Tag Archives: California

What’s in an American City: Historically, Cars

Last fall, I came across a post on Vox about high-speed rail. If you’ve read some of the things I published when I first started writing, you’ll know that I’m a big proponent of it. This post on Vox was meant to talk about some of the things that Americans can learn from Europeans when it comes to high-speed rail. In particular, California from Germany. The the part I want to focus on, though, is a paragraph with an historical perspective:

Europeans’ cities were more built up before the car, and they didn’t then tear their cities apart to accommodate cars and facilitate sprawl, as we did. The US is so vast that we could pave everything within 200 miles of New York City and still have more than enough land for our corn and cows. But if Europeans wanted to preserve rural areas, they would have to use urban space more efficiently, and so they have. A much greater share of the typical European metro area’s population is concentrated in its inner city. So you get dense, transit-rich cities with countryside in between.

When I first started writing about high-speed rail and even in that post I linked to in the second sentence of this post, I didn’t take into account the historical perspective. I did talk about land area, but the composition of that land area might be more important than the land area itself. If there isn’t the space “in the city” to put the high-speed rail, it’s going to take a yeomen’s effort and a healthy serving of political capital to create that space. The unfortunate part is, as time moves forward, the necessity (and gains!) of high-speed rail increase. The population of some of the biggest cities in the US (that would be served by better public transportation) is increasing and while I’m not sure the best way to measure it, I suspect that the business between cities (i.e. the necessity to travel between cities where high-speed rail would be beneficial) is probably increasing.

So, where does that leave high-speed rail proponents, aside from considering an extended trip to Europe? That’s a great question. It seems that there’s still going to be those organizations that lobby Congress, but if I had to hazard a guess (or a forecast, if you will), I suspect that the most likely way for there to be an improvement in high-speed rail in the US is some sort of catalyzing event. You might even call it a tipping point. One such way could be an increase in the cost of oil (i.e. jet fuel), skyrocketing the price of flying and forcing people to consider other modes of transportation from Chicago to New York. It might also be that a presidential candidate takes up the issue of public transportation and rides it as their “thing” to the White House (and then implements the plan within the first 100 days of office). Both of those scenarios aren’t very likely, but this pie-in-the-sky thinking is where high-speed rail proponents find themselves.

How Y’all, Youse and You Guys Talk: What About Canada?

I’ve been clearing out some of the tweets that I’ve favourited over the last week or so and one of them was a fun dialect quiz from the New York Times Sunday Review. There are 25 questions that ask you the various ways you do (or do not) refer to certain things in the world around you. For instance, do you say y’all or youse or you guys (or something else) when referring to other people?

I found it relatively fun.

If you do decide to do it, though, I’d advise you to be careful in selecting an answer too quickly. There were a few questions where I clicked on one option and hit next and as the next question was loading, I noticed that there was actually an option for (none of these).

I realize that the New York Times is hosting this quiz, but I would have been interested to see where I stand in Canada. Maybe The Globe and Mail or the National Post can look into doing something similar?

I grew up in the Toronto area and have spent some time in British Columbia (and now Ottawa), but I’d be interested to see how I compare to other Canadians. Since I did grow up in Toronto, I wonder if that throws a wrench into my dialect. And, since I’ve lived in so many different places (California, Hawaii, New Zealand, Michigan, Virginia, etc.).

On the whole, it turns out that my dialect is closest to the people in Portland or Seattle. If I’m being honest, after undergraduate university, the west coast of the continent is where I’ve spent most of my adult life. I spent about a year in California and about a year in British Columbia (and about a year in Hawaii). The next closest would have been Virginia with 2 years.

High-Speed Rail in the USA: Why Hasn’t it Flourished?

Over two years ago, I wrote a post about high-speed rail in the USA. It was right around the time that the USA had announced that it was going to be improving its high-speed rail system. As someone who enjoys public transportation, it was pretty exciting to see that one would be able to travel from Montreal to San Diego by high-speed train!

While I wrote it over two years ago, it is consistently one of my most popular posts. It’s probably not fair to draw too strong a conclusion from that, but it’s reasonable to think that people are at least interested in high-speed rail in the USA. On that note, I came across a post on Mashable that offers a disheartening update to high-speed rail in the USA:

The not so good news is, if you live in the United States, you’re out of luck when it comes to HSR, thus far. High-speed rail in the U.S. is mired, for the most part, in opposing views about what’s best for the country’s travel infrastructure — and how we should pay for it.

As is the case with many ‘public goods,’ there’s always the question of who’s going to foot the bill. It seems to me, the USA, more than other countries, have a harder time coming to an agreement on who should pay for public transportation. As I mentioned in my post two years ago, most folks say that Europe is much smaller than the USA and that’s why it has public transportation galore and the USA doesn’t — incorrect. Would you believe that Europe actually has more land area than the USA? You should (Europe: 10,180,000 km²; USA: 9,826,675 km²).

After debunking the land area myth, the next logical progression is population. That is, are there enough people that even need to be transported by high-speed rail. Europe’s population is over 700 million, more than double the USA’s population. Of all the points against high-speed rail, this one seems like it’d be the most compelling. With that being said, it still stands to reason that there could be high-speed rail between the large urban centers, right?

At the beginning of the month, Business Insider created a map that showed that half of the United States lives in 146 counties. That is, half of the USA’s population is accounted for in these counties. In looking at the map, you’ll recognize many of the areas. So then why can’t the USA start its high-speed rail adventure by building between some of these urban areas? Well, we’re back at the political issue of who pays for it. Building a high-speed rail line between Chicago and Detroit crosses state lines, so who pays for it: Illinois or Michigan? And this, of course, reinvokes ideological differences.

Like the Mashable article foreshadows, the outlook for those who would find joy in the proliferation of high-speed rail doesn’t look good.

Room for Innovation in Wind Energy Industry

I was driving down the 401 in Toronto and I noticed a wind turbine setback from the highway. As I looked at it, I remembered seeing it when I used to live in Toronto over 10 years ago. That’s a long time. On one of my first trips across the USA, I drove north through the California desert. As you’d expect, there were lots of wind turbines. When I traveled through New Zealand, there were lots of wind turbines there, too.

The extent of my knowledge (at this point) of wind energy is that the energy is captured through the use of a wind turbine. And because of the structure of the turbines, there are lots of folks who oppose wind turbines. There concerns are understandable and shouldn’t easily be dismissed. That being said, I think about the abundance of wind on the planet I think that there’s gotta be room for innovation in this industry, right?

If I had to choose, my guess is that solar energy is going to be what revolutionizes energy on our planet, but while we’re still trying to perfect energy storage (batteries just won’t cut it), I have a hunch that there’s something we can do about the wind energy industry. I don’t have a grand idea to propose in this post, but there are many inventions or discoveries that come from people who weren’t working inside that industry. My guess is that I don’t have many readers who work in the wind energy industry, so it might be people like you and I who come up with an idea that revolutionizes the wind energy industry.

The next time you get a few minutes, think about the abundance of wind on the planet and how we might capture and store that energy. It just might be a million dollar idea…