Leading off today’s headlines with an eye to the future: the high-speed Hyperloop concept first proposed by Elon Musk of Tesla Motors and SpaceX will be advanced from an idea on paper to conceptual testing when a new 5-mile test track announced yesterday is built. The track will be located near I-5 in central California. It will be built by an independent company not affiliated with Musk, although the article reports he is also looking to build a track of similar length somewhere in Texas.
As a concept, the Hyperloop conceptually will use compressed gas and magnets to propel passengers seated in pods at high speeds through a vacuum-tunnel guideway. Though Musk posits pod speeds could reach up to 800 mph, the test tracks will be used to assess the feasibility of the concept at much lower speeds.
The Hyperloop is not without its critics and the article outlines some of the concerns of experts which include construction cost and safety. On the latter, James Powell, a physicist and co-founder of the maglev concept, said this:
For one thing, the tubes have to be very straight, leaving very little room for error. “The guideway [track] has to be built to very fine tolerances, because if the position of the wall deviates from straightness by a few thousandths of an inch, you could crash,” Powell told Live Science.
“The whole system is vulnerable to a single-point failure,” Powell said. For example, somebody could blow a hole in the tube’s side, or an earthquake (no rarity in California) could shift the tube by a fraction of an inch, both of which would cause the vehicles to crash. In superconducting maglev, by contrast, the magnets are very stable and operate reliably, Powell said. “It doesn’t require continuous control to keep it suspended.”
I tend to side with physicists on technical details that are beyond my comprehension, but I bet there would have been “single-point failure” critiques on the feasibility of air travel prior to its advent, too. Yet we engineered ways to vastly reduce the probability of them occurring.
Uber closes in on its last frontier: airports (N.Y. Times)
You can be dropped off by an Uber at LAX, but you can’t be picked up, at least not until later this summer. While airports in California are beginning to allow rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft to drop off and pick up riders, others across the country are still holding out. The result is Uber drivers partaking in shady-sounding activity to avoid tickets. Excerpt:
Uber drivers scout out other areas to meet up with their clients. Mr. Smith and other drivers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, agreed that Uber users, most of them savvy travelers, are aware of the cloak-and-dagger dynamic and are amenable to a slightly longer walk to their waiting ride.
Those who dare pull up to the curb tuck away all identification items. They might coax passengers into the front seat and urge them to load their own baggage. Anything to unobtrusively appear as if they are meeting a friend or family member.
This type of behavior should become a thing of the past in the coming years as it’s expected a majority of airports will allow pick-ups as officials learn how to resolve the issues that have delayed rideshare companies from operating legally within their boundaries. These issues include space limitations, insurance requirements, additional fees and concerns about maintaining an even playing field for taxi cab companies.
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, if you really want to get to the airport conveniently and cheaply: LAX Flyaway, people! Uber can’t touch it.
This app wants to help public transit compete with Uber (Fast Company)
A small start-up company called TransLoc is hoping to assist public transit agencies with a new mobile app that collects rider data to compile real-time trip information which could be used for on-demand transit scheduling and routing. Excerpt:
Riders using TransLoc’s app, currently a prototype, give it permission to follow their route as they ride. That data builds maps that agencies can use to make routes more efficient, and eventually offer on-demand services. Someone could, for example, someday use the app to request a bus, and the system could quickly crowdsource a route to pick up several riders with a small bus or van.
This idea is similar to the data model already utilized by private transportation and rideshare companies like Uber, Lyft and Leap. The idea is an intriguing one, especially for smaller transit agencies or for bus routes with low or infrequent ridership. The trip data from the app could also be incredibly useful in improving routing and scheduling, even if the end isn’t on-demand buses.
CityLab looks at a piece of infrastructure design called a “floating bus stop” that helps mitigate conflicts between bicycles and buses when they’re required to use the same lanes. Excerpt:
These two vehicles, because of their average speeds, relative sizes, and stopping patterns, are uniquely unsuited to share the same space. It’s scary for the person on the bicycle and the bus driver alike.
The need to solve that problem is the impetus behind a piece of infrastructure known as a floating bus stop. In this design, the bus stops at a raised concrete island, while the bike lane veers to the opposite side of the island. The bike lane flows gently and seamlessly in and out of this protected area.
The concept hasn’t taken off in the United States like it has in Europe (surprise, surprise), but the article does contain a video of a floating bus stop in San Francisco as well as in the Netherlands.
Ohio’s experiment in public-private partnership just tripled in cost (Columbus Dispatch)
In recent years, public-private partnership projects have proven in many cases to be a time and cost saver to construct major projects. A recent example of their potential for success is with part of the Denver RTDs FasTracks program, which is on pace to lay more than a hundred miles of rail in less than a decade. This story out of Ohio about the state’s first test public-private partnership is a reminder that these types of programs aren’t a panacea.
In this case, the partnership between the state and a private contractor will allow the state’s largest highway project to begin without the need for a large sum of money up front, but taxpayers will be paying for it in interest and other financial fees. It’s these payments that were not factored in the original estimate. The project is expected to be completed in four years instead of 13, but the new cost estimate raises concerns about revenue stream and the state’s ability to pay for future construction.
I let the bus driver do the worrying (Zocalo Public Square)
The latest in Zocalo’s ongoing series of profiles of Metro riders.
A video from Caltrans on something I didn’t know they did: employ rock climbers to clear debris and rocks to prevent rockslides on state highways. The video features Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” fame, who tried his hand at the job for his CNN series “Somebody’s Gotta Do It.”
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Categories: Transportation Headlines