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How fast can you go? Map of maximum speed limits around the world

In most of the United States, the maximum speed limit is somewhere between 65 and 75 miles per hour. What about the rest of the world? This map tells you.


Maximum speed limits around the world. Map from Reddit user worldbeyondyourown.

In the eastern US, most states top out with maximum speed limits of 70 miles per hour. Out west, most states allow 75, and a handful go even higher than that.

Texas has the highest speed limit in the western hemisphere, at 85 miles per hour. On the other end of the spectrum, no road in Canada’s province Nunavut has a limit above 45 miles per hour.

Germany’s Autobahn famously has no maximum speed limit, but it’s not the only place in the world to hold that distinction. Australia’s Northern Territory is also speed limit free. But don’t try racing down roads in Bhutan, where the maximum limit is no higher than 45.

What else jumps out?

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

December 11th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: maps, roads/cars, transportation



Gift ideas for the DC urbanist

Is there an urbanist in your life? Of course there is; you’re reading this blog. Here are a bunch of great gift ideas to satisfy your favorite urban geek, or maybe add to your own wish list.

DC streetcar holiday cards from Analog, and Ben Ross’ book Dead End.

There are tons of great genre gifts available in stores and online. But special mention goes out to two that come from members of our own urbanist blogging community:

Ben Ross’ book Dead End

Ben Ross is a frequent GGW contributor and a prolific author. His book Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism is perhaps the most cogent explanation ever written about the motivations of community activists. Dead End is $26 new from Amazon.

DC streetcar greeting cards

Get your correspondence on with DC streetcar themed Christmas cards, which my wife Melissa makes for her Brookland store Analog. A set of 8 cards is $14, available online, at the shop, or at upcoming pop-up markets in Rosslyn and Silver Spring.

More great options


White house tree ornament, Metro map phone case and bracelet, DC neighborhood wall art.

This year’s White House Christmas tree ornament is an old style train ($24).

Local graphic designer Cherry Blossom Creative makes a series of colorful DC neighborhood wall prints ($20).

WMATA has an official DC Metro Store that sells a wide variety of Metro-themed products, including iPhone cases ($39), bracelets ($32), mugs ($12), model buses ($35), and more. Or if you’re looking for something more functional, how about a SmarTrip card loaded with fare money.

Still need more? Everything from last year’s gift guide would still work, Urbanful has an extensive marketplace, and Etsy is filled with DC-themed gifts.

COPY ONTO BDC
 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

COPY ONTO GGW
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

December 10th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: events, in general



Capital Bikeshare needs smaller stations, but more of them

The most successful bikeshare systems in the world have dense networks with stations every few blocks, according to bikeshare guru Jon Orcutt. That suggests that as Capital Bikeshare expands, the agency should focus on adding small infill stations rather than adding more docks to make existing stations bigger.


Bikeshare station in Montreal with only seven docks.

More stations are better

In a recent Streetsblog interview, Orcutt points out there’s a clear (and probably causal) correlation between bikeshare station density and bike usage. He cites the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy’s (ITDP) bikeshare planning guide, which bluntly states “increasing station density will yield increased market penetration.”

Simply put, systems with denser networks get more riders per bike per day.

That makes sense. Most bikeshare trips cover short distances, so the closer stations are to cyclists’ final destinations, the better. Conversely, it’s a major disincentive if riders have to walk more than a block or two to get to a station, and dockblocking is much more painful when the next closest station is many blocks away instead of right around the corner.

Since there are destinations on every block, the ideal bikeshare network would have stations on every block. That’s probably not practical even in the densest part of the city, but the best bikesharing networks seem to be those that come the closest. ITDP’s guide says to shoot for 10-16 stations per square kilometer.

And though Capital Bikeshare is one of America’s leading bikeshare systems, CaBi and nearly all its American peers lag world leaders in station density. That strongly suggests American bikeshare networks aren’t attracting as many riders as they could.


Image from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.

Politics matter, especially in the Washington region

With distinct clusters of stations in DC, Maryland, and Virginia, Capital Bikeshare is one of the most spread out systems in the world. But while that undeniably reduces the number of riders per bike, it clearly benefits CaBi politically, and therefore financially.

We’re lucky in this region to have a strong regional consensus on the benefits of bikesharing. It’s not just something that DC and Arlington do, which the suburbs grudgingly ignore. Alexandria and Montgomery take part. Fairfax and Prince George’s soon will. It’s a regional network that benefits everyone, and everyone has a stake in its success.

So it’s OK to spread stations out into distinct clusters in multiple jurisdictions, or even multiple wards of the same jurisdiction. But within each cluster, a large number of small stations is better than a handful of large ones.

There’s a catch

If smaller stations are better, why does Capital Bikeshare expand existing ones so often, rather than pour those resources into new station locations?

Simple: Because that would cost more.

Bikeshare stations are prefabricated. They come in basically three components: The kiosk section with the map and credit card terminal, snap-on docks, and the bikes themselves.

Each individual bikeshare station needs all three components, including the kiosk section. But expanding an existing station only takes more docks and more bikes, no kiosk. Thus, by expanding existing stations, CaBi reduces the need to buy expensive kiosk components. They can put out slightly more bikes and more docks with fewer, bigger stations.

Peak capacity versus peak access

Maximizing the number of bikes and docks is important too. The key question is whether it’s more important for a bikeshare agency to maximize peak capacity or peak access.

Putting out the most possible docks and bikes at a smaller number of stations makes the system more useful for rush hour commuters, but less useful for other trips. On the flip side, a system with slightly fewer docks but more stations would be less convenient for commuters, but would put more of the city within reach of a station.

Different bikeshare systems might rightly prioritize different expansion models at different times. But Capital Bikeshare is one of the more commute-oriented large systems in the world. It may be time to think about maximizing infill.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

December 4th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: bike, proposal, transportation



If we build cities in space, this is what they’ll look like

These stills from the four minute film Wanderers beautifully show what human civilization might look like with colonies on Mars, in the asteroid belt, and on the moons of Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus.


Cities on Saturn’s moon Iapetus. All images from Erik Wernquist’s Wanderers.

Though stunning, these images are not mere fantasies. They’re based on real scientific ideas about what a spacegoing civilization would likely look like, given foreseeable future technology.

The film is by Swedish artist Erik Wernquist, who draws inspiration from hard sci-fi author Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars trilogy, as well as his novel 2312.

The first image, above, shows a series of domed settlements on Saturn’s icy moon Iapetus. Iapetus has a giant equatorial ridge that runs around the entire moon like an actual physical equator. The views of ringed Saturn from atop Iapetus’ ridge would be among the most dazzling in the solar system.


Bird suit fliers on Titan.

This second image shows another moon of Saturn, Titan, where the human-powered transportation equivalent to bicycling would be a bird suit.

Titan is larger than the planet Mercury, has rivers and oceans of liquid methane, and an atmosphere thicker than Earth’s. Its combination of thick atmosphere and low gravity would make it possible for humans to fly using nothing but strapped-on wings.


“Terraruim” colony, from a hollowed cylindrical asteroid.

This third image shows an O’Neill cylinder colony, or what Wernquist and Robinson call a “terrarium.” It’s a cylindrical hollowed out asteroid that astronauts have filled with an atmosphere and terraformed with a habitable landscape.

That may seem like a lot of effort, but for a spacegoing civilization asteroids offer many advantages, especially for transportation purposes. Their extremely low gravity makes launches and landings much easier than any planet or moon, while they still have enough raw materials to mine and export.


Martian space elevator.

This last image shows a space elevator ferrying people and goods between orbit and a brightly lit metropolis on the surface of Mars.

Space elevators would have to be tens of thousands of miles long, but would negate the need for expensive chemical rockets, making space vastly easier and cheaper to access.

They’re exactly the sort of revolutionary transportation system that could completely change how humanity organizes itself. Prosperous port cities would be sure to form at the base of any elevators ever built, like futuristic New Yorks at the mouth of a celestial Hudson River.

Amazingly, space elevators are not that far-fetched. Scientists understand elevators’ physics well enough that they may be buildable within the next century.

Be sure to watch the four-minute film, and check out Wernquist’s gallery for more of these beautiful images.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

December 2nd, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: fun, master planning, proposal, transportation



Visible progress on the Crystal City transitway

Arlington’s Crystal City streetcar may have been canceled, but work is continuing on the dedicated transitway that would have carried it. Only buses will use this now, but the infrastructure is rising from the ground.

This is the Glebe Road station, in Potomac Yard.


Glebe Road station. Photo by Arlington.

When complete, it will look like this:


Station rendering. Image by Arlington.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

November 28th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: BRT, streetcar, transportation



ART keeps graduating to bigger and bigger buses

After years of using exclusively smaller buses, Arlington Transit is now operating its first full-length 40-foot vehicles.


40-foot ART bus.

When Arlington launched its first ART bus routes in 1999, it used tiny jitneys that looked more like vans than real buses. Since then, as ART has gotten more and more popular, the agency has graduated to larger and larger vehicles.

In 2007, ART added its first “heavy duty” vehicles – buses that look like buses, not vans. Those were rare at first, but are now a common sight throughout Arlington.

These new 40-footers are the next natural step up.

Three of these big new buses now ply Route 41, and you may see them on other routes too.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

November 25th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: bus, transportation



Nothing to say about the Arlington streetcar

In case anyone is wondering, as an Arlington employee it’s not prudent for me to blog about the Arlington County board’s decision to cancel the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcars.

Greater Greater Washington has excellent coverage of the issue, though.

November 21st, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: events, government, streetcar, transportation



For one day, Metro has a Pink Line

For Veteran’s Day festivities today, Metro is running an unusual service pattern, with no Blue Line. It’ll be rough for commuters, but neat for transit nerds. Why? Say hello to the Pink Line, for one day only.


“Special trains” between Arlington Cemetery and National Airport, illustrated with pink. Original image from WMATA.

Without regular Blue Line trains, Metro is running this special Pink Line to provide service to Arlington Cemetery, which otherwise wouldn’t have any trains.

The map doesn’t actually include the words “Pink Line” anywhere, and trains running this route will probably simply be labelled “Special,” without any color.

But the map shows pink, so I think we can claim it.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

November 11th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: fun, metrorail, transportation



Does Maryland’s statewide planning make big projects harder to build?


Maryland Governor’s Mansion. Image from the Boston Public Library on Flickr.

Despite years of work and broad community support to build the Purple Line, Maryland’s new Republican governor-elect may kill the project. Does Maryland’s heavily centralized state-level planning make it particularly susceptible to shifts like this one?

Most US states delegate transit planning to regional or municipal agencies, rather than doing it at the state level. Maryland is unusual. It’s geographically small and dominated by urban areas, and it has a history of governors interested in planning. So the state handles much more planning than usual, especially for transit.

That can be a mixed blessing.

When things go well, it means Maryland directs many more resources to transit than most other states. But it also means transit projects in Maryland are inherently more vulnerable to outside politics.

Maryland’s centralized system is designed under the assumption that Democrats will always control the state government, and therefore planning priorities won’t change very much from election to election. Were that actually the case, the system would work pretty well.

But recent history shows Maryland is not nearly so safe as Democrats might hope. With Larry Hogan’s election, two out of the last three Maryland governors have been Republicans. And they have different priorities.

Of course, it’s completely proper for political victors to have their own priorities. We live in a representative democracy, and we want it that way.

But shifting priorities are a big problem for any large infrastructure projects that take more than one governor’s time in office to complete.

It takes at least 10 years to plan and build something like a light rail line, or a new highway. If every new governor starts over, the project never gets done.

Thus, large infrastructure projects like the Purple Line, Baltimore’s light rail, and even highways like the ICC wallow in uncertainty for decades, shifting back and forth as one governor’s pet project and another governor’s whipping post.


Maryland’s spent literally half a century debating and re-debating whether or not to build the ICC highway.

While many states centralize their planning for highways, so much money automatically flows towards highway expansion that a lot of big road projects inevitably sail through without becoming political issues. Since transit rarely has dedicated funding for long term expansion, transit projects are more likely to become politicized.

And although this problem can happen anywhere, Maryland’s particular system centralizing transit planning under the governor’s office seems to make it par for the course.

When regional or local agencies control more of the planning, they’re less susceptible to the whims of any individual election.

For example on the southern side of the Potomac, where Virginia kept Silver Line planning alive through multiple Democrat and Republican governors, but only managed to actually build it after the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority took over ownership of the project from the state in 2007. After that, the state was involved but not the leader, making the project less of a target for governors or legislators.

Is there a best of both worlds?

The benefit to statewide planning is statewide resources. The Maryland Department of Transportation is much more willing to spend its own money on transit than almost any other state DOT.

While Fairfax County and MWAA had to increase local commercial property taxes and tolls in the Dulles Corridor to build the Silver Line, MDOT leadership meant Montgomery and Prince George’s weren’t supposed to need such schemes for the Purple Line.

Could we find a way to preserve access to the state’s financial resources without putting urban transportation projects at the mercy of voters on the Eastern Shore? Maybe.

Virginia offers a compelling model, with its regional planning agencies like the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. NVTA makes decisions and receives funding at the metropolitan level, and is governed by a relatively stable board rather than one single politician.

Naturally the NVTA system has trade-offs too. For example, NVTA has independent funding streams but doesn’t get to allocate VDOT money. And NVTA is ultimately under jurisdiction of the Virginia General Assembly, which can impose its will any time.

No system is ever perfect, and Maryland wouldn’t have to copy Virginia directly. But something similar in concept might work, especially if it combined regional decision-making with state funding.

Don’t mistake Maryland’s problem as a criticism of planning in general

One common trope among some sprawl apologists and highway lobbyists is that central planning is inherently bad. For them, “central planning” is a code word that really means smart growth and transit planning in general.

Maryland’s reliance on statewide rather than regional-level planning does not prove those pundits right. Without government planning no large infrastructure projects would be possible at all.

Maryland has a specific problem with how it implements its planning, which leaders in the state can practically address without throwing the planning baby out with the bathwater.

Perhaps it’s time to begin that conversation.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

November 7th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: government, lightrail, proposal, roads/cars, transportation



Ten little cities near DC with awesome urbanism

Central cities are booming all over the US, as Americans rediscover the benefits of walkable urbanism. But the boom isn’t confined to only big cities. Smaller cities are also enjoying a renaissance of their own.

Here are ten little cities near DC with genuinely great urbanism.

Frederick, MD: With stately historic buildings, fancy restaurants, rowhouse neighborhoods, and the best riverwalk in the region, Frederick is a bona fide quality city. Photo by Gray Lensman QX! on Flickr.

Hagerstown, MD: Less fancy and more blue-collar compared to Frederick, Hagerstown’s solid core of 19th Century streets is more like Baltimore than DC. Photo by J Brew on Flickr.

Cumberland, MD: If Frederick is a mini DC and Hagerstown a mini Baltimore, Cumberland with its sharply rising hills and narrow valleys is a mini Pittsburgh. Photo by Dave Olsen on Flickr.

Annapolis, MD: With its baroque street grid, 18th Century state house, and as the home of the Naval Academy, Annapolis was an impressive town years before DC existed.

Winchester, VA: Winchester has a successful pedestrian mall, and the most gorgeous library in Virginia. Handley Library photo by m01229 on Flickr.

Charlottesville, VA: Charlottesville’s pedestrian mall is even more successful than Winchester’s, while the University of Virginia contributes The Corner, an interesting student ghetto neighborhood, and Thomas Jefferson’s famous Lawn. Photo by Ben G on Flickr.

Staunton, VA: 19th Century warehouse town sister to nearby Charlottesville’s academic village. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Fredericksburg, VA: Similar in size and scale to Old Town Alexandria, if it were 50 miles from DC instead of right across the river. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

York, PA: Probably the most substantial city on this list, York is a veritable museum of 18th, 19th, and early 20th Century buildings. And its surrounding Amish countryside offers an object lesson in sharing the road. Photo by Joseph on Flickr.

Gettysburg, PA: The battlefield is justifiably more famous, but downtown Gettysburg is a charming little place, often overlooked. Photo by Tom Hart on Flickr.

Not enough? Don’t miss Ellicott City, Manassas, Leesburg, Martinsburg, Warrenton, Front Royal, Culpeper, Harrisonburg, Brunswick, Harper’s Ferry, and many more.

To qualify for this list, I excluded cities large enough to have tall buildings downtown (sorry Baltimore, Richmond, Harrisburg, and Wilmington), and any city close enough to DC be accessible via WMATA (Alexandria, Silver Spring, Kensington, etc). Otherwise the list is essentially subjective.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

November 4th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: galleries, top10



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