Transportation Meltdown: The Too Hot to Move Edition

Stay inside, friends. The heat index is a sizzling 111 degrees here in DC and I’m betting it’s not much better where you are. And heat exhaustion isn’t the only reason to crank the air conditioning or lounge in the kiddie pool. Transportation systems are also breaking down in the heat.

Heat can cause asphalt to buckle and lead to lots of other transportation-related mishaps. Photo: ##http://suffolktimes.timesreview.com/2013/06/40469/heat-buckles-north-road-in-southold/##Suffolk Times##

Shane Phillips at Better Institutions brings us an overview of how heat can affect transportation.

Cars and Buses: Beware of buckling, cracking, shattering, or even exploding concrete. Asphalt doesn’t tend to crack as badly as concrete but it can melt in the heat, deforming and making road surfaces uneven. “In the most extreme heat, asphalt can even come right off the road and stick to tires,” Phillips warns. And it’s completely unpredictable.

Trains and Streetcars: We’ve already heard that Amtrak is slowing trains down on the busy Northeast Corridor to avoid damage to overhead catenary wires. Steel tracks can also warp and kink in the heat, and the heat may have already been a factor in the Metro-North derailment in the Bronx.

Walking and Bicycling: Phillips warns of heat-related illnesses and even death from being outdoors and connects these dangers, logically enough, to walking and biking. Cities are telling their residents to stay indoors, and with good reason. “In California alone, a two-week heat wave in 2006 claimed the lives of 655 people,” Phillips writes. “According to the Chicago Tribune, ‘[s]earing temperatures kill more people in the U.S. than hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes combined.'”

But strangely enough, the heat doesn’t seem to be deterring people. Data isn’t yet available for the past two days, but Tuesday and Wednesday of this week (high temps 94 and 96, respectively) were the busiest days yet for New York’s bike-share system.

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