Recently in Visualization Category


The earth is approximately a sphere, yet we try to force this round object into a square grid through the use of latitude and longitude and Ordinance Surveys. Why?

The rationale for use of grids depends on scale. We have naturally come to think of the earth rotating on an axis with a prime meridian reflecting that access on the surface, intersecting the axis at the north and south poles, complemented by an equator belting it. The equator has a natural physical meaning, but the prime meridian is arbitrary. Greenwich, England is no more the start of time than any other place. But longitude, if not latitude is arbitrary. The idea of longitude lines running north-south does have convenience in that it tends to align with the magnetic poles, and benefitting navigation.


Geodesic domes, developed by Buckminster Fuller (who did not invent soccer, but whose name was given to the Fullerene) enclose spherical areas with a mesh of triangles, forming many hexagons and 12 pentagons.

We could remap the earth using geodesic principles. Fuller did this with his Dymaxion Map. The triangular cut marks do not align with latitude and longitude. However, one should be able to align the triangles with either latitude (the equator) or longitude (a prime meridian), though that might cut land masses, which dilutes the political point Fuller was trying to make.


There are many ways to skin the earth, and stretch it out like a tanner stretches leather. The way we present this 3D object in 2D affects how we perceive it. We expect (in western countries) north to be up, and are disoriented when maps are presented otherwise. Yet we don't expect our environment to clue us in very often, we don't typically see compass marks in the pavement to show us which direction is north, to help us reorient (meaning turn to the east, oddly we never reoccident and turn to the west).

The map is the user interface to the environment, and we need to give it more consideration. We should also better embed navigation clues into our environment. Some cities post wayfinding systems around, especially near transit stops. Even (especially?) in the age of the almost ubiquitous smart phone, this still seems wise, so people can keep their eyes looking ahead, focused on the real environment, rather than face down in a phone, or staring into an imaginary distance with glasses.

Mary Meeker's annual Internet Trends slideshow: 2012 KPCB Internet Trends Year-End Update

Nice slides on Asset-Heavy vs. Asset-Light dealing with transportation.

FH sends a link to this very nice visualization from the City of Melbourne: 24PM their pedestrian monitoring system data:

"The City of Melbourne's 24-hour pedestrian monitoring system (24PM) measures pedestrian activity in the central city and Docklands precincts each day.

The system, which comprises 18 sensors, counts pedestrian movements to give the City of Melbourne a better understanding of how people use these precincts so we can manage the way they function and plan for future needs.

The online visualisation tool is an interactive map of these sensor locations, which enables users to see pedestrian counts on particular dates and times and compare data."

Pedestrian Seductive


I don't know how I missed this, Via CA, Patch reports on a "Pedestrian Seductive" project in Hopkins:

"Planners envision Eighth Avenue as a ‘pedestrian seductive’ corridor that will entice riders into the downtown from the light rail station planned for Excelsior Boulevard. This artist's rendering offers one vision of the proposed light rail station and the Eighth Avenue gateway to downtown. Credit City of Hopkins"

Let me just say, watercolors of trees and brick in the sidewalk are hot. However, steps from apartments onto sidewalks are merely amicable. Almost anything would be a higher and better use post-LRT than what is there now.

Wikipedia says the town used to be the Village of West Minneapolis, but took its name from the train station, named for the landowner (Harley H. Hopkins) on whose property the station was built.

The map is here.

Pioneer Press: Timelapse video: New Hastings Bridge is floated into place:

"Watch the entire process of moving the 6.5 million pound bridge down the river and being lifted into place, which took about 60 hours from start to finish, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

The roadway for the bridge won't be poured until next spring."

One Hundred Years of Land Values

One Hundred Years of Land Values - YouTube:

Gabriel Ahlfeldt lecturer at the London School of Economics, presents on the digital conversion of data derived from Olcott's Blue Books, the unique dataset of historical land values, land uses, building heights, and other information in Chicago and its suburbs, published annually between 1900 and 1990. The digitization project, which opens up new possibilities for statistical analysis of long-run adjustments in land values, involves using geographic information system (GIS) software to create a rectangular grid following Chicago's street pattern and produce a unique spatiotemporal dataset, providing insights into changes in the spatial structure of the city.

Linklist: June 19, 2012

The Lorry Anthropomorphic





Trucks, like other vehicles, have been anthropomorphized. The Anthropomorphic Uhaul has drawn ire. On Sodor, Elizabeth the Vintage Lorry was already old stock. Trucks of course were major rivals to trains, so Thomas and Friends' prejudices are understandable.

To be clear, the anthropomorphic vehicle is not always goodness and light, e.g. Maximum Overdrive. There is an entire genre of horror movies about possessed vehicles, including: "Car, Maximum Overdrive, Duel, Christine, Black Cadillac and Blood Car to name just a few."

One should also see: The Taco Truck Anthropomorphic


A new design firm, Carticulate, has pieced together planning documents and laid out Twin Cities (GreaterMSP for corporate types) transit maps in a much nicer way than the Metropolitan Council has … The Metro: Twin Cities Transit Visualized. Their white paper is here.

While there are still bugs (I assume Bottineau is the Blue Line extended, and will go to Brooklyn Center, not Maple Grove; Northstar has not exceeded projections; not all the fonts are consistent in size), the elements of the improved design can be seen on this and other maps they have on their website.

[I have complained about bad maps before. With better design like Carticulate's we can just argue the substance of the lines.]

I would love to see this for buses, and their work on improving bus stop signage.

The Monorail Anthropomorphic

Lachende schwebebahn

K.L writes:

I know from reading your blog that you are a bit keen on anthropomorphized transportation. This week I stumbled upon an old cartoon celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Wuppertal Schwebebahn from 1951. The "Laughing Schwebebahn" is not only smiling, but it also has wings. It's from Das Beste von der Schwebebahn in 50 Jahren (

See wikipedia for more.

I am guessing this category (anthropomorphic monorails) is smaller than others, but please send in any other examples.



At the STREET - Simulating Transportation for Realistic Engineering Education and Training website, we have a new model, ANGIE:

"The Agent-based Network Growth model with Incremental Evolution (ANGIE) models the growth of road networks in several scenarios such as road networks in an artificial grid-like city and the Minneapolis Downtown Skyway network. The philosophy inherent in these models is that accessibility affects road network growth and vice versa. The examples aim to illustrate that different values of accessibility at individual locations can lead to different network topologies."

The model is what we used on two papers:

We welcome feedback.

SMART-Signal Live



My colleague Henry Liu has been working with MnDOT the past several years on deploying the SMART-Signal system. It is live on Mn trunk highway 13, and the real-time intersection level of service, queueing, and speed data coming from the system are available online here. As the website says:

"Although measuring and archiving freeway traffic performance using commonly available loop detector data has become a norm for many transportation agencies, similar approaches for urban arterials do not exist. In practice, operational data from traffic signal systems are neither stored nor analyzed, which prevents proactive management of arterial streets. The development of the SMART-Signal (Systematic Monitoring of Arterial Road Traffic Signals) system fills in this gap. The SMART-Signal system simultaneously collects event-based high-resolution traffic data from multiple intersections and generates real-time arterial performance measures including intersection queue length and arterial travel time. The development of the system has laid the groundwork for better traffic models and control strategies and opens up entirely new opportunities for managing traffic on congested roads.

In the SMART-Signal system, a complete history of traffic signal control, including all vehicle actuation events and signal phase change events, are archived and stored. At each intersection, an industrial PC with a data acquisition card is installed inside the controller cabinet, and event data collected at each intersection are transmitted to the data server in real-time using an Ethernet connection. Using the event-based data, a set of arterial performance measures, especially intersection queue length and arterial travel time, can be estimated. SMART-Signal uses a newly developed algorithmic approach to queue length estimation based on traffic shockwave theory. Cyclic traffic shockwaves at an intersection can be reconstructed using event-based data, allowing for queue length estimation even when the queue of cars extends beyond the upstream vehicle detector. To measure travel time, SMART-Signal simulates the movements of a virtual “probe vehicle” along the arterial road. As the virtual probe moves, it can modify its own state in response to the state of traffic around it by accelerating, decelerating, or maintaining a constant speed at each time step as it encounters queues, traffic signals, and changes in traffic density. SMART-Signal can also optimize traffic signal parameters using the collected high-resolution data. Instead of relying on traditional offset optimization approaches, which are based on manually collected volume data on a typical day, SMART-Signal can account for traffic flow variations by using archived traffic signal data and the derived performance measures.

The SMART-Signal system has been field-tested on three major arterial corridors in Minnesota including six intersections on Trunk Highway 55 in Golden Valley, eleven intersections on France Avenue in Bloomington, and three intersections on Prairie Center Drive in Eden Prairie. A demonstration project is also being carried out on Orange Grove Boulevard in Pasadena, California. A large-scale implementation project currently under discussion with the Minnesota Department of Transportation will monitor 100 intersections in the Twin Cities area using the SMART-Signal system. "

Linklist: April 26, 2012

Via AO: Rock, Paper, Shotgun: And Now The Game: A SimCity Preview :

"It extends to traffic as well, which also initially sounds more boring than a visit to the plywood factory with the lead singer of Keane, but has all manner of fascinating repercussions. When a new citizen moves into your city, they actually move in – removal van, arduous unloading of cardboard boxes, the lot. If your roads are narrow or busy, that big van parking up on the street might cause traffic to slow down or even gridlock in that area. Which isn’t necessarily a problem – this is modern living, right? But what if there’s a fire engine stuck in that traffic queue? And what if one of your buildings has just suffered an arson attack from one of the ‘personality’ NPCs who’s recently pitched up in town looking to cause trouble?"

Spatial Analysis: Sensing the City: Mapping London’s Population Flows [Lots of cool visualizations, some linked here before, some new].

Stephen Levy @ Wired: Can an Algorithm Write a Better News Story Than a Human Reporter? [Yes]

Linklist: April 17, 2012

ion: The Mathematical Proof that got a Physicist out of a Traffic Ticket

Schneier on Security: Hawley Channels His Inner Schneier [Former TSA Director seems to be reasonable, what gives?]

Tyler Cowan @ Marginal Revolution: The economics of Robert Caro :

"The Power Broker, by the way, is in my view one of the best non-fiction books ever, so read it if you don’t already know it."
[Agreed, I read it soon after my Riverside, New York-based Aunt Maitie, who was taking Urban Studies courses on the side, gave it to me along with Jane Jacobs when I was an ~11 year old wanna-be City Planner. In retrospect, it was probably the best (and certainly the longest) book I read in elementary school. Admittedly I did want to be Robert Moses, so my take differed from Caro. I read it again later and it made more sense. I assign the New Yorker-abridged version of the book to my graduate students. Jane Jacobs is good too.]

PC Mag: DARPA Seeking to Build (Friendly) Terminators:

" So what will the robot have to do? Quite a bit. For just one of the disaster challenges, DARPA anticipates that the robot will have to:

1. Drive a utility vehicle at the site.

2. Travel dismounted across rubble.

3. Remove debris blocking an entryway.

4. Open a door and enter a building.

5. Climb an industrial ladder and traverse an industrial walkway.

6. Use a power tool to break through a concrete panel.

7. Locate and close a valve near a leaking pipe.

8. Replace a component such as a cooling pump."

Kottke shows a very long Visualization of shipping routes from 1750 to 1855

Yglesias talks about private bike sharing service Splinster [whose site is unavailable]: Will Sharing Apps Make Physical Stuff Obsolete?:

"In a world where information is scarce it's often helpful to have lots of physical redundancy. If it's hard to find out the answer to the question "where's the closest X" then it pays off to stockpile as much stuff (cars, bikes, power tools, etc.) as possible in your garage. That way you know the answer is always "it's in the garage" and this information is valuable even though most of the stuff isn't being used at any given time. But as information grows more abundant, there's less and less need for physical redundancy:"

Linklist: April 16, 2012

Elon Musk to Jon Stewart: sustainable energy easier than making life "multi-planetary"

[But we won't switch quirky to sustainable energy, if such a thing really exists, so we really need to keep the off-planet option open]

San Jose Mercury News: Deal cut to give Menlo Park millions of dollars in exchange for Facebook expansion:

"To get Menlo Park's approval of its expansion plan, Facebook has agreed to pay the city millions of dollars in the coming years, seed a community fund with a $500,000 donation, sponsor internship and job training programs, support efforts to boost local businesses, back affordable housing and improve bike and pedestrian pathways. Those and other commitments are outlined in a proposed development agreement released by the city late Thursday. "While Facebook's obligations under the DA (development agreement) will be considerable, they build upon the most significant aspect of Facebook's move -- its commitment to building a stronger community and being a good neighbor," John Tenanes, Facebook's director of global real estate, wrote in a letter accompanying the term sheet."

[Social networks and infrastructure networks meet again]

Rohit T. Aggarwala discusses infrastructure: Fiscal Games Can’t Hide True Cost of U.S. Roads- Bloomberg:

"Chicago’s approach will probably bear some fruit because local governments face many problems of timing. A city government doesn’t have the cash to make building retrofits that will lower its energy bills, but future savings can pay back the loan and then some. A water utility whose rates are set to break even has expensive leaks, but no general-revenue bonding authority to fix them. A highway department wants to extend a toll road, but its capital budget is constrained. These are all problems that finance can solve because investment can unlock future revenue that can be shared with a lender.

Unfortunately, America’s most dire infrastructure problems are not like this. Most of them are like Pennsylvania’s 6,000 structurally deficient bridges. Replacing these won’t create new value, serve new traffic or generate new economic development, so financing has to come from existing income. And that’s a problem not of timing, but of wealth. Even if a replacement bridge can be financed through an infrastructure bank, the debt service on the loan has to be paid back with existing wealth."

[He says "replacing these won't create new value". Not replacing these (the default option) destroys value, so replacing them creates value that would otherwise not be there were they not created. The market may naively think these are permanent, but closing a few of these would quickly disabuse of it that notion. I think the author confuses income and wealth. If I have a steady stream of income, and I don't spend all of it, my wealth increases. The debt service would be paid by future income, not existing wealth, unless you have somehow speculatively capitalized income you don't already have.

As he notes, an infrastructure bank could be backed up by tolls on the new replacement bridges (really, it could, Washington State has put tolls on existing bridges to help build new ones), or gas tax revenue if politicians are too chicken to do that, or value capture on nearby landowners whose access would be maintained. I agree with the general point that user fees are preferred. ]

A really cool map of globalPopulation Density


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Jason Hong sends me to his project: Livehoods:

About the Livehoods Project The Livehoods Project presents a new methodology for studying the dynamics, structure, and character of a city on a large scale using social media and machine learning. Using data such as tweets and check-ins, we are able to discover the hidden structures of the city with machine learning. Our techniques reveal a snap-shot of the dynamic areas the comprise the city, which we call Livehoods.

Livehoods allow us to investigate and explore how people actually use the city, simultaneosly shedding light onto the factors that come together to shape the urban landscape and the social texture of city life, including municipal borders, demographics, economic development, resources, geography, and planning. Livehoods is a research project from the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University.

Cool maps at the site.

Linklist: April 6, 2012

Via Greater Greater Washington: Animated history of the T:We have our animated history of Metrorail. Vanshnooken­raggen has created a similar animation showing Boston's T growing (and sometimes shrinking) over time.

[Of course, if you are interested in this stuff, see what we have done over here.]

Krista Nordback @ Vehicle for a Small Planet: Guest post: Adjusting for variation in bike counts.

NYTimes: Biking and Sexual Health in Women.

Linklist: March 23, 2012

Seriously Steve Dornfield at MinnPost? Minnesotans are driving less, MnDOT says :

"“It appears that as gas prices increased motorists began taking fewer trips, carpooling and using more public transportation,” it said. Transit ridership in the metro area grew from 67.2 million in 2004 to 94 million in 2011, an increase of nearly 40percent."
[2004 was the year of a 6 week transit strike. of course ridership was low. Claiming a 40% increase in ridership off a distorted base is just misleading.]

Brad Plumer @ WaPo:
Why can’t we just leave infrastructure spending to the states? - The Washington Post

Yesterday, I pointed out that Rep. Paul Ryan’s GOP budget proposal would require the federal government to spend less and less on transportation over time. Reihan Salam asks whether this is really such a bad thing. Can’t state governments just pick up the slack?

That’s possible, sure. But it hasn’t happened so far. As a recent report (pdf) from the Congressional Budget Office detailed, the federal government’s share of infrastructure spending has already been shrinking since the 1960s and 1970s. And the states, which still provide the vast majority of spending on roads and highways, haven’t made up the difference. The end result? There’s less infrastructure spending overall as a percent of GDP:

Reihan Salam @ The Agenda on National Review Online: The Implications of the Path to Prosperity’s Long-Term Spending Trajectory:


Upgrading our transportation networks may well cost between $200 and $262 billion over the next decade, or perhaps even more. It’s not obvious, however, that all of this money has to come from federal coffers. Other approaches might involve relying more heavily on state governments and private investors, as Edward Glaeser has suggested, and perhaps focusing federal efforts on a “fix it first” agenda. This doesn’t mean that Ryan’s approach is the only answer. But it’s worth decoupling federal spending from transportation spending — the categories do not and should not overlap, and it seems entirely reasonable to argue that the non-federal share of the transportation spending pie should grow over time.

David King @ Getting from here to there: Crude Measures of Density:

"Density is a somewhat nebulous concept. It seems straightforward but it isn't. Recently many proponents of increasing residential density (Glaeser, Avent, Yglesias among others support economic arguments for density) point to the constraints that land development regulations have on denser development. I am sympathetic to these arguments and agree on general terms, though I doubt that regulations are as onerous with respect to density in places like Manhattan. I'll mention two reasons today and return to these issues in future posts."

Urban Demographics: Motorways and slime mould's rationality (!?) [A topic long-time transportationistas are long familiar with.]

James Meek at London Review of Books blog: Human Revenue Stream:

"The commodity that makes water and roads and airports valuable to an investor, foreign or otherwise, is the people who have no choice but to use them. We have no choice but to pay the price the tollkeepers charge. We are a human revenue stream; we are being made tenants in our own land, defined by the string of private fees we pay to exist here. If it’s not obvious that we’re being sold to investors, it’s partly because the idea of privatisation is sold so hard to us, in a way that is hypnotically familiar. First, the denigration of the existing service, as if a universally accepted truth is being voiced: the schools/hospitals/roads are crumbling/failing/ second-class. Then, the rejection of government responsibility: we’ve no money/bureaucrats are incompetent. Finally, the solution: private investment."

Diamond Geezer on the new Exhibition Road Shared Space by the Museums and Imperial College in South Kensington.:

"It wouldn't work in every street, nor would there be £29m to make it happen, but Exhibition Road's transformation appears to have brought about an effective and efficient co-existence."

Londonist (h/t Annie Mole) gives us a: A 3-D London Tube Map | Londonist:

"Every time a new addition is made to the Tube map, it gets a little more crowded. The clean lines of Harry Beck’s original get a little more confusing. Where will we be 100 years from now, when additional lines, stations, cable cars, hover rails and levipads are added to the diagram?

Slapping a third dimension onto the map could be one solution. The extra depth allows for extra layers of information."

Annie Mole at Going Underground's Blog has some 3D posters and other diagrams.

KurzweilAI reports: The ‘birdman’ is FAKE: Filmmaker behind wing suit flight video admits footage was a hoax and says it was ‘online storytelling:

"The Dutch “bird man” who posted a video showing a successful “test flight” of a wing suit contraption has admitted that the amazing feat was a hoax all along.

Viewers became sceptical after it emerged that no scientists actually knew “Jarno Smeets,” who claimed to have created the technology.

Now Smeets has confessed that he is actually a “filmmaker and animator” named Floris Kaayk, and has described the faked footage as “online storytelling.”

The Campus Iconic |

I have a new post up at The Campus Iconic

Linklist: February 24, 2012

| 1 Comment

357 Transportation Infographics and Data Visualizations @

Bloomberg: U.S. Postal Service to Cut 35,000 Jobs as Plants Are Shut:

"The service plans to shut 223 of its 461 mail-processing plants by February 2013, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said in a telephone interview today. The closings will cut about 35,000 jobs, said David Partenheimer, a spokesman."

Blair Barnhardt at Kansas University discusses The Three Legged Stool | Saving America's Infrastructure [YouTube], which makes use of our Brookings Report: Fix It First, Expand It Second, Reward It Third: A New Strategy for America’s Highways (starting at the 23:47 mark running to about 36:00)

. There is also a LinkedIn Group: StreetSaver Pavement Management Group. In fact it is the source of some homework assignments in his course.

Linklist: February 17, 2012


The federal case for a transit bank | Urban ethics and theory:

"Here’s how you set it up to stop driving the anti-federalist Republicans crazy:

a) Move the FTA over to housing and urban development. Where, you know, urban development is, and where you might be able assemble big joint development projects via b, next:

b) Reassemble it as an transit-focused TIFIA (revolving loan) type program or infrastructure banking program (remember how much Obama wanted one of those) that provides federal guarantees for bond issues on proposals from states and regions alike, paid off with some percentage of the state’s own-source federal gas tax revenues and/or any other state/local/regional revenues committed to the bonds.

c) Whatever percentage of federal funding had been going into the Highway Trust Fund via dedicated transit funds, move that back to the states–revenue neutral. The ones that want it for their own highway projects, fine. The ones that want to use that to commit to paying off guaranteed transit bonds via b can do that.

d) Require that joint development proposals have their local approvals done before one dollar of loan goes forward."

Via The Overhead Wire: Transit Maps: The Tube in Tile in Your Bathroom

Autopia: Peer-to-Peer Pioneer Warns India About Road Infrastructure : "Limewire founder and bicycle advocate Mark Gorton is on a mission to curtail cars.

Gorton has been fighting tirelessly to make cities friendlier to cyclists and pedestrians. He makes no effort to hide his disdain for cars, and he has lobbied endlessly for more equitable transportation polices. Even Gorton isn’t so naive as to call for the eradication of the automobile, but he wants to see policies that aggressively discourage their use.

To that end, he founded OpenPlans, a nonprofit focused on promoting transparent government and civic engagement, and he’s tried to bring an open source approach to urban planning. He also launched Streetsblog. Now he’s taking his act out on the road, making the rounds of India to promote bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly policies in a nation that is developing rapidly."

Some visualizations

Some visualizations:

Urban Demographics: Москва TimeLapse

Not this body (on Vimeo) (via SR) To understand is to perceive patterns

Toronto Star: Toronto teens send Lego man on a balloon odyssey 24 kilometres high

Linklist: January 26, 2012

Some links on visualization and interface …

Annie Mole @ Going UndergroundNext-Gen London Underground on-platform display - Tells how crowded next Tube is [an interesting user-interface mockup.

David King @ Getting from here to there: Visualizing NYC Taxi Activity

Graphserver Growing Shortest Path Trees.

In defense of skyways

Sydney 62

Crossposted at and Photos of skyways by author from Sydney (1), Portland (2), Minneapolis (3), Tokyo (1), and Harrogate (1) respectively.

Everyone seems to be hating on Minneapolis's world-beating skyway network. Sam Newberg is the latest in a recent post at Is it Time to Remove Those Pesky Skyways? :

"The following post shares a similar argument as an article I wrote four years ago for the Downtown Journal (in Minneapolis). I was chastised at the time and suppose I will be again. However, with the recent opening of a new, $3 million skyway link to better connect the Accenture tower to adjacent blocks, as well as the new Downtown 2025 Plan taking on the “Skyway Paradox,” I was persuaded to bring it up again. So here goes: Isn’t it about time to start removing our skyways? A few years ago, Jen Gehl, a notable and well-respected Danish urbanist, was in town for an Urban Land Institute presentation. He noted downtown Minneapolis was “no longer up to the beat” of other world-class winter cities, blaming the skyways for striking a “defensive posture” against nature. Save for perhaps one bitter cold winter week per year, I couldn’t agree more. It doesn’t make sense to spend more than $1 million per skyway to perpetuate this anti-world class defensive posture. Gehl’s comments made it into the Skyway Conundrum section of the recently-released Downtown 2025 Plan, so someone is listening! While the plan doesn’t suggest removal, at least they admit the problem, and that, my friends, is the first step to recovery."

Portland Oregon 2001 12

I don't go downtown much for a variety of reasons, but pedestrian traffic-starved streets are not that reason. Following the model of Victor Gruen, downtown business interests made a decision in the early 1960s to build skyscrapers and skyways and reinforced that decisions continuously. While I am not convinced building skyscrapers was economically wise, given skyscrapers and an arterial street network on which every street and avenue is an entrance or exit to a radial freeway, skyways are a reasonable way to connect buildings. In economic jargon, while no cars downtown might be a "first-best" solution for pedestrians, we don't live in that world. Given the world where cars dominate streets, a pedestrian-only level is a viable "second-best" solution.

Downtown Minneapolis 2

Downtown Minneapolis 4

Downtown Minneapolis 5

  • Why should all of the modes interact on all levels. In principle, I like shared space as much as anyone, but I don't like walking on a sidewalk next to 3 or 4 or 5 lanes of motorized traffic, why should I be confined to a narrow building hugging strip rather than travel on a strictly pedestrian level.
  • Tall buildings should generate sufficient traffic to support retail on both the street level and the internal skyway level. In Planning for Place and Plexus we have a box "Ground Floor Retail Everywhere" which estimated that if all retail trips were home-based, 10 story apartment buildings would be sufficient to generate 1 floor of retail. A similar calculation could be done for non-home based (i.e. work-based) retail trips, and given the higher density of people per square foot in office buildings, should generate similar numbers. Short buildings don't justify skyways, but tall buildings do.
  • Skyways reduce inter-building transportation costs. This should increase inter-building activity and thus economies of agglomeration. Given the only purpose of cities is to connect people at low cost for some mutual advantage, the better cities connect people, the better off everyone is.
I have coauthored two papers about their evolution, I encourage you all to read the first: Corbett et al. (2009) Evolution of the second-story city: the Minneapolis Skyway System. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design volume 36, pages 711 - 724, which goes into the history of the Minneapolis system. Could the skyways be better. Of course. Some ideas:
  • First, they can better connect to the street network with staircases or lifts adjacent to the sidewalks.
  • Second, they can follow a more regular topology. More importantly the internal skyway level network inside the buildings themselves could be far more navigable than it is. While it is fine for regular commuters who learn the ins and outs, its medieval labyrinth is horrible for the unfamiliar traveler.
  • Third, perhaps the skyway level should be on the 10th or 20th floor instead of the 2nd (The Petronas Towers at Kuala Lampur puts them at the 41st floor). This would require more coordination, but may be more useful in reducing the total amount of vertical movement required for inter-building personal transportation. It is probably a bit late to retrofit Minneapolis, but should be considered in cities newly adopting skyways.
Skyways are Minneapolis's Cable Cars, our London Underground or Route-Master Bus, our Venetian Canals. Skyways are the iconic transportation system of Minneapolis. With all else (roads, LRT, etc.) we are copy cats. We need to embrace skyways as such, and not listen to others who want Minneapolis to fit into the conventions of relatively weather-less European cities.

Harrogate 32

Tokyo 2006 186

Transportation Nation sends us to this: Google Street View: Not Just For Directions Anymore : "When you’re a desk toy doomed to a stationary existence, you don’t get out much — unless you know how to use the Internet. Address is Approximate is a short stop motion film that imagines the toy “tak(ing) a cross country road trip to the Pacific Coast in the only way he can – using a toy car and Google Maps Street View.” You can follow along as the toy goes over the Brooklyn Bridge, through cities, forests, and deserts–ultimately making it to his West Cost destination. Watch it below!"

Minnesota GO

Minnesota GO has Vision:

A Transportation Vision for Generations Minnesota’s multimodal transportation system maximizes the health of people, the environment and our economy. The system:
Connects Minnesota’s primary assets—the people, natural resources and businesses within the state—to each other and to markets and resources outside the state and country

Provides safe, convenient, efficient and effective movement of people and goods

Is flexible and nimble enough to adapt to changes in society, technology, the environment and the economy

Imaginary Futuristic B******t

John Gruber @ Daring Fireball does not like vision videos: The Type of Companies That Publish Future Concept Videos:

"DeVilla isn’t the only one who accused me of Apple-biased hypocrisy regarding my stance on Microsoft’s “Future Visions” vs. Apple’s “Knowledge Navigator”. It is true that when I linked to Andy Baio’s post about “Knowledge Navigator” a few weeks ago, I didn’t add any commentary.

But the exact same criticism I have for Microsoft today applies to 1987 Apple. “Knowledge Navigator” encapsulates everything that was wrong with Apple in 1987. Their coolest products were imaginary futuristic bullshit. The mindset and priorities of Apple’s executive leadership in 1987 led the company to lose what was then an enormous usability and user experience lead over the rest of the industry, and eventually drove the company to the precipice of bankruptcy. That 1987 Apple was a broken company is so painfully obvious from today’s vantage point that I didn’t think it needed to be mentioned." [links and emphasis added]

This applies to planning as well, which is very much about "imaginary futuristic bullshit" which most people either (a) can't grasp, (b) dislike, (c) naively believe religiously, or (d) find underwhelming.

I think you need both a vision to shape direction and concrete incremental decisions to move you in that direction. Whether a vision helps or hinders incrementalism depends on the vision and who it is pitched to. (The classic argument of "Perfect being the enemy of the Good" often delays useful projects to the point nothing is accomplished). I am sure Steve Jobs had an internal vision, but he did not want to reveal it before it was ready. He was dealing with private goods.

Public works on the other hand cannot really be sprung on the public anymore. Hence visions, and plans.

A major downside is getting locked into a bad vision, a misguided line on the map, or a poor investment strategy because the vision or plan became an implicit contract. Unlike vision videos, which if wrong or distracting can easily be discarded, the plan somehow becomes permanent.

Mind-controlled virtual helicopters

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 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.

Up and Down the Ladder of Abstraction

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.

David Levinson

Network Reliability in Practice

Evolving Transportation Networks

Place and Plexus

The Transportation Experience

Access to Destinations

Assessing the Benefits and Costs of Intelligent Transportation Systems

Financing Transportation Networks

View David Levinson's profile on LinkedIn

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Visualization category.

Vehicles is the previous category.

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