Massachusetts Bay and the Queen Mary 2

Queen Mary 2 docked in Boston

Queen Mary 2 docked in Boston

Pictures from a flight from Bedford to Provincetown (via Norwood, Foxboro, and Plymouth) and back. The Queen Mary 2 was approaching Boston from the north on our flight to the Cape, and docked at the Black Falcon terminal on our flight back.

Dinner on the T

Taiyuan

Fen River and Taiyuan

Fen River and Taiyuan

Straddling the Fen River, Taiyuan is the capital of Shanxi Province. It is notorious for air pollution, though coal burning in Shanxi has been reduced slightly in response to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and economic downturn. Taiyuan is home to 3.2 million official urban residents, plus another million who have rural hukou registrations. The latter group consists of a floating population of migrant workers, typical of those who provide much of the labor for China’s construction and manufacturing sectors, as well as long-time residents of “urban villages,” small settlements that have been engulfed by the expanding city. The focus of our urban design studio was Wucheng, one such urban village in the center of Taiyuan.

Wucheng’s small apartments and boarding houses are a source of affordable housing for laborers and students at Shanxi University and other nearby education institutions. While there are some nearby regional parks, neighborhood green spaces and basic municipal services are lacking for the urban village’s 38,000 inhabitants.

Social tensions stemming from the hukou system, poor working conditions, and an economy transitioning from mining and heavy manufacturing to high tech, lie just below the surface. South of Taiyuan, a Foxconn plant with nearly 80,000 workers in what amounts to a company town saw a riot in 2012.

The new mayor of Taiyuan, Yanbo Geng, has spoken about environmental priorities:

“碧水蓝天映衬唐风晋韵,良好生态扮靓魅力龙城。”
“Beautiful water and blue sky are an integral part of our province’s history. A good ecosystem is central to beautifying Taiyuan City.”

Planned ecological corridors seem like a promising step on paper, and the metro system under construction could help make transportation in the city more sustainable. But concurrent efforts to widen streets and construct highway flyovers will counteract these steps.

By 2030, it is projected that more than 40 other cities in China will, like Taiyuan, have populations that exceed 4 million people. Unless major shifts emerge to address social concerns and improve the energy performance of transportation and neighborhood systems, the environmental vision espoused by Mayor Geng may be only wishful thinking.

Arriving in Beijing

Two weeks ago, I landed in China to start work on a clean energy and urban design research studio. This project involves a new tool to model neighborhood units’ energy performance — operational, embodied, and transportation energy use, as well as the potential for on-site clean energy production — in the context of rapidly urbanizing Chinese cities. Flying the approach into Beijing Capital International Airport gave me the first taste of the scale of the problem we’re considering…

More Interstate 710 Extension Discussions

Zócalo Public Square will be hosting what promises to be an interesting forum this week –

The 710 is one of the most important freeways in Southern California. It’s also shorter than originally planned: For nearly 50 years, legal and environmental challenges have stalled the freeway in Alhambra, 4.5 miles short of its intended destination, Pasadena. Over the decades, discussions about extending the freeway have cast its future as a local issue. But the 710 causes traffic, produces pollution, and affects commerce across Los Angeles and even beyond. How broad are these impacts, and what role might the stalled extension play in them? What would the five options now being debated for dealing with the Alhambra-to-Pasadena gap–implementing new surface traffic technology and strategies, new rapid bus transit, light rail transit, a freeway tunnel, or building nothing at all–mean for our region?

The $780 million set aside for the project in Measure R would go a long way towards transit, but most of the alternatives being considered, especially a highway tunnel, would require major additional funding. With Caltrans so heavily involved, and with the clout of port traffic, it’s hard to imagine the advocates of expanding the “concrete commons” won’t win out. Though maybe continued strong community opposition and a winning Braess’s paradox argument could be successful in finally killing the project.

On a related note, the release of draft environmental documents for the project has been pushed back to February 2015.

DOT and FTA Leadership at TRB

FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff moderating a panel of eight former UMTA/FTA Administrators

FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff moderating a panel of eight former UMTA/FTA Administrators

A panel of past Administrators of the Federal Transit Administration (and its predecessor, the Urban Mass Transportation Administration) shared their perspectives on transit history and politics over the last 50 years at the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting.  Peter Rogoff, reportedly promoted to Acting Undersecretary of Policy at USDOT, opened with a quotation from President Kennedy’s 1962 transportation address (written by Daniel Patrick Moynihan): “Our national welfare therefore requires the provision of good urban transportation, with the properly balanced use of private vehicles and modern mass transport to help shape as well as serve urban growth.”  Among other topics, the panel touched on White House memos on the cost of “subterranean tunnels” and modal divisions within the US Department of Transportation.

In a speech that afternoon, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx outlined his priorities as the incoming head of USDOT.  First:

In recent years, we’ve been a nation careening from crisis to crisis…keeping our foot on the brakes of economic growth… creating uncertainty… all over disagreements about a deficit…

It’s just not the deficit most people think of.

Because I’m not talking about our budget deficit, I’m talking about our infrastructure deficit.

Investing to overcome our growing infrastructure deficit will be a hot topic this year, especially with the expiration of MAP-21 and the impending insolvency of the Federal Highway Trust Fund.

Inversion Layer

Morning takeoff from SNA, after a few weeks’ respite from the polar vortex.  From 2009-2011, the Los Angeles region exceeded federal ozone standards on 120 annual weighted average days.

Continue reading ‘Inversion Layer’

Holiday Cheer on the Hiawatha Line

What better way to spend an 8 hour layover at MSP than to ride Metro Transit’s Blue (formerly Hiawatha) Line and the new Red Line?

Metro Transit Blue Line Train with holiday lights

Metro Transit Blue Line Train complete with lights

Ski jump or BRT station?

Ski jump or BRT station?