16 May

Sky City gets go ahead

In a few speeches I’ve given recently, I’ve talked about the incredible impact Broad Group’s system of remanufacturing skyscrapers and building them for a fraction of the cost will have on our skylines, urban planning, and ability to all move to the core downtowns of major cities. Well, they just got the go ahead to build their biggest building yet. It’s going to be the tallest in the world, and they’re going to build it in 6 months. It starts next month.

“The building is to cost $628 million and have 11 million square feet of space inside, which is about $60 per square foot. A 1000 square foot apartment would cost the developer about $60,000 and might sell for about $100,000. This would lower the cost of living in megacities like Shanghai, Changsha or New York. The lower cost versus $300 to 1000 per square foot for buildings like the Trump Tower Chicago or Freedom tower means that skyscrapers could hold not just expensive offices but also regular apartments, grocery stores, hospitals, schools and other regular applications. The low cost enables a city inside a skyscraper and not just high end offices, luxury apartments and high end restaurants.”

(Via 220 Story Sky City Gets go ahead to start construction in June 2013, so it should complete by the end of 2013.)

I really think this is one of the most underlooked, game changing developments of the last few decades we’re about to see.

1) more people in cities increases creativity (due to simple random exchange of ideas, it’s a known effect), decreases infrastructure needs on a per capita basis.

2) cities are greener

3) the invention of steel skyscrapers, and then elevators, in many places changed the landscape and economic impact and power of cities. This is another major accelerant for cities.

Take a look at the city before the invention of the elevator and after. Or when they moved from brick to steel.

Then make a similar jump for this new form of manufacturing.

15 May

Miles driven in U.S. drops again, eight years in a row now

Mileage driven in the US has dropped yet again, for the 8th year in a row:

“For the eighth year, the number of miles driven in the U.S. has dipped.

The biggest decline is among 16- to 34-year-olds who want to live in urban and walkable neighborhoods and are more open to using public transit, said Jen Kim, NJPIRG state director.

She expects that trend to continue and have an impact on government priorities for transportation infrastructure.”

(Via Millennials are no driving force as mileage in U.S. ebbs for eighth year — NewsWorks.)

US PIRG gamed out scenarios for future growth, even considering a rebound, and all scenarios come up with a difference than government assumed trendlines:


Phineas Baxandall and Tony Dutzik ran three scenarios for the future. None assumed a wholesale continuation of the depressed driving rates among millennials; all forecast younger folks to drive more in the child-rearing years. Still, none of the scenarios approached a return to the yearly mileage growth of the previous 60 years, and all fall below current government projections.

What does this mean for the future of our transportation programs? A lot less money, for one thing, unless we change our dependence on the gas tax:

DC Streetsblog examines why at least the middle scenario of the above is more likely than a return to previous growth:

Young people now say that losing their computer or their cell phone would be a far greater loss than losing their car, if they even have one. Baby boomers still say losing their car would be the most disastrous. And millennials just haven’t inherited that excitement over cars or the desire to spend their time tending to them. They don’t see cars as a hobby, just a way to get around — and an increasingly inconvenient one. According to the report, “less than 15 percent of millennials describe themselves as ‘car enthusiasts’ as opposed to 30 percent of baby boomers.”

Some still call for this being recession-related (millenials living with parents or each other, people driving less). If that’s true, and you can see blips in other recessions on the miles driven chart above, the return to growth scenario is the one most likely. But even then, this is the largest dent in the US’s pattern of growth of driving ever seen, and the recovery won’t ever be back to normal unless it surges in a huge way to recover.

So I’m a bit more dubious. But to be empirical, we won’t know for sure if this is a true decoupling until the US has a proper economic recovery and we see what happens.

Still damn interesting.

26 Apr

Public Private Partnerships not so successful with roads

Selling public assets to private companies doesn’t end so well for the common good… at least the way it is being done in the US:

“Lots of people point to the $2.2 trillion shortfall in infrastructure investment in this country, and suggest that privatization of public assets is the best way to deal with the situation. So, for example, this might mean leasing a highway to a group of investors and giving them the right to charge tolls. The rationale is pretty sound: government at all levels is cash-strapped, there is tremendous public need, and profit opportunities (in theory, anyway) abound. But in practice, results on this front have been pretty awful in this country, and today there was more bad news as a privately run toll road in South Carolina teeters on the edge of going bust.

What’s going on?

As with the S.C. road, many existing deals are proving to be financial failures. The Australian financial giant Macquarie signed a $3.8 billion, 99-year lease on the Indiana toll road in 2006 which has utterly imploded since then. Last month the bank marked down the value of the asset by 70%. Another billion dollar deal for the Chicago Skyway toll road looks nearly as bad.”

(Via Public Private Partnerships: Another One Bites The Dust | INFRASTRUCTURIST.)

11 Apr

Administration pushing for big high speed rail investment over next five years

This will become another huge battle and explosion over it, but I’m thrilled as fuck to see a potentially big step forward in high speed rail still something the current administration is fighting for:

“The Obama Administration released its budget request for Fiscal Year 2014 today, and the President has once again put forth a bold plan for transforming and expanding train service in the United States, with $40 billion in passenger rail investment over the next five years.”

(Via National Association of Railroad Passengers – President Pushes Bold Plan for Passenger Rail | Trains For America.)

10 Apr

Cul-de-sacs kill community


There is a dead pool feel to them, isn’t there?

“The theory behind cul-de-sacs was that they lessened traffic, since they change the primary function of local streets — rather than offering a way to get anywhere, now they simply provide access to private residences. The problem is that this design inherently encourages car use, even for the shortest trips. It also limits the growth of communities and transportation options.”

(Via How Cul-de-Sacs Are Killing Your Community | INFRASTRUCTURIST.)

18 Mar

Storified twitter exchange between Stross and me about China’s $250 billion edu initiative

Charles Stross and I were both thinking out loud on twitter about the implications of China’s announcement of $250 billion in educational investment:

07 Feb

Yummy look at what high speed rail could be…

Dan Geiser, and Jacki Wyse-Rhodes both pointed out this link to me of a vision for high speed rail in the US:


Created by Alfred Twu, the map compiles visions of possible American rail systems from a long list of places and mashes them together to show what a national rail network might look like.

Interesting in that, were you to develop a real high speed rail system in the US, Chicago sort of becomes the center of it all…

10 Aug

Very Low Air Pressure Maglev Trains

Next Big Future has a piece about low pressure or vacuum tunnel based trains:

“The laboratory at Southwest Jiaotong University told Beijing-based Legal Evening News that it was working on a prototype with an average speed of 500 to 600kph. A much smaller model train traveling at 600 to 1,000kph in a vacuum tube will be introduced in two or three years, it added. A US proposal was for a highly evacuated tunnel.”

So the idea is, with lower or no air pressure in the tunnel, you save fuel and can go faster. You can ramp a train up to 600 miles an hour.

I’m suddenly wondering, without the need for as much maintenance, and training, what a future with less air travel and more high speed rail in near-reach cities, and a nation-wide partially evacuated tunnel system for longer reach routes, looks like.

I read a scene in an Arthur C. Clarke story that presumed such things. Interesting to see the research going down in China. But then again, over the last few years they’ve decided to really up the ante on trains. America has decided to (and in the case of Republicans, is downright proud of) relinquish rail technology and not even really hedge its bets much. That may end up well, but specialization usually tends to screw you up…