Monday, November 7, 2011

Remembering the Moment the Great Tohuku Earthquake Struck Japan

Mid-afternoon on March 11, I was out walking my dog, a 60-pound Siberian husky named Achilles. He heard the quake or sensed it before I did, because some minutes before he snapped and pulled hard on the leash, then moved in front of me and barked again. It is what he has been taught to do when he feels something or someone is threatening.

A few moments later there was a sound. I heard it once before, in Berkeley, Calif., in 1989, but this was amped up. As the horizon began to pitch, I slam-dived Achilles and myself to the road, a one lane blacktop beside a ricefield. I knew better than to look at the horizon, but I watched the road, which to this day looks like the greatest jigsaw puzzle ever invented. It twisted, heaved, bucked. I watched it to see if it would simply sunder and we would have to roll into the rice field. It did not (later that day I would see one road that had split). When it was over, we got up.

My wife arrived soon afterwards with her assistant, and our house, fortunately, had suffered only minor damage. We had lost all electricity and with the mobile phone network down, we were cut off. We rushed to pick up our children from their kindergarten but a relative had already taken them. The one proud moment of that day was hearing from my son’s teacher that, while the children had been scared and screaming, my son had remained calm and told them, “Listen to the teacher, stay together, do not be afraid.”

I was first asked to do this article when all of Japan, including the city I live in, was not only still recovering, but still on alert for radiation leaks from Fukushima. The very idea of doing a “good news” story, a story of something that went right on March 11, was so counterintuitive that I got arguments from other journalists about even pursuing the story. But the story is an important one.

These people -- and it is a cast of hundreds of thousands when we stop counting all involved -- managed a mass evacuation under some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable without loss of life or injury. Of course they were immensely lucky. Luck and chance always play huge roles in disasters. Napoleon is said to have honored one of his generals by saying he was “brave, but more than that, he is lucky.” The same principle applies to the evacuation.

Richard Greenfield is a freelance writer based in Japan. His article "How a Shaken City Kept Steady Nerves" was published in the fall 2011 issue of InTransition.

Photographer's "traumatic train"

This photo by Chris Edwards of Leicestershire, U.K., dramatically illustrates the human side of the transportation crisis in Tokyo as a result of the March 2011 earthquake. The transportation crisis was the subject of “How a Shaken City Kept Steady Nerves,” which appeared in the fall 2011 issue of InTransition. Here’s how Edwards described the scene when he posted the photo to Flickr:

I was on board a train in Tokyo yesterday when the big earthquake struck, I was unbelievably scared, I still now don't understand why the train didn't derail completely.

We was evacuated from the train once the main earthquakes stopped and then after a couple of hours or so of walking we found refuge in a hotel basement, where I still remain, although I have a room now. A very wobbly one though, 9 floors up and we're still having quakes.

In a subsequent email correspondence, Edwards related that while, in the end, the city of Tokyo coped with the many challenges posed by the earthquake —including avoiding the loss of life or serious injuries when the transit system shut down —living through the experience left passengers very much “shaken”:

We were on a very traumatic train for 90 minutes with very little information offered. When we eventually got evacuated, the station we walked to was in turmoil. Nobody knew what to do or where to go and the transport authorities were offering no information other than handing out maps.

Whilst we were in that station more earthquakes hit and masonry was falling around us. The roads were gridlocked for many, many hours. Over the next few days the railways were shut down at random intervals with very little warning leaving massive queues for taxis and gridlocked roads again.

The place was in chaos.

That said, we were travelling at a high speed and the speed the train network shut down was very impressive.

Other photos by Edwards on Japan and other subjects can be seen at:

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Coming Soon … Fall 2011 Issue

InTransition returns in November with our fall 2011 issue. If you’ve recently changed any of your contact information, please be sure to correct it by using our online form, emailing or calling (973) 639-8407.

The new issue will include a package of stories dealing with preparing for emergency/catastrophic incidents. Here’s a look at some of the top stories for the next issue:

The Evacuation of Tokyo: Our cover story relives the scene in Tokyo during the March 11 Great Tohuku Earthquake, when millions had to leave the city without the help of its transit system or many other technologies.
Catastrophic Preparedness Teams: Units have been formed in 10 major U.S. metro areas to help unify a wide range of stakeholders’ responses to emergency situations.
Guarding Transit Against Terror: Experts discuss some of the challenges and strategies involved with safeguarding the nation’s rail systems from terrorist plots.
Climate Change and Transportation: N.J. study aims to project how global warming will impact infrastructure by 2100.
DUI Technologies: Emerging technologies designed to stop drunken driving.
Transportation Takes Center Stage: A look at artists using public streets as outlets for creative expression.

For a free subscription (U.S. and Canada only), fill out the simple form on our website. International readers can contact for copies in PDF format.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Apps Made Easy

By David Schmetterer

There's no app for that?

Generally the advertisements and jokes seem to be right – there is an app for that. And that’s great news if you need something fairly common, like a chess tutor, an electronic compass, or a barcode scanner. But what if you are in possession of that rarest of post-modern commodities, where do you go with your Original Idea?

You're in luck. The major smartphone software developers -- Apple, Google, RIM (BlackBerry) and Microsoft -- have all released software development kits (SDK) for their products. That means that any programmer can develop a mobile app, much the same way that a programmer could create software for a traditional computer. And the current interest in mobile app development is no mystery -- combine a touch screen, a GPS unit, a powerful processor with an always-on-everywhere-you-go Internet connection, and creative sparks start to fly.

Even so, it is, as always, technological limits that push the creative process to new heights. Small screens and relatively slow data connections have driven many websites to recreate themselves in a mobile format or self-contained app, with fast-loading graphics and an easy to navigate interface, and GPS-enabled location awareness. So while you could always go to on your computer, you can now visit a streamlined and location-aware version of Yelp! on your mobile device.

So where do you go with the next idea for a killer app? According to Google, anyone can build an app using their App Inventor website, which takes actual coding out of the picture and replaces it with building blocks of code with variables to change. There are also books by the dozen for beginner programmers and plenty of information available online. If you are really serious about learning on your own, you could take a class on mobile development for the iPhone or Android, like the ones given at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

If you aren’t adventurous, or already a programmer, the only trick is find someone who is. Besides the obligatory Google query, you can contact the authors of programs and apps you think are well made, or talk to faculty at a local school. They may have a class that is looking for real world projects, or know of students looking for part-time work. And remember, in the repetitive marketplace of mobile applications, an Original Idea has value, and programmers who recognize this will want to help make it a reality.

David Schmetterer co-wrote “Whetting Your Travel App-etite,” which appeared in the Winter 2011 issue of InTransition. He is a senior planner at the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority and a man of many smartphones.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Electric Car Movement Gets a Jolt from White House

By Brian Donahue

The electric car movement has a good friend in President Barack Obama. After dedicating billions in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding to electric drive components and battery manufacturing, the president is finding new ways to put electric cars on the street.

During his State of the Union address in January, Obama reiterated his goal of becoming the first country to have 1 million plug-ins on the road, a milestone he hopes to reach by 2015. He pledged more resources and incentives to help carmakers entice consumers to switch over from gasoline-powered cars, and said he would ask Congress to eliminate the billions in federal subsidies to oil companies, instead investing the money in alternative energy development.

The White House is expected to increase federal funding to $8 billion for green energy programs, with much of that channeled to the plug-in movement. White House National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling told the Detroit News that the president’s upcoming budget proposal will target funds to select communities to ramp up infrastructure such as charging stations in order to support the deployment of electric vehicles. Also, as a further incentive for consumers, the administration wants to convert the $7,500 income tax credit given to buyers of electric cars to a $7,500 direct purchase rebate.

Obama’s proposals are indeed good news for electric car advocates, and for the many carmakers getting into the plug-in game and trying to comply with stricter standards on greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy.

The Detroit News story can be viewed here.

Brian Donahue’s article, “Trading the Pump for the Plug,” appeared in the winter 2011 issue.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Coming Soon ... Winter 2011 Issue

We’re putting the finishing touches on a new issue of InTransition, which will be mailed in February. If you’ve recently changed your address, please be sure to correct your contact information using our online form or contact us via email or phone.

Here’s a look at some of the top stories for the next issue:

Trading the Pump for the Plug: Experts say 2011 will mark the start of widespread adoption of the plug-in auto in the U.S.
E-Bikes: Popular as a commuter vehicle in parts of Asia and Europe, the electric-assist bike has made inroads in niche markets domestically.
Hybrid Ferries: A look at some of the vessels planned and already at sea worldwide.
The Tsukuba Express: Japanese rail line has been a boon for transit-oriented development in Tokyo’s suburbs.
On-Street Protected Bike Facilities: Transportation engineer Sam Schwartz details how to design successful urban bikeways.
Travel Apps: Profiles of useful transportation programs for smartphones.

Please note, not all of the content in the printed edition is available online. For a FREE subscription, fill out the simple form on our website.