The Other Missing Middle

Here’s my March 31, 2017, presentation from the “pecha kucha” session of the Strong Towns Summit in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

It can also be downloaded via Dropbox using this link:

The Other Missing Middle by CountingPantographs on Scribd

Amtrak Adventure

One great thing about Amtrak is their rewards program. One great thing about Amtrak’s rewards program is the Amtrak Rewards Credit Card, which earns you points on your purchases that can be redeemed for travel on Amtrak. I have redeemed a bunch of points and have put together a 31-night, 11,453-mile trip the second half of April and first half of May. Click on the maps to enlarge them.

Leg 1:
Train 6 – California Zephyr
Saturday, April 15 – 3:30 am – Salt Lake City, Utah
Half a night, breakfast, lunch, dinner, night 1, and breakfast on the California Zephyr.
Sunday, April 16 – 11:41 am – Galesburg, Illinois
1,446 miles
31 hours, 11 minutes

Night 2 will be in Galesburg, Illinois. I’ve passed through Galesburg several times on the California Zephyr and have always wanted to take a look around. Staying a night here also allows me to take a ride on the Illinois Zephyr and experience another state-sponsored Amtrak route.

Leg 2:
Train 380 – Illinois Zephyr
Monday, April 17 – 7:38 am – Galesburg, Illinois
Breakfast on the Illinois Zephyr.
Monday, April 17 – 10:35 am – Chicago, Illinois
162 miles
2 hours, 57 minutes

5-hour layover in Chicago. Amtrak layovers are the exact opposite of airport layovers, since you’re downtown. Unless the weather is bad, I’ll go for a ride on Divvy along the river and along the lake.

Leg 3:
Train 850 – Hoosier State
Monday, April 17 – 5:45 pm – Chicago, Illinois
Dinner on the Hoosier State.
Monday, April 17 – 11:50 pm – Indianapolis, Indiana
196 miles
5 hours, 5 minutes

Night 3 will be in Indianapolis, Indiana. I enjoyed Indianapolis when I visited there in October 2015. On that trip, I arrived on the Hoosier State operated with equipment provided by Iowa Pacific. It will change back to equipment provided by Amtrak in March, and I wanted to see how the change works out. Also, the Indianapolis Cultural Trail is one of the best urban ped/bike trails in the nation and is great to explore on Indiana Pacers Bikeshare.

Leg 4:
Train 50 – Cardinal
Tuesday, April 18 – 11:59 pm – Indianapolis, Indiana
Night 4, breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the Cardinal. Kentucky will be state #28.
Wednesday, April 19 – 9:58 pm – New York City, New York
951 miles
21 hours, 59 minutes

Nights 6, 7, and 8 will be spent in the Big Apple. I’ll have two full days to enjoy it. 🙂 I’m still trying to figure out whether the subway or CitiBike is my favorite way to experience it.

Leg 5:
Train 2203 – Acela Express
Saturday, April 22 – 8:00 am – New York City, New York
Breakfast on the Acela Express.
Saturday, April 22 – 10:57 am – Washington, DC
225 miles
2 hours, 57 minutes

Nights 8, 9, and 10 will be spent in the nation’s capital. I will hopefully arrive in time to participate in the March for Science. I will also be attending the Spring Council Meeting of the National Association of Railroad Passengers. I also love riding around on Capital Bikeshare.

Leg 6:
Train 29 – Capitol Limited
Tuesday, April 25 – 4:05 pm – Washington, DC
Dinner, night 11, and breakfast on the Capitol Limited.
Wednesday, April 26 – 8:45 am – Chicago, Illinois
780 miles
17 hours, 40 minutes

6-hour layover in Chicago. More Divvy rides.

Leg 7:
Train 3 – Southwest Chief
Wednesday, April 26 – 3:00 pm – Chicago, Illinois
Dinner, night 12, breakfast, lunch, dinner, night 13, and breakfast on the Southwest Chief. Missouri, Kansas, and New Mexico will be states #29, #30, and #31.
Friday, April 28 – 8:15 am – Los Angeles, California
2,265 miles
43 hours, 15 minutes

Night 14 in LA. I plan to ride Metro out to Santa Monica and finally experience the Santa Monica pier. I’ll also give Metro Bike Share a try.

Leg 8:
Train 14 – Coast Starlight
Saturday, April 29 – 10:10 am – Los Angeles, California
Lunch, dinner, night 15, breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the Coast Starlight.
Sunday, April 30 – 8:12 pm – Seattle, Washington
1,377 miles
34 hours, 2 minutes

Nights 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, and 22 in Seattle. I’m in town to attend the 25th Congress for the New Urbanism. Saturday I’m doing the ferry ride and tour of Victoria, British Columbia.

Leg 9:
Train 507 – Amtrak Cascades
Sunday, May 7 – 2:10 pm – Seattle, Washington
Snacks on the Amtrak Cascades.
Sunday, May 7 – 2:53 pm – Tacoma, Washington
39 miles
43 minutes

Night 23 visiting my uncle in Tacoma.

Leg 10:
Train 11 – Coast Starlight
Monday, May 8 – 10:21 am – Tacoma, Washington
Snacks on the Coast Starlight.
Monday, May 8 – 12:19 am – Kelso, Washington
98 miles
1 hour, 58 minutes

Nights 24, 25, and 26 visiting my mom and stepdad in Longview, Washington.

Leg 11:
Train 501 – Amtrak Cascades
Thursday, May 11 – 9:47 am – Kelso, Washington
Snacks on the Amtrak Cascades.
Thursday, May 11 – 11:05 am – Portland, Oregon
50 miles
1 hour, 18 minutes

5-hour layover in Portland. “The dream of the ‘90s is alive in Portland.” I’ll be sure to ride Biketown.

Leg 12:
Train 28 – Empire Builder
Thursday, May 11 – 4:45 pm – Portland, Oregon
Dinner, night 27, breakfast, lunch, dinner, night 28, breakfast, and lunch on the Empire Builder. North Dakota will be state #32.
Saturday, May 13 – 2:07 pm – Milwaukee, Wisconsin
2,170 miles
43 hours, 22 minutes

Night 29 in Milwaukee. I made a brief visit in October 2015, and I plan to see more of the city on Bublr.

Leg 13:
Train 334 – Hiawatha
Sunday, May 14 – 11:00 am – Milwaukee, Wisconsin
No snack bar on the Hiawatha. 🙁
Sunday, May 14 – 12:29 pm – Chicago, Illinois
86 miles
1 hour, 29 minutes

1-hour layover in Chicago. Just enough time for lunch.

Leg 14:
Train 5 – California Zephyr
Sunday, May 14 – 2:00 pm – Chicago, Illinois
Dinner on the California Zephyr.
Sunday, May 14 – 10:55 pm – Omaha, Nebraska
500 miles
8 hours, 55 minutes

Night 30 in Omaha. My main reason for stopping in Omaha is to make a visit to South Dakota. Early in the morning, I’ll hop on Greyhound and north ride to Sioux City, Iowa, where I’ll rent a bike and ride up the Missouri and Sioux Big Sioux Rivers to North Sioux City, South Dakota, so I can get state #33. In the afternoon, I’ll ride Greyhound back to Omaha and explore on Heartland Bcycle.

Leg 15:
Train 5 – California Zephyr
Monday, May 15 – 11:05 pm – Omaha, Nebraska
Night 31, breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the California Zephyr.
Tuesday, May 16 – 11:05 pm – Salt Lake City, Utah
1,108 miles
25 hours

After my Amtrak Adventure, I will have visited 33 out of 50 states (or two-thirds). In the map above, the states I’ve been to are in yellow, while the states that I haven’t are in grey. Additionally, I still have yet to visit Alaska and Hawaii.

Car Free in SLC!

As of this afternoon, I no longer own a car. The car that I got rid of was a black 2001 Honda Civic LX 4-door sedan. When I bought in 2005 for $12,000, it had a mere 49,445 miles on the odometer. Initially, I was making a 50-mile round trip commute to work every day, so I put over 22,000 miles on the car in 2006 alone. But things changed over time. Those who know me are well aware that I now get around almost exclusively by walking, biking, and riding transit. In 2016, I only drove my car a mere 1,355 miles.

Over the last couple months, I realized that I needed to make a decision about whether I would continue to be a car owner. My car now had 142,851 miles on the odometer, and after researching its value using, I knew that it just wasn’t worth much anymore. I also realized that maintaining the car in good working order was a ticking time bomb of expenses. When I last had my car serviced and the registration renewed in September, I was quoted $2,000 in recommended maintenance. (Yes, I am well aware that mechanics love to recommend maintenance, but what they were recommending wasn’t much of an exaggeration.) My car had reached the point that continued maintenance would cost more than it’s worth.

So, I had a decision to make, and it didn’t take long to come to a conclusion. Considering how seldom I drive these days, buying a new or newer car would be an insanely stupid decision. Continuing to maintain the car didn’t make much sense, as explained in the previous paragraph. Continuing to drive the car until it died seemed a bit irresponsible. In the end, selling it, while the car still had some value in it, won out.

But what about those times, when walking, biking, and riding transit can’t get me where I need to go? Well, I’ve been living this lifestyle long enough to know that those situations are few and far between. Plus, I have options like taxis, Uber, and Lyft available in case emergencies arise. If I want to drive myself, Enterprise Carshare is available at $12 per hour. If I need to go out of town, I can rent a car for a mere $30 a day. And last fall, I took four trips on Salt Lake Express in order to get to Idaho and back, and it worked great. Now, you may have the urge to point out that all of those options cost money. Well, let me remind you that I’ve just saved myself a bunch of money by dumping my car.

So, this afternoon I executed my plan. Since my car hadn’t been moved since Thanksgiving, the battery had discharged. Over the past couple winters, I have learned that dead batteries are a symptom of rarely driving your car, and it’s actually been something that has further discouraged me from driving. After jump starting my car and clearing off the snow, I drove it to Ken Garff Honda in downtown Salt Lake City, where I had already arranged a tentative quote pending a final inspection. I sold my black 2001 Honda Civic LX 4-door sedan for $1,250 and figure that recovering 10% of what I paid more than 11 years ago wasn’t half bad.

There was one last thing that I researched prior to finalizing my decision: auto insurance. I’ve had experiences in my life that have taught me the value of insurance, so I wanted to explore the option of keeping my coverage. I wanted to be safe in case of situations like borrowing someone’s car and, let’s say, they only have liability coverage and, let’s say, I crash the car and, let’s say, it turns out to be my fault. So, I contacted Progressive, who’s been covering me for four years now. I learned that switching to a “named operator” policy would be a feasible option. Just before I started writing this, I got off the phone after making the change with Progressive.



It’s time for a #TransitAdventure! I will soon embark on a trip to Washington, DC, to attend the 2015 Spring Council Meeting of the National Association of Railroad Passengers. Since I have recently become addicted to NYC, I decided to fly into JFK, get my NYC fix for the year, and then enjoy the many transit systems and modes that connect NYC and DC. Below is my itinerary for Saturday, April 18, 2015, which is subject to change throughout my #TransitAdventure journey. Feel free to follow me live as I broadcast my travels on my Twitter account @MRC_SLC.

(And yes I know that I have unnecessary legs in my trip. 😉 If I were in a hurry, I would have replaced legs 3 through 14 with a 3-hour trip on Amtrak’s Acela Express.)

AirTrainLeg 1: AirTrain$5.00
From: JFK Terminal 4, Queens, NY
To: Howard Beach, Queens, NY
Depart: 6:22 – Arrive: 6:44
Duration: 0:22 – Frequency: 0:07
Click to view in Google Maps



Layover: 0:06

A-TrainLeg 2: NYCTA A$2.50
From: Howard Beach – JFK, Queens, NY
To: Fulton Street, Manhattan, NY
Depart: 6:50 – Arrive: 7:24
Duration: 0:34 – Frequency: 0:20
Click to view in Google Maps


Layover: 0:21

CitibikeLeg 3: Citibike$9.95
From: South End Ave & Liberty St, Manhattan, NY
To: 12 Ave & W 40 St, Manhattan, NY
Depart: 7:45 – Arrive: 8:30
Duration: 0:45 – Frequency: N/A
Click to view in Google Maps


Layover: 0:20

NY Waterway FerryLeg 4: NY Waterway Ferry$9.00
From: Midtown / W 39th Street, Manhattan, NY
To: Port Imperial / Weehawken, Weehawken, NJ
Depart: 8:50 – Arrive: 8:58
Duration: 0:08 – Frequency: 0:20
Click to view in Google Maps

Layover: 0:22

NJT Hudson-Bergen Light RailLeg 5: NJT Hudson-Bergen Light Rail$2.10
From: Port Imperial, Weehawken, NJ
To: Exchange Place, Jersey City, NJ
Depart: 9:20 – Arrive: 9:39
Duration: 0:19 – Frequency: 0:20
Click to view in Google Maps



Layover: 0:12

From: Exchange Place, Jersey City, NJ
To: Newark, Newark, NJ
Depart: 9:51 – Arrive: 10:09
Duration: 0:18 – Frequency: 0:20
Click to view in Google Maps



Layover: 0:23

NJT 7833 Northeast CorridorLeg 7: NJT 7833 Northeast Corridor$11.50
From: NWK, Newark, NJ
To: TRE, Trenton, NJ
Depart: 10:32 – Arrive: 11:45
Duration: 1:13 – Frequency: 1:00
Click to view in Google Maps


Layover: 0:29

NJT River LineLeg 8: NJT River Line$1.50
From: Trenton Transit Center, Trenton, NJ
To: Walter Rand Transit Center, Camden, NJ
Depart: 12:14 – Arrive: 13:13
Duration: 0:59 – Frequency: 0:30
Click to view in Google Maps



Layover: 0:32

PATCOLeg 9: PATCO$1.40
From: Broadway, Camden, NJ
To: 8th & Market St, Philadelphia, PA
Depart: 13:45 – Arrive: 13:52
Duration: 0:07 – Frequency: 0:30
Click to view in Google Maps



Layover: 0:41

SEPTA Market-Frankford LineLeg 10: SEPTA Market-Frankford Line $2.25
From: 8th Street, Philadelphia, PA
To: 13th Street, Philadelphia, PA
Depart: 14:33 – Arrive: 14:35
Duration: 0:02 – Frequency: 0:10
Click to view in Google Maps



Layover: 0:22

SEPTA Trolley 36Leg 11: SEPTA Trolley $2.25
From: 15th St & Market St, Philadelphia, PA
To: 30th St & Market St, Philadelphia, PA
Depart: 14:57 – Arrive: 15:01
Duration: 0:04 – Frequency: 0:07
Click to view in Google Maps



Layover: 0:37

SEPTA 221 Wilmington-Newark LineLeg 12: SEPTA 221 Wilmington/Newark Line$6.50
From: PHL, Philadelphia, PA
To: WIL, Wilmington, DE
Depart: 15:38 – Arrive: 16:21
Duration: 0:43 – Frequency: 2:00
Click to view in Google Maps


Layover: 0:34

Amtrak 71 Northeast RegionalLeg 13: Amtrak 71 Northeast Regional$31.00
From: WIL, Wilmington, DE
To: BAL, Baltimore, MD
Depart: 16:55 – Arrive: 17:46
Duration: 0:51 – Frequency: 1:00
Click to view in Google Maps


Layover: 0:34

MARC 495 Penn LineLeg 14: MARC 495 Penn Line$7.00
From: BAL, Baltimore, MD
To: WAS, Washington, DC
Depart: 18:20 – Arrive: 19:20
Duration: 1:00 – Frequency: 1:25
Click to view in Google Maps



Layover: 0:29

From: Union Station, Washington, DC
To: Silver Spring, Silver Spring, MD
Depart: 19:49 – Arrive: 20:03
Duration: 0:14 – Frequency: 0:08
Click to view in Google Maps



Layover: 0:10

Capital BikeshareLeg 16: Capital Bikeshare$7.00
From: Ripley & Bonifant St, Silver Spring, MD
To: 13th St & Eastern Ave, Silver Spring, MD
Depart: 20:13 – Arrive: 20:23
Duration: 0:10 – Frequency: N/A
Click to view in Google Maps





Russel Crowe said it best in Gladiator! 😉


Stuck on a Railroad Crossing? Call the Grade Crossing Hotline!

Recently there have been two passenger train derailments that could have been entirely avoided. Tuesday, February 24, 2015, a truck and trailer loaded with welding equipment became stuck at a grade crossing in Oxnard, California. The truck was struck by a Metrolink commuter train en route from East Ventura to Los Angeles, which derailed, injuring thirty passengers and killing the train’s engineer.

Don Kelsen/Los Angeles Times

Don Kelsen/Los Angeles Times

Monday, March 10, 2015, an oversize load being hauled by a tractor-trailer and escorted by the highway patrol became stuck at a grade crossing in Halifax, North Carolina. The trailer was struck by the Amtrak Carolinian en route from Charlotte to New York City, which derailed, injuring more than fifty passengers.

AP Photo/WTVD-11

AP Photo/WTVD-11

The collision was caught on video by a passerby.

In both crashes there was plenty of time to warn the oncoming train, but apparently the drivers and even the North Carolina Highway Patrol were unaware of how to do so. If you become stuck at a grade crossing, do the following:

  1. Get everyone out of the vehicle and away from the tracks. DUH!
  2. CALL THE GRADE CROSSING HOTLINE! (More information below.)
  3. Call 911.
  4. If a train approaches, walk toward the train and away from the tracks at a 45-degree angle. If your vehicle is hit, debris will spread out from the tracks in the same direction the train is moving.

At every grade crossing, the railroad’s grade crossing hotline and the crossing number is posted. At crossings with signals, it is on the side of the shack that shelters the electronics for the lights:


Crossings without signals will have the information listed on the stop sign:


Once you’ve called the grade crossing hotline, the railroad dispatchers will contact any approaching trains and hopefully get them stopped in time. Following these simple instructions could not just save your car, but potentially save lives too!

Are Recent UTA Incidents Cause for Concern?

The Utah Transit Authority has suffered from a rash of collisions and derailments in the last 18 months. These incidents differ in nature from the more common incidents—collisions with vehicles and people at intersections and grade crossings, people trespassing on the right-of-way, individuals attempting suicide, etc.—in that they represent a possible failure of UTA’s equipment and/or safety protocols.


Photo: KSL TV

Photo: KSL TV

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Out of service Blue Line cars were northbound from Draper on their way back to the yard, when somehow the last car became uncoupled. Upon coming uncoupled the car’s brakes automatically engaged bringing the car to a stop as it approached the 8000 South grade crossing in Midvale. Assuming that it had been parked, the car’s controls shut off its exterior and interior lights.

A few minutes later, the next northbound Blue Line headed from Draper to Salt Lake Central approaches the stopped, unoccupied, dark car. Prior to encountering the car, the operator of the northbound Blue Line train first passes a yellow signal—warning that the next signal will be red—and then stops just before the red signal. The train’s operator radioed the dispatcher for permission to proceed past the red signal and was granted that permission. Moments later, the train’s operator spots the stopped car on the tracks ahead, activates the emergency brake, and collides with the stopped car at 31 mph. Two passengers are taken to the hospital with minor injuries. The operator and remaining passengers are examined at the scene. Despite the collision, neither the stopped car nor the two cars of the northbound train derail. The damage caused by the collision was report to the FRA as $3 million.

As reported by KSL, UTA issued a statement on November 13, which focuses on an investigation of the failure of the coupler. Absent is any attention paid to the procedures that allowed the northbound Blue Line train to proceed past the red signal, while assuming that the red signal was simply reporting a “false occupancy” of the tracks ahead. While it is disconcerting for a car to decouple from a train, it is irresponsible to override a safety mechanism based simply on the assumption of a glitch!

Sources: Deseret NewsFox 13KSLFRA Report


Photo: Michelle Tessier, Deseret News

Photo: Michelle Tessier, Deseret News

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A northbound Blue Line train headed to Salt Lake Central had just left Arena Station and headed towards the junction near the intersection of 400 West and South Temple, where Blue Line trains head to Salt Lake Central while Green Line trains head to the Airport. As the two-car train proceeded through the switch, somehow the switch changed directions just after the first set of wheels of the first car passed over it. This literally created a situation, where part of the first car was headed to Salt Lake Central and part of it was headed to the Airport. Both cars remained coupled, and the first car became derailed, while the second car remained on the tracks. One passenger was taken to the hospital with minor injuries. It is still unclear what caused the switch to malfunction while the train was passing through it. Since the derailment occurred in a street right-of-way rather than a traditional railroad right-of-way, no FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) accident report was required to be filed.

Sources: Deseret News4 UtahFox 13


Photo: Jay Dortzbach/KSL TV

Photo: Jay Dortzbach/KSL TV

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Just south of Central Pointe Station, two trains collided at the junction, where the Green Line converges with the Red and Blue Lines. A northbound Blue Line train headed to Salt Lake Central collided with a Green Line train headed to the Airport. Photos appear to show that the Green Line train was one car ahead of the Blue Line train, which caused the second car of the Green Line train to derail. There are two possible causes of the collision: 1. Human error—the operator of one of the trains passed a red signal and continued through the junction. 2. A failure of the interlocking system, which gave both trains a signal to proceed through the junction. This collision will require that an accident report be filed with the FRA.

Sources: Deseret NewsKSLFox 13


Despite these recent incidents, traveling by public transportation is still considerably safer than driving. However, the nature of these incidents question whether UTA needs to perform an evaluation of its systems and protocols.