July 2009 Archives

International Symposium on Transportation Network Reliability

Save the Date and Call for Papers

July 22-23, 2010 University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota

The aim of the International Symposium on Transportation Network Reliability (INSTR) is to bring together researchers and professionals interested in transportation network reliability to discuss both recent research and future directions in this increasingly important field of research. The scope of the symposium includes all aspects of analysis and design to improve network reliability, including:
• user perception of unreliability
• public policy and reliability of travel times
• the valuation of reliability
• the economics of reliability
• network reliability modelling and estimation
• transport network robustness
• reliability of public transportation
• travel behaviour under uncertainty
• vehicle routing and scheduling under uncertainty
• risk evaluation and management for transportation networks
• ITS to improve network reliability

Submission of Papers
Papers will be categorized and ranked by peer reviewers. Theoretical, empirical, case-study, and policy-oriented contributions are welcome. Papers must be submitted electronically at www.instr.org byDecember 23, 2009 for consideration.

Key Dates
• Papers Due: December 23, 2009
• Papers selected and submitted: January 2010
• Final Papers Due (subject to acceptance): February 2010
• Early Registration Deadline: June 1, 2010
• Conference: July 22-23, 2010

More Information

Visit the INSTR Web site at http://www.instr.org

David Levinson
RP Braun/CTS Chair in Transportation
University of Minnesota

Sara Van Essendelft
Conference Coordinator
University of Minnesota

The conference is hosted by the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota.

In the Economix blog of the NY Times Edward Glaeser on High Speed Rail

Dude, where's my mailbox?

I went to mail two letters, which I must do because of the arcane copyright regulations of a journal publisher and the lack of autobillpay for the City of Minneapolis regulatory services. My mailbox was gone.

It seems I am not alone ... From the Twin Cities Daily PlanetThe case of the disappearing mailboxes

Chalk up USPS and first class mail to "dead media"

Dave Winer at Scripting News asks about: Speedbumps and a city's carbon footprint? in particular Berkeley.

As far as I can tell, there are several offsetting factors:
(1) Speedbumps discourage travel by car (less carbon)
(2) Speedbumps encourage remaining travelers to reroute on longer routes (more carbon)
(3) Speedbumps increase fuel use for drivers who stay on the "calmed" route (accel/decel) (more carbon)
(4) Speedbumps lower speed for drivers on calmed route (less carbon)

How this nets out is empirical, depends on the configuration of the network and the extent of traffic calming.

Any studies on this? (Nothing obvious shows up with actual data in a quick scan of Google Scholar)

High-Speed Rail and CO2

Freakonomics Blog (NY Times) on High-Speed Rail and CO2

The Transportationist blog is referenced.

In Slate by Tom Vanderbilt American drivers should learn to love the roundabout.


"but a larger question here is whether people who cannot manage to merge at low speed into a counter-clockwise circle and, yes, perhaps even change lanes in that circle, before finding the correct exit should actually be holding licenses that enable them to operate heavy machinery in the first place."

NY Times: In 2003, U.S. Withheld Data Showing Cellphone Driving Risks

In 2003, researchers at a federal agency proposed a long-term study of 10,000 drivers to assess the safety risk posed by cellphone use behind the wheel. They sought the study based on evidence that such multitasking was a serious and growing threat on America's roadways.

This makes no sense, withholding data that supported an already well-known (and one might add, fairly obvious) finding. This is evidenced by the literature reviewed in the first few pages of the Official Documents

The former head of the highway safety agency said he was urged to withhold the research to avoid antagonizing members of Congress who had warned the agency to stick to its mission of gathering safety data but not to lobby states.

Urged by whom? Since when did publishing a report constitute lobbying?

All the more reason the Executive Branch should not conduct science, which should be left to independent organizations (like universities).

Great River Energy an energy cooperative, touts its new headquarters building as LEED Platinum, a rating given by the US Green Buildings Council, and has obtained lots of publicity for this. This means the building is really energy efficient. Except it is built in the middle of a sea of parking in Maple Grove Minnesota, as can be seen in this figure:

greatriver_mn.jpg or this google map (showing the site)

View Larger Map

According to Metro Transit's transit planner it would take some 2 hours and 21 minutes to get there from my house (compared with 25 minutes by car)

Something is wrong about touting the energy efficiency of a building that requires a lot of energy to reach. There should be some sort of Green Locations rating that would at least remove hypocrisy from the system.

(I really don't care where they locate, I just want them to pay the full costs they impose on society and not pretend to be green when they aren't).


via FSJ Trapster, an iPhone application to build a and distribute a database of police speed traps. As Fake Steve Jobs says, "Fight the Power".

From the blog Unqualified Reservations (via Daring Fireball) Wolfram Alpha and hubristic user interfaces

"... control interfaces must not be intelligent. Briefly, intelligent user interfaces should be limited to applications in which the user does not expect to control the behavior of the product. If the product is used as a tool, its interface should be as unintelligent as possible. Stupid is predictable; predictable is learnable; learnable is usable."

This applies as much to search engines as it does to transportation. Are you listening designers of ITS applications?

'E-Rockit' hits German fast lane

From BBC 'E-Rockit' hits German fast lane. An electric motorbike you pedal up to 50 mph (80 km/h). The end of the video shows them using this on a German freeway. Not wise I suspect.

BYOL: Bring Your Own Lane

Forwarded by LK: Bring Your Own Lane, a set of lights for the bicycle which outlines a bicycle lane for the bicyclist at night, the product is called Light Lane . Not out yet, but soon.

Nearest Tube

This looks like the coolest iPhone app yet: Nearest Tube, an augmented reality application to find London Underground stations. by acrossair. I have not yet played with it.

Update: from Venture BeatAugmented reality subway app comes to NY, SF

From the NY Times Transportation Stimulus Gives Short Shrift to Cities. Analysis of distribution of stimulus funds. The problem is "shovel ready" projects tends not to be in complex urban areas, where nothing can be done quickly, but in rural areas where resurfacing is easy.

From the NY Times >By Degrees - Buses May Aid Climate Battle in Poor Cities an article (and video) about the TransMilenio and BRT, and how it is now can sell carbon credits.

The St. Paul Legal Ledger has a nice article on Value CaptureNew U of M report suggests transportation revenue alternatives

TTI's 2009 Urban Mobility Report (2007 data) is now out. Minneapolis St. Paul ranks 28th on the Travel Time Index (TTI, get it?), Should I be happy we are relatively less congested or unhappy that we have lost ranking? Clearly congestion is dropping in recent years.

From NYT The Value of Streets for uses other than transportation.

In the Telegraph (via Slashdot) Workers have daily smile scans

" ... The "smile scan" software, developed by the Japanese company Omron, produces a sweeping analysis of a smile based on facial characteristics, from lip curves and eye movements to wrinkles. After scanning a face, the device produces a rating between zero to 100 depending on the estimated value of the fulfilled potential of a person's biggest smile. For those with a below-par grin, one of an array of smile-boosting messages will op up on the computer screen ranging from "you still look too serious" to "lift up your mouth corners", according to the Mainichi Daily News. " ...

Just creepy. Will we have "smile fatigue" with all of these forced smiles from railway (and presumably other service employees)? Will a smile arms race emerge, with mouths curved more and more until people's face explode? It reminds of Sue Ann Niven (Betty White) from the Mary Tyler Moore show, who had such a forced smile her faced got locked into that position.

Imagine there are two transit services in an area, a low quality system (L) that is pervasive (everyone is within 400 m of a low quality stop) and a high quality system (H) that is skeletal (only a small fraction are within 400 m of a high quality stop).

Imagine there are two classes of potential users, poor people (P) who will use either system, and rich people (R) who will use only the H routes.

Poor people perceive the system as larger (both L and H) and get more network externalities from the system. They can go anywhere in town on transit. Rich people see a small system, and perceive few network externalities. They can only go places on the H system.

As a consequence, poor people are more likely to use the system than rich people.

There are several solutions to this problem. The expensive solution is to build high quality services everywhere to attract the fraction of R that would not otherwise take transit. The less expensive solution is to change the perception (and reality) of the low quality system so it appears higher quality. Give it as many of the same features of H as possible, starting with information (e.g. what bus stops at the bus stop, when does it stop, what hours does it operate, where does it go, what does the local neighborhood look like, is the bus ontime, how much does it cost) and navigability.

Why do we never consider the less expensive solution?

More on the monorail crash and how it might have happened, (Via Daring Fireball) from some postings on Micechat It is possibly a user interface problem, possibly a central control problem ...

From AP (via Google News)Walt Disney World monorail crash kills employee

Officials at Walt Disney World Resort were investigating what caused the first fatal accident in the 38-year history of the park's Monorail, a one-time symbol of founder Walt Disney's vision for future transportation.

This is not the first monorail crash

From Corrosion Source:

Minnesota Zoo officials believe rodent droppings could be to blame for a June monorail crash that temporarily paralyzed a Rochester minister and injured 10 others. Urea and ammonia, which are both present in rodent excrement, corroded several electrical connections in the drive that controlled the monorail train that crashed, according to a consultant's report prepared last month. Corrosion caused the drive to fail. When that happens, a design flaw prevents the monorail's brakes from working, according to the report, prepared for the zoo by Minneapolis-based Industrial Electric Company.

The drives - less than five years old - also were installed improperly, according to the report, allowing rats, moisture and other debris to sit on them. Zoo officials say the monorail, which is still operating, is safe. They plan to implement all of the Industrial Electric's recommended changes by May, including reinstalling the drives, inspecting the other drives and considering a stronger braking system.

From Seattle Times: Monorail collision result of hazard created during 1988 track redesign

Two monorail cars are shown jammed together Sunday, one day after an accident near Westlake Center mall. Officials say the process of getting the two cars unstuck could take days. Each brake must be loosened, then a crane must be brought in to pull the cars apart.

For 17 years, monorail drivers managed to elude a known safety hazard -- that two trains would wedge together near Westlake Center, where the dual tracks converge at a pinch point.

The run of good luck finally ended Saturday night, when the monorail system's safety procedures broke down, and two trains sideswiped each other.

(Also a previous crash in 1971, others?).

I have now been on at least three monorails that have crashed. There have been others. No mode of transport is foolproof.

(A partial list of crashes, not counting the German Maglev crash)

From Reuters < a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/GCA-Gre">Hybrids boost Toyota and Honda car sales

Toyota Motor Corp's Prius hybrid was Japan's best-selling car in June while Honda Motor Co's rival Insight ranked fourth, helping the two hybrid leaders dominate the list of top-selling models.

A few years ago student of mine (JH) estimated an S-curve (logistic curve) of growth of the hybrid market and estimated that by 2015 or so, more than half new car sales would be hybrids. Seems still on target.

From Strib: Airport sign cost jumps past $2 million. Probably should make clear that it is more than one sign, not clear from the article how many though.

Faced with complaints that an estimated 20,000 people show up at the wrong terminal each year, MAC has been considering proposals to change the terminal names on the signs and list the airlines that fly out of each terminal.

20,000 out of some 35,000,000 is about 1 out of 1750. If the 20,000 number is remotely correct, this does not seem to be much of a problem, as a commenter notes "you can't cure stupid". I suspect each of us goes to the wrong place more frequently than 1 out of every 1750 trips (or say once every two years). Another way of thinking about it is 1 passenger on every 10 flights showed up at the wrong terminal (and even that is rectifiable by taking the LRT between terminals if they got there early enough).

Of course signs are expensive, and it is important to convey information to travelers, but is there really a problem if only 20K out of 35M get lost?

From Well Blog - NYTimes Is Bicycling Bad for Your Bones? . Seems to apply only to racing cyclists, but still raises questions about the healthiness of active transportation.

I have argued that economics is a subset of transport economics, since transport economics includes time and space, and deals with the movement of many goods, while economics tends to be aspatial (and to a lesser extent atemporal) and focus on one good, money. The objective of this post is to suggest the equivalent of two fundamental relationships in two similar but largely unconnected fields, traffic engineering and macro-economics. These are the equation of exchange and the fundamental relationship of traffic.

The fundamental relationship of traffic says: Q=KV.
Q =flow (veh/hr) = Motorcars/Time (motorcars/time)
K= density (veh/km) = Motorcars/Distance
Vt = transportation velocity (km/hr) = Distance/Time

or in other words, dimensionally:
(M/D)(D/T) = M/T

The equation of exchange says: MVe=PY
where (quoting and rephrasing wikipedia):
M = the total amount of money in circulation on average in an economy during the period, say a year
Ve = economic velocity, or the velocity of money in final expenditures. (number of times a unit of money is spent in a given time period, e.g. a year). This differs from Vt.
P = the price level associated with transactions for the economy during the period
Y = total output per unit time.

We achieve equivalence if MV=PY can be mapped to KV = Q

First, let us assume that PY is the output, or GDP, this can be mapped directly to Q or motorcars per time

MVe=PY -> KVt = Q

where PY -> Q

So does MVe map to KVt ?

money supply * number of times money turns over per year =?= (number of motorcars / distance) * (distance / time)

So assuming money supply is a stock like the number of motorcars, and economic velocity Ve is in units of time-1, then it maps.

This equation is important in economics to understand inflation. If the money supply increases without any change in real output Y, than the price level must increase (if economic velocity Veis fixed), or the price level can remain constant if the velocity slows down (as in a recession when people spend less).

The equivalent in transportation suggests that if the number of cars in a system increases, and output flow remains constant, then a queue forms and velocity slows.

Other interpretations?


Wikipedia: Quantity theory of money
The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics - money, classical theory of

Via AH: Highway deaths fall in 2009, lowest since '61

By KEN THOMAS , Associated Press
Last update: July 2, 2009 - 11:07 AM

WASHINGTON - Fewer people died on the nation's highways during the first three months of 2009 as motor vehicle fatalities continued to fall to levels not seen in nearly a half-century.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Thursday about 7,689 motorists were killed in the months of January through March, a 9 percent decline from a year ago.

Reporting ahead of the July 4 holiday, a busy period on the nation's roadways, the government estimated that 37,261 motorists died in 2008, the fewest since 1961. If the 2009 fatality trends continue, fewer than 31,000 people will die this year.

In short, recession saves lives. Some other things help too.

From Ars Technica: Chicago 'burb ditches red light cameras, no safety advantage

Update: A person "familiar with the matter" in Schaumburg says the city largely decided to get rid of the camera due to complaints from out-of-towners who wanted to shop at Woodfield Mall, and Schaumburg didn't want to ruin its image of being a "suburban shopping mecca."

William Gibson's Neuromancer defines cyberspace as a "consensual illusion" obtained when a user "jacks into" the network. Plans for cities are also consensual illusions, a community agreed upon vision of how the city will look at some future date. Planners are but illusionists, creating and shaping a fantasy for a how city imagines itself, and through this consensus, harnessing the positive feedback processes of public and private investments aiming to achieve self-fulfilling prophesies. By promising networks, development will come; by promising demand, infrastructure will come.

Riding for a conference from the Portland airport to Portland State University on Light Rail Transit (LRT) and then streetcar gave me time to reflect on the Elysian Fields of transportation engineering, the Nirvana of networks and nexi.

Portland, Oregon is one of the major battlegrounds in the mode wars (car vs. transit and the internecine rail vs. bus). It has since the 1980s been held up by planners as the exemplar American city that does almost everything right. The foremost thing they do right in the view of the planning establishment is promoting LRT and bicycling.

The fascination with rail transit in particular (especially as compared with bus) was something I have never quite grokked. As a rational observer with formal training in transportation, I have had a hard time understanding the emotional relationship people have with rail. Why do people like LRT more than bus? Is it simply how we operate them, or that it is modern capital, or is there a psychological benefit associated with deterministic tracks vs. widely diverging roads? There are lots of theories on the matter, I will identify a few below.

1. Ride quality. The quality of the ride on an LRT is smoother and less herky-jerky than a bus, and passengers have a nicer facility.

2. Navigability. It is hard to navigate current US bus systems, while the fewer number of rail lines are fairly easy to figure out. Because trains cannot steer, they cannot get lost the way a bus can.

3. Speed. Trains are faster than local buses, especially if they have their own right of way and few stations.

4. Permanence. I can make a permanent investment decision based on the location of rail lines, as the transit system is committed to this line, while a bus line may be temporary.

5. Nostalgia. People who like LRT recall (or wish they could recall) the immediately post-World War II America when streetcars were at a maximum. 1946 was a magical period in US history, a boom following the long depression, when streetcar networks if not at a maximum were really close. (Coupled with a conspiracy theory about their removal)

6. Sexuality. This is part of the theory presented by Jonathan Richmond's in his book Transport of Delight and earlier paper The Mythical Conception of Rail Transit in Los Angeles. The image of the train entering the tunnel clearly evokes a primal response.

There are logical rejoinders for the first four (though not the nostalgia or sexuality argument I suppose), the most obvious is that if you spent the kind of money you are spending on rail on buses instead, and operated them better, buses would be quite nice. Navigability could be improved with a bit of thought (and trains can divert), while permanence of the last generation of streetcars (1887-1954) clearly was temporary.

The theory I have now adopted comes from my recent trip from Minneapolis to Portland accessing the airport at both ends via LRT, and then riding the Portland streetcar almost full circle. Rail transit forms an urban superstructure. Guideway transit, esp. LRT makes the city more like a single structure, and makes everything seem closer. The LRT vehicle is continuously running, and if activities are along the path of the vehicle, everything seems quite coordinated. In a way by organizing activities linearly (or multi-linearly), it simplifies the city. Hopping on a train is much like getting on an elevator.

LRT, like walking indoors, keeps you enveloped within civilization, while walking, biking, or driving is a frontier experience, you alone in the wilderness. (And bus falls in-between). We can posit that distances within buildings seem shorter than distances between buildings (Some literature along the notions of this idea exist, see Tversky, but it is not directly on point). Distances connected by the urban superstructure will likely feel closer than those which are not so connected. Walking through a modern airport, or the Minneapolis Skyway, will tell you enveloped distances can be quite large, but still not feel as large as leaving one building into nature for another.

Preferences for civilization or frontier-crossing (or degree of each) vary across individuals. Driving of course places you in a machine, but you, not civilization, are operating the machine, so just as driving is freedom, not everyone wants that freedom to drive, they may prefer freedom from driving. The extent to which you believe in the importance of community over individuals (or vice versa) will affect your perception of the issue.

( LRT may also be more popular than traditional underground subway (Metro) systems. People of course like being able to walk out the door and step onto a train more than having to descend through the gates of hell, Metro to get to the underground subterranean system. There are many reasons, not least of which is the extra time and energy required to so descend. The advantages in principle are faster point to point travel time, but that depends on the access cost vs. the in-motion speed. )

Transit invokes further passions because of the positive feedback loop between ridership, revenue, and route frequency, especially where transit is weak as in much of the US. My riding transit creates a positive externality for you (more riders, shorter headways, and more routes), so of course if you ride transit, you want to impose your preference on me. It is only selfishly rational. Further cars use scarce roadspace. While similar feedback loops may exist on the highway side (more drivers means more closely spaced roads), congestion mitigates that and the network is largely built out, so drivers do not feel the same need to impose their modal preference on the transit riding minority. Finally, drivers may benefit in the short term if other drivers take transit. (Where transit is already congested and frequent, additional riders produce few positive externalities as diminishing returns set in).

Our Value Capture for Transportation Finance study is now out.

Detailed reports will be placed online soon.

About the Study

Large public investments in state transportation infrastructure--such as new freeway interchanges, highways, or transit stations--can increase the value of adjacent private land, sometimes substantially. Capturing the value of this benefit through various tools is gaining interest as a finance mechanism for infrastructure investments. But many questions remain: Does "value capture" promote or hinder economic development? How high should the tax rate be? How stable is the revenue?

To answer these and other questions, the state legislature appropriated funding to CTS to study the public policy implications of value capture.

Researchers reviewed the relationship between transportation and land values, including the measurement of benefits from a transportation improvement, as well as the legal and economic frameworks for capturing the value gains. They explored the major financing techniques associated with value capture--such as joint development of infrastructure and adjacent private parcels, rezoning and reselling, impact fees, special assessment districts, and tax increment financing--and some examples of their implementation. They then evaluated several of the proposed policies and their suitability for implementation locally, based on the criteria of economic efficiency, social equity, adequacy as a revenue source, and feasibility.

David Levinson

Network Reliability in Practice

Evolving Transportation Networks

Place and Plexus

The Transportation Experience

Access to Destinations

Assessing the Benefits and Costs of Intelligent Transportation Systems

Financing Transportation Networks

View David Levinson's profile on LinkedIn

Subscribe to RSS headline updates from:

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from July 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

June 2009 is the previous archive.

August 2009 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.


Monthly Archives


Powered by Movable Type 4.31-en