Tag Archives: Car

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.

Gasoline-Powered Cars: A New Perspective

One of my favo[u]rite things to write about (or write on?) is perspective. I really and truly believe that perspective is one of the keys to growth and by extension, acceptance (or tolerance, if you prefer). In this context, it sounds like I’m talking about the acceptance (or tolerance) of other people and their beliefs/actions, but I also mean it with regard to reality, in general.

As we take on more perspectives, we’re granted the opportunity to use a new lens to see things and as we use this new lens, we’re far more likely to see something we didn’t see when we first looked. Case and point: vehicular transportation. Specifically, cars.

Many people probably don’t give a second thought to the car they’re driving (unless something goes wrong) except for when they’re looking to buy/lease one. More importantly, though, I bet many people don’t consider the numerous decisions that went into designing and creating that car. The numerous decisions that went into that kind of car being the dominant kind of car on the road today.

Now, you may think I’m talking about the brand of car, but what I’m really talking about is the way the car works: gasoline. Many folks can and probably do grow frustrated when the price of gasoline goes up and so they’ll probably think about their gasoline-powered car in those instances, but have you ever considered what a non-gasoline car driver might think of gasoline-powered cars?

There’s an absolutely wonderful post up on the Tesla Club of Sweden’s website. It takes the reader through the steps one must undergo in order to purchase a gasoline-powered car, but from the perspective of someone with no experience with gasoline-powered cars. Here’s a couple of short excerpts:

It may sound like a bad omen to buy the car from a car repair shop that you want to visit as seldom as possible. But you apparently can’t buy the car directly from the manufacturer but must go through such intermediaries.


We asked if the constant sound of the engine -that frankly disturbed us from being able to listen to the radio- could be turned off. But it couldn’t. Very distracting.


When we came to a stop the engine continued to run and the car vibrate – even though the car was standing still! The engine continued to burn gasoline without moving the car forward. Can it really be true? Yes, the seller explained, it is so with gasoline cars: the engine is always running and burning gasoline – even when the car is stationary. Some models however switches off the engine at a red light, he explained. Well that certainly makes more sense.


With this in mind we ended up in a traffic jam and was horrified that the gasoline engine continued to burn these expensive gasoline drops even when the car was standing still or moving very little. With gasoline vehicles it is easy to run into cost anxiety – the feeling that the car literally burns up your money! No cheap home charging and no regeneration of gasoline back to the fuel tank when braking sounds like economic madness – especially given that all gasoline must be imported from abroad.

It is definitely worth your time. Whether you’re a gasoline-powered car driver or not, I imagine that reading this will allow you the opportunity to consider your choice to drive a gasoline-powered car from a new lens.


How Americans Get to Work: Is It Time to Change Incentives?

This past Friday, there was a rather startling chart from The Atlantic. The chart illustrated how Americans get to work, by volume. That is, the total number of people who take the bus, the total number of people who drive, the total number of people who walk — you get the idea. Before clicking through to read the post, I was hopeful… afterwards, not so much:

In case the numbers are too small to read, the effect should still stand — well beyond the majority of Americans drive alone to work. Now, it’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with this, but now that we’ve seen things like the image below, that illustrates the space needed to transport 60 people in various ways, it seems more reasonable that people shouldn’t drive alone in their car.

Of course, some folks might jump to the argument that there are more people who live in rural areas in America — not true. “In 2010, a total of 80.7 percent of Americans lived in urban areas, up from 79 percent in 2000.” However, just because the vast majority of American live in urban areas, that doesn’t mean that they have access to viable alternative means of transportation. Maybe it’s time for Americans to reconsider the emphasis on culture of cars.


Art Imitating (Rather, Predicting?) Life

I was reading this past week’s edition of The Economist and came across an . Specifically, the article was addressing how 3D printing was (or could) change the face of manufacturing. If you’re not familiar with 3D printing, it is exactly like it sounds: printing in 3D. From : “3D printing or additive manufacturing is a process of making three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file.”

As I sat there listening to  gnaw on a stick, I found myself looking beyond the yard where my eyes landed on the railroad tracks. Tracks that have been there for nearly 150 years. Tracks that were the focal point of commerce for quite some time. Then I thought, how the railroad was a revolution in its day — how it took over for the horse and buggy. But the railroad wasn’t the end of the evolution of transportation. Later came the invention of the car and the invention of the plane.

In briefly reflecting on how , I couldn’t help but think of how 3D printing could be just as revolutionary as some of these other inventions through history. And in thinking about 3D printing — specifically — I couldn’t help but think of Star Trek. Do you remember the To refresh your memory, a few of YouTube clips: , , and  (though this last one is a clip of it malfunctioning). There’s been a lot written about how Star Trek has presaged inventions that later came to be (). I might add 3D printing to that list (or any), too.

The thing that really got me thinking, though, was when I compared the to the 3D printer (or replicator). People who know what life is like without the computer often express their disbelief for how small the computer is when compared to its ancestor. “It used to take up a whole room! Now,I can put it in my pocket!” They would exclaim. There’s no doubt that the computer has evolved a great deal from its early days, but I wonder if this will be true of 3D printing? Will the cost of having a 3D printer be such that everyone can afford it? Will the speed at which it prints be so fast that people will laugh at how long it used to take for things to print?

The rate at which technology is able to invent something and then invent something that is twice as good at what it first invented is growing exponentially. It’s hard to believe that just over 100 years ago, the was invented. I’m not sure how far 3D printing will go or if it will take off and be as ubiquitous as computers, but I think it most certainly has a chance.