Sunday, September 30, 2007

The "ITSL Roadshow"

The week of September 24 saw members of the ITS Library take to the road to spread the word. First off was Kendra Levine, visiting ITS Irvine on Tuesday the 25th to speak about the Library and its outreach services, followed next day by a visit to ITS UCLA to address new students at its Fall Orientation. While in the neighborhood she called in on our friend Matt Barrett, director of the MTA Library in downtown Los Angeles.

Meanwhile on Wednesday the 26th, John Gallwey traveled to speak at the Fall Orientation for new graduate students at ITS Davis. Recent circumstances had deprived him of a car so he journeyed by train. This proved so pleasant that he resolved, after years of driving between the Bay Area and Davis, to use this mode for future trips.

Lastly and by no means least, Library Director Rita Evans was in Sacramento on Thursday the 27th to speak at the Informational Resources For Transportation Research workshop at Caltrans headquarters. Her co-presenters at this program for Caltrans engineers were Susan Haake, director of the Caltrans Library and Laura Melendy, director of the ITS Technology Transfer Program.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Catch a ride in a Cybercar

Tired of driving the same old way? Want a new form of mobility that bridges the gap between an automobile and public transportation? Can you envision yourself in a cybercar? See what the Europeans are doing ... and will it ever catch on in the U.S.?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Germany Greenlights Maglev

Germany's rail operator, Deutsche Bahn, and the state of Bavaria have signed an agreement with Transrapid -- a consortium of Siemens and ThyssenKrupp -- to build a magnetic levitation railway. The new maglev, the first regular maglev service outside of China, is estimated to cost $2.6 billion.

Monday, September 24, 2007

38 Gallons of Fuel Wasted Sitting In Traffic

That's the nationwide average -- 38 gallons -- of wasted fuel per driver stuck in traffic each year. This is according to the Texas Transportation Institute's recently released 2007 Annual Urban Mobility Report. The average for San Jose drivers is 54 gallons per year. The study's authors, Tim Lomax and David Schrank, estimate that traffic congestion cost the U.S. $78 billion annually from 4.2 billion hours in lost productivity and 2.9 billion gallons of wasted fuel.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Transportation Seminar and Cookie Time: Freeway Congestion is Not So Good

After this week's Cookie Time, from 3:30 to 4:00 in the ITS Library, the Transportation Seminar will commence in the Bechtel Engineering Center, Room 240. We will be regaled this week with a talk, Freeway Congestion, Ramp Metering, and Tolls, given by Prof. Pravin Varaiya. The abstract-
The Cell Transmission Model of a freeway with multiple origins and destinations is used to compare four schemes to reduce freeway congestion: (R) ramp control only; (T) one lane is tolled and ramps are uncontrolled; (B) bottlenecks are tolled and ramps are uncontrolled; (RB) ramps are controlled and bottlenecks are tolled. In the base case no ramps are metered and there are no tolls. It is found that (T) is inefficient and likely to leave all travelers worse off than in the base case; (R), (B) and (RB) can achieve efficient freeway utilization; (B) can eliminate queues, but has adverse spatial and equity side effects; (RB) minimizes these side effects. (RB) is likely to be much less costly to implement and maintain than (T) or (B).

Prof. Varaiya holds the Nortel Networks Distinguished Professorship in our very own Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences. Having previously taught also in the Department of Economics and heading the PATH program, he currently studies communication networks, transportation, and hybrid systems. If you miss this talk you will definitely look like a sucker.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Rather Than Dream, Rather Says Dreamliner a Disaster

Dan Rather is making a splash this week with an expose on the composite materials used in the fuselage of the new Boeing Dreamliner due out in 2008. Rather explains in the article that
One of the selling points of the new 787 is lower maintenance costs. Because the composite airframe won't corrode or rust, Boeing says the maintenance costs will be cut by thirty percent. They also say that detailed visual inspections on a periodic basis should be sufficient to detect serious damage to the composite material.

In a move questioning the embattled Rather, 'Wired Blog' contributor Aaron Rowe submits this criticism (found here)
While there is a lot of weight behind the argument that composite materials are not as well-studied as aircraft aluminum, the reasoning behind the flurry of recent articles may be faulty. First off, if a plane crashes, the composite frame will definitely not be the only source of toxic fumes. Second, high performance composites have been used in fighter aircraft and for years. Sports cars, race cars, and train cars made from composite materials have endured fantastic crashes. Claims that the impact toughness of carbon fiber is inadequate may be premature.

Rather's supremely ridiculous speculations on the military career of President and Commander-in-Chief George W. Bush may have prompted some of Rowe's questions about the reporter's legitimacy. In a move highlighting Rowe's journalistic prowess, he cites a manufacturer of composite planes who says that there is "no reason to believe that composites cannot be made every bit as strong as aluminum." Everyone knows that the most reliable source on a product is the one who stands to make the greatest profit from its sale.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Parking for Desperate Housewives

Some people don't like the idea of parking in spaces marked "Parking for Desperate Housewives." A new form of advertising is spreading across Southern California parking lots and my soon be making money for parking lot owners all over the country.

Monday, September 17, 2007

FasTrak is the fastest ... not always

SF Chronicle sleuths Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross uncover a shocking truth behind the FasTrak-only lanes at Bay Area toll plazas. The success of the FasTrak program -- up to 4000 new users per day -- has led to some backups rivaling the combo FasTrak/Cash lanes.

Friday, September 14, 2007

“Shared Space” – Can roads be safer without traffic signals?

According to a recent article from Reuters, the town of Bohmte, Germany, will abandon its usage of traffic lights and stop signs in its downtown area in an attempt to improve road safety. Bohmte is not alone in its efforts. The “Shared Space” concept, developed by Hans Monderman, a Dutch traffic specialist, is being fulfilled in seven pilot projects across the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, the U.K., and Belgium. In the U.S., officials in West Palm Beach, Florida, have been successful in slowing down traffic and reducing accidents by also following the concept.

The Shared Space philosophy embraces the goal of creating more space for human beings by allowing motorists and pedestrians to share equal rights of way. Wide boulevards previously designed to only accommodate motor vehicles are being converted into narrow streets with widened sidewalks.

Monderman touches upon his somewhat radical approach to traffic calming where he explains that roads that may appear to be more dangerous are in fact safer.

An entry in Wikipedia further discusses the objectives, practice, and the pros and cons of a traffic engineering philosophy that suggests that pedestrians and drivers can indeed occupy road space in a more compatible manner. This unconventional approach to driving behavior, road design and road architecture, may one day make, at least in certain areas, traffic signs and signals obsolete.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

U.S. Senate Approves of Some Things, Disapproves of Others

Yesterday the United States Senate passed a transportation spending bill that will now be returned to the House of Representatives for approval. The bill was passed without a proposed waiver of Davis-Bacon Act, a law that requires fair wages for federally-funded public works projects, for bridge renovation projects. The bill has added US$1 billion for such projects in an amendment to an earlier version. Funding was also augmented for the I-35W bridge due to efforts by the junior senator from Minnesota.

50 Worst Cars of All Time

LA Times columnist Dan Neil devotes special attention to each and every one of his fifty selections for the worst automobiles ever built in his article for

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Transportation Seminar and Cookie Hour: Big Rigs Gone Automatic

This week's Transportation Seminar features ITS Berkeley alum, Dr. Jacob Tsao, who now teaches at Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering . He'll discuss current research in automated trailer steering. Triple trailer trucks, such as the one shown above, now operate in 20 states in the U.S. Problems with safety and inefficiency due to improper tracking can be reduced or eliminated with automated trailer steering. Improving Safety of Large-Truck Operations with Automated Trailer Steering For Fuel Efficiency,Emission Reduction and Productivity examines the fuel efficiency and sustainability of truck automation.

Energy and environmental concerns have led to much attention on fuel efficiency and sustainable development. A class of large trucks called “longer combination vehicles” (LCVs) currently operates on designated highways in 20 states of the US. Although they provide high fuel efficiency and productivity, they also pose safety and infrastructure hazards. A major source of such hazards is off-tracking – the phenomenon that the rear wheels of a truck do not follow the track of the front wheels. A major category of LCVs is the Triple, consisting of a tractor and three 28-foot trailers, and some Triples also suffer from continuous sideway sway while cruising on the highway. We propose the concept of automated trailer steering to overcome these problems. Vehicle-dynamics models and steering algorithms have been developed. Computer simulation suggests that off-tracking can be virtually eliminated; it also provides a clue for the reason of the continuous sway of some Triples. Systems issues about expanding current LCV operations will be discussed as well as a new mode of freight transportation enabled by automated trailer steering – Short Trailer Combination Vehicles (STCVs).

The Transportation Seminar will be in 240 Bechtel from 4:00-5:00 PM. Cookie Hour precedes the seminar in the ITS Library, 412 McLaughlin Hall, from 3:30-4:00 PM.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A New Way To Push Tin

The Daily Cal reports that ITS Berkeley a grant from NASA to improve the nation's air traffic control system. From the article:

The campus Institute of Transportation Studies will receive $502,000 for each of two years to evaluate possible methods of relieving the nation’s overburdened aviation system.

Mark Hansen, professor of civil and environmental engineering, will be the principal investigator for the project, along with researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of Maryland, College Park.

Hansen said that currently air traffic controllers are often unable to predict exact arrival times of aircraft, leading to delays and causing aircraft to circle above airports because of traffic backup on the ground.

“We are studying a new case in which each airplane arrives at the airport at a specific time,” Hansen said.

There have been many criticisms of the current air traffic control system: It's out dated because they still use strips of paper (ACM, registration required). It's overburdened. Some also say the current system can be unsafe.

In response, the FAA has announced the launch of a GPS based air traffic control system. A GPS based system is certainly safer than a Buddhist based system.

Some new and old wonders

The current issue of the Economist's Technology Quarterly contains some interesting items on innovations in transportation, including German research in small hovercraft, news of a sea-going automobile, and the story of the introduction of electric buses in London a century ago.

(Picture courtesy of The Economist)

Monday, September 10, 2007

BART: 35 Years of Service

This week BART celebrates the 35th anniversary of their train service. What would the San Francisco Bay Area be like without BART? Smog ridden and painfully congested? BART has previously been named one of the Top 10 public works projects of the century as well as great planning disaster. Happy birthday, BART!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Transportation Seminar and Cookie Hour: Going Olympic.

After last week's cookie hour was a resounding success, this week's should prove to be as exciting. Cookie Hour is today in the ITS Library from 3:30-4:00 PM. The Transportation Seminar will then commenceat 4:00 PM in 240 Bechtel. This week's speaker is Professor Philippe Bovy, the IOC Olympic Transport Advisor. He will be giving a talk entitled: Transport and mobility management challenges for the world's largest mega-event: 1992 to 2012 Summer Olympic Games. Here's the abstract:
With about 300 world class events concentrated during 16 Games days but spatially spread over more than 60 competition, training and non-competition venues, the key transport challenge of Summer Olympic Games is to provide safe, convivial and reliable mobility for 1 to 1,5 million daily additional travel journeys. Six distinct client oriented transport schemes must be simultaneously operated 24 hours a day, during all the Games including Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Transport challenges are particularly tough since specific client groups (athletes, sport and media logistics, key VIPs) cannot tolerate any travel uncertainties and delays. Due to Olympic world visibility, the highest possible security protection shall be embedded in all transport operations. Since Sydney 2000 Olympics, policies of 100% spectators by free public transport, of Olympic accredited vehicle movement on a fully dedicated Olympic reserved lane network and of environmentally sustainable traffic management are gradually implemented and optimized. In short, Olympic Summer Games are one of the most unique “transport and advanced mobility management laboratory in the world” and a significant contribution towards more sustainable mobility developments.

The Beijing olympics are a little less than a year away. We here at the ITS Library are more interested in the preparations for the Olympics, than the games themselves. Their new rail lines to the Olympic Village are quite the undertaking. The only thing more interesting about the Olympics are the mascots.
Come on by and say hi.

The End is Near

Reuters reports today that the United States gasoline supply has hit a 2-year low. While the article explains a dip in supply often happens at the end of the summer, long-term fossil fuel availability is the subject of much speculation. J.H. Kunstler is one such speculator and his recent book, The Long Emergency, envisions a future without petroleum-based transportation (here is a teaser of his dystopian vision).

Contra Kunstler, Robert Bruegmann of the University of Illinois argues in his book Sprawl: A Compact History that the benefits to a society from petroleum use greatly outweigh the risks. It is also argued that concerns regarding petroleum use are exaggerated. Kunstler's rebuttal can be found here.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A 'Brave New World' of Telecommuting has a story on a Halifax, Nova Scotia man who uses an automaton as a proxy at his office in Waterloo.

The man's coworkers have adjusted well to their new robotic overlord.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Bridge Reopens for Tuesday's Commute

Construction crews working on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge finished their project and reopened the bridge ahead of schedule. The job, which closed the busiest toll bridge in the nation for most of the Labor Day weekend, was for the demolition a 350-foot section of the upper deck of the bridge just east of Yerba Buena Island and to roll a new, 6,700-ton section into place. Caltrans closed the bridge at 8 p.m. Friday and set aside 81 hours for contractor C.C. Myers Inc. to finish the job in time for this morning's commute.