Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Meet FlexZipcar

The carshare business continues to burgeon, with over thirty companies operating across the USA by now. Possible good news for members of Flexcar and Zipcar is today's announcement that the two organizations are to merge. The new company will operate under the Zipcar brand. More information at the Zipcar press page.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Minnesota Selects New Bridge Design

After Minnesota DOT's selection of a new design for the I-35W bridge, NPR's David Malakoff brings our attention to an interesting 2003* ASCE paper by Wardhana and Hadipriono which analyzed over 500 bridge failures in the U.S. and determined that most are caused by floods. Malakoff has also compiled a list of notable bridge disasters (find more bridge disasters here). From just our current decade we have:
  • 2007: A truck packed with passengers and merchandise overloads a bridge in the West Africa's Republic of Guinea, causing it to collapse, killing 65 people.
  • 2006: Bridge collapse in Quebec, Canada kills five.
  • 2005: A flood washes away a rail bridge in India, killing 114.
  • 2005: A highway bridge under construction in southern Spain collapses, killing six.
  • 2002: A barge hits a 500-foot section of a bridge spanning the Arkansas River in Webbers Falls, causing it to collapse, killing 14 people.
  • 2001: A bridge collapses in Lisbon, Portugal, causing a tour bus to plunge into a river, killing more than 50.

* Malakoff cites the study as "2005," but your humble blogger believes this to be a typo.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Transportation Seminar and Cookie Time 25 October: Smart Parking

Ohh Hello! Please join us in the ITS Library this Friday at 3:30 for our weekly 'Cookie Time.' This week our lecture, beginning at 4:00, is called "Transit-Based Smart Parking in the U.S.: An Evaluation of the San Francisco Bay Area Field Test" and is presented by Dr. Susan Shaheen of UC Berkeley as well as ITS Davis' Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TSRC).
Rising demand for parking at suburban transit stations, such as the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) District in California, necessitates strategies to manage traveler demand. To better manage parking supply, researchers implemented a smart parking field test at the Rockridge BART station from 2004 to 2006 to evaluate the effects of smart parking technologies (changeable message signs (CMSs), Internet reservations and billing, mobile phone and personal digital assistant communications, and a wireless parking lot counting system) on transit ridership and response to service pricing. Researchers employed expert interviews, Internet surveys, focus groups, and parking reservation data to conduct this analysis. This presentation provides an overview of the project, behavioral effects of the field test, and lessons learned.

The talk will be held in 240 Bechtel as usual.

Criminals, the Clean Air Act, and Cognition

Slashdot points to a New York Times article addressing a possible link between the decrease in violent crimes in the 1990s and the Clean Air Act. This link has been investigated in a recent paper by Amherst College professor Jessica Wolpaw Reyes in her paper "Environmental Policy as Social Policy? The Impact of Childhood Lead Exposure on Crime." The Times article discusses Reyes findings:
After moving out of an old townhouse in Boston when her first child was born in 2000, Reyes started looking into the effects of lead poisoning. She learned that even low levels of lead can cause brain damage that makes children less intelligent and, in some cases, more impulsive and aggressive. She also discovered that the main source of lead in the air and water had not been paint but rather leaded gasoline — until it was phased out in the 1970s and ’80s by the Clean Air Act, which took blood levels of lead for all Americans down to a fraction of what they had been. “Putting the two together,” she says, “it seemed that this big change in people’s exposure to lead might have led to some big changes in behavior.

In other news, violence is up among the 5-12 year old suburban child demographic.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Walking on air

How do you like being able to walk over a busy road, or to cross a river at a convenient location, or even to traverse a deep canyon on a springy (but safe) bridge span? has a slide-show essay featuring some beautiful footbridges.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Green Aviation Fuel on the Horizon

News@Princeton is reporting today that a Princeton University research team is working on developing an environmentally friendly jet fuel. The team, led by Professor Fred Dryer will creade a jet fuel combustion simulator with funding from the U.S. Air Force, and a grant from NetJets will study development of near-zero net greenhouse gas emission jet fuels.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

TSA Trouble!

USA Today is today reporting on a recent report from the TSA describing the state of the United States' airport screening. There are good omens for advocates of privatization:
At Chicago O'Hare International Airport, screeners missed about 60% of hidden bomb materials that were packed in everyday carry-ons — including toiletry kits, briefcases and CD players. San Francisco International Airport screeners, who work for a private company instead of the TSA, missed about 20% of the bombs, the report shows. The TSA ran about 70 tests at Los Angeles, 75 at Chicago and 145 at San Francisco.

Maybe this will excite ol' Kip into the voyeuristic project hinted at a week earlier in the same newspaper.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Greenhouse Gasses: Are They All Ours?

According to California state law, carbon emissions must be cut to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. As of yet we have had no way to determine how much of California's pollution originates within the state, nor any way to determine how much of the local pollution is generated by combustion or by rotting vegitation. Now two scientists from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are beginning a unique experiment to monitor greenhouse gasses above San Francisco from Sutro Tower.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

New life for old shipping containers

The great English DJ John Peel once considered buying a used shipping container for underground storage of some of his vast record collection. (Instead he adopted a more conventional storage solution.) Other uses of old containers have recently emerged, including use as market stalls and housing. Links to many such projects can be found at Shipping Container Architecture.

The image (from boingboing) shows student housing in Amsterdam, constructed from containers.

Airbus A380

The Economist has a briefing on the Airbus A380, the giant passenger aircraft from Europe that seems set to upset current patterns of air travel. These things will soon be landing regularly at San Francisco International Airport.

(Image from the Economist)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Transportation Seminar and Cookie Time 12 October: Newtons and Neural Networks

This weeks talk, upon our 3:30 'Cookie Time,' is presented by PATH researcher Xiao-Yun Lu. The paper has something to do with logit models, mathematics, and neural networks. I'll let the abstract do the talking:
This seminar is to discuss the representability of discrete logit-type models including multinomial logit and nested logit model from a mathematical approach instead of a statistical approach by Prof. D. McFadden. It is shown that the logit-type models can be reconstructed from mathematical approximation theory with sigmoidal functions widely used in Neural Network modeling without the basic assumptions such as IIA and iid, and the distribution (or density) function of the unobserved portion of utility. This explains mathematically why logit-type models can approximate the choice probability function to some accuracy. It is hoped that this may suggest the way to improve the accuracy in model specification for logit type models.

Please come by for some snacks beforehand.


Both NPR and the prestigious New York Times are reporting today on the new six month delay for Boeing's new 787 'Dreamliner' aircraft. Boeing's original announcement is here. This new delay supplements a host of other concerns, as outlined in the Times article:
Earlier this year, Boeing warned that a worldwide shortage of fasteners that hold the plane’s fuselage, wing and tail sections together was slowing down assembly of the first test aircraft. Last month, the company said that in addition to the fastener shortage, Boeing and its production partners had run into unanticipated snags involving the availability of certain specialized parts for the plane as well as the programming of its flight-control software. Mike Bair, general manager of the 787 program, conceded at the time that these problems had added “increased risk” that there would be delivery delays.

Could Dan Rather's spurious reporting record on George Bush's sterling past finally be vindicated through his predicted failure of the Dreamliner's fuselage?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Chilean Commuters Sue Over Transit System

Local transit in the Chilean city of Santiago underwent a major overhaul in the past year. The 3,000 private bus companies that competed for passengers over the past 17 years have been consolidated into just 10 companies under the new transit system, Transantiago. The new system add hours to the average commute time and has cost thousands of people their jobs as a result of getting them to work late. President Michele Bachelet has issued a formal apology to the people of Santiago for the debacle of Transantiago. Kirsten Sehnbruch, a scholar at Berkeley's Center for Latin American Studies, explores the implications of Transantiago for Bachelet's presidency in a recent paper.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Founder of Ryanair passes on

The career of Irish airline tycoon Tony Ryan, founder of the low-cost passenger airline Ryanair is recounted in an obituary in London's Independent newspaper. Probably Ireland's most successful entrepreneur, Ryan revolutionized the European airline industry and made his country an important player in commercial aviation.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

I'm From the Future

An article today from the Washington Post describes a new infrared system for applications in High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes. It explains that
The lanes are billed as the salvation of the suffering commuter. Solo drivers will be able to buy their way around congestion, while carpoolers will ride free. But the lanes' success hinges on finding a way to differentiate between paying and nonpaying customers without stopping every vehicle to count heads.
The system automagically detects the number of passengers in passing vehicles by bouncing infrared waves off of their skin. This marks a departure from computer vision-based approaches for detection in similar circumstances (for example, automated pedestrian detection).

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Identifying Research Needs

The Transportation Research Board (TRB) has announced the availability of a new database designed to help researchers in the transportation community identify where their expertise and resources are most needed. The Research Needs Statements (RNS) Database serves as a central location for the storing, searching, and sharing of approximately transportation research needs statements that have been prepared and approved by 125 of TRB’s technical activities standing committees. Information in the database can be accessed in two ways, either by browsing through subject categories or committees, or by searching in an “advance search” format and specifying a title, index terms, committee, or subject category. Check out the RNS Database to learn how you might be able to more effectively contribute to research.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Bus Rapid Transit explained

The proposed East Bay Bus Rapid Transit program has attracted much comment in the local media, some of it ill-informed or hostile. (Why are so many people in "progressive" Berkeley scared of change and opposed to making life better for non-drivers?)

Wolf Homburger, a professor emeritus at ITS Berkeley, brings some measured judgment to this imbroglio, explaining how BRT works and what it entails for the region in Commentary: An Analysis of Bus Rapid Transit in the Berkeley Daily Planet.

(Image from AC Transit)

How parking raises the cost on everything

Critical thinking about the national obsession with providing parking space for private vehicles has been going on for several years, and is now beginning to attract attention beyond the academic world. An article in, We Paved Paradise, reports on the findings of several city planning experts, including ITS UCLA's Donald Shoup, author of "The high cost of free parking."

(Image from

Monday, October 01, 2007

2007 Hybrid Truck Users Forum

PACCAR and Eaton Corporation hosted this year's Hybrid Truck Users Forum which took place at Seattle's Qwest Field Event Center on September 20th and 21st. According to Peterbilt's General Manager and PACCAR Vice President, Bill Jackson, "Our medium duty hybrid vehicles currently in operation throughout North America are performing extremely well, with customers reporting a significant savings in fuel economy of up to 40 percent." The fuel economy of heavy-duty hybrids is expected to reach 7% on the road and up to 90% at idle.
CALSTART, the event's organizer, describes the HTUF as "a national, multi-year, user-driven program to assist the commercialization of heavy-duty hybrid technologies."