Category Archives: Bill Rankin

Follow the Money from the Bay Area’s Shores

When William Rankin mapped city income donuts across urban America in 2006, the radical cartographer aimed to correlate wealth distributions onto a geometry of concentric circles.  But the donuts of income distribution within the Bay Area do suggest the wedded nature of the bay’s shorelines with distinctly lower incomes, reflecting the deep historical association–outside Marin, but only partly–of the bay’s shore with heavy industry and piers.  The distribution reveals the reduced desirability of living by its often polluted shorelines before their restoration–as much as it recalls the concentric rings of the mapping of flight paths.

William Rankin's Income Donut of the Bay Area (2006)

Donut Distribution Income Scale

APPROACHES TO OAK IN SFO

Inlaid map in San Francisco Airport (SFO), International Terminal

In part, this is due to the pronouncedly low-lying nature of downtown Oakland and the low density housing of the shoreline.  It also reflects how the shoreline–after being reclaimed from marshland–was rebuilt after World War II, when the shoreline of Oakland was substantially rebuilt and emerged as a center of industry.  That industrial shoreline is now fading.  But the distinct social topography it created transformed (and transmogrified) reflect the ecotonal aspects of the bay’s shore from San Jose to Richmond that have not been explored:  the transformation of the bayshore into the site of hazardous waste extended to recent times, when the reclaiming of the coastal shore became a major project of civic attention in the Bay Area–far after the projects of saving the Bay itself.  While running the risk of being too map-obsessed–a challenge, I admit, that is hard to avoid on this blog–the shaping of the shores of the bay can be traced through the avoidance of the bay, a region of intense sociability in pre-Anglo California that is only being slowly returned to in recent years.

The trend of flight from the shores was solidified by the concentration of the highest incomes at the greatest remove from the shorelines that were associated with commerce and shipping–the peninsula–the deepest red of the region, and the similar remove of the Piedmont and Oakland hills, as if to reflect the wonders of automotive transportation that allowed the wealthiest to live at the greatest remove from the urban center.  Tiburon be damned:  to withdraw to lofty peaks far away from the commerce of the shoreline seems to be the distribution of the most desirable land.  (Tiburon, if an outlier to this region, itself stands at such remove from the commercial shorelines of the bay to confirm the trend–Marin City is of course the bit closest to the bay as we know it.)  The economic panorama of the Bay Area makes some sense of region’s socioeconomic distribution and settlement that reflects its industrial past, even though that industry–with the exception of some shipping and oil reserves–is less present in the region today.  Is this a ghost or a legacy?  This mapping makes a sense of the Bay Area’s social topography:  it both clearly privileges panorama that peaks afford, but somehow doesn’t like to look directly at the bay around which it lives.

For living along and beside the bay–or beside the water that were the centers of social interaction for its native inhabitants–was historically rejected both because the waters were the sites of refuse and waste, but also as they became the site of trading, industry, naval yards and slaughterhouses in historical San Francisco and Oakland.  One can see the same income distribution echoed in the map of those buildings in San Francisco whose residents were recently cleared by legalized evictions, based on the Ellis Act that permits landlords to issue legal eviction notices to the tenants of multi-unit buildings, very few of whom lived–or rented–residences that faced or were even near to the East Bay, as one can see in this less elegant–and far more crowded–real estate map, which shows the less desirable nature of properties from the piers to Mission Bay to Hunter’s Point, and the relative clustering of valued homes from the commercial or industrial shoreline:

Ellis Act Evictions

Bill Rankin’s elegant geographical donut mapped local incomes in ways that offers a gloss on the odd historic relation to mapping the distribution of incomes around the San Francisco Bay–a neglected area partly defined by landfill–and later residences–but also by proximity to a body of water that was never that desirable an area of residence save at the Pacific side:  the low-lying shores of the bay facing Oakland were far more associated with commerce, shipyards, and treacherous waters, whose shoreline in 1905 was less bulked up by landfill and far more polluted.  Removed from the hilly topography of the ocean-facing heights. To offer something of a cartographical archeology of how Rankin mapped the distribution of incomes in the Bay Area, one might begin from the Langley map of 1861, when te Western addition grew around docks allowing nautical approaches, more densely inhabited and built than the rockier shoreline of the Ranchos and government lands on the Pacific or Golden Gate, named from Marin’s golden hills as an uninhabited gate to the Bay.

City and CountyCopyright Rumsey Collection

The shores of the city’s peninsula was understood around magnetic lines of nautical approach from 1897 from the Rumsey collection, which measured the coastline as a site of disembarkation and arrival, tracing the topography of the coast in ways that reflect the distance of its use from residential regions.

magnetic sightings in bayCopyright Rumsey Collection

Viewing the city in Charles B. Gifford’s 1862 map of the city from Russian Hill, one can see the areas of settlement perched above the harbor that ringed the city, resting as if it was elevated above the smells, fray, and commerce of the shores, with park-goers sitting in the higher grounds far removed from the traffic of ships sailing in the San Francisco Bay.

San Francisco 1862Bancroft Library, University of California

From the late nineteenth century, the downtown was ringed by zones of forbidden anchorage, suggesting dense traffic of ships at its piers.  Shorelines on the city’s eastern half were notoriously dense, outside of the Presidio, the hilly site of the US Reserve, rather than sites of residential housing, to judge by this 1905 US Coastal Survey of the entrance to the Port of San Francisco, in which the eastern half of the city is far more densely built, and its buy shores surrounded by zones of forbidden anchorage of dense water-traffic.  Indeed, the aquatic environment seems far more closely attached to the city in this 1905 map, which suggests a close familiarity of the shorelines at a time when the city was far more often approached by ship, rather than by car, and the deeper waters offered easier approach to the protected cove of San Francisco’s Embarcadero piers without risk of running ashore.

SF Bau amd JSpre;omesCopyright Rumsey Collection

The prominence of such grey “Forbidden Anchorage” zones–sort of like metered parking–provide a reflection of the populated traffic within the bay’s shore that removed it from desirable residence even if it increased its value.   The expansion of areas of port along the Addition up to Potrero Hill created a sparsely populated region of the city as primary port for the region.   The flats off of the shore of Oakland, in contrast, suggested a far shallower areas of docking, no doubt less desirable area of living–refuse must have been washed out by tides from the more stagnant urban shores, where ships arrived by the San Antonio River into Oakland’s port.

Port and San Antonio RiverCopyright Rumsey Collection

The port of Oakland was beset by fetid shallow waters, and a marshy inland, that would have rarely attracted sites of denser residences, despite its clearly planned plant, and its shoreline featured a prominent silt belt around its shallow muddy shoreline.

shallow water of Oakland harbor

The conspicuous “redlining” of neighborhoods near to the shore in Oakland from the 1930s–effectively rendering them less eligible for any financial mortgages or loans that might create neighborhood consolidation or development as a site of residence–created deep divides that have been willfully perpetuated in the city’s current socio-economic landscape, dividing more prosperous Piedmont from African American residents of other areas of the city who could not afford to buy homes there.   Practices of redlining divides in neighborhoods that were granted residential refinancing, captured in the below map of the Home Owners Loan Corporation, reflected existing differences, to be sure, but inscribed socioeconomic divides by formalizing them as formal divides in the existing realty market by destroying the possibility of investment for families living in zones dominated by blacks or African American families, defining four grades of property, and encouraging clauses to be written into titles to not sell to non-whites.

Redlining By the Shore

Maps as the above graded neighborhoods that merited increased caution to lenders in Yellow, and “infiltration of a lower grade of population,” whereas green areas are “hot-spots” and blue “still good” neighborhoods; red “represent those neighborhoods in which the things that are now taking place in the Yellow neighborhoods have already happened,” were home ownership is rare and poor maintenance results, as well as vandalism typical of the slums they often contain.  The area by the water was an area for piers, rather than the elegant Victorian townhouses that lined the substantially higher ground of neighborhoods like Fillmore or Noe Valley, not to mention those elegant multi-room mansions in Pacific Heights, in ways that have migrated into the current social landscape, where the bay is spanned by bridges that define two major traffic arteries.

Sliver of Alameda

To what extent has the social topography of the city remained the same? The value of low-lying areas by the shore has not diminished, but the flight of wealthy populations inland has led to concentrations of wealthier communities far inland from the shore–both in San Francisco and, far more pronouncedly, across the Bay. One can see a similar large brown swath of (low-income) water in the San Francisco Bay within the American Community Survey, of which Rankin’s distribution is (to some extent) a forbear:  in the recent Survey, the city of San Francisco and Oakland Hills are flush with green, as is Tiburon:  there is, however, as if by a perverse computer glitch reflecting county lines, an odd mismapping that extends to the pockets of low incomes in the Tenderloin downtown, and over across the Bay.

The brown-hued bay of course has few human residents or renters, but is somehow the greatest continuous low-income area, even if uninhabited, by a software responding to fixed county lines, despite the extension of San Francisco county to a tiny sliver of the Naval Base airfield, that one sees outside of inner Oakland:

ACS SF Median Income

When did the odd division of the San Francisco Bay arise that included a slice of Alameda in its scope?

The area was excluded from the naval airstrips on the northern end of the island, but reflect a line drawn across San Francisco Bay, a triangulation from small rock outcroppings on the Bay drawn from the almost-island “Red Rock,” and still visible in the OSM mapping of the corner of Alameda that enters into San Francisco County’s parsing of the bay, and the resulting odd mapping of Oakland’s boundaries that left it with limited water rights–and Oakland’s harbor or port confined to the area between Alameda and its shoreline.  The same low-lying port region–which Henry Kaiser so dramatically expanded as a militarized area, with Point Richmond and Hunter’s Point, during World War II, together with Marin City, and as centers of lower-income housing–transformed the shoreline from an area of wetlands and ecotones to a region of heavy industry. It’s tempting to excavate the maps as a repository of sort of social history of the human relation to the shore across the bay in Oakland, where the port emerged as a site of commerce and industry, as a sort of poorer cousin to the San Francisco piers, remained a second site of the withdrawal of the wealthier populations from the shore. The limited nature of Oakland’s possession of the bay–marked her by the boundaries of the City of Alameda–offer a canvas of the parameters of shoreline commerce along the former San Antonio river.

Alameda in OSM

A somewhat submerged history of the settled bay shore–before the redefinition of the shore as a center of industry that constituted the built periphery of the land–is evident in the layered archeology of the bay’s history in early maps, that offer the possibility of recovering a narrative of the somewhat idiosyncratic bounding of the bay’s shores as the area shifted from a maritime port.

San Francisco Bay extended the county past Treasure Island so that it brushed lightly against the island of Alameda, for some odd reason of territorial jurisdiction, that predates the Flea Market, the naval station at Point Alameda, peculiarly carved out for reasons little to do with military bases, left a sliver of landfill on Alameda cut off from Alameda County, and lying in San Francisco–not the city, but the County, protective of its water and air rights.  The Office of the Surveyor of Alameda helped in inscribing a line “southwesterly in a direct line to a point in San Francisco Bay, said point being four and one-half statute miles due southeast of the northwest point of Golden Rock (also known as Red Rock); thence southeasterly in a direct line to the point on which the lighthouse on the most southerly point on Yerba Buena island bears south seventy-two degrees west, four thousand seven hundred feet,” reads the Senate Journal of 1919.  And so it still appears, in something of an artifact of geodata, outlived its time as a basis for negotiating shoreline and sea. Already, in the 1859 United States Coast Survey, the unique shelf off the shore of Oakland suggested a narrow point of arrival for larger ships–even if the bay suggested a readiness existed to define the San Francisco bay exactly along the shelf of land that extended just out to the spit of man-made land of the mole that ran out to Red Rock, which were less suitable for sailing.

Depth Charges of the Waters in SF- 1869 Coastal Survey

A few early printed maps preserve traces of the redrawing of the bay shore, and note that region where the water intersects with land and probably also lines of county taxation are drawn around the bays’ islands and shores.  The artificial slivering of the island Alameda in the late nineteenth century is echoed long before the building of the Naval Base, in a Leipzig engraving of the early 1890s, an image attributed to James Blick, San Francisco und Umgebung, which illustrated the island of Alameda is mapped as cut by a secant of railroad track at the point, as Alameda bracketed Oakland’s own harbor and port.  But there is no clear delineation of the county line, and the shore area seems primarily defined by the railway lines that run along it.

Leipzig San FranciscoWikimedia Commons

The division of San Francisco Bay postdates the complex settlement of the shores in the East Bay recorded in this openly acknowledged apparent official settlement which evokes a treaty between San Francisco and Oakland.  Derived from surveys that Theodore Wagner compiled  c. 1894, which George Sandow so eloquently engraved, the comprehensive map of the bay charted the oyster beds that Indians had long cultivated, whose mound of clam shells rose some sixty feet high, barely remembered in Emeryville’s Shellmound Road–and is now home to Best Buy and P.F. Chang’s.  The Bayshore area had become, by the late nineteenth century, a site actively contested and divided by prospectors of oysters, which  constituted a very important micro-economy of aquaculture for Oakland’s Morgan Oyster corporation, even in the end of the age of its rancho, at a time shortly after when the city’s amalgamation was formalized, until the increasing waste dumped directly into the waters decreased the imported population of bivalves, and led to declines in local sturgeon by 1920.  The mosaic of lots of oyster beds were mapped some distance offshore, in ways that reveal the dense interaction between the tidal regions where the Ohlone had earlier lived intimately with, that maps allow one to excavate from the late nineteenth century–when the importation of oysters had led to their widespread cultivation in the relatively shallow waters along much of the coast of the East Bay.

Oyster Plots on Map

It is eery that the same shores, so long fertile with the shellfish that sustained the Pomo and Ohlone, were later almost filled with landfill, by the mid-twentieth century, and almost so readily sacrificed.  It’s humanizing to look back at the shore divided by oyster prospectors, however, and to see a far more permeable divide that existed between water and land.  The distribution of shell heaps was in a way a reminder of the close relations between land and water that had earlier existed in the physical geography of the Bay, where a mound of shells near the current Emeryville, built over thousands of years of the harvesting of shellfish from the bay–not oysters, but abalone, mussels, and clams–was a notable part of local topography, extending some three football fields in length, a sacred site of burial in the large estuary and Temescal creek, from which some seven hundred burial sites were removed in the 1920s, which were mined for fertilizer in earlier years, and partially leveled in the 19th century to become the site of a dancing pavilion, before being leveled in 1924. The distribution of such middens extended around the East Bay:

Shell Heaps

If the shoreline was a permeable region of wetlands circa 1860, the subsequent hardening of the boundary between land and sea had already occurred by the 1920s, when the region was prepared for industrialization–the wetlands and creeks that were so pronouncedly visible in this early state atlas had been paved over and erased with time, as the shoreline was defined as a fixed boundary of trade and its substantial wetlands disappeared and a clearer division between land and water in the region was effectively over time engineered.

1860 Bay Area Map

An relatively early perspective of the settlement around the Bay’s shores from 1915 that suggests a clearer bathymetric projection of the ocean floors of the bay.  The elegant lithograph indicated the emergence of early landfill of the marshlands of Alameda island, situating the deep water channel for entering the San Antonio Creek  fully in Alameda county, and placing a county boundary line in the middle of the San Francisco Bay.  While it notes significant estuaries in Alameda, the particularly low-lying lands of the East Bay that it depicts at a certain time became the basis for the cartographic fantasy of extending landfill from the shores to increase the amount of land for sale–or for industry–in the Bay Area.

Mission Rock in SF Bay 1918

    The same map reveals a Bay whose bearings were of course primarily aquatic, marked by islands that offered mariners primary points of orientation, and the waters linked by spidery lines.

1915 SF Bay Map

Subsequent post-WWII entertainment of the sacrifice of sunsets and the Bay’s open waters reveals the readiness to development of the coastal waters as an industrial zone that emerged shortly after World War II, as the rise of military bases and the industrial port of Oakland was bracketed apart from the regions of Contra Costa or Alameda County inhabited by a wealthier demographic.  The proposal for  “Lake San Francisco” sacrificed the bay as if it were dispensable:  This compelling evocation of the ecological threat of a proposed narrowing bay waters hinged upon the idea of building over a watershed increasingly seen as a dispensable, whose wasteland of refuse an imagined plateaux would replace, built over a Bay that remained quite polluted, but whose waters seemed as if they would be rendered more manageable:

BIrd's Eye View o Bay

The imagined “highway outlet” for ships alone was cast as a project of land-reclamation, in surprising ways, and seems to have included a surprisingly ecological view of the seven rivers that emptied into the bay as now filling a freshwater lake–and San Francisco Bay being displaced to Baker Beach and the Golden Gate.

The vision compelled collective resistance–long before the civil rights movement–in a wave of ecological awareness that exploited the power of maps for all they were worth to resist the proposed complex of dams, transportation corridors, and landfill that became identified as John Reber’s plan–drafted at wartime, when the local beds of oysters were no doubt no more, and the Bay had become something of a city of industry.  Reber vividly imagined the commerce to be created by facilitating shipping lanes on a redrawn shore, purged of estuaries and irregularities, lined with a sequence of piers and docks.  If adopted, it would make something of a mockery of the Bay Bridge’s first span, and the eagerness to link the Bay that that Bridge’s celebrated completion seemed to inaugurate back in 1936.  The never-completed but almost-adopted fantasy for redesigning the bay as a lake or freshwater region, shared by Marin, Contra Costa County, and Alameda, as well as San Francisco, was based on building multiple barriers in the bay that expunged or limited saltwater from the waters, drawing the sort of imaginary line that seems to have leaped off of an engineer’s drafting table to incorporate Point Richmond, Clark Island, the Albany Bulb and Berkeley Marina with fill that pushed the piers imagined for East Bay ports in the post-war period almost out to Treasure Island, overrunning the Bayshore as if to displace the port and ship locks half-way to San Francisco.  Perhaps this was to alter the property-values of the Bay Area, if only to fill the landfill with an infinite supply of workers’ houses at a time when the rapid expansion of shipping was the order of the day, more than the marine environment; and the workers on the Bayshore could be moved into new prefabricated houses that the landfill would support.

Red-colorized-reber-plan-4480349065_c878e93eb5_o

Bancroft Library, University of California

John Reber’s 1941 plan for radically restricting the Bay’s waters was never adopted, nor was his notion of creating two artificial lakes of freshwater, divided from the sea by ocean barriers.  But the serious contemplation of Reber’s plans and others through 1962–the plans  elicited active defense of the Bay as a region for the first time–suggest that the bay was seen, even after the boom of commerce in the 1950s, as little more than a source for some marine traffic that could be effectively built or beaten back to the Bay itself, and imagined as an area to grow new industry.

And Reber and his wife were sufficiently joyous to communicate the expansion of coastal building–a gift to realtors, perhaps, but also a plan of industrial expansion–in the future map they staged for their own family New Year’s Card as a misguidedly optimistic celebration of the acceptance of Reber’s plan for expanding landfill on the Oakland and Berkeley shores, and even to divide the bay into separate freshwater lakes, as if in the hope of recreating two sites of Arcadia in the m “Joyous Map” that both balanced and contrasted with the industry of the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond, or along the planned extension of the canal from Alameda and to the new “City of Industry” in South San Francisco near the new airfields:  Reber imagined lakes filled with fish, in which moved poetic sailboats, while the big boats of industry were enclosed by a newly reduced San Francisco Bay.

Reber's Joyous MapBancroft Library

The “joyous” vision of an industrialized bay was beaten back–in large part by a “Save the Bay” group of East Bay Residents, ancestor of the current Save the Bay that, back in 1961, crystallized, momentarily, priorities of the current San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission.  But the image of erecting barriers across the Bay left the image of a sort of aquatic parcellization, as if treating its waters as a built environment, no doubt reflecting the dredging of its waters to allow ships.

Barriers in the Bay-1962Bancroft Library

The battle of the fate of the bay was itself waged in maps, cast in terms of competing visions in relation to the shoreline that would be sacrificed, and with it the relation to the water that had been so dramatically rewritten over time, as residents withdrew from the bay around Oakland, even as they valued the beach at Alameda as a sole point of contact with the sea. What of that odd divide of Alameda County and San Francisco County that persisted, and would be defined by a Trans-Bay Barrier in the above Savage Plan of 1962?  This detail of the map, a telling boundary of the San Francisco Bay, seems to be a holdover of the vision of proposed barriers to the bay.  The landfill on which the Naval Supply Center, Army Terminus and Naval Air Station lie had indeed gained new prominence after World War II in defining the areas topography.  But San Francisco County defined the Bay, and that slim corner of Alameda, drawn here as if at the convenience of a surveyor’s line that ran from Red Rock, sliced a sliver off of Alameda County, almost as if foretelling the later line of the toll-crossing on the Bay Bridge.  But the line itself seems not only fortuitous in placement, but contingent of a redrawing of the bay, perhaps reflecting the vagaries of lines of marine jurisdiction, to judge from the bay’s rendering in this section of the 1915 map, in which Red Rock fails to appear, or have the boundary line function that it later would:  and one can see public lines of transit that linked Oakland to the Key line on the San Francisco-Oakland terminal and to its own deepwater channel.

1915 SF Bay Map

Indeed, the dirtiness and disdain for the Bay’s waters seems to have led it to be regarded as something like an expansive parking lot in the years around Reber’s plan, to be sacrificed for the expansion of automobile-friendly space, as is evident in this plan for a “Southern Passage,” never built, but evoking the imagined “Northwest Passage” of the Hudson Bay Company, that would guide traffic in two places across the bay, that was repeatedly entertained from the 1950s, which treated the bay as something of an extension of the city of San Francisco, bridging Alameda and an offshoot of the 101.

southern_crossing

Returning again to the bayshore as it was shown in the elegant Wagner-Sandow map, waters on the coasts of Richmond and San Pablo were similarly clustered with oyster beds, a micro-economy at the Rancho San Pablo.  The history of the lots of oyster-beds in the East Bay may be even more forgotten, but their mapping seems to unveil a lost tie to the ecology of the estuaries and shallow waters that blessed the region, making it a popular site of native congregation, just before the industrialization of Point Richmond’s or Oakland’s shore.

Mapping Oysters in East Bay--Wagner

Oyster Foraging

The once-living shorelines remembered in the lithographic engraving show a lost site of commerce, but of sociability, one determined and experienced by the rising and the falling of the tides, in ways that captured a knowledge of landscape we no longer share, but from which the money, flying from commerce and industry, seems to have fled, until the shore might be restored to not only a habitat for birds, but something more than the washing up of detritus along its sandy shores that not only existed before the 1972 Clean Water Act ended the dumping of refuse directly into its waters.

Rancho San Antonio

The overlapping of the waters and lands in the bay was, however, recuperated at a time shortly after the enacting of the 1972 Clean Water Act, an attempt to rid the Bay of the waste that was directly pumped into its waters–without any treatment plants.  The attempt to revision the ecotonal intersection of the region seems something of a rehabilitation of its shoreline, if the abandoned stretches of shores persisted in Point Richmond and in the Emeryville Mud Flats seen from the highways.

But the way that public transit system of the Bay Area bridges land and sea is, to an extent, commemorated in the simple “BA” logo of the seventies, whose “B” and “A” interlock and overlap in something like a bold rounded font, whose overlap, as if a Venn Diagram, is a cognitive bridging of land and water on the edges where land and water so gracefully intersect–the ecotones of the Bay Area that the Rapid Transit can bridge.  The iconic lexeme maps the region, if in abstractly oversimplified form, indicating the ecotonal mix by the smooth font of the registered trademark and copyrighted logo–although it erases the far more complex history of negotiations with the shores we have lost.  But the environmental optimism it expresses of public transportation across the bay link the regions in something like a neat resolution of the final rejection of plans for more building around the bay.

BART

Several of the above maps shown open an area of the muddy shoreline, although that shoreline still seems a barrier for the city’s own far less fluid income divides.

This post was begun before seeing the successful “Above and Below: Stories from Our Changing Bay”  at Oakland’s Museum of California, but was revised and expanded with its benefit.

1 Comment

February 15, 2014 · 9:42 am

Mapping Commute Routes across California in Pneumatic Tubes

Before Captain James T. Kirk ordered Agent Sulu to place the engines of the USS Enterprise on warp speed  to go boldly to regions of the universe no man had gone before, in 1951 Isaac Asimov described Gaal Dornick waiting nervously for a Jump through hyper-space to visit Hari Seldon on Trantor.  Dornick waited for his first ride on “the only practical method of traveling between the stars” through “hyper-space, that unimaginable region that was neither space nor time, matter nor energy, something or nothing, [by which] one could traverse the length of the Galaxy in the interval between two neighboring instants of time,” in ways that seem to prefigure Kirk ordering Scotty to place engines on “warp speed ahead” from his comfortable console on the Enterprise.  Elton Musk once was–not surprisingly–a big fan of Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy of 1951, and he’s offered Californians the prospect of something of a hyperspace-trip along California’s Central Valley in the futuristic Hyperloop.  And now the tubes of Elon Musk seem a viable route for futuristic transit, some forty-five years after the unveiling of the pioneering long-planned 3.8 mile Trans-bay Tube and 3 mile bore vehicular tunnels of BART–the Bay Area Rapid Transit system–in September, 1972, that were among the longest in the nation.

 

BART_OriginalMapOriginal BART Map (1972)

 

The Hyperloop Musk has recently proposed recalls Asimov’s classic description of a trip to Hari Seldon, as much as to LA, as well as a byproduct of artifacts and ideas generated at Tesla motors, to recast the commute from San Francisco to Los Angeles along airtight aluminum tubes.  Musk first mapped his new mode of travel along hermetically sealed pressurized tubes in ways that reflect the idealized esthetic Google Maps afford of the Golden State:  indeed, the simple overlay of a yellow path of travel helps Musk spin the fantasy of real high-speed travel out on Google Maps template, removed from the risk of earthquakes on the Hayward fault or rainy seasons that would dim its solar-powered engines.  The map projects an image that obscures questions about how the cars would manage those turns at such high speeds, even as it seeks to conjure the promise of such high-speed travel.  A recently tweeted prototype of the Hyperloop makes the prospect of traveling in a vacuum actually all far more concrete.  Planned to run through Quay Valley, a town to be built along Highway 5, midway between LA and San Francisco, to be built with Oerlikon Leybold Vacuum, who helped craft the large hadron collider at CERN in Geneva, capsules flying through vacuum tubes across the state were promised last year, and the cross between a Concorde and air hockey table may have arrived in an actual prototype tested in California over a shorter geographical stretch.

 

Musk tube take off!

Hyperoop SF-LA

The pioneering tube of high-speed transit would suggest one of the “greenest” travel options in the state. Rather than make the drive down that expanse, or the airplane trip on which Musk may have doodled a map of the idea on a napkin, one commutes in the Hyperloop driven by a fan on its nose that sucks in pressurized air in the aluminum tube in which it is suspended, pushing air beneath and behind it like a hydrofoil, as one speeds in a vessel through the Central Valley past the many cars that travel on I-5:  indeed, the proposed placement of the track of the Hyperloop beside the interstate allows its very structure to offer something of a standing advertisement for speedy velo-commuting.

Although Musk has yet to attract the investors or engineers to build the project along Highway 5 without disturbance to surrounding croplands on aluminum-encased rails on pylons, he promises that its economical construction would soon be able to shuttle seated passengers along on a cushion of air, in cars powered exclusively by fan that runs on batteries powered by solar energy that would rest on the roofs of its reinforced tubes.  To be sure, the Hyperloop offers a radical updating of the sort of proposed transit solutions to link the two metropoles, including the “Sleepbus” equipped with oddly analogous pods, but promising to do the same distance overnight in old-style automotive style fueled by gasoline:

 

sleepbus-1

 

In the face of such an outdated (if funky) alternative of overnight transit in an old Volvo bus for $48, Musk advocated his speculative plan as a radical re-imagining of public transit corridors.

It offers evidence of his interest in thinking ahead of the curve for the benefit of the state in which he works.  Musk proposed this vision primarily as an alternative to plans for implementing high-speed rail in California proposed by Governor Jerry Brown.   He couched the proposal as an illustration of an illustration of his public-spirited commitments:  rather than spending the 68 billion dollar price tag on rail to be completed in 2029, Musk promises a commute time from San Francisco to LA in under half an hour, if you’ll just buy his batteries and plan and follow him in the scrapping of all existing public rail systems in the US.  Although the pragmatics of the proposal have all to be mapped out in further detail, his 57-page spec sheet PDF Musk manages, with the help of Google Maps, to flesh out the practicalities with an urgency that makes one wonder why no one every thought of this model for moving through space before–that seems designed primarily to hold skeptics temporarily at bay, and meet the building anticipation for Musk’s plans for a “fifth mode” of transport.  It is amazing that his proposal manages to resolve so many issues, and present itself as a significantly lower-cost alternative to high-speed rail, and even makes one question how “high-speed” the quite expensive rail system would actually be.

In providing commuters with a cabin that is “specifically designed with passenger safety and comfort in mind,” Musk’s plans caters to the jet-set who probably wouldn’t even want to drive.  It’s rather something of an alternative to the airplane.  Musk envisions Hyperloop as the travel of the future, whose construction would be far less costly than a rail system, and directly linked to renewable solar energy.  Since the Hyperloop also evidences of Musk’s commitment to the public good, it is odd that it also undermines recent attempts to create a useful means of public transit that would reduce both air pollution, gas use, and highway-crowding in California.  Musk’s antagonistic presentation of the “bullet train [as] both one of the most expensive per mile and one of the slowest in the world” seeks to use engines created by Tesla to offer a “fifth mode” of public transit able to reach supersonic speeds driven by an electric compressor fan, charged by photovoltaic cells perched on above its path.  Its DeLorean-like doors, like the “Falcon Wings” of the Tesla XTesla X, seductively open to invite passengers to hop on in for the ride . . .

0812_Hyperloop_605

The map for the route is not that different from Highway 5 itself, whose path it follows, but the conceptual mapping of travel through space is decidedly futuristic in tone, boasting traveling speed not beyond light but above 700 miles per hour, allowing something of a Jump between the two not so neighboring cities in California akin to an air hockey table on skiis, which he promised “would generate  far in excess of the energy needed to operate” and whose energy could be stored in the form of compressed air itself.  Told with the urgency that one might associate with the inventor Nikola Tesla himself, the basic diagram of the Hyperloop is devoid of any actual spatial placement–which seems to be waiting for its engineer to actually map.

Hyperloop Diagram

The ‘conceptual diagram’ is wonderfully futuristic vision that has been beautifully sketched as a sleek object of a consumer’s fantasy for an aerodynamic car running on skis, more than clearly mapped as a means of transit, whose propulsion system allows it to accelerate quickly to 300 miles per hour before reaching 760 mph by a linear induction motor, making the trip last but 35 minutes:

Musk Engines

Needless to say, the linear induction motor has already been built by Tesla motors, and the solar generators on the roof of the tube use cels from Musk’s own SolarCity company; but mapped on Google Maps to follow I-5, the route becomes a reality, and that huge stretch of Highway 5 that no one really likes to drive on is reduced to a route   the Hyperloop passenger barely registerd as s/he was sucked past:

Hyperloop on I-5

The pneumatic tube isolates commuters from the travel experience, shuttling them from LA into San Francisco in ways that seem perfectly synchronized with the excitement over the new Bay Bridge, whose own futuristic and streamlined design it seems to leave in the dust.

Hyperloop in Bay Area

Granted, we do need to update the systems of public transit that are woefully underfunded and often outdated in the United States.  The existing options are mapped in the below illustration, brought to us by radical cartography‘s own Bill Rankin, comparing the layouts and expanse served by systems of urban mass transit:  the great majority of these mass transit systems follow a simple hub-and-spoke design of regional commutes seem diminished insects once placed beside  the grandiose vision of futuristic streamlined jetting between metropoles of the sort that Musk envisions, raising some questions about the efficiency of Musk’s futuristic system.

URBAN MASS TRANSIT SYSTEMS NORTH AMERICA Rankin

The ways of viewing the city as a self-contained unit is not necessarily a canvass broad enough for spatial travel to accommodate urban growth.  The limited efficiency of our rail corridors, which aside from the Northeast get low scores–and are in need of massive structural updates–moreover seem retrograde when compared to the system Musk sketched.

rail map scored corridors

Musk, to be fair, advocates an eventual state-wide expansion that would be a virtual state-wide redesigning of the rail system into a range of spin-off Hyperloop stations:  “give me a map,” Tamburlaine said, weary of further battle, “[and] then let me see/ how much is left for me to conquer all the world”–or, in the case of Musk, all the state of California.

larger rout Hyperloop

But Musk doesn’t offer a system of mass transit, but something more like a transit for the haves, and elite type of shuttle that can be experienced by those whose time is worth the public investment on a project that would best serve them.  While he of course isn’t explicit about the audience he is addressing, it is pretty much the same as those to whom he is selling a Tesla S for a $70,000 cash payment–some of which can be recouped through electric vehicle tax incentives, and a monthly saving in energy costs–not the prospective audience, in short, as Amtrak.

And maybe–just maybe–Musk’s futuristic Hyperloop isn’t really so future-oriented after all, but more of a projection of Musk’s own fantasy, designed while scribbled on a napkin while flying from Los Angeles to Menlo Park.  It is striking that the notion of a phasing in of plans for high-speed rail is a plan mapped that has been mapped by the Regional Plan Association America 2050, was premised upon the belief that rail can sustain and facilitate regional economies’ growth in crucial ways, and should be built around them in order to foster their growth.

Phase 2 America 2050

Eventually, the Regional Plan Association envisions a Trans-National Network to connect “megaregions” sharing natural resources and ecosystems–as well as interests–by new corridors to foster their inter-related economic systems:

Trans-America Network 2050

Musk’s plotting of a travel corridor by Google Maps software seems a quick reality, even if one that has come in for some ridicule on late-night TV, that might be mostly for folks who jet-set between two cities on the California coast.  The “reality” of his Google Maps reconstruction of a state-wide system, positioned itself to replace the very cars that his company produces, but is also a pretty darn exclusive ride.  To be sure, Musk invites open feedback and contributions to his design from anyone at hyperlink@telamotors.com.  But the devil seems to lie in its details:  plans call for “Building the energy storage element out of the same lithium ion cells available in the Tesla Model S is economical,” he assures us on page 38 of the spec sheet for the Hyperloop, using the very supercharger batteries which, he promises, “directly connected to the HVDC bus, eliminating the need for an additional DC/DC converter to connect it to the propulsion system,” provide the linear accelerator with sufficient propulsive energy to accelerate to supersonic speeds, allowing one effectively to ski from Los Angeles to Norcal, or ski back to Bakersfield.  While cool as hell, the axial model of this coastal shuttle suggests few possibilities for expansion to the hinterland, or obstacles form the environment–like earthquakes.   (Musk likes comparing the Hyperloop by comparing it to a cross between the Concorde and an air hockey game, a colorful simile, probably to give the concept a populist appeal; but this is an air hockey game on fixed and tracks.)

But the deeper question behind the funding of the system of Hyperloop may be the degree to which San Francisco and Los Angeles will ever come to constitute a single economy:  the forecasting of a map of national megaregions suggests it may in fact not be one, and provides a picture of the megaregions it wants to link.

Emerging Megaregions

The scheme that Musk floated is not attentive to the clusters of economics, but incarnates the very aesthetic of the Google Map.  Indeed, as a scheme of travel, it perpetuates a means by which one can move through a landscape without registering its existence, and removing space from travel, much as Google Maps isolate place from environment, in a new form of transit whose focus adopts the passenger’s perspective of space, rather than the expanse through which s/he travels, or the impact of building these rails on surrounding farmlands or their potential impact.  In removing the schematic map of rail destinations from any external or material constraints by the dream of frictionless travel in an air-bearing suspension system, Musk maps an argument to channel public monies to a system which awaits its designers and engineers–or at least to plan on doing so to bolster shares of Tesla (NASDAQ:  TSLA) to robustness on Wall Street.

Some concern about Musk’s eagerness about the project encountered has been directed to the far greater price tag it would probably involve, as well as its earthquake-safety, and skepticism about the entire question of whether “the thing would actually work.”  Perhaps the deeper question is whether the state of California–and indeed the coast of that state–provides the sort of economic hub that needs to be connected.  The fantasy that it does seems to grow out of the maps that so prominently convince readers’ of the reality in Musk’s elegant spec sheet.  These maps suggest yet another way maps generate ways of thinking of and considering space without reflecting on its occupation:  how hard would it be, after all, to travel down the Interstate to not be confined to cars, without having the distractions of the farmland that lies between, and the smell of all those cows?

 

Hyperloop-Elon-Musk-Train-e1432304356542-980x580.jpgHyperloop concept art from HTT

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Filed under Bill Rankin, California, earthquake risk, Elton Musk, Google Maps, Google Maps ovelay, Hari Seldon, Hyperloop, Isaac Asimov, low-cost transit, Mass Transit Maps, megaregions, rail corridors, Star Trek, Tesla X, transit corridords, USS Enterprise