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Bay Bridge Tour

16 Oct

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to take a tour of the Bay Bridge Seismic Safety projects. The tour was organized through the

I was pretty excited, as you can see.

local chapter of Women in Transportation, which regularly offers tours of infrastructure projects in the area, in addition to hosting some great happy hours.

The event began with a somewhat over-produced promotional video about how the bridge was going to be “one of the engineering marvels of the world,” as demonstrated with montages of construction work set to electric guitar riffs. Of course every major project wants you to know that it is something never-before-seen, challenging and amazing. But as the presentation progressed to a more technical video, I began to understand how unique the project really is.

Once completed, the self-anchored suspension span of the bridge will be the largest of its kind in the world. That design was selected by the public as the “signature element” of the bridge, which is more aesthetically in keeping with other structures on the Bay and quite a bit less boxy and prison-like than the current bridge. Self-anchored suspension bridges have one continuous loop of cable anchored to the roadway, supported by (in this case) a single tower. Our tour guide likened it to an arm in a sling, where your arm is the deck of the bridge, and your shoulder is the tower. The cable was installed one strand at a time, and all 137 strands are anchored individually.

The whole description of the project is riddled with superlatives. The tower is so massive that a crane had to be specially designed and fabricated to install it. The cable saddle is the world’s largest. Deck sections were moved into place with straddle carriers used by NASA to move shuttles. The whole affair will be one of the biggest public works projects in US history at $6.4 billion.

Given the scope of the project, I was glad to have had it explained before we got on the boat. It was difficult to see the details of features like the hinge pipe beams that connect bridge sections and allow the sections to move relative to each other in the case of a major earthquake.

The parallel decks of the Skyway section are on the left and the beginning of the self-anchored suspension span on the right. The existing Bay Bridge is in the background.

Being so up close and personal with the bridge did allow me to see some other parts I never would have noticed. Like the “cormorant condos” — nesting platforms for the double-crested cormorants that seem to really enjoy living under the existing bridge. Since the cormorants were recently an endangered species, CalTrans is doing everything it can to encourage them onto the nesting platforms, building nesting houses and putting up decoy cormorants to try and lure the real ones to the new structure. We also got to squint at the Bay Bridge Troll, who is now destined for a museum.

Overall, the event was a blast. I didn’t know very much about bridges going in, or this project in particular. Now at least I have a grasp on this bridge in particular.

Slime Mold Grows Network Just Like Tokyo Rail System | Wired Science |

3 Sep

When presented with oat flakes arranged in the pattern of Japanese cities around Tokyo, brainless, single-celled slime molds construct networks of nutrient-channeling tubes that are strikingly similar to the layout of the Japanese rail system, researchers from Japan and England report Jan. 22 in Science.

via Slime Mold Grows Network Just Like Tokyo Rail System | Wired Science |

Next time you need a snappy comeback to a transportation planner, just tell them “oh yeah? Mold could do your job!”*

*Not recommended for effective networking.

I’m a Guinness World Record holder!

19 Aug

I found out this week that I became a Guinness World Record holder by participating in Reddit’s 2011 Secret Santa match, which just earned the title of “Largest Online Secret Santa Game.”

Finally, something to put on my resume next to “TIME Person of the Year 2006.”

Census 2010 Summary File Summary: There are fewer

28 Jul

I’ve been doing a lot of work lately with various Census products. Mostly recently, I’ve been trying to pull together some data to visualize trends in  the number of bike commuters in Oakland.  This data is readily available in Summary File 3 (SF-3)  for the 2000 Census, and you can also find it in the American Community Survey (ACS) files.

My understanding was that the ACS files were kind of a stop-gap measure: they provided more current information than the decennial census, but were lass accurate. I thought for accuracy’s sake, I should use the SF-3 file information from both 2000 and 2010, in addition to the ACS data. Since I couldn’t find the SF-3 data for 2010 on American FactFinder, I figured it must just not be released yet, so I waited.

Today I discovered it doesn’t matter how long I wait — there won’t be an SF-3:

So, although many data users were expecting the full suite of Census indicators they had in the 2000 Summary File 3, the Census has changed its delivery method and methodology, and it is now distributing many of those through the ACS. The good news is that the ACS is updated annually, instead of decennially, and so estimates for household income, poverty and the like will be refreshed every year.

via About Census 2010 Summary File 1 Data | PolicyMap.

Thanks to the bloggers at PolicyMap for clearing up this mystery for me! I’d never heard of PolicyMap before, but as of today I have an account. Check out the lovely maps you can build in a matter of minutes:

Powered by, an online mapping tool and data warehouse.

More Bus Rapid Transit for Oakland

21 Jul

Earlier this week Oakland City Council unanimously approved plans for a Bus Rapid Transit line along International Boulevard. The buses will have a dedicated center lane, so service can be faster and more dependable. Plus more crosswalks, bulb-outs and bike lanes — what’s not to love?

Assessing the economic viability of a potential BRT line on International was part of the larger Complete Streets internship project that got me involved with transportation planning about a year ago now, so this news is particularly exciting.

Thinking about “A Geography Lesson for the Tea Party”

3 Jul

The Washington Monthly – The Magazine – A Geography Lesson for the Tea Party.

A friend of mine sent me this article a while back, but I am just getting around to reading it now. I really enjoy the way the author makes America sound like some kind of high fantasy land created by the likes of George R. R. Martin with different cultural bulwarks and aristocratic mechanitions. Like with those fantasy books though, my somewhat shaky geographic sense leaves me flipping to the map in the map in the front a little too often.

I dislike, however, the author’s insistence on citing election results (particularly presidential ones) as evidence of an ideological schism. Ever since reading Fiorina’s Culture War, I have this little voice in the back of my head asking if it is really more valid to see that red/blue map as polarization of the populace rather than apathy or polarization of the elite.

Either way, I’d like to read the author’s book, even if I would enjoy it more as a work of fiction.


What’s that little fancy ‘s’ that shows up when you talk about laws?

22 Jun

I’ve been seeing little § marks crop up in the things I read for years now. It wasn’t until today that I learned it is called a “section sign,” and can be created with a simple Windows Alt code: [Alt] + [2] [1]. I don’t have to copy and paste from whatever I’m reading any more!

Here’s a neat little blog about the origins of various typographic marks, including the section sign:

Typographic Marks Unknown | Retinart.