The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

World's longest flight returns

On Thursday, Singapore Airlines reinstated its nonstop flight from Newark, N.J., to Singapore—an 18-hour, 45-minute marathon that covers 16,734 km:

What accounts for this sudden ultra-long-haul boom? Partly, it is technological advances. The Singapore-Newark flights will use new Airbus A350-900 ULR (ultra-long-range) planes, which are made of lightweight carbon-fibre materials, have extra fuel capacity, and conserve fuel by using only two engines rather than the typical four on long-haul jumbo jets. Singapore will also make these marathon flights more bearable with a few comfort upgrades. There will be no economy seats—just premium economy and business class—and only a total 161 seats compared to 253 on the carrier’s current A350-900s. The airline also claims an upgraded food menu and a range of entertainment options will help whittle away the many hours on board.

Here's FlightAware's map of that first flight, and GC Map's.

Remarkably, you can get a business class ticket on the flight for only $5,300, according to Hipmunk. (That's remarkable because a business class ticket to London for the same dates would be $8300 on American or $7650 on British.)

Who wants to go with me?

Why American transit systems suck

Anyone who has traveled from the US to Canada or Europe notices quickly that their transit systems simply work better. Londoners may moan about the Tube, but one can get from any part of Greater London to any other at almost any time of day using trains or buses.

Writing for Citylab, Jonathan English explains why and how the rest of the world got it right and we got it so very wrong:

[T]o briefly summarize: Transit everywhere suffered serious declines in the postwar years, the cost of cars dropped and new expressways linked cities and fast-growing suburbs. That article pointed to a key problem: The limited transit service available in most American cities means that demand will never materialize—not without some fundamental changes.

Many, though not all, major cities in the U.S. have a number of rail lines radiating out of their centers. Most of them are only used by freight or a few commuter train trips a day. It’s a huge, untapped resource. There’s no reason why those railway lines can’t be turned into what are effectively subway lines—high-capacity routes that allow people to get across the city quickly—without the immense cost of tunneling. In Europe, what we usually call “commuter rail” operates frequently, all day, and cost the same fare as other local transit. That’s the difference between regional rail and commuter rail. A transit system with service that is only useful to 9-to-5 commuters to downtown will never be a useful one for most people.

Fares need to be low enough that people can afford to take transit. New York City will soon join other cities like Tucson and Ann Arbor in having discounted fares for low-income people. That is important to make transit accessible to everyone. But fair fares isn’t just about keeping fares low. It’s also about eliminating arbitrary inequities. People shouldn’t have to pay a transfer penalty or a double fare just because they switch from bus to rail, transfer between agencies, or travel across the city limits. A transfer is an inconvenience—you shouldn’t have to pay extra for it.

Fares should be set for the convenience of riders, not government agencies. A trip of a similar distance should have a similar fare, regardless of whether it’s on a bus or train, or if you have to cross city limits. Commuter rail shouldn’t be a “premium service” that only suburban professionals can afford.This is the kind of unfairness that infuriates people and drives them away from transit.

Chicago, by the way, has contemplated a regional farecard system for decades. Maybe someday...

Tracking gentrification through Yelp

Researchers at the City University of New York have discovered that Yelp data can show rising incomes with remarkable precision:

First, in testing a popular theory about signs of the gentry’s arrival, they pulled out all the Starbucks listings on Yelp across the United States dating back to 2007. Combining that information with Federal Housing Finance Agency data by zip code, they found that the arrival of every new Starbucks into a given area was associated with a 0.5 percent rise in local housing prices. Coffee shops of all kinds—artisanal and chain—had a similar relationship.

More broadly, they found that housing prices grew in tandem with the entry of new restaurants, bars, hair salons, convenience stores, and supermarkets. Counting reviews, the Yelp data also captured commercial activity at those businesses, which turned out to be a predictor of rising home values, too.

Fascinatingly, different listing types were more correlated with different demographics than others as they increased within Big Apple neighborhoods. Grocery stores were more strongly associated with demographics than any other listing type—the greater the change in grocery stores in a neighborhood, the greater the change in college-educated white people ages 25-34, the researchers found.

Citylab caveats the data, saying, "Still poorly understood, however, is which comes first in gentrifying neighborhoods: the wealthier residents or the 'nice' amenities."

I feel the Source!

I mentioned earlier today (yesterday BST) that I sought the Source. Here it is:

That monument marks the official head of the River Thames, though in September after a long, dry summer, there isn't a lot else that would convince you. Still, boundaries and origins have always fascinated me, so I just had to see it.

Naturally, the closest pub to the monument capitalizes on its notoriety:

Also just as naturally, my trip to Kemble required a totally unanticipated hour and 20 minutes in Swindon, which...well, let me save a thousand words:

Yeah...I don't even know the American analogy to it, but my money's on Elgin: the train doesn't stop in the best spot, but otherwise it's a decent exurb with a history.

Tomorrow I'm staying entirely in London, and planning on going to pub quiz at my second-favorite pub in the world, now that I know they have pub quiz Monday nights. Right now, I aim to finish Redshirts, which I started in Kemble. And then go to sleep. Because my stay-on-Chicago-time strategy has not worked entirely according to plan.

Finding the source

Today's plan is to hop a train for about an hour and 20 minutes and look for a specific monument in a field. One hopes that today I'll remember to put sunscreen on my face. It is, in fact, possible to get a sunburn in the UK in September.

Details and photos tonight.

All good things

A couple of streaks ended today.

First, the good one: after 221 days, I finally got to fly somewhere. That's the longest I've gone without traveling by air since 1980, or possibly earlier.

Second, the bad one: after 82 days, I finally missed 10,000 steps, owing to the above-mentioned flying. That's the longest stretch of 10k-plus days I've had since getting a Fitbit. (I would have made it, too, if it weren't for those meddling time zones.)

Finally, there is a crushing disappointment that I will share tomorrow morning. Well, maybe not crushing, but certainly disappointing. And temporary, it seems, but coinciding exactly with my trip here. So, boo.

The history (and recurrence) of gentrification

Chicago-based writer Daniel Kay Hertz finds that reactions to gentrification, and its effects, have remained the same for over a century:

I’ve been struck by the Groundhog Day quality of thinking on these changes. Decade after decade, observers alternately wonder at the latest clique of young, middle-class white people to have chosen to live in a less privileged urban neighborhood, and then predict that clique’s imminent demise, a return to the “natural” order of things.

As early as the 1920s, the sociologist Harvey Zorbaugh quoted people who swore that time was up for the residents of Tower Town, Chicago’s bohemian answer to New York City’s Greenwich Village, as young artists abandoned it. (Many of those who left just settled a short walk up the lakefront in what we now call Old Town.) Zorbaugh himself was convinced that the Gold Coast, the last inner city stronghold of Chicago’s upper class, had barely ten years left before the rich realized they would have fewer headaches farther from the chaos of the downtown Loop. (A century later, the Gold Coast is still, well, Gold.)

Often, even the gentrifiers themselves don’t quite believe that what they’ve created can last. Into the 1970s—when parts of Lincoln Park had already become wealthier than many white-collar suburbs—a Lincoln Park neighborhood association director fretted that one wrong development might push the area towards a “ghetto.”

Why have we found it so hard to believe that a generations-old trend of growing affluence at the core of a major city could be durable? And why has it proven so durable?

Hertz provides some pretty compelling and well-researched answers.

Tons of plastic in the Great Lakes

Not only do the Great Lakes face threats from thirsty populations outside their basin, but they're also chock full of plastic microparticles:

One recent study found microplastic particles—fragments measuring less then 5 millimeters—in globally sourced tap water and beer brewed with water from the Great Lakes.

According to recent estimates, over 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans every year. Using that study’s calculations of how much plastic pollution per person enters the water in coastal regions, one of us (Matthew Hoffman) has estimated that around 10,000 tons of plastic enter the Great Lakes annually. Now we are analyzing where it accumulates and how it may affect aquatic life.

Using our models, we created maps that predict the average surface distribution of Great Lakes plastic pollution. They show that most of it ends up closer to shore. This helps to explain why so much plastic is found on Great Lakes beaches: In 2017 alone, volunteers with the Alliance for the Great Lakes collected more than 16 tons of plastic at beach cleanups. If more plastic is ending up near shore, where more wildlife is located and where we obtain our drinking water, is that really a better outcome than a garbage patch?

Mmm. Plastic beer! Since most of the beer I drink comes from breweries walking distance from my house...yum!

The Great Lakes Compact in a drying world

After watching the Aral Sea disaster unfold in the second half of the last century, governors of the states and provinces around the Great Lakes formed a compact to prevent a similar problem in North America. Crain's looks at how well it's done for the past 10 years:

Hammered out over five years, the Compact, aimed at keeping Great Lakes water in the Great Lakes, was approved by the legislatures of all eight states bordering the Great Lakes, Congress and the Canadian provinces and signed into law by President George W. Bush on Oct. 3, 2008.

The Great Lakes Compact prohibits new or increased diversions outside the Great Lakes Basin with limited exceptions for communities and counties that straddle the basin boundary and meet rigorous standards. It asks states to develop water conservation plans, collect water use data, and produce annual water use reports. Great Lakes states as well as Ontario and Quebec are to keep track of impacts of water use in the basin.

Certainly, the future of water on the planet seems fraught enough to make one wonder how the Great Lake Compact will fare as the years pass. The most ardent supporters of the Compact say that challenges abound. These include a changing climate that is expected to bring drought as well as heightened political pressure to open up what some view as an invaluable public resource now off limits to the rest of the world.

So it is easy to see why the Great Lakes loom large in the eyes of those who seek to solve their water woes. The lakes are the largest system of fresh surface water on Earth. They hold 84 percent of North America's surface fresh water and about 21 percent of the world's supply, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

This will be one to watch. Being adjacent to Lake Michigan is one of the biggest reasons I'm optimistic about Chicago; but what if the shoreline were 20 kilometers away? It could happen.

Hot times in the New York subway

The New York City subway, with its passive air exchange system and tunnels too small for active ventilation or air conditioning, have gotten excessively hot this summer:

On Thursday, temperatures inside at least one of the busiest stations reached 40°C—nearly 11°C warmer than the high in Central Park.

The Regional Plan Association, an urban planning think tank for the greater metropolitan area, took a thermometer around the system’s 16 busiest stations, plus a few more for good measure, and shared the data with CityLab. A platform at Union Square Station had the 40°C reading at 1 p.m., which was the hottest they found, although Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall and Columbus Circle weren’t far off at 39°C and 38½°C, at around 10 and 11 a.m., respectively. Twelve out of the 16 busiest stops boiled at or over the 32°C mark in the late morning and early afternoon.

One might think that subway stations would offer crisp respite to sweaty New Yorkers, being underground and all. But you’d be wrong. Heat doesn’t only “rise”—it just diffuses to cooler areas, which can include below-ground spaces. Plus, only a few of the city’s 472 stations are equipped with air conditioning; most rely on a passive ventilation system better known for their Marilyn Monroe moments above ground. This system was built in the days before AC, and the MTA says it’s not possible to squeeze the station-cooling machinery that other metro systems have inside New York’s narrow tunnels. Meanwhile, the units that cool passengers inside cars actually shed heat into the stations as trains pass through.

That onboard air-conditioning can fail, too. The MTA has also seen a rising number of complaints about overheated cars in recent years. In today’s issue of Signal Problems, his indispensable newsletter focused on subway accountability, the journalist Aaron Gordon reports that “about two percent of all subway cars in service on any given day might not have working A/C,” according to the MTA. That means at least 100 cars are roasting passengers on any given day this summer.

This problem also bedevils the London Underground.

Meanwhile, here in Chicago, we're having our 73rd day this year above 27°C, just 10 short of the record. Given the normal number of temperatures that warm between now and October, I think we'll probably set a new one.

And the sunlight here looks eerily orange and hazy today, because of climate change-driven wildfires out west.

Welcome to the future.