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Anticipations

Countless modifying influences will, of course, come into operation. For example, it has been assumed, perhaps rashly, that the railway influence will certainly remain jealous and hostile to these growths: that what may be called the "Bicycle Ticket Policy" will be pursued throughout. Assuredly there will be fights of a very complicated sort at first, but once one of these specialized lines is in operation, it may be that some at least of the railway companies will hasten to replace their flanged rolling stock by carriages with rubber tyres, remove their rails, broaden their cuttings and embankments, raise their bridges, and take to the new ways of traffic. Or they may find it answer to cut fares, widen their gauges, reduce their gradients, modify their points and curves, and woo the passenger back with carriages beautifully hung and sumptuously furnished, and all the convenience and luxury of a club. Few people would mind being an hour or so longer going to Paris from London, if the railway travelling was neither rackety, cramped, nor tedious. One could be patient enough if one was neither being jarred, deafened, cut into slices by draughts, and continually more densely caked in a filthy dust of coal; if one could write smoothly and easily at a steady table, read papers, have one's hair cut, and dine in comfort[9]—none of which things are possible at present, and none of which require any new inventions, any revolutionary contrivances, or indeed anything but an intelligent application of existing resources and known principles. Our rage for fast trains, so far as long-distance travel is concerned, is largely a passion to end the extreme discomfort involved. It is in the daily journey, on the suburban train, that daily tax of time, that speed is in itself so eminently desirable, and it is just here that the conditions of railway travel most hopelessly fail. It must always be remembered that the railway train, as against the motor, has the advantage that its wholesale traction reduces the prime cost by demanding only one engine for a great number of coaches. This will not serve the first-class long-distance passenger, but it may the third. Against that economy one must balance the necessary delay of a relatively infrequent service, which latter item becomes relatively greater and greater in proportion to the former, the briefer the journey to be made.

And it may be that many railways, which are neither capable of modification into suburban motor tracks, nor of development into luxurious through routes, will find, in spite of the loss of many elements of their old activity, that there is still a profit to be made from a certain section of the heavy goods traffic, and from cheap excursions. These are forms of work for which railways seem to be particularly adapted, and which the diversion of a great portion of their passenger traffic would enable them to conduct even more efficiently. It is difficult to imagine, for example, how any sort of road-car organization could beat the railways at the business of distributing coal and timber and similar goods, which are taken in bulk directly from the pit or wharf to local centres of distribution.

It must always be remembered that at the worst the defeat of such a great organization as the railway system does not involve its disappearance until a long period has elapsed. It means at first no more than a period of modification and differentiation. Before extinction can happen a certain amount of wealth in railway property must absolutely disappear. Though under the stress of successful competition the capital value of the railways may conceivably fall, and continue to fall, towards the marine store prices, fares and freights pursue the sweated working expenses to the vanishing point, and the land occupied sink to the level of not very eligible building sites: yet the railways will, nevertheless, continue in operation until these downward limits are positively attained.

An imagination prone to the picturesque insists at this stage upon a vision of the latter days of one of the less happily situated lines. Along a weedy embankment there pants and clangs a patched and tarnished engine, its paint blistered, its parts leprously dull. It is driven by an aged and sweated driver, and the burning garbage of its furnace distils a choking reek into the air. A huge train of urban dust trucks bangs and clatters behind it, en route to that sequestered dumping ground where rubbish is burnt to some industrial end. But that is a lapse into the merely just possible, and at most a local tragedy. Almost certainly the existing lines of railway will develop and differentiate, some in one direction and some in another, according to the nature of the pressure upon them. Almost all will probably be still in existence and in divers ways busy, spite of the swarming new highways I have ventured to foreshadow, a hundred years from now.

In fact, we have to contemplate, not so much a supersession of the railways as a modification and specialization of them in various directions, and the enormous development beside them of competing and supplementary methods. And step by step with these developments will come a very considerable acceleration of the ferry traffic of the narrow seas through such improvements as the introduction of turbine engines. So far as the high road and the longer journeys go this is the extent of our prophecy.[10]

But in the discussion of all questions of land locomotion one must come at last to the knots of the network, to the central portions of the towns, the dense, vast towns of our time, with their high ground values and their narrow, already almost impassable, streets. I hope at a later stage to give some reasons for anticipating that the centripetal pressure of the congested towns of our epoch may ultimately be very greatly relieved, but for the next few decades at least the usage of existing conditions will prevail, and in every town there is a certain nucleus of offices, hotels, and shops upon which the centrifugal forces I anticipate will certainly not operate. At present the streets of many larger towns, and especially of such old-established towns as London, whose central portions have the narrowest arteries, present a quite unprecedented state of congestion. When the Green of some future History of the English People comes to review our times, he will, from his standpoint of comfort and convenience, find the present streets of London quite or even more incredibly unpleasant than are the filthy kennels, the mudholes and darkness of the streets of the seventeenth century to our enlightened minds. He will echo our question, "Why did people stand it?" He will be struck first of all by the omnipresence of mud, filthy mud, churned up by hoofs and wheels under the inclement skies, and perpetually defiled and added to by innumerable horses. Imagine his description of a young lady crossing the road at the Marble Arch in London, on a wet November afternoon, "breathless, foul-footed, splashed by a passing hansom from head to foot, happy that she has reached the further pavement alive at the mere cost of her ruined clothes."... "Just where the bicycle might have served its most useful purpose," he will write, "in affording a healthy daily ride to the innumerable clerks and such-like sedentary toilers of the central region, it was rendered impossible by the danger of side-slip in this vast ferocious traffic." And, indeed, to my mind at least, this last is the crowning absurdity of the present state of affairs, that the clerk and the shop hand, classes of people positively starved of exercise, should be obliged to spend yearly the price of a bicycle upon a season-ticket, because of the quite unendurable inconvenience and danger of urban cycling.

Now, in what direction will matters move? The first and most obvious thing to do, the thing that in many cases is being attempted and in a futile, insufficient way getting itself done, the thing that I do not for one moment regard as the final remedy, is the remedy of the architect and builder—profitable enough to them, anyhow—to widen the streets and to cut "new arteries." Now, every new artery means a series of new whirlpools of traffic, such as the pensive Londoner may study for himself at the intersection of Shaftesbury Avenue with Oxford Street, and unless colossal—or inconveniently steep—crossing-bridges are made, the wider the affluent arteries the more terrible the battle of the traffic. Imagine Regent's Circus on the scale of the Place de la Concorde. And there is the value of the ground to consider; with every increment of width the value of the dwindling remainder in the meshes of the network of roads will rise, until to pave the widened streets with gold will be a mere trifling addition to the cost of their "improvement."

There is, however, quite another direction in which the congestion may find relief, and that is in the "regulation" of the traffic. This has already begun in London in an attack on the crawling cab and in the new bye-laws of the London County Council, whereby certain specified forms of heavy traffic are prohibited the use of the streets between ten and seven. These things may be the first beginning of a process of restriction that may go far. Many people living at the present time, who have grown up amidst the exceptional and possibly very transient characteristics of this time, will be disposed to regard the traffic in the streets of our great cities as a part of the natural order of things, and as unavoidable as the throng upon the pavement. But indeed the presence of all the chief constituents of this vehicular torrent—the cabs and hansoms, the vans, the omnibuses—everything, indeed, except the few private carriages—are as novel, as distinctively things of the nineteenth century, as the railway train and the needle telegraph. The streets of the great towns of antiquity, the streets of the great towns of the East, the streets of all the mediæval towns, were not intended for any sort of wheeled traffic at all—were designed primarily and chiefly for pedestrians. So it would be, I suppose, in any one's ideal city. Surely Town, in theory at least, is a place one walks about as one walks about a house and garden, dressed with a certain ceremonious elaboration, safe from mud and the hardship and defilement of foul weather, buying, meeting, dining, studying, carousing, seeing the play. It is the growth in size of the city that has necessitated the growth of this coarser traffic that has made "Town" at last so utterly detestable.

But if one reflects, it becomes clear that, save for the vans of goods, this moving tide of wheeled masses is still essentially a stream of urban pedestrians, pedestrians who, by reason of the distances they have to go, have had to jump on 'buses and take cabs—in a word, to bring in the high road to their aid. And the vehicular traffic of the street is essentially the high road traffic very roughly adapted to the new needs. The cab is a simple development of the carriage, the omnibus of the coach, and the supplementary traffic of the underground and electric railways is a by no means brilliantly imagined adaptation of the long-route railway. These are all still new things, experimental to the highest degree, changing and bound to change much more, in the period of specialization that is now beginning.

Now, the first most probable development is a change in the omnibus and the omnibus railway. A point quite as important with these means of transit as actual speed of movement is frequency: time is wasted abundantly and most vexatiously at present in waiting and in accommodating one's arrangements to infrequent times of call and departure. The more frequent a local service, the more it comes to be relied upon. Another point—and one in which the omnibus has a great advantage over the railway—is that it should be possible to get on and off at any point, or at as many points on the route as possible. But this means a high proportion of stoppages, and this is destructive to speed. There is, however, one conceivable means of transit that is not simply frequent but continuous, that may be joined or left at any point without a stoppage, that could be adapted to many existing streets at the level or quite easily sunken in tunnels, or elevated above the street level,[11] and that means of transit is the moving platform, whose possibilities have been exhibited to all the world in a sort of mean caricature at the Paris Exhibition. Let us imagine the inner circle of the district railway adapted to this conception. I will presume that the Parisian "rolling platform" is familiar to the reader. The district railway tunnel is, I imagine, about twenty-four feet wide. If we suppose the space given to six platforms of three feet wide and one (the most rapid) of six feet, and if we suppose each platform to be going four miles an hour faster than its slower fellow (a velocity the Paris experiment has shown to be perfectly comfortable and safe), we should have the upper platform running round the circle at a pace of twenty-eight miles an hour. If, further, we adopt an ingenious suggestion of Professor Perry's, and imagine the descent to the line made down a very slowly rotating staircase at the centre of a big rotating wheel-shaped platform, against a portion of whose rim the slowest platform runs in a curve, one could very easily add a speed of six or eight miles an hour more, and to that the man in a hurry would be able to add his own four miles an hour by walking in the direction of motion. If the reader is a traveller, and if he will imagine that black and sulphurous tunnel, swept and garnished, lit and sweet, with a train much faster than the existing underground trains perpetually ready to go off with him and never crowded—if he will further imagine this train a platform set with comfortable seats and neat bookstalls and so forth, he will get an inkling in just one detail of what he perhaps misses by living now instead of thirty or forty years ahead.

I have supposed the replacement to occur in the case of the London Inner Circle Railway, because there the necessary tunnel already exists to help the imagination of the English reader, but that the specific replacement will occur is rendered improbable by the fact that the circle is for much of its circumference entangled with other lines of communication—the North-Western Railway, for example. As a matter of fact, as the American reader at least will promptly see, the much more practicable thing is that upper footpath, with these moving platforms beside it, running out over the street after the manner of the viaduct of an elevated railroad. But in some cases, at any rate, the demonstrated cheapness and practicability of tunnels at a considerable depth will come into play.

Will this diversion of the vast omnibus traffic of to-day into the air and underground, together with the segregation of van traffic to specific routes and times, be the only change in the streets of the new century? It may be a shock, perhaps, to some minds, but I must confess I do not see what is to prevent the process of elimination that is beginning now with the heavy vans spreading until it covers all horse traffic, and with the disappearance of horse hoofs and the necessary filth of horses, the road surface may be made a very different thing from what it is at present, better drained and admirably adapted for the soft-tired hackney vehicles and the torrent of cyclists. Moreover, there will be little to prevent a widening of the existing side walks, and the protection of the passengers from rain and hot sun by awnings, or such arcades as distinguish Turin, or Sir F. Bramwell's upper footpaths on the model of the Chester rows. Moreover, there is no reason but the existing filth why the roadways should not have translucent velaria to pull over in bright sunshine and wet weather. It would probably need less labour to manipulate such contrivances than is required at present for the constant conflict with slush and dust. Now, of course, we tolerate the rain, because it facilitates a sort of cleaning process....

Enough of this present speculation. I have indicated now the general lines of the roads and streets and ways and underways of the Twentieth Century. But at present they stand vacant in our prophecy, not only awaiting the human interests—the characters and occupations, and clothing of the throng of our children and our children's children that flows along them, but also the decorations our children's children's taste will dictate, the advertisements their eyes will tolerate, the shops in which they will buy. To all that we shall finally come, and even in the next chapter I hope it will be made more evident how conveniently these later and more intimate matters follow, instead of preceding, these present mechanical considerations. And of the beliefs and hopes, the thought and language, the further prospects of this multitude as yet unborn—of these things also we shall make at last certain hazardous guesses. But at first I would submit to those who may find the "machinery in motion" excessive in this chapter, we must have the background and fittings—the scene before the play.[12]

FOOTNOTES:

[1] In the earlier papers, of which this is the first, attention will be given to the probable development of the civilized community in general. Afterwards these generalizations will be modified in accordance with certain broad differences of race, custom, and religion.

[2] Of quite serious forecasts and inductions of things to come, the number is very small indeed; a suggestion or so of Mr. Herbert Spencer's, Mr. Kidd's Social Evolution, some hints from Mr. Archdall Reid, some political forecasts, German for the most part (Hartmann's Earth in the Twentieth Century, e.g.), some incidental forecasts by Professor Langley (Century Magazine, December, 1884, e.g.), and such isolated computations as Professor Crookes' wheat warning, and the various estimates of our coal supply, make almost a complete bibliography. Of fiction, of course, there is abundance: Stories of the Year 2000, and Battles of Dorking, and the like—I learn from Mr. Peddie, the bibliographer, over one hundred pamphlets and books of that description. But from its very nature, and I am writing with the intimacy of one who has tried, fiction can never be satisfactory in this application. Fiction is necessarily concrete and definite; it permits of no open alternatives; its aim of illusion prevents a proper amplitude of demonstration, and modern prophecy should be, one submits, a branch of speculation, and should follow with all decorum the scientific method. The very form of fiction carries with it something of disavowal; indeed, very much of the Fiction of the Future pretty frankly abandons the prophetic altogether, and becomes polemical, cautionary, or idealistic, and a mere footnote and commentary to our present discontents.

[3] It might have been used in the same way in Italy in the first century, had not the grandiose taste for aqueducts prevailed.

[4] And also into the Cornwall mines, be it noted.

[5] It might be worse. If the biggest horses had been Shetland ponies, we should be travelling now in railway carriages to hold two each side at a maximum speed of perhaps twenty miles an hour. There is hardly any reason, beyond this tradition of the horse, why the railway carriage should not be even nine or ten feet wide, the width, that is, of the smallest room in which people can live in comfort, hung on such springs and wheels as would effectually destroy all vibration, and furnished with all the equipment of comfortable chambers.

[6] Explosives as a motive power were first attempted by Huyghens and one or two others in the seventeenth century, and, just as with the turbine type of apparatus, it was probably the impetus given to the development of steam by the convenient collocation of coal and water and the need of an engine, that arrested the advance of this parallel inquiry until our own time. Explosive engines, in which gas and petroleum are employed, are now abundant, but for all that we can regard the explosive engine as still in its experimental stages. So far, research in explosives has been directed chiefly to the possibilities of higher and still higher explosives for use in war, the neglect of the mechanical application of this class of substance being largely due to the fact, that chemists are not as a rule engineers, nor engineers chemists. But an easily portable substance, the decomposition of which would evolve energy, or—what is, from the practical point of view, much the same thing—an easily portable substance, which could be decomposed electrically by wind or water power, and which would then recombine and supply force, either in intermittent thrusts at a piston, or as an electric current, would be infinitely more convenient for all locomotive purposes than the cumbersome bunkers and boilers required by steam. The presumption is altogether in favour of the possibility of such substances. Their advent will be the beginning of the end for steam traction on land and of the steam ship at sea: the end indeed of the Age of Coal and Steam. And even with regard to steam there may be a curious change of method before the end. It is beginning to appear that, after all, the piston and cylinder type of engine is, for locomotive purposes—on water at least, if not on land—by no means the most perfect. Another, and fundamentally different type, the turbine type, in which the impulse of the steam spins a wheel instead of shoving a piston, would appear to be altogether better than the adapted pumping engine, at any rate, for the purposes of steam navigation. Hero, of Alexandria, describes an elementary form of such an engine, and the early experimenters of the seventeenth century tried and abandoned the rotary principle. It was not adapted to pumping, and pumping was the only application that then offered sufficient immediate encouragement to persistence. The thing marked time for quite two centuries and a half, therefore, while the piston engines perfected themselves; and only in the eighties did the requirements of the dynamo-electric machine open a "practicable" way of advance. The motors of the dynamo-electric machine in the nineteenth century, in fact, played exactly the rôle of the pumping engine in the eighteenth, and by 1894 so many difficulties of detail had been settled, that a syndicate of capitalists and scientific men could face the construction of an experimental ship. This ship, the Turbinia, after a considerable amount of trial and modification, attained the unprecedented speed of 34½ knots an hour, and His Majesty's navy has possessed, in the Turbinia's younger and greater sister, the Viper, now unhappily lost, a torpedo-destroyer capable of 41 miles an hour. There can be little doubt that the sea speeds of 50 and even 60 miles an hour will be attained within the next few years. But I do not think that these developments will do more than delay the advent of the "explosive" or "storage of force" engine.

[7] The historian of the future, writing about the nineteenth century, will, I sometimes fancy, find a new meaning in a familiar phrase. It is the custom to call this the most "Democratic" age the world has ever seen, and most of us are beguiled by the etymological contrast, and the memory of certain legislative revolutions, to oppose one form of stupidity prevailing to another, and to fancy we mean the opposite to an "Aristocratic" period. But indeed we do not. So far as that political point goes, the Chinaman has always been infinitely more democratic than the European. But the world, by a series of gradations into error, has come to use "Democratic" as a substitute for "Wholesale," and as an opposite to "Individual," without realizing the shifted application at all. Thereby old "Aristocracy," the organization of society for the glory and preservation of the Select Dull, gets to a flavour even of freedom. When the historian of the future speaks of the past century as a Democratic century, he will have in mind, more than anything else, the unprecedented fact that we seemed to do everything in heaps—we read in epidemics; clothed ourselves, all over the world, in identical fashions; built and furnished our houses in stereo designs; and travelled—that naturally most individual proceeding—in bales. To make the railway train a perfect symbol of our times, it should be presented as uncomfortably full in the third class—a few passengers standing—and everybody reading the current number either of the Daily Mail, Pearson's Weekly, Answers, Tit Bits, or whatever Greatest Novel of the Century happened to be going.... But, as I hope to make clearer in my later papers, this "Democracy," or Wholesale method of living, like the railways, is transient—a first makeshift development of a great and finally (to me at least) quite hopeful social reorganization.

[8] So we begin to see the possibility of laying that phantom horse that haunts the railways to this day so disastrously.

[9] A correspondent, Mr. Rudolf Cyrian, writes to correct me here, and I cannot do better, I think, than thank him and quote what he says. "It is hardly right to state that fifty miles an hour 'is the limit of our speed for land travel, so far as existing conditions go.' As far as English traffic is concerned, the statement is approximately correct. In the United States, however, there are several trains running now which average over considerable distances more than sixty miles an hour, stoppages included, nor is there much reason why this should not be considerably increased. What especially hampers the development of railways in England—as compared with other countries—is the fact that the rolling-stock templet is too small. Hence carriages in England have to be narrower and lower than carriages in the United States, although both run on the same standard gauge (4 feet 8½ inches). The result is that several things which you describe as not possible at present, such as to 'write smoothly and easily at a steady table, read papers, have one's hair cut, and dine in comfort,' are not only feasible, but actually attained on some of the good American trains. For instance, on the present Empire State Express, running between New York and Buffalo, or on the present Pennsylvania, Limited, running between New York and Chicago, and on others. With the Pennsylvania, Limited, travel stenographers and typewriters, whose services are placed at the disposal of passengers free of charge. But the train on which there is the least vibration of any is probably the new Empire State Express, and on this it is certainly possible to write smoothly and easily at a steady table."

[10] Since this appeared in the Fortnightly Review I have had the pleasure of reading 'Twentieth Century Inventions,' by Mr. George Sutherland, and I find very much else of interest bearing on these questions—the happy suggestion (for the ferry transits, at any rate) of a rail along the sea bottom, which would serve as a guide to swift submarine vessels, out of reach of all that superficial "motion" that is so distressing, and of all possibilities of collision.

[11] To the level of such upper story pavements as Sir F. Bramwell has proposed for the new Holborn to Strand Street, for example.

[12] I have said nothing in this chapter, devoted to locomotion, of the coming invention of flying. This is from no disbelief in its final practicability, nor from any disregard of the new influences it will bring to bear upon mankind. But I do not think it at all probable that aeronautics will ever come into play as a serious modification of transport and communication—the main question here under consideration. Man is not, for example, an albatross, but a land biped, with a considerable disposition towards being made sick and giddy by unusual motions, and however he soars he must come to earth to live. We must build our picture of the future from the ground upward; of flying—in its place.



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