A Scathing Critique of Elon Musk's Big Tunneling Idea

Not all ideas are worth attention. What does the fact that ideas like Elon Musk's The Boring Company get so much attention say about the quality of civic discourse, or the potential for planning to improve the built environment?

2 minute read

May 24, 2017, 5:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Elon Musk Gigafactory

Steve Jurvetson / Flickr

Joel Silverman has written a scathing critique of Elon Musk's idea to create a company, The Boring Company, to build a massive network of tunnels that solves traffic congestion forever. More than a critique of the idea itself, Silverman addresses the implications of Musk's thinking on the subject of transportation and infrastructure development, as well as media and public's response to it.

Given that Musk himself admitted that he's devoting 2 to 3 percent of his time to The Boring Company, while interns and others work part-time on the idea, Silverman wonders why we should take the idea seriously. Silverman's interest in the subject has more to do with unpacking the threats inherent in Musks's impression of how cities should work and whom cities should serve:

Nowhere in his excited homilies to ultrafast underground travel do we hear anything about the role of mass transit in city life or the need to serve a public that includes poor people. Who decides where the tunnels go? Who pays to integrate the car elevators with existing road systems? Is building out a vast new infrastructure really the answer to traffic, especially when experience shows that adding more roads and highways tends to lead to more driving, exacerbating traffic?

The warning inherent in the argument throughout the article directs itself at planners in the conclusion. At a time when transit use is suffering, transportation network companies have burst onto the scene with little consideration of the consequences, and the oceans are rising as transportation modes continue to spew carbon into the atmosphere, should ideas like this really take time and energy away from planners?

See also: The Hyperloop.

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