum lift for minimum "fuel" while obeying every computer-generated command to the smallest detail. Our bird wagons sail the sky like a flock of passenger pigeons (probably they actually are passenger pigeons - Necromancers say the dead should surrender their rights in favor of gratitude). It is almost natural when they darken the skies with the flow of our traffic. When their voyage is done, they can detether themselves and are free to fly about almost in accordance with natural instincts ... within limits. The system guides them to places where nuts and foodstuffs are laid out for them, to make up for lost time in foraging.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

TLDR: Solution

An AI driven network of flying electric drone cargo and passenger vehicles completely removing the need for vehicles on the ground.

Two Options

Go up or go down.

I see tons of answers about down. Roads in the ground (IE: The Boring Company). I see some answers about going up slightly (IE: elevated highways like this one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-IRkRZvE8LM )

Up!!

Single, multi or dense passenger drones and cargo drones of equally varying sizes.

Single person

Possible single passenger drone in the near future from Cadillac:

enter image description here

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8DeBdp1fxY&t=82s

Passenger Drones

Multiple passenger drone concepts last year:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pv4A9IFm-7I

more than moving people

Cargo Drones from a company:

https://evtol.com/news/pipistrel-launches-nuuva-hybrid-cargo-drones/

https://youtu.be/l-2O1_Wd06E

enter image description here

AI Controlled

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LvYNHSf7FbI

https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnkoetsier/2020/05/06/machine-first-world-getting-drones-robots-self-driving-cars-and-ai-driven-systems-to-work-together/?sh=288ad22b1899

“We are entering .. an era of the autonomous economy,” Kumardev told me in a recent episode of the TechFirst podcast. “And what that effectively means is that today we have humans-first in most jobs and most sort of processes, whether that’s industrial, or retail, or even food delivery ... medical delivery … and my vision is that we are going to move to a world where machines-first.”

Get in a vehicle and it moves you to where you need to be... up, over and down. no roads needed.

Wrap up

We aren't far from having this technology. All we need is slightly better computers, a little better programming/AI, batteries with a bit more density on a lighter footprint... All you have right there. Vehicles that can shuffle individuals or groups (passenger drone busses? cargo haulers? Long range transports?) and/or cargo between without ever touching ground.

When the technology comes together, I honestly feel as if we aren't are off from having the basics to have this in our lifetimes - laws and politics not withstanding.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/forget-flying-cars-passenger-drones-may-be-hovering-soon-at-a-location-near-you/

The dream of the flying car could come down to earth before it gets off the ground. Rising in its place: a network of self-flying drones big enough to ferry individual commuters around town. That’s the future envisioned by several start-ups that are developing so-called “passenger drones,” which could shrink commute times from hours to minutes.

In a few years, these things will make the building blocks for what you envision and might become reality in the lifetime of some younger people alive today.

$\endgroup$
6
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ your big problem is power your cargo drones can be electric or large but not both. you don't need slightly lighter batteries you need drastically lighter batteries. $\endgroup$ – John May 5 at 3:47
  • $\begingroup$ @John with current tech? maybe... with better battery tech and improvements in other areas? Maybe not. The picture included has a good sized box and most standard cargo - if not all - can be worked into that or slightly bigger. Some examples are coming out of better and better options for flying drones. And, lets be honest... any solution will probably have both - under ground for heavy lifting, cargo (underground trains and what not)... and above ground for passengers that want the view. $\endgroup$ – WernerCD May 5 at 15:20
  • $\begingroup$ Good answer, because the truth is that no road system can respect nature. However, good luck transporting 10.000-20.000 containers by drones... $\endgroup$ – gerrit May 5 at 19:17
  • $\begingroup$ @gerrit if you can create a simple program to control 500 AI robots to do fancy sky shows: youtube.com/watch?v=LvYNHSf7FbI ... why couldn't you use more advanced programs with improved drones & battery tech to do 500,000 containers? At some point you're simply scaling up existing solutions... $\endgroup$ – WernerCD May 5 at 23:20
  • $\begingroup$ @WernerCD Because of the energy involved in moving millions of tons by air. You can neither store nor generate that energy in-flight. It needs either chemical fuels (or nuclear, but that opens another can of worms), or supply electricity along the way (with trains or maybe electric roads). Those AI robots are tiny. Even if hydrogen-fueled plains could be sustainable, the energy cost of moving a million tons by air is, to put it mildly, large. $\endgroup$ – gerrit May 6 at 7:21
2
$\begingroup$

Your premise is a bit off kilter.

Paved roads are a must for any kind of large community of individual ground travelers. Bare ground is the enemy of travelers, especially heavy transport. Heavy transport is required for any advanced commerce; you must be able to move a sufficiently large quantity of goods to produce value (profit) and to support large population centers.

Rail lines and magic tree bridges will not get your refrigerator from the market to your house.

10% road coverage will cover some home (and work) to trunk lines but is not enough.

Eight lane highways exist because they are used to capacity at peak times.

Oil is 100% required for advanced machinery. We don't need to burn it, but we 100% need it for plastic and lubricants.

If you murdered 90% or more of living humans, then they could live in happy communes and all grow organic food. Of course, they would have to give up all advancements post (about) 1865.

Travel is the means by which ideas propagate. If you limit travel to the rich, then your society will stagnate and die out. The other side of stagnation is war; as smaller communities grow they need more resources and they will fight over them.

Also, in the land where "most" villages have abandoned modern tech in favor of "tree hugging", the advanced cities will rule and easily enslave or obliterate the non-techs.

$\endgroup$
2
  • $\begingroup$ Paved roads are a must for any kind of large community of individual ground travelers, ant hives are rather large communities of individual ground travellers, compromising many thousands of individuals, and they do without any paved roads. I think you forgot to mention your characterisation is unique to humans. $\endgroup$ – gerrit May 5 at 19:20
  • $\begingroup$ The context of the question was human civilization. $\endgroup$ – DwB May 5 at 20:10
1
$\begingroup$

In general people tend to concentrate in large areas. That's because there is more work in large cities, and especially large population allow to turn the job that would be part time in a small town into full time (for example, specialist shops that would not find enough clients in small towns). And the number of people is constantly growing, and needs to grow for our economic system to functions as it is based on constant growth (fe. China had to drop single child policy as they faced a rapidly aging society that would eventually lack working people needed to support the old).

So, unfortunately, I cant see your village-based settlement model as something that could happen.

As for the transport system you want, there are only two options: either you move transport entirely underground or into the air as unpaved roads just can't carry the amount of traffic necessary for modern society. The air option include various train lines that are on pylons over the ground (maglev, tube), as those allow plants and animals to return when the construction is finished. Another option would obviously be Star Trek style teleporters.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

(...) with the following constraints:

  • No paved roads or less than 10% paved roads
  • can't use gasoline (oil)
  • allow nature to thrive and migrate with little to no impact
  • food and resources can be bussed in or grown locally to reduce transportation
  • it can involve new technology or possible new technology

I see no specification for mass transit, efficiency, short travel times, low costs etc. So pulling the devil advocate here, do it like the indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest did and enforce people transporting stuff on their backs or on stone-age wooden boats. Food was grown or hunted locally and there was no pavement.

Humankind managed it quite well before bronze even became a thing. We were more green back then too. Might as well take a page from Ötzi.

$\endgroup$
3
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The only problem would be that to return to a bronze-age ecosystem, you need to kill off at least 98% of the current population of most developed countries. The most "optimistic" estimate of the population of bronze age Britain was about 0.1m, and some estimates are as low as 0.02m, with the entire bronze age population of Scotland about 2,500 people, i.e. just one large village or one very small town in modern terms. $\endgroup$ – alephzero May 4 at 15:28
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ In fact human kind didn't "mange qulte well" at all during the bronze age. Genetic studies on human remains in the UK suggest that a single outbreak of some disease (possibly bubonic plague) killed about 90% of the population in a fairly short time period. COVID is just a first world problem in comparison to that! $\endgroup$ – alephzero May 4 at 15:33
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @alephzero Reducing human population by 98% is not a problem; as far as the premise of the question is concerned (respecting nature), it's a feature, possibly a necessary requirement. No other top predator is present in such ridiculously large numbers as humans. $\endgroup$ – gerrit May 5 at 19:13
1
$\begingroup$

High density, car-free zones, and public transport

There are many cities in the world who have solved, or are trying to solve this problem. The three main approaches I have seen which are successful are increasing density, and creating car-free areas, and public transport.

The main reason people need personal vehicles is to get places. If everything is within walking distance, the need for cars goes way down. High rise cities do this great, you can have a skyscraper with a convenience store or supermarket on the ground floor, and a shopping district every few blocks. With mixed use spaces, people don't even have to travel far for work as there may be offices in their building or nearby.

Modern technology can make way for centralizing industry too. For example vertical farms can be built within cities, eliminating the need to truck goods from afar. Having mixed zoning means that products don't have to travel as far to get from where they are produced and manufactured to where they are bought, and then back to the customer's residence.

When people do have to travel far, it's convenient to have a good public transport network to support them. Trains are most efficient, and subways hide under the ground so you don't need streets. Using boats for external connections also reduces the need for roads.

Many cities have instituted car free areas too. This means streets don't have to be as wide, and density can be further increased.

A dense car-free core supported by public transport or boats has proven to be great for reducing road systems.

$\endgroup$
5
  • $\begingroup$ That would by my answer essentially, but I'd qualify "good public transport network". It should be cheap, fast, and above all you should be able to many in any direction with the same ease. Many cities have an issue that public transport lines are converging towards the centre, and getting between two points in the periphery is why you own a car. $\endgroup$ – AmiralPatate May 6 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ vertical farms can't replace normal farms if they are limited to the footprint of a city, there is not enough sunlight or water. vertical farms area great way to decrease the need for farmland however. $\endgroup$ – John May 6 at 16:08
  • $\begingroup$ @John Modern vertical farms don't need any sunlight and use about 95% less water than traditional farming. $\endgroup$ – gbeeduljqa May 7 at 1:56
  • $\begingroup$ @gbeeduljqa I didn't realize you were talking about the artificially lit vertical farms. as for water modern farming techniques also use drastically less water than traditional farming. Vertical farming also has a much larger carbon footprint, so it might not work great for trying to preserve nature. $\endgroup$ – John May 7 at 4:34
  • $\begingroup$ @John It all depends on what you want and what you are willing to do to achieve those goals. Vertical farming obviously greatly reduces the amount of land you have to clear, and could be made with a reduced carbon footprint if there was a desire to do so. $\endgroup$ – gbeeduljqa May 7 at 8:48
0
$\begingroup$

You have not mentioned population size, population density, or if this is an add-on solution to our current society or if it was always thus.

Really, we had the solution that met all of your criteria - the horse. It: did not need paved roads; respected nature; and was flexible enough to transport food and resources. It was an excellent solution for the population at the time. Unfortunately, it had three drawbacks. The first was pollution (waste had to be collected from the streets). The second was the ability to repair. Although horses were somewhat self-repairing, major damage resulted in the horse simply being abandoned where it demised. The third was feeding it. The feed had to be brought to where the horse was staying, the horse was not taken to where the fuel is.

So, one solution would have been for the society to breed a house-trained and meat-eating horse-substitute animal, sort of like a very large cat-dog-horse hybrid. The problems of waste and feed would be greatly reduced. Horses, because they get their energy primarily from hay and such, have to consume great quantities of it, with the resultant great quantities of waste. Animals that are higher up in the food chain like dogs and cats require less volume of feed. With cats, because of their preference for liter boxes, the depositing of their waste is greatly confined and controlled. Give them paws instead of hooves, and with the much larger bearing surface they have much greater stability in mud and inclement weather. The obedience and versatility of dogs is generally well known. And, really, the animal would definitely not have to be as large as a horse. Ponies and donkeys, although much smaller than horses, can adequately carry a full-grown human. Some breeds of dogs are already large enough to carry children, and lions have no difficulty strength-wise in carrying adult riders.

Roads, when needed, could be constructed out of rocks and gravel, or cobblestone, or even wood and logs, instead of super-smooth concrete and asphalt. Much easier to build and repair, and the wear-and-tear on them would be far less from a 300 pound four-legged animal with paws than a two-ton automobile.

So let's imagine a society that had developed such an animal. Would the gasoline IC engine have provided a great improvement? A large can of food a day, waste collected in barrels weekly the way we collect compostable green waste, and a really good pet to boost? No need for stables, they live in the house, or a good-size dog house would suffice.

Now, think if Spot the dog-robot from Boston Dynamics. A natural evolution of this animal. Put a saddle device on it, and you have an excellent transportation solution. Better than a bicycle, it does not need a path. It can go up stairs, steep pathless hills, and in and out of doors. Using remote control or AI, it could deliver the passenger to their destination, then go off and park itself. We would not have the problem with 'automobile safety' and 'car accident trauma' we have today.

Our current problems with clogged roads, large expanses of paved areas, atmospheric pollution, and such are pretty much all related to our adopting the gasoline IC engine in the first place over the horse, and thereafter defining our concept of transportation. We gave up four legs for four wheels.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

The Conspiracy X tabletop RPG from Eden Studios has the Saurian race, who inhabited Earth in prehistoric times.

The game asks the question, if there was this high-tech (interplanetary spaceflight capable) race on Earth then where are their remains? Where are their cities and roads and railways and powerlines? Why don't we have fossil remains of all their tech?

It answers this by postulating that the Saurian scientists developed gravity technology very early. As a race, they had a strong ecological drive, so once they invented antigravity they went on a massive project of tearing up all their paved roads and railways.

The remains of their onplanet technology is no longer around because of a nanomachine grey-goo disaster (which explains why mammals are the dominant race now).

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

Use [suspension railways][1].

If you want high output roads which don't impact the environment heavily, you need something that isn't gonna go over the ground. So, instead have a floating road. Cars and trucks and such that want to go to the city or the village are hooked up to a floating rail and moved in, using green solar or wind power or batteries.

The quick dirty way to do this would be concrete pillars, but you could using future technology have specially grown and easily transplantable trees which could hold up the road. Advanced future technology which can turn glucose into electricity could use the tree's own energy reserves to power motors, reducing power requirements. Extremely heavy traffic would likely deplete the trees too much, but for light traffic you could have entirely green energy. [1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suspension_railway

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.