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Behind the Scenes of the NYC Subway, Where Trains Are Run on 1930s Switchboards

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New York City’s subway system—far and away the most extensive in the nation—is not exactly a model for transportation infrastructure. The city has yet to open an extension line it started planning in the 1920s. Almost all of the existing stations have structural defects. Oh, and it’s still using a signaling system that was last considered high-tech 85 years ago. 

At Manhattan's West 4th Street station, trains are controlled by a 1930s interlocking machine operated by physical levers that employees have to manipulate in order to reroute tracks and send out signals. Standing on the platform waiting for your ride home, you’d never guess that every time a train enters a station, there’s an actual human standing in a back room pulling on levers. See behind-the-scenes in this video from the city’s transit authority:

The New York City subway is basically a living museum. Which is awesome, except when you need to rely on it to get you somewhere on time. Railroad companies don’t even make the parts for some of these systems anymore, so the MTA has to make its own. On a slightly brighter note, the city recently approved a plan to shell out $205.8 million to upgrade its signal system along one of its busiest subway lines, allowing the transit system to run more trains per hour. Of course, that still leaves all the other lines hanging out in the early 20th century. 

[h/t: Urbanophile]

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politics
Why America Has So Many Empty Parking Spaces
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iStock

When you’re driving around looking for a spot to park on tight downtown streets, you’re probably not cursing city planners for mandating too much parking space. (You’re probably thinking the opposite.) But while some areas, depending on the time of day, are inundated with more cars than spaces, for the most part Americans lead lives of parking privilege, surrounded by empty spaces they don’t need to use. By one estimate, there are eight parking spots for every car in the U.S. (Others say it's more like three, which is still a lot considering that number doesn't take into account home parking.)

Why does the U.S. have so much extra parking? A new video explainer from Vox (spotted by Arch Daily) has the answer. It’s because laws mandate it.

In the video, Will Chilton and Paul Mackie of the transportation research initiative Mobility Lab explain the rise of the parking meter, which was invented in the 1930s, and the regulations that soon followed, called mandatory parking minimums. These city laws require that those building an apartment complex or shopping center or store have to provide a minimum number of spaces in off-street parking for customers to use. The cost of providing this service is carried by building developers—giving the city a free way to get new parking without having to manage their street parking situation closely. Go to any suburb in America, and the parking lots you leave your car in are probably the result of these parking minimum rules.

The ease of parking in America isn’t a good thing—though it may feel like it when you slide into an open spot right in front of the grocery store. Experts have been calling for an end to zoning laws like these for years, arguing that excess parking encourages unnecessary driving (why take the bus or carpool if it’s easy to drive yourself and park for free?) while simultaneously making it harder to walk around a city, since parking takes up a ton of land that’s difficult to traverse on foot, interrupting the urban fabric.

These parking minimum regulations take very specific forms by building type, including number of spaces required per hole at a golf course, per gallons of water in a public pool, and per beds in a nursing home. Before you cheer for free, plentiful parking, let the experts at Vox explain just why this is a problem for cities:

[h/t Arch Daily]

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environment
Teen Inspires Law Requiring Solar Panels on New South Miami Houses
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David McNew/Getty Images

In South Miami, Florida, all new houses built after September 2017 will need to to come equipped with rooftop solar panels, thanks to a local teenager. As Inhabitat spotted from the Miami Herald, the recently passed city measure was originally the brainchild of Delaney Reynolds, a teenager who began writing mayors in her area about the idea in early 2016.

After seeing that a similar city ordinance had passed in San Francisco, the then 16-year-old Reynolds wrote to South Miami mayor Philip Stoddard proposing that he craft legislation requiring solar panels in new construction. In response, he asked her to help write the law with him.

The newly passed legislation requires that all new home construction or large-scale home renovations include solar panels. All houses must have either 175 square feet of solar panels per 1000 square feet of sunlit roof area, or at least enough to produce 2.75 kilowatts per 1000 square feet of living space. The solar power requirement also applies to renovations that replace or extend the structure by 75 percent. South Miami is the first city in Florida to pass this kind of mandate.

In Florida, the average solar panel system costs between $10,000 and $15,000 for a 6-kilowatt system, including the federal tax deduction, though those costs vary based on the area (states have their own tax deductions and credits for solar installation) and the type of system. But several years down the line, the investment should start paying off in the form of huge energy savings. In a sunny area like Los Angeles, for instance, homeowners are estimated to save around $90,000 over 20 years, according to the solar marketplace EnergySage.

Reynolds plans to continue to work toward making life in South Florida more sustainable in the face of climate change through her environmental nonprofit Sink or Swim, which is devoted to working against sea level rise.

[h/t Inhabitat]

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