Transportation Archives

April 29, 2008

A Nation of Roads

ben fry - all streets.jpgA terrific visualization from Ben Fry (who has also updated his Salary vs. Performance page for the current baseball season):

All of the streets in the lower 48 United States: an image of 26 million individual road segments. No other features (such as outlines or geographic features) have been added to this image, however they emerge as roads avoid mountains, and sparse areas convey low population. The pace of progress is seen in the midwest where suburban areas are punctuated by square blocks of area that are still farm land.

Also of note to World Almanac fans: Fry's zipdecode, an interactive map of ZIP codes in the U.S., which does a fantastic job of, yes, decoding the numbering scheme for postal codes. Click on the image, type "Z," and then start tapping in your favorite ZIP codes.

More at

December 11, 2007

Food Economics


As we pointed out in The World Almanac 2008, U.S. ethanol production in 2007 has been at record levels—not surprising, considering the ever-higher demand. An interesting cover story in The Economist last week shed a different light on ethanol production, in the context of food prices, which are rising for the first time in 30 years. (The Economist article is, of course, indexing the cost of food in terms of real dollars.) The article theorizes that the U.S.'s increased diversion of corn to ethanol production—and the 200-odd subsidies that support it—is working in tandem with the growing demand for meat worldwide to push food prices higher.

Definitely an interesting read, but if you're short on time, at least check out a few of The Economist's usual somewhat-dry-but-very-informative charts on the subject.

The End of Cheap Food

Flickr photo by r-z

November 13, 2007

Holland Tunnel Turns 80

0711hollandtunnel.jpgWhile we all know a certain amazing book celebrates its 140th release today, there's another significant anniversary.

Happy 80th birthday Holland Tunnel! The first automobile tunnel (actually two tunnels) to connect Manhattan with the rest of the continental U.S. by way of Jersey City, NJ opened on November 13, 1927. The tunnels were a major accomplishment, taking 7 years, 1 month, and 1 day to complete.

Prior to completion, millions of commuters, trucks, and horse-drawn carriages relied on 15 ferries to cross the Hudson River, navigating harbor traffic like supply barges and ocean liners, plus ice flows and heavy fog. Delays and accidents were common. (A railroad tunnel under the Hudson River, completed in 1908, helped to halve the number of ferry passengers by 1914 to just 52 million a year).

It should be noted that "Holland" was the project's first chief engineer, Clifford Holland. Holland was notably young to head such a large project and he died of a heart attack in 1924 at age 41.

On its first day in operation, 51,694 vehicles (largely curious Sunday drivers) used the Holland tunnel. The first year's total was 8,517,689 according to the New York Times on Nov. 14, 1928. In 2006, 34.7 million vehicles passed through it, averaging 95,149 each day—a fifth of New Jersey-Manhattan traffic when combined with the Lincoln Tunnel and George Washington Bridge.

The Holland is still the second longest underwater vehicular tunnel in North America after the nearby Brooklyn-Battery. The north tube extends 8,558 feet, the south tube 8,371 feet. It became a National Historic Landmark in 1993. The tunnels' great innovation, designed by its third (!) engineer Ole Singstad, are the ventilation shafts tucked above and below the roadways that clear out deadly auto exhaust through enormous towers near the entrances. Winds from the 84 exhaust fans would have reached 72 mph if air flowed directly along the tunnels' roadways.

[If you're jonesing for stats on other notable tunnels, buildings, and bridges, turn to page 730 in your brand-new World Almanac 2008. You've already got one, right?]

Holland Tunnel Time Line from Port Authority of NY & NJ

Photo from Library of Congress' Historic American Engineering Record

The World Almanac 2008: At a Glance

World Almanac 2008 StacksYes, the day that you (and we) have been waiting for is here: The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2008 is officially on sale. If you pre-ordered, you've probably got a copy already; if not, you should be able to stroll into the bookstore of your choice and pick one up today.

We'll be using this blog to share (and expand on) parts of this edition throughout the year. Today, though, I'll just leave you with an assortment of facts from The World at a Glance, one of our new quick-reference features:

Nation most dependent on nuclear energy: France, 78.1% of electricity is nuclear-generated
World's most popular tourist destination: France, 79.1 million arrivals in 2006
Most popular luxury car color in the U.S.: Black, 22% of 2006 model year cars
Most popular light truck color in the U.S.: White, 25% of 2006 model year trucks
Nation hosting the most refugees: Pakistan, 2.2 million, mostly from Afghanistan, in 2006
Top country for U.S. foreign adoptions: China, 6,520 in 2006
Fastest roller coaster in the world: Kingda Ka, 128 mph (Six Flags Great Adventure, Jackson, NJ)
Busiest airport outside of the U.S., by passenger traffic: Heathrow Airport (London, UK), 67.5 million passengers in 2006
Most-visited shopping website: eBay, 79.8 million visitors in July 2007 alone

California's gross domestic product in 2006 was $1.73 trillion. If it was its own country, it would have the 10th largest economy in the world, smaller than Russia's but larger than Brazil's.
If all circulating U.S. dollars and coins were equally distributed among the nation's population, everyone would receive $2,688.

Total fat consumption per capita in the U.S. was 37.7 pounds in 1910. It climbed to a whopping 85.5 pounds by 2005.
China's annual energy consumption grew 249% in the past 15 years, from 27 quadrillion Btu in 1990 to 67 quadrillion Btu in 2005.
The amount Americans spent annually on casino gambling ballooned 610%, from $11.5 billion in 1990 to $81.6 billion in 2006.
The number of violent crimes in the U.S. declined from 1.6 million in 1997 to 1.4 million in 2006, a drop of 13.3%.

Previously: The World at a Glance: Number Ones, Surprising Facts, and Changing Times

Photo: Vincent G. Spadafora

November 7, 2007

Time Changes Risky for Pedestrians

Night_Traffic.jpgSeems that the end of daylight saving time doesn't just mean turning back the clocks. There's a period of adjustment to the earlier onset of darkness, one that is accompanied by increased pedestrian deaths. After examining traffic fatality statistics spanning a 10-year period, Carnegie Mellon University professors Paul Fischbeck and David Gerard concluded that pedestrian deaths tripled around 6 p.m. in the weeks following the end of daylight saving time. Pedestrian fatalities begin to drop in December and decline with each passing month.

No connection was found between time changes and increased driver or automobile passenger deaths.

"Pedestrians 3 times more likely to be killed when clocks change, study says" (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Center for the Study of Improvement and Regulation (CSIR) (joint research center of Carnegie Mellon University and University of Washington, headed by Fischbeck and Gerard)
TrafficSTATS (Statistics on Travel Safety)

Photo: "Night Traffic," of New Brunswick, NJ, by atanas.

August 15, 2007

Evacuating an Airplane

I recently stumbled upon this amazing video, which shows an evacuation test that Airbus conducted for its new A380 aircraft on Mar. 26, 2006. The test took place at Airbus in Hamburg, Germany.

The test, which Airbus described in a press release as "the most stringent ever performed and the first ever on a passenger aircraft with two decks," simulated certain conditions, including the following:

  • performed in complete darkness, aided only by emergency lighting
  • half of the exits blocked, though neither crew nor test passengers know beforehand which ones
  • test passengers reflect demographics of actual travelers (e.g., at least 40% female, at least 35% over 50)

To pass, all passengers and crew—whatever the plane's maximum capacity—must be able to evacuate within 90 seconds. In this drill, all 853 "passengers" and 20 crew members got off the A380 within 78 seconds. The European Aviation and Safety Agency and the Federal Aviation Administration approved the results of the trial a few days later.

For more on airplane evacuation trials, check out this article from Slate. The article discusses the Airbus test as well as the safety of such tests in general. For example, the writer notes, "Friction causes the majority of evacuation injuries. ... Dismounting can also be treacherous. ... If you don't plant both feet when you get to the bottom of the slide--or if you plant your feet too hard--you can easily sprain or fracture your ankle or break your leg."

"How Did Airbus Ace Its Airplane Evacuation Test?" (Slate)
"A380 Successfully Completes Evacuation Test" (Airbus press release)

March 2, 2007

Road Trip Redux

Honda_Civic_GX.jpg If you're looking to purchase a car for your road trip, you might want to consider some of the models recommended by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The ACEEE recently released its list of the most eco-friendly vehicles of 2007. The natural-gas powered Honda Civic GX came out on top, followed by the Toyota Prius, the Honda Civic Hybrid, the Nissan Altima Hybrid, and the Toyota Yaris.

Other Asian imports rounded out the top 12 while domestic cars and European imports dominated the list of cars dubbed "meanest for the environment." These include the Volkswagen Touareg, the Mercedes-Benz GL320 CDI, and the Lamborghini Murcielago.

The ACEEE compiles its list based on "green" scores. These scores are a measure of a car's tailpipe emissions, fuel consumption, and emissions that contribute to global warming.

Links: Greenest Vehicles of 2007 (
Highlights of the Model Year (least environmentally-friendly automobiles and industry trends, also from; subscription required for some content)
American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy

Photo: Honda Civic GX

February 1, 2007

"The World as You've Never Seen it Before"

That's the tag line for Worldmapper, a novel approach to visualizing global data, and a collaborative project of a group of cartographers, social scientists, and other experts at the University of Michigan and the University of Sheffield. From a recent article on The Daily Telegraph website:
"You can say it, you can prove it, you can tabulate it, but it is only when you show it that it hits home," said Prof Danny Dorling, of the University of Sheffield, one of the developers of Worldmapper, a collection of maps — cartograms — that rescale the size of territories in proportion to the value being represented.

On the maps of public health spending, research expenditure and wealth, Africa appears tiny. But in those that show global malaria cases and the deaths due to drought, Africa appears enormous.

You'll find a year's worth of maps on the site, spanning categories from income and housing to pollution and "destruction." Each map is also accompanied by a brief summary of the topic, plus links to labeled territory and population maps, data sheets in Excel or Opendoc formats, and even a downloadable PDF poster showcasing the map and some of its key data points.

Choose a topic, and you're bound to find something interesting. I was struck by two maps, which are as good a place to start as any:

map_childlabor.jpgChild Labor (at left): "Nine of the ten territories with the highest proportions of child labourers are in Africa. . . . The map shows that most child labour occurs in African and Southern Asian territories. India has the highest number of child labourers, twice as many as China where the second highest population of child labourers lives."

map_toyimports.jpgToy Imports (at right): "Most imports of toys (US$ net) are to the United States, followed by the United Kingdom. Toys are fun but not necessities. Thus toy imports give an indication of disposable incomes. The lowest imports of toys (US$ net) per person are to territories in Africa and also Tajikistan (in the Middle East)."

Link: Worldmapper

December 28, 2006

The World at a Glance: Number Ones

1_3.jpgEven though The World Almanac is the best-selling American reference book of all time, there are still people out there who don't quite know what, exactly, you can find in it. So in the 2007 edition, we added a new feature page that summarizes some of the diverse, interesting facts you can find throughout the book, including some surprising facts, milestone birthdays for 2007, and important trends in the U.S. and around the world. For today, however, we'll keep the focus on our "Number Ones" — the biggest, the best, the worst, and the most popular in just a few of the dozens of different subject areas contained in the book.

Most popular car color in the U.S. .......... silver, more than 20% of new cars
Highest-rated U.S. television show, 2005-06 .......... American Idol, Tuesday night
Top-spending U.S. advertiser in 2005 .......... Procter & Gamble, $4.61 bil
Most prescribed class of drug in the U.S. .......... antidepressants, prescribed 81.2 mil times in 2004
Most popular dog breed in U.S. .......... Labrador retriever, 137,867 new dogs registered in 2005
Leading cause of death in U.S. .......... heart disease, 685,089 deaths (28%) in 2003
Nation with the most vacation days per year .......... Italy, average of 42 days per person
Largest world city .......... Tokyo, 2005 population 35.2 mil
Largest army, by active-duty troop strength .......... China, 2.3 million
Nation hosting the most refugees .......... Pakistan, with 1.1 mil in 2005
Most densely populated U.S. state .......... New Jersey, 1,135 persons per sq. mi.
Most sparsely populated nation .......... Mongolia, 4.7 persons per sq. mi.
Nation with most water per capita .......... Iceland, 582,191.8 cubic meters (U.S. has 10,333)
Developed nations with highest federal tax rate .......... Belgium and Germany, 42%
Nation with highest per capita GDP .......... Luxembourg, $55,600
Highest temperature recorded on Earth .......... 136° F in El Azizia, Libya, 9/13/22
Deadliest natural disaster in U.S. .......... Galveston Hurricane, Sept. 8, 1900; up to 12,000 killed
Most career saves (baseball) .......... Trevor Hoffman, 482 through 2006

[P.S.: Know a trivia buff who might love this list? Want to share it with the world? This would be a perfect time to try some of our sharing and social-networking tools. Click "Email this" to send this entry on to a friend, or "Add this" to bookmark or share it with dozens of different online services.]

Related: "Unbreakable" Sports Records

Photo from Leo Reynolds' Flickr stream (CC)

November 18, 2006

Priming the Pump

Americans love their cars, but we hate to pay for the gas that keeps them going. You can track regional gas prices here at the Department of Energy website, which also explains where your gas dollars go and what factors cause prices to rise and fall. Before you fill your tank, check, a user-maintained directory of low gas prices across the country; if nothing else, it can help you avoid the awful experience of discovering that you could have paid 10 cents less per gallon by driving down the block.

And if you’re still feeling bad about your last $40 fill-up, here’s some small comfort: thanks to high tariffs and taxes in Japan, Western Europe, and even Canada and Mexico, gas prices in the U.S. have consistently ranked among the lowest in the world. For the historical proof, click here.

–Sarah Janssen

About Transportation

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to The World Almanac in the Transportation category. They are listed from newest to oldest.

Sports is the previous category.

Travel is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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