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Not Worth the Paper

…tickets bought by SunRail passengers pay only a tiny fraction of the commuter train’s bills, but less known is that ticket revenue doesn’t even cover the cost of selling tickets.

SunRail’s finances would be slightly stronger if riding was free.

If communal transit was really about getting people around, more routes would be free. In USA, passenger rail is always about something else first.


Transportation is Communication

During the revolution, Bolshevik representatives of the People's Commissariats commandeered trains to take propaganda to the villages. Many people had never seen a film before, and they paid for their tickets with eggs. These agit-trains carried a printing press to allow customised posters to be produced and thrown out of the windows.

Doping in Minneapolis

Posted by a Facebook pally:

Regarding Lance Armstrong: If I wanted to listen to the opinions of smug assholes who ride bikes and do way too many drugs, I'd move to Northeast Minneapolis.


Post Style: 

Unintended Refugees

My lefty pallys on Facebook have alerted me to the imminent loss of a treasured restaurant in St. Paul:

Business is down for Mai Village Restaurant, and it is facing foreclosure. It's scheduled for a sheriff foreclosure sale at the end of October 2012.

Mai Nguyen and Ngoan Dang, owners of Mai Village, have put everything they have into the restaurant. Every single minute of their lives revolves around it.…

Mai and Ngoan were refugees from Vietnam. 22 years ago, they used all their savings to open Mai Village, one of the first restaurants to open on Saint Paul's east University Avenue…

But now, because of the economic recession and light rail construction, many customers are not coming to Mai Village like they used too.…


Boston Choking on Transit Subsidy

I enjoyed wasting a lot of time playing the original version of SimCity. It simply but reasonably modeled the basic problems in city planning. As my town’s population grew, roads got so congested that commerce started to fail. So, like a good planner should, I would build transit lines.

Using cheat codes to give my plans an essentially unlimited pile of tax revenue to spend, I built block upon block of high-density buildings. Eventually, all the roads were replaced by transit lines. That allowed further increases in density, but, eventually, even the transit lines were choked by all the demand for traffic.

What I saw on my computer screen in 1990 is happening to Boston today:

Failed Bridge Exemplifies Smart Investment

Sabo bike bridge showing cable-stayed design.Another bridge in Minneapolis has failed. You probably didn’t hear about it, because: a) nobody died; and, b) it served only a small handful of people.

It’s a bike and pedestrian bridge crossing a major arterial and a light rail line. It was as much a public art project and a pander to the green factions as it is a segment of infrastructure.


Trade Will Find a Way

With the Arab Spring devolving into an even more unstable Arab summer, European trade may be cut off from South and East Asia. Increasingly anti-Western Egypt controls the primary route, via the Suez Canal.

Instead of falling back to caravans of camels, Israel is considering a rail link:

Magdeburg Water Bridge

Barge canal carried by aqueduct over Elbe River

Yes, that is a shipping canal crossing over a river.

Infrastructure is cool.

H/T: Theo Spark

Capitalists Cross Final Frontier

The Enterprise, from Star Trek, was a government vessel. In the 1960s it would have been fantasy to think a privately-owned company could boldly go where no man had gone before.

Fifty years later, it isn’t a fantasy. I’m acquainted with Virgin Galactic. But that’s more an vertically-oriented amusement park ride than a serious industry. Enter SpaceX:

SpaceX was founded in June 2002 by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk who had invested US$100 million of his own money by March 2006. On August 4, 2008, SpaceX accepted a further US$20 million investment from the Founders Fund.

SpaceX has nearly doubled in size every year since it was founded in 2002. It grew from 160 employees in November 2005 to more than 500 by July 2008, to over 1100 in 2010.

Poisoning Public Transport

I’ve seen several headlines about two Delta Airlines employees ambushed by a gang of teens while riding Atlanta’s commuter rail.

Borepatch, an expert in computer security, sees the incident in those terms:

Security types call this a "Resource Poisoning" attack, where something that was previously valued and trusted becomes worthless because of abuse.

Crime need not be actualized for resource poisoning to occur. If the environment feels unsafe, people choose not to take the trip.

Minneapolis Riverfront in the Days of Disco

The now-demolished Great Northern Depot in downtown Minneapolis could inspire many posts on railroads, how changes in transportation technology changed the role of railroads, and how that allowed planners to re-purpose land at the core of cities, specifically Minneapolis, since this depot stood at the gateway to Northeast Minneapolis. Those changes were driven by economics and politics.

But I’m not ready to launch into any of those. I just happened across an archive of photos of the Great Northern Depot from the 1970s. It was one of those times where I was following the intertracks without a destination in mind, and found a treasure. For railfans and history buffs, at least.

Mainstream preservationists and historians—if that’s not an oxymoron—seem mostly interested in façades. I’m more fascinated to understand how the buildings worked.

1978 view beside Post Office looking upriver toward GN Depot


Planning FAIL — Boston Edition

Boston, like nearly every U.S. city, ripped out large swaths of its core to accomodate motorists in the 1950s and 60s. Boston’s downtown freeway was called the Central Artery (a great name, that sounds even better in the native accent). In the 1970s, Boston, like most places began to realize that freeways tend to break up the organic pattern that makes urban living interesting and attractive.

So the planners came up with a plan to correct the plans of the planners who tore out the city’s guts to build interstates. They would bury the Central Artery. Put the traffic underground, and instead of a noxious concrete wasteland dividing neighborhoods, there would be an open green space at ground level to re-unite Bostonians.

Minneapolis dreamers have a similar vision. I’ve seen sketches of a park built over I-35W around 35th to 38th Streets. It would expand an existing park (MLK) and repair a gash in the Field, Regina Northrup neighborhood. Since we just reconstructed I-35W in south Minneapolis, that plan will be locked in the dream stage for at least a few more decades.

Which is good, because in Boston, all they did was change the color of the barrier from gray to green:

Imagine There’s No Airports

You’re on your first trans-Pacific flight as Captain of a jetliner. You’ve made it almost all the way to Japan. And then there’s an earthquake:

It wasn't long, maybe ten minutes, before the first pilots started requesting diversions to other airports. Air Canada, American, United, etc. all reporting minimal fuel situations. I still had enough fuel for 1.5 to 2.0 hours of holding. Needless to say, the diverts started complicating the situation.

Japan air traffic control then announced Narita was closed indefinitely due to damage. Planes immediately started requesting arrivals into Haneada, near Tokyo, a half dozen JAL and western planes got clearance in that direction but then ATC announced Haenada had just closed. Uh oh! Now instead of just holding, we all had to start looking at more distant alternatives like Osaka, or Nagoya.

We Gonna Do What They Say Can’t Be Done

The spirit of America was still alive in 1977.

It was O.K. to feel good and make a little mischief. And diesel fuel was 47.9¢ per gallon.

I want my country back.

H/T: A Facebook pally.



Here’s how Google Maps instructs you to get from Japan to China:

Google map showing direction from Japan to China

Of particular note is Direction #43.

Similarly, getting from Seattle to Honolulu will require unconventional means.

Pack a lunch, for sure.

H/T: My Bar Night pallys and Theo Spark.


Minneapolis Biking Sharing a Success

Much to my surprise, the first season of taxpayer-subsidized bike rental in Minneapolis did not result in massive theft and vandalism:

In Minneapolis, again, theft and vandalism simply haven’t materialized as problems. The operators expected to lose around ten percent of their bikes to crime in the first year, but so far, that figure has only turned out to be 0.3 percent.

With 700 bikes on the streets since June, said Dossett, only two bikes have disappeared. Vandalism has been minimal: There have been a few bikes that were graffitied, a few tires slashed, and one incident in which a motorist hit a bike-sharing station and shattered some glass.

Bone Voyage!

As another indication of the bounty of our society, I direct your attention to Pet Airways:

We always knew Zoe, our Jack Russell Terrier, was smart, but it wasn't until a couple years ago that we realized she's also a brilliant entrepreneur. After all, it was Zoe who gave us the idea for Pet Airways.

With Zoe as part of our family, planning vacations was always a little more complicated. Visiting out-of-state friends or relatives required sophisticated logistics. Weekend getaways always had to be close to home.

It wasn't Zoe's fault of course. It was the airlines'. There was simply no safe way for Zoe to comfortably fly with us. She's not a big dog. Just a little one. But a little too big to fit under the seat.


Play Poker, Not Roulette

The rhetoric about profiling as a means to inhibit terrorists assumes what I’ll call biographic profiling. The knee-jerk opponents to profiling like to charge “Racism!” or “Fill-in-the-blank-ophobia!” when it is suggested that there are visual clues about who might deserve more scrutiny. And the knee-jerk reaction to the first jerks is to accept those terms. “Fine! Call me a racist, but why are we groping grannies when zero grannies have exploded airliners?”

They’re both missing the point. Their notion of profiling seems based in some kind of TV-influenced detective drama. Serial killers, for example, show many similar biographical traits. By examining evidence at a crime scene, the profiler can make educated guesses about who they’re looking for.

But all that kind of evidence is static. Biography is history. Like skin tone, the past is beyond anyone’s control.


One Good Reason to Get Rich

Penn Gillette (of Penn & Teller) had an encounter with a TSA screener last week. The screener touched Penn in his swimsuit area without first giving notice. Penn properly recognized this as assault, and filed a complaint with the local police.

As the events played out, and several TSA supervisors insisted to Penn and the cop that, “We have no problem with you, you're free to go,” Penn kept pressing the issue.

He made it clear that it was not sexual, that he was not harmed, but it was still a violation of the law to be touched without first being warned. There was mention of lawyers and such.

The reason Penn offered for pressing a seemingly trivial point:


Security Theater—Now with more Audience Participation!

Cartoon of TSA agents preparing to grope little boy

Borepatch argues that the TSA has not just an impossible job, but also has incentives that lead them to do the worst possible job:

Consider their metrics.  How would you measure success?  Quite frankly, there's no plausible metric here - to my knowledge, TSA has never caught a terrorist in the act. Sure, terrorists have been caught in the act (the shoe bomber, the Christmas bomber), but none of these were caught by TSA. The Christmas bomber was caught by an alert airline checkin employee; the show bomber was caught by passengers on the plane.



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