Driving In America

Update [2006-5-17 18:31:22 by Dave]: I've added some 3rd day notes at the bottom of the story.

I am driving I70 from Boulder on my way to Pittsburgh in my 1988 blue VW Jetta.

Dave's Car (not really, but close!)

So with oil a shade under $70/barrel and gasoline at about $2.80/gallon on the interstate in the Midwest, I thought I'd report on what's going on out here. I hope you'll add your comments to this brief road trip report. I'm sure many of you have plenty of experiences to report.

I am moving, so my car is loaded with stuff. With the extra weight, the miles per gallon is down somewhat but still probably over 30. The tires are properly inflated and relatively new, so I'm not losing efficiency there. Moreover, the motor was tuned up before the trip, so that's covered. The speed limit varies but is usually 70/mph with a minimum of 40. I'm driving about 65/mph in the righthand lane. Why? Because everyone else is doing 75 to 85/mph, probably because they are in a big hurry, as almost all Americans seem to be, and don't even realize or care that fuel efficiency decreases dramatically (depending on the vehicle) at speeds over 60/mph.

However, if I drive any slower, I become a road hazard. One thing to note (I've long seen this) is that people drive really fast in packs (like wolves). You'll be driving alone for a while, not a car in sight when out of the blue, one of these vehicle wolfpacks is right on top of you moving about 85/mph and there's the biggest long haul truck that you've ever seen tailgating you. And he's really pissed that he had to slow down to 65 and couldn't pass you because the rest of the pack is taking up space in the passing (lefthand) lane. I can honestly say that the only people I've passed (going 65) are slow movers pulling out of rest areas.

Remember when Jimmy Carter told us all to slow down to 55/mph? In any case, no one I've seen cares at all about what is also referred to as fuel economy.

The exurban and suburban sprawl began about 30 miles outside of Kansas City in both directions (west of it in Kansas and east of it in Missouri). I took note of the Walmart Supercenter at about the 30 mile mark in Missouri.

It seemed to be out in
the middle of nowhere

I'll add one last thing. Some miles outside of Kansas City at about 3:30 PM CDT I ran into the first of several traffic jams on the interstate as I tried to negotiate my way through the city to the other side. The highway was in total disrepair just as I've seen in other heavily traveled areas. In my old hometown, Boulder, road maintenance used to be seasonal. Now, it's constant--all year round on the major roads. Not all the traffic jams were due to repair. There was just one hell of lot of cars & trucks out there. The wear and tear on the national highway system (started during the Eisenhower administration) is appalling. Well, it's been a horrow show so far and I don't expect it to get any better.

Columbia, Missouri with 2 days to go. Signing off.


Just outside Indianapolis, 1 day to go.

The big news I heard today was from an AM radio station in which I heard that Texas is considering raising the speed limit to 80/mph.

But a study by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) found that 85% of drivers on the affected highways already drive 76-79 mph, says Carlos Lopez, the agency's traffic operations chief.

TxDOT has been studying the proposal since the Legislature last year authorized increasing the speed limit from 70 or 75 to 80 mph in 10 mostly rural counties.

Which means that people in the affected areas will actually drive 86 to 90/mph. Various callers to the talk show praised the idea.

The closer I got to Indianapolis, the faster and more aggressive the drivers were, especially the trucks. I was tired and didn't feel like dealing with nonsense, so I pulled off early to preserve my own life and those of others. Road conditions did improve after Missouri, so some of the comments on this thread are certainly correct about the roads there.

Rough calcuations show that I'm getting at least 35/mph. Not bad for an 18 year old car. Later.

Why are you driving slow in the left lane?
Sorry! I meant to say the right lane. I will edit the story. Apologies, I'm a little spaced out.
I'm more curious why it would take you two days to get from Columbia MO to Pittsburgh; I drive Detroit to Wichita in one (and I also cruise at 65).
I think that he is trying to maintain a constant speed so doing it in the left lane is perhaps easier. However, I think in some roads I recall(I95 to Florida), the right hand lane has become the passing lane. Don't blame me, I take the train to work everyday.
did you pass by/through olathe?
Are you out there in O'Latte?  Wow...you're just a stones through away.  I reside in Lee's Summit.  Howdy neighbor!!
hello and small world isn't it.
of course i won't give my exact address, you understand right? :P
Address not expected.  Just nice to know there's another Peak Oil aware individual in the area.  Especially in KC!!
Make it three...
I'm down I-70 living in the gateway to the west...
Whoa Nelly...we are coming out of the woodwork!!  So where is the Midwest Chapter of TOD???  Monthly meeting at the Plaza, Westport, Crossroads District, other?

Half kidding, half not kidding.

I looked over at the carbon institute but saw very little so I quit looking.  In a post peak world I think the 200 or so miles will seem a lot larger.  I'm probably going to move, although where is up for debate.
"Half kidding, half not kidding.."

Appropriate to the site..
 so is your tank half full, or half empty?

"half full, or half empty?"

Haa...depends on whether I just got paid or not.  

I was just wondering if the KC area folk would ever want to get together in a central location sometime.  No rush, no hurry, no pressure.  Those that don't want to reveal themselves (ahemmmm...TrueKaiser) can remain anonymous, but it might be cool to shoot the bull.

If anyone's interested I'll give out an email address.  If not, that's fine too.

Ironically (to Dave's journey), I'm driving out to Denver tomorrow for a wedding tomorrow in my wife's Prius.  I'll check back on this link to see if there are any takers to the local gathering.

Correction...the wedding's on Saturday.  Can't really drive that fast.
It seems illogical that a car would get better fuel economy at 60 than 45.  I was taught that the most economical speed would be the one at which you could engage your highest gear and run it smoothly.  I would think that would be about 45 for most cars.  Why would this not be the case?
It depends on engine speed as well. Internal combustion engines reach their peak efficiency at a particular engine speed which is usually not the slowest smooth speed. I seem to remember that for typical petrol (gasoline) engines it's about 2500 rpm.
There's really no hard fast rule about the ideal speed. It all depends on the car.

My car (2002 Camaro V6) has a sweet spot in 5th gear at about 2400 rpm. On the highway that equates to about 70-80 mph, depending on the terrain. At lower speed in 5th gear, I don't have enough torque to pass safely and I have to row alot between 4th and 5th. Any higher and I'm inviting a ticket.

My car is EPA rated at 19 city/24 highway and I average about 21 in the city and 32 on the highway.

What I find interesting about your post is that the averages for your Camaro are very close to what I get from my 2001 Grand Prix GTP. And, that both of these cars get better highway MPG than an older, smaller VW Jetta. Does age really affect MPG that much?
It helps to distinguish between potential most economical speed and realized most economical speed.  You're right, in that the best economy you can get would be the lowest speed that you can maintain in your highest gear without lugging the engine.  That's the speed that minimizes wind drag, engine drag, road resistance, etc.  The record efficiency tests, where you hear about some Volvo or other car getting some stupendous mileage on a test track, involve someone getting the car to 30-35 or so, and leaving it there on cruise control for hours as they drive around a track.

The problem with that is that most people end up constantly speeding up and slowing down, in which case you end up lugging the engine pretty badly at such a low speed.  So people tend to get better mileage at a slightly higher speed.  Also, some automatic transmissions work differently at different speeds, so the torque converter may not lock until you reach a certain speed.  The locking of the clutch improves fuel economy at that point and above (see torque converter at howstuffworks.)  Automatic and manual transmissions are different in terms of most economical speed.  

Our wagon with a manual transmission gets its best fuel economy at about 30mph, but you have to pay constant attention to the amount of gas you're giving it and the terrain/conditions ahead.

I know with my Kia that the auto trans tends to "hunt" when I accellerate, sometimes making a seemingly random "afterburner effect" where it accellerates better as it picks the sweet gear.

More disconcerting is sometimes it makes a jump such that it jerks to that "afterburner effect", creating a mild "catapault effect". This occurs at a slow speed then jerks and accellerates good. Good thing I have 5 years left on the warranty. Both of these effects are probably growing pains as Kia was a new make in Year 2001 when the car was made.

I know that an auto trans is never as fuel-efficient than a Stick but I can't drive a Stick. As far as the auto trans, the two hunting related effects occured immediately after a trip to a Jiffy Lube when they filled it, but it existed beforehand. It's probably a design bug.

Back when there were competitive economy runs I entered them with some success.  My rule of thumb was to drive as much as possible in top gear at the engine's specified torque peak (given in the owners manual), usually something in the vicinity of 2500 rpm. This no longer works.  My current car has a six-speed manual gearbox and seems to get better mileage in fifth gear because the torque peak in sixth is too fast for good economy.  
OK.. so I'm putting on my asbestos suit here...

But what do people here think of the "Joe Cell"?

Basically, it's a device that, using only water in a stainless steel tube with concentric rings... can produce enough "energy" to power a car... without depleting the water.

Here are some links... I'm very sceptical.. but given the implications, and our current Peak everything scenario... well, everything is worth a look right?


To quote the above site:

The following statements are attributed to "Joe" himself [2].
The water in the cell is not consumed.
The cell runs cold to the touch.
It takes a period of time before the engine will run from the cell. It then has an erratic power output and works in an intermittent fashion.
When the cell is removed from the car, the engine takes an appreciable time to return to "normal" and run from the original fuel.
If the cell is left in the car for a long period, the engine become "charged". From this point, the cell is not required for the motor to run.
All spark plug leads can be removed and the engine will still run as long as the ignition coil and distributor remain functional.
The output of the cell does not have to be connected to the internals of the engine. A close external coupling will do.
The cell requires the "charging" of the water to work.
The requires a specific style of construction, little understood by most constructors.
The source of power for the cell and its use has great value for some individuals. These individuals are creating misinformation, cloaking operations and inducing fear in cell constructors.
Human presence can affect the operation of the cell in a positive or negative way.

Oh boy. We can expect to see a lot of this.
A classic "take da' money and run" scam.  These kind of claims have been around for centuries now (perpetual motion machines, etc), and have never stood up to any kind of scrutiny.
Investors failed to recover their money from Joe ...
The time machine in Napolean Dynamite was powered by one of these I think....
... there's the biggest long haul truck that you've ever seen tailgating you. And he's really pissed that he had to slow down to 65 and couldn't pass you because the rest of the pack is taking up space in the passing (lefthand) lane.

I always thought that big trucks were not allowed in the leftmost lane of multilane highways.  Does anyone if this is true and what the law is on this?

I've experimented with going 55 mph on interstate highways, and it's quite luxurious.  I view it as guzzling time instead of gas.  Since you will pretty much never be overtaking anyone, you can use your cruise control in heavier traffic than you normally would.

Re: "not allowed...."

Perhaps that's true but maybe somebody else could check it out. One thing I know is this--they are driving 80/mph in whatever lane they're in most of the time. Of course, they do not need to accelerate to pass me, all they have to do is turn the wheel to the left and when they're done, back to the right.

as far as I am aware, this is only in big cities (and throughout NJ) and on highways with three lanes in some limited states.  In upstate NY, tractor-trailer drivers are in all lanes and tailgate you like they're driving a nascar racer.
Yeah, they sure do. I drove back east last fall, and it was quite a revelation.
Cal has a 55 mph limit on trucks, meaning they only go 70. Thru the SW, they were going 80. The ones doing 78 were passed by the other truckers doing 80. Took like 5 miles for them to pass.
 I was trying to keep my speed close to the limit, having California plates in Texas, and all. I'm doing like 75, and look in the rear view. Here comes a big screaming truck, an open shark's mouth for his grill. Hey, I'm not gonna let him eat me :>)

  They should take those trucks off the highway and put the trailers on the trains we saw.


I drive those big truck and as far as I know, we are allowed to pass all you slower four-wheelers in the right hand lane.
Nope, youa re violating a federal law doing so. The signs on I-75 on virtually every single overpass for 3000 miles state quite clearly: "Trucks over 6 wheels must use right lane"
or "Trucks over 6 wheels must use two right lanes".
You're asking for a very expensive ticket.
Left lane, right lane....it's all so confusing. =P
Sorry about your tour through Kansas City.  It IS rather horrendous driving out here.  The Kansas side is maintained much better than the Missouri side.  You can usually tell you've crossed the state line by the number of potholes you hit per mile.  If I'd known what time you were driving through, I could have waved at you on I-70 since I work downtown.

The thing that frustrates me is that I have an Amtrak station in Lee's Summit that goes directly to Kansas City, but there is no commuter line set up.  I long for the old days when trolleys were everywhere.

Hope you enjoy Columbia.  There is a fantastic winery at Rocheport near Columbia with a restaraunt overlooking the Missouri River.  The Katy Trail bike path also winds along the river just under the restaraunt.

Go Kansas City!!!!

Yea, I live 'nigh the center (only 10-15 minutes from downtown) and I love to mock those who live out south for "living in the middle of nowhere", even though that area is ridiculously developed. True also that most traffic jams are caused by road repairs- which can be constant (I've had several 20 minute drives turn into 2 hour nightmares).

What I'm curious about though is if you noticed the Missouri/Kansas split. Kansas spends more on its roads and has less roads to maintain, so they tend to be in pretty good shape, whereas Missouri has the largest (correct me if I'm wrong) amount of pavement per capita in the nation and yet has to maintain it with one of the lowest gas taxes. Besides the subtle potholes, this difference is most accute in the winter, when you drive down State Line and the Kansas side roads are perfectly plowed and salted while the Missouri ones remain coated in snow.

Oh. The other Kansas Missouri split might be more subtle. Kansas City, Kansas has embraced suburbia as its development plan, concentrating most resources on the "speedway", which is a huge box store retail/everything else/huge huge parking lots development centered around a speedway while entirely neglecting its half of downtown. Kansas City, Missouri, on the other hand, is bent to what has become the biggest downtown renewal project in atleast 50 years, with a new arena, urban retail center, performing arts center, and a plethora of other stuff tending toward urban rather than suburban development.

Anyway, couldn't let you go through KC without giving you a bit of an update.

Yes, I did notice the Kansas/Missouri "split". But I'm just passing through and you obviously know more about it than I do.

thanks for your remarks, Dave

I think Ross Thomas' thriller 'Briarpatch' is set in KC (although he doesn't call it that and it could be set in Omaha).  A classic of the late 70s/ early 80s.

Also Jonathan Franzen's thriller cum satire 'The 17th City' is also set there, I believe.  A strange novel but a very clever one.

Thomas Frank 'what is the matter with Kansas?' is quite evocative of KC, where he grew up.

Here are some ideas for better MPG.

Drive a battery electric vehicle. You might like it.
Drive a plug in hybrid vehicle.
Drive a hybrid electric vehicle.
Drive gently; don't spill the martini.
Drive slower than 60 MPH.
Install a front air dam.
Use a mirror alternative.
Smooth the underbody.
Slam (lower) the car.
Use an efficient ECU (like the Honda HX).
Add wheel fairings.
Install low rolling resistance tires.
Ban automatic transmissions.
Manual brakes.
Manual steering.
No air conditioning (use in-seat fans?).
Windows down when parked, up when driving.
Get a smaller car.
Get a lighter car.
Go smaller displacement (1.0L should be enough).
Aluminum block, cylinder head.
Remove heavy junk (shotguns in the back?)
Inflate the tires properly and instrument tire pressure.
Change the air filter, plugs, EGR, etc.
Instrument instantaneous mileage (based on MPH and injector).
Install wheel fairings.
Streamline like the Dymaxion.
Speed govern at 65 MPH.
Install HID headlights (and LED tail lights).
Drive only on hot days (global warming should help).
Run stop signs.
Draft the trucks.
Drive superconducting maglev in a vacuum.

Learn to draft.
I followed the bottling instructions in Papazian and it worked okay, but I never got the equipment I needed to do draft.
Drafting was one of the suggestions. Draft that 80mph speeding semi, the more square the semi the better. My own suggestion: Do not draft alongside the semi, as he may change lanes suddenly and you are in a MASSIVE blind area. Instead, draft it in back but not too close. That way, if he changes lanes, you don't involuntarily change lanes onto the shoulder or into a guardrail or ditch.

Tongue in cheek....
The ultimate way to save gas is to have a magnetic hitch that allows you to hitch to the semi when you turn on the magnet. When he diverts from your course, you detach and look for another truck to bum power from.

Yes...drafting does work, but you do have to get rather close to the back of the truck.  I learned drafting from my brother who used to bike competitively in Colorado.
Your "Run stop signs" advice costed me 150 bucks couple of weeks ago... Unfortunately the officer wouldn't take my explanation I was fighting Peak Oil and Global Warming back then :) such an unfair world, isn't it?
Colonel, Sir.

About that maglev in vacuum- get ready to duck.  Last time I  advocated it,  got smothered in heavy barrage of odious adjectives.  But hey, aren't these things in every sci-fi story?  Gotta be good, yes?

Drafting trucks is good duty,  Did it all the time in the old  VW bus days-big jump in terminal velocity. Long rope with iron-neodymium mag even  better.  Check brakes & reflexes first.

Seaman first class wimbi

I am going the oppisite direction, Alabama to Colorado. I am in Arkansas right now, picking up things and chilling with my parents, who are traveling with me.  They have a Big pleasure van with a Trailer pulling package, so it can pull the U-Haul 6 by 12 dual axle Trailer filled with my junk.  I have not filled up yet, so don't know the gas mileage I am getting, but the 310 miles was an easy run, from Huntsville to North Little Rock.  They are fixing I-40 in Memphis and in sections of North Little Rock, where they are putting in a new High Rise overpass, The Bridges were old, guess they had a bunch of money to spend.

I hope you have fun Dave, moving is both a joy and a pain, but its something we should all do to get the junk off the shelf and given to someone else.

There is a BIG house farm on I-385 in Memphis wow, they keep putting in more and more homes. The places around here just keep spreading too.  I wonder what Sterling will be like, Terra-server veiws of it, make it look small.

I will be able to walk most everywhere I need to go I hope.

Just a few reminiscences about travelling the Autostrada in Italy. There were actually speed limit signs but I don't remember what they were and nobody paid any attention. People generally went around 85-90 mph. It was a bit white-knuckle driving for me, because at that speed if you goof, you're history. I don't recall seeing a single truck in the passing lane and they all seemed to obey the speed limit strictly. There was a lot less traffic than in the US. This was in 1995 and gas was ~$4.50/gal (as I recall). Didn't see many of the high-efficiency mini cars I suspect because they just can't take hours of 90mph travel without falling apart. There were mostly bigger BMWs, Citroens, bigger model Fiats, and like the Rover we were renting, etc. Maybe a prelude to the US interstate future, just an autobahn for the rich.

At one point we passed a station wagon that had a rear wheel beginning to go flat and we could smell the rubber. Fortunately we managed to pull alongside and hand-signal to the woman driving (and family in back seat) that she had a flat and they pulled off. Would've been nasty with a blowout at that speed.

I don't recall seeing a single truck in the passing lane and they all seemed to obey the speed limit strictly.

Probably because vehicles with a potential weight above 3500kg are not allowed to go faster than 80 kph (50mph), and are physically incapable of going faster than 90 kph due to a mandatory speedlimiter. Needless to say, most truckdrivers dont care for the 80kph limit, but they have no choice but to obey the device in their truck that physically limits their speed. The funny thing is, that 80kph speedlimit applies to the american style SUVs and pick-ups aswell, but AFAIK they are not equipped with speedlimiters, and their owners dont seem to care more for speedlimits than people driving normal cars.

I used to occasionally drive a 16 seat minibus on one of the very few stretches of road in Norway with a speedlimit as high as 100kph, and just for fun I once tried to stick to the 80kph limit the law required. It was not much fun it turned out, all kinds of vehicles from motorcycles to 50-ton trucks were passing me constantly, and I was probably cursed by many a truckdriver struggling to get into the left lane and overtake me,  but I kept the experiment up for the road went back to single lane. The moral must be to stick to the de facto 90kph limit if you drive a heavy vehicle. Ofcourse, the vast majority of roads in Norway are 80kph, so most of the time I drive 80 regardless of what vehicle I am driving. Most people drive 10-20kph above the speedlimit, and traffic is getting more aggressive by the year, but I dont feel bad when a long line is building up behind me when I keep at or slightly above the limit.

I  have a benchmark trip of 528km that I drive a few times a year in a 1989 Opel Omega 2.4i 125HP station wagon, and I monitor the fuel consumption with great interest. The engine displacement is huge by norwegian standards, so I was surprised when I found I could drive it very economically if I wanted. Some examples of comsumption:
33L--6.25L/100km--38MPG, alone in the car,dry roads, summer tires, very careful manipulation of the gas pedal
45L--8.52L/100km--27.9MPG, 4 passengers, trunk full of baggage, winter tires, roads covered in snow/ice.
40L--7.6L/100km--31.35MPG, typical drive, 2 passengers, some baggage, occasionally speeding slightly.

Now I must get out and celebrate the constitution day :)

All European trucks must carry a tachograph, the record of which shows their speed.

When they reach a border control post or gendarmerie post, they can be stopped and checked for any speed infractions.  Fines levied on the spot.

As a result, European truckers do not speed.

See my point about tachographs.  The truckers can be caught, retrospectively, for speeding, and fined on the spot-- seen this happen with bus drivers at the Austrian and French borders.

In Italy, like in France, the autostrada are toll roads.  The locals use the non toll roads.  So the highways are not busy but the local roads are jammed.

The net effect is actually more accidents, because limited access high speed highways are actually the safest roads there are (caveat: if you do crash, you will die).  This is a generic problem with highway tolling.

It is cars entering and leaving the road which causes the majority of accidents.

Agree with you the average human response time is too slow to make 85-90mph safe.  However there was nearly a civil revolution when Germany proposed to put any speed limit on an Autobahn.  There is a reason the Mercedes and BMW perform so well at high speed!  My cousins were doing 70 mph, and were rearended in the middle of the night driving back from Berlin to the UK.

Zurich has a 'Car Drivers Party' which managed to get a quite substantial share of the vote, when the government proposed driving restrictions in the city core.

The tachograph is mainly used to keep track of how long the drivers have worked, when I got my license I was told the police couldn't legally use the information on the disc against me, but I could use it in my defense if they accused me of speeding. this perhaps varies from country to country? only people driving for a living needs to obey the driving time rules AFAIK. The rules are somewhat complicated, and I dont remember them since there's been a few years since I got my license, and I never used it in any kind of job. The fines for going over the allowed times can be enormous, thousands of euros and a revoked license for the driver and hundreds of thousands of euros for the company. The reason for this is not so much road safety, but to ensure no company has an unfair advantage in the very competitive road transport market.
As some have pointed out, slowing down for better fuel economy only makes sense if you make about $12/hr or less. If you make any more than that, it is in your best interest to go faster, assuming extra time spent in your care COULD have been spent working.

I think a lot of people also have no choice inasmuch as they have committed themselves to these HUGE commutes every day: if they went any slower, they would get zero time with their kids/family, etc.

Fundamentally there is also a deep distaste (at least in me) for sitting behind the wheel. Anything I can do to minimize it is a Good Thing.

That said, last weekend I drove 160 miles round trip, Orange County to San Diego, and had similar experiences: everybody else going 75 to 80, and I had the cruise locked in at 63mph in the right lane, just because I wanted to sightsee, I wasn't in a hurry, I drive a crappy old pickup truck, I was just going to a birthday party, I was chillin' and enjoying the ride because I rarely do it (once a year or so).

I used to make that trip once a month, yuk. I had to get on the road at something like 3AM, and keep the speedo pegged on 80MPH as much as possible, to get to a swapmeet at 6AM to get in at 7AM. Coming back, I was always fried by the sleepless night, the swapmeet, the long drive, etc and I found if I ran my AC and made the inside of my car really cold I was much less likely to doze off. In short, it sux.

I'm slowly building up yearly trips though, a yearly one to Sonoma, one to Sacramento, etc. But those are more like breaks or mini-vacations though.

I was at a talk last weekend by the Stanford AI expert whose car won the DARPA Grand Challenge last year, navigating its way across 100 miles of desert. DARPA is having a new contest next year, for cars that can drive in urban conditions. The speaker estimated that by 2010 we would have the basic technology for self-driving cars, although he estimated that due to social resistance it wouldn't be until 2030 that 50% of miles would be driven automatically.

If and when we do get that, longer commutes will be much more tolerable, because you can relax and read, watch TV or talk while your car takes you to work. The car can then go and part somewhere distant, and you can phone it to come by your office when you are ready to leave.

He also pointed out that even in crowded conditions, cars take up only about 10% of the road. 90% is empty space between cars. Computer-controlled cars will be far more precise and can communicate with each other, allowing for much denser packing. The result will be that our existing roadways will be able to accommodate many times the traffic they can carry today, reducing congestion and making trips much faster.

Guided cars could be safer when the technology makes it possible. It'll make DUI obsolete, cutting a lot of fatalities on a Friday or Saturday night. Same with sleepy drivers at any time.

But I oppose the proliferation of UNMANNED guided cars. This would waste fuel, clog streets, and make a road-going cruise missile too easy for terrorists. A terrorist cell could get a bunch of ANFO supplies, rent out a fleet of guided cars, and launch a salvo of cruise missiles roaming the streets hitting targets. Laws would have to be made to forbid unmanned cars and make for stiff penalties for the abuse of guided cars.

Back in the 1990s I got into a USENET discussion about just this topic of guided cars. (my word for "computer controlled cars")

Instead of spending the money researching unmanned private car technology, build electric rail using existing technology.  The increase in efficiency is well worth it as-is, and it's time to get shit or get off the pot.
I meant to say guided private car technology rather than unmanned private car technology!
Way better to spend the money on transit, like you said. Surely the thought of terrorists using unmanned cars as cruise missiles should give one pause. One suicide bomber blowing up four targets all in one shot is horrendous. A DIY 9/11.
Sorry, but I don't give a rat's ass about terrorists.  There are real, tangible problems we need to face in our world - I don't give a moment's thought to the distractions the corporate/goverment fear machine is trying to shove down my throat.  

Yes, we are making enemies faster than could have been imagined, and perhaps someone will do some damage.  But compared with the damage that will be done by climate change, economic collapse, and the social unrest I expect will be all around us before too long, it's not worth my worrying about.

Terrorism is, at least in part, a symptom of widespread environmental problems and collapse.

If you look at SW Asia, the Horn of Africa and other noted trouble spots, they are also suffering from drought, soil exhaustion, population pressures, etc.  Islamicisation is sweeping the former Soviet Central Asian republics, where the conditions are some of the most desparate in the world (draining of the Aral Sea due to water supply pressures etc.).

Many of the future wars will be about water and oil: arguably the First Gulf War was the first oil war.

Colon cancer kills more people, worldwide, per year than terrorism does.
Perhaps we should declare an unending war on colon cancer, and throw trillions of dollars at it instead?
I have some semi-interesting time/money tradeoffs on my daily commute.
Four possible routes.
The longest, 69 km, is in most traffic conditions, the quickest (it involves taking the ring road 270 degrees around my destination city of Lyon).
The shortest takes me through a long toll tunnel(1.80 euros, about the price of 1.5 litres of fuel, or 20 km worth), but the traffic jams at either end of the tunnel in peak periods.
The other two take me straight through the middle of town, and are shortest, about 55km, and take no longer than the others if it's after about 7pm...

Time is absolutely critical, an hour's commute is all I will tolerate. Luckily I have flexible hours, so I can generally stay fairly close to this. When I have to arrive before 9am, it takes an hour and a half at least.

Where it starts to get complicated is... I sort of have a public transport option. I can drive about half the distance, then take the train. The cost is competitive, but the problem is that the station is a couple of miles from the office. In practice, the various public transport options for this last leg just push it over my threshold for time and hassle. This may change of course...

The obvious lifestyle trade-off, given that I am both unwilling and unable to move to town, is to find a girlfriend in town...

Or, perhaps less trouble: any compatible person willing to supply living space in town during the week, in exchange for living space in the country during the weekend. Sort of house-pooling.

    I also recently drove for three and a half hours part way across my home state of PA at a cruising speed of 60-62 (in my diesel Jetta). Driving at this speed I generally get about 50 mpg. I only passed a single car which was doing about 55 and it was note-worthy enough that I pointed it out to the other three people in the car with me.  
    I also marvel at how many people tell me that their mileage is better at 65-75 than at 55, without ever having tested it!  I know that I get the best mileage at 55 but I typically drive in the low 60's so as to be in less danger of being flattened.  I wouldn't be surprised if I could do even better by driving 45-50 (right at the edge of lugging the engine).
    Also, a question to somebody with engineering experience - how much of a difference does the drag coefficient of a car make for its efficiency "sweet spot"?   I know that air resistance basically increases at the square of velocity, but I wonder whether making a more aerodynamic vehicle would affect the speed of greatest efficiency or whether it would simply reduce the total amount of energy required to maintain that speed.  Thanks.
you would need to be doing about 3-400mph for the coefficient of drag of these cars to have any meaningful effect, probably better to buy some racing slicks to lower the drag! :)
Eddd -

The answer is not all that clear cut. You've got to keep in mind that a car's fuel consumption is the sum of several different components, the main ones being: i) thermal efficiency of the engine itself,  ii) engine and drive train friction, iii) rolling friction, and iv) aerodynamic drag.

Thermal efficiency is determined by the engine design and to a lesser extent the operating speed of the engine (usually best at not too low and not too high of an engine RPM).

Engine and drive train friction is pretty constant with regard to the car's speed, so this fuel consumption component will not change much with speed.

As you correctly pointed out, aerodynamic drag increases with the square of the vehicles speed. Generally, this component starts to get more and more significant once you get up to around 50 mph or so. It is also often the main factor that limits the top speed of a vehicle.

Having said all that, I seriously doubt that within the speed range of most highway driving, i.e., 55 to  75 mph, that there is any 'sweet spot' for fuel consumption. The engine is already well within its most efficient operating range.  So, if I had to bet money, I would bet that if you took 100 cars and measured their fuel consumption at a steady 55 mph vs that at 75 mph, you would find some variation, but in general you would find consistently worse fuel consumption as the speed increases.

how much of a difference does the drag coefficient of a car make for its efficiency "sweet spot"?   I know that air resistance basically increases at the square of velocity, but I wonder whether making a more aerodynamic vehicle would affect the speed of greatest efficiency or whether it would simply reduce the total amount of energy required to maintain that speed.

Depends on the engine.  In an Otto-cycle engine, the throttling losses will decrease with increasing engine load, so the engine efficiency will go up as the speed goes up.  For a diesel engine, it's the opposite; your engine friction rises with speed so efficiency goes down.

My Passat registers 60-70 MPG on the trip computer when ticking along at 40 MPH in fifth.  This figure drops with speed to about 44 MPG indicated (~40 true) at 65.

Yes, most people neglect volumetric efficiency problems caused by the throttle plates in gasoline engines.  IIRC, BMW did studies back when they had their line of "eta" engines.  The best strategy was to use about 75-80% throttle and short shift a low rpm as you go up through the gears, until you reach your speed.  That way the throttle plate stays open far enough to reduce the restriction, but not so far that the ECU switches to a high speed/high load enrichment routine.  I always try to use this technique, along with coasting down hills.

One of the most important things to getting good mileage is to pay attention to what is up ahead and conserve momentum.  Avoid any unnecessary throttle openings by slowing down a little sooner and leaving a gap to the car in front as you come up to a stop - try to avoid the extra starts and stops.  Every time you move the throttle plates open the fuel system enriches the mixture for acceleration.

Every time you accelerate, you use energy (usually fuel).  If you drop to neutral and coast to the traffic ahead of you, reaching it just as the vehicle ahead of you accelerates to your speed, you've wasted nothing.  Not time, not fuel.  People should practice this, and lights should be set so as to encourage and reward such thrifty driving.
Welcome to Columbia MO!!  Hope you have enjoyed reading our obscene number of obscene billboards in this state while you try to dodge potholes and not get sucked under the wheels of an 18 wheeler.  BTW we have a new Hooters on the East side of town.  
What I enjoy most about those billboards along I-70 are the religious billboards right next to the pornographic ones.  Kind of sums up our culture right now.
They are the same on I-44 going to Branson.
Damage to road surface is proportional to the cube of the axle loading.

So those fully loaded 18 wheelers that are now the norm in transport, pioneered for logistics by Big Box retailers like WalMart, are doing something like 8 times as much damage to the road surface as an ordinary car (for twice the axle loading).

And heavy SUVs will not be helping.

The radical decentralisation of the US into 'Edge Cities' in the last 20 or 25 years has made the problems of road congestion and road wear and tear much greater.  The US has reached the end of the 'suburban' development model, and moved to the 'exurban' one.

An irony of moving out is that people drive more, and it leads to more congestion, not less.

A classic sign of this.  All the growth in retail space in the last 20 years has been in Big Box, standalone formats (WalMart, Home Depot etc.).  I believe there has not been a major new shopping mall opened in the US since the early 90s, and all of the existing ones are either struggling, or transforming themselves eg by having more boutique shops, restaurants and entertainment.

Actually, a lot of cars don't fall off that much when you get past 60, unless you REALLY drive fast.

With a decent, and steady, tailwind, I got 40 mpg in my 2001 Toyota Corolla (automatic, EPA rating of, I believe 36 mpg highway) driving about 73-74 mph coming back to Dallas from Big Bend National Park.

I was on Interstate 20 and I naturally had the cruise control locked in. The tailwind was about 15 mph or so.

That said, with the cruise on, at that same speed and no tailwind, I will average about 38 mpg. The one engine "maintenance" item I do is to pour some Coleman lantern/stove fuel in the tank about every dozen fillups or so. (White gas is naphtha, one of the primary petroleum distillates in gas treatment mixes, and a heck of a lot cheaper>

I make no apology for driving faster than 70. West Texas, let alone the mountain/intermountain states, are large and sparsely populated.

Hey Dave.  Wave when you pass thru Wentzville, that is if you aint boxed in by big rigs.  Yes, I70 turns to crap in Missouri. Talk of adding third lane border to border or going w/ parallel toll road.  Neither will happen as we all know. Unless you just have to see the Arch, bipass downtown by taking 370 to 270 to 70 in Illinois (do you take directions from locals?)  Sorry about having to move from Boulder, nice place. Anyway, roads to east of Mo. in much better shape (though gas more expensive) so fill up b4 Illinois & much happy motoring.
Dave, why are you moving to Pittsburgh?  What area are you going to living in?  I lived in the Burgh for 17 years now, so I could probably help you out if you need any info or assistance.
Various reasons for the move. Since I assume we'll meet up, we can talk. Send me an e-mail (click on "Dave" in the editors list). Do you know Byron King? He also lives in Pittsburgh and writes on peak oil. You and everyone else should check him out.

Next thing you know we'll have TOD Pittsburgh!

talk to you soon, Dave

  Thanks for bringing us along!  

  When my wife and I moved from NYC to Maine, we took 3mos off and drove the country to get to a lot of National Parks hiking,etc.  Realised the Subaru did a lot more 'hiking' than we did, but it was a great trip.

  One of my favorite (self-righteous indignation) sights was the Tourbus-sized RV's, towing not a Mini Car for local running around, but a full-SUV behind them, and on which we often saw ATV's on the roof racks, Motocross on the tail racks, Motorboats, etc.  I am really sorry now that I never got a decent picture of this egregious mess.  If you see one and can do it (safely).. want to post a snap or two of this uniquely american 'doesn't-much-' caravan?

Bob Fiske

OPEC says they have 2 million barrels of spare capacity!


Pretty interesting story. These seemed to be the key paragraphs:
OPEC also sought to dampen concerns about its surplus production capacity. When this excess capacity is tight, it makes oil traders extra jittery about any real or potential threats to supply. From the end of 2002 to the end of 2005, OPEC said its spare production capacity declined from 5 million barrels per day to 2 million barrels per day. But the cartel said that figure would rise to 3 million barrels per day, or 3.5 percent of global demand, by the end of this year, thanks to the combined effects of weakening demand growth and new projects coming on line.

Despite OPEC's claims, many analysts point out that the bulk of this excess capacity resides in Saudi Arabia and is not the high-quality crude oil that is preferred by refiners.

Sounds less and less likely that we are going to beat the production levels from 2005, this year. Even though they say it is due to weakening demand, ultimately that demand drop is due to high prices, and the only thing that can keep prices high is supply problems. Whether you call it lack of demand or lack of supply, either way it sounds like we will be stuck on our "bumpy plateau" for at least the rest of the year.
Sometimes when I'm on the superslabs, I think of the old Roman roads, and I wonder what use those who come after us will put them to.  Will they wonder at the society that made such things?  What would it be like for horse drawn traffic?  Will people build inns along the medium for travelers to spend the night?  Will we run rails down there instead?  Will armies march down them to battles?

Just little musings to keep me entertained on the drive!

The Roman roads were actually built for marching troops, and had too steep a grade and were too slippery for carts, which were required to use secondary roads so as not to block troops and (importantly) the Roman courier service.

Also the Romans used inland waterways a lot, an area which has been neglected (for lack of good archaelogical evidence).

There is a Joe Haldeman short story, 'Armaja Das', about a gypsy curse which leads to WWIII (this is less goofy than it sounds-- the computer systems are built with sensitivity circuits, so they pick up the curse, however the defence computers are not, so they notice that the country is apparently under attack, and respond).  It's really a (pre internet) description of a massive computer virus attack.

In the end of the story, the gypsy mother is riding her horse and cart along a ruined highway.  It is a very evocative image.


Given the overpasses (which will collapse rapidly) the roads would probably be far less usable than we might, at first, think.

The slabs of the Roman Roads made good building materials, I am not sure what makes up an Interstate is recyclable for the same purpose.

IIRC, the interstate highway system was also built with military use in mind - at least in the beginning.
Yes.  Eisenhower was greatly impressed by the German autobahn system that Hitler had built, and wanted it duplicated in the US.

Part of the plan was to allow rapid evacuation in case of an atomic emergency, and also to allow movement around the country even if key cities had been destroyed by atomic bombs.

Once the hydrogen bomb was developed in the mid 1950s, (far sooner by the Russians than had been anticipated), the devastation of each bomb would have been much greater, and the idea was somewhat obsolete.

An unintended side effect was that people moved out of city centres and commuted to work greater distances.  The modern Edge City would have been impossible without the expansion of the Interstate network.  Also the urban planning of the time was that it was OK to bulldoze established communities, which were merely 'poor' to build roads right through the centre of town.  The Boston Big Dig has been about reversing that.

In Manhattan, Jane Jacobs and a few much derided 'hippy mothers with strollers from Greenwich Village' managed to stop Robert Moses from building an on ramp through half the village-- the first time anyone had ever defeated him.

She then moved to Toronto and stopped the Spadina Expressway being bulldozed through what is now one of Toronto's nicest neighbourhoods (the Annex).

If we really are reaching Peak Oil, then North America will owe her a significant debt.  Many of the urban neighbourhoods have survived because her ideas inspired a generation of urban activists.

Interestingly, in her last book, Dark Age Ahead, she became increasingly pessimistic about the prospects for North America, focusing on what she termed the decline of 'responsible' civic behaviour.

www.amazon.com/gp/product/1400076706/sr=8-5/qid=1147976075/ref=pd_bbs_5/102-5165299-0862522?%5Fencod ing=UTF8

On the subject of cities, she was undoubtedly a visionary, and a woman before her time, although she would have derided the 'gentrification' and upper middle class professional ghettoes that places like Greenwich Village have become.

Along with JK Galbraith and Betty Friedan, I think we will come to miss their wit and insight very much.

Sorry but I fail to see your reasoning here.   Exactly why do you think reinforced concrete overpasses are going to collapse?  There are lots of concrete structures from the Roman empire still standing today.  And they didn't have the benefit of steel rebar.
The Romans usually spanned with arches, which rely on the compressive strength of stone rather than the tensile strength of steel. They also used hand-placed and compacted concrete with low water content. The freeze-thaw cycle can eventually chip away at modern, pourable concrete and expose reinforcing that is close to the bottom of concrete beams.

Also, a lot of bridges & overpasses use steel wideflange beams, or steel trusses, that will eventually rust out.  

Bridges, especially modern highway bridges( with their floating decks) are also very succeptible to natural forces such as earthquakes, much more so than road surfacing.

However, I would not expect asphalt-based roadways to last long into the future.
Being petroleum based, much like synthetic tire rubber, they are very vulnerable to UV destabilization and degradation (ever noticed how old asphalt roads are much lighter in color than fresh asphalt?), cracking, crazing, and subsidence crumbling (aka potholing).
On the whole, they will fairly quickly come to resemble arrow-straight sections of the surface of the moon.
You can see this on any asphalt road that has not been repaved in 20-30 years or so, much less with heavy useage.

Concrete-based roadways will hold up much better, overall. The biggest problem with them is the freeze-thaw cycle and salt degredation (in those states where deicer is used).

If you drive to some place where for some reason a development has been abandoned, the trees seem to grow up through the road surface pretty fast.

I am thinking of that suburb of Detroit where they built the infrastructure (in the 1920s?) but never actually built the community.

As is explained below, my sense is overpasses don't last:

The cold air underneath an overpass aids the freeze-thaw cycle, and they decay.

Also the metal in rebar corrodes.

It's surprising how fast such structures and materials decay.  OTOH, they would remain viable to foot and horse traffic long after they were unsafe for diesel rigs at 70mph!  Beyond that, the large, cleared and leveled roadways would still be useful as roads even if the pavement decayed.  

Many of the overpasses are just going over another highway anyway - at much slower speeds they are not required.  They would just be intersections, which is where the taverns get built!  Real bridges over rivers are usually better built.

I was thinking the collapse of the overpasses and cloverleafs would block the roads, in particular the interchanges.

River crossings are the key-- there you would find barges and bridges with tolls, baronial castles and taverns.  The map of the fur traders' routes in the early 18th century, and the pioneer trails, is probably a better guide than the modern road network, in many places-- getting over the Appalachians, crossing the Mississippi etc.

Cities like St. Louis are strategically located re river transport and the passability of the tributaries of the Mississippe delta, and I imagine that would return.  Ditto places like Boston and Manhattan were key for their sheltered harbours and their water traffic, and again that would be important.

There is a Michael Kurland novel 'Pluribus' about the US after a plague has killed 90% of the population.  The description of travelling across the US is very evocative.  Civilisation is clinging to the margins but, inevitably, a movement has emerged that it is civilisation which caused the plague (invoking God's wrath) and that movement seeks to end the use of technology.


If you want a plausible scenario for the breakdown of American civilisation into civil disorder, then Joe Haldeman's 'Worlds' Trilogy


is quite good (particularly the first two).

Agree the routes will last forever.  Just as modern English roads are often Roman ones (you can tell-- the Roman roads are as close to straight lines as possible).

However if you read about the conditions of roads in England in the Dark Ages, or indeed in the 17th century, you can see how far backward things can go.  I am reminded that the early Anglo-Saxons shunned the ruin of Roman London-- they thought the buildings must have been built by giants.

There was also a movie with Lee Majors and Burgess Meredith, about the last race car driver trying to escape a government which mandates solar powered cars


Burgess Meredith is the last fighter pilot, assigned to hunt him down as he drives across a ruined United States.  The movie is B grade (B minus minus) but again the imagery is quite evocative.

The overpasses would make quite a mess if they collaped, but in time people would clear it away on major routes.  

So anyway, this was a fun thought experimant/fantasy, but I don't think that our near future looks this way.  Even if major "collapse" (whatever that actually means) happens, there will still be cars on those highways for quite some time.  There may be ever fewer, with the highways increasingly negelcted, but nonetheless they will still be used.  Maybe in 200 to 300 years though.....

The crisis will come much sooner than 200-300 years.

Either the next 50, when we figure out how to reconcile the rise in CO2 emissions and our appetite for travel with the global climate change, and how we move to non carbon fuels

or we won't deal with it, and in 100 years the highways will be empty, with trees sprouting through them.

In 200-300 years our civilisation will either have moved on to a more sustainable track, using solar energy or its successors (eg nuclear fusion, solar power satellites) or we will be but a memory.

If our civilisation is still around in 200-300 years, then

- people will complain about the traffic


- we are into flying cars or matter transmssion, in which case people will complain about the traffic and crowding in the airlanes, or at the matter transmission booths!