Jackalope Pursuivant takes off from my post yesterday about Pearl Harbor. If I were to give it a theme, I would call it "shock of the new." From time to time folks, for example in the military, may say that they understand a new technology, but the fact that a few smart staff officers "get it" does not mean that the military has really adjusted itself to it. Like any large organization, it has a culture and set of expectations and people who have been successful based on the old model of things. They may say they understand that naval aviation has changed things, but they don't really adjust themselves until Pearl Harbor and Clark Field and Guam and Singapore are full of smoking ruins of planes and ships.
Dan's observation about how quickly the US dusted itself off and recognized that the world had changed is a good one. One could argue that no one did this in WWI. The Europeans had every chance to see what the machine gun could do even before the war in a few African wars. Heck, the final year of the American Civil War around Petersberg was a preview of WWI, as was the ill-fated charge of the light brigade. But armies were still dominated by cavalries and plumed hats and bayonet charges and elan vital. Even in 1916 and 1917, when they should have learned their lesson, commanders were still obsessed with making full frontal charges. The Americans had the chance to watch the war for four years before they entered, and then promptly began committing the exact same mistakes based on the exact same faulty assumptions as in 1914. (Neal Stephenson has a great take on American flexibility to craft radically new combat doctrine based on new facts in WWII in Cryptonomicon, absolutely one of my favorite books).
As for Pearl Harbor, I am reminded of a quote that was attributed to Frank Borman (at least in the From the Earth to the Moon documentary) when he was testifying about the Apollo 1 fire. He called it "a failure of imagination" -- no one was even thinking about danger on the ground, all the focus was on space. At the end of the day, the ultimate answer for Pearl Harbor's negligence in readiness was a failure of imagination. They may have had war games and studies discussing Pearl Harbor attacks, and they may have addressed the possibility intellectually, but no one in command really believed that a couple of hundred aircraft would suddenly appear over peacetime Honolulu dropping bombs and torpedoes.
Phoenix is in the process of tearing up half the city to put in its first light rail line. There seems to be a hard core of people out there who get a huge hard-on for light rail, and I just don't get it. Some random observations:
- We are building light rail that is essentially a "trolley." This means it runs at street levels, often down the median strips of roads, and has to stop at stoplights just like cars and buses. My question is, in this configuration, how is light rail any different than a bus? Except for the fact, of course, that it is far more expensive and far less operationally flexible.
- The system is not up and running yet, so I have not seen ridership numbers, but I will make a bet: If we take the entire cost of the system's construction, plus its annual operating losses/subsides, I will bet that we could have bought every regular rider of the rail system a nice car instead and gas for life cheaper than the cost of the rail system.
- It looks to me like the rail system will actually increase congestion. For most of its route, it is removing lanes from busy roads, and by running down the middle it will make left turns more difficult and complex.
- Supporters of these systems point to NY or London as examples of what we can achieve. Bullshit. No city that has embarked on this light rail stuff has had the success or the political will or the money to build out a network with the critical mass that these larger cities have. Most end up with orphaned routes (see LA, for example) that don't tie into anything.
- Phoenix is the last city on the planet that a rail based system should work for. I don't have the book in front of me, I will have to get it from home, but I remember a book on urban development that showed Phoenix had the flattest population density distribution of any city studied. What this means is that we don't have a city center and suburbs - it means that we are basically all one big suburb. So there are no single routes (for example in Chicago from the northern suburbs into downtown) that have any critical mass of traffic. People are driving from everywhere to everywhere. In fact, my suspicion has been that there are a group of politicians and business people who want to try to create a downtown area, and are using massive public funds in the form of light rail lines converging on the city center to try to jump-start such development.
- The Commons Blog has a link-rich post on the failure of the Portland light rail system, supposedly the model all light-rail promoters point to.
Update: Jackalope Pursuivant has more on Phoenix light rail