Via MPR news, It's one thing to get your ticket punched a response by LRT Muggee Chuck Laszewski.
June 2009 Archives
From Finance and Commerce Cities reconsider options as concrete-asphalt cost gap narrows. MARQ/2 Project in Minneapolis (busway and road reconstruction) will go with concrete.
Bus schedules are public data, aren't they?
Apple kills Routesy app, my iPhone gets less useful
Apparently, predictions of bus arrival times are not necessarily public data (this is disputed), so NextBus Information Systems (now separate from NextBus) has had the Routesy application for the iPhone killed.
Discussion here and here. (and a response here
Too bad it has come to this, NextBus had a nice thing going in Emeryville in the late 1990s.
I noticed two people have been killed by garbage trucks in Minnesota in the past few weeks, and did a google search for the phrase "killed by garbage truck", it is not as uncommon as it may seem, or as it should be. A sampling from the first few pages of the Google search below:
- St. Paul artist killed by garbage truck 6/26/09
- 5-year-old killed by garbage truck in Brooklyn Center (Minnesota) (6/4/09)
- Man killed by garbage truck (Sydney) 4/10/09
- Downtown Worker Killed By Garbage Truck (Des Moines) 11/7/08
- Woman Killed by Garbage Truck in Dupont (bike) (Washington) 7/8/08
- Pedestrian on Farmingdale campus killed by garbage truck (New York) (5/26/08)
- NSW: Sydney Dance Company director killed by garbage truck (8/17/07)
- San Rafael man struck, killed by garbage truck in Sausalito 6/4/07
- Child Hit, Killed by Garbage Truck (Las Vegas) 1/27/07. From the article some more evidence:
In December of 2004, 19-year-old Ashley Ipock was hit and killed when a Republic truck driver slammed into the back of Ashley's mother's SUV.
In October of 2006, 3-year-old girl Ditavea Hankston was critically injured when a Republic Services track slammed into the car she was in that was stopped at a red light, crushing the back seat. Police say the driver was not paying attention and couldn't stop in time. They cited him with five traffic violations, including failure to use due care.
The child was in the hospital for two months. When she came home she could not speak, or move on her own.
- Toddler Killed By Garbage Truck (Denver) 11/28/05
- Mount Pleasant bicyclist hit, killed by garbage truck. (Charleston) (12/23/03)
I could not find a systematic database of these (which is not to say no one is tracking this, I just don't know). So the question is, are these random tragedies, or is there a systematic problem (lack of safety equipment on trucks, poor driver training, poor pedestrian/bicyclist training)?
On June 24th, MnDOT held a "Long-Range Funding Solutions Symposium" to examine issues associated with the long-term funding of transportation. I was asked to be a discussant. These are my comments in extended form.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to discuss the topics raised today.
First, MnDOT has identified $50 Billion of unfunded "needs" for additional resources of which 86% are for the purpose of "mobility" over the next 20 years. I am not clear as to how these needs were identified, but several points should be kept in mind. First, this is a slow-growing region (and outside the Metro a declining state). It has 5 million people now, and at best is growing at about 1 percent per year. Second, per-capita Vehicle Miles Traveled has been flat for almost a decade, and overall VMT growth has been flat for about half a decade. There are several reasons for this, most recently recession and high gas prices, but I think the most important is market saturation. if speeds are not growing (because we have maxed out the network given current technologies and face diminishing marginal returns to new road construction), and people have finite time, they choose not to devote additional time to travel (and thus distance). Fortunately, since the I-35W Bridge Collapse, MnDOT has adopted a "fix it first" approach, so that system preservation, operations, and maintenance get the largest share of the existing budget, and comprise the first funded element of needs.
We cannot know what "needs" for mobility are if we have an unpriced (or underpriced) transportation system. People will always over-consume if they are subsidized, and people do not presently pay for the congestion externality they impose on others. Once we have something like marginal cost pricing (or a second-best version thereof), we can determine which links generate more revenue than they cost to operate and maintain, and that will signal where capacity should be added, where the benefits of added capacity outweigh the costs.
Another way of thinking about what $50 billion means is that Minnesota is a state of 5 million people, so that amounts to $10000 of new construction for each resident of Minnesota (because this is above and beyond the funded part which takes care of preservation (we hope)). Over 20 years, $10000 per capita is $500 per year, or about $0.50 per trip. But that $0.50 per trip is not to pay for existing infrastructure, that is to pay for new infrastructure those travelers may or may not use; or if we were to charge users, we would be looking at 10 to 100 times as much per trip, as the new capacity built for $50 billion will serve only 10% to 1% of trips, most trips will continue to use pre-existing infrastructure.
We could also talk about mobility vs. accessibility, and why is it important to enhance mobility, but that is another long discussion, and the reader is referred to the Access to Destinations study for details.
Attention is a scarce resource, spending time on non-starters like $50 Billion in "mobility" needs detracts from real problems with existing infrastructure.
In short, the $50 Billion suggested comprises Wants not Needs. (as Jim Erkel calls it the Rolling Stones theory of transportation finance ... You can't always get what you want, but you get what you need).
Second, we need to re-examine the institutional structure of transportation funding and administration. We should consider a public utility model where a transportation authority or utility with independence from the legislation and executive branch of government determines how much is required to maintain (and as necessary expand) the transportation system, with oversight from a Public Utility Commission or similar. This would resemble how Natural Gas and Electricity and Water and Sewer in many places are currently delivered. Like those, transportation is a utility that has costs that users should bear as directly as possible. The user fee notion would be embedded into the governance structure of such a transportation authority. The British might call this a Transportation Trust. We could consider how this is organized at different levels of government (keeping state and local separate or bringing them together?)
Third, Value Capture has not been fairly characterized in the presentation made today. If we do not have road user fees, transportation creates value for land-owners. (If we do have marginal cost user fees, a closed system, and invest the revenue in transportation, making some simplifying assumptions, we would not have additional land value associated with investment (in the absence of agglomeration economies)). Since we do not have road user fees, value is created. Several of the methods proposed by the value capture study hold promise for financing transportation systematically, not just at the project level.
Fourth, in the short-term (next decade or so), gas taxes, indexed and adjusted appropriately should be used to fund transportation, as they are administratively much more efficient than road user charges. They have several advantages: foremost they are cheaper to collect than most of the proposed VMT charges. An annual odometer reading is certainly a similar alternative, but that does not have the environmental benefits of discouraging motor fuel consumption and encouraging better mileage. Ultimately as the fleet becomes electrified, the gas tax becomes a better and better incentive to move in that direction. If today 100% of the drivers use gas and pay for 100% of roads (which I recognize is not strictly the case at the state level, but is simply illustrative), and next year only 50% of drivers used gasoline, the remaining 50% would pay for all of the roads by doubling the gas tax. That provides a somewhat stronger incentive to switch to electricity. If the following year another 25% switch to electricity, than 75% use electric and 25% use fuel and pay the motor fuel tax, which is now 4 times as high. Eventually this becomes unsustainable as the last drive of a gasoline-powered car could not possibly afford 100% of the road system's costs, but in the meantime the incentive works in the right direction for the environment, and since government is always a lagging indicator, retaining the gas tax for as long as tenable should be considered the near term solution, with continuing research into road pricing, additional demonstration, and deployment of select strategies like High Occupancy Toll lanes. See Beyond the gas tax for a further discussion.
At any rate, as I have learned today, in Minnesota transit funding depends on the Motor Vehicle Sales Tax, so I will do my part to help fund transit and buy a car.
I just found out that professor Paul Wright, who taught me the Introduction to Transportation Engineering course at Georgia Tech, passed away.
The transportation professoriate has a lost a number of giants in the past two years:
- David Forkenbrock of Iowa,
- Ed Sullivan of Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo,
- Ryuichi Kitamura of Kyoto and Davis,
- Reg Golledge of UCSB,
- Charles Lave of Irvine, and
- Tom Maze of Iowa State.
(updated 6/23 w. Reg Golledge, 6/24 w/Charlie Lave)
From Strib: Ex-transit reporter mugged at light-rail stop
Chuck Laszewski and a friend where attacked at the Lake Street stop as they bought tickets to head downtown.
(at 12:45 pm (PM!, broad daylight) on Sunday afternoon, strangely enough, just about the time I was on the Hiawatha line going the other direction)
From Washington City Paper, Old Questions About Crashworthiness of Metro Cars
Following the terrible crash on the Washington Metrorail Red Line (which I have taken many times) some blame game begins:
UPDATE, 6/23, 8:15 A.M.: NTSB's Debbie Hersman this morning confirms that the the striking train was a 1000-series car and that the struck train was a mix of 3000- and 5000-series. She notes that the NTSB has "long been on record" about the crashworthiness of the 1000 series. "We recommended to WMATA to either retrofit those cars or phase them out of service," she says. "Those concerns were not addressed."
Perhaps we need to apply the environmental movement's Fix It First logic to public transport systems as well as roads and bridges.
We let our politicians get away with ribbon cuttings while core infrastructure fails.
Via TechDirt, from Things with Wings Clear Shuts Down Registered Traveler Lanes
"The pilot program was rolled out with great fanfare July 18, 2005, in Orlando. Travelers initially paid $99 a year for a card that was supposed to target those who posed a minimum security risk, and give them a special line that would process them through airport security more quickly."
These were the equivalent of HOT lanes for airport security. They have failed in the marketplace, people will only pay so much for queue jumping.
I am pleased to say that the International Transport Economics Conference (ITrEC) came off last week (June 15, 16) without a hitch. We had 97 registered participants, About 70 presentations, lots of good conversation and stimulating ideas.
I want to especially acknowledge Herb Mohring, who launched transport economics at the University of Minnesota and made a number of important contributions to both road pricing and transit analysis (the Mohring Effect). The session in his honor was chaired by Lee Munnich, and featured presentations by Robin Lindsey, Erik Verhoef, and David Lewis, the first two describing and extending his contribution on full cost recovery of tolls.
Thanks go to several anonymous paper reviewers (you know who you are), sponsors: State and Local Policy Program at the Humphrey Institute (and especially Lee Munnich)
Taylor and Francis/Routledge, and Edward Elgar; and
Sara van Essendelft, Catherine Flannery, Kristi Miller, and Stephanie Malinoff for getting everything together and Jason Junge and Carlos Carrion for helping keep everything running, the scientific committee, and the local organizing committee.
I anticipate a location for the next ITrEC will be announced soon, and am relieved it will not be Minneapolis.
With my colleague Chen-fu Liao, I am attending the Transportation Education Conference at Portland State University June 22-24, 2009. Our presentation, Simulating Transportation for Realistic Engineering Education and Training (STREET), is now online. It describes the NSF-funded STREET project.
Contact me if you are a transportation educator interested in participating.
From the Bridgeland News: County presents scenarios for Franklin/East River Parkway remake
From the article:
"Two suggestions bordered on the Swiftian: One was a modest proposal to remove all traffic control from the existing intersection. "When those signals are out, that intersection functions fairly well," stated one man."
I was "one man".
The official alternatives are available here:
My letter (sent to the team and local public officials) clarifying what I am thinking about, which I sent to the project team is below:
Thank you for hosting the public hearing on the Franklin Ave/27th Street/East River Road intersection. I mentioned the meeting you should consider a shared-space concept (including perhaps a simple roundabout, but without all of the complex signage, separation, etc.) , the ideas I have in mind are illustrated here:
The advantage is that it could cost much less, and could be easily tested (put some covers on the signals, take down the signs, and put up some warning signs telling people upstream they are approaching a new environment, without requiring full reconstruction.
A video showing some of the ideas is here:
(especially at 5:00 into the second video)
I recognize the idea may appear radical to traditional engineering practice, but I think it is worth giving full consideration to, especially on a site like this with no obvious inexpensive solution, with a mix of commuter and parkway traffic, bicycles, and pedestrians, a desire to minimize land taking, and a desire to calm traffic.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
Finally, in addition to having a personal interest in the intersection since I use it daily, I also supervised a Master's Degree paper: Evaluation of a Roundabout at a Five-Way Intersection: An Alternatives Analysis Using Microsimulation on the intersection by Reuben Collins, which recommended a roundabout.
Unfortunately, judging by their response to comments, the study team clearly has not yet grokked the possibilities of alternatives to conventional (i.e. US standards-based) design, and intends to overbuild and oversign the location.
Forwarded by mom from NY Times In Missouri, a Free Speech Fight Over a Highway Adoption
"When a neo-Nazi group called the National Socialist Movement volunteered last year to clean a Missouri highway, and get official recognition for it in the form of an Adopt-a-Highway sign, state officials felt powerless to refuse. So they took a rather clever tack.
Officials are renaming the stretch of highway near Springfield that the organization cleans after Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who fled Nazi Germany and became a prominent Jewish theologian and civil rights advocate in the United States."
props to the Missouri legislature.
By Conor Clarke (The Atlantic) Cash for Clunkers Goes Thud ... a critique of the scrappage scheme, and why it is not as bad as it might be, but still not good.
Via Slashdot, from the Associated Press, Rural Mich. counties turn failing roads to gravel
LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Some Michigan counties have turned a few once-paved rural roads back to gravel to save money. More than 20 of the state's 83 counties have reverted deteriorating paved roads to gravel in the last few years, according to the County Road Association of Michigan. The counties are struggling with their budgets because tax revenues have declined in the lingering recession. Montcalm County converted nearly 10 miles of primary road to gravel this spring. The county estimates it takes about $10,000 to grind up a mile of pavement and put down gravel. It takes more than $100,000 to repave a mile of road. Reverting to gravel has happened in a few other states but it is most typical in Michigan. At least 50 miles have been reverted in the state in the past three years.
"The Minnesota lawmaker will propose a streamlined system for the "post-interstate era," but it's not clear how it will be funded."
From Streetsblog, LaHood Asks for 18-Month Extension of Four-Year-Old Transpo Law
Reauthorization will not be on time, it seems, again.
From SF Gate Muni floats plan to pull hundreds of S.F. stops
To improve efficiency, Muni wants to eliminate stops. Customers complain.
In NY Times, a nice article by Tom Vanderbilt (of Traffic fame) Data Center Overload - about the rise of Data Centers on internet based networks (virtual downtowns for the information age?)
Best quote "We have an almost inimical incuriosity when it comes to infrastructure."
From the Strib: House OKs 'cash for clunkers' plan to boost auto sales
By KEN THOMAS , Associated Press
Last update: June 9, 2009 - 8:05 PM
WASHINGTON - The House on Tuesday approved a "cash for clunkers" bill that aims to boost new auto sales by allowing consumers to turn in their gas-guzzling cars and trucks for vouchers worth up to $4,500 toward more fuel-efficient vehicles.
The problems with this bill are obvious (it rewards past bad behavior (poor fuel economy)) and has ridiculous cut off points (car got 18 MPG or less, $3500; car got 19 MPG, $0), rewards vehicle ownership, etc.
It is still probably better than bailing out the industry though.
Via Daring Fireball: Tickets pile up on van with dead driver
Parking tickets pile up on van with dead driver Women says her dad apparently lay dead for weeks beneath N.Y. highway
updated 8:06 a.m. CT, Fri., June 5, 2009
NEW YORK - A New York City woman says her father apparently lay dead for weeks in a minivan while police repeatedly left parking tickets on the vehicle.
This reminds me of when I was at the University of Maryland as a graduate student in 1991, and my Toyota Corolla was stolen from the parking lot (this was the day before I settled on my condo and right about when the First Gulf War broke out). At first I thought I forgot where I parked it, but ultimately after driving around all the lots with the University cops, I reported it to University of Maryland police as stolen and my insurance company (GEICO). Thirty days later they found the car in a farm field outside Bowie Maryland with 4 parking tickets. Nobody bothered to cross-reference the license plate for the parking tickets (all on the U of Md campus, where someone had taken it joyriding) with the database for stolen cars.
Even more annoyingly, I was notified on Day 31 when I went to pick up my settlement check from my insurance company that my car had been found the day before. There was later a voicemail for me at work. The insurance company paid for some $3000 in repairs (which is about what they would have given me in cash, and the car served me fine for a few more years. The thieves committed annoying vandalism on the car (stabbing the dashboard) and stole the tires and the trunk rack, but it was all reparable. The insurance company also had to provide a rental car for nearly 2 months (1 month for the stolen car, 1 month for repairs). GEICO I am sure lost money insuring me in the long run.
Dr. Gridlock links to WMATA's Bus Stop Customer Information Study. I am not sure I agree with their conclusions, I still prefer London's system, but this is an improvement on what has gone before.
EyeStop from MIT
(source Senseable City Lab http://senseable.mit.edu/eyestop/)
(source Evening Telegraph http://eveningtelegraph.blogspot.com/2007_10_01_archive.html)
Surely there is some middle ground.
Note this is the long range plan (2040), so the technology, economics, and politics should change about a dozen times between now and then. Seattle is planning to toll an existing untolled bridge, which will be interesting to see if that can be politically acceptable.
Herbert Hoover is attributed telling Americans if he were elected in 1928 there would be "A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage". (though it has only been traced to a printed advert for the Republican Party in 1928, and not directly to Hoover's lips) (Republican Party Campaign Ad. New York World, 30 October 1928).
"A chicken in every pot" sans car and garage is attributed to Henry IV of France who is said to have said each of his peasants should enjoy "a chicken in his pot every Sunday." (or "la poule au pot") (Ref Answers.com)
When I was in the UK in 2007 I saw on the telly a post-World War II British politician, apparently Ernest Bevin, promise 'a car for every worker' (I am not sure of the exact quote, a free chicken to anyone who can find a better citation), which I found with help* in this cartoon illustrating unredeemed promises
This slogan was later adopted by Shimon Peres while running for office in Israel in 1965.
From the Guardian, Budget 2009: car industry welcomes scrappage scheme
So in the UK (and apparently elsewhere in Europe similar policies are being put in place) ... from the article
"Motorists will receive £2,000 if they sell their old car and buy a new model, after the chancellor bowed to pressure from the automotive sector and announced a car scrappage scheme this afternoon.
Car and van owners whose vehicle was bought more than 10 years ago will be given £2,000 towards a brand new vehicle. The scheme will expire in March next year and follows similar moves by major European countries, including France and Germany.
But the car industry will have to contribute £1,000 to the grant and it will not be restricted to greener vehicles. The "cash for clunkers" programme will also be markedly smaller than Germany's, which is investing €5bn (£4.49bn) and has boosted sales by 40%. By contrast, the UK version will cost £600m (£300m from the government) and will end earlier than expected if the money runs out before March."
This is being paid for with an increase in fuel duty to 71%.
So UK is increasing marginal cost of traveling (higher gas tax), and lowering the upfront cost of newer (and presumably more fuel efficient and environmentally sound and safer) vehicles while stimulating the domestic (and international) auto sector.
It seems more productive to stimulate the auto sector in this way than nationalize it as the US has.
From Christian Science Monitor As road fund dries up, drivers must pay up ... the highway trust fund is about to be broke again, CSM endorses a gas tax increase.
When you commute a prisoner's sentence, it becomes shorter. What does that have to do with commuting to work? I saw this description of the etymology from podictionary: word of the day commute
... A commuter is of course someone who commutes. Commute as a word took the trip into English first in 1633 from Latin commutare and it didn’t have to do with traveling, but change. The original English meaning was such that people would commute money at a currency exchange.
Thus the original Latin meaning of change shows us that commute is related to mutate. It also explains how a felon can have their sentence commuted, usually meaning changed to a less harsh punishment.
The word first took on a meaning of traveling back and forth about 100 years ago. As EB White wrote of commuters:
One who spends his life
In riding to and from his wife;
A man who shaves and takes a train,
And then rides back to shave again.
I noticed an interesting 100 year old citation in the OED. A British newspaper explained to its readers that commute is the American term for “taking season’s tickets.” To me, season’s tickets means a sports season but this citation refers instead to something like a transit pass. In the quote the commute is by train and between New York and Chicago, so it’s not likely something undertaken twice a day.
c.1450, from L. commutare "to often change, to change altogether," from com- intensive prefix + mutare "to change" (see mutable). Sense of "make less severe" is 1633. Sense of "go back and forth to work" is 1889, from commutation ticket "season pass" (on a railroad, streetcar line, etc.), from commute in its sense of "to change one kind of payment into another" (1795), especially "to combine a number of payments into a single one;" commuter is from 1865; the noun commute is from 1960.
So it is all about change, a commuter changes money into rail season pass tickets, or in other words, increases the fixed cost of his trip in order to lower the per trip variable cost. At some point, commuter took on the connotation of journey to work (we don't commute to the store, though apparently we once commuted between cities).
Today we talk about auto commuters, who don't buy tickets (except perhaps on toll roads), and the standard policy prescription is to encourage them to pay out-of-pocket for the marginal social cost of their trip (and discourage auto ownership through techniques like car sharing). We may then have the reverse of the earlier meaning, where we exchange a high fixed cost/low variable cost scheme for a high variable cost/low fixed cost one. Perhaps we should rename people who do that from commuters to commutees or commutants?
(As an aside, it surprises me that commute was not a noun until 1960, just like gridlock did not appear until 1971 or so).
Pedestrian Crossing another UK film, this time about street-crossing.
(Films got much shorter over time, films from the most recent period were less than a minute, compared with 9 minutes for some of the early films).
From BBC Radio 4: Audio slideshow: Houses and highways some nice pictures and standard explanations of post-War US.