Transportation & Infrastructure

The Next Financial Crisis Might Be in Your Driveway

Bloomberg: “Lured by low interest rates, low gas prices, and a crop of seductive vehicles that are faster, smarter, and more efficient than ever before, American drivers are increasingly riding in style. Don’t be fooled by the curb appeal, though—those swanky machines are heavily leveraged.”

“The country’s auto debt hit a record in the fourth quarter of 2016, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, when a rush of year-end car shopping pushed vehicle loans to a dubious peak of $1.16 trillion. The combination of new car smell and new credit woes stretches from Subarus in Maine to Teslas in San Francisco.”

“Another way to look at: Every licensed driver in the U.S., on average, owes about $6,100 in car payments.”

Why Donald Trump Shouldn’t Neglect ‘Invisible Infrastructure’

Julius Genachowski: “In his early days in office, true to his campaign promises, President Donald Trump is promoting a $1 trillion plan to upgrade the nation’s aging physical infrastructure. To maximize job creation, investment and benefits to all Americans, he should also focus on our ‘invisible infrastructure’ — the unseen airwaves that enable wireless connections.”

U.S. Cities Are Getting Smarter and You Probably Didn’t Even Notice

Quartz: “Trash bins in some airports and streets compost themselves, street lights monitor traffic and parking, and sensors prevent sewers from overflowing into rivers during floods. This kind of ‘smart’ technology, in which basic infrastructure like water, power, transportation, and sanitation is connected to the internet, is being piloted in the US in places like Boston, Massachusetts; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Washington, DC; San Francisco, California; and South Bend, Indiana.”

“The average citizen in those cities may not have noticed the effects because they aren’t as flashy as something like driverless cars, which are now on the road in Pittsburgh and other places.”

Toward a Rust Belt Powerhouse

Jim O’Neill: “Instead of accusing China of undermining US companies’ competitiveness, Trump should be focused on a genuine pro-growth strategy. Such a strategy could follow the British ‘northern powerhouse’ model – which I helped to create as a member of the government – focused on revitalizing the economies of the former heartland of British manufacturing.”

“…by linking together major cities – including Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, and Liverpool – the north could become far more unified, with seven million people acting as a single regional economy, thereby providing many of the agglomeration benefits of major global cities.”

“The northern powerhouse strategy provides valuable lessons for other countries. Already, China is pursuing a similar regional development strategy, aimed at revitalizing its old northern industrial belt, thereby taking some of the pressure off its ultra-dynamic coastal cities. The US should follow suit, with a plan to revitalize the so-called Rust Belt that was integral to Trump’s victory.”

Want to Improve Wind and Solar Power? Bring Them Together.

Ensia: “A handful of enterprising renewable energy developers are now exploring how solar and wind might better work together, developing hybrid solar–wind projects to take advantage of the power-generating strengths of each — with the two technologies in tandem serving as a better replacement for climate-warming fossil fuels than either could be alone.”

“On the rolling plains just west of Australia’s Great Dividing Range, construction is expected to begin on a 10-megawatt solar farm adjacent to 73 wind turbines that are already online. According to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency — ARENA, a governmental agency tasked with increasing deployment of renewable energy — which has invested A$9.9 million in the project a couple hours’ drive southwest of Sydney, the co-location of solar and wind provides more continuous energy generation than having either technology working alone.”

“But that’s not the only benefit. Co-locating wind and solar plants can save money on grid connections, site development and approvals, says ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht. By building the Gullen Solar Farm adjacent to the existing wind project, Frischknecht estimates savings as high as A$6 million — reducing the cost of the project by a full 20 percent.”

The Future of American Transportation Is Driverless 

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx spoke with The Verge about the future of autonomous vehicles.

Foxx: “Early indications are that the first few minutes of a ride in an autonomous car can be pretty scary to people who haven’t been in one before. But people get used to it quickly. People having real-life experiences with the technology will help in the long run. I’m sure that when the horse-and-buggy gave way to the automobile, there was probably an acceptance factor there as well. This is part of the progression of technology and transportation. I believe strongly that in the future, people will trust [autonomous cars]. Self-driving is coming to everything. It’s just a question of what the sequencing is. You’re going to see trucks that are driverless, and ships and trains that have self-driving features.”

How Uber Thinks Its Aircraft Service Will Work

Inverse: “In less than ten years, you won’t have to worry about your Uber getting stuck in traffic — because it will probably be transporting you through the air. Uber announced its plan Wednesday to launch ‘Elevate,’ a system of fully electric aircrafts that could get you from San Francisco to Silicon Valley for the price of an UberX. Uber first announced its plans to launch a flying vehicle within ten years in September, but this is the first time they’ve released any sort of detailed plan for the venture.”

Super-Cheap Driverless Cabs to Kick Mass Transit to the Curb

Bloomberg Tech: “The self-driving vehicles being pioneered by Tesla Motors Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and others are poised to dramatically lower the cost of taxis, potentially making them cheaper than buses or subways, according to a joint report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and McKinsey & Co. Having no driver to pay could reduce taxi prices to 67 cents a mile by 2025, less than a quarter of the cost in Manhattan today, the report found.”

Why Cleaning Up Abandoned Lots Can Reduce Shootings

Francie Diep: “On average, in the year after a clean-up, the areas around remediated lots saw 5 percent fewer shootings than the areas around un-remediated lots, and remediated houses experienced 39 percent less gun crime. That’s a boon not only for city coffers, but for neighbors as well. In a previous study, Branas and his colleagues showed that walking past abandoned lots raised locals’ heart rates and stress levels, perhaps because these places were known crime magnets.”

Self-Driving Cars Are Going to Beat Up on Trains, Too

City Lab: “A new report released Monday from the Boston Consulting Group concentrates on the potential impact AVs will have on an older, globally popular form of transportation: passenger rail. ‘Will Autonomous Vehicles Derail Trains?’ the report asks. Short answer: Oh yes.”

From the report: “Trains will remain the least expensive mode of transportation during peak times in urban areas. But during off-peak hours and in rural environments, they will lose riders to AVs. Rail companies may even end up in a downward spiral: with reduced overall ridership, rail companies’ overall unit costs for all remaining passengers will escalate because of the inherently high proportion of fixed costs in operating a train network. This could trigger price increases or reduced schedules, which would result in a further reduction in ridership. The off-peak impacts of declining demand in rural areas could reverberate throughout the entire rail network, since it’s difficult to operate fewer off-peak trains without affecting the costs of peak trains.”

How to Do Infrastructure Spending the Right Way

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry: “In many ways, Washington, D.C., is like a fantasy land. Sometimes there are seemingly magic words that, when spoken, yield a magical effect. One example? ‘Infrastructure spending.'”

“So, what should we do? Here are a few pointers.”

“The internets! The one place where America’s infrastructure most inexcusably lags is high speed internet.”

“Nukes! Nuclear power is the best form of power there is. It’s clean. It’s safe. It’s long-lasting. It just works.”

“Research innovative infrastructure ideas. A lot of people, including Hillary Clinton, talk about an ‘infrastructure investment bank,’ which sounds kind of appealing, kind of business-y, kind of national-y, but always ends up being cronyist nonsense. If I’m going to use a buzzword, how about this: a ‘DARPA of infrastructure.'”

How the New Driverless Car Rules Could Cost Lives

Real Clear Policy: “Three numbers: 35,200 people were killed in auto accidents last year; 94 percent of car crashes are due to human error; 613,501 lives have been saved by advances in auto safety over the past 50 years. These numbers form the basis of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration head’s argument for autonomous vehicles and a friendly regulatory environment.”

“In a speech on Monday at the Automated Vehicles Symposium in San Francisco, NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said that his agency’s goal is to create ‘a framework that will speed the development and deployment of technologies with significant lifesaving potential.’ However, the very next day, his agency released the long-promised NHTSA guidelines for autonomous vehicles, proposing two new authorities that would do the exact opposite.”

“The problem is that approving every single model for every single manufacturer would be a monumental task — and a slow one. Do we really want an FDA-style premarket approval process when delays could cost lives?”

“‘If we wait for perfect, we’ll be waiting for a very, very long time,’ Rosekind said of autonomous vehicle technology in general. ‘How many lives might we be losing while we wait?”