Japan wants to help build a maglev line on the East Coast, and is offering to help pay

Japan offers to foot a good portion of a maglev train line (speeds over 300mph) on the East Coast. Holy shit people, do this already!

“To build the proposed American line, Japan has come up with a method of financing that is similarly novel. In a meeting with President Obama last winter, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered to provide the maglev guideway and propulsion system at no cost for the first portion of the line, linking Washington and Baltimore.

‘We are going to share this technology with the United States because the United States is our indispensable ally,’ said Yoshiyuki Kasai, chairman of the Central Japan Railway Company, which runs the maglev test track and is building the Tokyo-Osaka line.

Officials have not placed a dollar figure on the value of the aid but say it would cover close to half of the overall cost of construction. Based on the estimated cost of the maglev line from Tokyo to Osaka, which is more than $300 million per mile, that means the Japanese financing could be worth about $5 billion.”

(Via Japan Pitches Americans on Its Maglev Train – NYTimes.com.)

A good read about the failure of public goods and transportation

Philip Brewer sent me this link via email of a commuter trying to take a closer look at the craziness of being a super commuter, and why a self-driving car isn’t the techno-utopian fix, really:

“I spend a decent amount of time trying to optimise my travel through audiobooks, podcasts, and phone calls made while driving. I also gripe about the commute probably far too often to my friends, who are considerate if not entirely sympathetic. (It’s hard to be sympathetic to a guy who has the job he wants, lives in a beautiful place, and simply has a long drive a few times a week.)

Hearing my predicament, one friend prescribed a solution: ‘You need a Google self-driving car!’ The friend in question is a top programmer for a world-leading game company, and her enthusiasm for a technical solution parallels advice I’ve gotten from my technically oriented friends, who offer cutting edge technology that is either highly unlikely to materially affect my circumstances, or would improve some aspect of my commute rather than change its core nature.”

and this:

There’s something very odd about a world in which it’s easier to imagine a futuristic technology that doesn’t exist outside of lab tests than to envision expansion of a technology that’s in wide use around the world. How did we reach a state in America where highly speculative technologies, backed by private companies, are seen as a plausible future while routine, ordinary technologies backed by governments are seen as unrealistic and impossible?

The irony of the Google car for my circumstances is that it would be inferior in every way to a train. A semi-autonomous car might let me read or relax behind the wheel, but it would be little faster than my existing commute and as sensitive to traffic, which is the main factor that makes some trips 2.5 hours and some 4 hours. Even if my Google car is a gas-sipping Prius or a plug-in hybrid, it will be less energy efficient than a train, which achieves giant economies of scale in fuel usage even at higher speeds than individual vehicles. It keeps me sealed in my private compartment, rather than giving me an opportunity to see friends who make the same trip or meet new people.

- See more at: http://www.ethanzuckerman.com/blog/2013/10/15/google-cars-versus-public-transit-the-uss-problem-with-public-goods/#sthash.vpTNQP6e.dpuf

(Via Google cars versus public transit: the US’s problem with public goods | … My heart’s in Accra.)

A bus that goes where you want it to

The developed world ‘discovers’ the mini-bus. In the Virgin Islands we called these dollar taxis (or dollar cabs?, some people called them ‘safari buses,’ they were these structures bolted to the back of pickup trucks, on the bench 10-15 people could sit facing each other) and a physicist once studied the patterns of minibus transport systems and found that they were more efficient than anyone had hitherto realized. I’ve always found their lack of presence particularly noticeable in the US, though I gather in parts of NYC they’re unlicensed and illegal and sketchy (and proof that demand is there).

“Like other private taxi or pick up services, Kutsuplus is made to allow users a bit more flexibility in city traveling but with a lower price point. Through a smart phone app, a user can set a departure time just minutes in the future. The app issues a ticket after withdrawing money from the wallet, and draws a walking map to the departure stop.”

(Via The newest in city mobility: a bus that goes where you want it to : TreeHugger.)

Intercity travel is latent, but here’s a promising development or two via buses

This map of Megabus hub and spoke operations demonstrates the correct analysis of America 2050′s US megaregions.

First, MegaBus:

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America 2050′s US megaregions and areas of population focus:

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Their estimates for how to set up a passenger rail network:

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I find it fairly uncanny how closely MegaBus is emulating that (and MegaBus has been tinkering with the connections on that map a lot, making it look closer and closer to the 2050 network connection map).

Sadly the MegaBus system outside the NorthEast Corridor isn’t easy to use (I tried testing their app out) and doesn’t figure itself out in terms of how to make connections happen.

But Wanderu, a Kayak for bus travel, is starting to get all the non-Megabus buses together into an API, and it’s very interesting. There’s a hunger for intercity travel that is latent and just beginning to be paid attention to…

Public Transit and density multipliers getting more study, with amazing economic benefits

Density and moving people around in density is the most critical innovation and economic enabler. The city is technology, and a force multiplier. So is transit:

“Every time a metro area added about 4 seats to rails and buses per 1,000 residents, the central city ended up with 320 more employees per square mile — an increase of 19 percent. Adding 85 rail miles delivered a 7 percent increase. A 10 percent expansion in transit service (by adding either rail and bus seats or rail miles) produced a wage increase between $53 and $194 per worker per year in the city center. The gross metropolitan product rose between 1 and 2 percent, too.

On average, across all the metro areas in the study, expanding transit service produced an economic benefit via agglomeration of roughly $45 million a year — with that figure ranging between $1.5 million and $1.8 billion based on the size of the city. Big cities stand to benefit more simply because they have more people sharing the transit infrastructure. They also tend to have more of the traffic that cripples agglomeration in the absence of transit.

‘As to how big it is,’ says Chatman of this hidden economic benefit, ‘it’s most likely to be large in places that have congested road conditions, transit networks that are at capacity — those kinds of places — and probably less in smaller cities without very much road congestion.’

Chatman stresses that because his method is so new, the results must be replicated before they’re accepted. He also knows that some people will question the causality of the data: How can the researchers know, for instance, that transit alone is responsible for agglomeration? In response, Chatman points to the controls he and Noland installed in their statistical models — and to the fact that he’s been critical of rail as an economic investment strategy in the past.

‘Put it this way: I’m a skeptic on this stuff, and I was surprised to see these results so robust,’ he says.”

(Via Public Transit Is Worth Way More to a City Than You Might Think – Eric Jaffe – The Atlantic Cities.)

How a small red-state city become a leader of transit in the US

This is really important to pay attention to:

“Once Salt Lake City leaders knew what people wanted, they embarked on a public relations campaign. Dee Allsop of the communications firm Heart and Mind Strategies led the effort.

‘How is it that the most conservative state… how is it they’re one of the most progressive in the country on transit?’ said Allsop. ‘It’s because the case was made in a way that fit with people’s values.’

The values they settled on were to have a city that was ‘beautiful, prosperous and neighborly.’”

(Via Salt Lake City: How a Remote Red-State City Became a Transit Leader | Streetsblog Capitol Hill.)

Smart Car now has an affordable electric version

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“It’s here. The fully customizable, fully full-of-attitude, all-new smart electric drive. Starting at $25,000 before tax credits, or lease with Battery Assurance Plus starting at $199 for 36 months.*”

(Via new electric cars. custom mini electric vehicles. smart USA.)

Well, if I didn’t have to fit two kids in with me, that would be interesting.

I find the Smart as an electric car far more compelling than as a gas car. And as I understand it, it was originally supposed to be electric.

By the way, if you’re terrified of the safety of a Smart, that’s addressed on their page. It’s got a good crash cage (though if someone in a Hummer comes at you, you’re screwed whether in a Smart or any other small coupe).

What the hyperloop may be

Business Insider ponders the possible technology that might behind the high speed rail ‘hyper loop’ system that Elon Musk has been teasing us about:

“Tesla founder Elon Musk has been teasing an exciting idea for a new form of transportation for the last year.

He calls it the ‘Hyperloop’ and he says it’s better than a bullet train. The Hyperloop would get people to Los Angeles from San Francisco in 30 minutes.
However, he’s been vague about how he’s going to make the Hyperloop a reality.

The closest to detail he’s gotten is when he said the Hyperloop is a ‘cross between a Concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table.’”

(Via What Is Elon Musk’s Hyperloop – Business Insider.)

High speed rail could spark a real estate boom in second tier cities

Interesting research:

“New high-speed rail lines are credited with sparking a real estate and housing boom, among other economic benefits, in smaller cities in China. Now experts are debating whether rail modernization can have the same effects in the U.S.
A study by researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles and China’s Tsinghua University found that by connecting ‘second tier’ cities to global hubs, more people move to the smaller cities where housing costs are lower, creating a real-estate boom, among other unplanned benefits.”

(Via Researchers say high-speed rail could fuel U.S. real-estate, economic booms | Trains For America.)

Wisconsin to spend more on stacking an existing highway than it turned down for high speed rail

For more than the cost of speeding up rail infrastructure, the money of which it famously gave back to the federal government for fears of rail costing too much down the road, Wisconsin is going to stack some highways at a cool $1.2 billion.

Funny how a billion for rail is a boondoggle, but for roads that aren’t needed not a single conservative will blink at this:

“Milwaukee is a city that lost 0.4 percent of its population between 2000 and 2010. Over that time, the larger five-county region it anchors grew 3.5 percent, or at about a third the rate of the national average.

And yet, bizarrely enough, WisDOT wants to stack highways on top of highways, reports Gretchen Schuldt of Milwaukee Rising:”

(Via Next Boondoggle From Wisconsin DOT: Double-Decking Milwaukee Freeway | Streetsblog.net.)