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Let’s take a moment to celebrate some good news!  Pedestrian deaths in New York City dropped in a meaningful way during 2016 (this refers to people killed by motor vehicles, not people who just keeled over while walking home with their groceries–but you probably already figured that out) .  This statistic runs counter to larger trends: at a national level, U.S. drivers have been killing more pedestrians than in years past, yet in New York, the level of people killed by motorists has gone down (as you can see in the following NYC table).

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The fall in pedestrian deaths is occurring as the subway descends in quality (which we will get to later) and as the streets are filling up with non-professional, unqualified livery drivers who use Uber and suchlike apps to connect with patrons, so I think it is safe to attribute the trend to Vision Zero, a campaign to make the streets much safer.  Kudos to Mayor DeBlasio! This is a real triumph for him, and I want to thank him.

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The basic hallmarks of Vision Zero are lowering street speeds within the city, increasing driver awareness through road designs pioneered in the cities of northern Europe (where it is much safer to walk or bike but where efficient automobile traffic also keeps goods and services flowing) and enforcing traffic laws with automated systems–particularly speed cameras.  Street signals were also re-timed so that it is more difficult to build up dangerous speeds and so that pedestrians cross roads ahead of turning cars. At first the changes were politically unpopular, but the fact that this is saving the lives of the elderly and children is winning over politicians who were initially opposed.  Bob Holden, a city counsel member, who has regularly opposed street changes, new bike lanes, and safety improvements went on record saying “You can’t argue with saving lives. You can never argue that that’s the paramount here…I was wrong, I want to admit that.” (this is really praiseworthy too: if we had more politicians capable of looking at evidence, admitting errors, and changing direction, everything would be improving in innumerable ways).

Of course bicycle fatalities in New York City have gone up, and, though I blame car drivers (who are, after all, the ones traveling through the most populous region in the country in  difficult-to-control metal death chariots which run on poisonous explosions), this may also be because more people are bicycling. Indeed more people are walking, driving, and bicycling overall–both in the city and beyond.  More Americans are killed every year in traffic fatalities than died during whole course of the Korean War (and during the apogee of car culture in the 70s and 80s that number was closer to all the American fatalities in Vietnam…every year).  Maybe taking a page from DeBlasio’s book and re-examining some systems and behaviors long taken for granted on the road would save more people than a whole host of new miracle drugs and super surgeries.  It is definitely worth thinking about!

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So, I tremendously appreciated all of the thoughtful responses to last week’s post about branding.  I took all of your kind words and good ideas to heart and I am continuing to mull over the secret mysteries of what makes some things so profoundly popular.  In fact, this concept of branding (and the psychological and practical underpinnings of recognizable things) bears on today’s post about color…specifically about the color brown, which Ferrebeekeeper has shamefully overlooked in the many posts concerning different hues.  But first, we must digress back to America’s railroad past…

Pullman Car Interior. Box #16 Folder #723.

Pullman Car Interior. Box #16 Folder #723.

The Pullman Co. was a railroad concern which operated sleeping cars from 1867 until 1968 throughout the United States. The name was legendary for comfort, style, and service.  Pullman was a visionary entrepreneur who discovered inspiration in a bad railroad journey he had suffered during his youth. This uncomfortable ordeal became the impetus for a lifelong obsession with traveling well.  His cars featured comfortable foldaway beds, separator drapes, fashionable furniture, and other amenities unknown in the day. In time there were even libraries, dining rooms, and rolling kitchens which served meals cooked on the (traveling) premises.

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The Pullman Co. also played a big role in African American history, since the attendants who worked on Pullman cars—the equally legendary Pullman porters–were largely black.  The porters’ union was important in American labor struggles and was one of the first nationally organized entities to stand up for African-American concerns at the workplace and beyond.

In fact, the story of the company touches on all sorts of different aspects of late nineteenth and early twentieth century life. There was a sprawling company town in Illinois where everything was Pullman.  There were horrifying strikes, and strange incestuous deals with railroad monopolies, and all sorts of turn of the century business and political shenanigans.  Eventually there were manufacturing alliances, and anti-trust cases. However all of this is part of a different & bigger story…

Gosh...

Gosh…

As the railroads were replaced by highly dangerous automobiles, the Pullman Company attempted to branch out into trolleys and even buses, but the concept of comfortable and elegant travel was doomed to fade from the world.  Sadly the era of luxury travel by light rail has receded into the storied past and Pullman cars seem like they belong to a vastly bygone era—like clipper ships, powdered wigs, or eel pies.

A Brunswick Green Locomotive with Pullman Brown Cars

A Brunswick Green Locomotive with Pullman Brown Cars

However, the name does not just live on in sad railroad ballads, it also had an associated color—Pullman brown.   Pullman selected a shade of brown for aesthetic reasons and because it was easy to clean (no mean feat on a nineteenth century railroad).   Presumably he liked the color too (although here I am speculating). When the company died, this color lived on…and there was another national company which operated big boxy wheeled things ready to pounce.  People who have never seen a Pullman sleeper car should instantly recognize the color, because UPS uses it as an integral part of their brand.  All UPS trucks and uniforms are Pullman brown.

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The reasons for this are multifold. Perhaps most importantly most parcels were (and are) packaged in brown cardboard so the association was natural.  Also the color apparently is easy to keep clean (or perhaps a more punctilious person would say it doesn’t show dirt).   Apparently, early on, UPS discovered that people had fond memories of Pullman brown and associated it with luxury and competence. Today UPS has all sorts of trademarks, patents, and suchlike legalistic protections over the color (!) and it is even part of their off-putting slogan “What can Brown do for you?”  I wonder what other corporate branding choices trace their history back into bygone worlds.

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