Is Your Local Government Falling for the Hyperloop Fantasy?

Hyperloop One has 500 meters of "test track" it would like to sell you. Photo: Hyperloop One
Hyperloop One has 500 meters of "test track" it would like to sell you. Photo: Hyperloop One

There are no functional, real-world examples of a Hyperloop, Tesla founder Elon Musk’s long-distance transport concept that involves shooting people through vacuum-sealed tubes in pods that travel at up to 760 mph. Anyone who believes it’s a viable endeavor is basically taking it on faith.

“Hyperloop One” — the $130 million startup promoting the idea — has built a short 500-meter test track in the desert outside of Las Vegas but has yet to construct a pod to go with the tube, much less tested the technology on humans.

And yet a surprising number of government agencies are treating the Hyperloop as a serious proposition.

The company invited local governments and organizations to team up and plan a national network for the Hyperloop in what it calls its “Global Challenge” — and transportation agencies responded. High-level executives including Colorado DOT Director Shailen Bhatt traveled to DC for the company’s U.S. launch event, reports The Verge.

These officials’ willingness to participate confers more legitimacy on Hyperloop One, which recently boasted:

Several [applications] come with the support of governors, mayors, Congressional representatives, and regional planning commissions. The Nevada and one of the Colorado proposals are officially sponsored by their state Department of Transportation. The DOTs of Florida and Texas are a partner to their Challenge proposal.

Another willing partner is the regional planning organization for Columbus, Ohio — MORPC — which submitted an application and was chosen by Hyperloop One as one of 35 metro area “finalists.”

In its pitch, Hyperloop One promises to vacuum tube people from Columbus to Chicago in 29 minutes, one link in a network connecting other mid-sized cities at warp speeds.

MORPC’s application [PDF] affirms not only that the agency is willing to devote staff resources to Hyperloop development, but that it will also help bring in private capital:

MORPC is ready to provide support in land use, population, and transportation forecasting; overall project coordination; and financing and operations technical assistance…

MORPC will work with partners across the Midwest region to identify and engage private sector partners in an effort to attract investment in both the study and development of a Hyperloop corridor.

Hyperloop One even sells the technology as a solution to high housing prices, by enabling, for instance, “breadwinners to build a career in Boulder’s thriving tech hubs while commuting from Greeley, where median home prices are 60% lower.” It is a promise to enable sprawl so central cities can relax and avoid the difficult politics of creating more walkable development and inclusive housing policies.

Four years ago, mathematician and transit analyst Alon Levy wrote an epic takedown about the viability of Hyperloop technology. Levy evaluated Musk’s white paper [PDF] detailing how the Hyperloop would connect L.A. to San Francisco in about 30 minutes, and he found major problems. Musk’s cost estimates for engineering and land acquisition are inexplicably low — by a factor of 10 compared with current market norms, he said. (Whether people will be comfortable under to that type of propulsion is a whole other question. Levy says the Hyperloop would be a “barf ride.”)

America has the means to reduce traffic and connect people to where they want to go in less time — but solving these problems entails politically difficult choices to shift travel away from cars and highways. Any high-tech solution that promises a shortcut around these thorny problems is probably too good to be true. Like “personal rapid transit” or the Chinese “straddling bus” — the Hyperloop could end up taking credulous believers for a ride.

  • Vooch

    pneumatic trains have been around for 140 years – all fail

    Elon Musk entire world view must have been shaped reading old issues of 1950s Popular Mechanics

    I love the guy; he’s hilarious clinging to the suburban dreams of Ozzy & Harriet age

  • sacrelicio

    It wouldn’t even be that great, instead of living in an outer suburb of San Francisco and commuting a long way by car or normal train, you’d have to live in some far flung exurb of another city in another state and then take a terrifying barf ride to work every day that would take just as long.

  • I partly see all this interest in Hyperloop as part of anti-HSR NIMBYism. Don’t forget that Elon Musk explicitly pitched his idea as a direct alternative to the ongoing CAHSR project that he didn’t have a lot of good words for.

  • JM Palacios

    I don’t know what planet you’re from but passenger rail (commuter and inter-city) has run at 80 mph for 80 years. (It actually slowed down in the past 60 years or so, used to be faster) If you’re saying “get trains running at 75 mph” as in “get more transit with existing tech” than that’s fine, but we’re talking intercity transit. It has to compete with air travel, which is already running at 500 mph+ speeds. The rest of the developed world has left the USA behind with bullet trains. Even Shanghai runs the fastest commercial train (maglev) at 268 mph. The only way you can improve on those maglev speeds significantly, especially as you approach the speed of sound, is by getting rid of air resistance. Hyperloop is an incremental innovation, and its time is near.

    We can and should be critical, but making any kind of blanket statement like you did or Angie did for this article trying to say Hyperloop is too wild of a technology is a bit much. It still may fail, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it does in the political reality of the US. But Japan or China may be willing to build it instead. I’m not surprised to find detractors to a technology that seeks to put us back at the front of high speed ground transportation, but I’m disappointed to see this coming from Complete Streets supporters. Any push to move high speed travel away from streets is an improvement to our urban streets. Instead of suggesting that our DOT officials might be duped, we should be celebrating the fact that they are embracing innovation instead of embracing the normal attitude of “it hasn’t been tried in the US yet so we can’t do it.”

  • Kevin Love

    In the USA there may be a theoretical maximum speed of 80 MPH on most rail networks, but good luck travelling that fast in reality outside of the Northwest Corridor.

    Let’s look at a high-volume real-word route: New York City to Chicago. I see from Amtrak’s schedule that they travel this 959 miles in 19 hours for a not-so-whopping average speed of 50 MPH. See:,0.pdf

    Note that all times are local, with a one-hour time zone difference between New York and Chicago.

    This slowness is entirely a recent made-in-the-USA phenomenon. 100-year-old steam locomotive technology can go at 100 MPH and 1970’s diesel trains can travel at 125 MPH. See:

    But even if we can only get an average of 100 MPH then total travel time drops to 9.5 hours. Notice what that does for an overnight sleeper service. Since people have to do things like sleep and eat breakfast anyway, the effective travel time becomes zero.

  • Vooch

    in SoCal,the heavily used San Diego to Santa Barbara line averages 30 MPH

  • Vooch

    Hyperloop is nothing more than a pneumatic train which first ran in Manhattan in 1880 or so.

    All pneumatic trains have the point to point problem to overcome.

    Musk’s Hyperloop is a suburban solution

  • Gene

    Clearly technology hasn’t evolved in the last 140 years.

  • Joe R.

    Actual air travel speeds are far less than the 500 or so mph planes cruise at. You need to first climb to cruising altitude before you can reach those speeds. You have to get to/from the airport, which often takes over an hour in congested cities. Then you have 1 or 2 hour security delays. As a result, trains averaging only 150 mph are easily competitive with air out to distances of about 500 miles. A 500 mile flight might only take maybe 1:15 once you push off the terminal, but add at least 2 hours to that for the things I mentioned. That puts the average travel speed at ~150 mph, something 200 mph HSR can easily manage with stops every 50 to 100 miles.

    That said, Hyperloop has the potential to make any trip faster than flying. That NYC to LA flight which probably takes 9 hours total once you include everything could now take under 4 hours. NYC to Chicago is now only about 1.5 hours. The only flaw here is Musk’s obsession with small vehicles. Run conventional-sized trains in the tubes instead. Not sure what is gained here by using small vehicles. The kinds of speeds envisioned are really only suitable for long-distance trips which people don’t do daily, anyway. No need for small vehicles and branching out to individual destinations. You can have something which does that from the main stops, but it doesn’t need to be in vacuum tubes. Conventional small maglev vehicles running in open air at top speeds of maybe 150 mph is sufficient. That can get you from NYC to the outer ring suburbs in 30 minutes or less without the huge cost of vacuum tubes.

  • Vooch

    it’s not a technology problem.

    that’s what Musk fails to fathom in his 1950s approach

  • Joe R.

    He’s ignoring one thing. Yes, housing prices are less the further away from large cities you are. However, the reason for this is lack of enough people who want to live in the suburbs. Making it easier to live in a far flung suburb and commute to the city doesn’t change this. We’ve had major demographic changes over the last two decades. People just don’t want to live in suburbs in the numbers they did two generations ago. It doesn’t matter much if you make suburban living cheaper by allowing more distant exurbs faster access to their core cities. There will still be enormous price pressure on urban housing stock until we build a lot more of it. We doesn’t Musk focus on building cheap, no-frills urban housing instead? That solves the problem directly. Urban land is very expensive. As a result, only luxury housing is currently viable. In theory, if you could build 50 story apartment blocks for far less than at present, you could make affordable housing even where land is very expensive. If Musk supposedly has a way to build ultra-cheap viaducts then perhaps find a way to build ultra-cheap very tall residential towers. While we’re at it, if you can build them cheaply enough, then you can have vertical farms in cities. Now most of the food no longer needs to be transported long distances. That means much less truck traffic, much more livable cities.

  • BlueFairlane

    Not sure what is gained here by using small vehicles

    Fans of this don’t like to acknowledge the challenge of creating and sustaining a near-vacuum in a tube hundreds of miles long. It’s virtually impossible at the diameter Musk is proposing. Increase the tube diameter to allow for a larger vehicle, and the force crushing in on the tube and energy required to keep the tube clear increases exponentially.

  • Michel S


  • ahwr

    In theory, if you could build 50 story apartment blocks for far less than at present, you could make affordable housing even where land is very expensive. ,

    According to zillow houses in your area go for ~$200/square foot of lot area, at that price with a FAR of 5 buying out existing houses to redevelop costs ~$40 a square foot of building. That’s cheap enough for mid-upper middle class to afford modest sized family homes even with NYC’s inflated construction prices

    You don’t need to jump to 50 story buildings somehow built way cheaper to let more people affordably live in cities. Of course if you rezone an area like yours prices will go up. Part of that is artificial, the amount of land that can be developed to a density that can support the city amenities you think people are avoiding the suburbs to get in NYC, and large and small cities across the country, is much lower than it should be. This isn’t a technical problem to solve with robot labor or hyperloops. It’s simply a matter of policy – should individual small communities be able to use city/county/state law to restrict development in their area to protect the ‘character’ of their neighborhood if it negatively impacts the city/county/state/nation?

    Rather than new technologies, the answer to urban affordability I see is to rezone for higher density and capture 90% of the value of the rezonings with a combination of large real estate transfer taxes on any value above the value of the property today, development fees to support the infrastructure enhancements needed to support greater densities, and requirements for developers to build public amenities in their projects – depending on the area that could mean subsidized units, community centers, schools, sidewalks, bike parking etc…

    This isn’t just about your neighborhood, or about NYC. If you take a look at Boulder (mentioned in the article) you’ll find stringent zoning and a greenbelt surrounding the city. Greeley is pretty far off, but there are closer bedroom communities that have been built just outside of the greenbelt because land is cheaper. Much of the housing in Boulder isn’t walkable or urban, but the commute is a shorter than from the bedroom communities. Superior, Colorado had a population of a few hundred in 1990. If development was allowed in Boulder would it have the 13k or so living in it today?

    When there’s talk of rezoning in Boulder, this is the response:

    Is this the end of Boulder as we know it? Yep

    To take another example of a booming town in the west with growing pains, look at Portland.

    This is a couple mile bike ride from the region’s largest job center. 100k+ jobs in the central city area might not sound like much in NYC, but it is in smaller cities like Portland. Land reserved for single family houses there and similar inner neighborhoods aren’t much cheaper than your neck of the woods, $150-200 for houses per square foot of lot area. At those land prices middle income housing can be built without subsidies if denser development was permitted. Instead you have an ever greater number of people doubling up, paying more than new construction would cost for old run down apartments, booming exurbs, and a city councilor elected under a banner of calling for rent control.

    This is a massive nationwide problem. The push for new highways, the push for high speed rail or hyperloops from bedroom communities, it’s all to try to accommodate too many people looking to live in low density arrangements in too few places. This isn’t a problem that needs a technological solution. The solution needed is a political one, and it already exists.

  • Joe R.

    The forces on the tube increase with the square of the diameter but you can increase the wall thickness to compensate. Remember we’re only talking 14.7 psi here. We already make huge water pipes which operate at multiples of this. Here’s a calculator app:

    If we go 100 inches for the pipe (i.e. roughly Hyperloop size) we need a wall thickness of only 0.25″ for a working pressure of 100 psi, which is 7 times what we actually need. Double the diameter of the pipe and the wall thickness increases to 0.50″. Or put another way, you need 4 times the material per foot of pipe. However, your interior volume increases by the same factor of four, making the cost per passenger about the same.

    The energy to keep the tube clear is more a factor of how much leakage there is rather than the size. In engineering terms 14.7 psi isn’t all that much pressure.

    That said, yes, the infrastructure costs for vacuum-tube maglev are huge regardless. That’s precisely why you need to use large vehicles and only stop in large population centers. The idea that Hyperloop can function like some sort of ultra-fast commuter rail to sparsely populated exurbs is proposterous. Often conventional rail service, sometimes even bus service, isn’t viable in these types of places. Hard to see how something with a guideway costing tens of millions per mile (at least) could be viable without a huge number of passengers.

  • Joe R.

    A lot this is plain old NIMBYism. Some of it is fear already bad traffic will get even worse. I’m all in favor of some upzoning, but with the caveat you start severely taxing or restricting private car ownership both in new units and existing ones. Granted, again this will face opposition but if people are complaining about traffic then they should realize this means taking measures to make it harder for them to drive, not just any potential new neighbors.

    Once you upzone, you’ll need to have a timetable for building subways and other amenities which will be needed. If the subway doesn’t get built by the due date, the neighborhood reverts back to its original zoning (except for the units already built).

    The push for new highways, the push for high speed rail or hyperloops from bedroom communities, it’s all to try to accommodate too many people looking to live in low density arrangements in too few places.

    Nothing wrong with low-density arrangements but people can’t expect to have 2 acres in the middle of nowhere and still have most of the conveniences of city life like electricity, running water, sewers, cable, or paved roads. You want to live in an exurb, generate your own power, grow most of your food, and get used to the idea of working locally since there won’t be paved highways to get you quickly to a city. Remember most of America lived in rural or semi-rural arrangements 100 years ago. They did most things locally, but relied on interurbans and railroads for most travel far from where they lived. They certainly didn’t do these long trips regularly. Dirt roads sufficed for whatever local travel they did do. We could probably improve on this slightly now, perhaps at least build paved roads wide enough for bikes. However, anything larger really isn’t economically viable at these low densities.

  • JM Palacios

    Hyperloop tech is far from a pneumatic tube that your bank uses to serve dinosaur fueled vehicle operators. One similarity, true–air is pumped out. But it does not use air as propulsion. The tube is only present because making a higher speed maglev vehicle is increasingly difficult due to aerodynamics and air resistance, especially as you approach the sound barrier. As to the small vehicle problem and the suburban problems–I will certainly grant that there is an issue there, but not insurmountable.

  • JM Palacios

    I used to ride Tri-Rail when I lived in Florida, right next to I-95 and we regularly rode at or near 80 mph. Easily verified as you can see we kept pace with interstate traffic. I’m not talking average speeds, but max speeds. Of course the average is lower for a commuter rail with frequent stops.

  • ahwr

    Nothing wrong with low-density arrangements

    I agree. By “looking to live in low density arrangements in too few places” I was referring to relatively low density in urban areas, not someone living off the grid in a rural area. 4000 square foot lots with a FAR of 0.5 and a max of one unit per lot within 10 miles of midtown manhattan or within a few miles of smaller city centers like Portlandis causing a huge urban affordability problem when so many want to live in the few urban areas that exist.

    Once you upzone, you’ll need to have a timetable for building subways and other amenities which will be needed. If the subway doesn’t get built by the due date, the neighborhood reverts back to its original zoning (except for the units already built).

    This might sound appealing but I think it would be self defeating, if too many don’t build because of uncertainty then it’s possible not enough development will take place by the deadline to fund the infrastructure enhancements so there might not be enough money coming in for the infrastructure enhancements to get built. There are plenty of areas far denser than yours without subway service. Saying development has to stop if X isn’t built by date Y is a mistake. Instead I think a lot of that value I was talking about capturing should be kept in the local area. Not all of it for equity reasons, but a large chunk of it. Some amount of local determination on what it should be used for would be appropriate. In some areas community parking garages might be worth building. In others buying some land to build parks would be the right approach. In some that area’s share of some form of transitway could be appropriate. But I think it would be a mistake to say you can’t build in area X unless you also build three miles to the east and west so that a subway expansion could be affordable. Banking the money for future projects like that could be an option, and in the short term blanketing the area with BRT lanes to bring people to subway stations could be a much cheaper way to improve mobility to manhattan. Or maybe bikeways would be better in the short term. There should be options and flexibility, not a strict rule of what must happen.

    A lot this is plain old NIMBYism. Some of it is fear already bad traffic will get even worse.

    Yes, I know many people don’t want their neighborhoods to be inundated with more traffic, or noise, or people. That’s the point. Using city/county/state law to protect people in those neighborhoods is not in the larger interest of the city/county/state/nation. Should a local community be able to veto a bike lane, or get it removed if too many cyclists run red lights or whatever their pet peeve is? Should a local community be able to veto development because they don’t want their garden to lose a few hours of sun? Attempting to meet every little desire of existing homeowners at the expense of the greater collective interest has caused untold problems. Completely ignoring local desires and bulldozing neighborhoods to throw up housing projects or highways can cause problems too. There’s a balance to be struck, and the pendulum has swung too far towards favoring the wants and needs of individual neighborhoods over those of the nation at large.

  • Joe R.

    Since we’re in a thread about another Musk fantasy, we might as well suppose there’s a way to get subway building costs way down as well. The primary reason we need lots of high density around subways is because they cost a lot to build and operate. Suppose we could build them for only $100 million per mile? And suppose we could run them mostly with automation? In that case, a lot of the need for density vanishes. We probably would still need some upzoning in places which are mostly single family homes but not to the wholesale extent you mention. Once you actually do build the subway, there would probably be a lot more pressure to do major upzoning, even from existing homeowners who might want to cash out in the next few years.

    Yes, it’s a huge balance between private and public interests here. Frivolous desires like the sun being blocked should obviously not be taken too seriously. Other issues are valid or semi-valid. We’ve already seen gentrification and overdevelopment result in long-time residents being priced out. Granted, some of this is simply due to an under supply of urban housing stock.

    NYC or any other locality can’t single-handedly solve his urban housing crisis. Lots of other cities have lots of land in prime locations ripe for development in the form of parking craters. Here we have the land being used at present mainly for the convenience of suburbanites who drive in. I can’t see much local opposition if it was repurposed for more urban housing. NYC even has its share of parking craters near major density centers. Willets Point comes to mind. I suggest that’s the low-hanging fruit we start with. After that maybe upzone some areas which already have mostly apartment buildings to larger apartment buildings. At the same time perhaps start zoning single-family homes for at least two-family, and also allow home-based businesses to operate out of them. Let the market adjust to this for perhaps a decade. If prices still haven’t dropped closer to affordable, then consider zoning for 3 families.

    The key for this plan to work is every major city must be on board. NYC could generate another half a million units but if other cities do nothing housing will remain unaffordable. Most other cities I think might have a much easier time given that up to half the land is parking craters. If you really do need this much parking, as the land value goes up it might be feasible to build a multistory parking garage on one of these lots while using the rest for housing. As you said, leave some of it up to the locals as to what to build.

  • Joe R.

    80 mph with commuter-rail spaced stops on diesel-powered trains probably results in ~30 mph average speeds. Diesel trains can’t get out of their own way. If we want more people to use trains in this country then we need to get them running at average speeds of 60 mph or better. Can’t do that without electrification other than for long-distance trains which rarely stop. EMUs are the way to go here.

  • Joe R.

    With today’s train technology no reason other than refusal to invest in rail that NYC to Chicago shouldn’t take 6 hours or so nowadays.

  • SFnative74

    I was initially intrigued by the idea but it does seem infeasible to create a vacuum or near vacuum in such a huge amount of volume – a volume of vacuum many many magnitudes greater than anything on earth at the moment. And if that exposed tube were to be punctured and that amount of vacuum suddenly exposed to the atmosphere? Well, watch the video:

  • Kevin Love

    That’s an average speed of 160 MPH or 258 km/hr. Now we are almost up to European and Chinese achievements.

    I note that start-to-stop average scheduled speeds of 279 km/hr are achieved in France and 284 km/hr in China. Source:

    It is unfortunate that the USA is not able to keep up with the technological achievements of France and China.

  • Gene

    Clearly technology hasn’t evolved in the last 60 years.

    What’s your argument here? Not every idea succeeds on the first try. Some ideas are ahead of their time.

  • Vooch

    it’s not a technology problem

    it’s a urban planning problem

  • Gene

    Still not seeing the problem. How’s this thing different than the HSR used in other countries, or even air travel? Major station to major station, then local travel to your final destination. This thing isn’t for door-to-door transport.

  • Vooch

    and at 30MPH door to door speed it matches private car travel in SoCal. Imagine demand at 50 MPH door to door

  • Vooch

    Joe R.

    I need you to store & use for my commuter bike for 2 years.

    interested ?

  • Vooch

    Hyperloop is can not network. Therefore, it’s a clumsy primitive one liner.

    that why all pneumatic trains were abandoned soon after their construction.

    it’s as lamé as the track gauge of BART.

  • ahwr

    there would probably be a lot more pressure to do major upzoning, even from existing homeowners who might want to cash out in the next few years.

    My position is that the ability of homeowners to get rich based on changing city zoning will lead to endless corruption and reduce funds needed to support the additional density. Remember, I said try to capture 90% of the added value from rezoning.

    Instead of $100 million+automated, a more realistic goal might be to match the cost of the Link extension to UW.

    Smaller station than would be needed in NYC, but if you have large scale rezoning of an area you could make the stations essentially the basement of a new development project.

    Smaller scale upzoning can work, but that increases the cost of land significantly, more than the increase in cost from building 5-10 stories. That means smaller units, more expensive units etc…You lose out on the middle class housing built without subsidies. At the same time you want to let homeowners cash out, giving them more of the gains from changes in city policy.

    Say a house is worth $800k today. If the law is that under any rezoning the tax rate on sale/development fees is effectively 90% on the value over $800k (increase annually by CPI) you end corrupt rezoning schemes.

    Automation is good, but the two guys on the train are a small share of employee hours. Likely bigger less visible wastes worth tackling.

    gentrification and overdevelopment result in long-time residents being priced out.

    For people who own, this isn’t an issue. For those who rent, part of that 90% of value capture I call for could be used to fund replacement housing for the displaced renters.

    Other issues are valid or semi-valid.

    My point hasn’t been that people’s wants/needs/issues are illegitimate. Merely that if the cost of meeting them is too great to the wider citywide or nationwide community, then they must be overridden. In some cases using some funds from redevelopment to minimize the impact on them is fine. A private trash hauler that doesn’t want to add emissions controls to his rig hurts a lot of people. I say using zoning to restrict development in the same way. If the harm to the greater public interest (or perceived public interest) is too great, private interests should be overridden. That can and has been taken too far, but we are so far from that point.

    NYC or any other locality can’t single-handedly solve his urban housing crisis.

    Yes, I mentioned a couple other booming urban areas, there are many more who need to change for the greater good of the nation.

    Lots of other cities have lots of land in prime locations ripe for development in the form of parking craters.

    Starting here causes a problem though. Because you would need to build a new transit system to get those people into the city. Or build enough housing in the city for those who will no longer drive in. Get rid of the people who drive in and a lot of areas are a total ghost town. If you can travel to some nearby minor cities on a weekend/evening, they’re total ghost towns. This is starting to change, but it’s a slow process. Redeveloping nearby neighborhoods has to be part of the reurbanization process, and not just in the distant future when all parking lots are gone.

    Willets Point comes to mind.

    That one is a mess. You have junkyards a bit away that can be redeveloped, but the parking lots right by the 7 and LIRR are technically parkland and alienating parkland is messy in NY…I’m not sure redeveloping that area would be worth the cost that would come from making parkland easier to redevelop generally. Making a better marina, a better connection from the marina to the rest of the park (I’d love to see some sort of grand promenade, car free, with a ‘bike road’ in the middle), and squeezing in a few acres of the junkyards turned into parkland here or there might get around the legal requirements at the state level as is.

    Let the market adjust to this for perhaps a decade.

    I think your approach is way too slow.

    The key for this plan to work is every major city must be on board.

    Nope. NYC would boom like crazy if it opened more land to denser development. Every time someone sells a condo or house they bought for a fifth the price (in constant dollars) a couple decades earlier money flows out of the city. I want that to end. Many other cities would follow a successful model.

    Most other cities I think might have a much easier time given that up to half the land is parking craters.

    Get rid of parking and you need to build a transit system that can’t make sense given dispersed suburban/exurban development. I think the regional economy would be disrupted less redeveloping a neighborhood home to a thousand than parking lots of the same size. As more inner housing becomes available, the people who will no longer be able to drive as parking lots are redeveloped will have the option of moving into the city. Given urban land prices, they don’t always have that choice today. Remember, outside of NYC the poor and lower middle class drive very often. Transit is basically non existent, and it can’t be even half decent without significant redevelopment region wide.

  • Vooch


    pneumatic train

  • Gene

    Ah, the old “you can’t do switches on a monorail” BS.

  • Vooch

    great insight

    the Hyperloop is indeed the monorail of the 21st century

  • Gene
  • davistrain

    There are probably rebuttals to some of the criticisms of Hyperloop, but I think enough of the objections are valid to make the whole idea unfeasible.

  • Joe R.

    I could probably do that. Are you going to be out of the city for the next two years? Anyway, there’s the room for another bike in either the basement or garage. I could take it for a spin regularly just to keep it working well.

    How do we privately swap emails so we can discuss this further? Disqus doesn’t have any means of sending personal messages to other members.

  • davistrain

    I think the idea is to use linear induction motor technology, which does work in the Vancouver Skytrain. I would presume that it would also have a maglev component to eliminate friction with the guideway. But what if there’s a power or part failure while the capsule is shooting along at 700 mph? Not a pleasant thought.

  • Joe R.

    I wasn’t exactly sure what you meant by the real estate transfer tax scheme. I actually favor a scheme like that because it would keep developers who would just buy a few houses, develop one property, then flip them all at a higher price for a quick buck, out. That’s already one reason for present housing prices. In fact, under a scheme like this there would be little incentive to continue to own more than one house. Again, I like that. Houses aren’t “investments”, nor should they be vehicles even for their primary owners to get rich well beyond the rate of inflation.

    I might even modify the scheme a bit. Instead of using the present, probably already artificially inflated price, as the basis on which to calculate the 90% tax I might use the price 30 or 40 years ago adjusted for inflation. In that case the home I’m in would be taxed at 90% over anything above about $250K. This makes it easier for me to buy out my siblings if I want to stay here. Instead of having to pay them 1/3rd each of maybe $650K less any fees from selling the house, I’d be paying them considerably less on the theory if we cashed out, we would be lucky to see $300K after the 90% tax and any fees. I don’t think my siblings should profit from a housing bubble which the city helped create by constraining zoning. Your point here, which is valid, is that you don’t want homeowners (and especially speculators) to get rich due to changed zoning laws. I don’t want them to get rich either from conditions the city helped create prior to the change in zoning laws. Nobody knows what housing prices might be like today had we let the free market reign but adjusting the prices 40 years ago for inflation might give us a good idea. If I recall 35 to 40 years ago is about when housing prices started going up a lot faster than inflation.

    The only flaw I can see with this scheme, whether it’s your original scheme or my modified scheme, is that it pretty much gives homeowners no real incentive to sell unless they want to leave the area. Personally, I think this is how it should be but that will mean it will be quite a while before a large percentage of homes in a rezoned area will be replaced with something higher density. I suppose in the long run that’s better than people cashing out then taking the money out of state.

    One issue to address here is how would you deal with homeowners who stay put, but redevelop their property to higher density? I might want to stay, but if zoning let me tack on three more floors to rent I’d gladly do it if I could make enough to make it worth my while. So maybe give some incentives for those who stay put to add on some floors in order to speed up the densification. Perhaps the city helps fund the construction out of the money it gets from recapture taxes of those who sold their homes. In return, the city gets to keep a percentage of the rental income. Remember I don’t care about getting rich from renting. I just would want to make enough to fairly compensate me for my time spent managing the units.

    Politically though would this even have a prayer of passing? A lot of middle class people feel entitled to get sums well past the inflation rate. A fair number of others actually borrowed off that inflated equity. I could see this having a lot of unintended consequences we’re both missing. Granted, not allowing housing stock to keep pace with growth probably had just as many unintended effects.

    Starting here causes a problem though. Because you would need to build a new transit system to get those people into the city. Or build enough housing in the city for those who will no longer drive in. Get rid of the people who drive in and a lot of areas are a total ghost town. If you can travel to some nearby minor cities on a weekend/evening, they’re total ghost towns.

    OK, so the compromise here is if you build on a parking lot, you need to keep the same number of spots which were filled on average, and charge whatever the previous price was, including if that price was zero. This could make the bottom two or three floors of any new building mostly parking. Not great, but many cities have parking requirements anyway for new development. With this scheme, a highly underutilized parking lot would have more potential than a heavily utilized one. If you were lucky and the lot only had a handful of spots used, you have most of your ground floor for other uses. After that maybe see if the area has any underutilized office or factory space which might be rezoned for residential. Lots of these downtowns which are ghostowns off-peak do. So you convert some to apartments. And you rezone some existing residential areas also. When the time comes those bottom floor(s) are no longer needed for parking on the buildings built on parking lots, you convert them to something else. In the meantime though people can still drive in while the area gets denser.

    Remember, outside of NYC the poor and lower middle class drive very often. Transit is basically non existent, and it can’t be even half decent without significant redevelopment region wide.

    You can’t blame solely low density for this. It’s a factor, but a larger factor is the general unwillingness of the US to invest in any kind of infrastructure, particularly mass transit. They have trains going to places in Europe that are far lower density than some of these US cities. In fact, many of those US cities at one time had much better rail service than now. We just abandoned it in the 1950s, then abandoned the cities altogether in the 1970s. Policy hasn’t yet caught on to the fact many people would rather live in cities.

  • Joe R.

    Just as an aside most of those criticisms can be alleviated by building the thing underground in a concrete tunnel with walls way thicker than needed. Of course, the price goes way up, which is why it only seems viable serving large numbers of passengers between major city pairs.

  • Dexter Wong

    Someone on the East Coast has already swallowed the story hook line and sinker:

  • Vooch

    send note to

  • Vooch

    your wikipedia link suggests that monorails are not taken seriously

  • Vooch

    linear induction motors are used in every roller coaster on earth.

    It’s not a technology problem

    it’s a urban planning problem

  • Vooch


    the last thing Musk wants is for people to stop driving private cars.

    He loves the ex-urbs
    He loves superhighways
    He loves parking craters
    He hates cities & civilization

  • Gene

    Plenty of them exist. They have other problems other than switching. My point is that “cant do switches on a monorail” is an old trope used to try to discredit them. Which is exactly what you’re saying.
    Just because you don’t understand how technology works doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.

  • Vooch

    all of 300 km in the entire world

    typical length 3km

    clearly a failure at mass mobility

  • Bernard Finucane

    Rail around here runs up to 320 kph.

  • SFnative74

    And if for some reason there is a break down or a capsule stops moving? Is there any way to evacuate people in a reasonable amount of time?

  • Joe R.

    It’s pretty clear if the capsule suddenly stops moving altogether then it’s because of a loss of vaccum. In that case, the capsule is destroyed, the people are dead, and there’s nobody to rescue. If there’s no loss of vacuum but a power loss, then the capsule can easily coast to the next station. Remember these things are going 760 mph with very little drag. It would probably take hundreds of miles to coast down to a full stop. Even regular high-speed trains running in open air take a few dozen miles to coast down from top speed.

    There are still loads of technical issues to be worked out here. I’m frankly skeptical the economics will pan out even if these problems are solved. In fact, lots of otherwise viable ideas never got off the ground because the economics didn’t work.