Visualization of HSR through San Jose, I really can't see why anyone would be upset.
Via Systemic Failure
Visualization of HSR through San Jose, I really can't see why anyone would be upset.
Via Systemic Failure
BBC News: The M25 is 25: "The M25 is celebrating its 25th birthday. The 117-mile (188km) road that orbits London has changed life in the UK in many ways, says Radio 2's traffic news announcer Sally Boazman. Here are some.
It took more than 11 years to build, cost £1bn and used more than two million tonnes of concrete and 3.5 million tonnes of asphalt. The M25 is a monster of a road in many ways.
The final section was opened by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in October 1986 to a huge fanfare. It has gone on to change many things, including our economy, environment and living habits. Here are just some ..."
Time Lee in ForbesThe Arrogance of Suburbia: "Matt Yglesias has an excellent post on the different approaches cities take to urban freeways:
Central Minneapolis is a nice place. But the main conceit of this layout seems to be that it’s a place people who live very far away from need to be able to get to. Meanwhile, the people who live in the residential neighborhoods just outside the very tight inner freeway ring seem to be regarded as inconveniences. The result is that the city perversely disincentivizes living in the downtown-proximate neighborhoods. The freeways make them less pleasant and less-connected to downtown, even while they reduce the cost in travel time to live further away."
The Guardian: How to break into the transport sector : "Transport in the UK is big business, even if funding has dropped off a cliff. Graduates in transport management (as opposed to logistics) can expect to do anything from helping develop local transport plans and policies, to working with schools and businesses to encourage alternatives to the car. Current emphasis tends to be on ways to better manage what the UK already has, rather than new infrastructure. Consultancies are an established career option, as are local authorities, and there are always opportunities with big transport operators, many of which operate internationally."
Michael Giberson @ Knowledge Problem: Why did water utilities in the U.S. become mostly publicly owned? : "Among U.S. water utilities, some are publicly owned and some are privately owned. Same thing for gas utilities and electric utilities. But unlike in the gas and electric power industries, the water business has become predominantly organized by publicly-owned utilities. Scott Masten explores why it was that public utility ownership became dominant among water utilities in an article, “Public Utility Ownership in 19th-Century America: The ‘Aberrant’ Case of Water,” appearing in the October 2011 issue of the Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization."
NY Times: Bob Beaumont, Who Popularized Electric Cars, Dies at 79 - NYTimes.com: "Bob Beaumont, who thought every home should have an affordable electric vehicle in its driveway and sold more than 2,000 of them, the tiny, trapezoidal creation known as the CitiCar, decades before General Motors and Nissan came up with their own versions, died on Monday at his home in Columbia, Md. He was 79." [I remember seeing a few of these in Columbia growing up]
From David King:
So what is exciting for the future? Flying helicopters with your mind, of course! Clever researchers at the University of Minnesota have developed software that allows the user to fly around the Minnesota campus by thinking hard while wearing a special hat. Here is the paper, and video is at this io9.com link. Let's see more views of the future with mind control, autonomous cars and other technologies that fundamentally change the things we do (so we can do different things) instead of marginal improvements of what we already do. After all, we're still waiting for the telecommuting revolution to kick in.
Strib: Gasoline theft:
"Coon Rapids, where one of every six serious crimes reported is a gasoline theft, could become the first municipality in Minnesota to require prepayment at the pump. Meanwhile, members of the Minnesota Service Station Association will vote Thursday on whether to ask the Legislature next year to make prepay state law in 2012."
Calculated Risk: DOT: Vehicle Miles Driven decreased 1.7% in August compared to August 2010: "The Department of Transportation (DOT) reported today:
•Travel on all roads and streets changed by -1.7% (-4.6 billion vehicle miles) for August 2011 as compared with August 2010.
•Travel for the month is estimated to be 263.0 billion vehicle miles.
•Cumulative Travel for 2011 changed by -1.3% (-26.0 billion vehicle miles)."
Knowledge Problem: Nest’s elegant learning thermostat — but is it transactive? :
"Nest also offers a website with more granular data, remote adjustment capabilities (and I expect that those adjustments can be automated, although the article doesn’t specify), and money-saving energy-saving suggestions.
But even more importantly, Nest comes equipped with a Zigbee chip and wi-fi, so it will be a discoverable device on your home network, and able to communicate with a digital meter and other digital devices in the home. It sounds like it has enough intelligence in it to be extensible over time to be a portal for automating the behavior of smart digital devices in the home … and it can be transactive, and consequently make the home transactive and the homeowner capable of automating the responses of a wide range of smart devices in the home to respond autonomously to price signals. If a grid is not transactive it’s not a smart grid, and Nest looks like it will be a step in that direction. The other necessary condition for a smart grid is retail choice and the customer being able to choose dynamic pricing that Nest can automate. Without retail choice and dynamic pricing, the smart grid is not smart.
A final interesting note about Nest is its path to market: rather than going the mass utility deployment route, Nest is going direct to consumer, hurrah!"
The Washington Post: Full Intercounty Connector to open Nov. 22 : "The full Intercounty Connector is scheduled to open Nov. 22, Maryland transportation officials said late Thursday."
Nick Sudheimer @ MnDaily: City to revamp traffic lights system [Best general article on signals I have seen, correctly uses the word "actuated" in a sentence]
Josh Wolanin @ Downtown Journal Minneapolis earns ‘walk friendly’ gold status: "Minneapolis is one of 10 cities recognized as a Walk Friendly Community and one of only three to earn a gold-level award for plans and policies aimed at keeping pedestrians safe and comfortable." [It could be friendlier, the judges should get out of downtown.]
Steven Levy @ Wired: Brave New Thermostat: How the iPod’s Creator Is Making Home Heating Sexy Major media campaign on a new thermostat, inspired by the Prius: "So Matsuoka changed the algorithms, shifting the Nest’s personality to more of a gentle coach than a noodge with a climate-change slide show. Her model was the dashboard on the Toyota Prius hybrid car. Just as the Prius provides feedback on fuel consumption, the Nest gives owners a sense of how they’re using energy — and an incentive to save, as opposed to a guilt trip when they don’t. Now, when you set the energy to a temperature-saving level, the Nest awards you with a virtual leaf — a little icon that Nest hopes you will cherish. It’s like a DIY carbon offset."
David Agren @ USA Today: Bicycles roll into fashion in Mexico City : "The local environment secretariat estimates there are 100,000 cycling trips made daily in Mexico City, which is home to nearly 9 million residents. An additional 11 million people live in suburbs around the city." [So if they are like Americans, those 9 million are making at least 27 million trips, so this is about a 0.3% mode share for Bikes in Mexico City. I am not sure that is sufficient to constitute a trend.]
Samsung Galaxy S™ II, Epic™ 4G Touch 7 distinct words. 12 syllables (excluding the TM). You could die of old age just saying the name. This has to be the longest product name ever. And 2 trademark symbols, just in case you wanted to use the letter "S", or perhaps the word "Epic" to describe a different phone. I believe "Epic" is generally followed by "Fail" these days.
Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC (6 syllables was too many)
Northwest Orient became Northwest
Compare with iPhone. (I am sure it is a wonderful phone, but Samsung's ad agency or branding consultant needs to be taken to the woodshed.)
StarTribune Hwy. 52 between Rochester, Cities dangerously behind the times [I just drove this myself, and the speeding was amazing].
IDV User Experience: Shipping Mix [Via Lisa Schweitzer, nice visualizations]
Pioneer Press: Drivers need some direction to safely navigate roundabouts [I don't understand the un-American bit, waiting for a communist traffic light to centrally allocate scarce green time seems vaguely Soviet. Seizing available road space seems American, never mind the natives already in the intersection.]
Discovery News: How Google's Self-Driving Car Works How Google's Self-Driving Car Works
NY Times: Mattel to Acquire HIT Entertainment for $680 Million Sir Topham Hatt has a new boss.
Overcoming Bias: The Future Of Cities "How should we expect cities to change in a future em era, where trillions of human emulations live in virtual reality or in tiny android bodies? Since ems are easier to transport, require less space, and interact less with rural areas, optimal em cities should be even more concentrated than industry cities. Especially if ems learn to better subsidize density, to internalize today’s density externality. And since ems require quite different infrastructure from humans, and need large and rapid changes that most cities will initially be unwilling to allow, existing industry era cities may less constrain the size and location of em cities."
Transportation For AmericaStates ranked by deficient bridges
StarTribune.com: Metro Transit rides hit 60 million mark [LRT down, Northstar down, buses up]
WaPo [Brad Plumer] Old roads and bridges need love too : "Earlier this year, UCLA economist Matthew Kahn and the University of Minnesota’s David Levinson made a more detailed case for a “fix-it first” strategy for transportation spending. They note that, at the moment, federal highway spending doesn’t usually get subjected to strict cost-benefit analysis, and there’s usually public pressure to build new roads and bridges rather than maintain existing ones. You see this pressure in all sorts of subtle ways: When a highway gets clogged, it’s a lot more palatable to expand lanes rather than, say, put in place congestion fees — even though research has found that widening highways doesn’t do much to alleviate traffic jams.
And there’s a solid economic case for making repairs a priority. As Kahn and Levinson note (see the graph on the right), road pavement tends to deteriorate slowly at first but then accelerate over time. It’s much, much cheaper to repair a road early on, when it’s still in “fair” condition, than when it drops down to “serious” condition. They also cite research by John Fernald showing that, although the initial productivity gains from the Interstate Highway System was high, subsequent expansions have offered a much smaller boost. And that’s to say nothing of data suggesting that poor road conditions are a “significant factor” in one-third of all fatal crashes, and cause extra wear-and-tear on cars."
Bloomberg View: Bolivia’s Amazon Highway a Bumpy Road for Morales, Brazil: "Morales was elected twice as a champion of his fellow indigenous people. He’s been a paladin for Mother Earth, recently pushing for international adoption of a Bolivian law granting nature rights, to be protected like those of human beings. Yet, in insisting on cutting a Brazilian-financed highway through the delicate Amazon forest, bifurcating the autonomous homelands of three indigenous groups, Morales has trampled on both causes. This duplicity caught up with him last month after police roughed up indigenous protesters marching from their homes toward the capital, La Paz. After several senior officials quit in disgust, Morales announced suspension of the highway segment that runs through the peoples’ homeland, pending a national debate."
Reuters: Chinese girl dies in hit-and-run that sparked outrage: "BEIJING - A two-year-old Chinese girl run over by two different vehicles and ignored by passersby died on Friday, state media said, in a case which ignited public uproar over what some called a moral numbness seeping through society. Both drivers who ran over the girl have been arrested, but Internet users have flooded microblogs decrying the apathy of the people who left her for dead, after graphic footage from a security camera of the incident went viral."
Baseline Scenario: More Bathtubs : "Difficulty understanding stocks and flows may be a fundamental cognitive error such as anchoring or availability bias. In one experiment by Matthew Cronin, Cleotilde Gonzalez, and John Sterman, more than half of a group of students at MIT Sloan—one of the top business schools in the country—could not figure out, from a chart of entrances to and exits from a department store, when the most and fewest people were in the store. These errors turn out to be robust to different framing stories, different ways of presenting the data, and even when getting the questions wrong meant you had to stay in the room for an hour.
The underlying issue seems what they call the correlation heuristic: people think that the behavior of a stock (the amount of water in the tub) should be similar to the behavior of its inputs (the rate at which water pours from the faucet). This is especially a problem when it comes to understanding climate change. In another experiment, most people thought that stabilizing emissions was sufficient to stabilize the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; if you think about it, though, you should realize that if you want the level to be stable, inflows have to equal outflows (and right now inflows are about double outflows)."
Bloomberg NJ Transit Starts Tap-And-Pay Smartphone Option With Google : "The public-transit system is the first to partner with the company on its Google Wallet “tap-and-pay” system, which gives businesses access to credit-card information when a customer waves their phone over a sensor to make a purchase. … “Transit is the fastest way to accelerate adoption and reach usage density in major urban centers by habituating the behavior of tapping and paying with phones,” Stephanie Tilenius, vice president of commerce at Mountain View, California-based Google, said in the statement. … The service is only available on Sprint Nextel Corp. (S)’s Android-based Nexus S 4G phone and users must charge items to Citigroup Inc. (C) MasterCard credit cards. Google said it’s expanding to other Android phones and is teaming up with Visa Inc. (V), Discover Financial Services (DFS) and American Express Co. to expand to other cards." [At least transit is fastest for something]
David King passes this on from New Scientist (behind a paywall), suggesting more positive (negative?) externalities of building height restrictions. If you live in taller buildings you are shaving nanoseconds off your life. About time: Does it really fly when you're having fun? : "
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
A year atop Australia's tallest apartment block will make you 950 nanoseconds older than a bungalow-dweller"
Awad Mustafa and Caline Malek in The National: BlackBerry cuts made roads safer, police say: "Oct 15, 2011 ABU DHABI // A dramatic fall in traffic accidents this week has been directly linked to the three-day disruption in BlackBerry services. In Dubai, traffic accidents fell 20 per cent from average rates on the days BlackBerry users were unable to use its messaging service. In Abu Dhabi, the number of accidents this week fell 40 per cent and there were no fatal accidents. On average there is a traffic accident every three minutes in Dubai, while in Abu Dhabi there is a fatal accident every two days."
Robo-boats from UMNewsUniversity of Minnesota robots to join search for invasive species : : "MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (10/17/2011) —Computer scientists and biologists from the University of Minnesota and two other universities are teaming up with robots to tackle a major invader of rivers, wetlands and lakes across the United States—the common carp. Researchers from the University of Minnesota, Johns Hopkins University and Central State University in Ohio have been awarded $2.2 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop robotic boats and train them to locate and follow radio-tagged carp as part of a new approach to controlling populations of the nonnative fish."
Stephen Ebert @ Humans Invent "Underground living: The death of the skyscraper "It could be time to say sayonara to the skyscraper and hello to underground living. If Mexican architects have their way we’ll all be living in Earthscrapers over 30 stories below ground. Forget loft living, the next trend might be subterranean suburbia. For a glimpse into the blueprint of future city-dwelling, look no further than Mexico City. Rather than ask “who can go highest?” BNKR Arquitectura’s highly ambitious Earthscraper project is instead asking “how low can you go?” Burrowing down 35 stories beneath the heart of Mexico City, the Earthscraper defies everything the skyscraper stands for. It’s an ambitious rebuttal to architectural obsession with high-rise, so-called space efficient living."[As someone who works in an award-winning 7 story underground building, (on the first floor, with windows, thank you), this is a bad idea. Our sixth floor was recently put out of commission for an economically-infeasible to solve water and mold issue. Oddly the seventh floor is still functional, at this time. Water tables remain an issue. Mexico City also has seismic issues.]
I will be at BitCity 2011 in New York, November 4th.
David King is one of the organizers, and discusses it here:
Every time a pedestrian runs across the street in face of oncoming traffic, conditions worsen for the rest of us. You empower the driver, you make them believe they have the right-of-way and need not decelerate in the presence of a pedestrian. Walk don't run. Make the unhappy driver slow for you. This is the only way to reclaim the street.
I saw this again yesterday, at a cross-walk (the troublesome, and poorly designed, cross-walk unmarked, reconfigured East-River Road and Fulton St SE. Nice job traffic engineers, no marked crosswalk adjacent to campus, was the paint just too expensive, or is this the new policy?). The pedestrian, who looked to be in his early 60s, felt the need to run to avoid oncoming traffic that just got set loose at the East River Road/Harvard Intersection stop-sign at about 5 pm. Drivers (University employees most of them) seem to feel that once they clear Harvard, they have reached the Freeway. They have not. Someone should remind them of this. A few of those dorky stop for pedestrians in crosswalk signs, perhaps some stop for pedestrians in unmarked crosswalk signs would be nice as well.
The laws vary by state, but even crossing not at a crosswalk is generally legal so long as you are not creating a hazard.
B: BC News - Car-free Sunday for smog-struck Milan: "The northern Italian city of Milan banned all traffic from its streets for 10 hours on Sunday in an attempt to reduce smog.
The measure, first imposed on a trial basis in 2007, is triggered whenever pollution exceeds the statutory limit for 12 consecutive days."
Green Car Congress: GMs Taub: self-driving vehicles could be ready by end of decade: "Vehicles that partially drive themselves will be available by the middle of the decade with more sophisticated self-driving systems by the end of the decade, General Motors Vice President of Global Research and Development Alan Taub told the Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress in Orlando on Sunday. These advances in autonomous vehicle technology are built on leading-edge advanced active safety systems, Taub said."
The newly formed World Society for Transport and Land Use Research (WSTLUR) recently held its inaugural election for Board. The following were elected to the Board. Congratulations to all, and thanks to our well over 100 members and 25 candidates, and to Kevin Krizek for organizing the elections.
I have a couple of chapters (mine are under a Creative Commons license!) in the Recently published: Button, Kenneth, Henry Vega, Peter Nijkamp (2011) A Dictionary Of Transport Analysis Edward Elgar Publishing:
"This concise and clearly focused Dictionary, with contributions by the leading authorities in their fields, brings order and clarity to a topic that can suffer from confusion over terminology and concepts.
It provides a bridge between the academic disciplines involved and illustrates the application of transportation policy that crosses a variety of administrative divisions. Cutting through jargon, the entries concentrate on the social science aspects of transportation analysis, defining many of the terms used in transportation, and providing valuable information on some of the major institutions and technologies affecting this sector
This concise and comprehensive Dictionary will be an invaluable addition to libraries and research institutes and a helpful resource for anyone with an interest in the analysis of transport."
When you visit a small town, your hosts often meet you at the airport (or train station). When you go to a big city, they don't. Clearly this depends on your relative importance (The President will be greeted in every city), and whether you have hosts expecting you, and whether you are a regular/irregular visitor.
But for a random person, how big need a city be such that your hosts don't meet you at the airport?
Bret Victor of the Kill Math project has Up and Down the Ladder of Abstraction which uses a very simple driving simulator as an illustration. Everyone doing simulation or in transportation engineering education should read this.
How can we design systems when we don't know what we're doing?
The most exciting engineering challenges lie on the boundary of theory and the unknown. Not so unknown that they're hopeless, but not enough theory to predict the results of our decisions. Systems at this boundary often rely on emergent behavior — high-level effects that arise indirectly from low-level interactions.
When designing at this boundary, the challenge lies not in constructing the system, but in understanding it. In the absence of theory, we must develop an intuition to guide our decisions. The design process is thus one of exploration and discovery.
How do we explore? If you move to a new city, you might learn the territory by walking around. Or you might peruse a map. But far more effective than either is both together — a street-level experience with higher-level guidance.
Likewise, the most powerful way to gain insight into a system is by moving between levels of abstraction. Many designers do this instinctively. But it's easy to get stuck on the ground, experiencing concrete systems with no higher-level view. It's also easy to get stuck in the clouds, working entirely with abstract equations or aggregate statistics.
This interactive essay presents the ladder of abstraction, a technique for thinking explicitly about these levels, so a designer can move among them consciously and confidently.
I believe that an essential skill of the modern system designer will be using the interactive medium to move fluidly around the ladder of abstraction.
Recently published: Carrion-Madera, Carlos, David Levinson, and Kathleen Harder (2011) Value of Travel-Time Reliability: Commuters' Route-Choice Behavior in the Twin Cities (OTREC-RR-11-21):
"Travel-time variability is a noteworthy factor in network performance. It measures the temporal uncertainty experienced by users in their movement between any two nodes in a network. The importance of the time variance depends on the penalties incurred by the users. In road networks, travelers consider the existence of this journey uncertainty in their selection of routes. This choice process takes into account travel-time variability and other characteristics of the travelers and the road network. In this complex behavioral response, a feasible decision is spawned based on not only the amalgamation of attributes, but also on the experience travelers incurred from previous situations. Over the past several years, the analysis of these behavioral responses (travelers’ route choices) to fluctuations in travel-time variability has become a central topic in transportation research. These have generally been based on theoretical approaches built upon Wardropian equilibrium, or empirical formulations using Random Utility Theory. This report focuses on the travel behavior of commuters using Interstate 394 (I-394) and the swapping (bridge) choice behavior of commuters crossing the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. The inferences of this report are based on collected Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking data and accompanying surveys. Furthermore, it also employs two distinct approaches (estimation of Value of Reliability [VOR] and econometric modeling with travelers’ intrapersonal data) in order to analyze the behavioral responses of two distinct sets of subjects in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul (Twin Cities) area."
Neal Stephenson on Innovation Starvation :
"... Little has been heard in that vein since. We’ve been talking about wind farms, tidal power, and solar power for decades. Some progress has been made in those areas, but energy is still all about oil. In my city, Seattle, a 35-year-old plan to run a light rail line across Lake Washington is now being blocked by a citizen initiative. Thwarted or endlessly delayed in its efforts to build things, the city plods ahead with a project to paint bicycle lanes on the pavement of thoroughfares.
Today’s belief in ineluctable certainty is the true innovation-killer of our age. In this environment, the best an audacious manager can do is to develop small improvements to existing systems—climbing the hill, as it were, toward a local maximum, trimming fat, eking out the occasional tiny innovation—like city planners painting bicycle lanes on the streets as a gesture toward solving our energy problems. Any strategy that involves crossing a valley—accepting short-term losses to reach a higher hill in the distance—will soon be brought to a halt by the demands of a system that celebrates short-term gains and tolerates stagnation, but condemns anything else as failure. In short, a world where big stuff can never get done. ..."
Prelinger Archive (via The Atlantic) How Traffic Lights Work (1937)
Ars Technica: Cutting the cord: how the world's engineers built Wi-Fi [If the network signal does not get through due to congestion, just repeat]
GigaOM: A cheatsheet of peer-to-peer car sharing players : ""
A hypothesis about the recent rise of Herman Cain in the polls. The polled public (who is unlikely to pay serious attention to a robo-call pollster) is confusing him with John McCain, who they personally like. It is doubtful 19% of the public has heard of him, much less supports him. 9/9/9 is sort of elegant though, in a 'capture the same amount of revenue while increasing collection costs to mask the real rates' way.
And has anyone really had a Godfather's Pizza. Unimpressive.
A few weeks ago I discussed when we should leave for the stars. Some recent discussion on related topics (are speeds of travel continuing to increase?):
Kevin Kelly at The Technium: Plateau of Progress: "This slide from a presentation by George Whitesides the CEO of Virgin Galactic, plots the log of the top speed of human vehicle by year. For the past couple of centuries, the top speed was increasing steadily, at a Kurzweilian rate. But in the last few decades, the top speed of a human vehicle (a space probe traveling at 14,000 miles per hour) has plateaued. But, notes Whitesides, if we could resume ten fold increases in speed (like we have in computers!) we could reach the speed of light by 2060 (the vertical red line on the right). That would make interstellar travel feasible (and Virgin Galactic very happy!)"
Reihan Salam writes about Peter Theil and the end of the future: "In his National Review article, Thiel takes this “end of the future” in a number of interesting directions. Early on, he discusses the slowdown in energy innovation":
When tracked against the admittedly lofty hopes of the 1950s and 1960s, technological progress has fallen short in many domains. Consider the most literal instance of non-acceleration: We are no longer moving faster. The centuries-long acceleration of travel speeds — from ever-faster sailing ships in the 16th through 18th centuries, to the advent of ever-faster railroads in the 19th century, and ever-faster cars and airplanes in the 20th century — reversed with the decommissioning of the Concorde in 2003, to say nothing of the nightmarish delays caused by strikingly low-tech post-9/11 airport-security systems. Today’s advocates of space jets, lunar vacations, and the manned exploration of the solar system appear to hail from another planet. A faded 1964 Popular Science cover story — “Who’ll Fly You at 2,000 m.p.h.?” — barely recalls the dreams of a bygone age.
The official explanation for the slowdown in travel centers on the high cost of fuel, which points to the much larger failure in energy innovation. Real oil prices today exceed those of the Carter catastrophe of 1979–80. Nixon’s 1974 call for full energy independence by 1980 has given way to Obama’s 2011 call for one-third oil independence by 2020. Even before Fukushima, the nuclear industry and its 1954 promise of “electrical energy too cheap to meter” had long since been defeated by environmentalism and nuclear-proliferation concerns. One cannot in good conscience encourage an undergraduate in 2011 to study nuclear engineering as a career. “Clean tech” has become a euphemism for “energy too expensive to afford,” and in Silicon Valley it has also become an increasingly toxic term for near-certain ways to lose money. Without dramatic breakthroughs, the alternative to more-expensive oil may turn out to be not cleaner and much-more-expensive wind, algae, or solar, but rather less-expensive and dirtier coal.
Warren Buffett massively capitalized on both of these trends with his $44 billion investment, most made in late 2009, in BNSF Railway — making it the largest non-financial company in the Berkshire Hathaway portfolio. Understandably, the Oracle of Omaha proclaimed “an all-in wager on the economic future of the United States” and downplayed any doubts he might have harbored. For present purposes, it suffices to note that 40 percent of railroad freight involves the transport of coal, and that railroads will do especially well if the travel and energy consumption patterns of the 21st century involve a regression to the past.
In the past decade, the unresolved energy challenges of the 1970s have broadened into a more general commodity shock, which has been greater in magnitude than the price spikes of the two world wars and has undone the price improvements of the previous century. In the case of agriculture, at least, technological famine may lead to real old-fashioned famine. The fading of the true Green Revolution — which increased grain yields by 126 percent from 1950 to 1980, but has improved them by only 47 percent in the years since, barely keeping pace with global population growth — has encouraged another, more highly publicized “green revolution” of a more political and less certain character. We may embellish the 2011 Arab Spring as the hopeful by-product of the information age, but we should not downplay the primary role of runaway food prices and of the many desperate people who became more hungry than scared. [Emphasis added]
I, Cringely The Final Frontier :
"For all but the last century man has functioned strictly in two dimensions, traveling the earth and seas but only marveling at the air. Invention of the airplane changed that a little, yet today less than a quarter of a percent of Americans know how to fly. What if we all could fly? A decade from now we just might.
Technology exists today for people to fly by themselves, quickly, quietly, with little or no pollution, from anywhere to anywhere in any weather, asleep or awake, because the real pilot is a computer. A decade from now, thanks to Mooreʼs Law, this technology will be the price of a car.
What would the world be like if you did not need a road or even a driveway? How would demographics change? Would our crumbling infrastructure still need repair?
Meet George Jetson. He has an electric aerial vehicle that takes him where he needs to go. But he does not fly it; the vehicle flies itself, knowing to the centimeter where it is anywhere on earth, lighting like a dandelion fluff with thirty thousand other such fluffs over a major city, each going its own way yet aware of all the others. This is where transportation is headed."
I am in DC and have walked around again. The density feels right for a city, much like Tokyo, London and Paris (all notable for a lack of overly tall buildings). In DC, the buildings are not too tall and canyon like, and there are few vacant lots in the core.
What do height limits do? The restrict buildings over X stories. Thus more buildings less than or equal to X stories are built over a greater footprint if demand is fixed. In other words height limits reallocates development. The consequence is that a larger area is urbanized at a higher density (at or near X stories). In DC, there is a much larger urban sphere than, say, height-limit-less Minneapolis, where high-rises in downtown are surrounded by many low-rise and surface parking lots.
Instead of having 10 blocks of 50 story buildings, DC has 50 blocks of 10 story buildings. Is this a really worrisome outcome?
This additional urbanized space is a positive externality in a number of ways. Better urban form (more sidewalks are walkable), less congestion (traffic is spread out over more space), less pollution intake ("the solution to pollution is dilution", the bad stuff is spread over more area), less crime (more eyes near street level), more serendipitous random meetings on the street (which supposedly create greater productivity) and so on.
At one limit, we could have a height limit of 1 story, and spread everything out, at the other, we could have no limit, and buildings would be as concentrated as the market and structural engineering could support. Clearly the first is extreme, but so is the second, so long as we have unpriced externalities. We live in an imperfect (second-best) world with many unpriced externalities (congestion and pollution among them), which have no clear property rights. Regulating heights is one of many second-best solutions to this problem.
Do the height limits imply more suburban development? Sure, someone who really really wants a high rise for some reason will have to locate in the suburbs.
I can't think of a good reason except ego for needing a high rise, while I see many inefficiencies associated with tall buildings: greater distance to the ground floor and thus to people in other buildings (in the absence of skyways on the 50th floor), limited interactions on the upper stories, so much floor space devoted to elevators, higher building costs, etc.)
Otherwise suburban development is not for lack of space in DC, but rather due to a preference for the suburbs. Cities without height limits get their share of suburban development for all the usual reasons (lower land costs, easier access for workers, etc.) when day-to-day inter-firm accessibility is not particularly valuable in their sector, and intra-firm accessibility still matters.
Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns: TEDx: The important difference between a road and a street : ""
I was in DC on today for a workshop on equity and road pricing.
I am giving my talk on Transport, Land Use, and Value this Friday, 9:30 am at USDOT: 1200 New Jersey Ave SE room W83-302. Since this is DC, this is a secure building, they will not appreciate public walk-ins, but if you are at USDOT, this is probably doable.
We need more of this type of advocacy:
Eric Jaffe at Atlantic Cities writes: Should the Public Pay for Unprofitable Transit Routes? - Commute (responding to my previous posts).
I am not sure he frames the argument right. In my view is as much about separating the transit agency from the welfare function as about whether unprofitable routes should be dropped. That is, transit agencies don't do well as dual purpose agencies. Organizations, like products perform better with clear missions (Shimmer is a floor wax and a dessert topping) .
It would be much cleaner to give them a single mission: provide these routes and make money/break even. They would make money from customers on profitable routes, and from society at large on welfare routes that society explicitly chooses to subsidize despite their inability to make money. The operating agency should not be making welfare decisions, that is better done through an explicit public policy process.
Some worry about the explicitness, feeling (and I am not disputing) that if the money-losing routes could not be hidden, they are more likely to be cut.
Jaffe notes the public good argument. But 'public goods' are both non-rivalrous and non-excludable. Clearly transit is excludable, you pay a fare to use it. If it is congested, it is also rivalrous. Thus transit is actually a fairly clean form of 'private good' in the economic sense. There is obviously a social service aspect to this, I am suggesting to separate that out.
Jaffe also notes that streets, roads, and highways are subsidized. I don't disagree there is some amount of cross-subsidy in the system (urban interstate travel subsidizes rural roads), but the user fee (i.e. the gas tax now, or even more precisely in the future, a mileage fee) pays for major roads, and could easily be extended to pay for all roads collectively (some might still not generate enough revenue (i.e. VMT) to be worth supporting). This involves raising the gas tax, which is somehow politically difficult in the US (although would be less so if coupled with a decline in the property tax and other taxes that also pay for roads). However were it raised, there would be sufficient funds to pay for the system collectively. That said, roads have benefits beyond auto drivers, everyone uses roads, including transit users, so it is specious to make this comparison. Property taxes are a second best solution, but is loosely associated with non-user benefits of road use given the user fees are too low on local streets.
I suspect no transit fare increase would be enough to pay for the entire fixed route transit system as we know it in the US, i.e. the demand would diminish sufficiently so as to keep the maximum revenue collected below what is necessary for the full transit system. This is why I suggest separating it out. There is a profitable core. We should try to figure out what it is.
AFP at Google News London on war footing for Olympic transport battle "The eye-watering size of the transport budget for the Olympics speaks volumes about the size of the task -- it is £6.5 billion (7.5 billion euros, $10 billion), compared with a budget for the Games of around £9.3 billion, not including transport."
Kurzweil: Nissan teams up with EPFL for BMI-assisted driving "The car of tomorrow will scan your thought patterns and predict your next, says Nissan, which is collaborating with the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland (EPFL). Brain machine interface (BMI) systems developed by scientists at EPFL already allow disabled users to maneuver their wheelchairs by thought alone. “The idea is to blend driver and vehicle intelligence together in such a way that eliminates conflicts between them, leading to a safer motoring environment,” said Professor José del R. Millán, project leader."
CNET: Ig Nobels honor study of horny beetles, why we sigh "And of course there are the tongue-in-cheek awards, including the public safety prize for experiments in which someone tries to drive on a highway with the sun visor flapping down over his face, blinding him. The mayor of Vilnius, Lithuania, Arturas Zuokas, got the peace prize for "demonstrating that the problem of illegally parked luxury cars can be solved by running them over with an armored truck," according to the Ig Nobel statement." hat tip: David A. King's blog
Bloomberg via Strib: As cancellations take off, fliers have fewer options : "United Continental Holdings, Delta Air Lines and other large carriers have scrubbed nearly 104,000 flights this year through Sept. 21, or 2.36 percent of the scheduled total. A full-year rate at that level would be the highest since 2001, according to the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics."
Brad Cooper at the Kansas City Star reports on their Transportation Utility Fee: Mission exempts churches from 'driveway tax' :
Mission is giving in a little on an innovative, but heavily criticized way to fund road work.
The city this week agreed to exempt churches and some non-profit groups from a transportation fee that was intended to collect money for roads based on properties that generate the most traffic.
Touted as an alternative way to pay for roads short of raising property taxes, the fee set off a firestorm of complaints last year from critics who labeled it a "driveway tax."
It prompted two churches -- First Baptist Church of Mission and St. Pius X Catholic Church in Mission - to bring a lawsuit to halt the fee. The churches were represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona legal organization that advocates for religious freedom.
The churches accused the city of violating state law by imposing a tax dressed up as a fee. Their lawyer equated the fee to taxing churchgoers.
City Administrator Mike Scanlon said today that the council agreed to exempt the churches if the Alliance Defense Fund dropped the lawsuit. The ordinance approved by the City Council takes effect Oct. 11. Scanlon declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Last year, Mission became the first city in Kansas -- and possibly in the Midwest -- to impose what is called a transportation utility fee on property owners to help pay for roads.
The fee is based on how much traffic each property produces. It shifts the burden for financing roadwork away from single-family homes that may not generate a lot of traffic, to properties such as box stores and government offices, which generate more traffic.
Homeowners will pay $72 a year in fees while the local Target store will pay about $46,000. According to the suit, First Baptist has been assessed $970.77 and St. Pius $1,685.19.
The fee generates about $830,000 a year. The decision to exempt the churches and some non-profits such as charities will cost the city about $70,000, Scanlon said today. Other non-profits, like government buildings, would still have to pay the fee.
The fee is intended to help the city bankroll a 10-year, $30 million plan for improving city roads. The city also plans to ask voters this fall to extend a quarter cent sales tax to contribute to the road plan.
The transportation fee coupled with the sales tax could bring the city about $15 million. Mission will count on other sources, like the state and federal governments, to help pay for the rest of the road plan,"
See our paper: Junge, Jason and David Levinson (2010) Economic and equity effects of transportation utility fees. Presented at 89th Transportation Research Board Conference, January 2010, Washington , DC. Journal of Transport and Land Use (in press).
Disclosure: I did a very very small amount of consulting for Mission KS appearing via Skype at a workshop on this fee about a year ago.