Downhill Both Ways - Dilbert Blog

Downhill Both Ways

If you designed a city from scratch, could you build a major highway through it that was downhill both ways? 

I’ll try to describe how that could work. And yes, I will be cheating.

Imagine a barge floating in a man-made container of water. If you wanted to lift that barge and its contents, all you do is stick a water hose in the container and wait. As the water rises, so does the barge. The larger the hose, the faster the rise. And when you want the barge to come down, you drain it.

Now imagine two containers with two barges. Between them, we build a platform connected to the barges by arms. Like this (conceptually).


When both tanks are filled with water, the platform in the middle rises to meet the start of a road that was designed to rise gradually over several miles until it meets the platform. Drive off the platform and you are downhill all the way home.

Now duplicate the system on the other end, where most commuters live. The side with the most origination traffic (commuters) is the one that is highest but only for that part of the day. At the end of the commute, the heights reverse.

You would also need a third unrelated route to town, totally flat, for traveling outside commute hours. 

Okay, okay, lots of problems with this idea. Let me address a few. 

For starters, moving that much water is not easy. One solution might involve locating the city where there is a natural water source. But that water still needs to be lifted to the height of the tank. I see three ways to do that cheaply.

1. Locate near the base of a mountain stream, so water is starting out above your tank. Build pipes from the mountain streams/lakes to the tops of the water containers and let gravity do its thing.

2. Locate your city in a desert with an aquifer or ocean access. Dome the city or build it underground so weather does not interfere. Use solar power that is abundant during the day to pump water uphill for later.

3. Use the natural motion of life to pump water all day long. Ocean waves would be a good pump. And perhaps sidewalks could be designed so they pump a bit of water every time you walk on them. The pedestrian is happy for the softer sidewalk and the pumping happens all day long.

You also have a problem of getting the cars to the top of the water tank so they can head downhill. But let’s say those cars are required to park on the barge (or multiple barges) so the cars themselves rise all day long, from morning until it is time for the evening commute. Humans still need to take an elevator or stairs to the top of the platform, but that seems cheap.

Now let’s assume all cars are self-driving by then. You don’t need a car in your garage. But you do need to get to the raised platform, and that might be a mile away. No problem for a city designed underground with lots of bike paths on flat roads. Bike to your self-driving car location, take the elevator or walk to the top, and the self-driving car takes you downhill all the way to work. You might need a bike at the far end too, depending on your office location. But keep in mind that this is a designed city, so nothing is too far from anything else. Let’s say the whole city is ten miles across. You could bike the whole way if you wanted. The city is domed or underground, so weather is not an issue and roads are smooth.

And let’s assume the water you use for the barges does double-duty for farming and household use when drained. Nothing is wasted.

Could any version of this idea work if you designed your city from scratch?

[Update: Disqus locked me out and won’t let me comment from my preferred computer. It tries and apparently fails to send me an email to unlock it. It is not in spam or anywhere. I don’t have a week to dedicate to fix this so expect me absent for now.)

I wrote a book about systems versus goals. People seem to like it.