CEQA was designed to protect the environment, not to fight housing for homeless people

CEQA was designed to protect the environment, not to fight housing for homeless people



Why trains run slower now than they did in the 1920s.

The aforementioned Montreal Limited, for example, circa 1942, would pull out of New York’s Grand Central Station at 11:15 p.m., arriving at Montreal’s (now defunct) Windsor Station at 8:25 a.m., a little more than nine hours later. To make that journey today, from New York’s Penn Station on the Adirondack, requires a nearly 12-hour ride. The trip from Chicago to Minneapolis via the Olympian Hiawatha in the 1950s took about four and a half hours; today, via Amtrak’s Empire Builder, the journey is more than eight hours. Going from Brattleboro, Vt., to New York City on the Boston and Maine Railroad’s Washingtonian took less than five hours in 1938; today, Amtrak’s Vermonter (the only option) takes six hours—if it’s on time, which it isn’t, nearly 75 percent of the time.

… 220 mph would be phenomenal, but we would also do well to simply get trains back up to the speeds they traveled at during the Harding administration. Consider, for example, the Burlington Zephyr, …which barreled from Chicago to Denver in 1934 in a little more than 13 hours. (It would take more than 18 today.) An article later that year, by which time the Zephyr had put on the “harness of a regular railroad schedule,” quoted a conductor complaining the train was “loafing” along at only 85 mph. But it was not uncommon for the Zephyr or other trains to hit speeds of more than 100 mph in the 1930s. Today’s “high-speed” Acela service on Amtrak has an average speed of 87 mph and a rarely hit peak speed of 150 mph. (The engine itself could top 200 mph.)

…Less rail capacity (and rail quality) has coincided with a dramatic rise in freight traffic in recent years, owing in part to a buoyant economy and in part to trains’ improving (and now superior) fuel efficiency to trucks—particularly as diesel fuel prices have risen. Despite recent infrastructure spending, bottlenecks are routine, as passenger trains typically yield to passing freight trains.

…As it turns out, there are actually plenty of examples of “technological regress” throughout history. As this fascinating paper notes, the process of building with cement had reached a high point during the Roman Empire, only to be “lost” until its reinvention in the early 13th century. The United States has lost not so much the technology of rail speed as the public will, the cultural memory; this may have made sense for a historical period, but now, weighed in terms of the congestion, carbon emissions, and comfort of other travel modes, it seems time to reach for the way-back machine. As journalist Philip Longman has pointed out, where “fast mail trains” once “ensured next-day delivery on a letter mailed with a standard two-cent stamp in New York to points as far west as Chicago,” today, “that same letter is likely to travel by air first to FedEx’s Memphis hub, then be unloaded, sorted, and reloaded onto another plane, a process that demands far greater expenditures of money, carbon, fuel, and, in many instances, time than the one used eighty years ago.” In building our “bridge to the 21st Century” we might remember the Roman god Janus, patron of, among other things, bridges: He looked backward as well as forward.

Why trains run slower now than they did in the 1920s.


Grocery bags and takeout containers aren’t enough. It’s time to phase out all single-use plastic

The state and local rules certainly have raised public awareness about the problem. Denying free plastic bags at checkout or providing plastic straws only on request sends consumers an important message that there’s a bigger cost to these everyday items than they may have considered. But the actual flow of trash has been disrupted only modestly.

…Cutting jobs on a disposable plastic product line doesn’t automatically translate into fewer people employed. If the door closes on polystyrene takeout containers, for example, it will open for cardboard and other biodegradable alternatives.

No one expects consumers to give up convenience completely. In fact, the market for bio-plastic alternatives, which are made from corn starch and other biodegradable sources, is already growing thanks to public awareness and the sporadic efforts to curb plastic waste.

Opponents will insist that the answer is just to encourage more recycling. Not only is recycling not the answer (see China’s diminished appetite for imported plastic trash), it has only enabled our addiction to convenient, disposable plastic packaging to deepen for some 60 years.

Grocery bags and takeout containers aren’t enough. It’s time to phase out all single-use plastic