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or credit cards that you “tap” rather than swipe) is a huge leap, and will make SEPTA go from being one of the most outdated systems to one of the most advanced in terms of fare.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

Professor Orlando Furgeson’s 1893 argument for a “square and stationary earth”

I find it interesting that the belief that the world is anything besides round persisted well into the 19th century. The map above was drawn by Professor Orlando Furgeson and published in 1893 – he claims that scripture backs up the “square and stationary earth” and refutes the idea of a moving, spheroid earth. He cites many passages from the Bible on the map itself, including “it is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth” as proof that points to a non-globular planet.

If the word of the Bible is not proof enough, he also claims that a planet moving 65,000 miles per hour around the sun would surely fling its inhabits out into the darkest reaches of space.

Even though the theory is not substantiated, I still think it’s interesting that Furgeson decided to go with a sort of wavy-flat earth rather than a completely flat one. I can’t fathom how his map would account for seasons, day length, or the lack of a horizon in the southern hemisphere. And how does gravity come into play? Wouldn’t the slope cause all the world’s water to pool in the southern hemisphere?

The bottom right corner states that if one were to send 25 cents to the professor, he or she would receive a book explaining the square and stationary earth. There doesn’t seem to be any existing copies of the book, so his theory is lost to the ages. It certainly would have been an interesting read!

Image from Wikipedia.

Map sculptures of cities

Awesome! I love how he doesn’t just do modern city layouts, but also cities from various eras of history. Really cool how he uses materials relevant to the city too, like pages from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in his Las Vegas piece. Great post!


Matthew Picton is a british-born artist living in Oregon and his worked is influenced by the beauty of lines and formes which are shaping cities.

“Cities are often described as living organisms; viewed as subject rather than object. Matthew Picton engages with this tradition of humanizing the city by deconstructing the clean, uncompromising aesthetic of the cartographic city plan and imbuing it with the unique history and culture of each place.”

© Matthew Picton
San Francisco

From the natural topography to the built environments. For example his series called “City Sculptures” are trying to take a deeper look into the organism of the city which is created by social, political, economic and topographic factors.

© Matthew Picton
Dresden 1940 

One of his recent works “Paper Sculptures” are made of paper.  But those are not “only” a random paper it is in connection with the history of the city. Those are…

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Heart-shaped geography

Since today is Valentine’s Day, I thought I would celebrate by showcasing some of the love found naturally on our lovely planet. There are a handful of heart-shaped lakes and islands out there, many of which have become popular tourist destinations for newlyweds or other love-minded individuals. The image above is Galešnjak, an uninhabited and privately-owned island off the coast of Croatia. While there are currently only plants and trees on the island, there is evidence of past human habitation of the island in the form of burial mounds and pieces of ancient buildings. Its coordinates are 43°58’42” N, 15°23’01” E.

Next is Hridaya Saras in India. This heart-shaped lake is a popular destination for hikers on Chembra Peak. The wikipedia article on Chembra Peak states that the lake is believed to have never dried up, which is just adorable. Coordinates for the lake are 11°32’50” N, 76°04’58” E.

Tavarua Island in Fiji is a popular destination mainly because waves in the area are great for surfing. The island even hosts professional surfing competitions. The area is also a popular resort, with restaurants, spas, and tennis courts. The island itself is only 29 acres, and its coordinates are 17°51’28” S, 177°12’08” E.

Last on the list is Mo’orea Island, which just barely made it due to it not being quite as perfectly heart-shaped as the others. Mo’orea is an island just off the coast of French Polynesia in the middle of the southern Pacific Ocean, but it has an airport and a single road around its perimeter. The island has about 16,000 inhabitants, and its geography is very mountainous and beautiful. Wikipedia states that it serves as a popular honeymoon destination and that its image is seen in many American wedding magazines. Mo’orea’s coordinates are 17°32’03” S, 149°49’58” W.

Happy vday!

All images from Google Earth and all info from Wikipedia.

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.

The 10 most segregated US cities visualized with GIS

Main city population: 3,792,62
Metropolitan population: 12,828,837
Segregation level (dissimilarity): 67.84

Salon wrote an interesting article a few years ago about modern segregation, and they used GIS to help readers visualize the separation of race in urban areas. What I found interesting about the data is that there is not a single southern US city in the top 10 most segregated American cities. During the majority of the 20th century, the southern United States was considered the region with the most racism and segregation, and rightly so. The citizens and politicians of many southern states were largely opposed to legislation that would give minorities more rights, whereas citizens and politicians of northern states were much more progressive and willing to give civil rights to all citizens. Even now, I think many Americans share the opinion that the south is still behind the rest of the nation as far as racism goes.

Even though the maps show segregation, it’s not anything like the segregation of the early 20th century, where certain races were forced to live in a particular area. I think it’s likely that some of these groups choose to live among those similar to them. For example, hispanics who are new to the US would probably feel much more comfortable living near those who they can communicate with and relate to. It would be much more difficult to start a new life in a new country if you felt totally isolated.

Los Angeles is the 10th most segregated city in the US, according to 2010 census data. You’ll see in the graphic above that hispanics tend to live in one area, while asians and blacks largely group together as well. Segregated communities are much more rampant in the nine following graphics, all of which are located in the northern United States.

9. Philadelphia, PA

Main city population: 1,526,006
Metropolitan population: 5,965,343
Segregation level (dissimilarity): 68.41

8. Cincinnati, OH

Main city population: 296,943
Metropolitan population: 2,130,151
Segregation level (dissimilarity): 69.42

7. St. Louis, MO

Main city population: 319,294
Metropolitan population: 2,812,896
Segregation level (dissimilarity):72.3

6. Buffalo, NY

Main city population: 261,310
Metropolitan population: 1,135,509
Segregation level (dissimilarity): 73.24

5. Cleveland, OH

Main city population: 396,815
Metropolitan population: 2,077,240
Segregation level (dissimilarity): 74.14

4. Detroit, MI

Main city population: 713,777
Metropolitan population: 4,296,250
Segregation level (dissimilarity): 75.25

3. Chicago, IL

Main city population: 2,695,598
Metropolitan population: 9,461,105
Segregation level (dissimilarity): 76.43

2. New York

Main city population: 8,175,133
Metropolitan population: 18,897,109
Segregation level (dissimilarity): 78.04

1. Milwaukee, WI

Main city population: 594,833
Metropolitan population: 1,555,908
Segregation level (dissimilarity): 81.52

After seeing how badly Los Angeles was segregated, I didn’t think it could get as bad as Milwaukee. Blacks are incredibly highly concentrated in one area of this Wisconsin city, as are hispanics. Whites make up at least 85.1% in both Washington and Ozaukee counties, and Waukesha county is almost that high.

All data and info from Salon

Geographic imagery will be dramatically updated with launch of new Landsat satellite this morning

This morning at 10AM (PST), NASA launched its next iteration of Landsat satellites. The Landsat 8 is the 8th satellite since 1972 launched with the purpose of capturing images of earth’s surface. As of right now, all modern interactive maps used in programs such as Google Maps, Google Earth, and GIS programs use data from Landsat 7, which was sent into the atmosphere on April 15, 1999. This means that every image of the earth’s surface we see in those programs is outdated by nearly 14 years. The period of time between the launches of Landsat 7 and Landset 8 is the longest in the Landsat program’s history, and the new satellite is sure to update our understanding of the earth’s surface considerably.

Much has changed in the 14 years since the launch of Landsat 7, including the technology that powers the satellite’s imagery capabilities. All of the previous Landsat satellites used sensors with mirrors that simply oscillated back and forth, whereas Landsat 8 will use new sensors designed to continually measure infrared wavelengths, surface temperature, and the image of the earth’s surface. This way, we will have the clearest images of the earth’s surface, as well as information about the surface that we couldn’t have received from earlier Landsats.

According to the NASA blog post on the subject, Landsat 8 will be able to provide a complete picture of the earth’s surface every 16 days using the new sensors. Now, I’m not sure if this means that interfaces such as Google Maps will be updated every 16 days with new imagery or not, but that would certainly be a huge leap in mapping technology.

All info via NASA and Wikipedia

Philosophy of urban planning

After writing my last post about the history of urban planning, I wanted to learn more about Hippodamus of Miletus, the “father” of urban planning. He lived from 498 to 408 BC, and he helped design such Greek towns as Piraeus, Olynthus, Priene, and Miletus. Urban planning at this time was not at all an established discipline, and it wasn’t until Hippodamus came around that even the idea of a city grid was commonplace.

In Hippodamus’ time, urban planning would have been more properly identified as “the philosophy of urban spacing.” It took deep philosophical and rational thought to come to a theory of the best way to plan a town, and it wasn’t immediately obvious that a grid would be a highly effective format.

Aristotle himself was a critic of Hippodamus’ idea of straight streets and a gridded layout. He argued that, while a town planned in a grid is certainly more visually appealing than a haphazardly planned urban area, the latter is better for deterring invaders. If a city is infiltrated, the trespassers would easily be able to navigate through the streets if they are planned out in an orderly way. However, poorly planned streets are much easier to get lost in, and intruders not familiar with the city would be at a loss in such a place. Basically, orderly planning is good for beauty, haphazard planning (or lack thereof) is better for security. Here it is in Aristotle’s own words:

“The arrangement of private houses is generally considered to be more sightly, and more convenient for peacetime activities, when it is regularly planned in the modern style introduced by Hippodamus. For reasons of military security, however, the very reverse is preferable — they should follow the old-fashioned manner, which made it difficult for strangers to make their way out and for assailants to find their way in.” Politics, 1330b17

Aristotle’s Politics goes on to say a lot about the planning style of Hippodamus and about Hippodamus himself, stating that he was “the first man without practical experience of politics who attempted to handle the theme of the best form of constitution” (Politics, 1267b22). The question of the best form of government was a hot topic of philosophy at the time and I think it’s interesting that Hippodamus was cited as the first non-political person to theorize on the subject.

Even though Aristotle states that beauty is the main advantage of orderly town planning, Hippodamus’ grid system was actually developed with practical implications in mind. The town of Miletus and many other Greek cities were planned so as to make elements of the weather less harsh. In Miletus, the buildings and streets were arranged so that the wind from the sea would flow optimally through the town, providing a cool breeze on hot summer days. In addition, other Greek towns were planned so that houses and other buildings would obscure the sun during the summer and face the sun during the winter in order to receive as much sunlight as possible.

As a lover (and degree-holder) of political theory, I think it’s incredibly interesting that even disciplines such as city planning came from philosophic roots. However, radical change does require a radical change in thought, and there were bound to be dissenters when Hippodamus introduced his idea of a gridded town system. The idea has obviously held strong through the two-and-a-half millenia since its inception, and it didn’t take long at all for the idea to stick. Many ancient writers such as Strabo, Aristophanes, Aristotle, Theano of Thurii, and Vitruvius wrote about city planning in either an informative or critical way. Dinocrates of Rhodes helped plan Alexander the Great’s city of Alexandria in the 4th century BC, and it followed a grid pattern, as captured by the 1899 work of André Castaigne, below.

All info and images via and Wikipedia.