Google introduces historical Street View


It has been a while since I’ve posted, and that is mostly due to my new job! I’m doing research for a transportation modeling team, and my job mostly consists of keeping our network models up to date using GIS and other programs.

Anyway, enough about me. Today Google released an improvement for their maps functionality that makes one aspect of my job so much easier. I’ve been working on a 2010 network model (note that it is now 2014), which means I have to pull roadway information (number of lanes, length, speed limit, etc) from 2010 in order to have an accurate model. Since roadways often change, especially in the downtown area, this is not always an easy task. Until now, I’ve been using Google Earth, which has the ability to view historical satellite imagery. So, until today, I’ve been verifying lane counts from a bird’s-eye perspective. This is not always easy when there’s shadows from tall buildings or trees in the way.

But luckily, now I can use Street View from roughly any time since 2007. That means I can go back to 2010 and view what the roads actually looked like from a human’s-eye perspective (or car’s-eye perspective). This makes things way easier! And better yet, it’s built into Google Maps so I can do it right from my browser.

According to the Google Earth blog,

Activating it is quite simple. While viewing imagery in Street View, simply click the clock in the upper-left part of the screen (as shown in the image above) to choose a different time. Note that this feature is rolling out in stages, and you may not yet have access to it.

Easy peasy. I’m going to be using this a lot from now on. Thanks Google!


Los Angeles Railway is officially coming back

Yesterday, the Los Angeles City Council approved $352 million dedicated to rebuilding and maintaining LA’s streetcar system that existed between 1901 and 1963. The trolley line will be nowhere near as expansive as it was in its heyday, but it’s at least a start to a much-needed rail system in one of the largest cities in the country. The next step is to secure $75 million from the federal government, and then the city will begin to lay the tracks.

The trolley system was orchestrated by real estate tycoon Henry E. Huntington in 1901, and at its height there were more than 20 rail lines and 1,250 streetcars. Unfortunately, the Los Angeles Railway was a victim of the General Motors streetcar conspiracy in 1945, where General Motors and other companies bought up railway systems across the country with the purpose of removing them entirely. Rather than disappearing completely, many of the streetcar lines were replaced with buses. By 1963, all trolley bus lines and streetcars were replaced with diesel buses.

But the streetcars are coming back! After years of supporters fighting to have the streetcars reinstated, they have finally gotten their wish. The proposal is only for a single line that will run through 3 of downtown LA’s largest routes – Broadway, Hill, and Figueroa streets – but there is room for expansion. The city is even considering using wireless electric trolleys, similar to those in Bordeaux, France.

The line will open in 2016 and I’m really excited for LA! They probably have the largest traffic problem in the United States and this will definitely provide some relief for commuters. Even if it’s only one line, I’m sure more will be added once the city sees how successful the project is.

All info and images via Wikipedia and LA Times.

Abu Dhabi’s website has a great street designer, too

Last week I wrote a post about StreetMix, an interactive website that lets you design street layouts. Today I discovered that the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council’s website has a similar interactive street designer, with a plethora of different options to change widths, heights, and even speeds of vehicles. It even has the ability to animate the street from a bird’s eye view so that you can really get a good picture of how it would work.

The designer has a ton of options to start with. The image at the top of this page is an example of the simplest street, the Town Access Lane. But it can get much more complicated. The image below is one of the most complicated streets you can make, the “City  Boulevard”:


The interface of the website takes some getting used to, but once you figure out how to edit each lane, you can change nearly everything about the street. This includes creating a bike lane that is elevated 10 feet above the others, and bringing a sidewalk 10 feet into the ground. There are no limits, as you can type in any value you want,  so you can really make some pretty wacky creations.

You can even save your street and open it up again later. Abu Dhabi and the UAE in general are well known for their innovative city planning and high-rise development. It’s not at all surprising that they have a great interactive street designer, too. Check it out here.

Montreal and Mannheim to begin testing wirelessly-charged electric buses

Bombardier, the world’s largest manufacturer of railway systems, will begin testing wirelessly-charged buses this winter in Montreal. The test rides won’t be available to riders just yet – but Mannheim, Germany will give commuters the first chance to ride wirelessly-charged buses, as they will have a limited run of the buses in the city for 12 months starting in spring 2014.

I personally find the idea to be pretty clever. From CBC of Canada:

[Bombardier’s] Primove technology is designed to allow buses to be charged by underground induction stations when they stop to let passengers hop on and off.

So rather than relying on charging stations as many electric vehicles do, these buses will be charged wirelessly as if they were running on rails. The idea is similar to trollies and railcars that have electric lines overhead, but the buses will only charge when they are stopped and the charging platforms will be entirely underground.

While such a system would require an underground building process, I think that it would be worth it – these buses will be quiet and clean, and I think it’s pretty ingenious that they will integrate something as time-consuming as battery charging into the day-to-day operations of the buses themselves. The project in Mannheim will cost 3.3 million euro ($4.4 million), and will be completely funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Transport.

Images via Bombardier and all info from CBC and Bombardier.

Philadelphia’s SEPTA is the last public transit system in the US to ditch the token

Philadelphia’s SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) still has passengers use tokens in order to ride the rails. However, the transit system announced last year that contactless cards and smart phones will begin make their way in as tokens and magnetic strip cards are phased out over the next three years. While there are many transit systems who currently use magnetic strip cards, SEPTA is the last to utilize tokens.

The switch from token to contactless cards (think Amsterdam’s Chipkaart or credit cards that you “tap” rather than swipe) is a huge leap, and will make SEPTA go from being one of the most outdated systems to one of the most advanced in terms of fare. The idea has been in the works for a few years, and SEPTA officially announced the switch last November when they awarded a contract to the company designing the new fare method.

The new system will be smart – users will have a SEPTA card that they can load up and manage their account online. Magnetic strip cards of the past do not really have a long shelf life, as rail riders typically print out the card for their single ride and toss it after the ride is over. This way, people will have a single hard plastic card that they can use over and over. In addition to the contactless card technology that will come into place, those who don’t want to spend the $5 on the plastic card can simply use their smartphone to pay for their ride. This will be particularly advantageous to tourists.

2015 is the target year for the system to really come into place – the “New Payment Technologies” is still in its design phase. Now that one of America’s most outdated transit systems is entering the 21st century, perhaps others will follow suit.

Info from NextCity and Wikipedia.

StreetMix lets you create the perfect urban road

Here’s a cool website for those interested in urban planning and transportation. It allows users to design a street exactly to their specifications by adding sidewalks, bike lanes, parking lanes, car lanes, bus lanes, as well as medians and trees. This is a nice way to visualize the capabilities of streets and how they can best serve the public good.

The different options for street design

You can even specify street size. For example, a 40-foot-wide street can only fit two car lanes, a median, and sidewalks on either side. There’s simply no room for a bike lane on both sides, as seen below:

However, if that street is widened to 60 feet, you can add a bike lane on either side, and some nice shrubbery between the road and the pedestrians, as seen here:

Or, if the city needs a larger street to accomodate more vehicular traffic, you can remove the bike lanes and shrubbery and add an extra lane for cars in that same 60 foot width:

The possibilities of road design are pretty endless, and StreetMix is an awesome site to play around with. You aren’t even restricted to 40-foot, 60-foot, and 80-foot roads. there is a setting called “Adaptive,” where you can make the road as wide as you want. Here’s one I made with two car lanes, bus lanes, parked cars to keep cyclists safe, then a bike lane on either side, some shrubbery, and then pedestrians. The idea is not incredibly practical, as it requires a street that is almost 120 feet wide, but the idea is pretty nifty.

I’m definitely going to be using this site a lot! It seems like it would be a nice tool for urban planners as well.

Check it out: StreetMix

Curitiba is a model of citizen-first urban planning

Curitiba, the capital of the state of Paraná, is one of Brazil’s largest cities with a population of 1,764,540 people. In 1964, city officials had to face the fact that the city’s population was growing quickly and that there would have to be changes made to the master plan. The way they did it was incredibly innovative and should serve as a model for cities large and small across the globe. City planners rejected the past several decades of sprawl and favorability towards cars and went with a more ecological approach – their main goals for Curitiba were moving away from urban sprawl, reducing vehicular traffic, creating a cheap, convenient public transportation system, and preserving the historical sectors and green areas of the city.

The new Curitiba relied less on cars and thus reduced pollution in the city. In fact, they even took a large street and made it pedestrian-only, which is something I think many larger cities could benefit from doing.  Transportation in Curitiba should be a model for other metroplexes – and their bus system has been an inspiration for many others currently in use, including the highly-acclaimed TransMilenio in Bogotá, Colombia, the Orange Line in Los Angeles, and the upcoming MetroRapid in Austin, Texas. The similarities among these transportation systems is that they are essentially above-ground subway systems that use buses. These buses have their own lane, so vehicular traffic is never a problem, and they cost significantly less than a typical subway system. There are no rails to lay down, no subway tunnels to dig, and oftentimes the buses use roads that were already built. A highlight of Curitiba’s public transportation system is that all trips cost the same amount. Whether you’re traveling from just one stop to the next, or if you’re going across town, ticket fare for a single trip costs exactly the same no matter where you get off. Citizens love the system, too. Roughly 75% of Curitibans use public transportation to get around.

Now, these ideas are nothing new. Saying that traffic reduction and affordable public transportation are end results of your plan is one thing, but finding an effective way to do so is an entirely different animal. Many changes to city infrastructure result in a very high price tag, but the planners of Curitiba managed to change their city very economically. Jaime Lerner followed the philosophy of urban acupuncture, which basically states that a city can undergo radical and meaningful change if one focuses on a few specific “pressure points” that need change rather than overhauling large urban areas. The city decided to reuse, rather than rebuild, and they gave incentives like meal and bus tickets to citizens for doing things that would help the city, such as recycling and disposing of trash appropriately. They even took old buses that were no longer in use and transformed them into mobile schools and offices.

Curitiba was ranked 3rd in an analysis of the 15 greenest cities, and a recent survey claims that 99% of Curitibans are happy with their city. If I lived in a city that put the happiness of its citizens first, I think I’d love my city as well. More about Curitiba’s amazing trash system, social programs, and green areas can be found here.

All info from Wikipedia, Grist, and CAPS.

Antiquity À-la-carte uses GIS to display roads used in ancient times

The Ancient World Mapping Center over at the University of North Carolina has made an awesome application with GIS interface that combines my love of maps, history, and transportation. You can look at different geographical features from various eras of history, from Archaic Greece to Late Antiquity. Among the features are cities, temples, roads, aqueducts, and urban areas, among others.

Pictured above is Ancient Rome and the roads leading out of it, which I find fascinating. I think it’s amazing to see the roads that were used by the ancients to travel and transport goods and to see how Romans navigated through the mountains to get where they needed to go. The map is incredibly detailed and has roads that stretch throughout the extent of the Roman empire, as well as roads used during other eras.

Here’s Rome and the whole of modern Italy at 1:3120000. It’s incredible to see the roads used throughout the peninsula. This can be done anywhere in the world. Finally, below is the whole of Europe. I’m just blown away that we have the ability to visualize roads used 2000 years ago! I’m going to be playing with this website for a long time.

The application: Antiquity À-la-carte

World’s largest underground rail station is an urbanist’s dream

Hong Kong’s “Express Rail Link West Kowloon Terminus,” to be completed in 2015, will be the largest subterranean rail station in the world. Hong Kong’s station will rival Beijing’s West Railway Station, and at 4.6 million and 5.5 million square feet respectively, these stations are nothing to balk at.

The station is also a fine example of modern urbanist architecture – designed by Andrew Bromberg at Aedas, the station’s design blends in well with Hong Kong’s urban setting. The sloping roof of the station features trees and other vegetation, as well as a walkway designed to present pedestrians with a beautiful view of the city. Furthermore, the platforms and railways will be entirely underground, so there won’t be any sort of major redesign to the city itself.

Architect’s site via Weburbanist

The London Tube turns 150

Here’s an interesting article from The Atlantic Cities about the history of London’s Tube map. The Tube celebrated its 150th birthday on January 9th, and its map has gone through at least 12 iterations since it opened its doors to the public in 1863. The map’s original design was a confusing set of meandering lines, and it wasn’t until 1933 that Harry Beck‘s modern map layout was adopted.




Speaking of Tube maps, Animals on the Underground is worth a look. Paul Middlewick takes the Tube’s map and highlights animals found within the tangle of colored railways. My personal favorites are Hornchurch the rhino and White Chapel the polar bear.


White Chapel: