Friday, October 31, 2008

Antwerp Main Railway Station

One of my photos of the Antwerp main railway station was selected for the Schmap guide to Antwerp. I love the photo because it's one of those railway wheels with wings sprouting from the axle. In this case it's all golden.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Groundswell Awards 2008

I am working on a project to develop a Web 2.0 application for improving public transport efficiency. The idea is to combine a WIKI, social network and database in a structured system. It's described in a bit more detail on my website page on public transport efficiency (towards the bottom), but that's not what I wanted to talk about.

I wanted to talk about the Groundswell Awards. Groundswell is a book about how companies can better use social networking. I will review the book later, but they also have a blog and recently sponsored a contest of the best uses of social networking. Here's a link to the Groundswell Awards 2008 blog posting. There's lots of neat ideas on this page!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The train in Spain is better than the plane.

Here's an article I wrote in support of California's high speed rail initiative which is on the ballot on November 4, 2008.

The train in Spain is better than the plane.

High speed trains are transforming Spain and countries throughout the world. High speed rail’s benefits are clear, it’s time for California to get on board.

California’s transport system is a brake on innovation and growth, airport lines, flight delays, and traffic congestion, it’s an endless series of hassles stealing our money and wasting our time – it’s different in Spain.

Spain’s first high speed train started operating in 1992 between Madrid and Seville. At the time many ridiculed it as a prestige project with little economic value. Well, they’re not laughing now. Instead, based on the initial line’s economic and environmental success, they are too busy building a high speed network connecting Spain’s major cities and neighbors in France and Portugal.

One of the first benefits Spain noticed was that the share of people flying the Madrid – Seville route dropped from 75% to 25% overnight and the total number of travelers doubled. In addition to spurring economic development, reducing flights helped reduce greenhouse gases and airport congestion. The shift from plane to train has been repeated in many markets including Brussels - Paris, Paris - London and Paris - Lyon. In several cases airlines no longer even offer service.

Ah, but the airlines won’t give up without a fight. Well, not really; European airlines have taken an “if you can’t beat them – join them” approach. Lufthansa uses high speed rail on feeder routes to Frankfurt airport providing through ticketing and baggage handling. KLM-Air France is a partner in the new Netherlands high speed rail company. Can’t we do the same in California? High speed rail makes good economic and environmental sense for both airlines and society.

But, it’s not only people, high speed’s newest market is freight. Several railways now offer express delivery and will soon move more substantial goods. Again, railways are working with private sector partners like FedEx and UPS to create efficient networks, and again they are economically and environmentally sustainable. Imagine the number of trucks we could remove from California highways with a similar system.

Spain is also overlaying regional rail trains on its high speed network just as California is planning. These trains are a supercharged version of Caltrain”s highly successful Baby Bullet trains, imagine San Jose to San Francisco in 20-minutes! This is being successfully operated now, so ignore the doomsayers who say it won’t work.

Finally, high speed rail is revitalizing economies. A fine example is England’s high speed line from the Channel Tunnel to London – a case study of top quality planning, engineering and environmental sensitivity. The line was specifically routed through southeast London to encourage economic development in a depressed area. So far the EURO 10-billion project has generated EURO 40-billion in investments, and played a major role in securing the Olympics for London. Can’t we use high speed rail to revitalize California too?

So, repeat after me, the train in Spain is better than the plane: faster, more economic and better for our environment. What’s California waiting for?
Andrew Nash,, is Managing Director of Vienna Transport Strategies, he formerly served as Executive Director of the San Francisco County Transport Authority. This article is based on his experience at the UIC 2008 World High Speed Rail Conference.

Fear and Loathing in Châtelet - Les Halles

I made a business trip to Paris on Thursday to attend an all day meeting on Friday. I have been to Paris many times and have always relied on the excellent public transport system, unfortunately it really disappointed me this time and I think I saw some things from the other (non public transport expert) side.

The RER B train from Charles de Gaulle Airport left on-time (according to the brochure there are about 8 trains per hour to/from Paris during most of the day - an excellent level of service!). After about 20 minutes, on what should have been an approximately 35-minute trip, we slowed down and pretty much crawled along all the way to the Châtelet - Les Halles station, trip time: about one hour and ten minutes.

Feeling a bit frustrated, but glad to be off the train, we walked upstairs and were engulfed in the ocean of humanity that seems to be going in all directions. It reminded me of Kafka: halls, stairways, signs, queues of people, in sum: extremely disorienting. Here I thought - my god, how could someone with mobility difficulty or cognitive difficulty deal with this situation? As it was I had a bit of angst - all I wanted to do is to get to the surface, and it seemed like there was no way we could find the right exit without stairs, hallways, blocked passageways, etc. Eventually we found our way out, but it was an experience. It taught me to think more about keeping transport station design simple and providing very clear signage systems.

Returning to the airport on Friday evening was worse. There had been an accident in the tunnel between Châtelet - Les Halles and Gard du Nord, when we arrived on the platforms they were already packed, really packed (and they are big platforms!). I can read French so I could read from the monitors that there were big delays, so I went upstairs to try to find some information.

(Note to Paris: you are an international city, you should provide important information like major delays traveling to international airports in foreign languages! Not, of course, like any US city does that, but that's why we live in Europe.)

Most people at the information booth did not speak English (different from many other European countries I have visited!) but one did. He was quite helpful, when I asked if we should take the Metro line 4 to Gard du Nord, he said yes, it would be a good idea.

So, we (and quite a few other people who had the same good idea) navigated through the station to the platforms for M4. It was one of those occasions that drive public transport operators crazy. No place to stand on the platforms, absolutely no room in the train, lots of people wanting to get out and into the train. The train probably stayed in the station for 3 minutes, I was the last one on - it took the doors two or three times to close, ripping my shirt in the process, but at least we were moving.

Repeat the process six times (once for each station between Châtelet - Les Halles and Gard du Nord). Arriving at Gard du Nord, I asked for information, again French was the preferred language, but the person seemed to understand what I wanted. However, she had no idea that there was any problem with the RER trains to CDG (odd, since even I could read the television monitors) and no good ideas for getting there other than to wait on platform 43. She was helpful, she gave me a schedule!

So we went to platform 43. Soon a train pulled in and the metro process was repeated - it was on the edge of frightening, even more people than in the metro station. We were not able to get on the first train, but did manage to squeeze (and I mean squeeze) onto the second train about 5-minutes later. I remarked that probably even the pick-pockets could not work since even I could not get my hands in my pockets.

The train seemed to be a local and took about 45 minutes to get to the airport, we had 25-minutes to get to our flight. Luckily the train station was in the same terminal as our flight, but CDG Terminal 2 is not really easy to navigate, especially for people stressed out about missing their flights. Security, badly arranged (see my article on Copenhagen Airport), was quite slow and inefficient. We did make our plane, but were still feeling the stress as we waited for the commuter rail train into Vienna.

As a public transport professional I always try to think about ways in which the problems I have traveling could be addressed. For example, why couldn't the RER run a couple of empty trains into Gard du Nord from the North, and then back out again? How could the signs and station design be made more efficient and effective? Why can't we provide more capacity and ease of movement boarding/alighting on trains (e.g. reduce seating)?

I am sure Paris planners are thinking about these questions, the system is one of the best in the world, but we all need to do more than think, we need leaders willing to provide the money and initiative to get our ideas implemented. Ironically, Paris' Mayor Bertrand Delanoë is one of the most innovative and energetic mayors when it comes to implementing innovative planning and transport issues. Let's hope he is able to solve some of these metro and rail planning issues!

Why bother? by Michael Pollan

I was at a meeting on Thursday night and found myself talking about Michael Pollan's article Why bother? in the New York Times Magazine's Environment Issue from this past April. The article talked about how simply growing a garden could make a difference practically and more importantly, I think, philosophically. We live in an apartment, but we (Christa!) planted a garden this year and we enjoyed the last of the tomatoes last week; the herbs are frozen and the seeds have been dried and saved for next year.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Warsaw: Pierogarnai na Bednarskiej Restaurant

In my quick trip to Poland I really wanted to have a pirogi meal. I opted for a very traditional restaurant (a "milk bar") located just off the Krakowskie Przedmiescie on ulica Bednarska 28/30. The street runs downhill and on the right side you will first pass a bar (they were very friendly, and even though they are a restaurant they told me where their competition was ... I just kept asking for pirogi!). Next you will pass, I am not kidding, a sushi bar. Then up the stairs to a simple but nice restaurant. You order at the counter and it was a bit of work to get an English menu (it has the old prices so they do not want to confuse people I guess). I ordered the menu for 15 Zlotny which included a good vegetable soup, a cole slaw salad (see photo on the right) and six pirogi. They let me have three of two kinds, so I chose the 'brother-in-law' which are filled with a sauerkraut-vegetable mixture and 'diavolo' which are filled with a spicy (not really) meat mixture. (You can guess which were which in the top photo.) The pirogi were covered with a light dose of bacon bits and meat (quite tasty).

I love eating things like pirogi because so many cultures have this same food, but with different fillings. It's fun to contrast and compare!

Warsaw Trip

As I mentioned in a previous post, I went to Warsaw on Monday to speak at a rail infrastructure conference. I took the night train there and back, so I only had about 12-hours in Warsaw, with 9 spent in the conference. I had been to Warsaw before so I knew my way around a little and the conference was held right downtown which helped.

When the conference was finished I walked to the E. Wedel chocolate shop/cafe, which was beautiful. I bought some chocolate to take home and headed towards the 'Royal Mile' making a note to stop here next time to enjoy a hot chocolate or coffee.

By this time it was dark, but the Nowy Swiat was brightly lit and full of people. The street runs south to Warsaw's reconstructed old town. Along the way are numerous churches, government ministry buildings in the great classical palace style, monuments and businesses. The name changes to Krakowsie Prezedmiescie and the sidewalks become wider (it seems to be a transit mall). The University is also located here so there are lots of students and businesses serving students (also a brew pub called Brou Armia (also a place I need to go next time!).

The old town is surrounded by a brick wall with ramparts on one side, it's interesting to walk here and see how the light and shadows play on the walls. The old town itself is lively, with many of the typical tourist shops, restaurants and street performers. The old town was almost completely destroyed in World War II and it's interesting to compare the photo of the destroyed city in the main square to the current version.

The old town remains a living part of the city. I was not able to walk down one of the streets because the church was having a mass and the street in front was full with people. But it was fun to go around the crowd by walking through one of the small alleys - providing a glimpse on how people really live.

I retraced my steps back to the central train station and caught my train back to Vienna. Here are some photos of Warsaw's most, well I am not sure exactly how to describe it, building. I took the photos throughout the day by stepping out of the hotel where the conference was being held.

Madrid: Cerveceria Cruz Blanca - Prado Restaurant

We enjoyed a very nice tapas supper at a restaurant called Cerveceria Cruz Blanca - Prado in Madrid. The restaurant has a bar/tapas area on the ground floor and a full restaurant in the cellar. The bar level is much more interesting! The restaurant seems to be a chain organized by a brewery called Cruz Blanca. The decor featured historic brewery photos and advertising placards.

We ordered beer and received two tapas each, both were mayonnaise-based and since I do not eat mayonnaise they brought us four more! The beer was very interesting, it tasted vaguely creamy ... a nice feeling in the mouth. We ordered several tapas from the menu - including the pork loin sandwich - and they were all good. We spent 14 Euros for several beers and a light supper. The brewery mascot seems to be a penguin, here's Christa standing next to the door.

The restaurant is located at Calle Prado 25, on the corner of Calle Santa Catalina between the Plaza Santa Ana and Plaza Las Cordes.

Madrid: Casa Lucas Restaurant - Tapas

We had two excellent tapas meals at Casa Lucas Restaurant at 30 Cava Baja street in Madrid. The menu is short, but everything we tried was fine. The pork loin tapas were exceptional. The meal starts with a couple pieces of sausage on bread that arrives on your table (or on the bar) as you sit down. Next order beer or wine as you peruse the menu and choose several tapas to share. As I said everything was great and they had a pretty good English language menu. We spent 34 Euros for two including beer.

We also visited a couple nearby tapas restaurants/bars for a drink. Especially good was La Chata at 24 Cava Baja. If you ask they give you a free tapas consisting of a small dish of chorizo sausage with potatoes and peppers, quite tasty. The sit down part of the restaurant also looked good.

We arrived early one night (Casa Lucas does not open before 8 pm) and had a drink at one of the bars on the corner, here's a photo.

In summary, Cava Baja is a great place to eat in Madrid.

Madrid: La Vaca Veronica Restaurante

While in Madrid we ate lunch at La Vaca Veronica Restaurante. It was recommended in several guidebooks and we really enjoyed it. We both had the steak ... it's listed as "beef" on the lunch menus. The menu including wine, beer or water, the main course and dessert cost 15 Euros. The restaurant is clean and comfortable.

As regular readers know I collect photos of unique restroom signs. The restrooms at La Vaca Veronica were worth visiting (for more than the normal reasons) ... here's a photo (that's a glass floor: the men's room had a man's hat and shoes, the women's had, well you can figure it out).

Spanish Wedding and Trains

We traveled to Spain recently for a friend's wedding. We flew to Madrid, then took the train to a small city called Tudela in Navarra. They are very proud of their high speed rail system in Spain and rightly so. I was able to book our tickets over the internet (using Google's translate function since the website provided information in English but you could only book on a Spanish site). The trip was fast and efficient.

The wedding was great, it reinforces my belief that one should always attend weddings especially in different countries. We were welcomed into the family and became part of a wonderful celebration. We took over 200 photos, maybe I will post a few in the coming days. In the meantime here's how they wash the front of the trains in Spain.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

BMVIT Austria - 2008 Transport Research Conference

Last Monday I attended the Austrian Ministry of Transportation and Innovation (BMVIT) 2008 conference on transport research: Mobility for All - Sustainable Regional Transport (Nachhaltige nahmobilitaet). The conference was very good, five very interesting presentations and lots of time for discussion with the attendees.

The first speaker was the BMVIT State Secretary Christa Kranzl. She is an elected official who is responsible for managing the ministry (along with the actual minister). She spoke very intelligently about the importance of regional transport and sustainability; it was impressive that she understood the important issues and also that she stayed for the first lecture and asked intelligent questions about key points.

The first lecture was by Prof. Dr. Heiner Monheim from the University of Trier's department of regional development. His lecture focused on many of the small things that we can do to make local/regional transport more sustainable - in contrast to spending lots of money on huge infrastructure projects designed to move people over long distances. Two key recommendations: bicycle streets and "shared space" roadways where different modes of transport share the same space.

Another lecture was given by Werner Broeg from the institute of Transport and Infrastructure Research at Socialdata (Munich). They specialize in detailed surveys to help improve planning. His results were fascinating, showing transport similarities between Europe, America and Australia ... the three continents share more than we sometimes think. One of his main points was that planners need to focus on getting people who really have options to bike/walk and/or use public transport (the low hanging fruit), we waste too much time and effort trying to get people without realistic options (e.g. three times longer travel time, three transfers, etc.) to use public transport. Some of his data was fascinating, more in a later post.

Prof. Dr. Hermann Knoflacher from the Vienna Technical University's department of transport planning and technology spoke on the need for leveling the playing field if we want people to use public transport. One of his main ideas is to put parking equidistant away from people as public transport stops - when people have to walk as far to their car as they do to public transport, they will use public transport more often.

All in all it was one of the best conferences I have been to in a long time. More later when I have time to

CEE Railway Infrastructure Conference - 2008

I will be speaking at the CEE Railway Infrastructure Conference 2008 on Monday, October 20. I will be commenting on the Rail Baltica project, one of the Trans-European Network Transport (TEN-T) priority corridors. It is an interesting project that runs north from Poland through Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

The project has many similarities with railway planning projects in the USA. For example, the existing route needs significant rehabilitation, so the question is do you build an entirely new line or focus on rehabilitating the old route? I am looking forward to the conference and discussing improvement ideas for this important corridor.

Here are my comments on the Rail Baltica project.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Information and Public Transport

There is a good post on the difficulty of taking public transport, especially trains, in California, on Joel Ellinwood's CD&R blog on Transit Tales. I attended a conference organized by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Transport and Innovation (BMVIT) on Monday where one of the speakers discussed the lack of information available on public transport, when one of the audience disagreed with him saying that in fact plenty of information is available, the speaker replied, it's available somewhere, but not inside peoples' heads. I think Ellinwood's piece highlights this fact, a transit geek could probably answer all his questions, but for the rest of us (and for all of us when we travel!) public transport information is still too hard to find and understand.

Friday, October 10, 2008

London School of Economics - Innovation Web Site

One interesting e-mail I receive each Friday is from the Scout Report. The Scout Report summarizes several websites, two new applications and a news story each week. Here's a description and link I found particularly intersting:

LSE Information Systems and Innovation Group Video Archive

The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has hundreds of different research units, and the Information Systems and Innovations Group recently joined with other departments to form the new Department of Management. Both academic units have sponsored a wide range of guest speakers and scholars over the years, and this website lets interested parties watch these talks at their leisure. All told, there are over twenty five talks currently available, and they include Ricky Burdett's talk on "Social Aspects of Urban Form", Leopoldina Fortunati's "Discussing the Meaning of the Mobile Phone", and Danny Quah's "Digital Goods and New Economy". Visitors can also chime in with their two cents via the weblog discussion thread that resides under each video.