Machine Design

You can't get there from here

My blood boils over the endless references in the media to gas-guzzling vehicles. It's not the vehicles that guzzle gas.

Editorial Comment
June 6 2002

It's our national culture that has surrendered unconditionally to the automobile. Our nation has completely turned its back on railroads and mass transit in general. Even the mere act of walking short distances has pretty much been discredited as a sensible way for people to get from one place to another.

Take a look at the housing subdivisions and office parks being built in your community. Do they have sidewalks? They don't where I live. Just going from one office building to an adjacent one assumes that a car will be used. Some zoning laws now require sidewalks along new developments, but most don't. The norm is to presume that everyone moving their carcasses from here to there will always hop into an automobile, regardless of how short the trip is. It's utter madness.

What I experienced flying into the Newark airport on a business trip is emblematic of our national mania. I had a room reserved at the Marriott Hotel, which is prominently in view just across the parking lot from the terminal. My intention was to avoid the wait for a shuttle and simply walk to the hotel. But with the maze of multilevel access roads surrounding the terminal, I couldn't decide which one would lead me there.

I called the Marriott for help and was told I could not walk to the hotel. "That's ridiculous," I protested. "As we speak I can see your building. It is just across the parking lot." The clerk insisted that walking was not possible. I would have to be picked up by a van. So I had to wait 20 minutes for the shuttle, enduring the delay I was trying to avoid.

The next day, as I left the hotel, I decided to solve the problem by beginning at the end (the hotel) and walking back to the beginning (the terminal). Doing that, I arrived at the lowest level of the terminal, one that I had not been aware of. Mystery solved.

There was, however, a minor hitch. There are no provisions for pedestrians to cross the access roads that insulate the parking lot from the front door of the hotel. This makes it necessary to climb an occasional guardrail and seek out gaps in the shrubbery, actions that can be less than dignified for a person in business attire carrying a suitcase.

The next time I arrived at Newark, I had my wife with me, and I proudly proclaimed that I would show her how we were going to beat the system I knew how to walk to the hotel. We subsequently reached the hotel expeditiously, but she didn't like climbing over guardrails, treading an occasional muddy path, and dodging traffic on the access roads. To say the least, she was not amused.

In Boston, I encountered a similar situation trying to get to a hotel adjacent to the terminal. The route was obvious just walk along the access road but there was no sidewalk, putting me on the pavement with cars and trucks whizzing by a few feet away. I also figured out how to walk to hotels in Los Angeles after room clerks told me it couldn't be done. Aside from it being a lengthy hike, there were no problems.

Even within airports, floor plans seemingly are designed to make it impossible to walk to gates. A prime example is Tampa, where every time I stand waiting for the tram, I look over at a terminal that could easily have been reached by walking if the architects hadn't arrogantly ignored the possibility.

- Ronald Khol, Editor

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