Saturday, February 24, 2007

Something to Try: Restaurant Search and Reviews by Phone

I work for Tellme Networks. We just launched a new restaurant reviews app--so the next time your on a transit-enabled adventure, and are looking for a place to eat. Or after a meal, call up and leave your opinion.

Call: 1-800-555-TELL/8355.

Say "restaurant reviews".

Have fun!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Out and About Without a Car

That was my daughter's and my challenge last Saturday, because Mom needed the car to go to girl scout leader training in Alameda, and while she might have been happy to drop us off somewhere, the training began at 8:30 AM, and we had no intention of going anywhere that early.

So we set out a more reasonable hour, by foot and by scooter. There are no busses in our neighborhood on weekends, so we rolled and strolled a mile or so down to El Camino. But once we got that far, we agreed that a train would really be more fun than a bus, and pushed on to Atherton CalTrain, where trains still stop on weekends, if only hourly. All in all, that was a trek of 2.2 miles.

We timed it well, bought a child ticket (my monthly pass lets me go anywhere I want on weekends), and headed north for San Mateo and lunch at Mr Pizza Man. Seriously, if you are in San Mateo and want pizza, I'd recommend Pizza My Heart across the street, or North Beach Pizza two blocks away, but Mr Pizza Man is sort of a tradition of ours.

Refreshed, we moved on to San Mateo's Central Park, where the little kiddie train was running:

The Park's very nice Japanese tea garden, which we always seem to hit on the wrong day, or when it's rented out for a wedding, or something, apparently was closed for renovation as of last weekend and won't reopen til August. Gah!

We were determined to get a peek:

This is what we saw:

We hung out at the playground, and did a big of geocaching. The rules of one cache required that we find a statue of a dog--and kiss it!

Daughter exercised restraint:

Dad did not:

From the park we returned to San Mateo CalTrain, via the world's greatest toy store, Talbot's Toyland.

I also took a few pictures of street scenes along the way. As you may know, I collect Vintage Postcards featuring Trolleys, and one of my favorites is a scene from San Mateo, on B street, right where I've walked many times between CalTrain, Talbot's, Central Park, and Mr Pizza Man dozens of times:

Here's what the same location looks like today--look for two interesting roof lines on opposite sides of the street, and then flip the image mentally, and since I unfortunately was facing the opposite direction:

Back on CalTrain, we went to San Carlos, and did some pottery painting at Laurel Street Arts. We will return for our new cat water dish and other knick knacks next weekend.

At this point we were pretty tired, and moseyed to the very nice San Carlos Library, where we could find some books and a couch and lounge around a bit til Mom came and picked us up.

We took it easy on Sunday.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Streetcars in the Modern World

I've long been puzzled and dismayed by the cost of new light rail systems. The Muni's new T-Third line cost roughly $100 million a mile to build, which considering that this is by no means rapid transit--it's basically a streetcar line, at best only slightly faster than a bus--is pretty pricey. has posted a new article analyzing the reasons for the high cost of light rail, and reporting on a few cities success in keeping costs in check: Rapid Streetcar: Rescaling Design and Cost for More Affordable Light Rail Transit.

Overall, much of the expense is due to overengineering. Here are some examples:

  • Many lines with low traffic could be built as single tracks with passing sidings, but this is almost unheard of in modern transit.
  • Sations are often more extravagant than needed.
  • Transit projects are often bundled with, or encumbered by, various streetscape improvement projects, utility work, etc.

In a similar vein is the issue of vehicle performance. As speeds increase, there seems to be a point where costs snowball and go up dramatically. Light rail vehicles that travel up to about 45 mph, about what traditional streetcars like PCC's could typically do, can be built lightly and relatively cheaply. Design them to go faster than that, and:

  • Overhead becomes much more complex; simple suspension (single wire) gives way to compound catenary (in other words, you get something that looks designed more for bullet trains than trolleys).
  • Cars must be built much heavier to survive collisions.
    • So track must be built heavier, with a deeper roadbed.
      • So utilities under the street must be dug up and relocated.

Ironically, many light rail systems, due to stop spacing or street running, give their high-performing LRV's so little opportunity to really book it, that the effect of being able to run at 65-75 mph on actual trip times is next to nothing.

A few cities, notably Portland, and perhaps in the future Sacramento, have taken these observations to heart and had success augmenting heavy light rail lines built for high volume, higher-speed, suburb-to-downtown travel with simpler lighter and cheaper, honest-to-goodness streetcar lines.

Some interesting trackwork in Zürich, Switzerland.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


I'm not normally one of those cranks that complains about stupid beurocrats wasting our tax dollars, etc, etc... But c'mon! (Click images for a bigger view).

There are 29 more pages.

Surprisingly, the bid instructions specify not to provide samples.

Actually the VTA has pulled this from their site--thanks to the good folks at BATN for nabbing it first!