In The Future, driving long distances in a car is going to be a very different experience.
This trope is about how automobile traffic is affected by technological and societal progression in high-tech future settings. Namely, as cities become big enough to rival the size of modern-day countries or even encompass an entire planet, general populations tend to increase as well as the number of people with cars looking to go places with them.
Likewise, various road vehicles tend to change with the times, too. New fuel and engine technology can typically allow most vehicles to reach average speeds of upwards of a few hundred miles/kilometers per hour and freight trucks tend to be more than twice their normal sizes by today's standards. A lot of wheeled vehicles may also come with an AI computer on board that can drive the car by itself. Lastly, it goes without saying that a lot of future cars will also fly.
With all of these new changes, it only makes sense that highways and major roadways and traffic patterns change with them. Usually, the most noticeable difference that can be observed almost immediately tends to be how mass-transit roads tend to be a lot wider to accommodate for the increased traffic in the future society; highways with more than 8 lanes to accommodate for two-way travel are not uncommon. Other advancements tend to incorporate magnets and magnetism in various ways to aid in a future car's ability to drive itself, maintain safe distances from other cars to prevent accidents, and/or allow cars to do impossible things like drive upside-down or vertically up walls.
Naturally, for Flying Cars, air-travel routes are specifically designed just for them, much like how there are for airplanes in the modern day. In more urban environments, travel routes for flying cars may be stacked on top of each other to allow access to and from different locations found at different altitudes throughout a future city.
Typically showcased a great deal in Chase Scenes in a future setting where they may double as Scenery Porn, they tend to actually function without there being many problems. There never tend to be many traffic jams, and even when there may be a disastrous motor accident or immense pileup on such roads, they very commonly always benefit from a Snap Back, especially in serial adventure stories where any major road disasters in one installment never hinder characters traveling along them in episodes immediately following it (and even when it would seem like a very difficult thing to fix with most vehicles traveling at speeds faster than it may conceivably take emergency services to arrive, cordon off an accident, and properly redirect traffic).
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's, Duel Monsters has become so ingrained into society that there are entire separate lanes built onto highways for people who want to play card games on motorcycles.
- Space Battleship Yamato has "aircars" that travel around the underground city in elevated tubeways.
- Judge Dredd's Mega-City One includes a great number of different highway transit systems with average speed limits typically being over 200 MPH. The longest and widest of of these, the Superslab, is suggested as spanning the entire length of the city from north to south with a dozen traffic lanes in each direction. The very first strip in 2000 AD featured Dredd sentencing a criminal to Devil's Island—a prison set up on a large traffic island in the middle of the Big Meg's inter-city highway complex with no need for walls because busy traffic is constantly moving at speeds of up to 250 MPH all day and all night, guaranteeing instant death for anyone who tries to escape.
- In Nemesis the Warlock, human civilization on Earth has moved underground where cities are connected to each other by a system of "Travel Tubes" (pictured above), the inside of which are covered in a coat of magma, allowing all vehicles to travel along any part of a tube's interior lining.
- In the Volume 1 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles story Sky Highway, while set in an alternate dimension rather than a future Earth, this trope comes into play, as the Turtles and Casey Jones find themselves pursuing a group of mutants who have stolen their car, in a high speed chase on top of a floating highway in the sky of an alien world.
- Back to the Future Part II begins with Doc, Marty, and Jennifer arriving in the year 2015 inadvertently flying against traffic on a highway specifically designed for Flying Cars.
- 23rd Century New York City in The Fifth Element has flying cars driving in lanes.
- In the I, Robot movie, automobiles all have automatic pilots, which are legally required to be activated when driving over certain speeds.
- All cars, including trucks, also drive on spheres instead of wheels, allowing them to move in a direction different from where the vehicle is facing. Makes parallel parking a lot easier. That is, if they parked their cars, which they don't. They put cars in garages that look like the dry cleaners coat rack. Better hope all your items are secured.
- Metropolis featured some eleven lanes of traffic on the ground (remarkably prescient for some cities) and some absurdly high elevated roadways and railways.
- Highways in Minority Report are substantially different from those in the present day, allowing some cars to drive themselves, let law enforcement easily intercept cars harboring suspected criminals by changing the vehicle's travel route and destination, and (most notable of all) drive up vertical roads.
- The Star Wars prequel trilogy has the flying cars driving in seemingly designated "lanes" on Coruscant.
- The sections of Total Recall (2012) set in the United Federation of Britain show London with an additional metropolis built on stilts above it, with a multi-layered system of roads threaded around. Ascending and descending between tiers seems to be via special elevators. Oh, and the cars can either float slightly above the surface of the roadways, or hover suspended from the underside, doubling the capacity. This is in addition to the normal roads below and FutureCopters around.
- The Caves of Steel had the strips, localways, and Expressway, the first being a series of progressively faster (or slower, depending on which direction you're going) moving walkways and the latter two being sort of a cross between high-speed moving walkways and perpetually moving and unending trams or trains. Interestingly, there were also more conventional underground motorways, but given the near total lack of cars, they're largely abandoned and used only by the emergency services.
- Robert A. Heinlein:
- To Sail Beyond the Sunset mentions in passing a network of high-speed superhighways where all of the cars were computer controlled to avoid human-error-induced accidents. At one point, a couple of characters mention the computer in their car was on the fritz, so they had to drive the old fashioned way, causing the trip to take far far longer.
- In the short story "The Roads Must Roll", cars have become obsolete altogether. People and goods are carried on vast rolling belts that travel from one city to the next. It's very similar to the Caves of Steel example above.
- Code Three by Rick Raphael follows the activities of a car of the North American Continental Thruway Patrol on five-mile-wide 400-MPH highways.
- The narrator of William Gibson's short story The Gernsback Continuum has a terrifying hallucination of driving on one of these. It's described as an "eighty-lane monster".
- Jon Armstrong's Grey and Yarn portray an enormous set of elevated highways spanning the globe, allowing specialized vehicles to drive from Europe to Antarctica in the space of a few hours.
- Lensman: In First Lensman, in the Big Applesauce of the future, Lensman Virgil Samms drives his gyro-stabilised two-wheeler onto the Wright Skyway, a limited-access superhighway with a maze of feeder ramps running all the way up the skyscraper he's working in, and higher (presumably exits for Flying Cars). The only problem is learning to ignore the bombardment of very noisy advertising.
- Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End shows cars that are quite futuristic, but there is not much need for superhighways themselves precisely because of how much cars have changed. Most cars are not privately owned but automatically drive themselves to wherever they are needed, acting as a sort of automated, fast, incredibly efficient taxi service. This keeps transit efficient, and roads normal-sized (the fact that much travel is done virtually in this vision of the future also helps). The biggest indicator of futuristic roads is omnipresent transit loops, roadways where automatic cars briefly stop to drop off and pick up passengers.
- In Sergey Lukyanenko's Spectrum, the main character goes to a planet of technologically-advanced Human Aliens and notes their Flying Cars and how one "highway" goes right through a big hole in a skyscraper. He shudders of humans one day trusting building supports and drivers that much.
- Doctor Who: In "Gridlock", the Doctor returns to the planet New Earth to discover one of these in the city of New New York stuck in a massive traffic jam because the entire population of the rest of the planet died in a virulent plague, and the under city, including the motorway, was sealed off to protect the population. Afterward, there wasn't enough power to reopen it. And if that wasn't bad enough, there are devolved Macra which escaped from the zoo living on the bottom of the pollution-choked tunnel waiting to snatch anyone who tries to use the 3-person "fast lane".
- Mystery Science Theater 3000 featured the 1956 General Motors promotional film Design for Dreaming that ends with the happy couple riding their turbine-engine car through the Highway of Tomorrow - "Look, Dead Raccoon of Tomorrow!"
- Illium in Mass Effect 2 features a three-dimensional web of air routes for its (many, many) Flying Cars.
- The same flying cars are also used on the Citadel and the human colony Bekenstein (seen from far away).
- Sid Meiers Alpha Centauri allows you to build "magtubes" once you finish the Magnetic Monopole research. They function like Civilization's railroads, allowing instant travel between locations with a continuous magtube path.
- Stage 1 Neo Hong Kong City, Scene 4 from Strider 2 pits Hiryu against the Kuniang Team as they fight on top of aircars speeding around the airspace of a Skyscraper City.
- In the X-Universe, travel is a slow affair courtesy of ships that often can barely reach highway speed. Jonferco's slipstream "highways" first seen in X3: Albion Prelude and functional in X Rebirth completely revolutionized travel, allowing ships to accelerate to stupendous speeds to easily travel between different points of interest in planetary orbit or travel to completely different planets within a solar system. Where ships once had to drift to their destination for hours on end, now they are flung from point to point at a not-insignificant fraction of the speed of light in densely packed three dimensional energy slipstreams that can fit a dozen ships across.
- The Home Of Light Expansion Pack shows the logical conclusion to the highway system in the eponymous star system, which takes the form of a giant ring of districts connected by a single continuous highway loop. Holographic advertisements flank every district sign, and way stations for travelers to rest and relax are a common sight.
- Highways return in X4: Foundations, albeit with far less prominence due to backlash; most systems are traversed with a new "Travel drive" that ships can activate outside of combat to boost their max speed. However, like Home Of Light, there is a massive highway "ring" that circles the center of the gate network, with highways feeding straight through a jumpgate to another highway light years away, allowing ships to traverse the major systems in a matter of minutes.
- In Futurama all cars are hovercars, so there are skylanes along with regular ground roads. In "Bendin' In The Wind" the Golden Gate Bridge is now a hoverbridge, so it doesn't need an actual road on it... which is a problem, since the gang is on a 20th Century VW Microbus. Intergalactic trucking routes and railroads are also present, and "Rebirth", the first episode after the series was Un-Cancelled, features the Panama Wormhole.
- In another episode, New New York's Futuristic Superhighway undergoes roadwork. The billboard that explains this also says Alternate Route: Just fly there.
- The Jetsons had to deal with traffic jams in their Flying Car in at least one episode.
- Walt Disney's Magic Highway USA from 1958 had a segment based around this trope, predicting things like multi-colored lanes indicating their destination, heated roads for rain and snow, cantilevered highways above canyons, tubular highways, air-conditioned desert highways, mountain highways that protect from sub-zero temperatures, underwater highways, upside-down highways etc.
- In the 1930's Le Corbusier designed and lobbied for his 'Plan for Algiers' which included a city-spanning concrete motorway running across the roof of a viaduct-like megastructure that would house 180,000 residents. He never convinced anyone to go ahead with the idea, which was just as well given Algeria's subsequent war for independence.