Category Archives: history

Lord Gordon-Gordon |

Now at Lord Gordon-Gordon.

Lord Gordon-Gordon (a.k.a. Lord Glencairn, Hon. Mr. Herbert Hamilton, George Herbert Gordon, George Gordon, George Hubert Smith, and John Herbert Charles Gordon) migrated from Britain to North America in 1870. He was not a Lord, as many Americans and Canadians later learned, merely impersonating a Scottish peer to borrow money to buy land. He landed in Minnesota in 1871, and deposited £20,000 in a local bank, establishing legitimacy. He promised to invest $5 million to help resettle 100 Scottish families on land managed for the Northern Pacific Railroad. Col. Loomis, the land commissioner for the Northern Pacific spent $45,000 touring with Lord Gordon-Gordon through rural Minnesota.

Does TTI underestimate historic congestion levels?

To read the Texas Transportation Institute’s Urban Mobility Report is to believe congestion has more than doubled since 1982 (really between 1982 and 2000). From one perspective, of course congestion must have risen, demand (Vehicle Miles Traveled, Population, etc.) increased significantly over this period while supply (Lane Miles of Road Capacity) did not increase at nearly the same rate.
But I was alive in 1982, I was in cars at that age (and driving myself the next year) (in Central Maryland). I remember congestion in the 1980s. To misquote Lloyd Bentsen, “Congestion was a friend of mine”, and TTI seems to be saying to 1982 “You’re no congestion”. But congestion doesn’t seem appreciably different from today. People complained about it then as much as now. Some bottlenecks have been fixed, new ones have emerged.
So I wonder whether congestion did, in fact, “double”.
Some hypotheses:
1. Measurement issues. Continuous roadway travel time measurements were a lot scarcer in the 1980s than today. Freeways now have loop detectors on every segment, whereas there might have been a permanent recording station every 5 or 10 miles in the 1980s, so a lot more had to be estimated and approximated. There are still no good arterial measurements, the most recent Urban Mobility Report uses GPS data from Inrix, and this will clearly come to dominate congestion measures. Notably, including this measurement forced TTI to re-estimate downward their historical congestion measurements.
2. Definition: As noted by Joe Cortright’s report Driven Apart, mobility is not accessibility. A city where I can reach everything in 10 minutes, but travel at 30 MPH (when freeflow is 60 MPH) is more congested than one where I can reach everything in 30 minutes, but can travel at freeflow conditions. The TTI in a sense penalizes efficient land uses.
3. Induced Demand: Highway expansion tends to get used up (this is not a bad thing of itself, just a thing), so much of road expansion gets eaten up in more traffic. Similarly highway reduction reduces travel. Duranton and Turner write “We conclude that an increased provision of roads or public transit is unlikely to relieve congestion.”
This does not explain why congestion is under-estimated in the past though.
4. Congestion vs. Speed: Travel times on journey to work increased only marginally over this period. Average distances for trips rose faster than travel times, indicating average travel speeds increased. So even with increasing congestion, if travelers shifted to relatively faster (e.g. suburb to suburb freeways) from slower (e.g. suburb to city arterials), congestion can rise on each link, but travel speeds still increase. See The Rational Locator for an example of this.
5. Perspective: This previous point about perception can be refamed as one of perspective. There are differences between spatial averages (which TTI uses) and person-based averages (which individual observers perceive). So the person based average for any metropolitan resident may be the same, but the amount of space (network) covered by congestion may increase if the total amount of space which is developed increases. Similarly, if there is peak spreading, congestion occurs over a longer duration.
However, TTI is not simply saying that the amount of area that is congested increased, they are claiming, for Washington DC the delay per person increased from 20 hours per year in 1982 to 74 hours in 2010.
I am willing to believe that with recent measurements, 74 hours per year for an average commuter in DC is plausible in 2010, since that is just under 10 minutes each way each day for 225 work days per year. 10 minutes of delay on a 30 minute commute means the freeflow time on that commute (un-delayed, e.g. Sunday morning) was 20 minutes. This seems about right for the “average” commuter. Rush hour is when everyone has to slow down.
But this implies in 1982 that delay was less than 3 minutes a day per commuter each way. That seems unreasonably small when you think about it, I could have spent 3 minutes at a traffic light in DC at the time, and that certainly constitutes delay. They are saying for every person who had a 10 minute delay, 2 people had 0 delay to get an average 3 minute delay, and that is not the metropolitan Washington I was familiar with. Congestion was sufficiently important than that radio stations had regular traffic reports, and traffic helicopters, it was not something insignificant.
Of course this is impossible to fully validate, as we cannot go back in time and accurately measure speed. The best I could think of was using the Google NGram feature to track mention of some keywords in books. This proves nothing unfortunately, and suggests a small uptick in the word “traffic” in the 1990s, but is interesting none-the-less.
One however can imagine the motivation for wanting congestion to appear lower in the past than it actually was. This means congestion is rising faster, and thus creates a greater claim on the public weal than if congestion were always with us at roughly the same level.

Going Underground

Prior to the advent of the steam railway, London was a metropolis of just over 1 million people. It was well Figure_c8-f3bFigure_c8-f3cFigure_c8-f3dserved by both canals and turnpikes connecting to other parts of Great Britain. Internally, there were omnibus services. The London & Greenwich Railway was the first of many railways to reach London, with the first section opening in 1836 and being completed in 1838, making it possible to reach Greenwich in twelve minutes instead of the hour required by horse-drawn omnibus or steamboat. Famously built on a viaduct, the route was initially paralleled by a tree-lined boulevard that operated as a toll road, serving those unwilling to pay rail fares. However, the toll road was disbanded when the viaduct was widened to enable more frequent services to the densely populated urban core, ultimately growing from two tracks to eleven.
Soon many other railways sought to connect to London. To avoid disruption in the core, a Royal Commission on Railway Termini, appointed in 1846, drew a box around central London and decreed no line shall enter the cordon. [This box resembles the congestion charging zone adopted in the early 21st century, which aimed to reduce cars, rather than prohibit trains]. The result was railway terminals locating on the edges of the central region. London, like many cities, has no unified railway station, as the North, South, East, and West lines have no common intersection. The problem is worse though in London, as even lines from the north run by different organizations would be build adjacent (St. Pancras/ Kings Cross), or nearly adjacent (Euston), stations without convenient interchange. Later (between 1858-60) some penetrations of the box were permitted by Parliament, but most of the City of London (the original walled city where the financial district still lies) remained untouched. While preventing railways from severing the most densely populated part of the city, which would have been expensive for both the railways and the city, it created a need for a connection between the termini to allow transfers. The Metropolitan Railway, a private concern like all railways of the era but with some support from the Corporation of the City of London, was approved by Parliament in 1854. It aimed to connect the northern termini (Paddington, Euston, St. Pancras, King’s Cross, and Farringdon, which was later added to the plan) to ease movement for through travelers.
The trends in the City of London were quite different from the rest of London. The City of London has seen a long trend of depopulation from 1851 (prior to the first Underground line) and for many years saw increasing employment, lending support to the notion that the railways, especially the Underground, enabled decentralization of residences and concentration of employment.
The Metropolitan Railway opened in January 1863, and was extremely successful. Clearly the market was much larger than inter-line transfers. The firm paid dividends throughout its life. Accounting in the early years of the Metropolitan Railway, especially prior to the Regulation of Railways Act of 1868, was a bit dodgy, and dividends were reportedly paid out of capital. To quote Jackson (1986) p. 38, describing the era of 1865, “It was . . . a house of cards, a precarious game in which the level of dividend was kept up at all costs, by finding money from somewhere, with no regard to sound accounting or financial rectitude.”. Emulation is the proof of success. Many new railway lines were proposed, the 219 London-area railway bills brought before Parliament during the period 1860-1869 totaled 1420 km (882 miles).
Some of those lines were proposed prior to the opening of the Metropolitan, indicating the smell of success was in the air, though the peak years were between 1863 and 1866, following closely on the heels of the Metropolitan’s opening. The most important of these was the Metropolitan District Railway (later called the District line), which ran just north of the River Thames, but south of the Metropolitan, connecting a number of the southern railway termini (Victoria, Charing Cross, Blackfriars, Cannon Street). Proposals for what became the Circle Line service linking the Metropolitan and District (roughly inscribing the box described above) were quickly proposed, but the two lines were not connected on both ends until 1884. Both the Metropolitan and District lines were constructed using cut and cover techniques. Later lines, from the City and South London Railway (first section opened in 1890) onwards, generally used deep-level tunneling techniques to avoid disruption of city streets, existing railway lines, and public utilities when they needed to be below grade. Outside the Circle Line however, the railways could emerge above ground and competed fiercely in some markets, while operating unfettered in others, to provide suburban services. In some cases this involved building new lines, in others it involved acquiring running rights on (or ownership of) existing lines. The development of suburbs was a way to develop traffic for lines that in the city, though profitable, were operating below maximum capacity, and thus maximum profitability.
Adapted from

Also see:

How a chance encounter in St. Paul almost prevented World War II

Now at How a chance encounter in St. Paul almost prevented World War II :

“While staying in St. Paul, Minnesota, Zeppelin encountered a fellow German who had served for the Union inflating a hot-air balloon. It was here Count Zeppelin first went airborne in 1863. The rest, as the say, is history.”

London Underground Stamps and £2 Coin


London Reconnections: In Pictures: London Underground Stamps & £2 Coin :

“Earlier this year, the Post Office confirmed that they would be issuing a number of stamps to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the opening of the Underground. The designs for these stamps have now been made public, and are featured below. The set features two second class stamps, which focus specifically on the Metropolitan Railway, and four first class stamps taking a broader look at the Underground. In addition, there are four long-format commemorative stamps each of which features a variety of Underground posters.”

Route damn spot, Route I say. or Rooting for a Rout.


In my lab today we had a discussion over the proper way to say the word “Route” dictionaries and professional linguists who were consulted give both “root” and “rout” as acceptable pronunciations, leaving us no wiser than before.
But online, we find this Dialect survey (color matching the map).

Dialect Survey Results:

26. route (as in, “the route from one place to another”) 
     a. rhymes with “hoot” (29.99%)
     b. rhymes with “out” (19.72%)
     c. I can pronounce it either way interchangeably (30.42%)
     d. I say it like “hoot” for the noun and like “out” for the verb. (15.97%)
     e. I say it like “out” for the noun and like “hoot” for the verb. (2.50%)
     f. other (1.40%)
     (11137 respondents)


As a north-easterner myself, It was always take Root 29 or Root 95, but in the South, we were on Rout 85. In the midwest, it seems more Rout than Root. In any case the “e” is superfluous, as it doesn’t modify in a consistent way, since we already have a double vowel. The word is also superfluous, since we already have the word “road” from the same root. Damn French imports.

Etymology online says: route (n.)
early 13c., from O.Fr. rute “road, way, path,” from L. rupta (via) “(a road) opened by force,” from rupta, fem. pp. of rumpere “to break” (see rupture). Sense of “fixed or regular course for carrying things” (cf. mail route) is 1792, an extension of the meaning “customary path of animals” (early 15c.).

See also this on Highway Linguistics

Linklist: May 16, 2012

Kottke: Fantastic time lapse map of Europe, 1000 – 2005 A.D.

In Vancouver, Buzzer Blog: New wayfinding signage is going up around the region

Massive Tornado, Can it Happen Here? [MPR succumbs to Sweeps Month] If you’re stuck in traffic, you have no good choices”

A local Car Dealer (Walser) is encouraging trading in used cars for bikes (and cash). The campaign is here: New Wheels

The Scholarly Kitchen: The Emergence of a Citation Cartel :

“In a 1999 essay published in Science titled, ‘Scientific Communication — A Vanity Fair?’ George Franck warned us on the possibility of citation cartels — groups of editors and journals working together for mutual benefit. To date, this behavior has not been widely documented; however, when you first view it, it is astonishing.
Cell Transplantation is a medical journal published by the Cognizant Communication Corporation of Putnam Valley, New York. In recent years, its impact factor has been growing rapidly. In 2006, it was 3.482. In 2010, it had almost doubled to 6.204.
When you look at which journals cite Cell Transplantation, two journals stand out noticeably: the Medical Science Monitor, and The Scientific World Journal. According to the JCR, neither of these journals cited Cell Transplantation until 2010.”

Linklist: April 11, 2012

Bloomberg: Microsoft Inspired by London Tube Seeks Sleeker Designs

Bloomberg: California High-Speed Rail Spending Probed by U.S. House :

“A U.S. House of Representatives committee said it will investigate reports of conflicts of interest at California’s high-speed rail authority when it received federal money to start construction.”

Bloomberg: ’Fortune 500’ of 1812 Shows U.S. Banks’ Early Influence [Look at all those Turnpikes and Canals though]


Autoblog Green: U.S. new-vehicle fuel economy hits 24.1 mpg, another record, in March

The size of the pedestrian city

In a previous post I identified the size of the pedestrian city as on the order of 50,000, let’s do this a bit more systematically.
Let’s illustrate with some assumptions:

  • One-way Travel time budget (B) = 0.5 h
  • Walking speed (S) = 5 km/h
  • Walking network radius (Rn = S/B) = 2.5 km
  • Network circuity (C) = 1.25
  • Walking euclidean radius (Re = Rn/C) = 2 km
  • Walking euclidean area (potential) (Ae=Pr*Re^2) = 12.56 km^2
  • Population density (D) = 5,000 persons per km^2 [As a point of reference, the current population density of Manhattan is 27,485/km^2, which I would argue is only enabled by 19th century technologies like elevators and transit. Rome currently has a population density of 2,101/km^2]
  • Population within TTB threshold (P=D*Ae) 62,800

Obviously you can construct a spreadsheet and play with population densities, which are highly disputed in ancient times. One sees claims that the City of Rome in ancient times had a population of 1 million people, but it is unclear over what area that was measured, and some estimates of those densities far exceed the densities of modern elevator cities (like Manhattan). I believe it is possible that high crowding occurred, but I think it unlikely that such crowding extended over large areas.
Also one can have a pedestrian city that exceeds the one-way walking travel time budget, but not a city one interacts with on a daily basis. This is more the equivalent of adjacent and overlapping cities, and likely have multiple cores.

Linklist: September 8, 2011

MnDaily: U to implement bike reward system [RFID Tracking comes to biking before cars, and it is voluntary, something to look at for Road Pricing]

Inner Auto Parts History Of Crash Safety : ” … While the jumble of confusing ordinances continued to plague pioneer motorists, a new wrinkle was added: the “speed trap.” In smaller towns, particularly, marshals and other law officials lay in wait for unsuspecting drivers, timing them by stop-watch or “by guess and by gosh.” Some lawmen were authorized to shoot at tires or to stretch chains or wire across the road. Until the motorcycle became a police vehicle, the local sheriff’s office was somewhat limited in their pursuit of fleeing cars, since they were either on foot or on bicycles. … ” [I really like this history for some reason, but I don't know where it originates, i.e. there are no references. I suspect it is not from Inner Auto Parts originally]

KurzweilAI: Human gait could soon power portable electronics [Capturing kinetic energy rather than letting it dissipate into heat].

Thomas A. Rubin, James E. Moore and Shin Lee cite Peter Gordon on the irreversibility of infrastructure, and why “no” is never finalTen myths about US urban rail systems Transport Policy Volume 6, Issue 1, January 1999, Pages 57-73. “Local transportation authorities understand well the political mechanisms available to them, and they continue to apply their misinformation tools with full cognizance and considerable effect. Voter propositions may fail, but there is nothing to prevent local authorities from studying their message, refining the marketing context of their appeals, and proceeding again. In the end, “They can lose as often as they have to. They only need to win once.” (Gordon, 1994).”
Gordon, P., 1994. Conversation with authors, Los Angeles, CA. 14 July..