This history of the car in L.A.

After living in L.A. for a year without owning a car — an experiment brought on by a lazy reaction to his car battery dying — Paleofuture's Matt Novak has written a fascinating piece about the history of Los Angeles transportation. It's a history that includes doomed monorails, oil derricks at Venice Beach, and a cameo by Roger Rabbit. Read the rest

Suburban Express bus-line sends bullying, cowardly legal threat to Reddit, discovers Streisand Effect

A convicted cybersquatter named Dennis Toeppen now runs the Suburban Express bus service that is used to take students home from university in Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa to Chicago. Suburban Express attracts many online complaints from riders who object to the company's policy of fining riders $100 (charged automatically to their ticket-purchase credit-card) if they present the wrong ticket when they board, and other, similar policies -- and who allege that the company hunts down its online critics and bans them from riding.

But Toeppen and Suburban Express went too far when it threatened a volunteer Reddit moderator with a defamation suit for failing to police the company's critics on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign subreddit, where a banner read, "Don't ride Suburban Express! They're likely to sue you, have terrible reviews, and also this." The banner implied that an anonymous Reddit commenter who accused Suburban Express critics of of being "lonely virgins" was run by Toeppen or his representatives.

The ensuing negative publicity (and a stern note from Ken "Popehat" White) frightened the bullying, cowardly company into withdrawing its threat. But with any luck, the company's public conduct will warn its potential customers away and make the offers presented by its rivals more attractive. If I was running a competing bus service, I'd be buying ad space on the subreddit in question, running ads that say, "Ride with us, we don't fine you, we don't ban you for complaining, and we won't threaten to sue you if you aren't happy!"

The company has developed a bad reputation online, with reviewers on Yelp and commenters on reddit sharing stories of what they claim are the company’s cutthroat business practices.

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The rise and fall of the personal car

“The replacement of the car is probably out there. We just don’t fully recognize it yet.” — a really interesting story on the historical patterns of technology adoption and decline, and how those patterns might apply to the things we think of as absolute and necessary as much as they applied to the steamship or the landline. Read the rest

Science of L.A.'s 'Carmageddon' proves (shock!) that cars cause much of LA's air pollution

Suzanne Paulson, UCLA professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences, saw "Carmageddon" as an opportunity to make use of a "natural experiment." She and a colleague "measured pollutants in the air during the LA freeway shutdown last year, and have now released their findings.

Air quality near the normally busy highway improved by 83 percent that day last July, relative to comparable weekends. Elsewhere in West Los Angeles, the improvement was equally dramatic. Air quality improved by 75 percent on that side of the city and in Santa Monica, and by 25 percent throughout the entire region, as a measure of the drop in ultrafine particulate matter associated with tailpipe emissions.

"We saw what we expected: you take motor vehicles away, the air gets really, really clean," Paulson says, "which tells us that most of the pollution is from motor vehicles from one type or another in this area."

More: L.A.'s 'Carmageddon' Produced Dramatic, Instantaneous Air Quality Improvements (The Atlantic).

Another "Carmaggedon" just took place in LA. Wonder if there will be more science to come from this edition.

(Image: Dallas Traffic 10/19/11 1227pm, a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike (2.0) image from nffcnnr's photostream) Read the rest

As car service app Uber grows, D.C. council pushes to regulate

I absolutely love the smartphone app Uber, which allows you to order car service on demand, instead of trying to hail or call a cab or order a black car. It became an essential tool during my radiation treatment for cancer in LA, when treatment made me too weak to drive, public transportation didn't serve the route I needed to get to the hospital, and I was just too flaked out to arrange rides in other ways. When my friends Tara Brown and Sean Bonner "gifted" me some Uber credits, I tried it once and was hooked. Uber wasn't a luxury for me, but a truly practical service.

It is also the very definition of a disruptive technology: as Napster was to the recording industry, Uber is to taxi unions. And, not coincidentally, the guy behind it is Travis Kalanick, who was once sued for $250 billion by the MPAA, RIAA, and NMPA over his now-defunct P2P search engine Scour.

In his latest round of pissing off legacy industries by building great internet-based services, Kalanick has managed to upset the forces that represent Washington, DC area cab drivers. And the DC city council is now considering regulation that would mandate much more government oversight over Uber's operations, and severely cramp its style. Snip from WaPo:

The regulations, among other things, would require drivers and companies to obtain licenses to be renewed annually; require companies to operate at least 20 vehicles, with at least 10 percent of them wheelchair-accessible; and require the vehicles to be painted black and meet age and model standards.

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Critiquing the flying car in 1944

During World War II, a time when most manufacturing was concentrated on the war effort and Americans were living with ration books and scrap metal drives, advertising became a very strange thing. Companies wanted to make people aware they still existed, even though they weren't currently offering much for sale and unnecessary consumption was being discouraged. More importantly, the companies wanted Americans to associate their brand name with the promise of life after the War. So, what you got, were a lot of advertisements touting what this or that company was going to do just as soon as the Germans and Japanese were defeated.

The image above comes from a 1944 advertisement by the Association of American Railroads. That room is actually the lounge car on a train — or, rather, the hypothetical lounge car on an imaginary train that might be built after the War is over (provided the development of air travel and the construction of the interstate highway system don't doom the train industry to a slow decline). Basically, you had a lot of time when companies had little more than dreams to offer, so the dreams just kept getting bigger and bigger.

At the Paleofuture blog, Matt Novak writes about this ad as part of a larger trend, and offers up some examples of how the tendency to make big promises about the future of technology was being heavily critiqued even as it happened. Novak's posts help make sense of some of the more-ridiculous branches of midcentury futurism. Read the rest

TSA dumps Grandpa's cremains all over airport, laughs at distraught relative as he picks bone fragments off the floor

John Gross of Indianapolis claims that a TSA operative at the Orlando airport opened up the tightly sealed jar, labelled HUMAN REMAINS, which bore his grandfather's ashes, and then proceeded to butterfinger Grandad all over the terminal. Then the TSA person laughed at him, while he got on his hands and knees and started picking up bone fragments. Most of his grandad ended up in the carpet. From RTV6:

"They opened up my bag, and I told them, 'Please, be careful. These are my grandpa's ashes,'" he told the station. "She picked up the jar. She opened it up. I was told later on that she had no right to even open it, that they could have used other devices, like an X-ray machine. So she opened it up. She used her finger and was sifting through it. And then she accidentally spilled it."

Confrontation With TSA Agent Leaves Grandpa's Ashes On Floor (via Consumerist) Read the rest

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": Awesome DIY transportation

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit" is a series of posts aimed at giving BoingBoing readers a chance to show off their favorite exhibits and specimens, preferably from museums that might go overlooked in the tourism pantheon. I'll be featuring posts in this series all week. Want to see them all? Check out the archive post. I'll update the full list there every morning.

I don't have much information on this piece. I don't know who made it, or when. But I do know that it is a hand-made wooden bicycle, produced by a clearly incredible everyday artisan somewhere on the continent of Africa. It's also Mike Lynd's favorite exhibit at the Birmingham, England, Thinktank Science Museum, where the bicycle is part of a larger section dedicated to transportation innovations.

A quick Google search tells me that a tradition of hand-made bikes with wooden parts exists in lots of African countries. I found a video of a man in Malawi riding a bike he built from recycled metal tires attached to a 2-by-4 frame; cart-like wooden bikes built in Rwanda and in the Congo to carry goods and belongings over long distances; and some stories on Jules Bassong, a wood sculptor who toured his native Cameroon on a wooden bicycle he made in 2008. Read the rest

Impromptu jam in a NYC subway car

In this video from the NYC subway, a singer named Jessica Latshaw, bearing a small uke, finds herself sitting across from a gentleman with a fine pair of bongos. The two begin an impromptu jam session, emceed by a random gregarious stranger and captured for posterity by a subway rider with a camphone. The performance is just fine, and it's clear from the footage that the rest of the car is having a fine time.

In theory, it's possible that the whole thing is a fix, "buzz marketing" from Latshaw and co, and if so, well, it's an extraordinarily nonobnoxious example of the form.

okay- what you are about to watch is a true new york experience. what originally started out as a typical nyc subway ride (sitting across from guy who smelled like urine) turned into an awesome performance by two people who have never met before. i captured the whole thing on video.

never a dull moment on the nyc subway (Thanks, z7q2!) Read the rest

Freaky airplane landing videos

My new obsession: Cockpit landing videos taken during approaches into technically challenging airports. 

Yesterday, Phillip Bump posted a link on Twitter to a detailed rant, written by a pilot, about why pilots don't like to land at (or take off from) Washington DC's Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. That post is pretty  interesting, especially if you've ever wondered—as I had, while waiting on the tarmac at National last fall—how large jets manage land and take off from that airport while simultaneously avoiding all the no-fly zones that are very, very close by. (Hint: It is difficult, and occasionally terrifying.) But the money shot is at the end, where you can watch a video that will show you the pilot's eye view of a National Airport landing approach. 

Turns out, there is a whole, beautiful genre of YouTube videos devoted to this kind of thing. The video above is one of my favorites, showing the approach in to Hong Kong's old Kai Tak airport. Closed in 1998, Kai Tak had one of the most challenging landing approaches in the world. It involved flying at heights of less than 1000 feet over the top of crowded neighborhoods and close to nearby skyscrapers, then executing a sharp right-hand turn, while continuing to lose elevation. Oh, and, the turn had to be done without the help of the Instrument Landing System. Instead, pilots made the turn based on a checkerboard marker painted on the side of a hill. And the runway ended in water. Read the rest

Turn air miles into train miles

Do you like trains? Do you have a lot of Continental Airlines OnePass miles? Until December 31st, you can turn those air miles into Amtrak GuestRewards points. There are certainly some people this wouldn't make sense for, but I know some of you will be interested, so I thought I'd post it. Call the Continental service center at 713-952-1630 to make the switch. (Thanks to my Twitter Train Buddy rstevens!) Read the rest

1955 predicts 1965

Paleofuture features "If Today Were 1965!" -- a 1955 publication of the Reading Automobile Club Magazine, published a year before the Federal Freeway Highway Act. It's an interesting mix of humility and hubris, prescience and silliness, and is as sobering a memento mori for anyone thinking of getting into the prediction game as you could want.

Motorists now have a choice of fabulous stopping places. The newest accommodations have been built in two general types of locations: at service areas along the superhighways (which have grown up into attractive and complete communities) and at the outskirts of major cities. Certain of the urban centers, which had been thought to be doomed, have scored a surprising comeback as a result of striking new traffic developments such as depressed roadways and vast underground parking spaces. As a result, tourists are not repelled as once they were, but instead enjoy city sight-seeing.

The new overnight lodgings, built by large corporations at great expense, have combined features of the motel and hotel. The Sheraton chain, as you may recall, was one of the first major firms to enter this field, starting in 1955 with a $2,500,000 “highway inn” at Tarrytown, N.Y., followed by others at Binghamton, N.Y., Portland, Ore., and New Orleans, until it had completed a network of nearly 15 suburban hotels across the country.

1955 Imagines Travel in 1965 Read the rest

Traffic signals for the colorblind

I don't know why this never occurred to me before, but today on Twitter, several people who are attending the 2011 Accessibility Summit pointed out that traffic lights aren't, traditionally, accessible. Think about it. If you're colorblind, does red, yellow, green tell you as much information as you need, as easily and quickly as you need to know it?

Turns out, some Canadian provinces deal with this by adding shapes to the lights, as well as colors. This is an example from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Thanks to Seth Meranda for linking it!

Image: Sprocket at en.wikipedia. Used via CC.

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Hamburg's lost over-and-under monorail

Hamburg's Cabintaxi was an "over and under" monorail design that ran personal monorail cars in both directions, with counterclockwise traffic on one level and clockwise on the other. It looks like it never got deployed, but it's one sweet retrofuture design for urban transport:
The computer now takes over completely. It regulates our speed, senses the position of any car ahead to maintain a safe headway, and holds us at intermediate stations only if the track is temporarily occupied. We’re programmed for travel to the selected destination by the most direct path. Upon arrival, the car is released for immediate use by other travelers.

“Our over-and-under guideway is a big space-saver and cost-cutter,” MBB’s Gert von Lieres told me. “A two-level guideway can fit into narrow streets that couldn’t accommodate parallel rails, and there’s less clutter in the streets from support columns. Construction is simplified and thus relatively cheap.”

It’s also a quiet system; the cars glide at about 22 mph on rubber-tired wheels. And it shouldn’t be affected by weather; the base, suspension, and guidance tracks are fully enclosed within the beam. “This protects them from snow and ice,” von Lieres said, “while the lateral rollers eliminate any risk of derailment. They allow tight corners—a turn radius as small as 100 feet—meaning greater versatility in urban routing.”

Over-and-under monorail — a single beam tor two-way taxis (Jul, 1980) Read the rest