Circular Runways

So cool. Not sure what the practical concerns of this are, but it’s a really fun idea to consider. Less noise, fewer crosswind concerns, efficient use of space. What’s not to love?

Looks a little odd, and I wonder if it’s more of a pipe dream than a practical solution, but I’d love to see this implemented somewhere. I can’t imagine taking off or landing on a banked surface though.

(Credit: @kottke)

Circular Runways

Airport Runway Design

From simple single runway regional airfields, to the massive sprawl of international airports, I never get tired of looking at airports. But I’ve always wondered what the logic behind the runway layouts was.

Some have intersecting runways at seemingly random angles, while others are oriented in strict north/south and east/west directions. They’re often massive projects of pride for cities and countries, showcasing interesting architecture, and in some cases, entirely new landforms built out into the ocean.1

It’s no surprise there is plenty of logic behind the layouts. As with most infrastructure, it all depends on the era they were built. Back when planes were smaller and less sturdy, they needed to take off and land heading into the wind. Building runways in various directions gave pilots several options depending on which way the wind was blowing. Even to this day, all planes have a cross wind limit, meaning they can’t take off or land if the crosswind exceeds the plane’s given limit.

Modern, larger planes are able to handle stronger crosswinds, so orienting runways in parallel with no intersections has become more common. Many airport have been or are being reconfigured to accommodate for this. These layouts also allow for more efficient use of land, and aid in managing traffic.

Of course, local geography plays a role as well. Taking off or landing over water reduces noise disturbance. Local wind patterns play a large role, as well as available space. Parallel runway orientation saves on land use, while perpendicular orientation can allow for more efficient airline traffic.

The FAA has a nice tool for finding airport diagrams here.

Airports like London-Heathrow and O’Hare have been rearranged to take advantage of current land allotments, opting for more parallel runways.

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Denver International Airport airport is a great example of a large, modern airport using strictly parallel and perpendicular runways.

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Liberal Mid-America Regional Airport showcases an older design with runways at many angles, almost intersecting. Several of the runways are no longer in use to accommodate modern aircraft and flight patterns.

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  1. Of course, these aren’t without controversy. Why wants to deal with the noise? Who wants to give up their homes for new runways or expansions. And who wants to fund these projects? If there ever was a NIMBY project, airports certainly qualify. ↩︎
Airport Runway Design

Where Your Power Comes From

The Washington Post has an incredible set of interactive maps detailing how different states deliver all of their power. From nuclear, to coal and hydro, you can get a detailed look at the make up of each state’s power delivery.

It’s encouraging to see some states, such as Washington, generating so much of their power from renewables. And what a clear demonstration that the future is likely a variety of renewable sources, not just one.

Here are some other sources for seeing how your power is delivered.

Where Your Power Comes From

On Grids: Denver

One of the things I’m most interested in is the story of how cities and other developments were built the way they were. Grids, I think, are a great at revealing these stories. While they’re intended to give a sense of rationalism and logic to city structure, North American city grids still have many quirks. These are what make them interesting. An endless sea of square blocks in every direction sounds oppressive.

If you look closely at any city in North America that’s based on a grid, you’ll find inconsistencies, winding roads and other oddities. Or, in some cases, you’ll find competing grids. Denver is a great example of that.

Settled in the 1850s at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek, it would later become a major metro area and the heart of the Front Range Urban Corridor. Denver’s original grid was designed as a set of diagonals1. It was actually founded shortly after Auraria2, which was settled immediately to the west, across Cherry Creek. Their grids actually (almost) align. You’ll find a slight wander in the streets, and a more in depth explanation here.

As time went on, the rest of metro Denver was developed in accordance with the Jefferson Grid 3, or the Public Lands Survey System (PLSS). Because of this, you’ll see that Denver’s downtown grid clashes with the North/South orientation of the PLSS. You can see this especially where Colfax and Broadway intersect near the capitol.

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You can see Denver’s original grid clashing with the PLSS. To the northwest, it dissolves into the developments along the South Platte River and Interstate 25.

This comes at a cost, with confusing five way intersections, and other inconsistencies. Despite that, it’s these developments that can give a city character and history. It breaks up the monotony of a perfect grid, and if anything, can give a city imperfect, human qualities. But, zoom out beyond downtown, and it’s obvious how much the PLSS shaped the rest of metro Denver’s development patterns.

  1. There’s actually no official ruling on whether or not these streets run north/south or east/west, cause, well, diagonal. ↩︎
  2. Which was later absorbed by Denver. ↩︎
  3. Also the handle of one of my favorite Instagram feeds. For a cool take on how the PLSS shaped America, take a look. ↩︎
On Grids: Denver

How streets, roads and avenues are different

Having grown up in the suburbs, my recollection of street names boils down to an assortment of roads, lanes, circles, etc. Add to that the naming of subdivisions after what seemed to be random pairings of words like oak, birch, hill, ridge, and others, I figured there was no logic to it.

Thanks to Vox (they make great short explainer videos), I now know that there is a logic  behind the sort of street. Sure, in cities like Chicago there is a very rational system for street names. But in the suburbs, I thought it was mostly nonsensical. I’m sure in some places it might be, but I love hearing the reasoning behind the types of streets. Enjoy.

How streets, roads and avenues are different