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LA Architect Way Ahead of Chinese on Car-Swallowing Bus

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What trumps a Chinese-made car-swallowing bus? Only the Landliner, a bus-swallowing transporter that graced the cover of New York magazine on February 24th, 1969. LA-based Craig Hodgetts (CalArts' School of Design, firm Hodgetts + Fung), helped dream up this gliding transporter, described in the magazine article as a way to meet "the demands of New York’s urban sprawl." We caught up with Hodgetts yesterday to get his reaction to the Chinese bus. Turns out he's completely excited by seeing their version because forty years later, he still thinks a radical idea like this has potential. "This could be the time to start opening people’s minds for [exploration] in public transportation," he says.
When the story was published, New York magazine, launched by influential editor Clay Felker, was only a year old. At the time, Hodgetts and architecture/designer Lester Walker were working at 33 Union Square in Manhattan, above Andy Warhol's Factory.

Felker published the team's proposal for a futuristic city in an article called "Redesigning New York—An Immodest Proposal." Key to utilizing the Landliner was changing the landscape of New York. Hodgetts and Walker envisioned the city no longer growing in a sprawling motion (people working in the core, driving out to the suburbs), but spreading in a linear fashion.

According to the article, New York would become "Strip City, where “all points along the line are of equal intensity, and are flanked by parallel bands of housing, and commercial development, which are flanked, in turn, by recreational parks," according to the article. "Nobody is ever very far from exciting urban life or quiet parks."

To service this linear city, the Landliner, inspired by the Staten Island Ferry, according to Hodgetts ("it was wide, short and stocky, rather than long and thin [like a] traditional train"). The Landliner would zip above existing roadways, rising on nearly friction-free air cushion bearings, and hovering above cars.

From the article: "Both bus and Landliner are traveling at 60 miles an hour, their speeds locked together by computer; then a great claw descends from the Landliner to “swallow” the bus. Once inside, the passengers disembark and enjoy the facilities. Since these buses circle a city picking up commuters, driving the car to the station and leaving it all day will be a thing of the past.” Some of those "facilities" in the Landliner include a gym, restaurants, beauty salons, bars, and more.

Meanwhile, cities like Boston and Washington, DC are connected by the Landliner, so the giant transportation system can easily ferry people from city to city. “One can live in Connecticut, work in Boston and catch a movie in Times Square," according to the piece. West Coast translation, perhaps: One can live in Brentwood, work in San Diego, and catch a movie in Vegas.

A few years after the story was published, Hodgetts moved to California to help found CalArts. Today, he calls the publication of the Chinese system "a surprising turn of events," and says he's glad his old idea is getting exposure. "We would hope that it might find some support among various transport agencies here in the US," he says. As for a copyrighting the idea, once an idea has been published, it can't be copyrighted, according to Hodgetts. "I like it being in the public domain," he says. "Someone can come along and expand on it."

· Redesigning New York—An Immodest Proposal [NY Mag; click on Page 37 for story]