June 2008 Archives

Machine Fecundity

From Kevin Kelly's blog: The Technium

"A while back George Dyson sent along this note about the fecundity of manufactured items:

I had to park my car at [Seattle's] SeaTac on Saturday-Sunday and this sparked a small epiphany. It now costs more to park a car at one airport than to rent one at the other end. To my twisted mind, this indicates that machines (taking the automobile as a benchmark) are now self-reproducing so fast we have reached a transition point where machines are cheaper than the empty space they fill."

According to my local newspaper

The Bridge

" District transportation officials also eliminated some Pratt bus stops near the Glendale housing development, which is within the school’s walking zone. Isola said many of the new immigrants who live at Glendale don’t feel comfortable letting their children walk to school, however. “We’ve heard anecdotally that we’ve lost students there to other schools farther away that provide busing,? he said. “We’re hoping to restore some of those stops so we can get those students back.?"

The map of the distance is here:

of course they could walk use local streets, it is literally 2 - 3 blocks away. So, if the story is correct, rather than walk with their children to the neighborhood school, parents would prefer their kids to be bused to a school farther away.

A game to frustrate you:

Ezra Klein's comments and the full text of Obama's Metropolitan Policy speech (June 21) can be found here

Ethanol death watch

From Treehugger: Ethanol Death Watch As Corn Prices Rocket

"John noted earlier that the floods on the Mississippi are going to wreak havoc on food prices this summer; They are not doing too much good for the ethanol industry either. According to Citygroup analyst David Driscoll, 3 out of 4 operating ethanol plants could be shut down in the next few months.

Earth2Tech counts 11 proposed plants that have been cancelled because financing was unavailable. As one expert on the biofuel scene said: "US ethanol producers are screwed." "

NSW says no to congestion charge

NSW says no to congestion charge

"But Mr Roozendaal on Tuesday poured cold water on the suggestion, saying it was "not something the government will be part of".

"His whole theory is about taxing free roads into Sydney," the minister told reporters in Sydney.

"Sydney families already have high interest rates to deal with, high petrol prices. To face taxes on free roads into Sydney is an unacceptable burden for families in this city."

Prof Hensher's intervention follows the release of a report by the Institute last month, which called for car registration fees and petrol taxes to be scrapped and replaced with a congestion tax.

That plan was similarly rejected by Mr Roozendaal.

The introduction of a congestion tax is also opposed by the NSW opposition, which says public transport needs to be improved before such a change can be made.

"You cannot have a congestion tax without having proper public transport," opposition roads spokesman Duncan Gay told ABC radio on Tuesday."

Lesson: An 8% reduction of congestion is insufficient politically to warrant a whole new financing scheme.

From WaPo: Fuel Costs May Force Some Kids To Walk

A diseconomy of scale for large centralized schools ... transport costs.

Clean Car Challenge

From Washington Post Sen. McCain offers $300 million prize for new auto battery

McCain's energy policy is described in a speech today.

Key points:

"The Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting is proposing a $300 million government prize to whomever can develop an automobile battery that far surpasses existing technology."

"The Arizona senator is also proposing stiffer fines for automakers who skirt existing fuel-efficiency standards, as well as incentives to increase use of domestic and foreign alcohol-based fuels such as ethanol."

"In addition, a so-called Clean Car Challenge would provide U.S. automakers with a $5,000 tax credit for every zero-carbon emissions car they develop and sell."

Public transport in Brisbane

An Op-Ed in the Courier Mail by Chris Hale on public transport in the Queensland, Australia city of Brisbane (population 1.8 million according to wikipedia)Kevin Rudd on right track with push for public transport l

The article notably discusses the importance of ticketing and signing, which are far too neglected in consideration of public transport use.

Whether the combination of density and energy prices is sufficient to support rail is an empirical question.

Portion Size, Then and Now

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I really don't think you need to look to indirect effects like suburbanization to explain the "obesity epidemic" in the US when you have this:

Portion Size, Then and Now

Taxis in the Sky

From The Atlantic by James Fallows: Taxis in the Sky about the emerging market for air taxis connecting smaller cities not served by point-to-point service.

"Herriott and Sawhill have developed a model to simulate the individual decisions that go into every one of these business trips. The model starts with the likelihood that a person in any one city, let’s say Mobile, will want to go to another, say Savannah, on any given weekday (for now, DayJet is a weekday-only service). These predictions are based on average income in each city, business relations, and other factors, and are constantly tuned to reflect real data. “It’s like the pull between two planetary bodies,? Herriott said. “Almost a Newtonian law!? (He was joking.)"

Could they be using a version of The Gravity Model, which implements a version of Tobler's First Law of Geography "Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things."

Diffusion of Wal-Mart

An interesting paper on the spatial diffusion of Wal-Mart across the United States by Thomas Holmes: The Diffusion of Wal-Mart and Economies of Density


A YouTube Movie

From The Atlantic, an interesting article by Philip Smucker: Asphalt Dreams about the correlation between development highways and stability in Afghanistan. The article reminds that highways are not just for moving troops quickly to deploy elsewhere, but also to help settle the places they run through. While that may not have been foremost on the mind of proponents of The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, (even though it has Defense in its name) it certainly has been important throughout history.


UPDATED August 27, 2009.

I am leaving today for Paris, where I will be presenting a paper at The 3rd International Conference on Funding Transport Infrastructure. We hope to have the 4th conference in Minnesota next summer.

The paper is:

Levinson, David and Andrew Odlyzko (2008) Too Expensive to Meter: The influence of transaction costs in transportation and communication. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical Physical and Engineering Sciences 366(1872) pp 2033-2046 [doi]

Abstract. Technology appears to be making fine-scale charging (as in tolls on roads that depend on time of day or even on current and anticipated levels of congestion) increasingly feasible. And such charging appears to be increasingly desirable, as traffic on roads continues to grow, and costs and public opposition limit new construction. Similar incentives towards fine-scale charging also appear to be operating in communications and other areas, such as electricity usage. Standard economic theory supports such measures, and technology is being developed and deployed to implement them. But their spread is not very rapid, and prospects for the future are uncertain. This paper presents a collection of sketches, some from ancient history, some from current developments, that illustrate the costs that charging imposes. Some of those costs are explicit (in terms of the monetary costs to users, and the costs of implementing the charging mechanisms). Others are implicit, such as the time or the mental processing costs of users. These argue that the case for fine-scale charging is not unambiguous, and that in many cases may be inappropriate.


For those into flying cars, the blog: Paleo-Future has a great collection of unbuilt predictions.

Betting on VMT

A site called Long Bets takes bets on the future, an interesting one: The U.S Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics (www.bts.gov) will report a lower number of total highway vehicle miles traveled in 2010 than in 2005.

It was made in 2005, and thus far the prediction may hold.

From Newsweek, an article on the Convention and the I-35W Bridge, Bridges: Is Minneapolis Ready for GOP Convention?

John Hourdos and myself are quoted on page 2.

(I know, the article headline asks if Minneapolis is ready for the convention when it will be in St. Paul).

I have drafted a Memo to the Next President of the United States on Transportation Policy.

The memo outlines ten visions, which are summarized here, for fuller discussion, see the full memo:

  1. Within eight years more cars sold in the United States will be powered primarily by electricity and bio-fuels than by fossil fuels. All buses and passenger trains will use electricity or bio-fuels.
  2. Within eight years Americans will be able to ride autonomous smart cars that drive themselves in mixed traffic.
  3. Within a year, an independent federally-funded Bridge Inspection Service will begin to inspect and publicly report on the quality of all bridges on the National Highway System.
  4. After thorough evaluation, within eight years, bridges and pavements on the US Interstate Highway System will be upgraded to handle trucks carrying up to 100,000 pounds, increasing the efficiency of the trucking industry and by reducing the number of vehicle trips, increasing safety for other road users. These improvements will be paid for by the trucking industry, which directly benefits from the improved system. In heavily traveled corridors, a system of truck-only toll lanes will be constructed.
  5. Within eight years American travelers can choose to travel congestion-free by car or bus through America's largest metropolitan areas.
  6. Within four years American travelers will enter airports and transit, and train stations and cross borders, passing both security and immigration controls without delay while ensuring security.
  7. Within eight years a new source of transportation revenue based on time and place of use will be deployed, replacing the federal and state gas tax. This funding will support highway and transit networks.
  8. Returning to the vision of Democratic President Andrew Jackson, items in federal transportation legislation that do not serve a national purpose will be vetoed.
  9. Extending the bipartisan efforts of transportation deregulation in the late 1970s and early 1980s, within four years, highway and transit services and infrastructure will begin to be competitively provided by independent (public, private, or non-profit) organizations under appropriate local or federal oversight. Infrastructure will be provided under a public utility model, ensuring quality of service in exchange for earning a rate of return.
  10. Within one year, the United States federal government will establish separate capital and operating budgets. This will be coupled with a federal program to guarantee loans and bonds for highway and transit infrastructure projects.

  11. Full memo after the jump

MnDOT Library

Nice article on MinnPost by Amy Goetzman: : Who knew? Mn/DOT Library is little-known gem

From the Strib: U changes direction on light-rail trains The U will now support LRT on Washington Avenue at-grade with appropriate traffic mitigations, eliminating cars from a section of the roadway.

The official statement is here.

Quoted in the Bee

In today's Fresno Bee: House bill could breathe life into California high-speed rail I get quoted about high-speed rail. (I also got demoted).

Walter Hansen obituary

From the Washington Post via Dick Pratt, an Obituary for Walter Hansen, developer of the Hansen accessibility measure.

Walter George Hansen - Transportation Consultant

"Walter George Hansen, 76, founder of a transportation planning consulting company, died of cancer May 15 at Inova Fairfax Hospital. He lived in Annandale.

"Mr. Hansen co-founded Alan M. Voorhees and Associates in 1961. By the mid-1960s, it was operating worldwide. It was acquired by Planning Research, later Ashland Technology and finally AECOM Technology. He worked for each of those firms in executive positions, including chief operating officer. He retired in 1996."

Photo here

100 mpg plug-in/solar/hybrid

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From the Rocky Mountain News, the National Renewable Energy Lab tested a souped up Prius that gets 100 mpg:Lab drives car to 100 mpg

Press release here
It is modified to be plug-in with supplementary roof-top solar panels. For the first 60 miles it averages 100 mpg (and then needs recharging to maintain that rate.

Manchester Congestion Charge

From the Guardian, Manchester gets a huge investment from the UK government, and imposes a congestion charge. This scheme tests two cordons rather than being area-based. This should greatly simplify administration £2.8bn for Manchester transport as congestion charge plan confirmed

Road, transportation builder: America stays in the slow lane

'“The presidential campaigns are not focused on this, but we need to change the conversation. The other countries are not waiting for us. They’re surpassing us,? Ruane said, noting China plans to build 53,000 miles of new highway in the first two decades of this century compared to just 1,130 new interstate miles here.'

Comparing China to the US in terms of road construction is clearly a strawman argument, the US already built a huge network, ours is mature, the B/C ratio for new links in the US is much lower than China. China has yet to build out its network.

The strategy for maturity is not more of the same.

Nice post on Planetizen by Robert Goodspeed on some of the upcoming policy proposals on US infrastructure finance Getting the Transportation Infrastructure We Need

The last line is a vote for federalism: "Maybe the feds should just worry about big stuff like airports and intercity passenger rail, and leave the rest up to states and cities to worry about."

Asphalt costs too much

According to USA Today, the rising price of oil has led to a hike in asphalt costs, which means less repair can be done for a fixed budget: Oil prices seep into asphalt costs, detour road work: Repair projects are a blow to budgets

This should make the concrete people happy, as asphalt loses marketshare.

From a Nature article, summarized in AP: Study secretly tracks cell phone users outside US

The gist was that about 3/4 people stay mostly within a 20 mile circle. This is largely the idea of the space-time prism developed by geographer Torsten Hagerstrand.

Comments on the Central Corridor

I have written a memo for the University of Minnesota administration outlining my views on the proposed Central Corridor, in particular its course through campus. This is based on my thoughts and a number of meetings with University of Minnesota staff, but reflects solely my own judgment. The download is about 10 MB in .pdf (it includes images).

Download file

Text after the jump (for figures, see the .pdf file above)

How we drive

Tom Vanderbilt, author of the forthcoming book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) has a new blog: How We Drive which is worth a look ....

7 Bridges

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1. August 1, 2007: I-35W

2. January 2008 Hastings Bridge

3. March 20, 2008 St. Cloud Bridge

4. March 26, 2008 University of Minnesota Pedestrian Bridge

5. April 25, 2008 Lowry Avenue

6. May 6, 2008 Blatnik Bridge (I-535) in Duluth

7. June 4, 2008 MnDOT barricades Hwy. 43 bridge over Mississippi River at Winona

(post updated: Blatnik and Hastings added 6-6-08)

From Gas Buddy: USA National Gas Temperature Map

The differences by state are probably at least as much do to differences in taxes as some fundamental market difference.

David Levinson

Network Reliability in Practice

Evolving Transportation Networks

Place and Plexus

The Transportation Experience

Access to Destinations

Assessing the Benefits and Costs of Intelligent Transportation Systems

Financing Transportation Networks

View David Levinson's profile on LinkedIn

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