Helpful Distortion

A nice discussion at 37 signals about the use of abstraction vs. realism on subway maps, looking in particular at maps of London’s (which is highly abstract) and New York’s (which is more realistic) standard subway maps.Helpful distortion at NYC & London subway maps
It is not obvious that one is inherently better than the other for all purposes. As noted earlier on the post about Could you walk it quicker, the London map imposes huge distortions. On the other hand, the more complicated the map, the more that is required to be filtered, arguing for more rather than less abstraction.
The specialist publisher Capital Transport has put out a number of books about the history of the Underground, and its maps, which are quite interesting.

Some good news out of California

From Today’s LA Times: High-speed train line plan may be derailed
The article suggests cutting the authority from 300 staff with 75 consulting firms under contract (of which 100 must be PR and survey firms) to 6 staff. I hope this is true, it would save the taxpayers of California a fortune on a boondoggle.
Though the article notes the line would “zip” passengers from LA to SF in 2.5 hours, this is only downtown LA and a few select stations to downtown SF (and a few select stations), unless you live on top of the stations, the access costs remain. Since one can drive the corridor in 6 hours or so, and fly it in an hour (plus 2-3 hours of access), the gains are marginal over driving (plus I need to rent a car at the other end) and negative over flying.
Furthermore, the idea that the private sector would pony up 20 billion to invest in the line is I suspect ludicrous, just look at the disaster the Public Private Partnership has been on the London Underground. One hopes (for the sake of the shareholders) firms would not be so daft as to pour good money after bad on the hopes of making money on this train.
California is not Europe and it is not Japan, and rail doesn’t turn a real profit there either.

Power companies and eminent domain

From today’s Washington Post: Power Companies’ Reach May Expand
The key issues:
1) Federal vs. state authority
2) Granting private for-profit power companies the “power” of eminent domain to condemn private property owned by others.
In general, the United *States* probably needs a more robust electrical grid, but the federal government is not the right agent to bring this about, and private firms should not be given eminent domain powers without strong local oversight. But a free market does not exist today in electric power distribution, so the situation is quite distorted already.

U.S. Employees Selling Transit Passes Illegally, Investigators Say

From today’s New York Times: U.S. Employees Selling Transit Passes Illegally, Investigators Say .
The federal government, to provide incentives for its employees to take transit, has given them a subsidy of transit passes. Instead of paying their employees more dollars (a currency in fact produced by the US government) and letting them make their own transportation decisions, or charging more for alternatives (on parking generally owned by the US government), it attempted to impose an alternative currency, and is outraged, outraged I say, that people have attempted to perform currency exchange, economic arbitrage between the subsidy and money for them that is more useful.
This is what you get for trying to direct human behavior .. performing “social engineering” as the term is used in Minnesota.
The report was apparently requested by Republican Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, who is apparently upset at government employees using the market system.
Coleman should instead be pleased at how well the federal employees understand markets and are willing to cut through red tape.

Manhattan Congestion Charging Scheme

Mayor of NYC Bloombergproposes a Fee for Driving Into Manhattan
“The proposal that is sure to attract the most attention, and possibly objections, is one to impose the $8 fee on car drivers, and $21 for truck operators, to drive in Manhattan south of 86th Street.”
As the article notes, this proposal copies the London congestion charging scheme, almost point for point, including the use of cameras and the extremely expensive AVI system for enforcement.

History of the Future

A list of predictions made in 1900 by the Ladies Home Journal (making its round in various blogs). Note the transportation predictions:
“Prediction #4: There Will Be No Street Cars in Our Large Cities. All hurry traffic will be below or high above ground when brought within city limits. In most cities it will be confined to broad subways or tunnels, well lighted and well ventilated, or to high trestles with “moving-sidewalk? stairways leading to the top. These underground or overhead streets will teem with capacious automobile passenger coaches and freight with cushioned wheels. Subways or trestles will be reserved for express trains. Cities, therefore, will be free from all noises.
Prediction #5: Trains will run two miles a minute, normally; express trains one hundred and fifty miles an hour. To go from New York to San Francisco will take a day and a night by fast express. There will be cigar-shaped electric locomotives hauling long trains of cars. Cars will, like houses, be artificially cooled. Along the railroads there will be no smoke, no cinders, because coal will neither be carried nor burned. There will be no stops for water. Passengers will travel through hot or dusty country regions with windows down.
Prediction #6: Automobiles will be cheaper than horses are today. Farmers will own automobile hay-wagons, automobile truck-wagons, plows, harrows and hay-rakes. A one-pound motor in one of these vehicles will do the work of a pair of horses or more. Children will ride in automobile sleighs in winter. Automobiles will have been substituted for every horse vehicle now known. There will be, as already exist today, automobile hearses, automobile police patrols, automobile ambulances, automobile street sweepers. The horse in harness will be as scarce, if, indeed, not even scarcer, then as the yoked ox is today.
Prediction #7: There will be air-ships, but they will not successfully compete with surface cars and water vessels for passenger or freight traffic. They will be maintained as deadly war-vessels by all military nations. Some will transport men and goods. Others will be used by scientists making observations at great heights above the earth.
Prediction #8: Aerial War-Ships and Forts on Wheels. Giant guns will shoot twenty-five miles or more, and will hurl anywhere within such a radius shells exploding and destroying whole cities. Such guns will be armed by aid of compasses when used on land or sea, and telescopes when directed from great heights. Fleets of air-ships, hiding themselves with dense, smoky mists, thrown off by themselves as they move, will float over cities, fortifications, camps or fleets. They will surprise foes below by hurling upon them deadly thunderbolts. These aerial war-ships will necessitate bomb-proof forts, protected by great steel plates over their tops as well as at their sides. Huge forts on wheels will dash across open spaces at the speed of express trains of to-day. They will make what are now known as cavalry charges. Great automobile plows will dig deep entrenchments as fast as soldiers can occupy them. Rifles will use silent cartridges. Submarine boats submerged for days will be capable of wiping a whole navy off the face of the deep. Balloons and flying machines will carry telescopes of one-hundred-mile vision with camera attachments, photographing an enemy within that radius. These photographs as distinct and large as if taken from across the street, will be lowered to the commanding officer in charge of troops below.
Prediction #22: Store Purchases by Tube. Pneumatic tubes, instead of store wagons, will deliver packages and bundles. These tubes will collect, deliver and transport mail over certain distances, perhaps for hundreds of miles. They will at first connect with the private houses of the wealthy; then with all homes. Great business establishments will extend them to stations, similar to our branch post-offices of today, whence fast automobile vehicles will distribute purchases from house to house.
Prediction #29: To England in Two Days. Fast electric ships, crossing the ocean at more than a mile a minute, will go from New York to Liverpool in two days. The bodies of these ships will be built above the waves. They will be supported upon runners, somewhat like those of the sleigh. These runners will be very buoyant. Upon their under sides will be apertures expelling jets of air. In this way a film of air will be kept between them and the water’s surface. This film, together with the small surface of the runners, will reduce friction against the waves to the smallest possible degree. Propellers turned by electricity will screw themselves through both the water beneath and the air above. Ships with cabins artificially cooled will be entirely fireproof. In storm they will dive below the water and there await fair weather.”
Of course they missed the airplane, and were optimistic about how people should deal with traffic. But number 6 about the replacement of the horse was spot on
What will 2100 look like, or are we just so cautious now that we don’t make 100 year predictions anymore?

Russia Plans World’s Longest Tunnel, a Link to Alaska

Russia Plans World’s Longest Tunnel, a Link to Alaska
April 18 (Bloomberg) — Russia plans to build the world’s
longest tunnel, a transport and pipeline link under the Bering Strait to Alaska, as part of a $65 billion project to supply the U.S. with oil, natural gas and electricity from Siberia. … more.
This reminds one of Buckminster Fuller, who long ago advocated linking the world’s electrical grids to balance loads (assuming low losses on transmission). Looking at his Dymaxion Map gives a new perspective on how close Alaska and Siberia are.