February 12, 2010

A New Traffic Sign: "Take Turns"

From the Good Blog: A New Traffic Sign: "Take Turns"

We need a sign for zipper merges (pdf). (There is a bunch proposed here, but it does not seem so obvious)

January 23, 2010

Dynamist Blog: H.G. Wells Pans Metropolis

From Virginia Postrel, H.G. Wells Pans Metropolis.

Wells got urban centrifugal and centripetal forces quite well.

December 16, 2009

U.S. System for Tracking Traffic Flow Is Faulted

A link from AD in the NYT: U.S. System for Tracking Traffic Flow Is Faulted. I am not familiar with the system, but obviously publicly paid for data should be free to the public. I suspect this is a problem of either bureaucratic incompetence or crony capitalism in the previous administration. The technology (at least the travel time parts) will soon be obviated by crowd-sourced travel time information from GPS equipped cell phones, assuming someone can get critical mass on the number of "probe" vehicles.


December 12, 2009

Waze: Crowd-sourced real-time (lagged) traffic information

Waze is a mobile smart-phone application that lets you see real-time traffic information from other Waze users, and share it. Basically, it uses your smart-phone as a probe. It also lets you update the network (of course if the network is still incomplete, real-time traffic data is almost assuredly sparse). This really depends on critical mass, as I described in this paper:

And lagged information may in some instances be worse than no (or historical average) information.

December 5, 2009

Eko stoplight by Damjan Stanković

From a link on the messageboard of Ken Jennings' blog (from a debate about photocop): Eko stoplight by Damjan Stanković A red light with an implicit progress bar, just like on computers, so you know how long you have to wait. (one images similar for yellow and green lights). This might max dynamic/adaptive signal timings more difficult, but it could reduce driver frustration.

September 26, 2009

Honda's U3-X Personal Mobility Device is the Segway of unicycles

From Engadget (h/t Kurzweil): Honda's U3-X Personal Mobility Device is the Segway of unicycles

September 18, 2009

Mayor orders Thames back on map

From BBC Mayor orders Thames back on map

The most recent TfL Tube map had deleted the Thames to simplify presentation.

August 28, 2009

Determinants of Route Choice and the Value of Traveler Information: A Field Experiment.

Recently published:

Zhang, Lei and David Levinson (2008) Determinants of Route Choice and the Value of Traveler Information: A Field Experiment. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board 2086:81-92 [doi]

A major strategy of federal ITS initiatives and state departments of transportation is to provide traveler information to motorists through various means, including variable message signs, the internet, telephone services like 511, in-vehicle guidance systems, and TV and radio reports. This is relatively uncontroversial, but its effectiveness is unknown. Drivers receive value from traveler information in several ways, including the ability to save time, but perhaps more importantly, other personal, social, safety, or psychological impacts from certainty. This information can be economically valued. The benefits of reduction in driver uncertainty when information is provided at the beginning of the trip by various means is the main variable we aim to measure in this research, in which we assess user preferences for routes as a function of the presence and accuracy of information, while controlling for other trip and route attributes, such as trip purpose, travel time, distance, number of stops, delay, esthetics, level of commercial development, and individual characteristics. Data is collected in a field experiment in which more than 100 drivers, given real-time travel time information with varying degrees of accuracy, drove four of five alternative routes between a pre-selected OD pair in the Twin Cities metro area. Ordinary regression, multinomial, and rank-ordered logit models produce estimates of the value of information with some variation. In general, results show that travelers are willing to pay up to $1 per trip for pre-trip travel time information. The value of information is higher for commute and event trips and when congestion on the usual route is heavier. The accuracy of the traveler information is also a crucial factor. In fact, there do not seem be incentives for travelers to use traveler information at all unless they perceive it to be accurate. Finally, most travelers (70%) prefer that such information should be provided for free by the public sector, while some (19%) believe that it is better for the private sector to provide such service at a charge. Over 35% of subjects are willing to pay for OD-customized pre-trip travel time information.

Keywords: Value of Information, Advanced Traveler Information System (ATIS), Real-Time Traffic Operations, Travel Behavior, Spatial behavior, Wayfinding Behavior, Route Choice.

August 27, 2009

Legibility vs. efficiency

Michael Lewyn on < a href="">Legibility vs. efficiency

A nice piece on something I have been arguing for a few years.

One reason why buses are less popular than trains is buses' lack of "legibility": the ability of an occasional passenger to figure out how to get somewhere by bus.

(For example, the bus stopped running to my workplace because speed bumps slowed the commute by a few minutes).

A few minutes? That's a lot of speed bumps. More importantly, why are speed bumps being used on roads served by buses?

*Of course, this problem could be alleviated by placing bus schedules at bus stops, as is frequently done in Toronto and New York City. But I realize that weaker bus systems such as Jacksonville's may lack the resources for such visionary steps.

Sarcasm appreciated.

London Bus iPhone and iPod Touch Application

I wish I had this when living in London: London Bus iPhone and iPod Touch Application London Transport with augmented reality.

August 26, 2009

Google LatLong: Arterial traffic available on Google Maps

Arterial traffic available on Google Maps for selected cities (including Minneapolis).

It seems they are doing it from Google Maps for Mobile, and getting automatic feedback of location from GPS-enabled online users (and thereby deriving speed). Clearly this is a good thing for traffic data nerds, and critical mass for arterial travel times is a good thing, even if Google winds up being the dominant provider.

August 21, 2009

Input Taxes, Output Taxes and Electric Vehicles.

From ArsTechnica Ford's plug-in hybrids will talk to electrical grid This is for charging the cars at the best time of day (night), but in theory could be extended to a means for charging cars for electricity different than regular electricity, in other words, a mechanism for replacing the gas tax with a different energy input tax.

Fuel (or electricity) taxes are input taxes. Theory suggests it would be better to tax outputs (actual miles traveled, by time of day and location). This would send a more direct signal to consumers about the costs they impose on the system and others. The difficulty is that this may be a much more difficult enterprise from a variety of points-of-view (collection costs, political acceptability, and even technology (GPS shadows etc.). As a second-best, input taxes are not too bad, it is better than a tax totally unrelated to usage, and the 20-30% reduction in collection costs may well make up for any inefficiencies.

Evolution of the Second-Story City: The Minneapolis Skyway System.

The following was recently published:

Corbett, Michael, Feng Xie, and David Levinson (2009) Evolution of the Second-Story City: The Minneapolis Skyway System. Environment
and Planning b
36(4) 711-724 [doi]

This paper describes and explains the growth of the Minneapolis Skyway network. Accessibility is used as a major factor in understanding that growth (i.e. does the network connect to the location(s) with the highest accessibility, followed by the second highest, and so on). First, employment opportunities are used as the measure of activity and are based off of the square footage of buildings and/or ITE trip generation rates. Using information about the buildings located downtown for each year since the first skyway was built, the accessibilities of each of the connected and adjacent unconnected blocks were calculated for every time period the skyway system expanded. The purpose is to determine how often the expansion connected the block with the highest accessibility. The results show that though important, accessibility was rarely maximized, except in the early stages of development. A connect-choice logit model relating the probability of joining the network (in a given year) to accessibility and network size was employed. The results show accessibility does remain an important factor in predicting which links are connected. Physical difficulties in making connections may have played a role, as well as the potential for adverse economic impacts.

Keywords: Network growth, Skyways, Minneapolis

NY Transportation Authority Cites Schedules as Copyrighted Material

From ReadWriteWeb NY Transportation Authority Cites Schedules as Copyrighted Material

The NY MTA is trying to take-down an iPhone application that delivers train schedules. Another example of appalling over-reach on copyright. Presumably they will lose if this goes to court, buy why do they even bother?

All transit schedules (and traffic counts, and traffic signal timings, and any other transportation data you can imagine) should be free, open, and in a standard, documented, machine-readable format.

July 21, 2009

Driven to Distraction - In 2003, U.S. Withheld Data Showing Cellphone Driving Risks - Series -

NY Times: In 2003, U.S. Withheld Data Showing Cellphone Driving Risks

In 2003, researchers at a federal agency proposed a long-term study of 10,000 drivers to assess the safety risk posed by cellphone use behind the wheel. They sought the study based on evidence that such multitasking was a serious and growing threat on America's roadways.

This makes no sense, withholding data that supported an already well-known (and one might add, fairly obvious) finding. This is evidenced by the literature reviewed in the first few pages of the Official Documents

The former head of the highway safety agency said he was urged to withhold the research to avoid antagonizing members of Congress who had warned the agency to stick to its mission of gathering safety data but not to lobby states.

Urged by whom? Since when did publishing a report constitute lobbying?

All the more reason the Executive Branch should not conduct science, which should be left to independent organizations (like universities).

July 14, 2009

Dumb search engines, Dumb roads, Simple cars

From the blog Unqualified Reservations (via Daring Fireball) Wolfram Alpha and hubristic user interfaces

"... control interfaces must not be intelligent. Briefly, intelligent user interfaces should be limited to applications in which the user does not expect to control the behavior of the product. If the product is used as a tool, its interface should be as unintelligent as possible. Stupid is predictable; predictable is learnable; learnable is usable."

This applies as much to search engines as it does to transportation. Are you listening designers of ITS applications?

July 10, 2009

Nearest Tube

This looks like the coolest iPhone app yet: Nearest Tube, an augmented reality application to find London Underground stations. by acrossair. I have not yet played with it.

Update: from Venture BeatAugmented reality subway app comes to NY, SF

July 7, 2009

Low Quality vs. High Quality Transit Services

Imagine there are two transit services in an area, a low quality system (L) that is pervasive (everyone is within 400 m of a low quality stop) and a high quality system (H) that is skeletal (only a small fraction are within 400 m of a high quality stop).

Imagine there are two classes of potential users, poor people (P) who will use either system, and rich people (R) who will use only the H routes.

Poor people perceive the system as larger (both L and H) and get more network externalities from the system. They can go anywhere in town on transit. Rich people see a small system, and perceive few network externalities. They can only go places on the H system.

As a consequence, poor people are more likely to use the system than rich people.

There are several solutions to this problem. The expensive solution is to build high quality services everywhere to attract the fraction of R that would not otherwise take transit. The less expensive solution is to change the perception (and reality) of the low quality system so it appears higher quality. Give it as many of the same features of H as possible, starting with information (e.g. what bus stops at the bus stop, when does it stop, what hours does it operate, where does it go, what does the local neighborhood look like, is the bus ontime, how much does it cost) and navigability.

Why do we never consider the less expensive solution?

July 6, 2009

Monorail Crash Kills Driver Stuns Passengers At Disney World - MiceChat

More on the monorail crash and how it might have happened, (Via Daring Fireball) from some postings on Micechat It is possibly a user interface problem, possibly a central control problem ...

July 5, 2009

Airport sign cost jumps past $2 million

From Strib: Airport sign cost jumps past $2 million. Probably should make clear that it is more than one sign, not clear from the article how many though.

Faced with complaints that an estimated 20,000 people show up at the wrong terminal each year, MAC has been considering proposals to change the terminal names on the signs and list the airlines that fly out of each terminal.

20,000 out of some 35,000,000 is about 1 out of 1750. If the 20,000 number is remotely correct, this does not seem to be much of a problem, as a commenter notes "you can't cure stupid". I suspect each of us goes to the wrong place more frequently than 1 out of every 1750 trips (or say once every two years). Another way of thinking about it is 1 passenger on every 10 flights showed up at the wrong terminal (and even that is rectifiable by taking the LRT between terminals if they got there early enough).

Of course signs are expensive, and it is important to convey information to travelers, but is there really a problem if only 20K out of 35M get lost?

July 1, 2009

Reflections on the Streetcar of Portland

Riding for a conference from the Portland airport to Portland State University on Light Rail Transit (LRT) and then streetcar gave me time to reflect on the Elysian Fields of transportation engineering, the Nirvana of networks and nexi.

Portland, Oregon is one of the major battlegrounds in the mode wars (car vs. transit and the internecine rail vs. bus). It has since the 1980s been held up by planners as the exemplar American city that does almost everything right. The foremost thing they do right in the view of the planning establishment is promoting LRT and bicycling.

The fascination with rail transit in particular (especially as compared with bus) was something I have never quite grokked. As a rational observer with formal training in transportation, I have had a hard time understanding the emotional relationship people have with rail. Why do people like LRT more than bus? Is it simply how we operate them, or that it is modern capital, or is there a psychological benefit associated with deterministic tracks vs. widely diverging roads? There are lots of theories on the matter, I will identify a few below.

1. Ride quality. The quality of the ride on an LRT is smoother and less herky-jerky than a bus, and passengers have a nicer facility.

2. Navigability. It is hard to navigate current US bus systems, while the fewer number of rail lines are fairly easy to figure out. Because trains cannot steer, they cannot get lost the way a bus can.

3. Speed. Trains are faster than local buses, especially if they have their own right of way and few stations.

4. Permanence. I can make a permanent investment decision based on the location of rail lines, as the transit system is committed to this line, while a bus line may be temporary.

5. Nostalgia. People who like LRT recall (or wish they could recall) the immediately post-World War II America when streetcars were at a maximum. 1946 was a magical period in US history, a boom following the long depression, when streetcar networks if not at a maximum were really close. (Coupled with a conspiracy theory about their removal)

6. Sexuality. This is part of the theory presented by Jonathan Richmond's in his book Transport of Delight and earlier paper The Mythical Conception of Rail Transit in Los Angeles. The image of the train entering the tunnel clearly evokes a primal response.

There are logical rejoinders for the first four (though not the nostalgia or sexuality argument I suppose), the most obvious is that if you spent the kind of money you are spending on rail on buses instead, and operated them better, buses would be quite nice. Navigability could be improved with a bit of thought (and trains can divert), while permanence of the last generation of streetcars (1887-1954) clearly was temporary.

The theory I have now adopted comes from my recent trip from Minneapolis to Portland accessing the airport at both ends via LRT, and then riding the Portland streetcar almost full circle. Rail transit forms an urban superstructure. Guideway transit, esp. LRT makes the city more like a single structure, and makes everything seem closer. The LRT vehicle is continuously running, and if activities are along the path of the vehicle, everything seems quite coordinated. In a way by organizing activities linearly (or multi-linearly), it simplifies the city. Hopping on a train is much like getting on an elevator.

LRT, like walking indoors, keeps you enveloped within civilization, while walking, biking, or driving is a frontier experience, you alone in the wilderness. (And bus falls in-between). We can posit that distances within buildings seem shorter than distances between buildings (Some literature along the notions of this idea exist, see Tversky, but it is not directly on point). Distances connected by the urban superstructure will likely feel closer than those which are not so connected. Walking through a modern airport, or the Minneapolis Skyway, will tell you enveloped distances can be quite large, but still not feel as large as leaving one building into nature for another.

Preferences for civilization or frontier-crossing (or degree of each) vary across individuals. Driving of course places you in a machine, but you, not civilization, are operating the machine, so just as driving is freedom, not everyone wants that freedom to drive, they may prefer freedom from driving. The extent to which you believe in the importance of community over individuals (or vice versa) will affect your perception of the issue.

( LRT may also be more popular than traditional underground subway (Metro) systems. People of course like being able to walk out the door and step onto a train more than having to descend through the gates of hell, Metro to get to the underground subterranean system. There are many reasons, not least of which is the extra time and energy required to so descend. The advantages in principle are faster point to point travel time, but that depends on the access cost vs. the in-motion speed. )

Transit invokes further passions because of the positive feedback loop between ridership, revenue, and route frequency, especially where transit is weak as in much of the US. My riding transit creates a positive externality for you (more riders, shorter headways, and more routes), so of course if you ride transit, you want to impose your preference on me. It is only selfishly rational. Further cars use scarce roadspace. While similar feedback loops may exist on the highway side (more drivers means more closely spaced roads), congestion mitigates that and the network is largely built out, so drivers do not feel the same need to impose their modal preference on the transit riding minority. Finally, drivers may benefit in the short term if other drivers take transit. (Where transit is already congested and frequent, additional riders produce few positive externalities as diminishing returns set in).

June 5, 2009

New bus stops for DC

Get There
- Metro Looking at Better Bus Stop Information

Dr. Gridlock links to WMATA's Bus Stop Customer Information Study. I am not sure I agree with their conclusions, I still prefer London's system, but this is an improvement on what has gone before.

Auto Blogging

From David Isenberg I'm posting this from my car!

There are now WiFi services you can install in your own car. (One could always (well for at least a year or two) blog via cell networks). Transit has had this for a while on trains and commuter buses.

Of course, remember, don't blog while driving.

May 10, 2009

The Psychology of Waiting Lines

The Psychology of Waiting Lines by User Interface expert Don Norman.

There are lots of lessons in here for transportation, for which queueing is central. Among them:

"One problem with multiple lines is that the other line always appears to be moving faster. This is true of cars in highway lanes and people in shopping market checkout lanes. Whatever lane you switch to, the other one moves faster. The perception occurs because the amount of time to process a person varies. Some people are processed quickly, others incredibly slowly. And no matter which line you are in, it always seems as if it is indeed the slowest. We note and remember when people in other lines start moving faster than the line we are in. We tend not to notice when our line moves quickly ahead of the others. It is this asymmetry that leads to the perception of unfair lines. "

April 25, 2009

Check your Weight while you Wait

From Snark Hunting: Check your Weight while you Wait

"In Amsterdam, a bus shelter ad for a fitness gym serves up your weight while you sit on the bench."

Maybe Timex can sponsor a bus schedule monitor.

February 16, 2009

Dubai Metro Lines and Stations Naming Rights Advertising Project

Dubai Metro Lines and Stations Naming Rights Advertising Project

I have not seen this elsewhere in transportation (though obviously with stadia, the University of Phoenix was brilliant in this regard, implying they are a real university whose stadium the Arizona Cardinal happen to play in). The Dubai Metro is an investment of 15.5 billion AED (=4.2 billion USD). Some stations are already taken.

I can just see budget strapped cities doing this. No more 3rd street and Washington Avenue, we can now have Denny Hecker 'Nobody Walks' Street at Washington Mutual Avenue. And when the Twin Cities marathon goes by, we can say there is a 'run on WaMu.', or maybe there will be a 3 vehicle crash on 'Denny Hecker'.

February 10, 2009

The Perils of High Definition Television

I recently saw this image on TV: HiDefLoDefHiDefLoDef.JPG

Note, it is a high definition segment (of Thomas and Friends), embedded on a low-definition program, broadcast on a high-definition digital television channel (Twin Cities Public Television, TPT-2), filtered through the low-definition analog channels of my cable-TV system (Comcast) onto a low-definition television (Sharp). The picture was taken with an iPhone.

This is progress. If there is a new generation of high definition television, will my programs, to retain backward compatibility, be even smaller, until eventually it is only a pixel on my screen?

February 6, 2009

Save our Starbucks

From the Pioneer Press: Customers plan 'Save our Starbucks' rally in Stillwater

The company released this statement this afternoon in response to a Pioneer Press inquiry about the rally:

"Our Stillwater location is scheduled to close. The lease was set to expire on this store at the end of February, and we decided not to renew it. We are humbled by the support we've received from our partners and customers regarding the closure of this store. We recognize the impact this has on the community, and we value the feedback that we have received from our customers."

That frappe has power. This vignette says something about the addictive qualities of caffeine, but more about what is important to some people of Stillwater.

Even in Stillwater, home of large homes, from the article: "The coffee shop has become a second home to a lot of people"; or as planners might say, a third place.

January 28, 2009

Unlucky Starbucks

Starbucks to Cut 6,700 Jobs After Earnings Fall 69%

By Courtney Dentch

Jan. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Starbucks Corp., the world’s largest chain of coffee shops, said it will cut 6,700 jobs and close 300 more stores after reporting first-quarter profit that fell more than analysts estimated.

The company plans to close 200 locations in the U.S. and 100 overseas, in addition to the 600 Starbucks said it would close last year. The workforce reduction will eliminate 6,000 cafe positions and 700 corporate jobs, the Seattle-based chain said today in a statement.


See previous

The Transportationist: There are too many Starbucks

November 30, 2008

The (Mostly) True Story of Helvetica and the New York City Subway

via Kottke, from AIGA Journal of Design: The (Mostly) True Story of Helvetica and the New York City Subway

If the system is complicated, its representation will be complicated.

November 1, 2008


From BBC: E-mail error ends up on road sign

"The English is clear enough to lorry drivers [No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only]- but the Welsh reads "I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated.""

October 23, 2008

Beck to the Future

Speaking of Beck and London Underground Maps, some alternative and future visions of the London Underground

1) An alternative representation of today by Alex Gollner

2) Anticipated 2010 network (via TfL)

3) TFL 2025 Indicative Map

Interestingly, none of these include the proposed Northern Line extension to Battersea Power Station, just showing how much more dynamic reality is then plans (with a possible opening date of the extension in 2015). (map photograph here via Annie Mole.

Beck is Back

The Confabulum Urban Rail + Graphic Design has a link to a nice BBC documentary on Harry Beck's map of the London Underground, which was an extremely important achievement in establishing how we communicate transit information and is now emblematic of London. If only buses could be expressed as clearly (though TfL is trying).


Cyclopath describes itself as a geowiki for Twin Cities cyclists. It allows maps to be annotated with useful bike related information.

Article here

October 22, 2008

The Culture of Queueing

From Ask MeFi: Standing In Line about the differences in queueing behaviors in different cultures.

August 23, 2008

Cloud Commuting

Once upon a time, people kept their life savings on their person or at their homes, stored in physical material like gold and jewelry and property. Then money was invented as a medium of exchange, and people stored a surrogate of their wealth. Then banking was invented, and people centralized their holdings in a bank, and were paid interest for the privilege. Why were they paid? Because the banks could reuse their money by lending it out, at an even greater rate of interest. Money is fungible. I do not lose anything by storing it at the bank (and allowing them to lend it) except the privacy of keeping secret how much money I have, and risk that the bank will be unable to pay me back. The first is resolved through regulations, and the use of multiple banks, the latter by insurance. In any case, it is much safer than storing the money in a mattress at home.

Once upon a time, people kept their life's information on their person or on computers at their home or work, stored in physical material like floppy disk drives, hard disk drives, solid state drives, CDs, DVDs, and USB chips. Then the internet was invented, and centralized servers were made inexpensively and redundantly, and people could store their information in the "cloud". In many cases the cloud is free, or charges only a small fee. In exchange, the recipients agree to allow their personal information to be used to generate customized advertising targeted at them personally. But imagine their were a way for the cloud to earn interest on information much the same way banks earn interest on money, by synthesizing it and "lending it out". Since information is not rivalrous, this may prove viable with sufficient artificial intelligence aimed at developing ontologies and computer intelligence. The risk is the loss of privacy. Alternatively the customer pays the cloud for storage and computation, retaining privacy, in exchange being relieved of duties of backup, which when neglected lead to all too much data loss.

Once upon a time people kept their personal transportation near their person, parking cars and bikes at their homes, workplaces, or other destinations. This was the only way to guarantee point to point transportation in a timely way where densities were low, incomes high, and taxis scarce. Then "cloud commuting" was invented, cars from a giant pool operated by organizations in the cloud would dispatch a vehicle that drives to the customer on demand and in short order, and then deliver the customer to the destination. The vehicle would have the customers preferences pre-loaded (seat position, computing ability, audio environment). The customer benefits of course by not tying up capital in vehicles, nor having to worry about maintaining or fueling vehicles. The fleet is used more efficiently, each vehicle would operate 2 times or 3 times or more miles per year than current vehicles, so the fleet would turnover faster and be more modern. Fewer vehicles overall would be needed. It is likely customers would need to pay for this service (either as a subscription or a per-use basis), there is no obvious analogue to financial interest payments (and while advertising might offset some costs, surely it would not cover them). However stores might subsidize transportation, as might employers, as benefits for the customers or staff.

The tension between centralization and decentralization has been continuous through the history of technology, each has its advantages and disadvantages (and strangely, each also has religious zealots convinced there is one true way). This is ultimately a question of costs and benefits, and who bears the costs and benefits.

I am skeptical that cloud commuting can be made to work quite yet, there are still a few more technologies to perfect. Having tested Zipcar, their system lacks in several ways, much the ways the first banks failed frequently. Zipcars are still not local enough, they charge too much for lateness, the technology is still imperfect. But imagine we have cars that drive themselves. (and to PRT-advocates, these will be cars driving on streets, there are not enough resources to build a new infrastructure network for specialized vehicles). Smart cars solve the localness problem, since the cars come to you. In a way it also solves the lateness problem, because there is no need to reserve a specific car for a specific window, any unused fleet car can be dispatched. There would need to load balancing features, and maybe coordinated carpooling at peak times. (It also saves on parking, especially parking in high value areas).

Related links:

* Technological change, part 2: Autonomous vehicles

* The Future of Cars

June 28, 2008

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."

June 19, 2008

Portion Size, Then and Now

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

May 4, 2008

Third space play spaces

A nice article on The decline of the American lawn by Tom Vanderbilt in Slate Magazine.

Growing up in Columbia, we had neighborhood tot lots, with communal swings and slides and on-property playgrounds were discouraged if not banned by architectural covenants. Those tot lots were pikers by the community playground standards I see today in some parts of the Twin Cities, though down our street is again essentially a tot lot built on a parcel adjacent to the freeway (probably from land surplussed after freeway construction). Few houses in our neighborhood have the play equipment Vanderbilt decries. When lots are small, people need common space. When lots are large, this can be internalized to their own property. This is of course the fundamentally the same as the third space argument of Ray Oldenham's The Great Good Place, where cities with smaller housing units have more common "third spaces", while when people have larger houses, they have less need (and perhaps less opportunity) to get out.

April 28, 2008

New Town Center for Columbia

An article from the Baltimore Sun: Town aims to redraw its core

One suspects the newspaper article above is not terribly accurate or complete ("Retail and arts space, and possibly an international center for the study of small cities, would front the roadway, replacing the office towers that ring the mall complex area." ... will office really be replaced by art, maybe complemented, but not replaced), but it appears the General Growth Properties plan, which has gone through many iterations, finally begins to account for the Mall as the centerpiece of downtown, and tie it in rather than keeping it separate.

The Howard County govt plan is here (pdf).

My previous posts on Columbia are here.

The meeting is tonight, alas it is not being webcast. The official website is here: Columbia Town Center

April 27, 2008

Gin, Television, and Social Surplus

A very nice essay by Clay Shirky: Gin, Television, and Social Surplus .

It leads to the thought, just as we wasted time with Gin and TV, we also waste enormous resources while traveling that could be more productive (both personally and socially) in many other ways. Car radios, Ipods, cell phones, in-car computers help, but only go so far if we are still required to drive. (or are confined as a passenger in a system requiring frequent transfers or without adequate space). This is one reason why the DARPA urban challenge is potentially so important (in terms of leading to a fundamental change in how society operates), affecting how we spend 90 minutes a day.

April 23, 2008

Honda Crime Alerting GPS: Honda GPS Warns Drivers of High Crime Zones"

Via Techdirt, from Gizmodo: Honda Crime Alerting GPS: Honda GPS Warns Drivers of High Crime Zones

While now in Japan, the social implications of this are interesting. Can't people figure this out just by observing the environment themselves though?

Does alcohol lubricate Putnam's social capital?

Minnesota ranks among worst in DWIs, study shows

"Minnesota has one of the nation's worst drunken driving rates, said a government report that says 15 percent of adult drivers nationally report driving under the influence of alcohol in the previous year. Here are the states with the worst records:

1. Wisconsin, 26.4 percent

2. North Dakota, 26.4 percent

3. Minnesota, 23.5 percent

4. Nebraska, 22.9 percent

5. South Dakota, 21.6 percent"

Note, these are also almost exactly the states with the highest social capital according to Robert Putnam's index (see the book Bowling Alone)

Table 4.1 Social capital scores by state
Rank State Score

1 North Dakota 1.712

2 South Dakota 1.693

3 Vermont 1.424

4 Minnesota 1.325

5 Montana 1.296

6 Nebraska 1.157

7 Iowa 0.988

8 New Hampshire 0.779

9 Wyoming 0.6710

10 Washington 0.6511

11 Wisconsin 0.5912

12 Oregon 0.57

(Source: Putnam 2000)
(Kevin Krizek and I discuss Putnam's social capital idea in the book Planning for Place and Plexus

This raises the interesting question: does alcohol lubricate Putnam's social capital?

From a social perspective, drinking alone at home may be better than drinking away from home. But what do I know, I am a teetotaler.

April 10, 2008

Another player in traffic information

From New York Times: Microsoft Introduces Tool for Avoiding Traffic Jams

The key components for any valid system is data. In most cities, there is no real traffic information on side streets. Developing "personalities" for streets is a nice idea, but without real-time data, it is all guess work.

Bill Gates got his start creating traffic counters, with his company Traf-O-Data, so this may be an idea dear to his heart.

February 2, 2008

BART moves into the 20th century, slowly

1. WiFi trial comes to San Francisco's BART trains

Wireless internet connectivity could give transit a major boost over driving (surfing and driving don't mix). Especially on transit systems geared to the upper middle classes like commuter rail. Wifi on bus might not have the same appeal.

2. Contactless payment trial goes live on San Francisco's BART

Of course other cities have had this for years in Japan, and this improves upon contact-based systems like Octopus in Hong Kong, Oyster in London, by using cell phones. Unfortunately there are no standards for using cell phones for contactless payment in the US, so while it is technologically feasible, it might not be adopted due to a lack of standardization.

3D London Tube Map

Londonist: 3D London Tube Map (using Google maps and a geographically accurate map).

Legible London

Via diamond geezer: Legible London is an attempt to create a standardized pedestrian navigation system for central London, replacing and improving upon the 33! existing systems. It is an interesting read (pdf) and I think would be valuable in places not quite as complicated as London (i.e. almost everywhere except Tokyo, and may be there too).

By making walking easier, the planners hope to reduce reliance on public transport, which is excessively congested, in part due to the schematic tube map which distorts distances.

If they are successful, they may create a system as iconic as the Underground maps and logo.

Of course the trick with any of these things is not just first installation, but keeping the system live, rather than just a decaying artifact from 2007. But it would seem quite valuable, it just has no source of income for support. (advertising or sponsorship would be a natural, but would be potentially be an ugly blight).

November 18, 2007

Space Up!, the in-vehicle interface of the future?

From Engadget Is the VW Space Up! interface developed by Apple?. While houses have been getting larger, the future seems to be in smaller vehicles.

For years now computers have becoming more integrated with the car. At the extreme we won't actually need to do any driving, and can let the car do that while we do something more entertaining or productive. The Space Up! concept, incorporating Apple's Cover Flow is one more look at the car of the future. The interface, hopefully with a lot of options disabled while driving, seems to be another attempt at integration.

November 5, 2007


As Daylight Savings Time bids a fond farewell (good riddance to such a ridiculous concept) for another year, some articles on time appear. From the Minnesota Daily:
University employs 300 GPS clocks. This is cool, it may actually synchronize the university if enough clocks are actually reading the same value. I have long had the idea that a time stamp should be sent down the electrical signal (small enough to not effect current, large enough to be read), but this is not to be. GPS seems a next best (if somewhat pricey) solution.

Second, there is an effort to restart the stopped clocks on Britain (via Boing-Boing):Stopped Clocks - Re-started. This includes promotional concerts.

It is nice to have public clocks, we might even think of consistent standardized time as a public good (my consumption does not affect yours, it is not really excludable), which has positive externalities, the minimization of wasted time, improved coordination.

October 23, 2007

Surface Navigation Help for Subway Riders

From the NYT: Surface Navigation Help for Subway Riders . This is a brilliant aid to the urban interface, put a decal (or a more permanent marker) on the sidewalk so subway riders emerging from the subterranean depths of Gotham can quickly ascertain where they are. Frankly, we should use the sidewalks for this kind of information more often, especially mid-block. It particularly helps those looking down to avoid making eye-contact.

How can you tell an extroverted engineer? He is the one looking at the other person's shoes

June 10, 2007

A success we should build on

The London Green Belt has been in place since just before World War II when Patrick Abercrombie's study recommended establishing a ring around the city which would remain unsuburbanized (one hesitates to say undeveloped, as farms are there). Now with the housing shortage, people are again suggesting the Green Belt is "a success we should build on":

Build on the green belt, and build now-Comment-Columnists-Minette Marrin-TimesOnline

Back in the day, the solution was to build new towns outside the Green Belt. Gordon Brown is proposing more of these. Towns like Welwyn and Letchworth were built as Garden Cities by Ebenezer Howard, and, but, by design are relatively small (on the order of 33,000 residents for Letchworth, 55,000 for Welwyn Garden City). From my visits, they seem excellent places to live, though the scale may be slightly off outside the town center (the residential density is a bit low, creating excessive walking distances).

Stevenge, (population 80,000) a post-war new town, (built on a much older town) is very much like Columbia, with large elements of Radburn, many pedestrian tunnels to access the town center and train station. There are also traffic roundabouts everywhere, so cars need not stop at signals. I felt like I grew up here.

Milton Keynes (population 185,000) on the other hand is much larger, but terribly overscaled, with large gaps between the residential and downtown areas. This creates opportunites for infill, but in the meantime there is an excessive amount of surface parking in the town center. Unlike the other towns I named above, the shopping mall (the largest single level mall in the world?) is disconnected from the train station.

Despite its imperfections, this model of new towns has a number of advantages over just adding another suburb in the Green Belt. They provide (or at least can provide) a coherent center and place. By increasing "surface area" they reduce the distance between people and the countryside. Every development in the Green Belt makes existing Londers that much farther from the country.

Now, one might suggest if the Green Belt is to be preserved, it should be done the right way, by buying the land (or development rights), rather than by fiat or regulations. This certainly seems a better way of controlling the use of land if property rights are to be respected. But the point here isn't about the mechanics of how land should be preserved, but about what constitutes a better urban form

A) A giant unbroken conurbation where rings of development are fully contiguous


B) A large conurbation with satellite cities.

The latter, while it might increase average distance to the center, decreases distance to the edge. It also provides more variety and differentiation of the bundle of attributes that we call property.

Perhaps the market should decide, but the market fails in providing numerous public goods (access to the countryside being an example), as some things are very difficult to establish easily enforceable rights for.

June 1, 2007

New York Gets Decent Street Furniture

New York Gets Decent Street Furniture (TreeHugger)

I don't especially like the aesthetic, but new is better than old for this sort of thing.

The transportation of police

From today's wapo: Segways on patrol.

I am not sure when the over-hyped ginger became the folly of the Segway, I think they are sort of neat, if over-priced (but that comes from low demand). But somehow Segways have yet to take off. The article is an example of a niche where Segways might have an advantage, police officers on patrol. It is certainly better than having police in giant Chevy Caprices. They are also used by Maryland state police at BWI airport.

Transportation technologies need a base niche where they outperform others in order to gain traction in the market. Specialized markets like police may be what the Segway needs, though it might remain confined to its niches like airport people movers or warehouse forklifts.

May 31, 2007

Didn't I see this on the Italian Job

From the BBC: German drives down subway stairs

"A German woman in Dusseldorf blocked the entrance to an underground station when she mistook it for a subterranean car park, police said on Wednesday."

A) It looks to be a pretty large entrance
B) Perhaps it was signed as a car park. According to the article, this is the second time it happened at this location.
C) Perhaps we should let small cars onto underground trains, I mean, we already let bikes on. (Off-peak of course)
D) What would be the fare for a VW Beetle on the Underground?
E) Car free streets ... Car-friendly stations?

April 29, 2007

Helpful Distortion

A nice discussion at 37 signals about the use of abstraction vs. realism on subway maps, looking in particular at maps of London's (which is highly abstract) and New York's (which is more realistic) standard subway maps.Helpful distortion at NYC & London subway maps

It is not obvious that one is inherently better than the other for all purposes. As noted earlier on the post about Could you walk it quicker, the London map imposes huge distortions. On the other hand, the more complicated the map, the more that is required to be filtered, arguing for more rather than less abstraction.

The specialist publisher Capital Transport has put out a number of books about the history of the Underground, and its maps, which are quite interesting.

March 16, 2007

London's only 24-hour pharmacy

Can it possibly be that London, England, a city of about 7.5 million people, has only one 24-hour pharmacy. London News : 24-hour London. For a city that is a contender for "capital of the world", this is surprising. The reason this question comes up is the birth of our daughter Olivia, and the need for some medical equipment for my wife on a Sunday evening. Coming from the United States where the "I want it and I want it now" culture has produced a significant *spontaneous* 24-hour expectation, I was surprised to find that all of the typical suspects in pharmacy: namely Boots and Superdrug were closed, not merely in Putney, but almost everywhere.

Fortunately Zafash Pharmacy (near Earl's Court at 233 Old Brompton Road SW 5) was open, and I got from home there, did the transaction, and got back in 67 minutes via transit (The 22 bus and walking there, the 74 and 22 buses back). Google Maps puts it at 3.4 miles via road, and says 8 minutes (not a chance, even if I were in my car, even at 7 pm on a Sunday night).

One could talk about Zafesh, run by immigrants or maybe 2nd generation Londoners who have a unique entrepreneurial spirit, and how great that is. Though of course it would be par for the course in the US. In my mind the question isn't why they are open, but why the others are closed.

Perhaps regulation has something to do with it, I don't know the extent to which neighborhoods have imposed zoning regulations limiting hourly openings. Perhaps it is the costs of paying overtime. Perhaps is is the draining of the entrepreneurial spirit in this home to capitalism. In the US pharmacies are in fierce competition with supermarkets (which have been 24 hours in many locales for a couple of decades now, starting since they were doing overnight stocking anyway).

While I could understand why the local card shop isn't 24 hours, cards are not an emergency item, medicine is.

In addition to being bad for customers, it seems that business here is leaving money on the table.

March 3, 2007

Could you walk it quicker?

I was going to write about this, but someone beat me to it: London Underground Tube Diary - Going Underground's Blog. There is a new ad campaign from Flora "Could you walk it quicker?" which suggests people should walk between locations that are close together for their heart. Of course, it would also relieve transit congestion, if taken up, as many stations are really quite close, especially after you consider the underground access costs, the closeness is shown on the maps at It points out the great distortions caused by the standard tube map based on the design by Harry Beck, which makes some close things seem far and some far things seem close.

January 30, 2007

Britain doesn't have an Americans with Disabilities Act

Great Britain doesn't have an Americans with Disabilities Act. Now, you may say, why would Britain care about Americans with Disabilities. What I mean by this are that conditions for those with disabilities in Britain seem much harsher than in the US. In particular, I will note the public transport system, especially the rail system.

To be clear, Britain does have a
Disability Discrimination Act of 1995. It is just that the requirements that are made of extant systems are much more modest than the US.

The reason I note this is not, fortunately, because anyone in my household is physically disabled, rather because as I and my wife take our 2 year old son out in a stroller, we notice problems that just don't appear in the US. In part this is because we don't use public transport much in the US, but if we were to use rail transport, there would be an elevator to get to the platform at every station. Even where it would not be difficult to provide a ramp, a short staircase is often the only alternative. Sometimes, a long staircase is required, leading to the stroller carry (which is easier than unbuckling and rebuckling, especially if our son is sleeping).

A quick review of the TfL Underground map shows the extent of the problem, only stations with the wheelchair have lifts or are level with the ground.

One could argue this is about economic efficiency, retrofitting hundreds of stations would be expensive. But the relevant value here is not efficiency but equity and inclusion, if economic efficiency were the criteria, one would make almost no accomodations for the disabled.

This is one more case where the buses beat the trains. Buses are a short enough step that manipulating a stroller is not too difficult. They also have better accomodation for wheelchairs than trains, though in four months here, I have only seen one wheelchair on a bus.

"Barely hospitable" is the phrase my wife uses to describe London. Many Underground patrons are quite helpful in lifting one end of the stroller while one of us has the other, it is the infrastructure that is not designed for anyone who who is not fully mobile.

Most of the sidewalks do have curb cuts, though the rough surfaces make wheeling along them less than optimal, but not impossible.

Finally, one must ask about the omnipresent urban slogan: "Mind the Gap". Why can't trains and platforms be level? London has had over a century to get this right on even the deep-tube lines. I understand that the trains in the deep-tubes (e.g. Bakerloo, Piccadilly, Northern) differ from those on the older (e.g. Metropolitan, District, Hamersmith & City) lines, but how hard could it be to make the stations level with the trains they do serve, to minimize if not eliminate the gap. For all of the human energy devoted to installing Mind the Gap signs and making the everpresent announcements, rectifying the original problem would have been warranted, and probably less expensive.

The Oyster Gotcha

A nice blog post (via The Transport Blog): The Oyster Gotcha - Software Reality on some of the other problems with London's Oyster card system. As wonderful as it is, it is a user interface problem par excellance.

December 26, 2006

See attendant

One day, while swiping my Oyster card on the reader at a tube station I got the "See attendant" message. The gate remained open.

Am I
A) supposed to go through and ignore the message
B) go through and then find the attendant
C) not go through and back out of the line and find the attendant?

How will this affect "don't touch in and you will pay the maximum fare"?

In the course of events I backed out and the attendent told me to go through and ignore the message. I have no clue as to whether I was charged £1.50 or £4.00 for the journey.

December 21, 2006

The Weather

The Weather Forecast is not looking good.

Heathrow is near closure, and it is colder than Minnesota right now, and English people who wish to leave the Blessed Isles for the holiday are potentially trapped.

December 20, 2006

Security is the enemy of efficiency, or attention is a scarce resource

"Security is the enemy of efficiency". I don't know if anyone has said it before, but it has become clear to me that the primary outcome of most security systems is to make my (and others') life less productive. Whether I am safer as a result I have no evidence to produce.

Continue reading "Security is the enemy of efficiency, or attention is a scarce resource" »

Touching In

"If you don't touch in and touch out with your Oyster card, you will be charged the maximum fare". This is the new rule implemented by TfL in November 2006 to ensure that people are paying the correct fare on the UndergrounD.

I have inadvertantly validated that they do in fact charge the maximum fare, returning home one day last month, all of the turnstiles at the South Kensington station were marked with a big red X and were open. Not sure how to touch in (I actually DID touch the Oyster card to the reader, but it wasn't read, due to the thing causing the big red X), I, along with hundreds or thousands of others walked through. Touching out at Putney Bridge, I saw a £4.00 deduction rather than the normal £2.00. So I paid £2.00 for science. It is not worth my time to complain to TfL (though worth it to blog about)

The problem with this system is that it assumes the system is perfect. Now this is TfL's UndergrounD, we know quite well the system is far from perfect, my estimate is that a given line has problems between 10% and 20% of the time.

The turnstiles have many of the same maintenance issue writ small. The reader can be down, even when it is up, there is no visual feedback that your card was read on many readers (the light/LED behind the green "Enter" sign is out), and the auditory feedback is impossible to detect in a crowded, noisy station. When I exit, Putney Bridge's turnstile tells me how much is left, not all turnstiles do. When I enter or exit at South Kensington, the gates are open from the previous person who touched in or paid by ticked.

Another problem is the maximum fare rule. If I have already spent a lot on public transport today, or if I have an unlimited use pass, touching in and out really don't matter (I assume, I have not tested this).

Is there a better solution? Clearly charging the minimum fare would encourage abuse.

Comparison with the same users daily travel patterns could be used to detect anomolies, but creates its own difficulties, and does not guarantee fairness as people may change patterns from day to day.

A single flat fare (as on buses) would avoid this problem, but would of course favor long over short trips. It also defeats the whole point of having smart cards, since a much simpler technology could be used to collect money.

A more reliabile ticketing/turnstile system would help, but may also slow down travelers (closing the gate quickly after a passenger goes through, delaying the next passenger as the gate must reopen). This is of course the better solution.

December 19, 2006

VMS: Variably-reliable Misinformation Signs

Variable Message Signs (VMS) are intended to provided information to travelers on roads (how long to nearby destinations, warning of an accident, there is an Amber Alert, please run a car with license plate XXX YYY off the road). In London they are used on underground and National Rail trains and at selected bus stops with the Countdown system installed.

I wish they were accurate.

Continue reading "VMS: Variably-reliable Misinformation Signs" »

December 18, 2006

With rail, you know where you’re going, ... NOT

In the previous entry "On 'A Streetcar Named Development'", I noted 'The more important concern is revealed by the closing quote from Teresa Wernecke, director of the Downtown Minneapolis Transportation Management Organization. '“With rail, you know where you’re going,? Wernecke said.'

I am here to tell you, that in London, on rail, you don't know where you are going. Yesterday, returning home from Imperial College on the District Line, I boarded the Wimbledon-bound train at the South Kensington Station. The District Line roughly forms an 3--C Shaped network (all distorted though), The Edgware Road branch and the City branch come together at Earl's Court (the two branches of the "C"), and then lines split again for Wimbledon, Richmond, and Ealing (the three prongs of the the "3").

Well, before the train reaches Gloucester Road station, the conductor announces the train has been redirected to Ealing Broadway, and all passengers bound for Wimbledon (or points in-between) needed to change trains at Earl's Court.

While this is not a big deal, walking from one train on the platform to another across the platform, it created a lot of confusion. Native Londoners were asking me (a newbie) what was going on.

Those dynamically rerouting the trains had a good reason for this (another Wimbledon-bound train was already at the Earl's Court platform, one for Ealing must have been held up somewhere upstream), trying to balance service or flow of trains.

If this had only happened once, one might say, "that's strange". But in two months of semi-regular commuting this is the third time this has happened. I missed the announcement once and had to backtrack. This does not happen with buses.

The point is that (A) when you have a complicated system, this creates opportunities to dynamically reroute (on a single line system, the exercise would be meaningless), and (B) there is not something inherently more secure or informative about rail over bus, and may be found more on rail than on buses (I have yet to be on a bus which suddenly changed which route it was traveling on).

November 30, 2006

On "A Streetcar Named Development", Streetcars, Buses, and Signs

In this week's Downtown Journal Online, an article "A Streetcar Named Development" discusses the potential for streetcars for Minneapolis.

Streetcars would be the third distinct rail technology that the Twin Cities would have introduced in the course of a decade, following LRT and commuter rail, and of course bus remains. This technology proliferation is one of several issues that has been inadequately addressed. The greater the number of distinct technologies used, the lower the economies of scale that can be achieved with any one of them. While they serve somewhat different markets, they also serve overlapping markets, yet no consideration was given to using technology A in market B.

The more important concern is revealed by the closing quote from Teresa Wernecke, director of the Downtown Minneapolis Transportation Management Organization. '“With rail, you know where you’re going,? Wernecke said.' The implication is that with bus you don't. Why should that be?

The answer is the under-investment in buses over the past 50 years, in particular the lack of signage. Staff I have spoken with at the Metropolitan Council seem to think it would be too expensive to have simple signs which actually told you what bus stopped where and when (since the schedules apparently change). But it is not too expensive to deploy 3 new rail systems to make up for the institutional inadequecies of Metro Transit's bus operations.

To illustrate, compare this typical bus stop sign from Minneapolis
Minneapolis Bus Stop

With this one from London
London Bus Stop

While this sign certainly does not solely explain London's higher transit ridership, it helps considerably. The F helps orient you from which stop (among many), which are all shown on a map. The sign tells you where you are and where the buses go, and which buses go there. The schedule shows you the frequency (or schedule) of buses. Further there are maps at every stop, along with schedules.

It might surprise people to know, but bus mode share in London (18%) is as high as Underground and Surface Rail combined (17%) according to Transport for London.

Other factors include traveler information, designated bus lanes, frequent shelters, etc. But underlying this is the attitude that buses should be given full support as a transit mode.

It is too bad Minneapolis is choosing to throw money at streetcars at $30 million per mile and provide no additional service rather than using those scarce resources to create a world-class bus system.

-- dml

November 21, 2006

Transport without Control

In an article from Spiegel Online:Controlled Chaos: European Cities Do Away with Traffic Signs Hans Monderman was able to get some press again for his idea of eliminating traffic signs.

The idea is this, eliminating signs forces drivers to be more careful, and therefore safer (they are less likely to hit someone). It also makes them slower, and therefore safer (they do less damage once they hit someone).

This is an interesting notion perhaps appropriate in some contexts (the street in front of my house e.g.). I do not believe it is a universally-applicable notion however (and I am not claiming Monderman does either).

The hierarchy of roads serves two purposes. One is access to land. I need a street in front of my property to get to and from my property (otherwise I am landlocked and require aircraft, tunnels, or boats). This street in residential areas is designed to be relatively slow moving, allowing travelers to reach their final destination (or leave their origin).

The second purpose is movement, I want to be able to go long distances between places at a low cost (time, money, etc.), and roads (e.g. highways) are important for this as well. Roads designed exclusively for this purpose include interstate highways, which are grade-separated and limited access.

The problem lies especially in roads that serve dual purposes, where non-locals want to move quickly, while locals want people to move slowly (or better yet, not at all except for the locals). Managing these roads requires especially creative solutions that are in many cases.

However, one needs to think about what problems traffic controls solved in the first place, why were they invented and deployed. A congested intersection without control, or with stop sign control, moves many fewer people per hour than one with traffic lights. If your objective is moving people, this is an important consideration.

Interestingly his ideas are supported both by liberatarians

  • as well as greens

  • September 13, 2006

    In praise of landmarks

    Yesterday, Apple Computer announced a slew of new products, among them iTunes 7. A key feature of this piece of software is its new user interface, dubbed "CoverFlow", discussed in this article: Wired News: New UI Showdown: Apple vs. TiVo. You do need to see it to fully understand it, and it is quite a slick way to navigate a music database.

    Why am I talking about music databases and album art in a blog about transportation? I think cities are much like databases, and buildings like album covers. We navigate spatially and visually. Cities without redeeming art, architecture or natural landmarks are unpleasant. Not merely because they lack "charm" and the buildings are individually dull, but because of their collective undifferentiatedness, which creates difficulties for navigating (especially if they also lack some spatial regularity like a comprehensible grid network) and spatially locating oneself. Being lost (both not knowing where you are and not knowing either how you got there or how you will get to where you are going) brings a strong sense of unease that creates frustration if not hostility to the place you are lost at.

    Cities need the equivalent of album art so that people can explore them. The nature of this art changes if you are walking, biking, taking transit, or driving, as you view it at different speeds and different resolutions.

    Skylines have value, more than the simple value to the owner of the individual building. (In economic terms, they provide some positive externality, collectively exhibiting a network effect where the whole is larger than the sum of the individual parts. Measuring this is of course difficult.)

    When I am driving around, and see the skyline in the distance from a particular angle, I instantly know what direction I am going. While some of these benefits may be obviated with in-vehicle navigation, the certainty of physical structure outweighs the digital outputs of a machine.

    I recall as a freshman at Georgia Tech, taking a night course, leaving some classroom building for the first time out of a door different from where I entered and being completely turned around, until eventually I located the Coca-Cola headquarters building (just southwest of campus). While I still didn't know exactly where I was, I could figure out where I was going.

    June 14, 2006

    Good gates?

    From today's Pioneer Press St. Paul Pioneer Press | 06/14/2006 | Good fences, good neighbors?. The article says " ... America is looking more like Capetown every day. USA Today reported that 40 percent of new homes in California are in gated communities. About 6 percent of America's households are now behind walls and fences."

    Continue reading "Good gates?" »

    May 29, 2006

    Traffic control

    An interesting article on the history and present state of traffic control, focusing on LA: Cabinet Magazine Online - Blocking All Lanes

    -- dml

    May 14, 2006

    Having fun with roadside alert signs

    For your amusement: Boing Boing: Having fun with roadside alert signs

    May 9, 2006

    The Urban Interface, some initial musings

    Whether entering a city for the first time, or entering it for the five-thousandth, a traveler interacts with the environment to obtain cues. A first time traveler is very concerned about issues of navigation … where should I go? … how should I get there?, while the experienced resident may rely on memory and history to make those same decisions. Yet in complex cities, there are many places even the most experienced residents may never have explored, there are paths untaken, and like Heraclitus’ River, you never really step into the same city twice.

    Continue reading "The Urban Interface, some initial musings" »