On September 11th, 2001 I was a junior in high school, living in a New Jersey suburb of New York City.  My father was working in the city that day.  When I was told that a plane hit the World Trade Center, I assumed it must have been a small plane, like the one that flew into the Empire State Building decades earlier.  I was wrong.

The decade since has been the decade in which I have come of age and begun to understand the world around me.  As I look back, not just as a citizen, but as the transportation lover and advocate who writes this blog, I am saddened and dismayed.  I am demoralized by what has been termed a lost decade.  That day, ten years ago, the United States was attacked by men from the Middle East.  America has had a strategic interest in the Middle East for decades for many reason, but the first has always been the oil on which the American economy depends on.

Instead of seeing the attacks as the kick in the pants we needed to change our joint energy and transportation policy, we doubled down on oil.  We did not invest in infrastructure to reduce our dependence through vehicles with better mileage, denser cities, better regional planning, more public transportation, and research into new technologies.  We did not see the irony that the oil inside the planes caused the destruction of the two towers.  Instead we went to war with an oil producing nation and were told to just keep on acting as we had been.  This was a moral failure of leadership, but we as Americans also failed to look in the mirror.

Today, we can do better.  With the benefit of hindsight, knowing how little we have accomplished in the past decade, and understanding that we may have actually fallen behind – now is the time to start working towards change.  We should not rethink energy and transportation system because of terrorism, but we should now understand that our foreign oil dependence can come with consequences that hit close to home.

Today the kick in the pants should be the rising price of oil.  America was built on cheap oil.  There are real questions about where our economy will go without the presence of cheap oil.  We cannot continue to sprawl and drive everywhere, cool our buildings to arctic temperatures, consume plastics as if they are renewable, and just hope that gas gets cheaper.

On September 11th we should remember that our love of cheap oil contributed to our situation.  A decade later we have not changed that love, but we have all the proof we need to know we cannot keep doing the same things we are currently doing.  On this September 11th we should be committed to ensuring that the next decade is not lost as well.

As the US moves ever so slowly to a transportation mix that includes plug-in electric vehicles (PEV), the lack of mileage range on PEVs has emerged as a critical concern going forward.  Despite many PEVs such as the Leaf, Coda, and the BYD e6 that have made mileage claims of approximately 100 miles per charge, the general public remains extremely worried that these cars will not live up to this stated performance.  Despite the fact that the vast majority of Americans drive far fewer than 100 miles per day, it is the freedom of untethered mobility that has become woven into the fabric of American life.  There is nothing more terrifying to the American driver than the feeling of being stranded.  This is even more magnified when driving a vehicle powered by a battery as oppoed to one simply running on a tank of liquid fuel.

There is no doubt that one of the fundamental obstacles toward widespread PEV adoption is the lack of a successful charging (“refueling”) infrastructure.  At present in the US, there does not exist a distributed network of PEV charging stations.  At best, companies such as Coulomb and Better Place have a smattering of stations across mainly California.  One issue these companies have faced has been finding a location that would provide for a concentrated amount of charging stations to satisfy demand.  In lieu of a highly developed gas station-esque car charging network, consumers will rely on their trusty garage outlet to provide their PEV with all the electrons it will need for a full days charge.  While this could be seen as convenient since one could simply charge the car overnight (though it is not clear this method is suitable for urban residents), this still does not satiate the demands of people who want to refill on the go when they’re out and about.

Now that I’ve laid out the dilemma, I would like to make a rather modest, albeit not novel, proposal.  It would entail massive, widespread deployment of distributed car charging stations.  These would be rolled out en masse in parking lots across the country.  This would have particular appeal in the suburbs as seemingly 99% of our suburban jungles are now paved over to accommodate strip malls or big box retailers.  Coincidentally, it just so happens that parking lots generally provide high solar irradiation compared to rooftops or other structures.  This is largely due to the lack of shadowing both from trees or high buildings.  Several companies have proposed “solar canopies” and several firms are actually developing parking lots with 10-200kW of solar potential.  Pairing the “solar canopy” concept with PEV battery charging stations could provide outstanding synergies.  Firstly, solar is a peaking resource meaning it produces the majority of its electricity during the day when most people are doing the bulk of their driving.  Secondly, with the implementation of the smart grid, this type of natural resource integration will reduce the strain on the local power utility.

Overall, the pairing of the solar parking lot canopy with PEV charging stations has the potential to become as ubiquitious as gas stations.  This will surely rush along the adoption of PEVs.  As for the cost of the solar canopy structure itself, or the battery charging station, I will discuss this in a later post.

As a diversion from more serious discussions of transportation policy, today I bring the transit geeks among you the opportunity to spice up your home with some themed decorations.  I have previously written about subway maps, modeled after the famous London Tube Map, and how they inspire reinterpretation and artistic fun.  These decorative items follow in that tradition of reusing perhaps the most common utilitarian images in our culture.  Transit maps are part aesthetic representation, part pragmatic guide.  However, they are defining images that we all identify with in our own way individually and as metropolitan areas.  The help to define our mental understanding of our cities and how we relate to our space and our neighbors, geographically, culturally, and politically.  With that in mind, enjoy these various transit-oriented products.

Need help planning your route to work?  Do it in the shower with maps of New York, London, Boston, and Washington D.C. on shower curtains.  If you have a shower that has needs a shower curtain this is certainly a fun way to express city pride, especially if you are currently an expat from your city of choice.

The company Extrapete has created a collection of wallpaper maps.  They have prepared topographical and naval maps, but of course I am most interested in the representation of the Tokyo subway map.  They have removed all the place names from the map leaving only the lines and dots for an intriguing collage of shapes and colors that would surely spice up any room.

On the subject of the ubiquitous London Tube Map and its various reappropriations, Suck U.K. has developed a London Underground mirror, placing Harry Beck’s famous graphic schematic on mirror so that you can figure out how to get to Westminster Abbey while shaving. (See the picture at the top of the post)

Lastly, in case you feel that any of these products do not express your love (or obsession) with public transit well enough one person has laid out the New York City Subway Map in tile on the floor and walls of his bathroom.  The person has also provided a tile-by-tile blueprint of how to recreate his masterpiece.

I hope you are all inspired to make your own transit art, or at least attempt to see new beauty and inherent artistic value in the infrastructure we use every day.

There has been a lot of righteous indignation displayed by government officials (primarily by U.S. senators and Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood) over the proposal by Spirit Airlines to charge passengers for carry-on bags.  Specifically, Spirit Airlines has said that it will charge $45 for carry-on luggage using the overhead bins.  Some of the responses are almost comical:

“We are going from the sublime to the ridiculous with airlines,” Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said at a news conference last week in Washington.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the fee a “slap in the face to travelers.” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) called it “skyway robbery.”

The lawmakers hope to put the kibosh on the fee by imposing a tax on all airline revenue collected from such charges.

I’m not a frequent flyer, but I’ve flown enough to recognize that baggage fees have created a big problem with boarding airplanes.  In the era of the checked baggage fee people have chosen to cram everything into a carry-on.  Of course, when everyone brings a full-sized carry-on there is not enough room in the overhead bins for all the passenger luggage and the airline inevitably spends a lot of time placing carry-on bags in.

So, to combat that Spirit Airlines has instituted a carry-on bag fee.  What has been glossed over is that Spirit is merely providing incentive for passengers to check their bags in the first place rather than carrying them on.  The first checked bag will only cost $25 if checked online before arriving at the airport ($20 less than for a potentially smaller carry-on).  Therefore Spirit is merely making the carry-on a luxury and giving reason for people to check their luggage.  Oh my!  Senators are really upset that flights will run more smoothly and that Spirit may actually assist with difficulty of TSA security checks?

Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe looks at this issue from a free market perspective.

But if [Senator Charles] Schumer grieves so deeply about travelers being “nickeled and dimed’’ when they fly, why has he never gone after the US ticket tax, which adds 7.5 percent to the price of every domestic flight? Or the $16.50 the federal government charges for each international departure and arrival? Or the $17 in customs and inspection fees paid by passengers flying into US airports from abroad? Or the “passenger facilities charges’’ (up to $18 per round-trip)? Or the “US Security Service Fee’’ ($2.50 per departure)? Or the “domestic segment fee’’ ($3.70 per flight segment)? The government’s unremitting “nickeling and diming’’ of airline passengers doesn’t trouble the sleep of New York’s senior senator. Only when a private firm acts does he toss and turn in anguish.

Reality check: Every airline charges for its overhead bins, just as every airline charges for bathrooms, oxygen masks, and flight attendants. The cost of those amenities is built into the fare you pay when you fly, and you pay whether you use them or not. The same used to be true of the “free’’ meals, pillows, and baggage handling airlines provided, before they unbundled those services, made them optional, and began charging for them separately. Spirit, an ultra-low cost carrier that describes itself as “the unbundling leader in the industry,’’ has decided to do the same for carry-on luggage, simultaneously reducing its base fares by $40 or more each way. …

Is Spirit’s strategy a good one? The free market can answer that question faster and more accurately than any one of us can. The less assistance it gets from grandstanding senators and transportation secretaries, the better off all travelers will be.

I agree that politicians have found a pinata not worthy of their attack, especially given that Spirit Airlines has less than 3% of the US market share for airlines.

I have added Oliver Wyman’s rail planning blog to the blogroll.  I am excited about the addition as it brings some business and technical experience to the blogroll lineup.

An example of the the kind of technical but fascinating insight you will find on the blog is David Lehlbach’s recent post on the future and impact of long trains; i.e. trains 10,000 feet long and longer.  The post illuminates the efficiencies of such trains due to their carrying capacity and staff needs but also ponders the challenges such as whether terminals can handle such enormous loads and whether in the end such trains will slow things down.   I am fascinated by the idea of a 10,000 foot train (as long as I’m not in a car at railway crossing watching it) and I appreciate Lehlbach’s comparison to the impact of Airbus A380 super jumbo jets.  I also imagine such trains can be compared to early cargo ships.  Early cargo ships were efficient in and of themselves but could not transfer all of that efficiency because ports could not properly handle their loads.  If the supertrains are truly cost-effective to a large degree compared to peer trains then terminals likely will be adapted to carry the efficiencies all the way through.

On March 29th the Moscow subway system fell victim to a series of suicide bomber terrorist attacks.  Two female bombers detonated bombs that killed 40 people and wounded another 80 at rush hour that morning.  The attack has raised questions about how safe our American subways are what we need to do to increase security on them.  Subways and buses (and major transportation infrastructure like bridges and tunnels) are of course convenient targets for terrorist attacks for the same reason that planes have been for so long.  Transportation sources have been targets because large numbers of people congregate on them, making them unfortunately efficient for maximal impact.  Moreover, transit is so essential to our consciousness and daily activity, yet something also small, that attacking it jars our very sense of security to the core because nothing feels safe when our means of movement is denied or destroyed.

However, it is notable that American subways have not been subject to a major attack, differentiating the U.S. from Spain, London, and Moscow.  I do not think it has anything to do with our security measures in subways though.  If a bomber wanted to access any American subway system all she would need is a fare.  As long as we do and should prioritize speed and convenience of travel our public transportation systems will be incredibly permeable to attack.   It is simply impractical to put people through any sort of rigorous security screening before entering a subway train.  Moreover, to limit what people can bring on the subway is plain stupid as people rely on subways and buses in cities as residents in suburbs rely on cars.

What will keep us safe is reasonable police presence in our subway systems such that passengers feel safe and that perpetrators feel a reasonable chance of arousing suspicions of authorities.  However, the only true way to keep passengers safe is the same system that applies to preventing any sort of terrorism, quality intelligence services and smart police working in concert.  Fred Kaplan of Slate put it well when quoting Richard Clarke, the former White House Counterterrorism Chief:

Clarke has a few theories on why there haven’t been any suicide bombings here lately. “After 9/11,” he said, “all the security sweeps and the detentions left al-Qaida with the perception that it was very difficult to operate in the U.S.—more difficult than it actually was. Meanwhile, they found it was a lot easier to go after Americans in Iraq. They stopped going after the foreign enemy in the ‘far abroad.’ We came to them, so they went after us over there.”

That is not reassuring.  Is it possible that the moment we leave Iraq and Afghanistan we will be susceptible to greater domestic attacks?  Perhaps.  Maybe at the same time without a military presence in the Middle East an attack will be less likely.  This is all besides the point though.  There is no perfect way to protect from a terrorist attack, especially on our mass transportation systems.  We should concern ourselves with petty theft and assault and the day-to-day crimes and leave the concerns over national security to those who make that their full-time job.

In November a 40-year-old SEPTA passenger car broke down and burst into flames on the R5 route; a signal if ever there was one that the fleet of aging rail cars needs to be replaced.  Well, the plans have already been in the works and my friend Anthony Campisi (aka A-Ton) has reported on the story of the new replacement cars for PlanPhilly (video of the new cars can be seen on his story page).

As shipments of Silverliner V regional rail car shells make it here from Korea next month, it will mark SEPTA’s first major rail procurement in nearly 30 years.

SEPTA is hoping that the new cars will herald a better rider experience and help meet its growing ridership needs, adding about 4,200 additional seats to the current regional rail capacity.

But rail advocates worry that SEPTA’s decision to sell off the older cars for scrap could put it in a bind if the Silverliner Vs have any manufacturing problems.

The authority has purchased 120 Silverliner Vs to replace 73 older Silverliner II and III cars, some of which date back to the 1960s. They point to brake problems that the Acela Express cars have experienced, which forced Amtrak to take them out of service in 2002 and 2005, and the fact that SEPTA has gone such a long time without designing and procuring a new class of rail cars.

The new cars are designed and built by Hyundai Rotem in Korea.  The new cars will continue SEPTA’s current regional rail seating configuration of rows of three-seats across from rows of two-seats. However, I’m personally more excited to see the double deck passenger cars arriving for the MBTA and SCRRA.  As a former loyal NJ Transit rider I’m a huge fan of the double deck cars, especially when they are set up with only two seats per row, as they end the awkwardness of the middle-seat conundrum; i.e. whether to sit there and when to ask to sit in the middle seat.

However, the cars are outfitted with new aesthetic lines inside and some nifty communications systems designed by Info-Vision Technology.  The front destination indicators in bright lights and color-coordinated series will be a welcome departure from the old plastic signs that slid into the front and side of the current rail cars.

In typical SEPTA fashion there are fears about just how well the cars will perform and whether all the old cars should immediately be phased out:

Though the CAC has not issued an official recommendation to SEPTA about the Silverliners, some members pointed out that Hyundai Rotem, the company that is manufacturing the Silverliners in a joint venture with Sojitz Corp., has never handled a rail project like this one before.

The Rotem venture was given the worst technical rating by SEPTA of all the bidders for the Silverliner V contract.
Because SEPTA doesn’t have the yard capacity to store the older Silverliners, Mitchell suggested they lease storage space from a railroad.

Though freight railroads do this quite often, Bob Parker, president and CEO of the East Penn Railroad, an area short-line railroad, said that his company has never stored passenger cars before. He said that doing that is “a different sort of animal” and that it would present different liability concerns.

All-in-all, it is very exciting for Philadelphia and SEPTA, let’s hope there are no fires on the new coaches.

The attempted terrorist-attack on a Christmas flight to Detroit ended in the inevitable security restrictions on international flights, including the removal of blankets in the last hour of flight.  While the New York Times was wondering how terrorism has affected the American desire to travel and Slate was commenting on the idiocy and inefficacy of our security spending I have been wondering what would happen if another form of transit were attacked.

Our transportation security measures are incredibly reactionary rather than visionary or proactive.  Just look at how much security there is when boarding a plane and how non-existent a real security presence is at an Amtrak station or major bridge entrance.  I am afraid both of the consequences of this passivity and the consequences of potential increased security.

Forgive me for my non-politically correct statement, but it is rather surprising that a terrorist has not struck an American train as happened in Spain in 2004 or another place of large congregation such as a bridge entrance or bus terminal.  After all, that has to be a lot easier to do than getting through airport security.

As much as I fear the tragic consequences of such an act, I am more afraid of Americans having their mobility restricted.  Terrorists almost certainly are more likely to hit a train or bus than a series of cars on I-95.  Therefore restrictions are likely to hit passengers getting on trains and buses, even commuters and regular subway and bus riders.  Not only is this extraordinarily costly as the TSA demonstrates, but it may serve to do exactly what this country does not need: promote cars over public transit.

I’m not saying that police should not patrol transit stations and dogs should not sniff luggage lying around and that passengers should not report suspicious activity, but making train security similar to airplane security could kill any high speed rail venture.  America’s transit future depends on development and transportation investment that encourages and allows people to travel together rather than individually.  Of course communal transit is more attractive to a terrorist (the same reason we go crazy when an airplane crashes but most ignore individual car crashes even though cars claim thousands more lives than planes do).

America’s economic and cultural future depends on the population having equal freedom of physical movement as it does freedom of ideas and personality via electronic transmission and paper delivery.  American security agencies must keep Americans safe on the rails and the roads as well as in the air.  However, placing similar restrictions on train riders will have disastrous consequences as time-savings via train are not nearly as dramatic as via flight.  To keep us safe the work must be done behind the scenes, not by aggressively screening every passenger and forcing unnecessary restrictions while riding and boarding.

These days we’re thrilled when can look online to locate where a bus is or whether flights or trains are on time.  However, the nascent technologies tracking flights and buses can tell transportation planners and managers much more about the system.

My friend Greg Moran, a consultant at Fieldstone Capital, alerted me to a new project that MIT is spearheading in conjunction with Singapore as part of the Transportation@MIT project.  This particular project, in conjunction with universities in Singapore will use information technology to evaluate transportation and commerce and figure out how to move people most efficiently in terms of time, energy and sustainability.

At the heart of the Singapore project is SimMobility, a simulation platform with an integrated model of human and commercial activities, land use, transportation, environmental impacts, and energy use. This simulation will be linked with a range of networked computing and control technology-enabled mobility innovations. The project’s researchers plan to use the data generated by these devices, and a range of new analytical tools that harness real-time information and management systems, to design and evaluate new mobility solutions for urban settings in and beyond Singapore.

“The central theme of this project is straightforward and ambitious,” says Odoni. “Can we bring together the extraordinary recent advances in information technology and transportation science and increase the capacity and efficiency of urban transportation systems to provide high-quality service to urban travelers? And can we, at the same time, ensure a sustainable and livable environment?”

In addition to being one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world, Singapore already has a robust urban transportation system, as well as one of the world’s most complete suites of sustainable mobility policies, regulations, and practices. “Singapore is an ideal location to test some of these ideas,” says Professor Cynthia Barnhart, an operations researcher and one of the organizers of the project.

Singapore is an admittedly exciting place to perform this kind of applied research.  Singapore has a large public transit network that about half the population uses daily and the city-state itself is contained and easy to measure given its size and the ability to truly count what each person is doing.

In a future world where all transportation modes may depend on the electric grid in one form or another performing this type of analysis is critical for creating transportation policy.  This research can help localities plan where to build more public transit networks and of what type.  It can help energy companies decide at what point to release the most energy onto the grid.  It can also help governments incentivize travel at certain times and less at others.  It can reward companies for establishing work hours at certain times of the day to coordinate travel.

In a world where transportation is sustainable it must be efficient.  Efficient in time for the person using it, efficient for energy consumed and efficient in the reliability and durability of the machinery and support systems used in the system.  Real-time data and information technology is the wave of the future in understanding how to make transportation systems most efficient, sustainable, reliable and effective.


In eighth grade Mr. Chomskey made my class memorize parts of The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. The poem begins:

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

I can still hear that click-clack rhythm of hoofs beating in some recess of my memory.  For those of you familiar with the poem, the tale of two Revolutionary War era lovers torn asunder by King George’s Army, you know that the Highway Man comes to an untimely end on the road in the glow of a midnight moon.

This was my first literary exposure to the danger of transportation, but we all grow up knowing that transportation is an inherently dangerous activity.  Transportation will always be dangerous as long as human actors are making decisions about rapid movement and operating fast-moving and heavy vehicles.  However, there should be an imperative to make transportation as safe as possible.

Two pieces of news strike this chord.  First, Britain has outlawed texting while driving.

Britain’s new guidelines state that using a hand-held phone when causing a death will “always make the offense more serious” in terms of punishment and lead to prison time. Texting is given special treatment.

I hope that Britain’s action is a lead for federal US legislation.  Some states have already begun down this path, but the feds can outlaw texting while driving as easily as they create a national drinking age of 21.  Simply connect federal transportation (namely highway) money to laws banning texting while driving.  That certainly passes constitutional muster.

Second, Transportation 4 America has reported that 76,000 Americans have died in the last 15 years while walking in or along a street.  The FDA wants to ban summer oysters because 15 people (largely people with liver problems) a year die from food poisoning but this nation has yet to take pedestrian and road safety seriously.

This report also analyzes state and regional spending of federal transportation dollars on pedestrian safety, finding that many of the metropolitan areas in greatest need of improvement are spending the least amount on pedestrian safety projects. Nationwide, less than 1.5 percent of funds authorized under the federal transportation law, SAFETEA-LU, have been allocated for projects to improve the safety of walking and bicycling, even though pedestrians comprise 11.8 percent of all traffic deaths and trips made on foot account for almost 9 percent of total trips. SAFETEA-LU created a new safety program and changed regulations to make it easier to use what were once “highway funds” on a wider variety of transportation projects, including public transportation and pedestrian facilities.

At the state and local levels, no state spends more than 5 percent of federal transportation funds on sidewalks, crosswalks, traffic calming, speed humps, multi-use paths, or safety programs for pedestrians or cyclists. This is in spite of a more than 30 percent increase in total federal transportation dollars to states with the passage of SAFETEA-LU in 2005. The 52 largest metro areas averaged annual spending of federal funds on bicycle and pedestrian projects of just $1.39 per person. The average metro area spends 2.2 percent of their federal transportation funds on projects to improve conditions for walking and bicycling.

I’m not really sure when we will wake up to the fact that we are a multi-modal nation and that our culture of depending on cars to get us everywhere actually gets us nowhere.  The number of deaths to pedestrians is downright unacceptable.  It is a sign that we do not encourage walking enough, that we subsidize driving to an unhealthy degree, and that our development and growth has poorly prioritized the types of communities where people can travel safely without turning on a motor.

Transportation is about getting people from one place to another, and all people should have the right to expect to arrive at their destination safely.  That should especially apply to those taking the least dangerous means of conveyance, their feet.  Or else we may end up metaphorically like the highwayman:

Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high!
Blood-red were his spurs i’ the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat,
When they shot him down on the highway,
Down like a dog on the highway,
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.

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