The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Leaving on a jet plane

Now that I'm more than two weeks past my second Pfizer jab, I'm heading to O'Hare tomorrow for the first time since January 2020. I remember back in September 2018 when I finally broke my longest-ever drought from flying of 221 days. Tomorrow will mark 481 days grounded.

But that's tomorrow. Today, I'm interested in the following:

And finally, Chicago's endangered piping plovers Monty and Rose have laid three eggs. We should see baby piping plovers in about four weeks.

Flyover territory

The four-year, $40m Navy Pier flyover finally opened this week after 7 years and $64m:

The $64 million flyover, started in 2014, was originally planned for a ribbon-cutting in 2018 but it was repeatedly delayed. The 1,750-foot-long, 16-foot-wide steel and concrete flyover goes from Ohio Street Beach to the south side of the Chicago River.

City officials have blamed prior delays both on issues with the Lake Shore Drive bridge and a delay in getting funding from the state during the budget crisis under former Gov. Bruce Rauner.

With the substantial completion of the Flyover, built to keep pedestrians and bicyclists from being in conflict with auto traffic, the Lakefront Trail now runs, uninterrupted, from Hollywood Avenue to 71st Street, according to the city.

Block Club Chicago has photos.

The biggest budget increase came when engineers discovered that the original plan to tunnel through the southeast Lake Shore Drive bridge tower would have cut a load-bearing column. But like so much in Chicago, the biggest delay came from our incompetent and ideologically-blinkered former governor refusing to fund the state government for two years.

But hey, it's open now, so bikes and runners no longer take their lives into their hands crossing the off-ramp from Lake Shore Drive to Grand Avenue.

Lunchtime reading

Travel in the US just got slightly easier now that the Department of Homeland Security has extended the deadline to get REAL ID cards to May 2023. Illinois just started making them a year ago, but you have to go to a Secretary of State office in person to get one. Due to Covid-19, the lines at those facilities often stretch to the next facility a few kilometers away.

Reading that made me happier than reading most of the following:

And finally, Ravinia has announced its schedule for this summer, starting on June 4th.

Thanks, Bruce!

After languishing for four years while former Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner (R-of course) refused to govern, Metra's Peterson/Ridge station project...has stalled again:

Crews for Metra were slated to break ground in May on the train station at Peterson and Ravenswood avenues. Due to a permitting issue with the city, work will be delayed by roughly three to five months, said Joe Ott, director of Metra’s construction department.

If the permits take any longer to secure, major construction on the new station could be pushed to spring 2022, he said.

The problem is that the ground beneath the station holds city water mains, and the city’s Department of Water Management was worried about groundwater from the station leaking into the water mains, he said. The city agency said the project’s groundwater system needs revision before a permit will be granted.

It is just the latest setback for a project first announced in 2012.

The project fell by the wayside during the state’s years-long budget impasse. Local officials said in 2017 funding for the project was nearly secured, but a $1 billion fund earmarked for Metra was slashed in half that year.

At least they've cleared the vacant lot connecting where the station will go. Apparently they've also put up a sign. It's a start, I suppose.

In tangential news, Amtrak announced that it will offer tickets up to 50% off to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year. I wish my travel plans would allow me to take a long train trip somewhere.

Lunchtime reading before heading outside

Today is not only the 35th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, it's also the 84th anniversary of the Nazi bombing of Guernica. Happy days, happy days.

In today's news, however:

I will now get lunch. And since it's 17°C right now (as opposed to yesterday's 5°C), I may eat it outside.

Yes, AVGAS still has lead in it

MSNBC is scandalized that 100-octane low-lead aviation fuel (AVGAS) still exists, but as usual for general stories about technical topics, they miss a few important details:

While leaded gasoline was fully phased out in 1996 with the passage of the Clean Air Act, it still fuels a fleet of 170,000 piston-engine airplanes and helicopters. Leaded aviation fuel, or avgas, now makes up “the largest remaining aggregate source of lead emissions to air in the U.S.,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

For now, leaded aviation gas appears to be caught in a bureaucratic limbo: stuck between not meeting the environmental demands of the EPA and the commercial realities of the aviation community. It is the primary viable option for this type of aircraft, as the general aviation community argues it remains critical given the needs of the current fleet.

“Fuel and emissions are governed by the federal government,” said Eric Peterson, county airports director with the County of Santa Clara, which owns Reid-Hillview. “So until they come up with an alternative fuel, there is a limited amount the county can do to address that.”

But why, oh why, do piston airplanes still use leaded gas? MSNBC doesn't spend a lot of their article explaining that it's so the airplane engines don't just stop suddenly during flight. Lead reduces "knock," which can annoy you if it happens to your car's engine, but which can kill you if it happens to your plane's.

Also, lead boosts octane, and for high-performance aviation piston engines, nothing less than 100 octane will work.

Alternatives are coming, soon, but it will take some time. The FAA explains what needs to happen before they can approve 100-octane unleaded fuel:

The FAA requires the fuel producers to complete the following "pre-screening" tests prior to a candidate fuel formulation entering into more extensive testing through the PAFI (Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative) program:

  1. Successful completion of a 150 hr. engine endurance test on a turbocharged engine using PAFI test protocols or other procedure coordinated with the FAA;
  2. Successful completion of an engine detonation screening test using the PAFI test protocols or other procedures coordinated with the FAA
  3. Successful completion of a subset of the material compatibility tests using the PAFI test protocol or other procedures coordinated with the FAA.

Development and pre-screening testing is taking place at both private and public testing facilities across the country. The FAA's William J. Hughes Technical Center is providing engine-testing services through Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADA) with the individual fuel companies. While COVID-19 has delayed the completion of the pre-screening tests, the tentative schedule is to re-start formal PAFI testing in 2021.

So, yes, I and every other private pilot out there wants to use unleaded fuel—or, really, a completely different power source. But as long as the consequences of sudden power loss remain different for aircraft than for any other type of vehicle, we have to keep using the only safe (for the airplane, anyway) fuel that remains widely available.

Sure Happy It's Thursday! Earth Day edition

Happy 51st Earth Day! In honor of that, today's first story has nothing to do with Earth:

Finally, it looks like I'll have some really cool news to share about my own software in just a couple of weeks. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, in my neighborhood

The Chicago Transit Authority will demolish my local El station starting May 16th, kicking off a 4-year, $2.1 bn project to rebuild the Red and Purple Lines from Lawrence to Bryn Mawr. Good thing we have an alternative only 400 meters away:

Crews will begin the demolition work on the project’s northern end at Ardmore Avenue and work south, CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase said. The construction zone spans from Ardmore Avenue to Leland Avenue.

The Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr stations will close May 16. Temporary stations at Argyle and Bryn Mawr will open that day, according to the CTA.

Crews will also demolish the northbound Red and Purple line tracks between Lawrence and Bryn Mawr. That will include the demolition of 1.5 miles of embankment wall and 11 bridges that span east-west streets in Uptown and Edgewater.

Demolition and the rebuilding of the eastern portion of the tracks is scheduled to wrap up in late 2022, according to the CTA.

From there, work on the western portion of the tracks will commence. This second stage of work will include the construction of the four new stations, which are slated to be opened in 2024.

It's so nice, now that Bruce Rauner has left Springfield, that public works projects can resume. It even looks like we'll have a new Chicago-bound train station at Ravenswood before too long.

Biggest aviation news since 1903

This morning, around 2:30 Chicago time, we flew an aircraft over an alien planet:

At about 3:30 a.m., the twin, carbon-fiber rotor blades began spinning furiously, and the chopper, called Ingenuity, lifted off the surface of the Red Planet, reaching an altitude of about 10 feet, where it hovered, turned and landed softly in an autonomous flight that lasted just 30 seconds, the space agency said.

Inside the flight operations center at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, engineers broke into applause when confirmation of the flight arrived, more than three hours after the flight, in a data burst that traveled 178 million miles from Mars to Earth.

To make the brief flight, Ingenuity’s technology had to overcome Mars’s super-thin atmosphere — just 1 percent the density of Earth’s — which makes it more difficult for the helicopters’ blades, spinning at about 2,500 revolutions per minute, to generate lift.

As President Biden once said, this is a big fucking deal.

Supposes Moses was an Asshat

Not Moishe, the mythological figure; Moses, the all-too-real figure in New York City history. I'm about halfway through Robert Caro's biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker, and I want to dig Moses up and punch him in the face.

The thing about really intelligent narcissists is they can, in fact, get their way, even when—especially when—they encounter real criticism. The crowning achievement of Moses' narcissism might be the West Side Improvement, comprising the West Side Highway and Henry Hudson Parkway, which run along the Hudson River from the top of Manhattan Island to the bottom. The story of how and why Moses built it where he built it takes up about 40 pages of the book, but Caro sums it up starting at the bottom of page 565:

Robert Moses had spent $109,000,000 [in 1938, worth $2.05 billion in 2021] of the public's money on the West Side Improvement. Counting the money expended on his advice by other city agencies on the portion of the Improvement south of Seventy-second Street, the Improvement had cost the public more than $200,000,000 [$3.8 billion in 2021].

But the total cost of the Improvement cannot be reckoned merely in dollars. The West Side Improvement also cost the people of New York City their most majestic waterfront, their most majestic forest, a unique residential community, and their last fresh-water marsh.

When the Improvement was finished, all these things were gone forever.

Adding them to the cost of the West Side Improvement, one might wonder if the Improvement had not cost New York City more than it was worth. Adding them into the cost, one might wonder if the West Side Improvement was really, on its total balance sheet, an "improvement" at all. One might wonder if it was not, on balance, a tragic and irremediable loss.

In the pages leading up to that conclusion, Caro spends some time discussing how the park Moses built along highway stopped at 125th Street. From there up to 155th Street, instead of a park, the African-American residents of Harlem got an elevated highway, with one little playground whose finishes included little monkey carvings on the stonework. You will not be surprised to learn that no other park in the project had a monkey motif.

Another thing, of which I can almost excuse him, was Moses' complete rejection of evidence of "induced demand," how increasing road capacity also increases congestion at a faster rate. That is, if you double road capacity, you will more than double the number of cars on the road. I can almost excuse him because traffic planners still ignore this phenomenon much of the time.

So halfway through the book I'm only at the end of 1938. We still have 25 years or so before Moses meets Jane Jacobs—and according to the index, Caro doesn't even cover that.