Fight Colorado Suburban Sprawl with Hyperloops

The backbone of I-25 is broken. Millennials are wanting other methods of transportation, especially along the whole Colorado Front Range. In the future, new generations will want, use and live near diversified transit in cities that connect to other urban areas.

 Millennials rank access to public transportation a top factor in deciding where to live.

If the Colorado Hyperloop is built, it will be  another positive factor to incentivize young people to move to the state. It will guarantee economic development along the WHOLE front range, not just in Denver or Jeffco.  It also might help control city sprawl.

A New York Times Op-Ed by Vishaan Chakrabarti highlights planning positively for “urban mass transit” from one urban area to another for youths in the future. Below is his op-ed:

FOR all of the attention showered on hipster enclaves like Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Portland, Ore., America is only in the beginning stages of a historic urban reordering. After over a half-century of depopulation, cities have been filling up — and not just with young millennials, but with families and even older workers and retirees.

This reordering, should it continue, will have dramatic consequences for our politics and society — but only if the federal government undertakes its own historic reordering and shifts its priorities away from promoting the suburbs.

The influx of young people into cities is the biggest part of the story, and rightly so. The ranks of the so-called echo boom — the children of the baby boomers — constitute about 25 percent of the population. After nearly 100 years in which suburban growth outpaced urban, millennials are reversing the trend. Once only a fraction of young college graduates wanted to move to cities; now about two-thirds do.

In the past, many of those who moved to cities in their 20s moved to the suburbs in their 30s, where schools were good, crime was low and family-oriented amenities were plentiful. But those factors are changing in cities, too. Crime has remained low, while public schools and parks have been getting better in many places.

Meanwhile, the economic challenges of starting a life in the suburbs have grown. Mortgages and car loans are harder to get for millennials, especially as they deal with onerous college debt. Though rents are increasing, it’s easier to rent an apartment in the city and take a bus or subway to work (millennials are also delaying the decision to have kids, which makes compact urban living easier).

Environmentally, the traumas of Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon spill, the geopolitics of imported energy and the perils of domestic energy extraction all argue for a lifestyle that is more resource-efficient, particularly for parents focused on teaching their children to be aware of the world around them.

The same can be said for social values. Cities were once cast as dying places in contrast to the glowing suburban future; today, the future, inasmuch as it is tied in with issues like cultural diversity and marriage equality, is centered in the urban core.

It is significant enough that young people are choosing to start the next phase of their lives in cities. But increasingly, so are their parents. No less immune to the economic shocks of the last decade, and with longer life spans and bigger health bills before them, downsizing empty nesters are also discovering the benefits of more compact living.

Given these demographic shifts, we have an unsurpassed opportunity to transform the United States into a more prosperous, sustainable and equitable country by encouraging a more urban America.

A staggering 90 percent of our gross domestic product and 86 percent of our jobs are generated in 3 percent of the continental United States, namely our cities. The carbon footprint of most urbanites is substantially lower. And cities are providing, however imperfectly, many more opportunities to climb the social ladder than our increasingly impoverished suburbs.

Unfortunately, our state and federal policies continue to encourage the opposite. Sprawl didn’t just happen — it is a direct consequence of “big government.” Cities don’t keep the wealth they generate: Our major cities send billions more in tax dollars to the suburbs, via state and federal coffers, than they get back.

The largest subsidy in the federal system is the mortgage interest deduction, about $100 billion annually. Gas taxes don’t begin to reflect the costs incurred by automobile use, from pollution to depressed land values around highways.

By contrast, urban mass transit, school systems, parks, affordable housing and even urban welfare recipients receive crumbs relative to the vastness of government largess showered on suburbia. Is it any wonder that in bustling, successful American cities, our subways remain old, our public housing dilapidated and our schools subpar?

I am not arguing that people should not live in suburbs. But we shouldn’t pay them to do so, particularly now that our world and the desires of our population are evolving.

This need not be a divisive debate. With millions of Americans already gravitating toward cities, the real question is what it means for our collective future, and how we respond.

Some cities are already moving ahead: Chicago, Denver, Dallas and New York are all advancing policies to increase urban density, infrastructure and amenities. But with their citizens’ tax receipts still being sent to the hinterlands, these attempts remain half-measures.

Cities like Colorado Springs and Boulder have had painful fights with suburban sprawl. The Colorado Hyperloop will refocus efforts to control Sprawl and improve economic development by linking urban areas. Just look at this 2000 article from the Colorado Springs Independent below, where we see the cost of suburban sprawl:

In a pasture along Old Ranch Road, just a few miles from I-25 on the city’s northern city limits, a small herd of cattle graze among a series of newly bulldozed dirt roads — what appears to be the beginning of access roads for a future subdivision.

For those who decry the loss of ranchland or open space to suburban subdivision development, it’s a poster image. Move over little bossie, here come the SUVs.

As Old Ranch Road heads east, it weaves in and out between city and county controlled land, between swaths of open meadow and newly bulldozed subdivisions.

“One of the big problems is the cost of extending infrastructure out here,” says Fosha. “We’re not able to pay for the infrastructure that we’re having to build right now.”

Car infrastructure or new Colorado Hyperloop?

cdotLogo

Questions of whether we should build a Colorado Hyperloop shouldn’t be a zero sum game.

If you don’t know what zero sum means in game theory, look at this video by President Clinton.

So lets imagine a future different from the past. Cars will forever be around. Rail will always be around. Hyperloop will be new, but it will show our interdependence on the other forms of transportation. A hyperloop will reveal that we are interdependent to each other as well.

Colorado relates to this important higher level of thinking because CDOT will be embarking on some major infrastructure projects that will affect people. The 9News report below shows that interdependence of other transportation links are important, but more so are the people and lives that these projects change.

The reason why we must avoid the racist highways/transit projects that divided our cities for years goes back to what Clinton was saying in the above video. We have to believe in interdependence and we have to believe that we will be better off when we work together. Below is the report related article from the 9News article:

DENVER – Mayor Michael Hancock joined a group of other Denver city council members and other regional officials to express support for the $1.8 billion dollar project to improve I-70 east of I-25.

The Colorado Department of Transportation hopes to begin work on the project in 2016. Mayor Hancock sent a letter to CDOT asking the agency to study ways to minimize the negative impact of the project on people who live in the neighborhoods that will be directly affected by it.

“My number one priority is to ensure this project supports the Elyria, Swansea and Globeville neighborhoods,” Hancock said at a news conference Friday. “I am concerned that the impacts of this project could be born disproportionately by the surrounding minority and low income communities.”

CDOT calls its plan the “Partial Cover Lowered Alternative” because it will put a section of I-70 underground and establish parks and landscaping on top of it.

When I-70 was originally built through the area 50 years ago it created economic hardships for residents of the neighborhoods due to property values and other negative impacts of an interstate highway, which was a common issue for the U.S. interstate system when it was built.

Mayor Hancock believes the new project is an opportunity to “…really elevate the people in this area who really have been victims of environmental injustice from over 50 years…” He called the improvements to I-70 “a chance to redevelop these neighborhoods, improve their quality of life and create job opportunities and create access to healthier living opportunities including fresh food in the neighborhoods as well as a way to improve their standard and quality of life in these areas.”

We need a higher level of feeling and thinking. The Colorado Hyperloop would enable people to go along the whole front range, fast, unfettered and at very low cost for the masses. This would relate to another Elon Musk possible project:

This post was provoked by a NYTimes, Mark Bittman op-ed section below:

So we should not be asking, “How will we feed the world?,” but “How can we help end poverty?” Claiming that increasing yield would feed the poor is like saying that producing more cars or private jets would guarantee that everyone had one.

Cleaner Hyperloop Innovations

Because its easy to make critiques at every new technological advancement, see the LED debate below, the Colorado Hyperloop would like to congratulate Gary Truesdale’s latest Hyperloop Efficiency Concept. The video below shows how he made a device that could reduce overall energy use of each hyperloop pod and tube sections by forcing air circulation in the Hyperloop system.

Hyperloop Test Fixture V2 information, Credit: Gary Truesdale
Hyperloop Test Fixture V2, Credit: Gary Truesdale

Good job Gary, keep up the innovations!

With innovations like the one above, the Colorado Hyperloop will be using the most energy efficient and lowest carbon renewable energy technology currently available. So it was interesting to read this Op-Ed in the New York Times about the recent Nobel Prize for the blue/white LED.

The winners, Shuji Nakamura, an American, and Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano, both from Japan, justly deserve their Nobel, and should be commended for creating a technology that produces the same amount of light with less energy.

But it would be a mistake to assume that LEDs will significantly reduce overall energy consumption.

The I.E.A. and I.P.C.C. estimate that the rebound could be over 50 percent globally. Recent estimates and case studies have suggested that in many energy-intensive sectors of developing economies, energy-saving technologies may backfire, meaning that increased energy consumption associated with lower energy costs because of higher efficiency may in fact result in higher energy consumption than there would have been withoutthose technologies.

That’s not a bad thing. Most people in the world, still struggling to achieve modern living standards, need to consume more energy, not less. Cheap LED and other more efficient energy technologies will be overwhelmingly positive for people and economies all over the world.

But LED and other ultraefficient lighting technologies are unlikely to reduce global energy consumption or reduce carbon emissions. If we are to make a serious dent in carbon emissions, there is no escaping the need to shift to cleaner sources of energy.

New York Times

I agree. Determining whether new energy efficient technology increases overall energy demand is a mute point. The more people there are on the planet the more energy will be used. So we must use cleaner energy.

But this is having it both ways. They really need to make it clear that the formula is: efficiency gain vs cost (monetary and environmental).

For example, just as the individual LED is wonderful, more breakthroughs in lighting are just around the corner with OLEDS.

The next big thing in lighting could be glowing sheets that use half as much energy as an equivalent fluorescent fixture and can be laminated to walls or ceilings. The sheets will contain organic LEDs, or OLEDs—the same kind of technology used in some ultrathin TVs and smartphones.

OLEDs could be used in large sheets, because organic light-emitting molecules can be deposited over large surfaces. They also run cooler than LEDs, so they don’t require elaborate heat sinks, making a lighting structure simpler. OLED lighting is 10 to 100 times more expensive than conventional lighting, but as costs come down, it could eventually replace conventional fluorescent fixtures. MIT Technology Review 

The LED Op-Ed writers are from The Breakthrough Institute, which produces a journal that focuses on many things but also on Renewables, Innovation Policy and something called EcoModernism. From their website:

RENEWABLES

Renewable energy technologies – including solar, wind, hydroelectric, and bioenergy – are essential tools in the path towards modern, low-carbon energy systems. But like all energy technologies, they have significant costs and impacts. Understanding their scalability and effects on the landscape will prove essential in crafting renewable energy innovation policy.

INNOVATION POLICY

Economists have long recognized innovation’s central importance to economic growth, but have still not come to terms with the reality that “general-purpose” technologies like electricity, microchips, and the Internet often emerge from long-term public-private partnerships. And since no two technologies are exactly alike, case studies of successful innovation policy must be carefully analyzed to spur similar successes in the future.

ECOMODERNISM

Ecomodernism is a pragmatic philosophy motivated by the belief that we can protect beautiful, wild places at the same time as  we ensure that the seven-going-on-ten billion people in the world can lead secure, free, and prosperous lives. Ecomodernists are optimistic about humanity’s ability to shape a better future – a “good Anthropocene.”
TheBreakThrough.org

Anyway, they have a lot of smart people in that institute but they have yet to publish any findings on a future Hyperloop. Hopefully, the Colorado Hyperloop will be of interest to them.

NYC 2nd Ave Line Helps Front Range Hyperloop

Above is a very interesting video by the New York Times on the new 2nd Ave. Subway.

Key points that can be derived for the Colorado Hyperloop include alot of project finance but also good old human to human interaction.

  • Cities are difficult places when building transit lines
    • watch out for sewer, water, gas and even electrical lines.
    • Neighborhoods are impacted due to construction zones and often take a hit economically.
    • Density of people per square mile + daily ridership public transit = transportation system that makes the city exist.
    • New transportation will affect current offices, things will change, losses will be had by those who are in the path of the transportation project. The construction firm cannot give money nor cut taxes but must keep building.
  • Funding
    • Federal government will decide to invest in project.
    • Private companies and investment firms pool money.
    • Quick 7 year timeline unveiled.
  • Partners
    • Make sure neighborhood people have a voice
      • Actions must be taken to improve quality of life during construction.
    • Building Company
      • Change hours of construction noise.
      • Encapsulate construction areas that produce dust.
  • Leave legacy of new Transit, but also legacy of less impact
    • Hyperloop will give freedom of people to go whenever they want, wherever they want along the front range.

It is apart of a video series called Living Cities. Another interesting video talks about whether New York City should update the bridges that feed the city.

Modular Colorado Hyperloop

The future is modular?

Perhaps it is, but the key takeaway from Project Ara, a modular function mobile device, is that they are trying out the idea rapidly. It is based out of something called Phonebloks:

Phonebloks began as a college project. It was an idea more than it ever was a business. It was an idea Phonebloks hoped would spread across the internet and someone would grab it and run with it. In the last year or so, the idea has spread, and now multiple companies are using this idea to drive their business. One of those companies is Google.

Project Ara took shape with the acquisition of Motorola. Motorola and Google took the idea of Phonebloks, a modular phone with swappable parts, from idea to concept. And even though Google is in the process of selling Motorola to Lenovo, they are keeping Project Ara in house.

Watch a couple of minutes of this presentation to see how the project has come about:

Modularness is the main point, but the whole project is driven by the developer/maker community.

There are plenty of themes that the Colorado Hyperloop can use for its development. But in reality, in order for the Hyperloop to be built along the front range, it will truly have to be developed in conjunction with community input. The tube and loop system should be as modular and customizable as possible.

The wider community facilities development and that is why the hyperloop should demonstrate different modular designs.

Commuting via Hyperloop

A Colorado Hyperloop Ad

The morning commute to work or school is an experience that most of us would rather not have to do. In a car company sponsored post on the website Good.is, we learn that countries spend money (shock! Perhaps earned from taxes?!) on commuters for the infrastructure that they use!

Whether they get to work by lanes, trains or ferries, commuters around the world are increasing in number, and cities are taking notice. The investment in public transportation, in the infrastructure and convenience of daily travel, is not cheap, currently ranging from a cost of $2,492 in Istanbul to $9,229 in New York per commuter. …
By expanding their networks, however, cities around the world are getting ready for a booming return on their investment.

The infographic that goes along with the article projects an increase in ridership (and walking and bikership) by 2030.

What if commuting on the hyperloop meant that you would get paid for your ride? If congestion gets so bad on roads and highways as well as above ground trains, the hyperloop would harness its energy efficient, fast and safe transportation to undercut the expensive, dirty and unsafe other transportation. Just check out the latest advertisement from the Colorado Hyperloop.

A good deal?
A good deal?

America’s Finest News Source on Colorado Hyperloop

Just when I thought it was safe to check on really hard news,  I came across this:

Report: Stagnant Economy Forcing More Americans To Take Jobs As Infrastructure

WASHINGTON—Citing recent employment gains in the telecommunications, transportation, energy, and solid waste management sectors, a report released Tuesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that the sluggish economy is leading an increasing number of Americans to take jobs as infrastructure. “As job openings in traditional industries continue to fall short of expectations, many Americans have determined that their best option is to take up work as support equipment like wind turbines, telephone poles, and highway guardrails,” said lead researcher Calvin Mueller, noting that the number of adults currently serving as some form of load-bearing structure has grown by 38 percent since 2007. “Additionally, we found that Americans are inclined to relocate to secure gainful work, as reflected by the trend of unemployed citizens of the Upper Midwest and Plains States moving to North Dakota in the hopes of finding work as fiber-optic cables. While few of these people have experience shuttling data between two points at the speed of light, most have reported a willingness to learn a new skill and be buried three feet below ground in order to improve their employment prospects.” Mueller added that infrastructure employment appeared poised for continued growth, noting that California’s proposed high-speed train system alone could create as many as 200,000 railroad-track jobs.

Yes, I fear that the hyperloop will be incorporated into this job program as well. Of course there have been some rumors about the hyperloop for some time:

New Super-Fast Transport System Powered By Passengers’ Screams

But we know its true because:

Obama Has Colorado Appraised

WASHINGTON—Hoping to get an idea of what the 138-year-old state might be worth, President Barack Obama dispatched a team of appraisers to assess the value of Colorado this week, White House sources confirmed. “Colorado has a lot of great things going for it in terms of spaciousness and its convenient central location, so I figured I’d have it checked out by experts just to get an estimate,” said the president, noting that with its great views, abundance of natural light, and highly ranked schools, the Centennial State’s value could reach well into the 13 figures. “I’ll admit there’s a little bit of crime and some recent fire damage that might lower the value a little, but overall, I think we’ll find the state’s in very good shape and a valuable asset to the American people.” Obama added that to boost the state’s value even higher, the nation might want to consider upgrading some infrastructure and completely gutting the Pueblo metro area.

Yes, there is a lot of infrastructure that needs upgrading and a lot of new stuff that needs to be built. But then I came across the very real news story from the New York Times:

China Looks to High-Speed Rail to Expand Reach

…A rail project that would pass through the mountains of northeast Myanmar to the coastal plains on the Indian Ocean would give China a shortcut to the Middle East and Europe. For China, the strategic importance of the proposed line can barely be overstated: The route would provide an alternate to the longer and increasingly contentious trip through the South China Sea. 

“When the people of the mainland countries soon find through the convenience of high-speed rail that Kunming is their closest neighbor but a few hours away, the Yunnan capital will eventually become, in effect, the capital of mainland Southeast Asia,” said Geoff Wade, a visiting fellow at the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University.

Ok well, when that happens I wonder if the Onion will make a new article on that… probably not because its just not funny…

Recommends High Speed Rail, More Project Finance for Colorado Hyperloop

Great to see that there is still public support for infrastructure improvements. The New York Times  Editorial Board published this today, Making the Case for High-Speed Rail:

Most American passenger trains, including Amtrak’s popular Acela service, run at speeds that are far slower than the superfast European and Japanese trains that can zip along at 200 miles per hour or more. The main reason is that, despite modest investments, American lawmakers have not given high-speed rail the priority it deserves.

Critics argue that such services cannot survive without public subsidies and that the United States has few of the dense urban areas that have made such train services successful in places like France and Japan. But these arguments fail to acknowledge that most forms of public transportation are subsidized somehow by the government; the federal government puts up most of the money to build the interstate highway system. Skeptics also greatly underestimate the country’s long-term transportation needs. The Census Bureau estimates that the American population will cross 400 million in 2051, and the country is becoming more urban, not less. California’s population is predicted to top 50 millionin 2049. That growth will put an incredible strain on the nation’s highways and air-traffic system.

At the end of the opinion page is this nugget on private infrastructure:

In some states, the promise of high-speed rail remains alive and well. California recently started building the first phase of an ambitious project in the Central Valley, and it won an important legal victory that should help clear the way for an $8.6 billion bond issue. It has also dedicated a quarter of the revenue from its cap-and-trade program, which is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to the undertaking. Meanwhile, in Florida and Texas, private businesses are planning to build and operate lines between Orlando and Miami and Dallas and Houston. These efforts should be an inspiration to Congress.

 

Just yesterday Mohamed El-Erian, on NPR On Point, talked about On Our Uncertain Economic Future. Some economic arguments for investing in infrastructure are at 13min.


Mainly he says there are lots of common agreement areas amongst citizens but the politicians in DC are too divided. This seems to be common theme.

I will be posting more on in the coming week on a course I took (but did not get a grade) on Financing and Investing in Infrastructure by Stefano Gatti. The focus of these posts will be what I learned on the course and how they can be applied on a hypothetical Colorado Hyperloop. Below is a video by Stefano Gatti that gives lots of info on what happens in infrastructure projects.

High-Speed Rail Needs A Hyperloop and Less Baggage in America

 

A map of the USA showing a hypothetical high speed rail lines across the continent
Artist and activist Alfred Twu’s image.

 

High-speed rail has been in the news in that its not working. The New York Times states:

High-speed rail was supposed to be President Obama’s signature transportation project, but despite the administration spending nearly $11 billion since 2009 to develop faster passenger trains, the projects have gone mostly nowhere and the United States still lags far behind Europe and China.

Fairly obvious, but we all know why high speed transport will eventually happen:

 Andy Kunz, executive director of the U.S. High-Speed Rail Association, thinks the United States will eventually have a high-speed rail system that connects the country. “It’s going to take some years after gas prices rise and highways fill up with traffic,” he said. “It’s going to happen because we won’t have a choice.”

The only thing lacking right now is American political will. But The Denver Post picks up with a press pool report from Senator Bennet:

Local and state officials Monday touted the importance of two huge transportation projects as keys to congestion relief and economic growth in Colorado.

But while the FasTracks mass-transit plan in the Denver metro area and the Twin Tunnels expansion in Idaho Springs are rolling along, those and others like it could be stymied by federal lawmakers who can’t agree on a long-term funding package for roads, said U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado.

“It’s making me absolutely crazy,” Bennet said Monday. “There is this concern about the federal budget, but because of these temporary extensions, there is an amazing amount of money being lost that could be spent on infrastructure.”

Seems like everyone is touting the relief that Rail/Hyperloop will bring. But don’t forget Buses!

But when it does happen will we have the necessary know how to build it? According to a NPR article on the Construction Industry Missing Key Tool: Skilled Workers, NPR explains:

It’s a problem of supply and demand: There is a massive construction boom right now but construction workers are few and far between.

Largely fueled by the energy industry, tens of billions of dollars of development is in the works along the Gulf Coast and in the Midwest.

The Associated Builders and Contractors estimates the construction industry is facing a shortage of almost 2 million skilled workers by the end of the decade.

The hyperloop can be different. Automation and robotics can be designed to install prefabricated modular units of the hyperloop.

According to Melonee Wise, the manual laborer of the future has only one arm and stands just three feet, two inches tall. Such are the vital statistics of UBR1, a $35,000 mobile robot unveiled today by Wise’s startup company Unbounded Robotics. Though robots have long been a part of manufacturing, they have traditionally worked in isolation. But in recent years, thanks to advances in hardware and software, new kinds of robot have begun to appear among human workers in factories and warehouses. 

  Lets end with a quote and substitute the Mars stuff for a hyperloop:  

Walking vs Bikes vs Cars vs Bus vs Subway vs Train vs Hyperloop

“Why cars remain so appealing even in cities with decent public transit – The Washington Post”
http://m.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/07/07/why-cars-remain-so-appealing-even-in-cities-with-decent-public-transit/
Decent article that says no matter the cost of transportation (like ownership costs of a car or the cheapness of a bike), time is often deciding factor for Americans. This is precisely why the Colorado Hyperloop is a good match for time, distance and cost.