Highways and Traffic Grids
This article was originally posted to the Terra/Sol Games blog at http://terrasolgames.com on July 6, 2011, and reprinted in Freelance Traveller’s December 2011 issue with the author’s permission.
Traffic on a heavily inhabited, relatively wealthy, tech 15 world like Terra/Sol is extremely heavy. With a population of over 15 billion – and over 18 billion registered vehicles – moving around would be akin to playing Russian Roulette without the aid of AI controlled traffic grids. The grids have proven to be a boon to densely populated areas, as well as a good way to ensure efficiency.
These Traffic grids are the controlling factor for both personal and commercial travel on most high tech 30th century worlds. Highways still exist albeit in an updated form and both are still tied to the specific physical locations of the highways. The more things change the more they remain the same.
The Look and Feel of Vehicular Travel in the 30th Century
Although these transportation corridors can seem a blaze of activity with grav cars flying overhead, fast trains screaming along at ground level and thousands of tractor trailers moving along huge highways, at ground level at least this the 30th century transportation corridor is the province of the machine. Few if any humans are present except those sealed in the climate controlled comfort of passenger trains which compared to freight are relatively rare. If you were to find yourself along one of these highways you’d feel rather lonely.
Travel in a grav car or larger ground cars is significantly different than the 21st century version of travel in personal vehicles. First in most instances the driver is only needed to initiate the journey and tell the traffic grid what the destination is. This means that without entertainment or refreshments even a short trip can be tedious. In Starfarer’s Gazette #1 under Civilian Vehicles some of the options available for a grav vehicle include entertainment packages and snack bars to reflect this reality.
Flying the Unfriendly Skies
AI Traffic grids control all air travel by grav cars or any other sort of flying vehicle at all times over urban areas. This allows traffic to flow at a very good pace while protecting against accidents. That does not mean that accidents never occur. People hack their auto pilots for a variety of (often illegal) reasons, or alter their transponders, or have even jammed the traffic grid signal in the past. These efforts usually have less-than-optimal results for the passengers of these vehicles, despite the claims often seen later on Hacker sites. This deliberate sabotage also can take place on a more massive scale: such as the 2978 GrossBerlin incident, in which the traffic grid was hacked and the ensuing traffic accidents that came as a direct result claimed over 2,300 lives. This single wanton act of malicious hacking brought the city to a standstill for weeks as people refused to use airborne transportation out of fear that something similar would happen again; many took years to fly again. The incident also resulted in the first recorded incident of AI suicide. Jarrett Hazelbloom-Mercer-Figgins-Hoge-Vatterman, the AI running the GrossBerlin traffic grid at the time of the accident, deleted himself and turned off his host hardware which scrambled his backups.
The upshot is, if you leave the ground in any marginally large urban environment on Terra/Sol your vehicle is automatically slaved to the local traffic grid.
Rolling Steel… or Plastic.
Drivers normally have control of their vehicles at ground level, as incidents here, while also serious, tend to have less fatal ramifications. Most drivers however utilize the option to slave their vehicles to the traffic grid even when on the ground.
Ground traffic in some areas can be quite convoluted as well, especially when there are urban areas which have slideways. This is why most of the ground vehicles either use the subterranean tunnels underneath major cities or the designated “Elevated Roads” in some areas. At certain “pinch points” the vehicles are directed through urban surface areas, but these are relatively well-controlled. Many of the best Conapts have their own entry/exits to the underground vehicle tunnels and subterranean roadways.
A few areas which are not built up enough to require slideways and similar pedestrian systems use ground vehicles in a manner not dissimilar to 21st century cities and towns. Traffic Grids are catch-as-catch can here, especially Squatter towns and retrotech enclaves where AIs are either unavailable or undesirable.
In rural settings you also usually have the option of manual control of your vehicle if you are a citizen of the state in which you are operating. For example if you were a citizen of the Republic of Texas you would be allowed manual control of your vehicle in rural areas; even flight-capable vehicles within designated height levels. But you most assuredly would not be allowed manual control of a vehicle at any time in the Aztec Empire. Most political entities realize the power of an airborne vehicle in the hands of a mad person.
The Wheels of Commerce
Commercial transportation is another matter. Except for rapid delivery freight, the norm for any commercial entity moving its goods is that the cheapest method of transportation is the best. For this reason, highways between urban areas are still extant on a tech 15 planet like Terra/Sol. But it is certainly not the only method: Long distance commercial cargo is often transported via high speed rail like the SeaBal (Baltimore to Seattle) line in North America, the Berlin-Moscow line in Europe or the Hercules-Goodhope run in Africa. These high speed trains deliver freight to large population centers, which is then delivered to distribution facilities by smaller vehicles.
On Terra/Sol – and for that matter on most high technology planets – short range movement is accomplished by grav-assisted ground vehicles or skids. Appearance wise, these vehicles are not that dissimilar to their 21st century counterparts, tractor-trailers. Under the hood though things have changed considerably. Most skids are powered by hydrogen power plants to cut down on pollution, and because hydrogen-based fuel is inexpensive on a large hydrographic percentage world like Terra/Sol. The cargo trailers sport grav plates on their bottom-chassis, which lowers the weight of the cargo and thus makes the tractor even more efficient. The wheels provide both the motive-force and the traction for the vehicle. Since the grav plates only need to negate the weight of the cargo and not be able to provide propulsion as they do in a grav vehicle they are cheap to manufacture and cheap to power lowering the overall fuel needed to move cargo from point A to point B.
These tractor trailers are usually remotely operated and travel via highways outwardly similar to 21st century ones. These highways usually follow along the routes of the high speed trains with branches to smaller highways to deliver goods to the smaller and smaller distribution points. While having superficial similarities to 21st century highways, that impression is quickly overcome by the largest highways running parallel to the high speed train routes. These are usually stacked highways four or more layers high with six to eight lanes running in each direction. They are loaded with sensors to monitor and control the remotely controlled tractor-trailers that use them.
The Lure of the Sea
A significant amount of travel over water is also done by grav vehicles. Most travel on/in water exclusively is done either by Submarine or Hover-capable vessels. Although it is also true that a considerable amount of pleasure craft and even small commercial craft ply the 30th century seas that resemble 21st century boats. This is especially true in areas of the open water which are difficult for submarine or hover vehicles to travel, such as rivers and areas known for their rough seas. Some Grav Vehicles are even equipped around boat-like hulls that allow them to “settle” on water (30th century hydroplanes/flying boats).