Transportation & Infrastructure

The Last Thing America Needs Is More Roads

Henry Grabar: “Roads and bridges. That singsong phrase is a well-worn exhortation to common sense and consensus, an expression designed to summon us, like Christmas morning church bells, from the trenches of partisan warfare. (Also, if you say it three times fast, a concrete-industry lobbyist picks up your dinner tab.)”

“There’s just one problem: America does not need more roads, suspended or otherwise. The rural population, after three decades of declining growth, started shrinking in 2010. In America’s metro areas, where more than 4 in 5 Americans live, the road network has been expanding faster than population growth since 1980. That has created an unprecedented maintenance crisis, in addition to facilitating sprawl, harming the environment, undermining Main Street commerce, and draining local budgets.”

President Trump Should Make the Power Grid Great Again

Robert Knake: “The average American endures upwards of six hours per year without electricity. That puts the United States in the bottom category of the developed world with Portugal and Lithuania. Singapore, Germany, Japan and Denmark have close to zero down time. Urban Chinese experience less than half the downtime of an average American. It’s also a 285 percent increase since 1982, when the Department of Energy began collecting the data.”

“While power may be available 99.5 percent of the time, the economic losses from these outages are estimated at $150 billion per year. That figure puts it on par with the lower end of estimates for cybercrime.”

“And yet, despite this relatively poor level of reliability, U.S. electricity does not come cheap at an average of $0.18 per kilowatt hour. And, while there are signs that despite White House support for burning more coal, a renewable energy future is here to stay. U.S. power remains some of the dirtiest in the world. In a study of 34 countries developed countries, the United States came in 26th for the dirtiest power.”

“The United States cannot be great again unless the infrastructure that supports its economy is also great. Right now, the United States is not a leader when it comes to the reliability, cost, or environmental impact of its aging power system.”

How Offering Driver’s Licenses to Immigrants Here Illegally Makes Roads Safer

NPR Code Switch: “Researchers at Stanford University this week published a study that may bolster the argument that policies aimed at encouraging immigrants to come out of the shadows actually improve public safety. They found that a 2013 California law granting driver’s licenses to immigrants in the country illegally reduced hit-and-run accidents by 7 to 10 percent in 2015, meaning roughly 4,000 fewer hit-and-runs. In that same year, 600,000 people got driver’s licenses under the law.”

“The researchers suggest that ‘consequently, unauthorized immigrants with a valid form of in-state driving authorization have weaker incentives to flee the scene after an accident, because they are less likely to fear deportation.’ Their study also found that the license law did not increase the number of traffic accidents overall, as opponents had claimed it would. It did not decrease the number either. But the decline in hit-and-run accidents was a positive sign, the researchers wrote.”

How Public Libraries Help Build Healthy Communities

Stuart Butler and Marcela Cabello: “We’ve noted the importance of “third places” in strengthening communities – meaning those places that are neither one’s home (first place) nor workspace (second place). A range of such third places, from churches to beauty salons, play an important role in community building. They are the informal spaces that are often mainstays in a neighborhood, places where both random and intentional in-person relationships are made.”

“…public spaces and buildings can become important and successful third places. And one particularly interesting, emerging and important example is the public library.”

“Public libraries exist in urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods, and typically they have a long history in their community. According to a 2015 Pew survey, almost two-thirds of adult Americans say that closing their local library would have a major impact on their community. As Pew found, over 90 percent of adults think of public libraries as ‘welcoming and friendly places,’ and about half have visited or otherwise used a public library in the last 12 months.”

How to Save Coal Country

Dwyer Gunn: “…while the surprising outcome of the election may extend the lifespan of the coal industry by a few more years, many in the region are now convinced that the future of Appalachia doesn’t lie in the coal fields, which are facing economic challenges that have nothing to do with the current occupant of the White House, or in the factories, which these days rely more on machines than people. Instead, policy experts and community leaders are fashioning a new economic development strategy for their communities—one that borrows more from liberal theories of urban revitalization than from Trump’s pledges to bring back lost manufacturing and mining jobs.”

“In Southwest Virginia, for example, community leaders have been working since 2004 on a plan to rebrand the region as a cultural destination, complete with a booming tourism industry, and a cyber-security hub, offering the kinds of jobs more often associated with Silicon Valley than rural Appalachia. ‘We do not want to get into the same situation where we have an economy that’s dependent on one dominant industry,’ says Shannon Blevins, associate vice chancellor at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, who leads the school’s economic outreach efforts. ‘We want to make sure we have a diversified economy.'”

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.”