Contrary to the fan mobs on Twitter and fawning media coverage over the years, many of our letter writers have long been skeptical of Elon Musk’s grand pronouncements about cheap mass-produced electric cars and futuristic transportation panaceas. So you can imagine their reaction to the less-than-grand unveiling of his prototype tunnel in Hawthorne Tuesday.
This isn’t to say readers are always dismissive of ideas for ending congestion in Los Angeles that involve unlikely feats of engineering. Among the more common suggestions on the L.A. Times’ letters page, for example, has been a monorail system running down freeway medians.
But when a billionaire with a lot of fans and even more swagger suggests the intractable problem of moving millions of people around Los Angeles every day can be solved by his vision and impatient drive, our letter writers tend to be unimpressed.
David Impastato of Los Angeles wonders why tunnels are the answer:
Has Musk thought about the long line of cars that would be waiting to enter his future tunnel system? Even if cars can launch every 30 seconds and there are, say, 100 cars lined up, that’s already about an hour of waiting.
Plus, emerging from the tunnel into the usual mass of cars will further impact tunnel flow.
It's perplexing that Musk does not suggest something closer to his own logic: self-driving vehicles that can enter a centrally controlled system that uses existing streets and freeways, allowing for maximum speed, safety and efficiency. At the rate Musk himself is perfecting the self-driving paradigm, such a system could be only a decade or two away.
Brian Bennett of La Verne believes the solution is better planning:
Musk’s vision of a web of car-transporting tunnels is hardly ready to blast off the pages of a comic book. Putting aside a very long list of technical concerns, it would be wise to ponder the consequences of a future world with a maze of cars below ground as well as above.
The blessing of the automobile has also become one of modern society's most stubborn curses; with its convenience and privacy we have also gotten sprawl, isolation and an inefficient transportation system.
Would it really be wise to put the automobile on steroids in the quest for an easy fix? Or should we instead take on the hard work of better urban and transportation planning?
Jon Hartmann of Los Angeles is one of our most Musk-skeptical readers:
A Tesla car in a tunnel carries up to five people at about 45 mph. A Red Line subway train carries hundreds of people at 65 mph. Unlike the Tesla, Red Line trains have not demonstrated they are at risk of catching fire and possibly injuring their occupants.
Musk’s idea is so stupid that only certain urban planners at USC and tire retailers could support it.