Native Angeleno who has worked in public, academic and special libraries, as well as museums and college instruction. I am responsible for maintaining the Metro Transportation Library website, all of our social media properties, and digitization efforts to bring more of our resources to our users whenever they need them. For more information, visit The Metro Library website.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

New & Notable: Inventing L.A.'s Autopia, Rival Trancontinental Rails, Rules For Sustainable Communities & Transportation Privatization

In 1920, as its population began to explode, Los Angeles was a largely pastoral city of bungalows and palm trees. Thirty years later, choked with smog and traffic, the city had become synonymous with urban sprawl and unplanned growth.

Yet Los Angeles was anything but unplanned, as Jeremiah B.C. Axelrod reveals in this compelling, visually oriented history of the metropolis during its formative years. In a deft mix of cultural and intellectual history that brilliantly illuminates the profound relationship between imagination and place, Inventing Autopia: Dreams And Visions Of The Modern Metropolis In Jazz Age Los Angeles (Berkeley: University Of California Press, 2009) shows how the clash of irreconcilable utopian visions and dreams resulted in the invention of an unforeseen new form of urbanism--sprawling, illegible, fractured--that would reshape not only Southern California but much of the nation in the years to come.

At 401 pages, it could seem like a daunting read, but those interested in Los Angeles history, urbanization, or the rise of the automobile will find this enjoyable. It's a great compliment to the Metro Library's historic transit and transportation studies collection. Many of these documents, which date back to 1911, have been digitized and are available on our website in full-text PDF.

Axelrod focuses on the 1920s when Los Angeles was growing at a fast clip. As we noted back in July, the number of automobile registrations in Los Angeles County quadrupled between 1914 and 1922 - making it very clear that the city's embrace of the auto would set the stage for decades of congestion and other issues.

Going back further in history is another equally seminal story about transportation in the West. Acclaimed historian Walter R. Borneman has written a dazzling account of the battle to build the first transportation system across America.

Rival Rails: The Race To Build America's Greatest Transcontinental Railroad (New York: Random House, 2010) is an action-packed epic of how an empire was born—and the remarkable men who made it happen.

After the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869, the rest of the country was up for grabs, and the race was on. The prize: a better, shorter, less snowy route through the corridors of the American Southwest, linking Los Angeles to Chicago.

Borneman lays out in compelling detail the sectional rivalries, contested routes, political posturing, and ambitious business dealings that unfolded as an increasing number of lines pushed their way across the country.

The author brings to life the legendary business geniuses and so-called robber barons who made millions and fought the elements—and one another—to move America, including:

William Jackson Palmer, whose leadership of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad relied on innovative narrow gauge trains that could climb steeper grades and take tighter curves;

Collis P. Huntington of the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific lines, a magnate insatiably obsessed with trains—and who was not above bribing congressmen to satisfy his passion;

Edward Payson Ripley, visionary president of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, whose fiscal conservatism and smarts brought the industry back from the brink; and

Jay Gould, ultrasecretive, strong-armer and one-man powerhouse.

In addition, Borneman captures the herculean efforts required to construct these roads—the laborers who did the back-breaking work, boring tunnels through mountains and throwing bridges across unruly rivers, the brakemen who ran atop moving cars, the tracklayers crushed and killed by runaway trains.

From backroom deals in Washington, D.C., to armed robberies of trains in the wild deserts, from glorified cattle cars to streamliners and Super Chiefs, all the great incidents and innovations of a mighty American era are re-created with unprecedented power in this new work destined to be a classic.

Turning now to urban planning, author Patrick Condon discusses transportation, housing equity, job distribution, economic development, and ecological systems issues and synthesizes his knowledge and research into a simple-to-understand set of urban design rules that can, if followed, help save the planet.

Seven Rules For Sustainable Communities: Design Strategies For The Post Carbon World (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2010) clearly connects the form of our cities to their ecological, economic, and social consequences. This book takes on a wide range of complex and contentious issues and distills them down to convincing and practical solutions.

Of particular importance is how city form affects the production of planet-warming greenhouse gases. The author explains this relationship in an accessible way, and goes on to show how conforming to seven simple rules for community design could literally do a world of good. Each chapter in the book explains one rule in depth, adding a wealth of research to support each claim. If widely used, Condon argues, these rules would lead to a much more livable world for future generations—a world that is not unlike the better parts of our own.

In Last Exit: Privatization And Deregulation Of The U.S. Transportation System (Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 2010), Clifford Winston reminds us that transportation services and infrastructure in the United States were originally introduced by private firms.

The case for subsequent public ownership and management of the system was weak, in his view, and here he assesses the case for privatization and deregulation to greatly improve Americans satisfaction with their transportation systems. How can this be done?

Writing in the New York Times, Harvard University economics professor Edward L. Glaeser points out that:

Because the public sector controls almost all roads, airports and urban transit, we see the downsides of public control on a daily basis, but we don’t experience the social costs that could accompany privatization. A private airport operator might try to exploit its monopoly power over a particular market or cut costs in a way that increases the probability of very costly, but rare, disaster.

The complexity and risks of switching to private provision means that Mr. Winston is wise to call for experimentation rather than wholesale privatization. An incremental process of trying things out will provide information and build public support.

Yet many of Mr. Winston’s recommendations are incremental and can be done without privatization or much risk.

The book covers privatization and deregulation of roads, airports, air traffic control, mass transit, intercity buses and railway networks.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Research Roundup: Spawl Crawl And Rethinking Peak Hour Commutes, The New Sharing Economy & Smart Mobility For The 21st Century

The organization CEOs For Cities released a widely-cited report last month titled Measuring Urban Transportation Performance: A Critique Of Mobility Measures And Synthesis (71p. PDF). Their research finds that the secret to reducing the amount of time Americans spend in peak hour traffic has more to do with how we build our cities than how we build our roads.

The report explains how the cities studied have managed to achieve shorter travel times and actually reduce the peak hour travel times. Some metropolitan areas have land use patterns and transportation systems that enable their residents to take shorter trips and minimize the burden of peak hour travel.

This runs counter to the conclusions of the Texas Transportation Institute's Urban Mobility Report year after year. The CEO For Cities document explains that the UMR approach has completely overlooked the role that variations in travel distances play in driving urban transportation problems.

In the best performing cities -- those that have achieved the shortest peak hour travel distances -- such as Chicago, Portland and Sacramento, the typical traveler spends 40 fewer hours per year in peak hour travel than the average American. Because of smart land use planning and investment in alternative transportation, Portland has seen its average trip lengths decline by 20%.

In contrast, in the most sprawling metropolitan areas, such as Nashville, Indianapolis and Raleigh, the average resident spends as much as 240 hours per year in peak period travel because travel distances are so much greater. The report's 20-page Executive Summary is titled Driven Apart: How Sprawl Is Lengthening Our Commutes And Why Misleading Mobility Measures Are Making Things Worse.

In The New Sharing Economy, a study by Latitude in collaboration with Shareable Magazine, the authors look at new opportunities for sharing.

An interesting graph (click to enlarge) plots various endeavors on a market saturation and latent demand scale. The resulting plot points fall into four quandrants, labeled:

Low Interest and Low Prior Success (e.g. bike, outdoor sporting goods)

Done Well Already (e.g. work space, storage space, food co-op)

Opportunities Still Remain (e.g. physical media, digital media)

Best New Opportunities (automobile, time/responsibilities, money lending/borrowing)

This last category, Best New Opportunities, provides the launch point for discussion of car sharing. The report notes that there's still a large amount of unfulfilled demand for car-sharing. More than half of all participants surveyed either shared vehicles casually or weren't sharing currently but expressed interest in doing so. For people who share in an organized fashion, cars and bikes were popular for sharing amongst family and close friends but weren't commonly shared outside this immediate network, relative to other categories of goods.

This intriguing and visually appealing report goes on to point out the new sharing takeaways for non-sharing businesses, including "we-based brands," the value in social and alternative currencies, and the "contagiousness" of sharing.

Finally, Transportation For America recently released a White Paper titled Smart Mobility For A 21st Century America: Strategies For Maximizing Technology To Minimize Congestion, Reduce Emissions And Increase Efficiency (39p. PDF).

It proposes that improving transportation efficiency through operational innovation is critical as our population grows and ages, budgets tighten and consumer preferences shift.

As Congress prepares to review and reauthorize the nation’s transportation program, an array of innovations that were either overlooked or did not exist at the time of previous authorizations can be incentivized.

Just as the Internet, smart phones and social media changed they way we acquire news, listen to music or connect with friends and family, these same innovations have implications for how we move around. While high-tech gadgets can be a problem when they distract motorists from driving, they open up a whole new world for people using other modes.

But what if we could manage traffic to help drivers avoid congestion before they get stuck in it? What if you always knew when the next bus was going to arrive, the closest parking space or which train car had a seat available for you? The innovative technologies and strategies outlined in the White Paper include:

Making transportation systems more efficient (e.g. ramp meters, highway advisory radio)
Providing more travel options (e.g. online databases to match up vanpool riders, car-sharing services)
Providing travelers with better, more accurate, and more connected information (e.g. computerized vehicle tracking)
Making pricing and payments more convenient and efficient (e.g. EZ passes, electronic benefits)
Reducing trips and traffic (flex-time, consolidating services online)
The report goes on to discuss changes in demographics and make recommendations for federal transportation policy, as well as highlight several intriguing "smart mobility case studies."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Metro Library's Digital Documents Collection: What You Need To Know About "Anytime, Anywhere" Access

The Metro Transportation Library has begun collecting, cataloging and providing access to “digital” documents via our online catalog. These important resources have been produced and disseminated in electronic format – rather than being released “on paper.”

Up until now, we had been providing access to plenty of digitized documents - those which were scanned to provide electronic portability for resource sharing.

Some of our print documents (books, reports, etc.) had digital versions published along with print copies, and we had linked to those in our online catalog. Other items that were published in print were scanned to create a PDF document, allowing them to be emailed or easily accessed in other ways. For example, our collection of historic L.A. transit plans offers numerous full-text digital documents.

In both cases, the digital documents supplemented the original print versions. They appear in our online catalog just as a book does, but with links to a URL that opens the PDF document for that title.

However, more and more information is being “born digital” -- published electronically, as opposed to in print format. Rather than printing these items out to add to our collection, we are cataloging the electronic version to conserve resources and provide better access and more options for our users.

We wanted to share with you some of the many benefits of growing our digital documents collection and why it is important to capture these “born digital” documents for posterity.

Digital documents do not take up valuable space. We save paper (and time, and ink) by not printing out electronic documents. We save additional resources by not binding, labeling and barcoding printed documents, as well as other physical processing. Cataloging the electronic version provides all the content directly to our users in a direct, cost-efficient manner.

Digital documents do not get lost or stolen. The Dorothy Peyton Gray Transportation Library & Archive has its own server space to host digital documents in our digital libraries. We have created organized directories to facilitate sharing resources in a timely manner. By storing the documents electronically on our own servers, they are easily located and safeguarded from disappearing from the collection. There are numerous ways books, reports and other print documents can disappear from a collection: theft, mis-shelving, loss, never returned after checkout, or sustaining damage that hinders their use. Electronic access does not pose these problems.

Digital documents can serve multiple users simultaneously. While there is something to be said for the experience of curling up in bed with a great book, that book can only be experienced by one person at a time. Libraries are embracing eBooks because they reduce or eliminate the wait time for popular titles.

Likewise, our digital documents collection will accommodate multiple users at the same time. For example, when lengthy environmental impact reports (EIRs) are released to the public for review and comment, we now provide the user with the ability to consume this information at the same time as others, as well as at the time and place of his or her choosing.

Digital documents are findable as well as searchable. These resources are located the same way as other material formats in our collection. Our users will find relevant digital documents when searching the online catalog, although we do not currently have the ability to limit search results to only digital documents.

However, once a digital document is found, the user can open the link to the PDF and execute a keyword search within the document for the information they want.

Users can quickly locate specific data or text with a few keystrokes from home or their mobile device, as opposed to making a request of the Metro Library, having staff search for and locate a print document, scanning or sending the document to the user, and the user then searching through it for the information they need.

Like online news stories that disappear all too quickly, some resources that should persist forever often go away before they can be accessed. References to them often last longer than the access provided by the producer, leading users to waste time trying to track down something that no longer exists.

Transit advocacy groups go by the wayside, organizations merge with others, while other entities change their Internet domain names -- all these scenarios cause users to waste time searching for vanished resources, or search for URL links to desired documents that cannot be found.

Creating a lasting home for these items and making them permanently accessible meets these challenges. By cataloging electronic resources that fit our collection profile, we not only provide access to them, but preserve them as well.

As one of the premier transportation research collections in the country, we want to grow our collection to remain responsive to Metro’s ambitious mobility agenda moving forward. We can achieve this without using up more physical space or many of the costs associated with print documents.

Finally, we are mindful that more and more users will be accessing our collection via mobile devices in the coming years. New smartphones, e-readers and iPads allow students, researchers, historians, and anyone interested in transportation information the ability to access us however they like.

These devices will continue to provide users with greater amounts of information, more quickly, and in more customizable fashion, where they want and need it. Our growing digital documents collection helps us prepare for these for 24/7 access needs: anytime, anywhere.

Monday, October 18, 2010

New And Notable: Transport For Suburbia, ArcGIS & High Speed Passenger Rail

The need for effective public transport is greater than ever in the 21st century. With countries like China and India moving towards mass-automobility, we face the prospects of an environmental and urban health disaster unless alternatives are found--it is time to move beyond the automobile age.

But while public transport has worked well in the dense cores of some big cities, the problem is that most residents of developed countries now live in dispersed suburbs and smaller cities and towns. These places usually have little or no public transport, and most transport commentators have given up on the task of changing this: it all seems too hard.

Transport For Suburbia: Beyond The Automobile Age (London: Earthscan, 2010) argues that the secret of European-style public transport lies in a generalizable model of network planning that has worked in places as diverse as rural Switzerland, the Brazilian city of Curitiba and the Canadian cities of Toronto and Vancouver. It shows how this model can be adapted to suburban, exurban and even rural areas to provide a genuine alternative to the car, and outlines the governance, funding and service planning policies that underpin the success of the world's best public transport systems.

Getting To Know ArcGIS Desktop (Redlands, Calif.: ESRI Press, 2010) introduces principles of GIS as it teaches the mechanics of using ESRI’s leading technology.

Key concepts are combined with detailed illustrations and step-by-step exercises to acquaint readers with the building blocks of ArcGIS Desktop including ArcMap, for displaying and querying maps, ArcCatalog, for organizing geographic data, and ModelBuilder, for diagramming and processing solutions to complex spatial analysis problems.

Its broad scope, simple style, and practical orientation make this book an ideal classroom text and an excellent resource for those learning GIS on their own.

The factors affecting the economic viability of high speed rail lines include the level of expected riders, costs, and public benefits, which are influenced by a line's corridor and service characteristics.

High speed rail tends to attract riders in dense, highly populated corridors, especially when there is congestion on existing transportation modes.

Characteristics of the proposed service are also key considerations, as high speed rail attracts riders where it compares favorably to travel alternatives with regard to door-to-door trip times, prices, frequency of service, reliability and safety.

In High Speed Passenger Rail: Viability, Challenges And Federal Role (New York: Nova Science Publishers, 2010), a strategic vision for high speed rail is offered, particularly in relation to the role that high speed rail can play in the national transportation system, clearly identifying potential objectives and goals for high speed rail systems and the roles that federal and other stakeholders should play in achieving each objective and goal.

The recently enacted Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 will likely increase the federal role in the development of high speed rail, as will the newly enacted American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

This book consists of public documents which have been located, gathered, combined, reformatted, and enhanced with a subject index, selectively edited and bound to provide easy access.