Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Posts Tagged ‘transportation

The Steel Wheel Interstate

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Very interesting article on using stimulus funds to renovate the nation’s railways. It begins:

This proposal offers dramatic improvements in highway safety and public health, as well as much reduced highway maintenance and construction costs. It will also significantly reduce energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, traffic jams, and shipping costs while providing significant short- and long-term economic stimulus. If fully implemented, it could get as many as 83 percent of all long-haul trucks off our nation’s highways by 2030, reduce carbon emissions by 39 percent and oil consumption by 15 percent. Call it the "Back on Tracks" project.

The best way to explain this proposal is to begin with a concrete example. Six days before Thanksgiving, a truck driver heading south on Interstate 81 through Shenandoah County, Virginia, ploughed his tractor-trailer into a knot of cars that had slowed on the rain-slicked highway. The collision killed an 80-year-old woman and her one- and four-year-old grandchildren, and brought traffic to a standstill along a 10-mile stretch of road for the better part of an afternoon.

It was a tragedy, but not an unusual one. Semis account for roughly one out of every four vehicles that travel through Virginia on I-81’s four lanes, the highest percentage of any interstate in the country. They are there for a reason: I-81 traces a mostly rural route from the Canadian border to Tennessee, and the cities in its path — Syracuse, Scranton, Harrisburg, Hagerstown, and Roanoke among them — are mid-sized and slow growing. This makes the highway a tempting alternative to I-95, the interstate that connects the eastern seaboard’s major metropolises, which is so beset with tolls and congestion that truckers will drive hundreds of extra miles to avoid it.

This is bad news for just about everyone. Even truckers have to deal with an increasingly overcrowded, dangerous I-81, and for motorists it’s a white- knuckle terror. Because much of the road is hilly, they find themselves repeatedly having to pass slow-moving trucks going uphill, only to see them looming large in the rearview mirror on the down grade.

[Extremely interesting graph at this point in the article. – LG]

For years, state transportation officials have watched I-81 get pounded to pieces by tractor-trailers — which are responsible for almost all non-weather-related highway wear and tear. To make matters worse, traffic is projected to rise by 67 percent in just ten years.[1]

The conventional response to this problem would be simply to build more lanes. It is what highway departments do. But at a cost of $11 billion, or $32 million per mile, Virginia cannot afford to do that without installing tolls, which might have to be set as high as 17 cents per mile for automobiles. When Virginia’s Department of Transportation proposed doing this early last year, truckers and ordinary Virginians alike set off a firestorm of protest. At the same time, just making I-81 wider without adding tolls would make its truck traffic problems worse, as still more trucks diverted from I-95 and other routes.

There is, however, another way to tackle the problem. As it happens, running parallel to I-81 through the Shenandoah Valley and across the Piedmont are two mostly single-track rail lines belonging to the Norfolk Southern Railroad. These lines, like America’s freight railroads generally, have seen a resurgence of trains carrying containers, just like most of the trucks on I-81 do. Due to driver shortages, energy costs and highway congestion, more and more shippers want to use rail these days, and many more would do so if trains moved faster.

The problem is insufficient rail capacity to accommodate all the freight that could go by train. Without upgrading track and removing various choke points, the Norfolk Southern cannot run trains fast enough to be time competitive with most of the trucks hurtling down I-81. Even before the recent financial meltdown, the railroad could not generate enough interest from Wall Street investors to improve the line.

Here’s where the "Back on Tracks" proposal comes in. Instead of using public money to widen I-81 and other interstates to accommodate more and more trucks, use it to improve parallel freight rail infrastructure. A study sponsored by the Virginia Department of Transportation finds that a cumulative investment over 10 to 12 years of less than $8 billion would divert 30 percent of the growing truck traffic on I-81 to rail.[2]

That would be far more bang for the state’s buck than …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2009 at 1:16 pm

The energy crisis is really a transportation crisis

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Very interesting chart at Treehugger. The post there excerpts this op-ed by Benjamin Turon, which begins:

Those in the “peak oil” camp, who predict that we are about to run out of easily accessible petroleum, warn that the drop in global oil production will bring dire consequences. Writer James Howard Kunstler, and like-minded groups such as the Capital Region Energy Forum, predict the collapse of Western Civilization and the establishment of an “Amish Paradise.” Yet they forget history and underestimate the technology available to sustain our technological civilization.

First, much of technology is based on electricity, not oil! Computers, telecommunications, lights, industrial machinery, household appliances are electric; electricity can also cook our food and heat our homes. While the power grid needs to be expanded and modernized, North America has abundant energy resources — including coal, nuclear, hydro, tidal, wind, solar and geothermal — to keep us in electricity without depending on oil-run power plants.

There are also substitutes for oil in the many synthetic chemicals and materials that contribute to modern life. Glass, ceramics, metal and wood could substitute for plastic in many products, and much of those products can be recycled. Coal and biomass can also be used as feedstocks for plastics, fertilizers and pharmaceuticals.

We are not so much in an energy crisis as a transport crisis, a troika of increasing congestion, environmental degradation and energy shortages.

As global demand for transport and petroleum products grows as a result of population and economic growth, demand is beginning to exceed supply, leading to an inflationary spiral of prices that could cripple the economy.

The goal should be to switch our transportation from being powered by petroleum to electricity, because electric vehicles can utilize a variety of power sources, and use it more efficiently than internal-combustion engines. Electric vehicles won’t compete with the food supply, as do biofuels, and are more practical than using hydrogen fuel cells. Overall pollution would be reduced, including greenhouse gases.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 July 2008 at 8:40 am

The Aptera

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I’m still with child to have one. From the FAQs:

How much will the Aptera cost?

The approximate price for the all electric version is $27,000 and the plug-in hybrid $30,000 [hybrid gets approx 300 mpg – LG]. These prices are subject to change any time before we begin production.

Why are you selling the Aptera only in California?

There are many reasons, including our dedication to seamless customer service. We will not have maintenance centers set up in other states until the expansion of our distribution as well state regulatory issues worked out. We are working hard to make the Aptera available to everyone, but in order for that to happen we need to solve any future contingencies on a regional level.

When are you starting production?

Our goal is to begin production of the all-electric in late 2008 and the hybrid in late 2009.

Can I charge my cell phone?

We will have a standard 12v outlet but are also considering a USB 2.0 jack for the production model, which can be used to charge your cell phone as well.

Are there cup holders?

Yes, there are.

Will opening windows be available?

Yes, the windows will open.

Is there a stereo system?

Yes, there may be several options for infotainment in the production model.

Where will the license plates go?

The rear center is designed for a back license plate. Since the Aptera is classified as an enclosed motorcycle a front plate is not required.

Can we come and take a tour of the facility?

We are in the process of setting up our production facility.  Once operations are in place, the public will be able to tour the facility.  Unfortunately, we are unable to accommodate this request at this time.  Keep checking the web site and newsletter for updates on tours.

Can I take the Aptera for a test drive?

Production of the Aptera is slated for late 2008.  Once we have begun production, test driving the Aptera will be possible. 

Written by Leisureguy

3 July 2008 at 10:47 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

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More on Portland as a bike-friendly city

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Interesting post, with good links. And in the Netherlands, we have an example of an entire country that has gone the bike route, as it were. (Note the big return on the relatively small amount spent on bike-izing the city (vs. cost of a highway interchange).)

Written by Leisureguy

17 December 2007 at 1:55 pm

How cool is this?! What a trike!

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Venture One

100 mpg, 100 mph. Want one? Sure. Two passengers, 3 wheels (1.5 wheels per passenger, you see.) Hybrid now (“now” = 2009), all-electric later. More here, including videos.

Written by Leisureguy

13 November 2007 at 10:46 am

Cool bike

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Take a look at the whole post.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2007 at 5:03 pm

Bicycling, when a city embraces it

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Bicycling is such a good mode of transportation: non-polluting, provides exercise, is quiet, and so on. Yet some cities fight bicyclists—weird. Other cities, like Portland, embrace bicycling. Notice that Portland began planning and implementing their network of bike lanes in the early ’70s. More here:

Susan Peithman did not have a job lined up when she moved here in September to pursue a career in “nonmotorized transportation.” No worries, she figured; the market here is strong. “In so many ways, it’s the center,” Ms. Peithman, 26, explained. “Bike City, U.S.A.”

Cyclists have long revered Portland for its bicycle-friendly culture and infrastructure, including the network of bike lanes that the city began planning in the early 1970s. Now, riders are helping the city build a cycling economy.

There are, of course, huge national companies like Nike and Columbia Sportswear that have headquarters here and sell some cycling-related products, and there are well-known brands like Team Estrogen, which sells cycling clothing for women online from a Portland suburb.

Yet in a city often uncomfortable with corporate gloss, what is most distinctive about the emerging cycling industry here is the growing number of smaller businesses, whether bike frame builders or clothing makers, that often extol recycling as much as cycling, sustainability as much as success.

Like the local indie rock bands that insist they are apathetic about fame, many of the smaller local companies say craft, not money, is what drives them.

“All the frame builders I know got into this because they love bikes,” said Tony Pereira, a bike builder whose one-man operation has a 10-month waiting list, “not because they wanted to start a business.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2007 at 8:44 am

The future of the car

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Good article in the New Yorker. Read it all at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

1 November 2007 at 2:59 pm

Posted in Business, Government

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Bicycling: the safe way to commute

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Quite a few surprises in this article. For example:

Activity Fatalities per million hours activity
Skydiving 128.7
On-road motorcycling 8.8
Scuba diving 2.0
Living (all causes of death) 1.5
Snowmobiling 0.9
Passenger cars 0.5
Water skiing 0.3
Bicycling 0.3
Flying (scheduled domestic airlines) 0.2
Passenger car post-collision fire 0.0
From Charles R. Murray, “The Real Story: Overdesign Prevents Cars from Exploding,” Design News, October 4, 1993.

More at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2007 at 1:29 pm

Posted in Daily life

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The 2008 hydrogen-fueled Honda FCX

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Amazing: it will be sold to the public, not just another prototype. And it should sell extremely well if we indeed are now past Hubbert’s peak: not buying gasoline and instead getting your fuel from water and sunlight (solar power) would become very attractive indeed.

Honda FCX

During Honda’s press conference at this year’s Tokyo Motor Show, the company’s CEO announced that the FCX sedan would enter production, and be on sale during 2008.

The FCX will include a fuel cell, battery pack and electric motor that produces a horsepower equivalent of about 135 hp. Honda’s advancements in the area of fuel cell technology have allowed it to claim a total range of 354 miles per fill up, which should be more than ample for most peoples’ day-to-day driving needs. The car will look more or less identical to the concept shown here, and size-wise it will occupy the same approximate footprint as the Acura TSX or BMW 3-Series.

While hydrogen is only available at very select refueling stations, the car can be filled up at home thanks to a wall-mounted fuel station. In principle this is similar to what Honda is currently offering with its natural gas-powered Civic, although it differs in that the CNG is merely piped through an existing network already feeding the home’s heating and appliances, where the FCX’s wall-mount actually creates hydrogen by breaking down water into its elements (hydrogen and oxygen) through a process called electrolysis. It is 100-percent green in that the system can be powered (and often is powered) by solar energy.

The production FCX will be unveiled sooner than expected, with a debut at this year’s LA Auto Show in November.

Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2007 at 3:21 pm

Unicycle: half the wheels, twice the fun

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Written by Leisureguy

24 October 2007 at 11:27 am

Bicycling grows

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From Business Week:

Would more of us pedal to work or a local event if we could stash our bikes safely when we got there?

Bikestation, a Long Beach (Calif.) not-for-profit, is teaming up with 30 U.S. cities to create parking garages for bikes. The municipalities build the space (with advice from the group), and Bikestation sometimes manages the facility. The cost for bikers? At Bikestation-run garages, designed to be accessible 24/7 with a smart card key, it’s about $1 a day, $12 a month, or $96 a year.

For cities, the price tag varies. An add-on to a car parking garage, like the one in Santa Barbara, costs about $150,000. That buys room for 70 bikes, showers, and a parts-dispensing vending machine. Bikestation is also helping to plan a $2 million bike-only garage to open next year near Washington’s Union Station. It will have 160 slots and a rental shop.

Investing in such secure parking sites “shows a city’s level of commitment to bicycling,” says Andréa White, executive director of Bikestation, whose goal is to have a bike garage within a half-mile of 90% of urban commuters by 2015. Will that cut down on auto congestion? The group says an average 30% of those using its six completed garages (most in California) used to drive cars–aloneto their destinations.

Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2007 at 11:24 am

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