Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Amoeba Cities

A megalopolis is defined as a cluster of cities and their metropolitan regions that have 10 million or more people in it. Ground transportation links such as railroads and highway interconnect these cities and commute their commerce. I was surprised to learn that the United States has 13 megalopolises (or megaregions) within its borders or extending in some cases into Canada and Mexico.

Even more surprising is that Pittsburgh is part of the largest megalopolis in North America -- the Great Lakes Megalopolis. The Great Lakes Megalopolis is comprised of:
St. Louis
Kansas City
Grand Rapids

Whew! All told these regions had a 2000 census population of 53.8 million people, with a projected 2025 population of 63.7 million.

Now...I don't know about you, but I don't feel any kinship with my brethern in, say, Grand Rapids. Couldn't tell you much about Milwaukee and have no bond with Dayton. I've been to Akron and it really sucks as a city.

I'm wondering if in our current lifetimes we will ever see two cities actually expand towards each other, like amoebas blindly flailing away in the primordial ooze. Our closest major urban neighbor is Cleveland, which I have been to twice this year already. It has its share of problems, both financial and social, but it has promise as well. Cleveland is virtually Pittsburgh's sister city as it is.
The technology that will foster the amoeba city migration is high-speed rail. Currently it takes a shade over 2 hours and 15 minutes to drive from downtown Pittsburgh to downtown Cleveland (traffic not withstanding). That's at a cruising speed of 75 mph. What if you could get there in half the time on a dedicated high-speed rail line? What would that do for business? Imagine getting up at your usual wake-up time and going to Cleveland for a 9 am meeting. Heck, what would that do for pleasure? A Clevelander could dine at Salt of the Earth at 7 pm and still be comfortably back by the 10 pm news. A Pittsburgh could enjoy Lola and then sit back and be swept back home at 160 mph.

Our world is simply getting smaller. Information is available instantly at our fingertips now. We can Skype in with people anywhere in the world. Sadly, our businesses know no bounds -- products are made and sold everywhere in the world. But our transportation network, at least in the United States, is still modeled from the 1960's gas guzzling era.

High-speed rail came into the national discussion recently when these two forward thinking governor-elects, from Ohio and Wisconsin, turned down $1.2 BILLION dollars to construct high-speed rail lines in their states. These weren't planning studies, either. These were funds to construct high-speed rail linkages between the major cities in these states. Ohio turned down $400 million to link Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus. Wisconsin rejected $810 million to link Madison and Milwaukee. Both were concerned that the operating and maintenance costs would outweigh the revenue received.

While that's valid, it's also short-sighted. Companies and residents alike would flock to the opportunity to have that much freedom to move goods and be transported. It would be a model for the rest of the United States, especially in this era when everyone is trying to prove how green they are compared to the next guy. High-speed rail is king in Europe, where gas prices are nearly double what they are here. But therein lies the problem...we are a nation suckling at the teat of the oil industry, both domestic and foreign sources. Until we wake up and realize what we're doing, we'll never see what we are missing.


  1. Pretty much the same deal as Ohio was/is happening in "backwater" Central Florida too.

    They have been bandying about high-speed rail for over a decade in these parts, have had funding in place for it a couple times, and nixed it due to political bullshit. They finally have "okayed" a plan, but it'll be another decade before it's complete after the finally start it(which is, again, delayed as there is more political foot dragging.)

    It's retarded. A car trip from Orlando to Tampa should only take about an hour and a half-ish, if traffic were normal. Of course, traffic in Disneyville is NOT normal...EVER....so it take closer to 2.5 hours. Even 3 on a bad day. Light rail could make that a 40 minute trip. Driving to the east coast beaches SHOULD take 45-60 minutes...but again, with the traffic patterns/tolls/tourists, it takes an hour and 15 minimum. Light rail? Probably 20-30 minutes. For a place whose economy is predicated almost completely on tourism, you'd think they'd have had that up and running at the earliest opportunity. Tourists would pay whatever you wanted to charge to not have to cart their happy ass in a rental car across the state to see the Gulf/Ocean/Space Center/a baseball or football game.

    As you say, the oil teat is the primary culprit, even in this one-story 'burgh, but the answer to that is for people to actually **gasp** vote. Vote for leadership that isn't beholden to said teat. We will never see a full on departure from a 'gas powered society' as long as 80% of the people in Washington are in the pocket of some **Insert Oil Company of Your Choice Here's** lobbyist.

    So, we need to start at step one....ban lobbyists. :) They're parasites on society anyway.

  2. I did that Orlando to Tampa drive one time (specifically to go to The Columbiana in Ybor City). It sucks as a drive.

    Lobbyists may be the most repulsive people on earth. I'm sure that a learned man such as yourself has seen the excellent movie "Thank You For Smoking". If not, check it out. Hilarious sendup of the lobbying industry, especially tobacco.

  3. Yeah, my lovely bride and I Netflix'd that one about a year ago. We enjoyed it on one hand, and were depressed on the other when you wonder about how close to the mark some of the satire really is(would probably be angry to find out how much, actually).

    Some days I can totally understand how one may entertain the thought of rolling one's car right up onto the sidewalk to "inconvenience" a few folks who lobby for a living. "Lobbyist", in my mind, is just another way of saying "My company has sent me here to purchase your vote, Senator." Disgusting concept.

  4. I've been thinking about this for a while afte I read this 2 weeks back. It really is ashame that the rust belt can't get together and work this out with away to link to ny and chicago. It would really be amazing. What do you think the chances of this actually happening at some point while we are still around to see it

  5. I don't think it will occur in the Rust Belt first, if at all. I could see a test case out West, where land is plentiful and there aren't as many geographic/weather concerns.

    I could see a Salt Lake-Las Vegas or Phoenix-Santa Fe high speed rail line. Even though California desperately needs it and Pittsburgh-Cleveland are super close to each other.

    It all comes down to the last paragraph - we have to break our bond with the oil industry.