Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The bus of the future

People tend to forget that one of the reasons that streetcars and other rail transit were replaced by buses is that the existing vehicles were under maintained, not air-conditioned and generally in rough shape. Buses were seen as "young and honest"* and emblematic of a wonderful future. Above is a photo from the LA MTA announcing their new "Dreamliners." The whole set of photos is worth looking at and thinking about in the context of transit plans of today.

Photo from LA County Metro Transportation Authority and Archive

* "Bus Vs. Trolley Car," City Topics, August 1921. (Cited in "The Bus Is Young and Honest": Transportation Politics, Technical Choice, and the Motorization of Manhattan Surface Transit, 1919-1936. Zachary Schrag, Technology and Culture 41.1. p.51-79 (2000))

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Unintended consequences of energy efficiency

Apparently the super-efficient LED stop lights work great except for one thing, which is they don't generate enough heat to melt snow. This seems to be at least one cause of an uptick in crashes during snowy times. Whoops.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The future of driving

Since the future isn't what it used to be, the folks at io9 looked at fiction versus reality for new car technologies. Sadly, the reality for flying cars is the hovercraft and the reality for Dr. Who's Motorway is congested streets. They are pretty optimistic about the Batmobile, however, which is something to look forward to.

There are many potential interactions that will affect how valuable any new technologies are. GPS devices are already talking with each other and providing great data about traffic. This new information and other pricing schemes have the potential to greatly reduce congestion, and if cars become self-driving congestion may not be as onerous as it is now. Whatever happens, many technologies will make driving easier, faster and more pleasant. That is great for drivers but will make it even harder to promote alternatives to driving for personal transportation.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Rethinking congestion with new data

TomTom, the on-board GPS device people, have released their list of the 20 most congested cities using data collected from their devices. Seattle tops the list with 43% of the roads congested, which is a few percentage points worse than Los Angeles. It's a neat use of their data though it doesn't yet tell us much about congestion and cities.