Linklist: October 20, 2011

Bloomberg NJ Transit Starts Tap-And-Pay Smartphone Option With Google : “The public-transit system is the first to partner with the company on its Google Wallet “tap-and-pay” system, which gives businesses access to credit-card information when a customer waves their phone over a sensor to make a purchase. … “Transit is the fastest way to accelerate adoption and reach usage density in major urban centers by habituating the behavior of tapping and paying with phones,” Stephanie Tilenius, vice president of commerce at Mountain View, California-based Google, said in the statement. … The service is only available on Sprint Nextel Corp. (S)’s Android-based Nexus S 4G phone and users must charge items to Citigroup Inc. (C) MasterCard credit cards. Google said it’s expanding to other Android phones and is teaming up with Visa Inc. (V), Discover Financial Services (DFS) and American Express Co. to expand to other cards.” [At least transit is fastest for something]

David King passes this on from New Scientist (behind a paywall), suggesting more positive (negative?) externalities of building height restrictions. If you live in taller buildings you are shaving nanoseconds off your life. About time: Does it really fly when you’re having fun? : ”
A year atop Australia’s tallest apartment block will make you 950 nanoseconds older than a bungalow-dweller”

Linklist: October 19, 2011

Awad Mustafa and Caline Malek in The National: BlackBerry cuts made roads safer, police say: “Oct 15, 2011 
ABU DHABI // A dramatic fall in traffic accidents this week has been directly linked to the three-day disruption in BlackBerry services. In Dubai, traffic accidents fell 20 per cent from average rates on the days BlackBerry users were unable to use its messaging service. In Abu Dhabi, the number of accidents this week fell 40 per cent and there were no fatal accidents. On average there is a traffic accident every three minutes in Dubai, while in Abu Dhabi there is a fatal accident every two days.”

Robo-boats from UMNewsUniversity of Minnesota robots to join search for invasive species : : “MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (10/17/2011) —Computer scientists and biologists from the University of Minnesota and two other universities are teaming up with robots to tackle a major invader of rivers, wetlands and lakes across the United States—the common carp. Researchers from the University of Minnesota, Johns Hopkins University and Central State University in Ohio have been awarded $2.2 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop robotic boats and train them to locate and follow radio-tagged carp as part of a new approach to controlling populations of the nonnative fish.”

Stephen Ebert @ Humans Invent “Underground living: The death of the skyscraper “It could be time to say sayonara to the skyscraper and hello to underground living. If Mexican architects have their way we’ll all be living in Earthscrapers over 30 stories below ground. Forget loft living, the next trend might be subterranean suburbia.
For a glimpse into the blueprint of future city-dwelling, look no further than Mexico City. Rather than ask “who can go highest?” BNKR Arquitectura’s highly ambitious Earthscraper project is instead asking “how low can you go?” Burrowing down 35 stories beneath the heart of Mexico City, the Earthscraper defies everything the skyscraper stands for. It’s an ambitious rebuttal to architectural obsession with high-rise, so-called space efficient living.”

[As someone who works in an award-winning 7 story underground building, (on the first floor, with windows, thank you), this is a bad idea. Our sixth floor was recently put out of commission for an economically-infeasible to solve water and mold issue. Oddly the seventh floor is still functional, at this time. Water tables remain an issue. Mexico City also has seismic issues.]

Walk don’t run

Stop for Pedestrian in Crosswalk
Stop for Pedestrians in Crosswalk

Every time a pedestrian runs across the street in face of oncoming traffic, conditions worsen for the rest of us. You empower the driver, you make them believe they have the right-of-way and need not decelerate in the presence of a pedestrian. Walk don’t run. Make the unhappy driver slow for you. This is the only way to reclaim the street.

I saw this again yesterday, at a cross-walk (the troublesome, and poorly designed, cross-walk unmarked, reconfigured East-River Road and Fulton St SE. Nice job traffic engineers, no marked crosswalk adjacent to campus, was the paint just too expensive, or is this the new policy?). The pedestrian, who looked to be in his early 60s, felt the need to run to avoid oncoming traffic that just got set loose at the East River Road/Harvard Intersection stop-sign at about 5 pm. Drivers (University employees most of them) seem to feel that once they clear Harvard, they have reached the Freeway. They have not. Someone should remind them of this. A few of those dorky stop for pedestrians in crosswalk signs, perhaps some stop for pedestrians in unmarked crosswalk signs would be nice as well.


The laws vary by state, but even crossing not at a crosswalk is generally legal so long as you are not creating a hazard.

Linklist: October 18, 2011

B: BC News – Car-free Sunday for smog-struck Milan: “The northern Italian city of Milan banned all traffic from its streets for 10 hours on Sunday in an attempt to reduce smog.
The measure, first imposed on a trial basis in 2007, is triggered whenever pollution exceeds the statutory limit for 12 consecutive days.”

Green Car Congress: GMs Taub: self-driving vehicles could be ready by end of decade: “Vehicles that partially drive themselves will be available by the middle of the decade with more sophisticated self-driving systems by the end of the decade, General Motors Vice President of Global Research and Development Alan Taub told the Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress in Orlando on Sunday. These advances in autonomous vehicle technology are built on leading-edge advanced active safety systems, Taub said.”

World Society for Transport and Land Use Research

The newly formed World Society for Transport and Land Use Research (WSTLUR) recently held its inaugural election for Board. The following were elected to the Board. Congratulations to all, and thanks to our well over 100 members and 25 candidates, and to Kevin Krizek for organizing the elections.

Board Members

  • Susan Handy, Interim Chair, Professor and Chair of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California, Davis
  • Jason (Xinyu) Cao, Assistant Professor, University of Minnesota
  • Kelly J. Clifton, Associate Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Portland State University
  • Carey Curtis, Professor, Curtin University, Perth, Australia
  • Ahmed M. El-Geneidy, Assistant Professor, McGill School of Urban Planning
  • Zhan Guo, Assistant Professor, Wagner School of Public Service and Research Director, Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management, New York University
  • Kara Kockelman, Professor & William J. Murray Jr. Fellow, Department of Civil, Architectural & Environmental Engineering, University of Texas at Austin
  • Corinne Mulley, Chair in Public Transport, Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies, University of Sydney
  • Petter Næss, Professor of Urban Planning, Aalborg University, Denmark
  • Paul Waddell, Professor and Chair, Department of City and Regional Planning, University of California, Berkeley
  • Lei Zhang, Assistant Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Maryland-College Park

A Dictionary Of Transport Analysis

I have a couple of chapters (mine are under a Creative Commons license!) in the Recently published: Button, Kenneth, Henry Vega, Peter Nijkamp (2011) A Dictionary Of Transport Analysis Edward Elgar Publishing:

“This concise and clearly focused Dictionary, with contributions by the leading authorities in their fields, brings order and clarity to a topic that can suffer from confusion over terminology and concepts.
It provides a bridge between the academic disciplines involved and illustrates the application of transportation policy that crosses a variety of administrative divisions. Cutting through jargon, the entries concentrate on the social science aspects of transportation analysis, defining many of the terms used in transportation, and providing valuable information on some of the major institutions and technologies affecting this sector
This concise and comprehensive Dictionary will be an invaluable addition to libraries and research institutes and a helpful resource for anyone with an interest in the analysis of transport.”

How big need a city be such that your hosts don’t meet you at the airport?

When you visit a small town, your hosts often meet you at the airport (or train station). When you go to a big city, they don’t. Clearly this depends on your relative importance (The President will be greeted in every city), and whether you have hosts expecting you, and whether you are a regular/irregular visitor.
But for a random person, how big need a city be such that your hosts don’t meet you at the airport?

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.