In Transportation Design the Key Issue Is Not Speed, but Weight

Introduction (via John Thackara@ Change Observer)

Gram junkies are those fanatical hikers and climbers who fret about every gram of weight that might be carried — in everything from titanium cook pans to toothbrush covers. Excess weight is not just an objective performance issue for these guys; they take it personally. In the matter of mobility and modern transportation, we all need to become gram junkies. We need to obsess not about speed, or about exotic power sources, but about the weight of every step taken, every vehicle used, every infrastructure investment contemplated.

Why? Because modern mobility not only damages the biosphere, our only home, but also global systems of air. Rail and road travel are also greedy in their use of space, matter, energy, biodiversity and land. Designers around the world are busily developing a dazzling array of solutions to deal with these complex challenges. The website, for example, has identified 177 different projects and approaches to sustainable mobility. These include bus rapid transit (BRT), car free days, demand-responsive transport (DRT), hitch-hiking, pedestrianization, smart parking strategies and van-pooling.

The trouble is that every solution that assumes our current or increased levels of transport intensity, once whole system costs are calculated, turns out not to be viable. Many transport strategies help solve one or two problems — but exacerbate others. The best-known example is the way that the expansion of highways reduces congestion for a time, but tends to increase total vehicle traffic. Another rebound effect: increased vehicle fuel efficiency conserves energy; but, because it reduces vehicle operating costs, it tends to increase total vehicle travel. The growth of the US Interstate Highway System changed fundamental relationships between time, cost and space. These, in turn, enabled forms of economic development that have proved devastating to the biosphere.

Interesting Excerpts (via John Thackara @ Change Observer)

The Law of Locality

My favorite example of decentralized production concerns drinks. The weight of beer and other beverages, especially mineral water, trucked from one rich nation to another is a large component of the freight flood that threatens to overwhelm us. But first Coca-Cola and now a boom in microbreweries demonstrate a radically lighter approach: Export the recipe and sometimes the production equipment, but source raw material and distribute locally.

People and information want to be closer. When planning where to put capacity, network designers are guided by the law of locality; this law states that network traffic is at least 80 percent local, 95 percent continental and only 5 percent intercontinental. Communication network designers use another rule that we can learn from in the analogue world: “The less the space, the more the room.” In silicon, the trade-off between speed and heat generated improves dramatically as size diminishes: Small transistors run faster, cooler and cheaper. Hence the development of the so-called processor-in-memory (PIM) — an integrated circuit that contains both memory and logic on the same chip.

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About Miguel Barbosa

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13. January 2011 by Miguel Barbosa
Categories: Curated Readings, Finance & Investing | Leave a comment

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