Monday, August 31, 2009

Westbahnstrasse Tram Track Reconstruction Pages

I've been working on my website pages that illustrate the reconstruction of the tram tracks on Westbahnstrasse (Vienna) near our house. The project is almost over and has been fascinating to watch.

Here's my Westbahnstrasse Tram Track Reconstruction Homepage with links to my pages on Construction signs and artistic photos.

Let me know what you think!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Swiss Travel System Video Contest - Bad News For Andy

Unfortunately my video entry for the Swiss Travel System Casting competition was not selected. Since I won't be heading to Switzerland, maybe somewhere else would be nice? Check out the video.

By the way, the Swiss Travel System Casting competition was lots of fun and congratulations to the winners! You'll really enjoy Switzerland and its fantastic travel system.

Best Alternative Subway System Maps

I just read about Treehugger's Best Alternative Subway System Maps slide show on The Economist's Gulliver travel blog. The slideshow is fantastic, a must for all public transport lovers!

Above is a photo of an advertisement for Vienna's alternative radio station FM4 in the form of a Vienna Subway map.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Seat Belts Turn 50

I attended Volvo's Urban Transport Conference in March and as part of the conference a group of us toured the Volvo Museum (there's my photo driving a bus). But I just learned that Nils Bohlin, an engineer at Volvo invented the three-point seat belt. The full story is in Wired's Autopia The 3-Point Seat Belt Turns 50. Bohlin and Volvo made the design freely available and according to Wired, Bohlin’s invention has been singled out by German patent registrars as one of the eight patents to have the greatest significance for humanity during the hundred years from 1885 to 1985.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bicycle Detour Sign

Here's a sign showing the detour route for bicycles around the streetcar track reconstruction project in our neighborhood. While Vienna doesn't have Europe's best bicycle network, they take what they have pretty seriously. I think it's great that they would go to the trouble of signing an alternate route.

Most bikers don't seem to have used the detour, they have walked their bikes on the sidewalk around the construction (they want to see the work going on just like everyone else!).

Krugman on the Future

Today Paul Krugman, in his blog, links to an article he wrote in 1996 on the future. He specifically addresses the question of technology making workers obsolete. Here's the link to White Collars Turn Blue by Paul Krugman.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Westbahnstrasse Tram Track Reconstruction

Our local tram (US: streetcar) line has been closed for a little over a week while the Wiener Linien rebuilds the track. The work has been going on for about three weeks (the trams kept running for the first couple weeks) and will continue until early next week.

Track maintenance is a massive undertaking, they started by tearing out everything until they reached the dirt (about 70 cm, 2.5 feet), then they rebuilt it step by step. First repairing the sub-base, next building a new poured concrete track support system, then replacing the tracks and finally placing a new roadway surface (prefabricated sections).

They are working on approximately three blocks this summer, doing one block at a time. The first block is finished, the second is just about finished and they started on the third block yesterday. They are also replacing a shorter section at Westbahnstrasse and Kaiser Strasse which involves a tram line crossing - the photo above is from that construction.

Here's a link to my 230 (so far) Flickr photos of Westbahnstrasse tram track rehabilitation.

I also have been filming some of the action, I will make a website with the best photos and films in the coming months.

Moving Sidewalks: Back to the Future?

There's a great article on the history of moving sidewalks in New Scientist Magazine (thanks to Planetizen).

I think moving sidewalks, or some other type of continuous transport system, would be a great feeder system for regional (US: commuter) rail systems. This would enable the stations to be located a bit further apart in urban areas than in a 'normal' subway system - reducing operating costs and making service on the regional system more attractive (fewer stations = faster). Regional rail systems build with this model could follow the Z├╝rich S-Bahn model, many lines operating through a central section that branch to different suburbs when they leave the center.

An interesting compliment to the moving sidewalk/continuous transport system would be combining it with attractive urban design, in other words give the people traveling on the system something interesting to look at while traveling. I recently had the idea of creating such a system in Abu Dhabi as part of their new Metro project. In this case the continuous system could travel through a traditional Arab linear market street setting. The market street would be protected from the weather in traditional ways, thus reducing energy use. The project would combine 'new' urban development with the transport system. More on this idea later.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Attention to Detail: Street Signs

In Vienna, as in many European cities, street signs are often placed on the sides of buildings. Here's a photo of how the workers attached the street name sign to the scaffolding so people could still see it during construction. It's a nice attention to detail you don't see very often.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Seth Godin: Bandwidth Sync Correlation

Seth Godin has a cool graph comparing forms of communication based on how timing (i.e. the difference between creation and "consumption") and bandwidth (how much information they convey). It would be interesting to add another axis to the graph, namely which forms of communications are free and which are paid for ... the paying line seems to be moving from the lower left corner to the upper left (high bandwidth, real-time). I think that's what Chris Anderson (Free) means when he says in the future people won't make money selling books, but rather by having the authors give specially commissioned talks.

7 Freeways to Demolish - The Infrastructuralist

The Infrastructurist just published a column on seven freeways to demolish.

One of the freeways is Buffalo's Skyway. As a native of Buffalo I agree with Michael, who commented on the great views from the Skyway.

But ... why stop at tearing down the Skyway in Buffalo? Interstate 190 goes north from the Skyway cutting the city off from LaSalle Park and continues along the banks of the Niagara River ... what could be a magnificent riverfront. The lighthouse above is on the shore of Lake Erie at the Coast Guard station.

View Buffalo Freeways to Demolish in a larger map

Next up, Buffalo's Inner Beltway. Let's start with the Scajaquada Expressway (NY 198), running along Scajaquada Creek through the Fredrick Law Olmsted Delaware Park (!!!). Then the depressed freeway in the Olmsted-designed Humboldt Parkway (I guess it was OK to put a freeway through the parkway in the African American neighborhood but not the one in the mansion district: Chapin Parkway).

Yeah, yeah, "What will happen to the traffic?" "Buffalo needs the freeways for economic development."

Figuring out how to deal with the traffic would take some creative transportation planning, but maybe what Buffalo really needs is some bold thinking for the future.

You can collaborate on my Google map:,-78.906898&spn=0.163347,0.285988&z=12&msid=100003964992135061831.00047065a0fdb1357f905

ITS Challenge

Well, unfortunately my entry in the ITS Congestion Challenge, Bus Meister, was not one of the nine finalists chosen for the competition. I think that the finalists are generally very good, although most are not truly innovative ideas, many have been talked about for years. But perhaps that's the point of this particular competition, developing products that actually implement some of these good ideas.

You can view the solutions and vote for your favorite (I think you need to register to vote and comment). Here's my run down of the finalists (I have also embedded my two favorite videos):

  • Avego - An internet based system that simplifies carpooling. Well done. Their video is an excellent description of how the system would work.

  • BroadBit - A system that uses video monitoring on freeways to reduce lane-changing maneuvers and allows drivers to use the hard shoulders for driving. The system's goal of making traffic flow more linear is good, but it will be a tough to implement a system that involves sending people traffic tickets for changing lanes too frequently on freeways. Also, the developers need to discuss their ideas more with freeway traffic flow experts. For example, why not add real-time speed limits set to maximize flow? And, how will on-ramps be handled? Then of course there is the question of induced traffic. Finally, I think there would be a great deal of resistance towards implementing this kind of system; why not simply use pricing to control traffic volume (see Skymeter below).

  • - A system designed to encourage people to drive in a more eco-conscious way (to help save fuel). I am not really sure what this has to do with congestion, but it's a nice idea.

  • GCDC - Grand Cooperative Driving Challenge - This is a competition for cooperative driving technologies. Cooperative driving includes receiving information from infrastructure (R2V) and other vehicles (V2V) that helps you determine how to drive (e.g. if you drive 30mph you will reach the traffic signal at the right time). There's lots of research going on in this field by the automobile companies and others right now.

  • iCarpool - Similar to Avego, this is a system for increasing carpooling. I liked Avego's proposal better, especially the Avego video since it fully described the system. iCarpool's proposal was a bit unclear.

  • iCone - This is a very cool application for state highway departments. It consists of independent traffic monitoring devices in those orange construction site cones. They can monitor traffic in construction zones and on evacuation routes etc. It's a nice product, although it's not really a solution for ongoing congestion. The iCone video provides a good description.

  • - This system uses cell phone data to monitor traffic flows. Again, lots of research is being done on this subject. This proposal did not seem to be anything special.

  • Precyse Tech. - This uses RFID tags to create smart agent networks. The idea is that the RFID tags are better than cell phone data or GPS. The exact function for reducing congestion was not described in the reference website (which discusses tracking freight shipments). Again, lots of on-going research in this area.

  • Skymeter Corp. - This is a "financial" GPS. I think this means it is a geographic positioning system that it is accurate enough for use in financial transactions. First I thought Ho-Hum. Then I watched the excellent Skymaster video. Their point is that the only way to really address congestion is through road pricing. The Skymaster technology enables government to adopt more precise and effective ways to charge for driving. As the video says, that's part 1. Part 2 is having governments actually implement a road pricing scheme. Of course for those of us following the debate, the technology is about 10% of the problem, getting governments to adopt these systems is about 90% - at least Skymaster recognizes this and is up front about it.

The Skymeter Corp. proposal struck a chord with me because I believe in road pricing, but also because they clearly recognize that technology is not really useful without social/institutional change needed to get good ideas implemented. That's what I like about Bus Meister ... it combines technology with user involvement to create an environment for actually implementing real transportation improvements.

I found the Vencorps process to be quite good in the sense that I received some feedback from other users that has helped me refine my proposal. However there were so many solutions submitted for the ITS Challenge that it was hard to review them all and make helpful comments. It will be interesting to see how the competition ends.

As for Bus Meister, it's probably a bit ahead of its time, but I have written a Transportation Research Board paper for the 2010 Annual Meeting that discusses the idea in the context of Web 2.0 technology for public involvement in the transport planning process and I am continuing to look for funding. Plus ... filming for the music video is underway!