Saturday, December 31, 2011

Funchal, Madera

Funchal Public Market - 06

I spoke about social networking and transportation at the CIVITAS Forum 2011 held in October in Funchal, Madera Portugal. Madera is an island in the Atlantic Ocean about an hour-and-a-half flying time to the south west of Lisbon. The conference was great and it was lots of fun to visit Funchal.

Funchal Public Market - 05
Highlights were the public market. The photo above is of a fruit stand that had about ten different kinds of passion fruit! 

Funchal Restaurante Dos Combatentes - 2

I ate at a wonderful restaurant called Restaurante dos Combatentes twice, once for lunch and then later in the week for dinner. Very attentive service and great food.

I took a tour of the Old Blandy Wine Lodge which includes a museum and tasting rooms in addition to being used to store and age the wine. Madera wine violates lots of the rules: it's aged in hot attics and the bottles should be stored upright. It's a fortified wine so quite high alcohol content. It was fun being able to taste several types and vintages of Madera. Here's a photo of one of the museum's tasting rooms.

Blandy's Madera Museum Funchal - 4

The Funchal Airport was great, one of the few that still has an outdoor viewing platform. Here's a photo of our plane from the viewing area.

Funchal Madera Airport - 05

All my photos of Funchal on Flickr.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Slow Day at the Wurst Stand

Slow Day at the Wurst Stand

Wurst stands are ubiquitous in Vienna. I see this one everyday on my streetcar trips "downtown". I took the photo last Friday, it was hot and the chef was so relaxed it just seemed like a perfect opportunity.

Ironically, after posting the photo I had wurst for lunch at the airport and then wurst for dinner at the city hall reception given for the Cities for Mobility Congress in Stuttgart. It was a great reception with lots of international guests. The mayor spent the entire evening there talking with us and enjoying the great local hospitality.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Malaga Spain Recommendations

Just returned from a trip to Spain. We spent two days in Granada and two in Malaga. We used the free ticket I won from Swiss International Airlines for my "Flowers in Your Horns" music video about going to San Francisco (I won one of the runner-up prizes). I wrote last week about Granada.

Malaga Sightseeing

We arrived from Granada in the mid-afternoon to a sunny and hot Malaga. We walked from the bus station to our hotel at the edge of the historic center of town. That was probably a mistake given the heat and because the area around the bus station is a huge construction site for the city's new metro system. But we made it and the Hotel Posada del Patio was really great. Especially cool is that they incorporated the old Roman walls, found when excavating for the cellar, into the project: there are glass floors where you can look down at the old Roman construction and they hold events down there - we took a short tour.

Malaga Tapeo de Cervantes May 2011- - 7
They, at least try, to speak your language!

Malaga was supposed to be the low key part of our four day vacation to Spain so we did not plan any big sightseeing. After a siesta we walked around the historic center looking for a nice place to eat. We stopped at the Bodegas El Pimpi - which is recommended in many guidebooks - and it was fine. We sat at the bar, checked out the decor - alone worth the trip - and enjoyed beer, tomatoes and cheese, and olives. We were not so hungry so decided to go on walking around before dinner.

Malaga's historic center is full of narrow streets almost all of which have been turned into pedestrian zones. They were full of people walking around, shopping, eating and drinking ... really nice urban feeling. Most of the streets are paved with smooth stone, often in patterns, and they are clean. It's a nice feeling underfoot.

Malaga Tapeo de Cervantes May 2011- - 1
Tapas at El Tapeo de Cervantes
Eventually we found our way to Plaza Cervantes and found the El Tapeo de Cervantes, a recommended tapas bar. We found a place in the small bar and were greeted by a waiter who spoke probably five languages (see photo of sign). The atmosphere was fun and low key. We ordered five tapas to start and then a couple more as the night went on along with several glasses of the excellent local red wine. Since I love tapas this restaurant was a highlight of my visit.

After dinner we walked back through the city. Of course the streets were full including a peaceful protest calling for political reform in the main square (there were similar protests going on all over Spain, including one in Granada) reminding me of the teach-ins of my youth. The restaurants and bars were overflowing into the pedestrian streets and it was a wonderful feeling. Since the city invented the Malaga flavour of ice cream we had some at Casa Mira, which according to my guidebook, is the oldest ice cream parlour in Malaga. It was quite good but the raisins were completely different tasting from typical raisins.

Malaga Atarazanas Market May 2011- - 1
Atarazanas Market in Malaga

On Saturday morning we walked to the Atarazanas Market (Mercado Central de Atarazanas) and bought fresh papaya, salted almonds, bread, tomatoes, peaches and tasted lots of other things including Malaga raisins ... then I realized why the raisins in the ice cream tasted the way they did! The Malaga raisins are completely different from the small rubbery pencil eraser raisins we used to eat in our grade school lunches. They are large, soft and juicy, yum!

Malaga Casa Aranda May 2011- - 1
Coffee at Casa Aranda in Malaga

We stopped for breakfast at Cafe Aranda which specializes in Churros and coffee. The cafe's outdoor tables spread from Calle Alhondiga around the corner and along Calle Herreria del Rey for a whole block. The cafe also had several separate inside rooms along the streets. We didn't sample the Churros but the person next to us asked if he could try one and they brought him a single Churros (usually they come in sets of 5!), plus I don't think that they charged him (he did leave a nice tip). Service was extremely friendly and the coffee was fine.

Malaga Beach May 2011- - 3
Malaga beach

On Saturday afternoon we walked to the beach. It took about a half hour with about 10-minutes being on the beach itself (we went to the far end). We had lunch of grilled fish in a nice restaurant on the beach. The waiter helped us pick-out a fish to share then they took it over to the open fire (built in a rowboat filled with sand) where it was grilled on a spit. We also had an order of grilled sardines as we sipped our beer waiting for the larger fish. It was an excellent meal and again the service was very friendly. Christa went swimming and said the water was nice (the receptionist at the hotel told us it might be too cold to swim).

Malaga Fish on Beach May 2011- - 1
Fish being grilled in Malaga

After another siesta we went walking through the historic city looking for dinner again. I fought my desire to return to El Tapeo del Cervantes and decided to be adventurous. We started with a beer on a very nice square on Carreteria street. Since the Champions League Final was on television no one was eating so we went to a couple bars before setting in one that seemed to have the most fans and watched the second half of the game. It was lots of fun because, of course, FC Barcelona won and the bar was full of fans singing and dancing.

Malaga La Queseria May 2011- - 5
Fried cheese at La Queseria in Malaga

To celebrate FC Barcelona's win we went to the tapas bar (?) called La Queseria (which means cheese market). Their specialty, naturally, is cheese, but they have other tapas too. We focused on the cheese ordering a mixed cheese plate for two and the fried cheese (I had to try that!). The mixed cheese was great and the fried cheese was fine, but it's not really my taste. Instead of being deep fried (which I hate) it was sauteed and then served with a small amount of honey(?)-based jam. The meal went great with a couple glasses of the same local red wine we drank the night before.

After walking around a little more we decided to stop in to a very nice looking tapas place near the hotel to enjoy the warm evening and busy streets. I had a glass of the sherry wine that we learned about having dinner with Francisco in Granada. We both agreed to come back again soon.

Malaga Suburban Train May 2011- - 1
The commuter rail train to Malaga Airport,
what post would be complete without a train photo?

The next morning we took the suburban train to the airport. The station was about a 10-minute walk from our hotel and the trip was fast and convenient.

Here's a link to my photos of Malaga on flickr.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Granada Spain Recommendations

Granada Gran Cafe Bib-Rambla 2011- - 5
Gran Cafe Bib-Rambla, Granada Spain
Just returned from a trip to Spain. We spent two days in Granada and two in Malaga. We used the free ticket I won from Swiss International Airlines for my "Flowers in Your Horns" music video about going to San Francisco (I won one of the runner-up prizes).

Granada Sights

In Granada we just relaxed. We tried to go to the Alhambra, but you need to reserve tickets in advance (they sell a limited number of same-day tickets, but we were not successful at getting them). They have a good website so you can order in advance.

We didn't have breakfast in the hotel, opting for local cafes instead. On the first day we went to the Gran Cafe Bib-Rambla, a historic cafe on Plaza Bibrambla, and sat outdoors. I had Churros with chocolate and they were excellent (unfortunately my photos of the cooking process did not turn out, but you can go into the cafe and watch). I am not sure I would want to eat them every morning, but these were really good. The next day we stood at the counter inside (watching the cooking process) and had coffee con leche with chocolate croissants. The cafe also has ice cream which looks delicious.

Granada La Oliva May 2011- - 19
Francisco at La Oliva

We had dinner in a wonderful place called La Oliva. It's actually a food shop whose owner, Francisco, will cook dinner if you call and arrange in advance. We enjoyed an 11-course (probably, we lost count) dinner with wine that he prepared using ingredients from the shop and a simple one burner camp stove. He only has two tables and dinner is really an experience accompanied with Francisco teaching you about traditional food and wine from the region.

We spent a lot of time walking around the area of Albaicin, which is a neighborhood located on the north side of the Alhambra. It's a neighborhood built on the side of a hill with narrow winding streets. Lots of scenic vistas towards the Alhambra, historic churches and buildings, and some shops. We walked down to the Plaza de los Tristes, a square filled with restaurants along the Rio Darro. Then up a street called Calle del Rey Chico up to the Alhambra visitor center. Since we could not get tickets we spent some time in the excellent bookstore so we know what to look for on our next visit.

Granada Albaicin Neighborhood May 2011- - 20
The Alhambra from the Albaicin neighborhood.

Walking down from the Alhambra to the Plaza Nueva, we had some superb Gazpacho soup served in a glass (to go!). We went back to ask how they made it and after trying to speak English a little, the proprietor asked if we spoke German, which he spoke fluently. We got the recipe quickly: one (only!) clove of garlic, fresh tomatoes, old bread (soaked in water), olive oil (the quality of the olive oil determines the quality of the soup), salt and pepper. We made it when we returned to Vienna and it was pretty good. I still like my version with more garlic and green peppers/cucumbers etc. but that's cooking isn't it?

Granada Bar Los Diamantes May 2011- - 3
Bar Los Diamantes, Granada Spain

One of my favorite foods is tapas. In Granada whenever you order a drink you get a free tapas. And, we are not talking about a small bowl of peanuts. Many of the free tapas we had were quite substantial. You could easily make a meal of free tapas going from one bar to another. We did this with the friends we were visiting and it was lots of fun, not necessarily a balanced meal, but order a couple small plates to go with the free ones and you will do fine. We visited the Bar Los Diamantes (which is in lots of the books) and it was great: busy, fast, casual. We ordered two beers and were immediately confronted with a rather large plate of deep-fried calamari. True, it made us want to order another beer, but then we received a plate of zucchini (also fried). The beer was an excellent local beer called Alhambra.

We really loved Granada and hope to visit again soon.

All my Granada photos on flickr.

Practical Information

We took a local express bus (2 Euros) from the airport to the intercity bus terminal, then took the intercity bus to Granada (10.01 Euros, the 1-Euro-cent is kind of odd, we did not pay it when we went to the ticket window, but I did have to pay it when I went to a ticket machine to buy a return ticket). We took a cab to our hotel (8 Euros) since the Granada bus terminal is out of the city center.

The bus schedules are not well coordinated so we waited about 30 minutes at the Malaga airport (we just missed the bus) and about 45-minutes at the bus station (buses leave for Granada about every hour on the hour). We tried to buy a ticket on-line for the return trip but the website was not accepting credit cards; we bought a ticket at a machine at the station which was fine, the line to buy a ticket in person was incredibly long.

We stayed at the Room Mate Leo hotel, which was very nice. As the on-line reviews say the staff is really great, for example, they spent lots of time trying to reserve bus tickets for us (and other guests).

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Vacations without cars!

One of my favorite places in the world, Scuol Switzerland. You don't need a car as this photo shows ... it says: Engadin Scuol - for vacations without cars!

More photos of the Scuol Railway station, a wooden bridge and the great food we ate on my flickr set: Scuol Switzerland.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

(B)eat Pizza!

You can't beet this pizza!
I couldn't help but think about my friend Walt when I made this pizza on Tuesday night. Walt's an American ExPat in France. He writes a great blog with lots of posts on the wonderful food they cook and eat (here's one for okra and tomato pizza). But Walt can (and does!) make a pun about pretty much anything. So when I thought about the possibilities for puns from this pizza (how do you beet this pizza), I had to think about Walt. My pun's not perfect, but I am still learning from the master! Maybe Walt will add a pun in the comments!

Here's how I made the pizza. Christa had cooked and sliced the beets a couple nights before. After cooking, she marinaded them in oil, vinegar and caraway seeds (she had planned to use them in a salad). Instead, I made a pizza with them. I used (sorry to admit) roll out dough from the dairy case. First I pre baked the crust with a little olive oil and salt for about 10 minutes (I always find it necessary to pre bake these refrigerated pizza doughs).
Beet Pizza and Beer ... Yum!

Then I spread the pizza with yogurt, placed thinly sliced onions and freshly ground horseradish on the yogurt, ground some pepper, then added the beets. On top I added a little more horseradish. In the oven for about 10 more minutes and voila!

It really tasted good.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Buffalo Freeways to Remove-Part 2

Buffalo Historical Society May 10-1
Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, behind the freeway.
(Source: Andrew Nash, 2010)

Yesterday I wrote about Rust Belt city planning in general. As I was looking through my Buffalo photos for the post I came across the photo above.

Can there be a better illustration of the insanity of building freeways through parks? The huge bright green freeway signs in front of the only building remaining from Buffalo's Pan-American World Exhibition (1901). Looking over Delaware Park's Hoyt Lake from the Casino towards the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society building ... and there they are, the huge green freeway signs.

Of course the freeway also generates noise and pollution in addition to creating a wall that splits the park into pieces.

Many will argue that once a freeway is in place you can't remove it, but Portland and San Francisco both did and have not looked back. (Check out the great StreetFilms on San Francisco's Embarcadero Freeway replacment). Previously I wrote about tearing down several Buffalo freeways, maybe that's too much to start.

How about this? Just close the freeway between the Elmwood exit and Parkside. Just this summer. Give people plenty of warning. Install some improvements (and directions) on alternative routes and give it a chance.

Create a Buffalo Beach, just like Paris.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Rustbelt City Planning

Buffalo City Hall Jun07 - 01
They had a way with words back then.
City Hall Mosaic Buffalo NY (source: Andrew Nash, 2007)

As a city planner who grew up in Buffalo NY I can't help but be interested in how to revitalize Rust Belt cities. My solution: Rustbelt Cities need to be bolder and more creative (DUH.. what city/company/person doesn't need to be bolder and more creative?).

Rust Belt city leaders will say, we are being bold and creative, we're planning a big box store to compete with the suburbs or we're planning a festival marketplace/ convention center/ casino to attract tourists. What's not bold about that?

Buffalo aerial sept08-12
Buffalo waterfront and downtown: looking for a few truly bold and creative ideas.
(Source: Andrew Nash, 2008)

Well, big's not always bold and it's rarely creative. Truly bold and creative ideas are place-based. In other words you can't create a festival marketplace without the festival and you can't build a big box store without the suburban streets and parking.

There's a saying: if you're an apple don't try to be a banana, you'll always be a second-rate banana. It's even worse for a city: if you try to be a suburb you'll destroy what's good about the city (and, you probably won't be successful anyway).

What can cities do? Create the festival and place-based development will follow. Support businesses that fit into the existing infrastructure and complimentary businesses will follow. As anyone who has ever practiced this type of ground-up planning can tell you, developing bold and creative ideas that are place-based is much harder than it sounds.

Gates Circle Buffalo-sept10-4
Buffalo's Omstead-designed park system is a
bold and creative idea that's place-based.
(Gates Circle, source Andrew Nash, 2010)

One of the biggest challenges is that often Rust Belt city leaders are so desperate they'll support anything short of a chemical waste dump (and sometimes even the waste dump). Once leaders embrace an idea anyone opposing it is a NIMBY or against progress.

This "with us or against us" view came to mind when I read the fascinating post the Problem with Boosterism in the Rustwire blog. The post and very thoughtful comments describe how Boosterism can blind people to addressing real city problems.

But, and here I return to my current work, social networks and Web 2.0 technologies can be used to help develop and implement the kinds of bold and creative - but place-based - ideas needed to revitalize Rust Belt cities. It's an exciting period and there's much to learn about how this will work. Some resources I have found who are using social networks and Web 2.0 techniques to help improve Rust Belt city planning include:

  • Rustwire Blog - a group of journalists doing some serious thinking about Rust Belt issues, check out their Blog Roll for more excellent blogs and their flickr group Rustwire for sharing photos.
Buffalo Elmwood May10-02
Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo
(Andrew Nash, 2010)
  • Buffalo Expat Network - this is a really cool idea, mobilizing people with connections to a city (e.g. who have moved away) to generate ideas and support for revitalization; (they have fun too!) ... includes a Facebook social network.
  • GLUE - Great Lakes Urban Exchange - founded in 2007 as a forum for people to exchange stories, ideas, and best practices between otherwise isolated cities ranging from Buffalo to St. Louis to Minneapolis. An excellent platform for learning from each other.
  • PPS - Project for Public Spaces - while PPS does not focus on Rust Belt issues, their approach to "placemaking" is exactly the type of ground-up planning that's needed in Rust Belt cities.
The list is far from complete. Please add more links and ideas in the comments!

I will tag future posts on Rust Belt city planning: Rust Belt Cities.
Several of my previous posts tagged Buffalo also deal with Rust Belt city planning ... I think some are bold ideas - like tearing down a couple of freeways. Finally, here's  a link to all my Buffalo flickr photos.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cafe Sperl Vienna

Cafe Sperl Vienna - 09

I know it's in all the tourist books, but still ... we had guests visiting over the weekend and wanted to show them a real Vienna coffee house. Homemade cakes. Good solid food. Plenty of newspapers. Music on Sunday afternoons. And, now, no smoking!

I took the advice of a recent Independent Column (Graham Greene's Vienna) - thanks Gavin Plumley - and had my first Fiaker (coffee with schnaps). Even though we had just had a huge brunch we "forced" our friends to have cake (chocolate truffle cake and topfen torte) while we enjoyed our coffee.

Cafe Sperl Vienna - 04

As the top photo shows ... the coffee is comes fast-often more quickly than that horrible self-service system used in places like Starbucks. I am pretty sure our 7 different kinds of coffee, each with its own water and balancing spoon, arrived within three minutes of ordering ... I have stood around longer for a short latte.

Come visit Vienna while places like Sperl still exist! It's even better in the summer when you can sit outside on the large shaded square in front. My flickr set Cafe Sperl.

For more about Vienna and especially coffee in Vienna check out Merisi's Vienna For Beginners ... a truly beautiful blog.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ljubljana Recommendations

Ljubljana - river walk
Last week I visited Ljubljana on a (too) short business trip. I had a good impression on my first visit in 2002, and this time confirmed that the city is a nice place to spend a few days.

On this trip I really only had time to walk around in the small historic city center. There is a small river running through the center of Ljubljana, on one side are lots of buildings from the middle ages on the other from the Jugendstil period mixed up with some non discript modern buildings. Here's a map of the city that is on the wall in the City Hall courtyard. The castle and older part of the city is on the left side, the newer part of the city is on the right (although the map is from the middle ages so on the right side are only buildings along the river and farm plots).

Ljubljana - City Hall Courtyard Map

It's fun to walk around through the market place: there is an outdoor market in a large square and a long building along the river with lots of small shops. One market building has baked goods, another has meat, another milk products. The shops are connected inside the long narrow building. Everything looked great. Here's a photo of the open air market, the market building is in the background.

Ljubljana - Market

We ate in two notable restaurants (sorry I did not take photos of the food!) both of which were located on the pedestrian streets that run along the river. The restaurant Most is at Petkovskovo nabrezje 21. We had an excellent dinner here that combined Italian with traditional Slovenian food. They also had many Slovene wines that looked great but since I was suffering from a cold I needed to stick with beer. I did take a sip of a really nice local red wine that reminded me of Barollo, quite tasty. Here's a photo of the market building at night with river reflections when we left the Most restaurant.

Ljubljana - Market building at night

For lunch the next day we stopped at Pri Vitezu restaurant (Frommer's Review from NY Times) at Breg 18 (the other end of the river walk from Most). It was also fantastic. We ate so much at lunch that I could not eat dinner that night. We started with a pasta dish that was a combination between gnocchi and spatzle (two of my favorite things!) in a meat sauce - perfect for a cold day. Then a turkey roulade. And topped off with a traditional layer cake made of several different things: poppy seed cake, apple filling, sponge cake and several types of frosting (our host told us that the piece we received was about 1/4 the size of a normal piece and that everyone had their own special recipe for what layers were included). We waddled along for the rest of our tour.

Pri Vitezu was also interesting because of the quality of their wine list. I noticed that they had bottles of Ridge Vineyards 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon wine. It's rare to see Ridge outside California and so it looks like the owners really care about wine.

Our walk took us along the river side where Ljubljana has slowly created non motorized zones. It's wonderful to walk along the banks of the river and take in the scenery and people watch (the area is full of cafes and students). The walk took us to the three bridges area which seems to be the center of the city. Here you can see examples of Jugendstil architecture and look up the mountain to the castle.

Here's a photo of the Dragon Bridge, on the other side of the market from the three bridges area. The Ljubljana city coat of arms features a dragon since they were thought to come from the marshy areas surrounding the city. I love these dragon sculptures and the Jugendstil design of the bridge (more photos on flickr).

Ljubljana - Dragon Bridge

I visited the Ljubljana Castle on my first trip to Ljubljana and it was nice. You can see the castle in the background of the top photo. There is a funicular railway that you can ride up, although I hiked up through the park and that was fine too. (What, Andy missed an opportunity to take a rail trip? ... Well it happens.)

We stayed at the Hotel Slon which was very nice. Especially nice was the excellent breakfast. Also, even though it was a buffet the servers went out of their way to help you by bringing coffee, tea and more food. They were really nice.

In summary, I hope to visit again soon. Ljubljana is a wonderful place to spend a few days relaxing and enjoying life on the riverside. Here's a link to all my flickr photos of Ljubljana.

Graz Austria Main Train Station

Graz AT Hauptbahnhof  - 4

Since my wife is from Wolfsberg Austria (Carinthia) we travel frequently through the Graz Hauptbahnhof on our way south. There are hourly trains from Vienna to Graz, but then the fun begins.

There is no train service between Graz and Wolfsberg, but there is an "Intercity Bus" which is not bad, about an hour nonstop between the cities operated approximately every two hours. Unfortunately the bus and the train schedules are almost perfectly uncoordinated.

The bus from Wolfsberg (and Klagenfurt) is scheduled to arrive one or two minutes after the train to Vienna leaves. So you need to hang around in Graz Hauptbahnhof for about an hour. In the other direction many of the buses also require a long wait (Friday we waited 57 minutes, since the bus leaves 3 minutes before the next train from Vienna arrives).

Graz AT Hauptbahnhof  - 2

Perhaps the reason for this sloppy scheduling is that the buses used to leave a few minutes after the train from Vienna arrived. If the train from Vienna was at all late you missed your connection - then it's almost two-hour wait until the next bus. The new system allows the train to be almost an hour late and you can still make the bus.

Another problem with the bus is that it is frequently overbooked at peak travel times like Friday and Sunday evenings. We were lucky last Friday and they put another bus into service, but we have also been forced to drive to Graz because the bus is full.

Graz AT Hauptbahnhof  - 3
You may think - like the sign at the right says - "Missed your train? Great, you can have a coffee at the station" - but I don't know many people who think "Great" about missing their train. Yes, it is great that the station has restaurants and shops, but my goal is to get somewhere not to spend time in the station.

Oh, and one more thing as long as I'm ranting. You need to pay to go to the restroom in Graz! Why can't railway stations - especially railway stations with shopping centres - have free restrooms? I can't think of an automobile-based shopping centre that has restrooms where you need to pay. I understand that railway stations seem to attract people with social problems, but deal with the problems, don't make everyone pay. (Especially if you have restaurants serving coffee and beer!) By the way, the problem is not unique to Graz, they also charge for the restrooms in Vienna and Zurich.

Graz AT Hauptbahnhof  - 1

This kind of sloppy scheduling and lack of attention to providing basic customer amenities causes people to drive. Why put up with the hassles of railway travel?

Poor service is especially dumb on this route because the Austrian government is spending about 4 Billion Euros on a tunnel that will replace the bus with rail service; they should be doing everything possible to build up demand on this route so that when the tunnel is finished people will be used to taking public transport. Instead people like us will probably have bought a car since the drive from Vienna is about 3 hours and the train takes 4 and a half hours with the bad connection.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Chicken Wings at Buffalo Niagara Airport

Buffalo Wings - Hot! Chicken wings at Buffalo Niagara Airport (from my flickr photos).
Just returned from a trip to the USA. No trip would be complete without having chicken wings in Buffalo. Here's a photo of the wings I had at the Anchor Bar restaurant in Buffalo Niagara Airport. They were pretty good!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Dulles Airport Transit Blues

Dulles May10-4
Dulles Airport mobile "lounge" (from my flickr photos).

One of my favorite authors is Tyler Brûlé, the chief editor of Monocle Magazine and a columnist in the Financial Times Weekend Edition. Many of his columns focus on transport system design issues. Recently he described some of the problems at Washington's Dulles Airport. Brûlé especially criticizes the truly awful mobile lounge system for transporting international passengers to immigration and customs.

As an aside, I sort of like the mobile lounges, especially as an example of an innovative idea for getting people between the airport terminal and airplanes. Unfortunately the idea never worked well and with the rise of the airline hub-and-spoke system the mobile lounge approach was doomed to fail. (To see how it was designed to work watch the movie Scorpio. A Russian double agent is threatened with deportation as he is being driven up to the door of an Aeroflot plane in a mobile lounge.) But, I digress.

Dulles Airport Air Train Shuttle -  - 1
Map of airport transport system (sorry for the quality).

Dulles has made many improvements to the immigration and customs areas during the last several years. They have also introduced a rail shuttle system to connect the terminals. The system works pretty well but they made one very significant mistake (in my view).

They built the airport rail system station for the "C/D" concourse several hundred meters south of the "C/D" concourse so that it could also serve as the station for a future "E/F" concourse. This means that passengers using the "C/D" concourse have a long walk back to their concourse and passengers using the future concourse will also have to walk a long distance to their concourse - equally inconvenient for both sets of passengers. Instead of building two stations (one for each concourse), Dulles built one. That saved money, but adds time and inconvenience for air passengers. It would be one thing if the second concourse existed today, but who knows when it will be built? Why inconvenience all the passengers today for a possible money savings later?

Dulles Airport Air Train Shuttle -  - 3

Long walk back to Concourse "C/D" from air train station (maybe they should use the mobile lounges here?).

To paraphrase United Airlines: "We know you have a choice of airports and hope to see you again soon on a Dulles flight." Well, not if I can choose an airport that gives more attention to making it easier for passengers.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Bus Meister Game - Thanks for the Feedback!

London Buses - 2
Double Decker Bus in London: from my flickr photos of London.

Thanks to everyone for providing feedback on the Bus Meister game via e-mail, comments and at the TRB meeting!

One funny question was, "Why are the buses traveling on the left (curb) lane?"

The answer is that we wanted the buses to travel left to right and also wanted to show the buildings in the background ... so the buses need to travel "British style". Maybe we should make them double decker?

Our next steps are to revise the factors to make the game work better (i.e. show the benefits of PT priority more clearly), then we will make Bus Meister a real game with levels (top level is "Bus Meister" of course!). When we launch this version of the game it will be on facebook and have a more interactive website so that players can use social networking to get involved in improving public transport in their own communities. ... Lots to do, but quite exciting.

Bus Meister game:

Bus Meister Public Transport Priority Best Practices wiki:

Please keep those comments coming!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bus Meister Game (beta) - Now online!

I have just finished the beta version of a game designed to help citizens understand public transport priority. The game is linked to a wiki that provides detailed information about measures to improve public transport. Once we are happy with the game we will place it on facebook and add social networking features so that players can discuss how to improve public transport in their own community.

I am looking for people to try out the game and wiki and to give me comments (also join the wiki as contributors!). The game is available now at:

The wiki is available at:

This page on the wiki provides instructions on how to play the game:

Right now the game works, but we need to refine the values used to run the simulation and calculate the happiness and cost values. We will adjust these in the coming weeks and also add levels (so players advance to more difficult challenges) and other standard game features. We also will add more information to the pages. But, for now, the game works and we would love your feedback.

Finally, I hope to extend the approach to other modes of transport (biking, walking, street design) in the future.

Thanks for your help,

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Martin Wolf: East and West Converge on a Problem

Today's column by Martin Wolf (East and West Converge on a Problem) in the Financial Times discusses a recent book by Ian Morris (Why the West Rules – For Now, Profile Books, 2010). As always Wolf's analysis is very interesting, for example:
For Prof Morris, “social development” is an amalgam of four factors: energy use; urbanisation; military capacity; and information technology.
Wolf's column focuses on the energy side, but all four factors are fascinating. Morris' book is on my to read list!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

High Speed Rail in the USA

Prague main railway station June 2010-01

Pendolino Train in Prague - From my flickr photos.

I just commented on a very interesting article in The Infrastructuralist: A Powerful Argument for US High Speed Rail. The article discusses the fact that no US transportation system actually pays for itself and therefore arguments against HSR because it does not pay for itself are wrong. Here's my comment:
I think an important point is that we need a transportation SYSTEM that works. High speed rail is part of that system and we all realize it’s not appropriate everywhere and it will be impossible to build quickly enough even where it is justified right now. What’s to be done?
1 - Focus on improving the existing railway system. It may not be possible to build a real HSR system through New England, but I am sure there are many projects that could shave ten minutes off the travel time.
2 - Improve multimodal connections. Travelers care about door-to-door time not speed. Any rail traveler can tell you the horror stories involved with connecting to local public transport networks. Most of these problems are “simply” institutional, they would cost almost nothing to fix. Again, this could save tens of minutes.
3 - Build a couple HSR lines where they make sense. California for example. Let’s see how they work, even starter lines with (1) and (2) above could show whether the concept will work in the USA.
These seem like pretty uncontroversial suggestions. A country as innovative as the USA should be able to try out an idea like HSR and spend some money improving the rail system without all the controversy that seems to have been generated by what is really a very small program.
Reading through the article comments is really enlightening. There is so much negative energy being thrown around about what amounts to a very small amount of money. It seems strange that people would object to spending a little money testing something that works pretty well in other countries and which could be implemented successfully in carefully chosen US corridors.

Furthermore, many of the investments in Obama's High Speed Rail program fall in the first category of improvement above: small projects to improve railway travel in the USA. Again, a small amount of money to make pretty useful improvements (and create jobs in a depression economy - no small benefit). Critics say these are not "real high speed rail," fine, but useful, yes.

Most depressing of all is the fact that normal people have been coerced by politicians and the media to get fighting mad about these small expenditures on relatively benign infrastructure improvements. To be against simply trying out things that just might really improve our society, and certainly won't hurt. A pessimist would say that it's useful for those in power to keep the middle class fighting with each other about peanuts rather than questioning why, for example, hedge fund managers only pay a 15% income tax rate.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year 2011

Happy New Year from Vienna! This is how we celebrated New Years day ... that's the Vienna Philharmonic in the background ... like most people in Austria we watched it on TV. Christa is pouring a glass of Austrian sparkling wine. Cheers!
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