Monday, November 01, 2010

Crystallization: An urban traffic mega-disaster

Can you imagine a traffic jam so massive -- so utterly irreversible -- that an entire city has to be evacuated?

David Gerrold speculates just such a scenario in the city of Los Angeles in, "Report from the near future: Crystallization" (one of the many brilliant pieces in this anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy stories):
Elemental: The Tsunami Relief Anthology: Stories of Science Fiction and Fantasy
Elemental: The Tsunami Relief anthology: stories of science fiction and fantasy/ Steven Saville & Alethea Kontis (editors)
ISBN: 0765315629
[RoughNotes | NLBsearchplus]

The mega-disaster started off innocently enough.

A traffic accident had blocked the exits to the freeway. The situation worsened when the traffic control and alert network broke down, leaving people unaware of the mounting traffic problem. An already slow-moving stream of vehicles hardened into a solid pack.

Things became worse.

Drivers stayed in their vehicle in the sweltering heat, unwilling to abandon their vehicles. They turned up their airconditioning, with their stationary vehicles running. Some overheated vehicles burst into flames. An inferno resulted in one part of the jam. The aftermath was a massive junk pile that further hindered recovery efforts.

Hours became days. As vehicles ran out of fuel, their owners abandoned them on the roads.

The lifeline to the city became permanently choked.

Food and other necessities stopped flowing into the city of Los Angeles. Inhabitants began to abandon their homes, becoming refugees in neighbouring counties. That imposed a strain on resources. Rents and property values in those places soared, which created its own set of problems.

The silver-lining in the story was that the pollution levels in Los Angeles dropped drastically. And some remaining residents inhabitants weaned themselves off their dependency on cars and "learned how to walk".

But Gerrold speculates that it was human nature to repeat our mistakes, for "individuals who felt their lives were dependent in their mobility were quick to replace their lost cars".

His ends his speculative fictional piece with a hint that humans tend to forget, and were wont to repeat the mistakes of the past.

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