Monthly Archives: January 2009

Self-Steering Buses

While doing research on driverless highways, I ran across this video of a self-steering bus in Adelaide.

The bus line is called the “O-bahn” with O standing for omnibus (which was abbreviated to bus about a century ago) and bahn being German for road. Interestingly, it relies on a mechanical device to keep the bus on the track. As shown below, a small wheel projects from each side of the bus. When the wheel hits the concrete curb on the side of the roadway, it turns the bus wheel slightly. The driver controls the speed and steers the bus when it leaves the bahn.

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Dude, Where’s My Driverless Car?

Futurists have predicted driverless cars at least since 1940. A consortium including General Motors, CalTrans, and the University of California successfully demonstrated driverless cars on an urban freeway more than a decade ago. Yet here we are, in 2009, with nary a driverless car on the open road.

A successful 1998 driverless car demonstration placed magnets in San Diego freeway lanes. By sensing the magnets and other cars, the eight cars shown were able to drive together or individually pass one another without any problems. Some states have installed road magnets to guide snow plows on short segments of mountain roads, and UC Berkeley put magnets in one street for a driverless bus, but research in this mode has nearly stopped.

Driverless cars offer huge potential benefits over driver-operated cars. Congestion would become a thing of the past because roadway capacities would at least quadruple. Highways would be much safer and traffic could safely move at higher speeds in many places. Driverless cars would save energy, initially because they would be programmed to minimize fuel consumption and later because cars could be lighter weight because accidents would be so rare.

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Push-Polling for Rail Transit

RTD, Denver’s rail transit lobby group, claims that a poll shows that most voters support a sales tax hike to pay for its boondoggle FasTracks rail plan. Voters previously agreed to a 0.4 percent sales tax increase in 2004, but now RTD says they will have to double it to get the rails built on time.

The actual survey results reveal that this was a “push poll,” meaning the interviewer asked leading questions to get people to support the project.

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16 Strategic Misrepresentations

Here’s a little-known fact: Denver light-rail trains are the emptiest in the nation. Denver light-rail cars seat 70 and have room for at least that many standing, yet they carried an average of less than 14 people in revenue service in 2007. In the rest of the nation, the average was 24.

If only RTD, Denver’s transit agency, had managed to find some 14-passenger buses (which retail for about $50,000 each). It could have saved taxpayers the $1.2 billion or so that it spent building light rail.

This fact is among many revealed in a new report published by the Independence Institute of Golden, Colorado, which has long been critical of RTD’s dreams of rail empire. The report shows that RTD has repeatedly and continually lied to voters about the high costs and minimal benefits from building more rail lines in Denver.

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Trusting Smokey

Here’s a little-known fact: Around 80 percent of the revenues collected by federal land agencies in 2007 came from about 0.1 percent of the lands they manage. The other 99.9 percent is just a black hole sucking in tax dollars.

This fact is revealed in a new report on federal land management that offers a way to improve resource management and save taxpayers at least $7 billion per year. The report proposes to turn federal land agencies into fiduciary trusts and fund them exclusively out of a portion of the receipts they collect in user fees.

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More Portland Follies

After a mere 14 years of planning, Portland’s “westside express” commuter-rail line is about to start operating. As the Antiplanner previously noted, however, this 14.7-mile line really doesn’t go anywhere that anyone wants to go, so TriMet predicts a whopping 2,600 riders a day (i.e., 1,300 round trips). It may end up being more, but the numbers will be insignificant either way.

Flickr photo by Hardlinejoe.

TriMet plans to run 32 round trips a day, which means each trip will carry an average of 40 passengers. For that, they have railcars with 80 seats, and they are ready to run them in pairs. Too bad TriMet couldn’t have found a bus or two capable of carrying 40 passengers.

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Portland Scores Another First

The big news this week in Portland, the City That Doesn’t Work, is that Portland’s new mayor, Sam Adams (the first openly gay mayor of a big American city), really did have an affair with an intern when he was on the city council. He now claims that the intern came onto him and he was noble enough to at least wait until the intern turned 18. Nothing wrong with that, is there?

For those of you just tuning in, allegations of this affair were raised by one of Adams’ opponents in the mayoral campaign. Adams lied about the affair, smeared the other candidate (who is also gay), and forced him to drop out.

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On This Historic Occasion

Yesterday was memorable for many reasons. Obviously, having the nation’s first non-white president gives hope and inspiration to many people for whom the American dream had previously only been a slogan.

Never before in American history — maybe all of history — have almost two million people — come together to listen to a speech. (I love the headline: “Inauguration Crowd Estimated At Up To 2 Million; No Arrests Reported Yet.”)

Never before has Washington Metrorail carried more than a million passenger trips in one day. If it carried that many everyday, it still would not have been worth the cost. Of course, they had to close the escalators at some of the popular stations because their trains can’t move people out as fast as the escalators can move them in. Trains that can move more people than an eight-lane freeway are somehow swamped by an escalator?

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NY Waterway: A Private Transit Success Story

All eyes are on Washington today, but many will remember the crash landing of US Airways 1549 in the Hudson River last week. The number one hero of that flight, Captain Chesley Sullenberger, has been invited to attend today’s inauguration.

 

But there were many other heroes that day, most notably the crews and boats of NY Waterway ferries. Videos of the rescue operations show ferryboat after ferryboat pulling up to the floating airliner and throwing out life preservers to passengers. A total of 14 boats from the NY Waterway fleet assisted in the operation. Curiously, the captain of the first boat on the scene is named Vince Lombari.

 

Janis Krums, a passenger on board a NY Waterway ferry, snapped this photo of US Airways 1549 with her iPhone as the boat approached the plane to rescue passengers, then distributed it via Twitter. (Click for a larger view.)

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Just Let People Do What They Want With Their Own Land

Back in 2002, Metro — Portland’s regional planning czar — made several additions to the region’s urban-growth boundary. The biggest addition was 18,600 acres — supposedly enough to house 50,000 people — on the east side known as Damascus. Portland’s housing market was booming, and some people predicted a huge land-rush that would lead to windfall gains for Damascus property owners.

Now, more than six years later, nothing has happened and it looks like nothing will happen. Metro blames it on the high cost of infrastructure. The reality is that Metro planners so gummed up the process that no one could develop their property.

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