New Towns are back

From today’s BBC, the next UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown is proposing to build 100,000 houses in five new towns (20,000 each) to help address the rise in housing costs in southeast England: Brown outlines ‘eco towns’ plan.
These towns would be “carbon neutral”, showing how each generating infuses its ideals into its plans. Hopefully these will be more like Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities (Letchworth, Welwyn), or the first generation of post-war new towns (e.g. Stevanage) than that monstrosity of mega-scale suburban automobility, Milton Keynes. Given their scale, they sound more similar to the early Garden Cities.

McCain’s strategic error

John McCain, recently announced US presidential candidate, has long supported a stronger US force in Iraq, and recently endorsed George Bush’s surge.
If the surge fails, McCain gets tagged with its failure. If it succeeds he can claim credit.
With enough troops and military resources, certainly Iraq (or even Baghdad) could be calmed – there are only 27 million people in Iraq, surely an equivalent force (less than 10 percent of the US population) would bring about peace pretty quickly, however, that number is more than the US and its allies are likely to commit for this cause.
That said, it is unlikely that an extra 21,000 troops are sufficient. McCain had supported more troops before Bush endorse a mere 21,000 troops for the surge.
McCain would have been able to claim the high ground either way had he said we need a surge, and Bush’s plan was insufficient. If Bush is wrong, and the surge is generally regarded as a failure, McCain would have been able to say he wanted more and that would have worked. If on the odd chance Bush were right, he can still claim credit for encouraging a surge.
Endorsing Bush, instead of moving to his right, is either a strategic error, or part of a larger game where McCain hopes to gain something from the endorsement of policy (but what could that be … a Bush endorsement of his campaign does not seem like something of sufficient value to warrant selling out for).
Note: I neither endorse the surge, the war, nor McCain. McCain seems like a nice guy, and he was held prisoner for a number of years, but he is wrong on every issue.

Email bankruptcy?

From Stuff: http://www.stuff.co.nz/4044358a28.html”>
Under siege, users declare ‘email bankruptcy’ -
Users overwhelmed by their incoming email (underwhelming in their ability to manage time?) are just dumping their inbox.
It would be nice if we could do that in transportation … a queue forming at an intersection, we will just delete all the cars and start again.

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.

by David Levinson

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