Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Transportation’

A new mental map for Lexington

2012/03/18 4 comments

I grew up in Omaha, NE which is geographically organized in a familiar Cartesian coordinate system (ie a grid). There are 8 major roads running East-West, and a series of numbered streets increase in value as you move from East to West. Once you understand this model of the city of Omaha, you can rather easily visualize where “156th and Dodge St.” is located*. I’ve struggled to do the same with my new home of Lexington, KY. It is neither arranged on a N-S axis, nor follows a common grid pattern outside of downtown. As I am involved in a company that provides indoor navigation services, I wanted to try my hand at designing for the outdoor world. Additionally,  improving the communication of the design of transportation systems seems to be a popular thing these days. So, I offer you the following as a potential alternative mental model of Lexington’s geographic layout:

Map of Lexington, KY

This map shows a quick overlay highlighting the major roads in Lexington. You’ll notice that there are roughly two rings around the city (New Circle Road is the inner ring, and  Man-O-War Boulevard/I-75** form the outer ring). There are also 4 major paths that cut through the city (I say paths because there are actually 8 named roads, more like spokes). If we assume that downtown is a finite point (which it is not), then these 4 paths intersect each other near the center of the concentric circles (there is a slight North shift in actuality).

Lexington's major roads in a simplified diagram

This happens to form the basis for a polar coordinate system, wherein we can describe any location in Lexington based on an angle from North, and a radius from the center point (or, as it works out in this case, CentrePointe). For instance, the University of Kentucky is located between 135° and 180° (ie South-Southeast) at a radius of 0.5 (somewhere between the origin point and New Circle Road, which I assigned the radius value of “1”). It is important to note that this is not a geographically accurate map. It might be better described as a diagram, similar to the famous London Tube Map.

Lexington in polar coordinate slices

Realizing that many people are less familiar with the Polar Coordinate system than they are with the Cardinal Directions, I decided to offer the city of Lexington chopped into 24 slices. These slices are formed from the directions on a 16-point Compass Rose, and a radius of 0 (inside New Circle), 1 (between New Circle and Man-O-War/I-75), and 2 (outside Man-O-War/I-75). Here, the University of Kentucky is located in SSE0. The amorphous green outer band is meant to symbolize the ring of horse farms that surround Lexington. The other colors were selected more arbitrarily (because I like RGB). If you have a keener eye for design, feel free to share something that uses color more purposefully, or at least aesthetically.

So, do I expect this nomenclature to catch on? Heck no! But armed with this oversimplified mental model, perhaps more people can start using a more colloquially-relevant Polar coordinate system to more concisely communicate locations in Lexington. For instance, I would describe the location of University of Kentucky as, “between Nicholasville Road and Tates Creek Road***, inside New Circle.” The Hamburg Pavilion shopping center is located, “between Richmond Road and Winchester Road, just inside Man-O-War Blvd.” I favor this method because of its precision. Based on my casual anecdotal observations, my proposed system must overcome the incumbent coordinate system, which is primarily landmark-based. Most people I have observed make references relative to UK, Hamburg, Fayette Mall, Lexmark, Keeneland/Bluegrass Airport. “Check out this new restaurant, it’s by the Mall.” While this is useful for conversations among locals, with sufficient local knowledge of these landmarks, I don’t think this helps as much for new visitors. However, it’s possible that I am wrong and that these major landmarks are easier to quickly commit to memory than the 9 major spokes (Newtown, Broadway, Winchester, Richmond, Tates Creek, Nicholasville, Harrodsburg, Versailles, Leestown) and two loops. As long as the landmarks maintain stability (I don’t think UK or Keeneland will be relocated any time soon), then these could serve as a reference mechanism as reliable as the named roads.

If you have any improvements to this model, please share them in the comments!

* A more widely familiar model than Omaha may be New York City. For example, Radio City Music Hall is located on W. 54th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenue.

** In particular, I’m referring to the section of interstate where I-64 and I-75 are merged, as this helps complete the Man-O-War loop. For this model, I ignore I-75 once it splits back off and heads South, as this could be confused as an additional radius demarcation.

*** Tates Creek Road was not one of the the main thoroughfares listed in my model, but is certainly a major spoke in Lexington’s road system.

Advertisements

Why I Hate Cars #2: Wasted time

2010/06/21 2 comments

Automobiles in a traffic jam on a highway

Life is not static, it is in motion. That is why I chose to become a mechanical engineer. I really like stuff that moves. I am going to ride my mechanical bicycle home shortly. While doing so, my lungs will exchange oxygen with the atmosphere and my heart will move blood throughout my body through pressure differentials. My great mission in life is to improve the way people move about the world. Just like horses, carriages, and steam engines, cars have seen their time come, and now it is quickly departing. With the advent of ‘internet everywhere‘, my commute is no longer about getting to where I am going so that I can start work. I can start work on the way. Heck, for must stuff I don’t even need to be in a communal, or even static, location. The downfall of the reliance on personal automobiles in suburban America, however, is that I cannot safely and legally do my work (or have my fun, for that matter) while transporting myself. My time in the car is lost time, and soon others will realize that their commutes are nothing but a frustrating waste of their most valuable resource.

My friend and roommate Phillip realizes how valuable his time is. But he is stuck in a rut when it comes to finding a good alternative to his commute. In July, Phillip will marry his high-school sweetheart and move to Louisville, where his fiancée has a nice job as an actuary. The problem, however, is that Phildo is just starting the second year of his PhD program in Materials Science and Engineering…in Lexington. Each day, he will give up three hours of his productive time in order to move his body from Louisville to Lexington and back. While PhD’s are sometimes mocked for viewing their bodies solely as transport mechanisms for their brains, these intellectuals are a vital part of our society. Without people like Phillip who push the boundaries of modern science and technology, America would not be the country that it is today. This is why I am so bothered that Phillip’s only viable option to commute between Kentucky’s two largest cities is to drive his personal automobile. How will America reclaim its title as the world’s economic superpower when our brightest citizens must trade several hours each day of productive life for a monotonous stint behind a steering wheel?

This is a the problem I want to solve in my lifetime.

I Bike KY and Hope you will, too.

2010/05/08 Leave a comment

In celebration of National Bike Month and local Bike Lexington events, I decided to finally make the t-shirt that I’ve been itching to wear, and found a good cause for it to support.

Inspired by a similar shirt I found in NYC, I’ve wanted a good way to proclaim to the world that I love riding my bike in KY. What’s not to love about forests full of cross-country MTB trails and an abundance of rolling hills navigable by horse farm-lined roads? While our state’s marketers often proclaim the merits of Kentucky’s equine heritage, Bourbon, and Bluegrass music, cycling may be our best-kept secret. Well, time to let the cat out of the bag:

The shirts go on sale Friday, May 14th for $15. Let me know if you want one!

While I’m excited to wear these shirts, and see them on other cyclists in KY, what really moves me is the opportunity to use this to benefit less fortunate cyclists in the area. While many commuter cyclists (like myself) choose their mode of transport based on preference, for others, it is the only viable option. The latter group is well-represented by men at Lexington’s Hope Center. Walking into the building on Loudon Ave, the dozens of bikes overflowing from racks make it obvious that residents rely on two-wheeled, self-propelled vehicles. Unfortunately, many of the bikes are in disrepair, inhibiting residents from effectively transporting themselves around Lexington.

While at a BPAC meeting on May 7th, I learned about an initiative to help the residents of the Hope Center overcome this challenge. By providing bicycle repair equipment and lessons, residents will be able to maintain their own bicycles to ensure a reliable, sustainable transportation option. Think teach-a-man-to-fish (we just need a few fishing poles). With help from a few of the local bike shops, all that’s needed to make this a reality is $300. That’s where you come in. By helping me sell 60 t-shirts, we can raise enough money to accomplish this first goal. Then, phase 2: lighting systems for all the Hope Center’s commuter cyclists!

Here are a few ways you can help:

  1. Order t-shirts (contact me if you’re local, or purchase via eBay)
  2. Encourage your friends to order t-shirts
  3. Donate money/tools/time

Close a street to cars, open it to people

2010/04/11 Leave a comment

Here are some pics from today’s 2ndSunday event. It started with an hour-long bike tour of Lexington’s Higher Education Triangle (Transy, BCTC, UK), then returned to a pedestrian-only Short Street for the Best of the Bluegrass Chili Cookoff and some live music from BOBO.

I can’t think of a better way to spend to enjoy 72 and sunny.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My Day Without Shoes

2010/04/09 1 comment

April 8th was One Day Without Shoes, spearheaded by TOMS Shoes to evangelize the plight of children around the world who don’t have shoes. Hitting close to home, Booneville, KY was the site of a TOMS shoe drop. For these kids, lack of shoes means reduced access to education and increased incidence of disease. For me, walking barefoot was an interesting exploration of the most basic form of human transportation.

Events like this are the epitome of social entrepreneurship, combining the support of a worthy cause with a brilliant marketing plan and a sustainable business model. That’s why TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie‘s picture hangs on our Rockstar Wall at Awesome Inc, and why I’ll be highlighting his story in my talk at Saturday’s Appalachian IDEAS conference.

Thanks to “Cool”, avid TOMS fan and member of Team Alpha, I was inspired to spend most of my day barefoot. It was amazing how strange I felt in the beginning, leaving my house without shoes on.  I quickly discovered how painfully uneven the sidewalks are in my neighborhood. Next came the realization of how much slower I was moving compared to my normally hurried pace. I noticed my feet garnering plenty of strange looks as I progressed through campus to meet up with 50 other barefoot marchers. It would have been great to see more people participate in the walk, but it sparked plenty of curiosity from onlookers, who were eager to learn why a pack of young people were traversing UK’s campus with naked feet. After the walk, I continued on to Awesome Inc. At the completion of my 1.3 mile journey, my dogs were tired and slightly blackened. After a few hours of touch screen business development work, I had a hankering for a sandwich. Although weary of potential rejection, I strolled into the nearest sandwich shop, and was delighted to order my favorite #13 sub without a hitch. I’m not sure they even noticed I was barefoot! Sandwich in hand, I set out to find the latest copy of Ace Weekly to read about “Techsington”, which highlighted some of the great things going on for Technology Month in Lexington. Once I finished lunch and discussed user interfaces with some brilliant UK Computer Science seniors, I set out for a half-mile walk to help Shannon, one of the founders of Nextington 4, move some furniture. Following the return trip to Awesome Inc and a shoeless meeting, I finally gave in and put on my sandals for the No Mercy gaming event at Bakers360.

The great thing about this day without shoes is that it still hasn’t ended. When I take a shower tonight to wash the road grime off my feet, I will be thinking about the kids who don’t have that opportunity each day. When I wake up tomorrow and my feet are still sore, I will compare my meager daily trek to the meandering voyage that kids in Ethiopia take across harsh volcanic soil. Will I buy a pair of TOMS Shoes tomorrow? Probably not. But the next time I’m in the market, I will think about how my feet feel right now, and consider whether Sketchers or Asics are doing anything to prevent that feeling for kids around the world.

As an engineer, I was rather curious about the effect of different pathway surfaces on the comfort of my feet. Here’s how Lexington’s surfaces ranked:

  1. Grass: like heaven to sensitive feet
  2. Carpet: not painful, but the uniform texture is uninteresting to my toes
  3. Asphalt: when well-traveled, the smoothing effect of tire rubber accumulation is pleasant
  4. Concrete: predictable when smoothed, providing decent distribution of force
  5. Gravel: about as painful as those sharp edges look
  6. Raised aggregate: deceivingly painful, unpredictable. There’s a reason I seldom walk barefoot on my parent’s driveway.
  7. Steel access grates: stay off

Stats

  • Time barefoot: 12 hrs
  • Distance walked barefoot: 1.3+1+.5=2.8mi
  • Average temperature: 54 deg F
  • Precipitation: 0.34 in
  • Sandwiches purchased from restaurant while barefoot: 1


Why I Hate Cars (Part 1)

2010/04/07 3 comments

My passionate dislike of automobiles and their effect on modern society is poised to become a treatise, hence the “Part 1” annotation in the title. This initial entry was spurred by startling transportation scenarios (one for me and one for a complete stranger friend), that occurred today while I was not riding in a car.

The most dangerous part about cars is how safe they have become.

Dwell on that for a moment before pointing out how obviously counterintuitive this statement is. You might notice a similarity to Parkinson’s Law, which states that Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Similarly, humans push their level of risk to the upper limits of their perceived level of safety. Why is texting while driving a problem? Because the perceived risk is so low. If drivers truly perceived that their risk of an injury crash increases four-fold when using a mobile device, would they continue that activity?

A few statistics for you to enjoy:

  • 4 out of every 5 accidents (80%) are attributed to distracted drivers. In contrast, drunk drivers account for roughly 1 out of 3 (33%) of all accidents nationally.
  • Texting while driving is about 6 times more likely to result in an accident than driving while intoxicated.

Before I digress too far from the reason for this post, I want to discuss the two transportation safety wake-up calls I experienced today.

Those of you who know me know that a bicycle is by far my preferred form of transportation. I have been commuting for the last five years on a pair of $25 10-speed bikes. There is no other form of wheeled transportation that invigorates me and reminds me of my fragility as much as a bicycle. Today, while enjoying a 20-mile jaunt down Old Frankfort Pike, I was reminded just how insignificant I am on a bicycle when compared to a dump truck. I’ve traveled today’s cycling route several times (challenging hills and only 5-miles-to-horsefarm beauty), but just now experienced the difference in industrial traffic on a weekday vs. a weekend. As I was passed a 35mph by the seventh behemoth Mack truck on the pothole-infested, 2-lane, shoulder-less thoroughfare, I began to wonder if the truck drivers would even feel me if we were to collide. I found myself hoping to at least be the princess’s pea. Finally breaking out of the industrial park inside of Lexington’s New Circle Rd, Old Frankfort Pike becomes a 55-mph scenic byway with rolling hills steep enough to conceal oncoming traffic. Although the verdant landscape provides breathtaking views, the stream of near-misses from passing traffic aptly reminds me to breathe. My first close call of the day came when a pickup truck driver approached from the rear as my riding buddy and I were about to crest a hill. Instead of following good driving practice, the driver chose to display a flagrant disregard for the fragility of his own life by swerving into the opposing lane to pass us. Little did he know, a box truck occupied that other lane barely 50 yards downhill. The idiot driver fortunately avoided a collision, but nearly side-swiped my fellow rider in the process. That could easily have been a whole lot worse.

I typically follow S. Upper St. home from work, but today noticed that it was blocked off by a police cruiser. Curious, I took a detour, only to find more blocked roads in the area surrounding the Pedal Power bike shop. As I wound through a maze of alleys to see what had attracted the authorities, I was startled to see a long, solitary skid mark that was punctuated by a motorcycle. Shuddering, my averted glance quickly noticed a nearby sedan with a chopper-sized indentation in the hood, and the truth of the scenario unfolded before me. As I retreated down the alley to reflect and avoid being a nuisance to the rescue personnel, I was beckoned by a man sitting on a bench at nearby Mellow Mushroom. “Get off that bike!” he screamed, somewhat hilariously. Curious, I approached this man, whose name I discovered was Joseph. Out for an evening walk on the warm Spring night, Joseph had been the sole uninvolved witness to the collision, but he was far from unaffected. He shared with me the string of challenges brought on by poor decisions in his personal life, but he was totally shaken up by the accident that he had just witnessed. Weary of the fate of the injured motorcyclist, Joseph urged me to reconsider my mode of transportation, or to at least ride on the sidewalk away from the dangerous cars (even though I shared these stats). As I rode off wearing my neon yellow jacket (thanks, Mom), I turned on the three flashing lights on my bike and thought about how easily a 2000lb automobile could pulverize my sub-200lb pedaled amalgamation of human and steel. Realizing that transportation laws require us to travel on the same roads, I quickly remembered why I don’t like cars. Update: Driver of car was charged with DUI, motorcyclist is Sam Mullins, a friend and UK Engineering Alum.

At some point, I’ll hit on my other reasons for strongly opposing the automobile as the dominant form of human transportation, including:

  • Inadequacies in driver training and certification
  • Social impact
  • Environmental impact
  • Economic impact
  • City planning
  • Exercise and health

Please say a prayer for the motorcyclist who was in the collision mentioned above. It’s entirely possible that sending that last e-mail of the night is the only difference between he and I.

Being Friendly to the Environment

2010/03/23 Leave a comment

Some things don’t make sense:

Organic banana excess labelingOn a shopping trip to Meijer yesterday, I stumbled upon an ironic sight: Why do the “Certified Organic” bananas (left) have more than double the disposable plastic packaging of the chemically-enhanced bananas? Does that really cater to the Green crowd? Labeling aside, I have been impressed with the variety and quality of Meijer’s fresh produce section.

Others are a bit more logical:

Zero Waste discussion at SXSWPanelists from the Zero Waste discussion at SXSWi 2010 congregating around the Austin Convention Center’s innovative refuse bins. Labels: “Recyclable Paper”, “Recyclable Metal/Plastic”, “Landfill“. Sure makes the destination of your waste a bit more clear.

LexTran's new COLT TrolleyLexTran’s new COLT Trolley, servicing Downtown Lexington and the UK Campus area. Oh yeah, rides are FREE. Seems like a good way to attract ridership and reduce downtown parking issues.

UK Solar Car's new garage bannerFinally, just wanted to brag that my friends at the UK Solar Car Team finally installed a permanent banner. Quite an improvement over the electrical tape hack-job I did in a pinch last year. If you want to talk to a group of students who understand energy efficiency and won’t bloat the facts, catch a meeting on a Monday night at 7pm at the DV Terrell Building.