Friday, August 31, 2007

Flying cars and airborne saucers

A page from the BBC highlights the research of aviation engineer Dr. Paul Moller and his prototype of a flying car, which he sees as an answer to traffic congestion. The small VTOL craft ascends to just ten feet off the ground. Moller, based in Davis, California has been building and researching unusual aircraft for many years. In 1967 he developed a saucer-shaped hovercraft, as shown in a page from the Transportation Futuristics online exhibit.

(Picture courtesy of the BBC)

Paul McCready, aviation pioneer

National Public Radio has a web page with interviews, photos and audio celebrating the life of Paul McCready, Jr., the pioneer of human-powered flight who has died at the age of 81.

This photograph shows the Gossamer Albatross, powered and piloted by Bryan Allen, as it crosses the English Channel in 1979. Mr. Allen is interviewed on the NPR site.
(Photo courtesy of Don Monroe)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Transportation Seminar and Cookie Hour: Back with a Vengeance!

Tomorrow is not only the last day of August in 2007, but also the first Transportation Seminar and Cookie Hour for the 2007/2008 academic year.
Cookie Hour will be in the ITS Library (412 McLaughlin Hall) from 3:30-4:00. Library staff will be providing the treats. They may look like this:

(Who doesn't love free, vegan cupcakes? Don't be confused. There will be cookies, too.)
After Cookie Hour the Transportation Seminar will commence from 4:00-5:00 in 240 Bechtel. The speaker will be Adam Meyerson, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Computer Science Department, University of California, Los Angeles. He will be speaking about Approximation Algorithms for Orienteering and Deadline-TSP.
Come on by and say hello!

Feds to Stop Baller Blocking ATC

NPR reports that the United States federal government has approved a US$1 billion spending package to "begin modernizing the nation's air traffic control system." If you have Ebsco you can view a more detailed explanation of what those in the know call ADS-B (short for Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast). Wikipedia has a pretty extensive article on the matter as well.

I myself will remain skeptical of the claims that by modernization and consequent increases in capacity there will also be an improvement in on-time performance.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I Can Has New Deck?

Photo courtesy of jeffc5000.

The Bay Bridge will be closed Labor Day weekend. After the major information campaign by Caltrans and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, everybody in Northern California and beyond shouldn't be surprised come Friday night when the bridge is closed. Over $1 million has been spent to advertise the closure. Despite this effort, some travelers won't be satisfied. Hopefully engineering firm C.C. Meyers will work as efficiently as they did on the MacArthur Maze Meltdown.

If you do need to cross the bay this holiday weekend, plan ahead. BART will be running trains around the clock to compensate.

Monday, August 27, 2007

High Time for High-Speed Rail in California?

The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSA) held a public meeting last week to hear public input about the proposal for a high-speed rail line crossing over from the Central Valley through either Pacheco Pass or Altamont Pass. Their draft proposal is open to comment until September 28, 2007.

The San Jose Mercury News reports that legislator support for the $37 billion project could wane if the proposal to connect the trail line over the Altamont Pass and via a bridge to San Francisco passes.
"I can't believe anyone is serious about a proposal that would put a bridge or a tunnel right through the middle of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose. "That's not going to happen."

Governor Schwarzenegger allocated $20.7 million for the project, far less than the $104.2 million the high-speed rail board requested.

An article in this month's issue of Metro Magazine highlights the proposal, and discusses some of the hurdles the CSHA faces. Many proponents of the high-speed rail argue that the line will reduce the amount of traffic on major north-south corridors by mitigating the dependence on automobiles. CHSA's executive director says of the project:
“We get a bad rap because we are attached to our cars, but it’s because we don’t have a choice. When we do have a choice, we use it,” Morshed says. “Once it’s there, people will use it. They always do.”

First A380 Tickets Up for Auction

Seats on the first flight of an Airbus A380 will be auctioned off starting today on Ebay. The flight will be from Singapore to Sydney on October 25 and tickets are expected to fetch upwards of $2,550.00. Every seat on the Singapore Airlines A380s will be equipped with a PC running Redhat Linux -- and those PCs in first class will come with a 23" monitor.

Friday, August 24, 2007

NHTSA Establishes Gag Rule

Employees of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration may no longer be directly quoted in the press. This new policy was enacted by NHTSA's head, and Bush appointee, Nicole R. Nason. Now only Nason can issue official statements ... something she has yet to do.

BART appoints first woman General Manager

At a special meeting on August 23 the BART Board of Directors appointed Dorothy Dugger as the District's eighth General Manager. Ms. Dugger, who has worked for BART since 1992, previously served as Deputy General Manager and is the first woman to lead BART in the District's 50 year history.

How Safe are the Streets in San Francisco?

The Streets of San Francisco are making headlines again. This is not an invitation for you to sit down in front of your TV & be captivated by the 1970s detective series. Rather, it is to bring awareness to traffic safety concerns in San Francisco and the puzzling rise in the number of fatal traffic collisions in the city this year. Check out the August 23 front page article in the San Francisco Chronicle for a look at accident statistics involving pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists, and what city officials plan to do to deal with this current surge in collisions.

Officials contend, however, that data for this year alone should not discredit the enforcement efforts of the past several years which have led to a significant reduction in injury collisions.

What can city officials do to ease the situation? They might consider consulting the Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety Indices developed by researchers at FHWA’s Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center. The indices provide a set of models that allow practitioners to identify those intersections that present the most safety concerns to pedestrians and bicyclists.

Further collision trends and analyses can be found in the San Francisco Collision Report
while a report by UCSF’s San Francisco Injury Center and the Department of Public Health
provides overall injury statistics, with a chapter devoted to motor vehicle and traffic-related injuries.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Cryptanalysts Gone Wild!!!

Here is a cryptanalysis paper on some deficiencies with the KeeLoq cipher program that may be used for your little key clicker thing if you own a Chrysler, Daewoo, Fiat, General Motors, Honda, Toyota, Volvo, Volkswagen, or Jaguar vehicle.

I know it's not quite as titillating as encryption for inter-vehicular ad hoc wireless networks like in intelligent transportation systems (ITS), but I'm only human.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Segway Driver Attacked By Wild Turkeys!

According to, "Wild turkeys went after Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory technician recently as he rode his Segway to the office.

They chased him and pecked at him according to a local television reporter who witnessed the entire incident.

The turkeys have wandered the grounds of the lab for years, but they've apparently gotten very bold lately."

Friday, August 17, 2007

NAHSC documents now online

In August 1997 the National Automated Highway System Consortium (NAHSC) held Demo '97 in San Diego to show off highway automation technologies. To mark the event's tenth anniversary the documentation of Demo '97 and other NAHSC work is available on the PATH website.

NAHSC material has not been widely available until now, as most of the reports that NAHSC delivered to the U.S. Department of Transportation between 1994 and 1998 were not published, existing only in a handful of hard copies. The documentation includes the NAHSC newsletter AHS Update and videos of the demonstrations.

LA Looks to Update Long-Range Transportation Plan, Finds Huge Funding Shortfall

On Thursday, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority board met to review the financial aspects of its long-range transportation plan - how much money is, or could be, available to fund a wide range of transit and highway improvements. The Los Angeles Times reports a shortfall of about $26 billion dollars between projected revenue and the cost of various projects.

Full funding for the proposed projects would largely reshape the Los Angeles County landscape, as shown in Transit Corridors, a map that illustrates future project lines and modes. Commuters crawling along the freeways can only dream of such a scenario.

The terminal tower

A page in the San Francisco Chronicle website gives a preview of three proposed designs for a high-rise building on the proposed Transbay Terminal. Whichever of these plans is chosen will produce the tallest building on the West Coast. The Chronicle cautiously calls the competition "a gamble in city-making that could redefine San Francisco in the sky and on the ground."

Meanwhile, online prankster Jim Leftwich offers a bold vision of a redefined San Francisco.

Link between cellphone yakking and accidents questioned

Conventional opinion, and most previous research, on cellphones and driving has been challenged by Saurabh Bhargava and Vikram Pathania, graduate students of economics at UC Berkeley. Their report "Driving Under the (Cellular) Influence: The Link Between Cell Phone Use and Vehicle Crashes" summarizes their study of crash statistics and cellphone usage by drivers between 1987 and 2005 in all U.S. states. They were surprised to find little correlation between crashes and cellphone use.
A summary of the research, including Bhargava and Pathania's ideas on how their findings might be explained, can be found on the UC Berkeley news site.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

New Biometric System Introduced at SFO

The new SFO fast-pass technology Clear was launched yesterday to much fanfare.

Clear is part of a new wave of biometrically-based technologies being deployed at airports across the United States. These technologies provide airport customers with expedited security lines in exchange for voluntarily submitting their fingerprint, iris, and retinal data, which are linked to the customer’s other personal information (see Airports International, vol 40 no 3 pp 28-39 for further information).

While the federal government monitors these programs under the Registered Traveler's program (RT), the creation of biometric databases is, apart for privacy issues, a cause for concern for some. One such critic is Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben who notes that, when biometrics was first implemented, it was used solely for the control and regulation of recidivist criminals.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

US DOT announces who gets the Urban Partnership money

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced today the five metropolitan areas to whom they awarded the Urban Partnership Agreements (UPAs). The winners are:

Each of the winners will still need to submit traffic studies for their respective projects before receiving the money. Twenty six cities applied for the the program's funding. New York's $354 million will go towards congestion pricing in Manhattan. Seattle will use its $139 million to charge tolls on the Highway 520 floating bridge. Miami's $63 million will go towards installing variably priced toll lanes on I-95 between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. Minneapolis will spend use it's $133 million to add High Occupancy Toll lanes to I-35. San Francisco's $159 million will help establish a congestion pricing plan for the downtown area.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Investigators have found a possible "design issue" in I-35W bridge collapse,
the BBC News reports.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Creaking infrastructure

"A bridge too far gone" is the title of an article in the current Economist, describing the sorry state of America's transportation infrastructure and the country's shortcomings in transportation finance.

Drive a big car in London? Pay up or give up.

The tides of public opinion and personal finance appear to be turning against big cars, at least in the UK. They are regarded as increasingly uncool, and those with the chutzpah to drive big vehicles will soon need big wallets too. An article in the Christian Science Monitor outlines how the city of London's authorities plan to introduce higher rates of congestion pricing, aimed at discouraging the use of large automobiles. Meanwhile it seems that more drivers in the UK are turning to smaller, more environmentally correct vehicles.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

NY Subway Flood!

An article yesterday from Reuters describes flooding on Wednesday in the NY subway system.

For those interested in a more technical discussion of NYC subway waterproofing, or waterproofing tunnels in general, Tunnels and Tunnelling International has recently had a few good articles that just *might* tickle your fancy!! The May 2007 issue discussed in brief a few complications with the water table for the construction of the 2nd Avenue cavern in NYC (see pp 21-22). Here they explain that they will not block inflowing groundwater completely for the project but rather slow it and pump the rest. We will see whether or not, given these recent floods, this strategy remains the same.

If you just have to know more about waterproofing tunnels than this small quip provides, then the April 2007 issue may sate your edgy tastes (pp 50-52). This article covers the topic in question from grouting and temporary control to high quality concrete and sprayed membranes. I won't even go into the microbial method (but you sure can!).

I'll post up some links to these articles if I can find them, otherwise the items can just be found in the library.

Segway Group Folds

Segway scooter user group folds due to lack of interest
by Ron Harris

The device that was supposed to revolutionize urban transportation seems unable to even hold on to a proper fan club.

The Segway Enthusiasts Group of America is disbanding because of inactivity and an absence of candidates for its board of directors, said the group's treasurer, Fred Kaplan.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

FAA Grant to Study Bay Area Airport Gridlock

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission will use a $585,000 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to study ways to avoid gridlock at Bay Area airports. The SF Chronicle reports that among options to be considered are persuading airlines to resume flying larger aircraft, developing high-speed rail, expanding capacity at major airports, and better use of the area’s general aviation airports.

MTC’s most recent Regional Airport System Plan was updated in 2000 and also considers alternatives.

And to the south, passengers using Los Angeles International experienced flight delays in four of every five flights. But as the Los Angeles Times reports, that’s better than the national average of one in three. Overall system performance is so bad that fully one-third of all flights during January – June 2007 were late.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Highways are a Series of Tubes

Senator Ted Stevens said "The Internet is a series of tubes."
Prof. Carl Ross from University of Portsmouth would like to see highways as a series of tubes.
Professor Carl Ross's innovative concept for an enclosed 'double-decker highway' would not only help cut road congestion but also significantly reduce the levels of harmful gases emitted by cars being released into the atmosphere.

Open double-decker highways already exist in Mexico City, but the mechanical engineer's vision sees the roads walled and roofed in soundproof plastic to trap carbon dioxide.

The poisonous emissions would then be blown into filters or 'scrubbers' much like those used on submarines and space shuttles for decades.

I-35W Bridge Collapse Myths And Conspiracies

I-35W Bridge Collapse Myths And Conspiracies

By John A. Weeks III

Are Hybrids No Longer Hip?

Cars on the HighwayNPR looks into sales of new hybrid cars and asks if interest is falling beyond the Prius?
A recent survey suggests the number of people interested in buying a hybrid has actually dropped in the past year.

Some 180,000 hybrid cars and SUV's were sold in the United States in the first six months of 2007 — about 3 percent of total sales.
But While the Prius has become mainstream — it was the sixth-best-selling car in May — many of the other hybrids on the market have fallen short.

Rusty Hefner, director of market analysts at, says that part of the blame for that may lie with dealers.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Low Carbon Fuel Standard for California

"A Low Carbon Fuel Standard for California. Part 2, Policy analysis" coordinated by Daniel Sperling, director of ITS UC Davis and Alex Farrell, director of the TSRC at UC Berkeley, was published on August 1. Outlining policies to achieve the state's goal of reducing the carbon content of gasoline to cut the state's greenhouse gas emissions, it is the first statement of its kind in the world. Part 1 of the report, which described several technological means towards carbon reduction, was published in May.

The full story is available from the Environmental News Service.

See the full text of Part 1 and Part 2 of "A Low Carbon Fuel Standard for California." They are also available on the websites of the TSRC and ITS at UC Davis.

Minnesota Bridge Images

Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) has published a number of high-quality images of the I-35 bridge that collapsed on August 2. A video of the event has been found that will aid in determining how the collapse progressed.

MPR bridge collapse images

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Collapse of Bridge 9340 on I-35

In 2000 the University of Minnesota Department of Civil Engineering carried out an assessment of stresses and strains on the I-35 bridge for Minnesota Department of Transportation. The 2001 report concluded that "the bridge should not have any problems with fatigue cracking in the foreseeable future."