Plot Your Potholes Here!

Ever since I found the FixMyStreet online reporting tool for England, I have been on the lookout for one to be developed for the U.S. And the other day, I finally found it at SeeClickFix.

The site offers users the opportunity to plot their issues using Google Maps. Problems are designated by inputting an address, dragging and zooming around an area on the map, emailing, or calling toll-free. Each issue allows for a title, description, photo, and comments.

People can also create watch areas and set up RSS feeds so that when new issues arise in a particular region, they are notified. This is beneficial for public works departments or city officials who might want to monitor emerging problems within their community.

SeeClickFix also allows anyone to create a widget of their watch area so the tool can be embedded on their own Web sites. I have pasted my watch area below along with an issue I reported:


Plowing Au Gratin

Just when we were getting used to the idea of using beet juice for “salting” roads, someone has reached into the fridge and pulled out another food item as an alternative deicing chemical – CHEESE! Crews in Washington have determined that the salt water left over as a byproduct of the cheese production process can be sprayed on roads to get rid of ice.

Hard to believe? Click and read this incredible news for yourself at
DOT to salt roads with hint of cheese, molasses


The Personal Rapid Transit Revolution

Virtual MISTER Podcar
Virtual MISTER Podcar

As the world searches for an answer to reducing the use of fossil fuels, cities are starting to look to the personal rapid transit (PRT) system as a potential solution. Lately, MISTER, a Polish-based company, has gained increasing notice for their innovative PRT system. MISTER is an acronym for Metropolitan Individual System of Transportation on an Elevated Rail. The design consists of a group of small, light-weight vehicles or cabins that travel on an overhead truss rail and have externally powered electric motors integrated into the vehicle carriage assembly.

The MISTER system is reported to have an advantage over competitors because of the use of the light overhead truss system while other PRTs rely on guide rails and track systems. The overhead guide allows cars to climb at 45-degree angles while keeping the floor of the vehicle level. The steep inclines also reduce the area required on the ground for stops

The system is designed to carry up to 5 passengers who enter a PRT vehicle at designated stops and select their destination using an onboard computer. This programmed stop can also be changed during the trip by the passengers. Opole, a city in Poland, has allocated land for a test track for the MISTER system and is in the process of planning routes throughout the city.

MISTER is only one of many PRT systems in development. More information about PRT systems and other alternative transportation technologies can be found at the Innovative Transportation Technologies site hosted by the University of Washington.

For those interested in viewing and trying out a virtual, 3D representation of the MISTER system, you can visit the Second Life site of the UN Climate Change Conference by clicking here. (You will need a free Second Life account and avatar available at the Second Life Website.)


Bumping into the DOT

As a civil engineer, the federal agencies I visit online are usually the DOT, EPA, and FHWA with an occasional click over to the USGS. Upon my entry into Second Life, I searched for these agencies within that virtual world and found nothing.

The only federal agencies that had made it into the virtual realm and set up islands were NASA, NOAA, and the CDC. And although from a personal level, I enjoyed visiting the islands and learning about agencies I really had known little about, I still held hope that one day, I would be able to visit the DOT, EPA, or FHWA in virtual form.

Well that day might be finally getting nearer. Last week, while I was traveling through Second Life researching colleges and universities for an article I am working on, I noticed an island called DOT World. I clicked it hoping it was open to the public, and sure enough I was teleported to the ground. There was only one building so I worried that maybe I had assumed wrong about the name of the island. Maybe someone had just happened to choose the common abbreviation for the Department of Transportation. But once I entered the small structure sitting in the corner of the sim, I knew it was the DOT for which I had searched. There on the conference table was the DOT logo.

DOT building in Second Life
DOT building in Second Life

As excited as I was to find the DOT in Second Life and as much as I wanted to tell everyone, I felt I should check to make sure they wouldn’t mind having their presence known – some agencies want to enter the virtual realm as quietly as possible while they figure out their approach to this new technology. So I IMed the island’s owner and received confirmation that I could publicly let folks know they were there. Unfortunately since then, they have closed off the island to public access so although they might not mind having folks know they are there, they seem to have decided they don’t want them poking around.

Anyway it appears official, the DOT has entered the virtual realm and set up shop in Second Life. And even though right now they only have one building for meetings and have decided not to let anyone visit, at least it is a start; perhaps they will even encourage the FHWA to follow them in. So with all the speculation about how progressive the Obama administration will be and how they will embrace new technologies, I have to think that it might not be long before I can attend classes and collect resources virtually. You don’t get much closer to putting a face to government than establishing an digital representations of your staff in avatar form.


Beautiful Bridges

Everyone in public works appreciates a beautiful bridge so I am passing on a link to the “16 Incredibly Colorful Bridges” post at the Color + Design Blog. This site is offering up inspiring photos/images of beautiful bridges from around the world and includes a color palette lifted from each image. Thanks to @bashley over at Twitter for passing this along.