Tag Archives: transportation

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.

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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.

 

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.

The Most Effective Form of Discipline: Punishment or Empathy?

Have you ever broken the rules? If you’re answering honestly, no doubt, your answer should almost certainly be yes. If you drive, you’ve probably rolled a stop sign once or twice in your life. Or, you’ve probably at least barely gone over the speed limit, even if you were trying to maintain a speed below the limit. There’s always jaywalking. That is, you’ve probably crossed the street when you weren’t in the crosswalk when the walk sign was on the cross. What about taking office supplies from work? You may feel justified in doing so, but I bet if you read your contract or the rules/regulations of your organization, it’s not something that’s endorsed. There are probably plenty of other examples where you’ve broken a rule (accidentally or intentionally!), but there may only be a few (one?) where you’ve had an experience that changed your life.

I don’t necessarily mean that it changed your life in some profound way (although it may have). I’m speaking more towards those experiences that you’ll always remember. The lesson(s) you learned from the experience(s) was/were just what you needed at the time. Do you have one of those experiences? Now that you’re thinking of that experience, I wonder: did you receive a punishment for breaking the rules or did you get off with a warning?

I’d hazard a guess that if I polled those of you reading this article, the majority of you would say that the experience where you were left off with a warning was the one that stuck with you. And why is this? Empathy. Compassion. Kindness.

These are human expressions that tend to touch us in ways that the antithesis of these expressions don’t. It’s a tired sentiment, but the news is filled with negativity. As a result, experiences that show us the opposite of this negativity tend to shock us. This surprise tends to stick with us and the experience can teach us something we weren’t expecting.

I’d like to share an example that I think accentuates my point. I came across an answer on Quora to a question asking about people’s best experiences with police. This particular answerer, Andrew Bosworth, was 16 years old and on his way home from Sacramento to the Bay Area. He was really tired and knew he was driving somewhat erratically. He’d glance down at the odometer and he’d be just as likely to be going 20 mph over the speed limit as he would be going 20 mph under the speed limit. Eventually, he was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol:

Instead of giving me a ticket, he pointed down the offramp to a place I could get some coffee and rest. He asked if I had enough money to get some coffee and offered to give me some if I didn’t. He said if I really couldn’t get back to an alert state that I should call a friend or my parents and get a ride because what I was doing wasn’t safe for myself or other drivers.

Honestly, I can’t imagine that getting a ticket would have had nearly as big an impact on my driving as the short, compassionate conversation that officer had with me that night.

While there are certainly times where some form of punishment may be more appropriate, I’d like to believe that in many cases, compassion and empathy can be just as, if not more, effective.

 

Which US City Has the Worst Drivers: No Weather Variable?

A few days ago, there was an article on Slate that claimed to investigate which US city had the worst drivers. I thought the article was interesting as it’s probably something that everyone has an opinion on. That is, we all think that we know where the worst drivers in the US live. After reading the article, I was surprised — thoroughly — that there wasn’t a mention of weather.

Having grown up in Canada, (near Toronto), I am absolutely used to driving in snow and other forms of precipitation. After having lived in 4 different US states (and spending time in 31 others), I feel supremely confident in saying that not everyone is comfortable driving in forms of precipitation. While not an extraordinary revelation by any means, it still seems important. I had to read through the article a couple of times because I didn’t believe there was no mention of ice, snow, snain, or something else related. Weather absolutely affects the way that people drive and their comfort with precipitation will have certainly affect their ability to drive.

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I’ve written before about unexpected snow in Washington, DC, but I don’t think I’ve talked about one of the conversations I’ve had with someone who’s lived in Metro DC for over a decade. She was explaining to me that, not only do you have such a wide variety of drivers in the DC area (those who’ve moved from the South or those who’ve moved from the North or those who’ve moved from the West, etc.), but you’ve also got the weather. More specifically, she was explaining that the “moderate” winters in DC make it awful for driving conditions. When the temperature hovers near freezing, the afternoon rain turns into morning ice. For those who have no experience driving in icy conditions, it can certainly cause drivers to be extra cautious (or mistakenly, not be cautious enough).

This is why I think it is important for any discussion of “the worst drivers” to include a weather variable. Sometimes, we need to be careful we’re not misappropriating the blame.

Tying Up Loose Ends: Food for Thought and Brief Hiatus

Since moving to the new domain (www.JeremiahStanghini.com), this has been the longest time between posts. The last post I wrote was on April 5th. The hiatus from posting will continue for a little while after this post because I’m working on the last requirements for finishing my MBA. There are about 3 weeks left until the end of exam period, so I’ve got a few papers/presentations to finish and a lot of grading of papers/exams.

Whenever I open my computer I see the list of posts that I’ve been meaning to write. In an effort to “clear out some mental space,” I thought I’d do what I’ve done a couple of times in the past and flush out my list of posts to write. In this way, the list will be fresh for when I come back (save for the few cognitive biases that I still want to write about). So, without further adieu, here are some of the things that I had planned on expanding upon. I hope you enjoy!

Cars and Transportation — It’d be really cool if they could *feasibly* develop a car that could transform. A car that could be a single-passenger when commuting, but it could expand/transform into 2, 3, or 4 seats when it necessary.

Political Ideology — What if a given political ideology’s thoughts/plans don’t work unless they can be fully implemented? And because there’s a split in Parliament/Congress, it’s worse. But what if when either party had total control, it’d be worse than this middle-ground between the two ideas?

LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan — A few weeks before the conversation about LeBron vs. Jordan started, I’d had it on my to do list to write about it. I was a bit peeved when the conversation started (without me), but there were some interesting (and some not) things written about it. I think it’s extremely difficult to compare players across decades. It’s akin to comparing players across sports! I remember a few years ago when there was talk that Alex Rodriguez would be the greatest baseball player ever. I think it’s safe to say that conversation has died down a little.

Fear of Public Speaking — I was thinking back to one of the first times I had to stand up in front of a group of people and give a speech. I don’t even remember what I spoke about — but I do remember one of the speeches from my classmates who did quite well (it was about the NBA dunk contest). As I watch some folks present in front of rooms, I can empathize with their nervousness. Heck, even I still get a bit nervous sometimes. One thing I’ve learned — it’s really about repetition. The more times I’ve spoke in front of groups of people, the less nervous I get the next time I go up there. (On a slightly related note: I’d say another key factor in minimizing fear of public speaking is the extent to which you’re prepared to speak on the topic. Read: know your stuff!)

Focus on Labor — I’ve never been the CEO or a highly placed Vice President of a company, but from an outsider’s perspective, I always have a hard time understanding the lack of focus on the labor force. At times, it really looks like labor is the key to success. If the labor force is well taken care of, production and profits tend to do well. It reminds me of that post I did about sustainability and pitchers. The relation here is that when management takes care of the labor force, it is with an eye towards long-term sustainability.

Life, Liberty, and Property? — Why is property so valued? What about nomads or North Americans who show us that land isn’t to be owned? What about animals? They don’t seem to own land.

Star Trek: Inheritance — This is an episode from the final season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The gist of is that Data has to decide whether or not he’s going to tell his mother that she is an android (when she believes she’s a human). In thinking about this episode, I wondered about the ethics of telling someone they aren’t who they think they are. What about an adopted child?

Social EntrepreneurshipGeorge Mason University‘s Center For Social Entrepreneurship has a massive open online course (MOOC) in social entrepreneurship. If you wanna learn about social entrepreneurship, this is a great place to start!

“I AM” — I saw the movie I AM quite some time ago and there were some cool things that stood out to me. I’ll be brief:

  • The HeartMath Institute — check them out! They’re doing some fascinating work.
  • Animals are more likely to cooperate than we may have first thought. There was a reference to a journal article about how a herd of deer decided to go in a given direction after hydrating at a water hole.
  • Rumi poetry is medicine for the soul.
  • I am continually amazed at the kinds of things that are correlated with Random Number Generators.
  • Did you know that the word “Love” appears 95 times in Darwin’s “The Descent of Man?”
  • A great quote that Desmond Tutu read: “God looked at me and said, all I have is you.”

And so that clears off most of my list. Look for a new post sometime in the next month, but probably not for the next 3 weeks. Happy end of April and early May!

Maybe We Don’t Need to Workout At All

About a week ago, I wrote a post about the perfect exercise routine. My point was that there is no universal perfect exercise routine because there are so many different people on the planet, but that there may be some universal principles that could be applicable across peoples. It turns out that one of those “perfect” exercise routines might just be not exercising at all. Curious?

I recently came across a post from Harley Pasternak in, of all places, People. The post has a great opening illustrating just how sedentary our lives have become — amounting to the fact that we spend 45 minutes at the gym and the other 23 hours and 15 minutes sitting at our desks or sleeping. I really encourage you to read it because it paints quite a picture.

After I read it, I was reminded of the post I wrote a week ago that I referenced above (perfect routine), but also of the post I wrote about the obesity crisis. In that post, I focused on the neuromarketing aspect. That is, the idea that consumers may not have an *unbiased* choice to make when they reach for that bag of potato chips or for a second piece of chocolate cake. My main point in that post was that neuromarketing is having a large impact on the choices that are leading to the obesity epidemic. Pasternak argues that are innovation is also leading to obesity. Because we’ve worked so hard to make it easier to do things, we’ve cut out a lot of the time we spend getting from A to B or completing task A and completing task B:

They take leisurely daily walks, do their errands on foot, and walk, bicycle, or take public transportation to work. To make my case, consider this: the average European walks 237 miles every year and cycles 116 miles. The average American walks just 87 miles and cycles just 24 miles. No wonder Europeans are healthier – they’re three times as active!

It never occurred to me that public transportation would be linked to a country’s health, but I guess that just goes to show you the power of externalities and unintended consequences. This revelation makes me think that it’s even more important for the US to get on with advancing the infrastructure of the public transportation in the country.

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This brief bit about public transportation increasing a country’s health does remind me of something I read recently about the amount of time that patrons spend walking to and from public transportation. Something to the effect of it doubling the number of steps they take in a day. I couldn’t find that particular article, but I was able to find something from the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) that supports that finding:

Walking to and from public transportation can help physically inactive populations, especially low-income and minority groups, attain the recommended level of daily physical activity. Increased access to public transit may help promote and maintain active lifestyles.