Saturday, October 14, 2017

Cities are ruining our cars

An article in Verge claims that "Self-driving cars are on a collision course with our crappy cities" as if to say cities are ruining the possibilities for our fancy new self-driving cars.

¡No! Au contraire, cars are ruining our cities! Letting Google be the driver won't change that. In fact, it could get much worse.

Consider the author's statement of the obvious: "[R]ide-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft, are shockingly creating more traffic problems than they are curing," as if to say this fact could somehow be fixed if cities would only do things differently.

¡No! An on-demand taxi service carrying one passenger will deliver less than 1 person per vehicle-mile (km) by definition: the back seat has to be empty ("dead-head") en route to picking up the fare-paying passenger. 

I will have more to say about this with some pictures. Please stand by...

Friday, January 6, 2017

Fossil Fuel Free Nations

Several nations have declared their intent to become fossil-fuel-free. In this post you can find websites and news articles with more details about this international movement.
NOPEC The theme of Non-Oil, Power-Exporting Countries ("NOPEC") was first presented online in 1989:
Several papers about NOPEC and the goal of 100% renewable energy have been presented at ASES and ISES conferences, and in Solar Today magazine since that time:
Several organizations have been helping to organize international commitments to 100% renewable energy:

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Wall. How Tall?

The Donald wants to build a wall and he wants them to pay for it.

What a pity. If they pay for it, they will own it. If they own it, they will make billions!

The Donald wants to give away all the profits that could have been destined for America. And he wants to build it 30-40 feet high. That's to be expected from a man who thinks small, but there's little profit to be made in such a limited and limiting project.

Let's be ambitious. Let's build a wall 30-40 stories tall, from Tijuana / San Diego to Matamoros / Brownsville, something like this: 

Linear City architecture by Gilles Gauthier
We're talking about 1,989 miles (3,201 kilometers) of linear city.

This is not a new idea...

"I would take the apartment house and all its conveniences and comforts
out among the farms by the aid of wires, pipes and of
rapid and noiseless transportation."
Edgar Chambless, Roadtown, 1910

And there's plenty of support for the idea, including City Mayors from around the world.

Along the Rio Grande, it could look like this...

Paolo Soleri
Now what does this have to do with solar nations? Well, take a look at this ...

As you can see from the map, Mexico is south of the USA. So all the offices, shopping centers, condos, and podcar networks on the Wall will face south — from one end to the other.

... and properly sized overhangs will shade the south-facing windows
from the high summer sun.
(See more at the Windows South website.)
Now you might ask how everyone in a high rise can have south-facing windows. Aren't half of the units going to face north?

Nope, not if we take Michael Graves' approach:

Grounds for Sculpture, Michael Graves

... which was modeled after Unite d' Habitation in Marseilles, the architectural scheme originally developed in 1952 by Le Corbusier:

... in which all units had both south and north façades.

You can learn more by exploring the Four Donkey Method of Bioclimatic Design.
Plus there will be Solar Skyways running continuously along the entire route, eliminating the need for Mexican Oil ... or oil of any sort, for that matter.


The election hasn't happened yet, so the future of "the wall" is to be determined. For now, I can say this much:
  • The expansion of a border wall is ludicrous – and an environmental disaster to boot. 
  • On the other hand, more livable border cities? Well that might be worth further consideration.
  • Solar-oriented buildings (along the border or otherwise) will bring greater comfort and reduce border tensions.
  • Solar transportation will help the energy transition (whether in linear cities or where you live now).
  • Good design can give bright, sunny, comfortable living spaces featuring functional, effective south and north facades.
  • If, in order to pass through the border, you must have dinner with someone living in the linear city, then people on both sides will become better neighbors. 
Let's build solar powered cities, along the border and beyond!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The US DOT-Advocacy or monopoly?

We have a lot to think about...
An Act in Relation to Removal of Obstructions to Navigation in the Mouth of the Mississippi River
"What a vast field would the exercise of this power open for jobbing and corruption! Members of Congress, from an honest desire to promote the interest of their constituents, would struggle for improvements within their own districts, and the body itself must necessarily be converted into an arena where each would endeavor to obtain from the Treasury as much money as possible for its own locality.  The temptation would prove irresistible."

President Buchanan's veto message, February 1860
Eight presidents have proclaimed foreign oil to be an enemy.

The US Department of Energy has a "sustainable transportation" program within its EERE Office. Is there money for sustainable transportation within that program?

Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies$105 m
Bioenergy Technologies279 m
Vehicle Technologies468 m

What do you think?

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Disruption is 10X – Innovation is 2X

In Silicon Valley we hear a lot about innovation. It is the mantra for entrepreneurs, managers, engineers, educators, even our local politicians.

Disruption >> Innovation

What's a little harder to see is disruption to the entire order. We are so used to change in Silicon Valley that we don't always see how fast a complete transformation shifts into place ... or what it takes for that shift to happen.

Since I first heard Bucky Fuller explain the essential discipline of doing more with less, shifting from "fossil fuels" to renewable energy has been the obvious answer for me. I still regularly encounter skepticism, but that's normal for those of us who act upon the pressing need for clean energy.

One person who has done an excellent job of articulating this need and the opportunity it represents is Tony Seba [video]. He calls it Clean Disruption [slide deck]. Clean disruption goes far beyond clean innovation. Echoing that sentiment in the context of becoming Solar Nations, it's high time for humanity to make an about-face, to abandon fossil fuels, not only because it's necessary but also because it's more effective, and more economical ... by far.

Tony sees the big picture. It's not hard, after all. Here's how he laid it out for transportation in his presentation (slide #70):

3D - Clean Disruption of [Transportation]
©2016 Tony Seba
Well, if you look closely, you will notice that he has actually drawn vehicles for a 2D world where the configuration driver is still rubber tires on asphalt (a variation on the theme of fossil fuels, a substance that breeds potholes in the end). And the Law of Conservation of Momentum still holds, dictating that sooner or later, energy efficient, asset utilizing, autonomy capable cars will still bump into things. (Ouch!) And because of that, they can't go very fast, either. They gotta watch out for people and things on the ground.

In the modern 3D city, transportation will soon become 3D too, something like this:

The Solarevolution™
Come the Solarevolution, solar-powered, automated, non-stop, elevated podcars will run on high strength steel lasting 10X longer than asphalt -- and cheaper. The pods will weigh 10X less than Teslas. (They don't have to carry lots of heavy batteries and be built like tanks to protect their occupants.) The pillars will require 1000X less land area than cars, freeing up the ground level for human activity.
4D - Clean Transportation
(with apologies to Tony Seba)
Ooops.... Excuse me while I make a little adjustment...
Ahh, that's better.
So now we have room in our cities for people, pets, pedals and petals!
4D Transportation as if people mattered

And travelers win too. Because elevated vehicles can't hit people, the passengers in podcars zooming overhead will get to where they're going much faster.

Now that's what I call disruption!

(Clean, too!)

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Energy Storage Innovation

With the emergence of electric cars, much attention is being focused on battery innovation. And yet there are many other innovative energy storage technologies which have better performance than batteries, especially at small to medium (microgrid) scale and at large grid scale. Here are some of those, at various levels of innovation and commercialization.

Gravity Energy Storage

Pumped hydro, a long established energy storage technology
Gravity Power
Advanced Rail Energy Storage (ARES), "Gravity Train"

Compressed Air Energy Storage

Underwater Compressed Air

Closed Cycle Heat engines

Isentropic, hot rocks
TerraJoule, hot water

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Streets are the Commons

Recently I was invited to watch a TED Talk by a passionate social reformer. She spoke first about "changing and controlling the narrative."

I propose a new narrative for transportation planning: Streets are the Commons.

Searching for some local indicators of passionate concern for protecting children on streets, I came across this recent article which reminded me of the process of education that was contrived when cars first invaded cities a century ago.* Here we are in the 21st century with incredible technology at our fingertips and urban transportation officials are still designing policies which ignore the laws of physics** and instead depend upon clever advertising to educate thoughtless drivers, to compensate for their inability to design a transportation system that is intrinsically safe:
Will “Little Nudges” Slow Drivers Down to New NYC Speed Limit?

"... an ambitious campaign to reduce the city’s 4,000 annual pedestrian injuries and 250 deaths through citywide strategies that include stricter enforcement and safer design...

“It really emphasizes the vulnerability of the human body to vehicles,” Williams says. When the firm tested their concept on focus groups, she says, drivers showed a marked change.

This method has left street users in harm's way for a century. Instead of depending on educating fallible drivers, imagine educating engineers to design a transportation system with attention to the law of conservation of momentum** — a system that separates two-ton machines in motion from people on the ground where they rightfully belong, maybe something like this:

A roller coaster above people at Gröna Lund in Stockholm

Imagine a city where people on the ground can safely coexist with machines moving above. Pedestrians and bicyclists will thrive and travelers will speed non-stop to their destinations twice as fast as cars, buses and street cars inching their way from stoplight to stoplight.

* See Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City (Inside Technology) by Peter D. Norton
"Before the advent of the automobile, users of city streets were diverse and included children at play and pedestrians at large. By 1930, most streets were primarily a motor thoroughfares where children did not belong and where pedestrians were condemned as "jaywalkers." In Fighting Traffic, Peter Norton argues that to accommodate automobiles, the American city required not only a physical change but also a social one: before the city could be reconstructed for the sake of motorists, its streets had to be socially reconstructed as places where motorists belonged. It was not an evolution, he writes, but a bloody and sometimes violent revolution. Norton describes how street users struggled to define and redefine what streets were for. He examines developments in the crucial transitional years from the 1910s to the 1930s, uncovering a broad anti-automobile campaign that reviled motorists as "road hogs" or "speed demons" and cars as "juggernauts" or "death cars." He considers the perspectives of all users--pedestrians, police (who had to become "traffic cops"), street railways, downtown businesses, traffic engineers (who often saw cars as the problem, not the solution), and automobile promoters. He finds that pedestrians and parents campaigned in moral terms, fighting for "justice." Cities and downtown businesses tried to regulate traffic in the name of "efficiency." Automotive interest groups, meanwhile, legitimized their claim to the streets by invoking "freedom" -- a rhetorical stance of particular power in the United States. Fighting Traffic offers a new look at both the origins of the automotive city in America and how social groups shape technological change."
** The amount of momentum object 1 gains from a collision is the same as the amount of momentum object 2 loses. The total momentum remains the same.