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Maps that show the anatomy of America’s vast infrastructure (washingtonpost.com)
478 points by grrrtttt on Dec 1, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 170 comments

As a Civil Engineer myself, I feel like people don't realize the amount of underlying stuff that goes into even basic infrastructure projects. There's layers of planning, design, permitting, regulations and bidding involved. It usually takes years to finally get to construction and even then there's a whole host of issues that arise that can delay even a simple project. Case in point: I was the principal inspector for a small pump station project, estimated two weeks of construction and it took just over 3 months.

There's definitely room for improvement though. A big part of the issue is the mismatch between the private and municipal sides of the project. As someone on the private side as a consultant, it can be really frustrating to constantly jump through bureaucratic hoops that come across as massive wastes of time and money.

As a network engineer, it's amazing the amount of work and money that it costs to do high capacity long distance singlemode fiber between major metro areas. Doing something like a 288 strand cable from Boise to Salt Lake City along railway and highway right-of-ways is a huge project that involves massive, heavy equipment, tons of people, GIS experts, civil engineers, dozens of county governments, state governments, road closures, electrical system coordination, property leases for fiber huts, diesel generators, bucket trucks, bulldozers, excavators, trenching machines, flatbed trucks, spool trucks, traffic flaggers...

I could write a 5 page list with just individual single line item bullet points of all the factors/sub-contractors/sub-systems to take into consideration for a successful inter city fiber project.

And that is just at OSI layer 1 before you even start lighting the fiber.

I'm in the Waterloo region, which is partway through a multi-year light rail construction project. The line is really relatively simple and not all that long (19km), but took over a decade of fighting to get approved, costs almost $1B, and has been a huge undertaking to build (not to mention all the nonsense from Bombardier, who are supposed to be building the trains).

But it's been fascinating to compare this to how inner-city rail projects went in the early 20th century— basically some company would get permission, lay down a bunch of track in the middle of the street, and be running trains within a few months. You see similar stuff with early electrification projects, where basically whoever could just come along and string their wires between lamp posts.

I totally see that that's insane, and we can't have a wild west with our infrastructure, but I do also wonder if there's not a middle ground that would allow somewhat more agility with these things.

As things get more rural, and literally more wild west, it's possible to bring down the cost of OSP fiber infrastructure significantly. There's ISPs in rural western states building GPON networks along roadways/right of way (trenched/duct and aerial) with crews that consist of basically two guys and a bucket truck with a spool on it, and a $3000 fusion splicer from china.

Taobao suggests $1000-1500 is enough for a fusion splicer. https://s.taobao.com/search?q=熔接机

yes, for a basic one, there's lots of good fusion splicers for $1500-2000 from china. keeping in mind you'll need an additional $500-600 of precision hand tools, tools for dealing with OSP fiber cables, cleaning supplies and stuff to go with it, a fusion splicer by itself is not very useful.

I would perma-scroll a website with these sorts of lists.

Would you be willing to elaborate a little on your career path? Sounds really interesting.

IMHO the best way to become "the person with enable on the core routers of a noteworthy ASN" is to start from tier 1 ISP help desk and work your way upwards, while studying stuff like optics, starting with CCNA level IP networking and incrementally getting into more complicated things, and focusing exclusively on *BSD/Linux for all server platforms while completely disregarding the existence of Windows.

For people working their way up through the ranks at an ISP, it is really helpful to spend as much time cross training and working with different groups of people, responsible for different things. Spend enough time in massive-scale hosting/colocation/datacenter operations that you're familiar with how to properly set up a facility for thousands of 1U size servers, but also spend time with OSP fiber people, learn the fundamentals of high capacity PTP microwave links. Spend time with the sysadmins who run back end infrastructure like large scale DNS, SMTP and IMAP servers, billing systems. And of course, all the time, continue to increase your IP/layer 3 networking knowledge until you're comfortable on something like an ASR9010 or MX960.

This is actually one of the most fascinating aspects of modern society to me. I can't resist opportunities to tour local infrastructure.

I think it's NYT who a few years ago had a series of articles about the work of maintaining the underground aqueducts that bring water to NYC, and in building a new one. [1] It was to me a more engrossing read than any OS deep-dive article, despite the latter being more in-line with my passion and work.

It's also why I loved the fantasy book "Two Serpents Rise" [2] by Max Gladstone, because it's basically about the water infrastructure of Los Angeles. Which has a fascinating real-world history of its own! [3]

[1] can't find NYT, but here's a related article: http://www.theverge.com/2013/10/19/4853636/underground-with-...

[2] http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16059411-two-serpents-ris...

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Water_Wars

One of the most satisfying parts of my job is getting first hand access to seeing so much interesting infrastructure.

I specialize in water, so getting access to the treatment plans is my favorite. Drinking water plants are mostly off limits for the public but I've gotten tours of a few.

If you're around the NYC area try visiting the Brooklyn Wastewater Treatment Plant. Those egg shaped digesters are really well designed. I even heard of a couple getting married there.

I can see them from my window! They are great. There is also an interesting public artwork their made by the artist/architect Vito Acconci.

There doesn't seem to be a Brooklyn Wastewater Treatment Plant on GMaps. I assume you mean the Newton Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant? It appears to have the eggs you refer to:


The treatment plant on Deer Island in Boston is a pretty cool tour too.

> This is actually one of the most fascinating aspects of modern society to me. I can't resist opportunities to tour local infrastructure.

Two of my favorite books:

The Works: Anatomy of a City https://www.amazon.com/Works-Anatomy-City-Kate-Ascher/dp/159...

What Do People Do All Day https://www.amazon.com/Richard-Scarrys-What-People-World/dp/...

I wanted to browse your first link, but Amazon shows the preface, table of contents, and the index, which are the only parts of the book I don't really care about when I'm flipping through a book!

I wish Amazon would show a few random pages from the middle--the actual content of the book--so we can see what we're going to be reading. It seems like common sense.

Me too, sorry.

If a library is nearby, you could look at it there, or even check it out: http://www.worldcat.org/title/works-anatomy-of-a-city/

Don't blame Amazon, blame the publishers.

One of the most prominent academic theorists of infrastructure, Susan Leigh Star, based some of her work on a study of computer systems and their interfaces ("information infrastructure"):

e.g. her papers from the 90s

Steps Toward an Ecology of Infrastructure: Design and Access for Large Information Spaces https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/f0c2/2ec49e87aecec1bd54506b...

The Ethnography of Infrastructure http://www.imtfi.uci.edu/files/articles/Star.pdf

Doesn't California City have something to do with Los Angeles's water infrastructure history?

I didn't know about California City, but the parent post also makes me think of the classic movie Chinatown, inspired by the California Water Wars.

On the same topic, another inspiration for fiction is the book Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner:


Great book.

Is there a role for technology to play in simplifying this problem for the decision makers?

Absolutely. In fact I've developed some Python programs for my own firm that have really sped up our productivity. It's actually led my to leaving civil engineering and going for my masters in CS soon! I hope one day I can make some wide changes in the industry but the market for it is quite small.

The issue with technology in municipal governments is with budgeting and the "It works, why do we need to change it?" mentality. Governments will still insist on things sent in formats that were modern 20 years ago, why should I have to send 5 paper copies by mail to the DEP or mail a CD?

The civil engineering industry as a whole is still very paper based as well. Paper copies are signed and sealed by hand and sent in copies out to clients/bidders. Having to spend time printing everything gets extremely time and resource consuming. The argument for this style though is that some projects have a big public liability and records must be kept.

There are pushes in the right direction, but change is slow and many don't see the incentive of upending entire systems even though they can provide a real benefit.

> The issue with technology in municipal governments is with budgeting and the "It works, why do we need to change it?" mentality.

There is a very underserved segment of the municipal government open/closed software space: for village-scale governments that declare independence from annexation from a nearby larger municipality seeking tax bases with dense enough populations. Generally these villages that get annexed are taxed just like their big-city counterparts, but still have to drive all the way into the city to avail themselves of most the city amenities they pay dearly for.

In these smaller village governments, they are extremely open to staying modern to save money. Some of their annual budgets are measured in six figures in the US, with one part-time clerical employee. They'll spend money to retain attorneys who specialize in this sector to do all the paperwork to interface to regional civil authorities, and state and federal authorities, because it outsources complex work to someone who knows all the right boilerplates to use. There perhaps is a market opportunity for someone on the software side to package up the complexity of processes in the operations side.

> The argument for this style though is that some projects have a big public liability and records must be kept.

It is incredibly hard to get public institutions to update their processes. The way to do so is, sadly for us geeks, not technologically driven. I'm sure you know this, but to articulate it for other commenters: building and offering a better technological solution is not even 1% of the work. You are a technologist talking to non-technologist people. Getting people to agree on it and then use it is 99% of the work.

I wonder if there are adoption-difficulties for software that tries too hard to replace those asynchronous messages with a single synchronous source-of-truth.

>>The argument for this style though is that some projects have a big public liability and records must be kept.

I don't get it... It's much, much easier to preserve records in digital format than in paper format.

No way.

Digital records are exponentially more complex to maintain in the long term. You need to deal with formats being unreadable, turnover of media, etc.

Future generations will find this era to be a black hole. All of the primary sources are electronic in formats that will be long forgotten centuries from now.

>>Digital records are exponentially more complex to maintain in the long term. You need to deal with formats being unreadable, turnover of media, etc.

No they aren't. There are many open, non-proprietary formats that have existed for many years and will continue to exist for decades. TIFF is a great example.

In contrast, paper records cost a ton of money to store (they take up physical storage space, which means paying rent and/or opportunity cost) and they are also very easily destroyed in accidents such as fires or earthquakes. Oh, you want to create backups? Good fucking luck making copies of all the crumbling pieces of city legislation from 1960s.

The "black hole" argument is real, though.

Think of a catastrophe (natural or otherwise) which yielded a long-term interruption to the power grid— all those cloud-archived images and documents carefully striped with redundancy across multiple disks in different availability zones? All gone.

And yet a stack of papers in a fire-proof safe will be there and perfectly readable for centuries, with no intervention or maintenance required, and no special technology (at all) on the receiving end.

No organization keeps their records in fire proof safes dude. They keep them in basements and warehouses and the trunks of employees' cars. I sell and implement backscanning services for a living. I've seen it all, trust me.

Bit rot isn't supposed to set in for at least a decade on spinning rust drives. That's a hell of a power outage.

To be clear, I'm speaking about more or less permanent outage. The kind where even if the data center could continue to run indefinitely on diesel, there'd be no point because the customers of those companies have experienced sufficient disruption that shopping for things on the internet is no longer a major part of their lives.

There are any of dozens ways this can happen; suffice to say that Romans in 400 AD also thought their way of life was permanent, and a few hundred years later, there was basically nothing left.

So picture a future archeologist exploring an abandoned data center populated by AWS hosts or Backblaze storage pods or whatever, attempting to recover information from the hardware he finds there. Even assuming all the disks are fully intact, how much chance would he have of recovering anything at all of meaning?

We don't know tons about the Egyptians or Romans or Aztecs from what they left us as their worlds collapsed, but it's possible we know considerably more about them than we'll be leaving for those looking back on us a millennia or two from now.

(And it doesn't even take a catastrophe— look at the effort YC is putting into getting that Alto working, and that's a machine that's just a few decades old!)

I worked in a project in high school to digitize and index government records from 1600-1850. The paper stuff is in great shape.

The abstracts written in WordPerfect v.whatever? Not so much.

How many of those non-proprietary formats are really extensively used, though? The biggest chunk are probably in .doc, .xls, and .pdf files, generated from obsolete versions of Microsoft and Adobe products.

Does anybody actually use TIFF? I've almost never seen one in the wild.

TIFF is the most common format for scanning applications. PDF (which is also an open, non-proprietary format) is the second.

Any organization that uses a document management or records management software will have most of their documents in either (or a combination of) those formats.

Try reading a 50 year old book vs reading a 50 year old reel of magnetic data tape.

Most are moving to digital formats, it's just very time consuming when you have stacks of 24x36 plans. Our firm has an entire portion of a building dedicated to just paper storage and we have interns scanning old material every day.

Absolutely. I worked as a transport infrastructure planner for both public and private clients in 14 countries. On the side, I started a couple of software companies, and saw how collaboration tools like Google Docs and Github made the decision-making around complex engineering problems SO much easier. (Yes, I've seen lots of stupid flame wars on Github issue trackers. Trust me: on infrastructure projects, it's stupider).

So I started another software company to solve this problem: https://www.podaris.com/. The website is crap (we're bootstrapped and our priorities are currently elsewhere), but what we're developing is very, very cool, and will make infrastructure planning a lot more like using modern collaboration tools for document editing or software engineering.

I run construction projects for my company, but rely on a lot of outside players (arch, CivE, Struct, MEP, GC). Huge part of my job is just managing the individual strands, and finding out when one of those subs talks to each other but doesn't update me/my company. I've had almost no luck having these groups sign up for something like a light collaborate work tool.

Instead it's all e-mail and face-to-faces (at their high billing rates). Slows me down so much compared to my internal projects where we can have a Slack chatroom or google-docs/evernote organization system to keep track of everything.

Things can be made a great deal easier by employing highly knowledgable GIS system experts and building a GIS backend operational infrastructure designed to scale up to large projects.

Some of this seems to be designed for US style graft which is not handing people bags of money, but exchanges of favors.

I'm constantly amazed at how long large projects like buildings and skyscrapers take to design and build now compared to the 1930s. Is it just that the huge efficencies we've gained with things like CAD and project management tools have been dwarfed by the expansion of bureaucracy and regulation?

The buildings themselves are far more advanced. Forced air instead of steam registers, better plumbing, telco, seismic, increased floorspans, durable materials, energy efficiency etc etc.

I always wonder how, with all the automation and efficiency gains in construction, with how much cheaper (inflation adjusted) materials are now, that the cost to build Skyscrapers per square foot (irrespective of land) has more than double inflation since the 1930s.

Maybe this is it?

And speaking of, is there any way software could automate this regulation? Seems like it could save a ton of money if so.

I think what makes this regulation problematic is that it's not exclusively the type of regulation where you read the regulation, understand it and now you are good to go. Instead it's largely the type of regulation where you need to write an application/proposal, send it to done government office, call in favors to get it processed in a somewhat timely fashion, argue about interpretation of regulation, update your plans, wait months, have no proper recorded, etc. I think that type of regulation is very hard to automate, unpredictable, very expensive and largely what gives regulations in general a bad rep.

Regulation seems to be a Ω(n) process, where n is the number of people who have some method of influencing the project, i.e. as a member of a constituency or owner of some bridging piece of land. The rules part of regulation is probably the fastest, with civil engineering law firms probably having that aspect mastered.

There is a huge building boom of 6 to 20 floor towers in Silicon Valley, where low slung single story buildings are getting replaced by modern office towers.

These projects are happening incredibly fast, so I can't imagine it really being less efficient than in the 1930s, when buildings of this magnitude where few and far between.

I was a Civil Engineer in hydrology. I built out a web app that integrated some local, clunky disparate software solutions so one could design detention basins in a matter of minutes to the local code (http://www.drainagebuilder.com).

I met with so much resistance from the local Regional Flood Control District that I finally walked away from the project (it was based on very local specifications, so the market was rather small). They ultimately "upgraded" the existing hydrologic component of what I was working on by making a web based form - but it was a step back from their desktop app (for one, it had no database, so the user is required to download and store hydrologic computations back to their client).

I have my PE but ultimately walked away completely from Civil. I understand why Civil is conservative - bureaucrats, especially those in public safety, are incentivized to always say no; such conservatism is not for me.

Another recent article on some issues of apps for Gov: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/11/13/magazine/desig...

In the US this back and forth is orders of magnitude more expensive than that haven of efficiency, Western Europe.

These comment is just saying stuff is difficult. I agree, stuff is difficult.

But do you think regulations are justified? I understand its inconvenience but I rather don't have people building pump stations that are not safe and may cause other problems in community.

Definitely justified. Most civil engineers are state licensed which is a years long process in itself. Just to become a certified Engineer In Training I needed a 4 year engineering degree and a 6 hour exam. To become licensed you need 5+ years of experience and an 8 hour exam.

I'm not arguing against those safeties, but I believe there can be improvement in the regulation process. The NJDEP has only recently moved to a digital permitting system.

Related, here's a diagram that shows energy flows in our economy, from the raw material source (oil, gas...) through the sectors, industries, and specific use:


(for example, most oil is for transportation, most of which is highway, about 3/4 of which is light-duty vehicles, which is roughly 50% cars and 50% light trucks, about 1/3 of which are to earn a living...)

via https://www.fastcoexist.com/3062630/visualizing/this-very-ve...

via https://plus.google.com/+TimOReilly/posts/DLcTGBpwZSF?sfc=tr...

I got banned from an energy-related sub-reddit for making a point in a discussion about solar using the diagram in your first link. Context is a bannable offense! :-)

Seriously, though: context is very important. You can't have a meaningful discussion if people are comparing tailpipe to tailpipe. You need a cradle-to-grave view of the system and its inputs, chained back, at least one step and maybe two. It's cumbersome, but otherwise, people keep debating with their comparisons between apples and wheelbarrows. I used to think that people who were picking a micro-location for their PoV/stance were acting disingenuously. But, I've learned that - they really don't know! (Some remain remarkably incurious once shown, though...)

Anyway: thanks for that link. It's one of my all time favorite Sankey diagrams, which I found by accident after digging after that earlier one from LLNL...

> I used to think that people who were picking a micro-location for their PoV/stance were acting disingenuously. But, I've learned that - they really don't know! (Some remain remarkably incurious once shown, though...)

Yeah, I understand your frustration. My feeling is that people want to feel like they're doing good, and if you come along and show them that they're just pissing in the ocean... your rhetoric better be really smooth.

Which is why, truthfully, I usually don't bother. It's not my skillset.

This is great! Very dense with information but gives a very good high level view of where it all comes from and goes to.

Not trying to nitpick, but at least a tiny sliver of this data is misleading: the Amtrak stations markers include locations that are definitely not passenger rail stations. For example, the map shows a half-dozen dots on the southwest Washington state coast, but the only western Washington passenger rail service is up and down I-5, and then eastbound from there.

Hey there, I was involved in making these maps.

You're absolutely correct. We used point data from BTS (http://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/sites/rita.dot.gov.bts/files/pub...), and did not filter out non-train station types.

We're fixing this now.

Why is there no nuclear in the power plant maps?

They have linked to another article with more details

Mapping how the United States generates its electricity - https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/power-plant...

I'm wondering this as well. Is there no data available, or was it a political/editorial decision?

Wikipedia doesn't seem to have trouble showing their locations, and there are a hundred of them currently in operation, producing just shy of a fifth of our country's electrical power. Given those facts, it is a curious omission, to say the least.

Seriously. Nuclear plants make up 60% of the US' carbon free electricity and (as you say) 20% of its generated electricity. Very curious omission indeed.

FWIW on the Bloomberg Terminal all these types of infrastructure can be played with as interactive map layers. Nuclear, refineries, pipelines, etc., so the data is definitely available and not "secret" by any means.

Yeah, the Energy Information Agency publishes their locations:


There's a layer there for Nuclear plants too, so it is easy to adjust the map to only show them.

Maybe security? Because if we publish maps of nuclear power plants people might use them to get the bomb?

Not that I agree with that. A simple Google search would be sufficient for someone just looking for a location.

In case you plan on updating these, I would love love love an overlay to add in state lines. For example, it appears that it would be technically possible to run a train from my hometown of Carbondale, IL to Saint Louis (blows my mind that it's not a thing) but putting in the overlay and being able to zoom and pretend make that route would be awesome.

This can be prototyped pretty quickly using Leaflet to serve the zoom-able tile map and topojson to reduce the size of the overlay data (in this case, train tracks and stations). I haven't tried topojson for a map of the lower 48, but I was getting a 80% reduction in data file size when using it on parcel data. This way, instead of rolling your own tile layer with the data which is a little bit of an involved process, you can just load a topojson file with the data and draw it as a vector layer.

I'm sure there are limitations that make this much more difficult than I'm expressing due to the volume of traffic that hits washingtonpost.com - I'm more remarking on this so if other people are looking to do data visualizations like this they know there is a good dynamic option out there they can try.

http://leafletjs.com/ https://github.com/topojson/topojson

I'm curious what software you and other media agencies use to make the maps (ESRI?) and how they manage their GIS data (any enterprise GIS software or just a bunch of shapefiles sitting on a network share)? Do they actively collect datasets or just pull it in as needed?

We use QGIS at the Post, which is open source. For organizing shapefiles, we don't really use anything fancy, just a shared folder. If we find something very useful, we put it in there.

Awesome, it's great to see QGIS getting more popular.

Thanks for the reply!

Awesome you use OSS. I love QGIS and PostGIS!

PostGIS is awesome. I was only exposed to ESRI at university (ArcIMS) and can still remember how I felt when someone told me I could have a world-class spatial engine for free.

ESRI/ArcServer is just too expensive for smaller organisations especially once you add in the cost of licensing SQL Server or Oracle.

> ESRI/ArcServer is just too expensive for smaller organisations especially once you add in the cost of licensing SQL Server or Oracle.

I spent most of a year 2yrs ago trying to sell support for QGIS and PostGIS and GIS support in general to local municipalities but that died a very slow death as I had no idea how to sell to any government agency :(

Based on some arms-length interactions with the USGS, my impression is that they use ESRI stuff for basically everything spatial. Ditto for my city I think. The extent of the ESRI monopoly/entrenchment in government is maddening to me considering the licensing costs, the high quality of the open-source alternatives, and the fact that I'm footing the bill. When I was taking some GIS classes at a public university I wondered out loud if the classes would be about GIS or about "using ESRI products". When I inquired about having students learn to do the work with QGIS there was some hemming and hawing and "well we really don't know much about open source tools" and I got handed an install image of ArcGIS. I feel like I paid about 1/2 of my tuition to learn GIS fundamentals and the other 1/2 to pay for training on ESRI products.

Most places don't have anything, they make requests through their engineer and have no access to the data themselves. I also wanted to consolidate things like property records.

But yeah, everyone who had a set up was ESRI :( Arc works with PostGIS, supposedly.

I'm not sure QGIS is quite ready for your average municipal GIS user yet. I did 6 years at a city and was involved with a regional GIS users group - it was an odd mix of people trained in geospatial sciences (geography/forestry etc) and people who had attended a couple of ESRI classes after they were told to learn GIS - ArcGIS desktop is a more visually refined experience especially if you are used to the windows world. Likewise with PostGIS - SQL is a scary tool for many GIS staff. It's frustrating in some ways but also a sign of job security for the immediate future!

I work for an organization with several GIS groups and there is a strong push to get everyone under the IT umbrella. When I see the sums of money IT are looking to pay for ArcGIS Server/Portal/Online + database licensing I see a LOT of potential developer hours being burned up in licensing. Sadly many IT shops strongly favour COTS solutions and ESRI are the Microsoft of the GIS world....

I was using qgis for power users (who could use arc I'd they wished since it can connect to PostGIS databases, but I wouldn't sell or support it).

For everyone else I had a really nice, slick web interface. You could make basic additions, edits, or lookups from it.

QGIS is amazing to be frank. I'm glad it's working out for you guys!

We love QGIS. Open source for life!

I also would be interested in how people organize vector datasets. Between GRASS, shapefiles, postgres, and geojson files (the four types of file storage I utilize most often) I find keeping organized to require an unusual amount of effort. I've looked into CKAN for datasets I want to share, but haven't taken the leap yet and wonder if it will just add to the complexity instead of reducing it.

I thought they included it for the freight network (IIRC the overwhelming majority of train traffic in the US is freight).

It would be nice to distinguish the two.

For context, here's population http://i.imgur.com/mcA2hWa.jpg.

Kind of obvious, but a lot of infrastructure (esp. for resource extraction) is far away from centers of population.

Most infrastructure will be. The idea of using city spaces to put your infrastructure has always been a bit daft. Vertical Farming is one example. As we have seen multiple times on HN new apartments would be more welcome than farms. The cost of transport which these maps show in some detail is small because of our infrastructure (e.g. rail, barge, truck, and vessels). Crops and livestock really do ok in rural areas. Livestock[2] does better roaming between the summer and winter fields.

Energy generation is another rural activity. Although solar is fine on roofs[1], wind is rather annoying to live next to and with the possibility of fire when those turbines go best kept away from town. Coal, gas, and nuclear power plants aren't very welcome either.

1) even then, I get the feeling a lot of architects would rather have green spaces instead.

2) ok, well turkeys as we raise them are not an outdoor animal

> Energy generation is another rural activity. Although solar is fine on roofs[1], wind is rather annoying to live next to...

It was interesting to see just how notably absent windpower was in the South (excluding Texas). What's the reason for such apparent opposition to it? Curious.

Here's some maps of annual average wind:


It's not very windy in the south, relatively speaking.

I'm surprised you haven't gotten much response.

First of all, the South is quite flat (sort of surprised at other response saying it's not.) That means that there aren't ridges where you can get some easy benefit from elevation. The South also isn't very windy.

Corrosion is also a huge issue. It's humid, and on the coasts, where there might actually be some wind, you get salt too. Think of how quickly cars fall apart in regions that salt heavily in winter. Now imagine doing that year-round to machines that have to be built with some measure of precision in order to extract the most energy reasonably possible.

The only place I've ever seen windmills in the South is Corpus Christi, and I can only imagine the unfortunate people who have to keep those working. That's pretty much it for the South; you don't see many more until you get into the mountains (some in VA and probably TN.) Texas has tons of wind power, but but only in the parts that wouldn't really be considered the South; they're all in the NW part of the state.

I won't purport to be an expert, but as I've driven around, the places that struck me as having pretty successful wind farms were Central valley in CA, Eastern CO, and Southern MN and WI.

Don't they build wind farms IN the oceans?

Yes, there is also tons of equipment offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.

I'm a North Dakotan so when I think flat, I think Great Plains flat. Last time I was in the south it still had bumps.

Well, looking at the South (other than Texas), I'm not sure its really flat enough for the investment. To make it worth it you really need a large flat area with a lot of constant wind. The great plains (ND to Texas) is a much better investment than Alabama. I would bet offshore in the Gulf is worth it[1]. The great plains is not exactly built out yet. Never mind hooking all to a grid that can take it.

Plus, wind power (traditional) does kill birds and bats so there is a problems there.

1) it does apparently given the UK experience improve the fishing

Which is something to keep in mind when people talk about blue states being net Federal tax payers and red states being net Federal tax receivers.

The interstates and railways through ID, WY, or NE aren't there for the people of those states - there to connect CA and WA to the east coast.

I thought there were there to connect coal fields in the Powder River Basin to power plants in the midwest.

This is correct for probably most of the railroads in Wyoming. Not sure about the other states mentioned but probably true for them too.

> The interstates and railways through ID, WY, or NE aren't there for the people of those states

Really? How else are the people of those states going to get the things they produce (whethee by mining, farming, or otherwise) to outside domestic or, by way of seaports, overseas markets?

I'm pretty sure those rails/roads are there to collect and connect the corn that the blue states pay for and subsidize.

FYI this map is based on 26 year old data.

No communication networks -- people in underserved areas are crying out for fiber or anything better than DSL. It's not clear anybody really wants more electric lines or pipelines but very clear that people want better internet.

I don't know what the situation is now but a few years ago I couldn't get DSL (too many feet) while I watched them bury fiber about 2.5 miles away (the fiber was adding capacity to the nearby town). So at such a grand scale, a fiber map probably wouldn't really show many of the under-served areas.

I was using 3g, I bet 4g is currently the best option.

4g can be a good option, but in many places in the U.S. there are hills and trees in the way. For instance the "Appalachin Mountains" region is where wireless goes to die.

To an incredible degree, too. The Sprint commercials about basically being the same are true almost everywhere I've been in the past few years, so I've been using project Fi (Google's service) for a while. But every time I travel back to VA, I'm thrown back into a world of hunting for signal that I'd almost forgotten.

It's really bizarre. Where my parents live, I can be almost line-of-sight to a cell-tower operated by my carrier (literally visible across the valley, two miles away), and I get barely two bars, with calls flaking out constantly. And forget about data.

Just because you can see the tower doesn't mean the antennas are pointed in your direction.

Furthermore, signal doesn't mean jack. I have a great 'LTE' signal all over where I live in Austin but only get about 0.25 mbps of download speed.

In what way is it clear that people want something better than DSL? The carriers lose money rolling out fiber even in urban areas, in part because they're required to make it accessible to lower-income families that don't want it.

Hell, I'm in the industry and not sure what I'd really get from something better than the DSL I have today.

At my town hall they have a packed crowd whenever the topic of internet service comes up. Even the "fiscal conservatives" on the town board shut up about it being something we can't afford, which they almost never do.

If your DSL is 24 mbps that is not so bad, but many people are stuck at 2 mbps or worse.

In my rural neighborhood (somewhere in the Netherlands) we created a cooperative that will create and manage a fiber network for 5.600 households, spread in a 345,8 km/2 area. The large Telcos are ignoring us, so we have to do it ourselves.

In this area everybody has at least ADSL but speeds range from 2Mbit to 20Mbit. There are also a couple hundred households on Cable (max. 150/20).

With Fiber everybody will get a 100/100 connection for about 50 euros / month. Other packages are available, up tot 500/500.

Even though the people with 20Mbit and up don't complain about their connection a large part of them signed up for Fiber anyway.


Because we told them that if we fail to build this network, the people with ~2Mbit connections are screwed. Out of solidarity 65% of all households signed up, 2 years before they would be able to get it, resulting in a valid business model for the cooperative.

Internet access at those speeds is, I think, pretty close to universally available in the US.

Better than DSL? Pfft. I know folks that would be absolutely delighted if they could get DSL.

  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that more than 95 
  percent of overseas trade produced or consumed by the United 
  States moves through our ports. 
Who woulda thought that overseas trade would go through ports.

It could go through ports in Canada or Mexico. It may sound counter-intuitive, but I don't think that possibility can just be dismissed without even looking at the data. I could imagine that things like legal stuff can influence the stream of goods, not just geography. For example, CETA was just signed while the larger agreement that would include the US now has no chance. I don't know if there is anything in there that might compel a US based company to move things through Canada (and their subsidiary there), but at least it has to be investigated, I don't think consequences of such agreements are immediately obvious, at least they are not to me.

I also would not have dismissed air freight so easily. I would think that while it sure delivers a lot less mass I would assume the parts carried by air probably are much more valuable than what's on the ships, so in terms of monetary value I would not have been surprised to see a higher share. Just think of UPS and FedEx and their big fleets.

The alternatives are road/rail (via Canada or Mexico) and air. Presumably very little overseas trade is routed through Canada and Mexico, but it's certainly possible.

I personally would have guessed a higher percentage would come through air than 5%.

A really large amount goes through Canada. The port of Vancouver is bigger than Oakland, and the port of Manzanillo Mexico is only slightly smaller. Both ports have rail connections to the US interior. The Mexican ports have lower market share because they are pretty far from Chinese origins, but if you want to amuse yourself you can Google up a lot of crazy conspiracy theories about the connections between Mexican ports and the US city of Kansas City. Many deranged people believe that the Mexicans are usurping our sovereignty via an obscure customs office in Kansas City that is (barely) connected by rail to the port of Lazaro Cardenas.

Airplanes go overseas, but not through ports.

Not even air-ports?

Vs. our land borders. This is going to ake for an interesting showdown given that most ports are in major metro areas.

95% trade means what ? Is it by the cost of shipments size ?

I am a road enthusiast. I have driven on almost every single major road in CA Nevada and especially the deserted "no one goes there" type roads. I also take interest in history of roads.

California has been sitting ducks on some really important road proposals or last so many years despite the deaths they have been causing. My suspicion is that politicians want to push trains and other larger projects where they might get kickbacks instead of upgrading existing roads.

Here are some observations:

1. Highway 1 seems to be under repair all the year for last 3 years. 2. Highway 152 is the only major road that connects SJ with I-5. despite this it is one lane for a large part. It has very high fatality and traffic jam rate. Decades have passed since government planned to broaden it. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_State_Route_152] 3. Panoche road. Not sure why this road exists. But since it does then making it an expressway could have helped create an alternative to 152 reducing traffic and accidents. 4. Then there is Route 130 that connections bay area to I-5. Several times it was proposed that this route be widened as an alternative to 152 but it never went ahead. I once saw a car fall several feet below the road just because he got spooked to see me coming in opposite direction. It is that desolated.

Every part of CA I've lived in has had a ton of money going into constant road construction, so this isn't quite my impression. The state's budget in this area is huge, in the billions annually. When I lived in L.A., they built an entire new, 6-lane freeway near where I lived. To relieve congestion on the 10, they just built a second parallel freeway, the 210, that doubled up the route! L.A. has so many freeways now that you can just treat them as arterial roads. If you miss your freeway interchange, no need to backtrack, just keep going and take the next freeway.

I also lived for some years south of SF, and from that vantage point it seemed like a ton of money was being put into roads too. Highway 17 (San Jose to Santa Cruz) has had hundreds of millions poured into widening and safety upgrades. There was just a few years ago a major tunnel-boring project on Highway 1 to replace the "Devil's slide" portion between San Francisco and Half Moon Bay with new tubes put right through the mountain. And the continual freeway-ification of US-101 south of Gilroy has had money going into it just about every year.

And heck, although much of it dates back a bit earlier, the Valley is the only place I've ever lived that has not only the normal three tiers of: interstate freeways, U.S. expressways, and state expressways, but also county expressways, like Montague Expressway and San Tomas Expressway. And yet doesn't have even halfway decent public transit (Caltrain barely counts).

As per Federal government reports California has second worst quality of roads after DC. [1]

Neither LA nor SF Bay area has any good roads. I think your are judging them by lower standards compared to population density, commute distance etc. It is barely sufficient.

Just look at this [2] data. California's rate of building new roads is significantly lower, expenditure stagnant and quality is bad. This despite the higher gas taxes. The money clearly is going somewhere else.

1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/06/25/why-d...

2. http://www.accessmagazine.org/articles/fall-1993/why-califor...

The article you link at #2 comes up with a pretty different explanation for freeway construction stall:

> The principal cause of declining freeway development was the dramatic rise in construction and maintenance costs

I.e. California would have had to significantly increase its gasoline tax, in line with the increases in construction costs, to fund continued 1960s-scale freeway development, but didn't do so: The gas tax today is approximately the same in real terms as it was in 1960 (it was 4.7¢/gal then, which is roughly 40¢/gal in 2016 dollars). Well that, or find a way to bring construction costs back down. A small portion of the money diverted to rail doesn't really move the needle on the big-picture here.

That last paragraph comes full circle. When Santa Clara County opted out of BART, money that would have gone to BART was instead partly used for the expressways.

Southwest Expressway is the most puzzling, running just from Stokes (by Bascom) to 280. Dunno if it was originally planned for more.

Tons of money goes into VTA rail to serve very few passengers. Its routes were chosen for political reasons rather than actual demand. (Note that the MV line runs right by where Lockheed Martin is/was, and its primary Congressional advocate as head of the Transportation Committee, Norm Mineta, was a Lockheed executive after he quit Congress mid-term after losing his chairmanship.)

Now, I often get to wait at the VTA crossing of Central Expressway for empty trains to cross. Yay.

10 most populous cities in America (by order of most to least): New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose.

Honorable mention: San Francisco is at 13th

Measuring city size is a tricky endeavor. Municipal borders are pretty arbitrary and so not a great way to decide what the real size of the urbanized area is. The OECD has a methodology they call "functional urban areas"[1] that starts by identifying linked high density clusters and then refining from there.

Using their methodology the order is: LA, NYC, Chicago, SF, Houston, DC, Miami, Atlanta, Dallas, and Phoenix.[2]

[1] https://www.oecd.org/gov/regional-policy/Definition-of-Funct...

[2] https://www.oecd.org/gov/regional-policy/functional-urban-ar...

The wikpedia list of Primary Statistical Areas is pretty useful:


Even those are way too large to represent "city areas" (i.e. metropolitan areas). A more reasonable comparison may be to use their subdivisions, MSA's [0], which can help overcome issues with city boundaries but they too are of course a bit arbitrary and misleading but can also give a better showing of size [1]. I've seen these used in many statistical scenarios concerning population centers.

0 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metropolitan_statistical_area 1 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Metropolitan_Statistic...

Tricky indeed, esp. in a world where Dallas ends up behind Miami and Atlanta, the likely fault of Dallas is that it has a quasi twin city called Ft.Worth.

Yeah, I always thought Dallas metro (including Ft. Worth) was bigger than Houston metro.

> Honorable mention: San Francisco is at 13th

SF is artificially small due to how the line was drawn. Even the Census Region is not really correct since it considers SF and SJ as different zones, which artificially pumps up SJ's significance.

In reality "SF"-the-region includes Silicon Valley and the East Bay, and includes the non-agricultural (basically northern part) of San Jose as a suburb.

Is it San Francisco or is it the San Jose-Oakland Metroplex?

I kind of expect people will say it is San Francisco and speculate that the other is closer to the truth.

yeah my family always says i live in sf when i live in the south bay....

There are so many different municipalities and enclaves that only people from that area know/care the difference between Redwood City and Palo Alto. To the rest of the country it's just SF or the Bay Area.

To get a better sense of what is actually the top list, we should be sorting by metro area.

Agreed. A city proper is definitely not an isolated social and economic "unit"; therefore limiting comparisons to it will not give you the information you really want to make decisions.

I agree, but sometimes 'metro area' is a bizarre distinction.

NYC's Metropolitan Division includes Ocean County (Jersey shore) but not Essex County (which includes Newark and all of the PATH trains).

The Metropolitan Statistical Area includes Pike County (not accessible by commuter rail from NYC) but not New Haven or Fairfield (which are).


Nah! These rankings are very very deceptive.

These rankings are based on political borders of the cities and not the commonly perceived notions of what is a city. Honestly for me entire SF to San Jose belt must be considered as one single city to compare it with something like L.A. That is just me saying though. I might be compeltely off on this because I have never been to NY, Chi, Phili, etc.

No, I think you have it right. I have lived in NYC and now live in SF, and a sensible comparison would be Manhattan to San Francisco, or the 5 Boroughs, northern Jersey and a chuck of CT to roughly San Jose up to SF. We can argue about including Marin.

(I generally look at urban regions that are larger entities than official borders by transit. If there are large daily people flows from area A to B, A and B are part of that region, no matter what the tax borders say.)

In case lazarogamio is still reading comments here, some feedback:

I have mild red-green color blindness (deuteranopia), which I think is why I'm having trouble reading a couple of the maps. For example, I can't distinguish the bridges in need of repair from the rest of the bridges. The pipelines map is also pretty difficult to read.

Better color choices, and high-resolution images, would be much appreciated. Thanks!

I'm still reading :)

Sorry for this, I'll look into something to make this easier for you in the article.

In the meanwhile, we published some high-res versions of the maps on reddit, which hopefully are better for you.

Electric grid: https://i.redd.it/2nkdq2bx101y.jpg Pipelines: https://i.redd.it/mu945myovz0y.jpg Airports: https://i.redd.it/m9p0mpy2wz0y.jpg Ports: https://i.redd.it/2khvrwe6201y.jpg Bridges: https://i.redd.it/enf1rtz9z21y.jpg

Awesome, thank you!

If anyone is interested in infrastructure, I highly recommend "On the Grid" (https://www.amazon.com/Grid-Average-Neighborhood-Systems-Wor...)

Excellent book that goes over all the systems making up a city. I read it a couple of years ago but off the top of my head, it covers electricity, telecommunications, roads, public transport, three water systems (freshwater, sewage, rainwater) and how they are all interconnected.

Wait! You are missing Central America, South America, Mexico and Canada. Either that or you have the wrong title :)

As an addendum to the two maps here showing freight tonnage by rail and water route, the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics has a nice one that overlays rail/water/truck tonnage on one map: http://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/sites/rita.dot.gov.bts/files/pub...

I first thought all those aligned bridges were following the course of rivers. But it seems that most of them just cross over railways! Compare: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/maps-of-ame... (bridges) and https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/maps-of-ame... (railways).

There's a lot of interesting data in the article, but some of the visualizations remind me of this: https://xkcd.com/1138/.

I thought the same thing too, and I found it particularly intriguing when some of the maps actually inverted the population map, like the wind power map.

Two things jump out at me: are there really that many bridges in need of maintenance in the Bay Area? Caltrans is making a big investment (e.g. Bay Bridge, Benecia etc).

I am also amazed at how much freight still comes into SF/Oakland and New York. Perhaps the "SF" traffic is actually Pittsburg and Stockton and I just can't see it clearly at this resolution.

The port of Pittsburg is teensy and the port of Stockton is specialized. Container traffic at Oakland is pretty heavy and many cars are offloaded at Vallejo. There are also the oil terminals at Richmond and elsewhere.

Thanks, I wasn't thinking hard enough! I've driven past those terminals in Richmond and Vallejo but haven't paid enough attention.

One note about the bridges: Basically, any elevated section of road seems to qualified as a bridge. That's why you can follow the interstates on the map; they're full of overpasses.

A lot of the NY freight is probably going into Port Newark-Elizabeth (Which is considered part of the Port of NY and NJ) but the resolution isn't high enough to show that. So there's probably not nearly as much freight going into NY proper as there looks to be.

It's probably an apples to oranges comparison, but the image of America's electric grid looks like the prototypical "disaster" scenario when you're a new hire and walk into a train wreck of a server room that's been ignored or half-heartedly managed for years :)

It seems they may have pulled the power line information from OpenStreetMap. If that is the case, it's partly the data that is messy and incomplete.

As far as apples and oranges, I think that's right, 2 lines dozens of miles long crossing in the middle of nowhere is no problem at all.

Looking at this behemoth infrastructure, one can safely say that by just tweaking/updating existing maintenance related policies, a plenty of new jobs can be added.

Not to mention implementing policies for the addition of new infrastructure. For example adding more windmills or installing more solar plants etc etc.

> one can safely say that by just tweaking/updating existing maintenance related policies, a plenty of new jobs can be added.

Actually one can't safely say that as one can see from the 2007/8 bail out. The supposedly "shovel ready" projects weren't (if they were indeed shovel ready they would already have been funded). There was a lot of approval that had to be done and many of the jobs were for skilled, not unskilled labor, so really couldn't suck up that many new people. The economy is structurally quite different from the 1930s when the WPA could, if not bail the economy out, at least reduce the burden and get something for it.

In addition, where's the money? The current plan, AFAICT, is to sell off infrastructure (bridges, highways, water systems) in perpetuity and let the new owner charge tolls and the like. A system that hasn't worked that well in the US since the 1800s.

Fascinating to see how closely coal and natural gas map to states that went red in the election vs. all the renewables in blue states. Here's a map: http://www.270towin.com/

Ever driven through any of California's oil fields? Drive through someplace like Taft, and you'll see that the number of pipes just there on the property probably dwarf the amount of pipes moving that oil across the country.

Curious to know the infrastructure before 1970


He says that if government did give tax breaks for power improvements, it wouldn't do anything. That's different from "It would do something but I object to using government that way".

If only Randal O'Toole were actually a libertarian. He claims to dislike the government, but he pretty much loves government urban planning. Not sure why he's at Cato. (For more political diversity, I guess?)

Also he calls himself a "pragmatist", not a "true libertarian". Take that as you will.

That guy is very well known to people who frequent sites like http://marketurbanism.com/

He's very much in favor of sprawl, and anti-density, despite lots of good evidence that markets would provide plenty of density if left to themselves.

Yeah, I wish he would just stop calling his blog "the Antiplanner" if he's not going to actually, you know, oppose planning. Ah well.

It's a shame your original post was flagged and killed, because it's right on the money.

Isn't a public agency per definition part of the government?

Am I the only one who fears that these maps would be useful to terrorists?

They would be useful to terrorists. But they are more useful to people with peaceful purposes, by several orders of magnitude.

Any use that a terrorist could find for them can also be found by a security auditor role-playing as an attacker. If a terrorist could find a weak point in the infrastructure that may be exploited, so too may a defender, who may then devise a countermeasure, rather than an attack plan.

Those countermeasures would not necessarily appear on the maps. For instance, there may be a motion-sensing surveillance camera watching a locked gate on an access road to a reservoir for a municipal water supply. Such measures are sufficient to foil impulsive attacks, and planned attacks very often generate suspicious activity reports and probable cause for investigations well in advance of the planned event.

In theory, the maps may be a security risk. In practice, they cannot substitute for in-person investigation of specific sites, and most important infrastructure elements are at least partially protected against impulse crimes and accidental damage by chain-link fences, concrete barriers, motion sensors, and cameras. The typical terrorist candidate doesn't have satellite-guided ICBMs--they have to actually go to something in order to attack it. And they are constrained by the need for their attacks to be significant, public, and obvious.

Think about the implications of making the locations of these sites secret in a free society. Would the existence of plants be hidden from locals? Should it be illegal to talk about aggregations of plants and debate them?

If the existence of the plants is too dangerous for civil discourse, maybe we shouldn't have them at all, to play devil's advocate.

Most of this information you could pick up from a good set of gas station maps.

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