Ian Sacs's blog

Ian Sacs, P.E. is a worldwide transportation solutions consultant based in Finland.
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New Rail Cars On The Right PATH

You probably already know that the largest mass transit system in North America is in New York City.  Perhaps you didn’t know that this system is supplemented by a very heavily used sister-system between New York City and New Jersey called the Port Authority Trans-Hudson, or PATH for short.  PATH runs two lines through Jersey City, Newark, and Hoboken, carrying tens of thousands of passengers daily.  My hometown, Hoboken, is considered one of the most densely populated cities in the country, and a large number of those residents commute via PATH on a daily basis.  As the popularity of living in the city has increased, so have the swarms of passengers crowding onto PATH each morning and afternoon in their daily commute between New Jersey and Manhattan.  The cars are very old and make for a rickety, sometimes enthralling ride.  So it is not with anything but a huge warm welcome that we began to receive new rail cars over the past month.

Gridlock Game Great for Geeks, Short on Complete Streets

Move over XBox; step aside Playstation.  The height of game-playing action is free and it's online.  The new game in town is University of Minnesota, Intelligent Transportation Systems Institute's "Gridlock Buster".  Test your mettle on the increasing levels of difficulty in processing vehicular traffic through a network of intersections.

Free Gas To Stimulate Main Street

Everybody knows that most, if not all, of downtown businesses' customers arrive by car.  So it's intuitive to try to come up with a way to encourage drivers - who normally wouldn't venture downtown - to hop into their rides and cruise on down to Main Street to shop for wares.  If we could do this, just think of all the new business we'd be stimulating!  In continuing with this logic, it's also a given that it's impossible for would-be customers to actually get to downtown without the essential attaché to driving, gasoline.  So, isn't it therefore intuitive to suggest that if cities were to give away a little bit of gas to each customer – you know, to kind-of thank them for their generosity - then customers would find an overwhelming incentiv

Part Time Lover - Is The Car Just An Affair?

America's so-called “love affair” with the automobile, although cliché, provides a vivid description of how attached we really are to driving.  Public policy, and the historically overwhelming effect of auto industry lobbying, is only partly to blame for the endemic traffic jams and smog of the twentieth century.  Bruce Schaller, a transportation consultant hired by New York City advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, recently demonstrated that urbanites with multiple transportation options still choose to commute by car for rational reasons of privacy, convenience, and speed.  A chart of his, shown below, demonstrates how perplexing this choice is.  Overcoming these reasons is a ser

A Cheapskate’s Guide To Urban (Rooftop/Balcony) Gardening

I can’t deny that one of my strongest personality traits is that of being a hard-core cheapskate.  So much so, that I feel obliged to caveat this post by saying that my initial reasons for getting into rooftop gardening were more to save money on buying fresh vegetables and fruit from our rather pricey local markets than any particular affection for gardening.  While it turns out that my wife and I probably do save money (surprisingly, I never ran the numbers), the joy of gardening, and the kick I get out of showing our rooftop garden off to friends, has far outweighed the economic benefits.  As counter-intuitive as it sounds, urban gardening is much easier than you might imagine.  The hardest part is overcoming the psychological hurdle of thinking that it is difficult, confusing, time-consuming, or takes up lots of space.  In fact, it is none of these things; you don’t need expensive, special equipment, or any particular skill.  You only need a window box, a fire escape, or a small patch of patio if that’s all you have.  If this geeky transportation engineer can grow tomatoes, so can you!

Top Five Concerns About New Bike Lanes In Our Community

I live in Hoboken, New Jersey.  It is a small (~50k residents), very densely populated city (fourth in the country), with high pedestrian volumes and some hairy traffic issues in certain areas.  With heavy rail, light rail, subway, bus, ferry, taxi, bicycle, pedestrian, and para-transit all converging at Hoboken Terminal, it is also home to perhaps the richest intermodal transportation facility in the world (in terms of modes).  It is often characterized as  feeling European, or like Brooklyn, take your pick.  Recently, we have been successful in implementing a nascent bicycle plan that includes bike lanes striped along the length of two north/south avenues in the heart of the city.  Cross streets are next with “sharrows" since these streets are too narrow for exclusive

Will Developing Nations Drive/Follow in our Faulted Footsteps?

The growth in hybrid car sales is a welcome sign that a major change in the automobile industry is afoot.  The shift to transport infrastructure that is not based on the archaic complexity of an internal combustion engine, with its hundreds of moving parts and compressed fuel explosions, has been long put off by an automobile industry, happy with status quo, partnered with oil cartels with the power to price their product as if it were in endless supply.  But with smack-in-the-face-reality fuel prices last summer, the collapse of the so-called “Big Three” over the winter, and the simultaneous heralding assertion of alternative energy technologies (Daimler AG bought a 10% stake in Tesla Motors last month!), the fallout of western economic near-collapse has changed everything we’ve known to be sacrosanct; Leonard Lopate even waxed nostalgic about the “Death of the Car Song” yesterday on National Public Radio’s local station, WNYC.

SPECIAL: NYC Releases 2009 Street Design Manual, Pigs Fly

Once again, the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) delightfully surprises the design community with another major leap forward in making city streets a public realm for all users (I can’t tell you how odd it still feels to write that).  As if the impressive, incessant roll-out of bike lanes, successful implementation of the “Select Bus Service”, and the unprecedented changes to Times Square and its environs weren’t enough to pique the imaginations of New Yorkers used to streets built for cars, NYCDOT has just issued their “2009 Street Design Manual”.  Planners and Engineers, get ready for a thrill!

Mad Tea Party At Our Airports

On my coveted “Bane of Americana” list just behind my cell phone company's automated customer support option to “Press '3' To Stay On Hold” (not kidding!), is the so-called “Passenger Pick-Up System” at airport terminals.  Instead of realizing a purported orderly and safe system, by forcing cars to circuit the entire loop road in an attempt to perfectly intercept with arriving passengers, airports are perpetuating a half-brained scheme reminiscent of Disney World's Mad Tea Party ride.

 
It's Always Six O'Clock At Terminal Eight! 

Bike Lanes As Training Wheels

A friend introduced me yesterday to rambunctious bicycling advocate Fred Oswald via a recent article out of Cleveland’s press. Much debate swirls around his not-so-uncommon opinions. Mr. Oswald’s argument can be boiled down to two points: supporting a critical need for much more bicycling education on sharing public roadways with other vehicles, and fighting an industry-borne fallacy that breaking up streets with allocated spaces, such as bike lanes, is good for the biking community. The former is, of course, not contestable. We all agree that safety and training are absolutely critical to developing a strong and healthy bicycling community.

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