Tag: Transport

Survival at SFO

Like most people, when I saw the raw footage of the airplane crash at SFO on Saturday, I couldn’t believe that anyone had walked away from it. But it looks like only two people died. Two more will be paralyzed while another 30 are still hospitalized. The WSJ has a great short article on how such an awful-looking crash resulting in so mercifully few casualties. First, there were the heroes:

Mr. Rah noticed that an evacuation slide had inflated inside the plane, pinning a flight attendant against the interior cabin wall. He and another passenger tried to free the attendant, looking for something sharp with which to puncture the slide. Another passenger eventually found a way to let the air out of the slide. Mr. Rah said he has been in touch with the flight attendant’s husband, who said she sustained serious injuries but is improving.

The captain soon started screaming on the loudspeaker for everyone to evacuate. As other passengers began exiting the plane and emergency crews arrived, Mr. Rah saw another flight attendant, whose name he gave as Jiyeon Kim, carrying injured passengers down the aisle to get them off the plane.

“She was a hero,” he said. “This tiny, little girl was carrying people piggyback, running everywhere, with tears running down her face. She was crying, but she was still so calm and helping people.”

Meanwhile, San Francisco police officers at the scene had entered the plane from near the back and made their way to the front, amid worsening smoke, said Lyn Tomioka, deputy chief at the San Francisco Police Department. When they got to the front, male crew members trying to help passengers called out for knives, and the officers tossed their own knives to the men to help them cut seat belts off passengers who were struggling to get out, Ms. Tomioka said.

Click the link and check out the picture of Jiyeon Kim, who looks about 5′ 2″ and maybe weighs 100 lbs on a good day. This young woman was carrying wounded passengers off the plane until it literally went up in flames. Those pretty ladies aren’t just on those planes to serve drinks. They’re trained for this sort of thing. And they almost always come through.

There’s another aspect: regulation.

Regulators in the late 1980s mandated all-new passenger planes must have seats able to withstand stronger impacts than in the past—practices that the Federal Aviation Administration ordered in 2005 be applied to nearly all passenger planes by October 2009. As part of those rules, seats on jetliners must be able in tests to survive collisions that slam them forward at 16 times the force of gravity, or 16g, to ensure the seats don’t collapse or detach from the floor. A Boeing spokesman said the company has been delivering all its jets with 16g-rated seats since 2009.

Before the advent of such stronger seats, Mr. Hiatt said, the intense vertical and horizontal force generated by a crash like Saturday’s “would have caused many more seats to break free and pancake into each other, probably blocking exit paths.”

Mr. Hiatt also said improved fire-resistant materials used on seats and other parts of the cabin “likely helped the fire from intensifying so quickly.”

Some of this safety has come from the market — Boeing specifically designed the 777 to be evacuated in 90 seconds even if half the doors were blocked. Neither airlines nor airplane builders want people to die. But the regulations have proven a critical push to go above and beyond. We’ve had multiple planes hit and break apart with minimal casualties because of the tougher design of the seats specifically.

Because of the vergence of these trends — better engineering, better regulation, better training and faster emergency response, air travel is now light years safer than any form of travel in human history. Since 2000, while airline travel has ramped up, less than a 1000 people have died on American airplanes while nearly half a million have been killed on the nation’s highways. If you exclude 9/11, you’re talking about 20 people per year. In short, you’re more likely to die falling on the curb on the way to the airport than you are on the plane. Globally, 2012 saw the fewest deaths in the sky since 1945 when the Fw 190 was the state of the art.

Capitalistic self-interest, professionalism, prosperity, training and a bit of sensible regulation. Funny how well that works, isn’t it?

Streetcars and Light Rail

That’s the future of American transport, according to the man Barack Obama has tapped — after almost a year and a half — to be transportation secretary:

America’s transportation system will continue to grind to a halt under President Obama’s pick for transportation secretary, Anthony Foxx. Currently mayor of Charlotte, N.C., Foxx strongly supports streetcars and other obsolete forms of transit.

Seriously, streetcars. A number of cities, with the federal government offering lavish subsidies, are trying to revive a 19th century technology as the solution to transportation. Of course, if no one rides it, such a system actually worsens traffic, increases greenhouse gas emissions and guzzles money. And, in fact, the model of this system — Portland’s Streetcar — is an albatross. It only rides 10,000 people a day, requires federal state and local subsidies and moves slower than people walk. That’s the model. That’s how a streetcar line is doing in a city that is very liberal, very green and just about optimized to take advantage of it. You can imagine what such a boondoggle would be like in fucking Charlotte.

What’s more, Foxx is supporting this boondoggle on top of existing boondoggles.

Transit advocates often point to Charlotte as an example of a successful lightrail line (more accurately described as a “low-capacity-rail line”). With success like this, I’d hate to see failure: the line cost more than twice the original projection; generates just $3 million in annual fares against more than $20 million in annual operations and maintenance costs; and collects of an average of just 77 cents per ride compared with nearly a dollar for other light-rail lines. Now Charlotte wants to extend the line even though a traffic analysis report predicts that the extension will dramatically increase traffic congestion in the corridor (see pp. 54-56).

Foxx, of course, says that the point of mass transit isn’t to make money or move people but to “develop” areas. But … that’s ain’t true either:

Rail advocates claim that Charlotte’s low-capacity-rail line helped revitalize neighborhoods along the line. However, a study by transportation expert David Hartgen concluded that most of the billions of dollars of development that was planned along the line was never built. Of the developments that were built, most would have taken place without the line, Hartgen found, though not necessarily in exactly the same locations.

I’m reminded of the economic justifications for publicly funded sports stadiums. Whenever one is built, a surprisingly small number of businesses and apartments cluster around and we’re told that it’s because of the stadium; that without the stadium, people would (I guess) be living in ditches and selling their organs for food. But almost every objective study has shown that stadia just affect where something is built, often in a minor way (i.e, moving something a block) and often because of additional subsidies for building near them. The stadium boom has almost run its course so light rail is the next urban boondoggle to shovel taxpayer money into the hands of politically powerful interests.

I don’t mean to pick on Foxx, specifically. His view is common and is the received wisdom among Democrats and Keynesians. It would be almost impossible for Obama to find a Transportation Secretary who didn’t believe in this manure. And local and state officials keep making the mistakes of taking temporary federal subsidies to start transportation projects only to leave their successors with a money-guzzling sinkhole once the subsidies are finished. But it is rare to see someone who, looking at a market that has already demonstrated its incompatibility with light rail wants to double down.

From such is Obama building his second term cabinet.

Post Scriptum: RTFLC has obtained an exclusive video of Foxx explaining his vision for public transportation.