December 2010 Archives

Lisa Schweitzer takes on Ryan Avent on HSR: Culture Wars Nonsense around the HSR and a Technocratic Answer

Among other good points ...

Secondly, Avent's whipping out the 100 million population growth number made me laugh. That means we need inter-regional HSR instead of building urban subways or heavy rail? That's what that number means? It doesn't make sense. Yes, there will be greater demand for inter-regional travel, but there will be much greater demand for within region travel-there always is. That means if we are gong to spend billions on transit, the resources should be going to urban transit systems first.

Obituary from NY Times: Alfred Kahn, Chief Architect of Airline Deregulation, Dies at 93.

Transportation deregulation was a very big deal.

From the NY Times: Disney Tackles Major Theme Park Problem: Lines

Disney isn't reducing lines (through congestion or reservation pricing) much, (there is the occasional added capacity), mainly it just sends entertainment out. Maybe we should have jesters at long traffic lights to entertain drivers.

Brendon on Mode Shares in the Twin Cities (2000-2009)

Short version:
Bike up from 0.5% to 0.9%.
Driving down 1.4% (most of the loss in carpools, but some in drove alone).
Work at home up 0.76%.

Separate is inherently unequal: the Cul-de-Snow


Did public transportation send Cliff Lee to Philly?

If only the state of Texas has spend more money on infrastructure they might still have one of the best lefthanders in the game.

Kristin Lee, wife of Cliff Lee, says she can't wait to use the public transportation in Philadelphia.

Writes Bud Kennedy of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

Kristen Lee wanted her husband to return to the Phillies because of "how easy it is to get from point A to point B" in Philadelphia, she (told) the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Phillies play three miles from City Hall. The stadium is a $1.85 ride from downtown on the Broad Street Line, plus a three-block walk.

..."Even in Dallas," Kristen Lee was quoted, "(from) where we were staying, it was hard to get to the ballpark."

...Kristen Lee's fondness for transit isn't limited to commuter rail.

She's also happy to be a 1 1/2-hour train ride away from road games in New York or Washington.

"We liked the easy travel on a train for our kids to other cities."

Masdar opens its first PRT, as shown in this CNN report hosted on the website. Alas the report says the system is being "scaled down". (I would have been curious to see this thing scaled up, and whether cars that work in isolation still work in a more complex environment).

Nevertheless, it is interesting how PRT and autonomous vehicles are now almost the same thing. It looks like we have transportation convergence between cars and transit.

Network Reliability on the Electric Grid (from Miller-McCune Debunking Theories of a Terrorist Power Grab

Hines and Blumsack's study ... shows that the most vulnerable points are the ones that have the most energy flowing through them -- like huge power stations or highly connected transformers.

Article Do topological models provide good information about electricity
infrastructure vulnerability?

I think there is something to learn about generalizing network reliability and vulnerability across fields (electricity, transportation, etc.). Network structure, and the underlying technology, matter.

Race by Census Block in a fascinating interactive map on the NY Times siteMapping America -- Census Bureau 2005-9 American Community Survey -

From TechCrunch: Isle Of Tune Lets You Compose Music By Um, City Planning

I wonder if good music correlates with good city planning in the game, or if late 1950s, early 1960s urban renewal is associated with early Rock, while the rise of New Urbanism and Rap go together.

Sidewalks of shame


As a pedestrian walking to the University of Minnesota campus, for about 11 5 months a year I have the opportunity to grumble about people not shoveling their sidewalks. I always had in mind naming and shaming those who did not. After last weekend's monster snowstorm, I again had reason to complain, but the suspects changed. Normally there are selected houses which are unoccupied or rented that are unshoveled after a snowstorm. This week those were pretty good, either neighbors took it upon themselves, or the tenants saw the need.

What was problematic was:

  • The City of Minneapolis and/or Hennepin County, who again did not shovel around my favorite five-way intersection (East River Road/Franklin/27th), until bringing out the Bobcats on Friday, almost a full week after the snowfall started. This after makings all sorts of noises about caring about pedestrians, especially in discussions about reconfiguring the intersection. Bah, they only care about moving cars.
  • The Minneapolis Parks Department, which was extremely slow to clear pedestrian paths along East River Road.
  • The Good Samaritans (a Lutheran charity that has no relation to the real Samaritans), who made sure to shovel their parking lots, but not the sidewalks in front of their parking lots for many days later.
  • A few houses near the U on East River Road, which following the behavior of the Parks Dept. failed to clear adjacent sidewalks
  • I need to also complain about the snow plows that created giant mountains of snow where the sidewalk meets the road, undoing much hard fought shoveling. Fortunately the bobcats came by a few days later. Is it too much to ask for these to be simultaneous?

I recognize public agencies might have been a bit over-whelmed. On the other hand, I didn't see an offer of $10/hour for labor to help clear public sidewalks, only to help clear football stadiums.

That said, praise be to those who did, I was out of town through Sunday, so thanks to my neighbors for clearing our public facing sidewalk by Sunday evening when I got back.

A podcast worth listening to if you are interested in a cultural history of the bicycle is a wonderful, if scandalous, talk by Jennifer Dill: From Spokes to Sprockettes: A History of Women and the Bicycle. The podcast can be downloaded here

The 5 and 8 Minnesota Vikings will host the Chicago Bears Monday Night at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus due to Snowmageddon and the collapse of the Metrodome roof last Sunday.

Several points:

  • The collapse of the Metrodome roof guarantees the Vikings a new stadium. It is too embarrassing to Minnesota to let the Vikings leave because a spectacularly structurally troubled stadium deflated. What if there was a game on? Someone could have been hurt (probably not in this slow-motion collapse, but something slightly faster, or he subsequent panic). Were the stadium deemed adequate and the team left, that would be because they were greedy. Now who looks cheap? I predicted the Vikings would get a stadium only if they won the Superbowl last year (not gonna happen this year either), but I did not account for this.
  • The best solution given the Vikings stay in Minnesota would be to share a field and stands with the Gophers. This deal should have been cut 5 years ago. Maybe something could still be worked out to retrofit the "Bank", but I doubt it. I really don't understand the problem so long as the NFL has revenue sharing. Wilf can increase profits either with more revenue (his current strategy) or lowered costs (which using TCF Bank Stadium bring)
  • I hope they move the new stadium out of downtown. Football stadiums are a waste of scarce downtown space that could be put to a higher or better use ([saracasm] like even a parking lot, which would at least be used 365 days a year)
  • What is it about Minnesota infrastructure. Comparatively this is a well-managed state, yet we seem to have a lot of infrastructure failure in this Minneapolis Triangle.

  • View Larger Map

  • I saw them shoveling out TCF stadium while walking home Thursday, they were almost done then. But what is with all the helicopters circling the site, what can be gleaned from a helicopter that is not obvious from the ground?

18th Century Congestion Charging

The Spatial Analysis blog has a nice map of 18th Century Congestion Charging (turnpike trusts), an interactive version can be found here

Capital New York writes about: The New York subway-map wars, continued

Subway map design can get quite contentious, as it represents how people view the city. This meeting seemed fairly pleasant though.

The Metropolitan Travel Survey Archive was identified by Technology Review as one of the The 70 Online Databases that Define Our Planet

based on an article "From Social Data Mining to Forecasting Socio-Economic Crisis" by Helbing and Balietti.

ed, March 25, 2010. Also See BBC article Earth project aims to 'simulate everything'

It could be one of the most ambitious computer projects ever conceived.

An international group of scientists is aiming to create a simulator that can replicate everything happening on Earth - from global weather patterns and the spread of diseases to international financial transactions or congestion on Milton Keynes' roads.

Nicknamed the Living Earth Simulator (LES), the project aims to advance the scientific understanding of what is taking place on the planet, encapsulating the human actions that shape societies and the environmental forces that define the physical world.

"Many problems we have today - including social and economic instabilities, wars, disease spreading - are related to human behaviour, but there is apparently a serious lack of understanding regarding how society and the economy work," says Dr Helbing, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, who chairs the FuturICT project which aims to create the simulator.

Knowledge collider
Thanks to projects such as the Large Hadron Collider, the particle accelerator built by Cern, scientists know more about the early universe than they do about our own planet, claims Dr Helbing.

What is needed is a knowledge accelerator, to collide different branches of knowledge, he says.

"Revealing the hidden laws and processes underlying societies constitutes the most pressing scientific grand challenge of our century."

The result would be the LES. It would be able to predict the spread of infectious diseases, such as Swine Flu, identify methods for tackling climate change or even spot the inklings of an impending financial crisis, he says.

Is it possible to build a social science equivalent to the Large Hadron Collider?
But how would such colossal system work?

For a start it would need to be populated by data - lots of it - covering the entire gamut of activity on the planet, says Dr Helbing.

It would also be powered by an assembly of yet-to-be-built supercomputers capable of carrying out number-crunching on a mammoth scale.

Although the hardware has not yet been built, much of the data is already being generated, he says.

For example, the Planetary Skin project, led by US space agency Nasa, will see the creation of a vast sensor network collecting climate data from air, land, sea and space.

In addition, Dr Helbing and his team have already identified more than 70 online data sources they believe can be used including Wikipedia, Google Maps and the UK government's data repository

Drowning in data
Integrating such real-time data feeds with millions of other sources of data - from financial markets and medical records to social media - would ultimately power the simulator, says Dr Helbing.

The next step is create a framework to turn that morass of data in to models that accurately replicate what is taken place on Earth today.

Continue reading the main story
Start Quote

We don't take any action on the information we have"

Pete Warden
That will only be possible by bringing together social scientists and computer scientists and engineers to establish the rules that will define how the LES operates.

Such work cannot be left to traditional social science researchers, where typically years of work produces limited volumes of data, argues Dr Helbing.

Nor is it something that could have been achieved before - the technology needed to run the LES will only become available in the coming decade, he adds.

Human behaviour
For example, while the LES will need to be able to assimilate vast oceans of data it will simultaneously have to understand what that data means.

That becomes possible as so-called semantic web technologies mature, says Dr Helbing.

Today, a database chock-full of air pollution data would look much the same to a computer as a database of global banking transactions - essentially just a lot of numbers.

But semantic web technology will encode a description of data alongside the data itself, enabling computers to understand the data in context.

What's more, our approach to aggregating data stresses the need to strip out any of that information that relates directly to an individual, says Dr Helbing.

The Living Earth Simulator aims to predict how diseases spread
That will enable the LES to incorporate vast amounts of data relating to human activity, without compromising people's privacy, he argues.

Once an approach to carrying out large-scale social and economic data is agreed upon, it will be necessary to build supercomputer centres needed to crunch that data and produce the simulation of the Earth, says Dr Helbing.

Generating the computational power to deal with the amount of data needed to populate the LES represents a significant challenge, but it's far from being a showstopper.

If you look at the data-processing capacity of Google, it's clear that the LES won't be held back by processing capacity, says Pete Warden, founder of the OpenHeatMap project and a specialist on data analysis.

While Google is somewhat secretive about the amount of data it can process, in May 2010 it was believed to use in the region of 39,000 servers to process an exabyte of data per month - that's enough data to fill 2 billion CDs every month.

Reality mining
If you accept that only a fraction of the "several hundred exabytes of data being produced worldwide every year... would be useful for a world simulation, the bottleneck won't be the processing capacity," says Mr Warden.

"Getting access to the data will be much more of a challenge, as will figuring out something useful to do with it," he adds.

Simply having lots of data isn't enough to build a credible simulation of the planet, argues Warden. "Economics and sociology have consistently failed to produce theories with strong predictive powers over the last century, despite lots of data gathering. I'm sceptical that larger data sets will mark a big change," he says.

"It's not that we don't know enough about a lot of the problems the world faces, from climate change to extreme poverty, it's that we don't take any action on the information we do have," he argues.

Regardless of the challenges the project faces, the greater danger is not attempting to use the computer tools we have now - and will have in future - to improve our understanding of global socio-economic trends, says Dr Helbing.

"Over the past years, it has for example become obvious that we need better indicators than the gross national product to judge societal development and well-being," he argues.

At it's heart, the LES is about working towards better methods to measure the state of society, he says, which

Conversation with an Engineer

From Charles Marohn et al.'s StrongTowns blog


From Ars technica: Can we transport food like Internet data? Foodtubes says yes

Much of the world's food supply is transported via an inefficient, polluting, and dangerous system of highways and trucks. The overwhelming share of the fuel used to move food powers cumbersome vehicles, only eight percent is really needed to transport the cargoes themselves to supermarkets, according to one estimate.

So what's the alternative? Move the whole system underground and set up a "transport industry Internet," says the United Kingdom based Foodtubes Project, a consortium of academics, project planners, and engineers. Siphon veggies, corn flakes, cans of baked beans about in high-speed capsules (one by two meters) traveling through dedicated pipelines lodged below our cities. And why not? That's the way we transport water, oil, gas, and sewage, isn't it?

"All all conditions, day or night, delivery can be guaranteed," a Foodtubes PowerPoint presentation promises. "Whatever the weather, FOODTUBE will deliver the goods!"

I don't know why this is limited to foods, as opposed to any material goods. Of course it is reminiscent of Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward (written in 1887):

"I suppose so," said Edith, "but of course we have never known any other way. But, Mr. West, you must not fail to ask father to take you to the central warehouse some day, where they receive the orders from the different sample houses all over the city and parcel out and send the goods to their destinations. He took me there not long ago, and it was a wonderful sight. The system is certainly perfect; for example, over yonder in that sort of cage is the dispatching clerk. The orders, as they are taken by the different departments in the store, are sent by transmitters to him. His assistants sort them and enclose each class in a carrier-box by itself.

The dispatching clerk has a dozen pneumatic transmitters before him answering to the general classes of goods, each communicating with the corresponding department at the warehouse. He drops the box of orders into the tube it calls for, and in a few moments later it drops on the proper desk in the warehouse, together with all the orders of the same sort from the other sample stores. The orders are read over, recorded, and sent to be filled, like lightning. The filling I thought the most interesting part. Bales of cloth are placed on spindles and turned by machinery, and the cutter, who also has a machine, works right through one bale after another till exhausted, when another man takes his place; and it is the same with those who fill the orders in any other staple. The packages are then delivered by larger tubes to the city districts, and thence distributed to the houses. You may understand how quickly it is all done when I tell you that my order will probably be at home sooner than I could have carried it from here." Edward Bellamy (1887) Looking Backward: 2000-1887 (chapter 10, p.106)

I wrote a bit about Automated Freight Systems in
Published as: Zou, Xi and David Levinson (2005) Financing and Deploying Automated Freight Systems in The Future of Automated Freight Transport: Concepts, Design and Implementation. (ed. Rob Konings, Peter Nijkamp, Hugo Peimus) Edward Elgar pp. 227-242.

For the record, I am not a locovore.

Wuhan – Guangzhou High-speed Train

Wuhan – Guangzhou High-speed Train

For all those who say since China is building high speed rail, the US should as well:

From Chinese Academy of Sciences: High-Speed Rail Construction Unsustainable

"The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) reported to the State Council recently, urging the large-scale high-speed railway construction projects in China to be re-evaluated. The CAS worries that China may not be able to afford such a large-scale construction of high-speed rail, and such a large scale high-speed rail network may not be practical.  

High-speed rail train runs at over 250 km per hour, about twice the normal speed of a regular train. Under the current plan, the central government has approved to build, by 2020, 16,000 km of high speed rail providing access to about 90% of the Chinese population. Some local media have reported recently that the recently enabled Wuhan - Guangzhou high-speed rail is currently running an average daily attendance of less than half capacity, while the newly opened Shanghai-Hangzhou high-speed rail attendance is even lower. The main reason for the high-speed rail low attendance is that fares are too high; the high-speed railway ticket prices are usually double or higher than normal train fares.

The report submitted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences said China's high-speed rail construction has caused debt that has already reached unsustainable levels; particularly since the end of 2008, the government introduced a stimulus plan to fight the global economic crisis and the size of local government borrowing is already very high."

(Via Marginal Revolution.)

I will be at Current and Future Publishing Practices discussing the Journal of Transport and Land Use

What: Current and Future Publishing Practices: An event especially for, but not exclusive to, faculty editors. Presented by the University of Minnesota Libraries and the Office of the Vice President for Research.

When: Thursday, December 2, 2010 • 2:00-4:00 p.m.

Where: 120 Elmer L. Andersen Library

Free and open to the public.

If you cannot attend, the event will be streamed online live

My slides can be downloaded here

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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