Cities

Engines could easily gulp less gas

MIT lab rats cook up a less wasteful gasoline engine

Don't hum the requiem for the gasoline engine just yet. MIT brainiacs say it's easier than imagined to flip a car between the usual gas-guzzling state to a low-pollution, ultra-efficient mode. The researchers have tested a system that can run on a quarter less than the usual amount of gas without needing any fancy fuel. With the flick of a switch, the setup alternates between regular, spark-triggered combustion and experimental homogeneous charge compression ignition. In the latter system, premixed fuel and air combust when compressed, spewing less soot and NOx from the engine. Volvo has explored the hybrid technology, but many kinks would need to untangle before you could get behind the wheel. If car makers adopted such hybrid gasoline ignitions, the petroleum wouldn't get any cleaner, but less of it would be used, potentially adding a few miles per gallon of efficiency to a car. That might keep the grins up at oil companies and gas stations -- but in dreamland, only for a fleeting moment, as the world weans off of fossil fuels. Right? This and other stopgap car-greening measures of now and the near future are giving people more driving options than ever. What's more interesting -- the novelty of this innovation, or that it's reaching the not-quite-there-yet phase of development more than a century after Daimler and Benz got props for the modern gas engine?

Running the gauntlet

Time to get serious about bikes

I participated in another Critical Mass bike ride last Friday and thought I'd share some observations. This was the first time I have seen a patrol car at a gathering, although they didn't seem to know what exactly was going on. They cited one guy for drinking in public. The goofball had an open bottle of red wine. I had to smile as they dragged him off because half of the crowd watching was standing there with beers hidden in riding gloves or drink bottles. The ride got off to a rocky start. Normally, a few of the several hundred riders will start circling the crowd to warn everyone that take off is imminent. But this time the dummies just took off while everyone else was still waiting for a signal. This spread the ride out. So, I decided to hang out at the tail end to see what that was like. I found a woman and a mom and her young son trying to stay up with the other riders. When the crowd swept onto the highway things got dicey. I stayed with them to help run block on cars and tried to hurry them along. Now I know what a wildebeest cow and her calf must feel like when a pack of hyenas have weeded them from the herd. Another woman dropped back to help me protect them from the cars. We became surrounded by pissed off SUV drivers. The coup de grace was when a guy in a Porche deliberately slammed on his brakes. The young woman who had dropped back to help me ran right into his bumper and fell off her bike. He screeched his tires and left her lying there. She was pretty unhinged. I stuck with them until they got to an exit ramp where I told them that they really should not be participating in this ride. They simply were not strong enough riders. The exit ramp happened to be a few blocks from my house so I bailed out of the ride early hoping everyone got home safely.

Our brittle infrastructure, our nonresilient economy

Bridge to the 21st century?

Since 1998, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has been publishing an "infrastructure report card" detailing the sorry state of the various parts of our infrastructure. Unfortunately, national attention on the physical infrastructure only rises when something catastrophic happens, as it did in New Orleans in 2005, in Minneapolis on Wednesday after the collapse of a large bridge, or during an electrical blackout. Like our ecosystems, the physical infrastructure is an essential part of the economy; the economy literally rests on the foundation of ecosystems and the infrastructure. Like the various ecosystems, such as forests and grasslands, lakes and rivers, the infrastructure has increasingly been treated like an asset that can be milked for all its worth, without investment. Like our ecosystems, the neglect of our infrastructure is the result of maximizing income in the short term; instead of insuring that there is some slack in a bridge or a forest, the economy has become nonresilient.

Ask a Brokeass: Trade wins

At last, a use for that old Milli Vanilli CD

Long ago, I promised an interview component to Ask a Brokeass. I’ve talked to some badass brokeasses since then, but I haven’t gotten around to transcribing all of those interviews. The intern needs an intern. …

Coach buses provide long-distance, low-emission convenience

Greyhound gets some competition from Megabus.com

Buses, on average, get low passenger miles per gallon in the U.S., because they stop often and don't use most of their capacity. Coach buses -- providing prebooked travel between cities -- don't suffer from these limitations. Megabus.com, a new niche player in this market, provides cheap, comfortable travel between nearby cities with travel time comparable to driving or taking commuter airlines (in a very small portion of the U.S.). Efficiency is 184 passenger miles per gallon -- without using hybrid buses or using any particular efficiency technology. They just use yield management ticket booking, where the earlier you book a ticket (relative to other passengers) the less you pay for your seat. (Thanks, Jordan Hayes for the tip.)

Of cars and carbon

How the Prius stacks up against other cars

Sure, everybody knows that what you drive affects how much you warm the climate. But after the jump: a chart that proves the point.

More ways to use our friend the wind's energy

Clever video

A short video -- proof that ingenuity is alive and well:

They're counting on you

To count … heh

WNYC is calling on New Yorkers to go outside and count the SUVs in their ‘hood as part of an experiment in getting citizens involved in the reporting process. Sez their website: This our experiment …

Piquing interest

How does the Home Interest Mortgage Deduction affect sprawl?

Now that the housing market is tanking, is it a good time to talk about the absurdity of the Home Interest Mortgage Deduction? I mean, it's truly crummy social policy. The biggest benefits go to the people in the highest tax brackets, own expensive homes, and earn enough income that they can itemize their deductions. So in essence, the HIMD is a ginormous housing subsidy for the well-off -- and one that dwarfs all of the housing subsidies to lower-income folks. This NY Times article lays out the case nicely: apparently, half the benefit of the deduction goes to the 12 percent of taxpayers who make at least $100 grand per year. But the conventional wisdom is that the home interest mortgage deduction isn't just crummy social policy, but crummy environmental policy as well. Allowing homeowners to deduct mortgage interest on their taxes gives people an incentive spend more of their money on housing than they otherwise would. And people with extra money to spend on housing tend to buy larger homes on bigger lots -- which, in theory at least, means that the HIMD primes the pump for low-density sprawl. But is this really true? Does the HIMD really accelerate low-density sprawl?

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