June 2011 Archives

Our research on Gas Prices and Drunk Driving,and Gas Prices and Traffic Safety now summarized on YouTube:

The Demand Curve for Life


At the 2009 International Transport Economics Conference Bruno De Borger, Erik Verhoef, and I were having dinner, Erik raised an interesting question about the use of statistical value of life in evaluation studies. Suppose there is a road improvement which will save 1 life per year, reducing the number of fatalities from 2 to 1 per year (out of 1000 people using the road). Assume all travelers are identical. What value of life should be used in the analysis?

Normally, we would do the equivalent of trying to compute for each traveler what is the willingness to pay for a 50% reduction in the chance of death by driving (from 2 in 1000 to 1 in 1000), and multiply that by the 1000 people whose chance of dying is reduced.

An alternative approach is to figure out the willingness to pay for the driver whose life is saved. So how much would you pay to avoid dying (with certainty) (i.e. what is your Willingness to Pay)? The answer to the first question is usually taken to be all of your resources (you would pay you everything so I won't kill you).

Alternatively how much can I pay you to allow you to let me kill you (Willingness to Accept)? The answer to this second question is: I would have to pay you an infinite amount of money in order for you to let me kill you.

Both of those sums of money (everything or infinity) likely exceed the willingness to pay to reduce the likelihood of dying with some probability, multiplied by the number of people experiencing it.

In economic terms, we are comparing the area under the demand curve (the consumer's surplus) for life (which has a value asymptotically approaching infinity as the amount of life approaches 0 (death approaches certainty) for a single individual, with the marginal change in the likelihood of survival multiplied by all individuals (i.e. the the quadrilateral between the y-axis of price and the same demand curve, between Pb and Pa) which describes the change in price for a change in survival).

On the one hand, using the marginal change for everyone rather than total change for the one person whose life is saved, we will give a lower value to safety improvements. On the other hand, the value of life to the individual himself is much higher than the value of life of that individual to society at large.

From Tyler Cowan: Don’t apply positive discount rates to human lives:

"Ben Trachtenberg writes:
This Article presents two new arguments against “discounting” future human lives during cost-benefit analysis, arguing that even absent ethical objections to the disparate treatment of present and future humanity, the economic calculations of cost-benefit analysis itself – if properly calculated – counsel against discounting lives at anything close to current rates. In other words, even if society sets aside all concerns with the discounting of future generations in principle, current discounting of future human lives cannot be justified even on the discounters’ own terms. First, because cost-benefit analysis has thus far ignored evidence of rising health care expenditures, it underestimates the “willingness to pay” for health and safety that future citizens will likely exhibit, thereby undervaluing their lives. Second, cost-benefit analysis ignores the trend of improved material conditions in developed countries. As time advances, residents of rich countries tend to live better and spend more, meaning that a strict economic monetization of future persons values the lives of our expected descendents above those of present citizens. These two factors justify “inflation” of future lives that would offset, perhaps completely, the discount rate used for human life. Until regulators correct their method of discounting the benefits of saving human lives in the future, the United States will continue to suffer the fatal costs of underregulation, and agencies will remain in violation of legal requirements to maximize net benefits."

I think in practice we have to discount future lives, if the discount rate were zero, then we should do nothing for the present as the infinite future would dominate any calculation. I am dubious health inflation will continue unabated. The discussion on the article is interesting and worth reading.


JW sends me this link from Technology Review and writes "If the sensors and technology for collision avoidance systems can be implemented on smart phones it seems a disruptive way to move robotic vehicle technology forward. It bypasses the vehicle manufacturers and potentially the regulators. Clearly the app does not result in a robotic vehicle, but it may further public acceptance and allow the collection of comparative crash record data, two issues which are much more important than the technology and software in my view."

App Provides Extra Eyes on the Road - Technology Review:

iOnRoad for Android detect and tracks cars on the road ahead using a phone's camera and machine vision software. It also draws on a phone's GPS, accelerometer, and orientation sensors to calculate the distance to other cars, and the speed at which they are traveling.

Just place your device in a mount on the dashboard and start up the app. Then your phone will diligently watch the road ahead, and beep a warning if you get too close to the vehicle ahead, alerting you to hastily brake before any damage occurs.

iOnRoad is a clever idea, and it highlights just how powerful and capable smart phones have become. Just few years ago, such an app would struggle on the fastest smart phone.

In practice, however, I found it a bit distracting. During a drive to Cape Cod last week, with the phone mounted beneath the GPS, my windshield felt cluttered. I kept glancing at the phone whenever a car outline changed from green to yellow (depending on how close I was), in addition to checking the GPS. With continued use of the app my eyes would probably stop drifting over to check how far away each vehicle was. Thankfully, I didn't get into any near-collisions, and the road was pretty traffic-free.

The app can also work in background mode, so it'll only sound and show a warning if it detects an imminent collision. So iOnRoad could run behind a GPS app while driving.

The Israeli company behind the app, Picitup, has previously created vision recognition software for to automatically cataloging products (which eBay uses). At first, iOnRoad will be free; and it will be available next month.

Transportation at TED

Volkswagen Shows Off Self-Driving Auto Pilot Technology For Cars:


"While most automakers try to fix the problems with today's techVolkswagen is working on tomorrow's. The future of driving, in major cities at least, is looking more and more likely to be done by high-tech computers rather than actual people, at least if the latest breakthroughs in self-driving vehicle technology mean anything. Internet search engine giant Google has logged some 140,000 miles with its self-driving Toyota Prius fleet and Audi has had similar success with its run of autonomous cars.

Now Volkswagen has presented its ‘Temporary Auto Pilot’ technology. Monitored by a driver, the technology can allow a car to drive semi-automatically at speeds of up to 80 mph on highways.

It works using a combination of existing technology such as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist, rolling them all into one comprehensive function. Nonetheless, the driver always retains driving responsibility and is always in control, and must continually monitor it. In this way, Volkswagen only sees it as a stepping stone towards what seems like an eventual future where nobody will be doing any driving.

In the semi-automatic driving mode, the system maintains a safe distance to the vehicle ahead, drives at a speed selected by the driver, reduces this speed as necessary before a bend, and maintains the vehicle’s central position with respect to lane markers. The system also observes overtaking rules and speed limits. Additionally, stop and start driving maneuvers in traffic jams are also automated.

The good news--or bad, depending on how you look at it--is that compared to the more advanced autonomous driving technologies, Volkswagen’s latest Temporary Auto Pilot is based on a relatively production-like sensor platform, consisting of production-level radar-, camera-, and ultrasonic-based sensors supplemented by a laser scanner and an electronic horizon.

This means that we could see a production version within the next couple of years."

(Via Kurzweil.)

The main economic difficulty with deployment will be getting the sensor costs down. This is inevitable (if we believe Moore's Law), but how long it will take is still unclear. The political restrictions are beginning to fall. Forbes reports:


"The State of Nevada just passed Assembly Bill No. 511 which, among other things, authorizes the Department of Transportation to develop rules and regulations governing the use of driverless cars, such as Google’s concept car, on its roads.

As Stanford Professor Ryan Calo notes, this is a big step forward in ensuring that safe, driverless cars become a reality.

Specifically, the law provides that the Nevada Department of Transportation “shall adopt regulations authorizing the operation of autonomous vehicles on highways within the State of Nevada.”  The law charges the Nevada DOT with setting safety and performance standards and requires it to designate areas where driverless cars may be tested. (Note that this could take some serious time: Japan, for instance, has been promising standards for personal robots for years and has yet to release them.)

You can read the full text of the law here."

From Brad DeLong: The Economist on Infrastructure BankMore stimulus: Buffers for the flighty

More stimulus: Buffers for the flighty: ON BALANCE, I agree with the "it's insane" analysis offered by Matthew Yglesias of America's refusal to borrow money at historically cheap rates and spend it on infrastructure and other job-generating activities that will need to be undertaken eventually anyway.... [T]echnological change and globalisation have absolutely nothing to do with high unemployment in the construction sector. The people who build things in America will always be Americans, and there haven't been any revolutions in construction technology between 2007 and 2011.... The reason the construction sector is sitting on the couch playing with the Wii instead of out fixing America is that America isn't spending the money to do the fixing. America has a $2 trillion backlog of infrastructure maintenance, according to the Urban Land Institute. With the government able to borrow money at ridiculously low 10-year rates, it seems pretty convincing that we should be borrowing that money and spending it now, both to improve that infrastructure and to get the economy going. (Insert sub-argument: yes, but infrastructure programmes take a long time to get underway. Response: did you or didn't you say this was structural unemployment that will take many years to resolve?)...

Again, only an economist (or The Economist) would think house construction and road construction are near substitutes, and the skills are easily transferred, but the general point remains, we should have an infrastructure bank to fund things that have benefits in excess of costs and can pay back the loans. See Fix It First, Expand It Second, Reward It Third: A New Strategy for America’s Highways

The Economist on private Value Capture funding subway construction in Shenzhen China: Chinese mass transit: On the right track

The builder is MTR Corporation of Hong Kong, the part-privatised company that runs the territory’s remarkably efficient and clean metro system (pictured). That MTR also owns a huge property portfolio is almost certainly a core issue in its involvement with Shenzhen.

Back in 2004, as part of a strategic effort to expand beyond Hong Kong, MTR commissioned a report from a local university on transit systems in many of the world’s largest cities, which observed that “railway investment is not financial viable on its own.” Not long after MTR’s founding in 1975, the parsimonious colonial administration which then ran the territory came to a similar conclusion, and decided to finance the construction of a subway system through simultaneous grants of adjacent property. It was, in essence, a trade of movement below for land above, a model that has been used successfully in Japan and, a century ago, in America as well.

The results have not been entirely successful. Some of the MTR projects reflect the worst of bleak government architecture but over time its portfolio has become a bit smarter; and these property holdings, along with the lease of advertising space, now account for more than 60% of MTR’s revenues and presumably all of its very healthy profits, as well as providing the financial strength to support its spotless metro service.

Value Capture needs to be used more in the US.


Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz is the antagonist of Perry the Platypus in Phineas and Ferb. He runs Doofenshmirtz Evil Incorporated, a company dedicated to destruction (with little profit on the side). At least two episodes of this series deal with toll roads:

According to the Wikia: In Toy to the World: "Not far from the toy factory, Perry arrives at Doofenshmirtz's location where a large amount of bricks are being loaded into truck. Perry gets caught in a brick trap and Doofenshmirtz approaches, explaining that he plans on constructing a great wall around the Tri-State Area. The only way people would be able to get in and out is through his toll booth."

In this case Doofenshmirtz is being ``evil'', following the "enclosure" movement of earlier times (see also The Transportation Experience), but in this, enclosing an entire metro area for the purposes of raising toll revenue (profits). No new value is being created, in fact value is being destroyed as wealth is transferred and an otherwise useless wall is constructed to ensure excludability. (Unless there was a congestion problem, and Doofenshmirtz uses time of day pricing to manage demand, I just suspect this is unlikely).

In Candace Loses Her Head " he's going to use his Drill-inator to tunnel to China, then charge tolls."

In this case, he is adding value to the world (from a transportation perspective), and needs the revenue to pay back the Research and Development costs of the Drillinator, leave aside the operating and construction costs. This seems not terribly evil, but perhaps unsound.

Doofenshmirtz: Ah, Perry the Platypus! Your timing is impeccable. And by impeccable I mean: COMPLETELY PECCABLE! [Laughs] Your just in time to witness my latest scheme. Behold, my Drill-Inator! I will bore a tunnel to China, build a toll highway, and make millions!

Unfortunately ...

Doofenshmirtz: The molted lava of the earth's core completely slipped my mind.
(Which reminds me of Transatlantic Tunnel)

Daily Kos on transportation: Think Big: Transportation overhaul would save money, create jobs, cut pollution, burn less oil. In case it wasn't clear, this is basically a liberal agenda on transportation.

I really don't understand why these are all federal government responsibilities. It seems that if local governments don't do what one party or the other likes, then they try to change federal policy (only one thing to change instead of 50). No one is really interested in doing things at the appropriate level of government. Frankly, as important as parking policy (No. 11) might be for cities, the federal government should not be involved one way or another (this includes taxes, which I recognize exist, but the main issue is how cities want to function, if they think asphalt is an amenity, more power to them [they are wrong, but that is a mistake local governments should have the power to make]).

Other things might be good ideas (rail electrification No. 8) but are private not public responsibilities (given the passenger share of rail transportation is to a first order approximation, outside the northeast, zero).

At least the infrastructure bank (No. 7) requires repaying the loans (a seemingly obvious idea, yet not standard in the many infrastructure bank proposals).

Travel Made Humans

Robin Hanson on how long distance travel was critical in human evolution ... Travel Made Humans. Well worth reading. Transportation is the mother of us all.

Strib discusses Targeting toll lanes to catch cheats: "

Targeting toll lanes to catch cheats


As many as nine of 100 cars using dedicated toll and carpool lanes are violating the rules, risking fines of more than $100, according to highway surveillance by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). In just four weeks this spring, 664 drivers were pulled over on suspicion of illegal driving in the restricted lanes on 35W and Interstate 394.  


Despite the violations, MnDOT officials say the toll lanes are working as hoped: reducing congestion and smoothing out rush-hour flows.  

MnPASS doesn't come close to paying for itself because building the dedicated lanes and installing equipment to track vehicles cost tens of millions of dollars. In 2010, revenues from tolls and leases of the electronic gear brought in slightly more than the nearly $2 million cost of operating MnPASS.  

But MnDOT says the pay lanes were never intended to make a profit -- only manage traffic more efficiently so the state could reduce the need to spend even more money building highways.  

By that criteria, we need evidence that the HOT lanes have a higher vehicle throughput than general purpose lanes. I doubt this is the case (person throughput, sure with Buses; economic efficiency, sure its uses have a higher value of time; but not traffic). Whether any of that justifies the high capital costs is unclear. My colleague Jason Cao and others have done some estimates (see the powerpoint) which seems to show safety benefits (though this looks a really weak set of evidence since it does not account for secular trends in improving safety, has a very small sample of fatal crashes (which is good in that few people died, but bad for drawing conclusions) and is barely significant at the 10% confidence level).

In their analysis, excluding safety benefits, Benefits are less than Costs. The problem here is the use of the same value of time for MnPass and non-MnPass users. This is how agencies do Benefit Cost analyses, otherwise they would invest more to serve people with a high value of time (which is what a business would do), but since aside from MnPass High VoT people don't pay more, this is inequitable. Clearly MnPass users have a higher value of time, otherwise they would not pay. That same VoT assumption makes no sense in this case.

The agency says Minnesota will have only a fraction of the perhaps $40 billion needed for Twin Cities road projects over the next 20 years.  

"It's not a strategy for making revenues, it's a strategy for adjusting tolls to maintain performance," said Nick Thompson, director of policy and strategic initiatives at MnDOT.  

The state expects to add two miles of toll lanes next year to 35W in Burnsville and plans more MnPASS lanes on Interstate 35E and elsewhere in the Twin Cities. Drivers who want to travel in the restricted lanes without carpooling install electronic gear on their windshields to track tolls. Electronic highway signs post higher or lower tolls to discourage or encourage use of the restricted lanes depending on traffic flow.  

Tolls typically range from $1 to $4 during rush hours but can climb as high as $8, prompting some drivers to try to beat the system.  


But when electronic tolls arrived in 2005 on Interstate 394, it introduced a trickier dimension for law enforcement. MnDOT pays the State Patrol $450,000 a year to use high-tech sleuthing to detect possible violators. Their equipment detects whether a car in a lane has a toll transponder, and whether the account holder has paid recently. As many as 9 percent of drivers are violating the rules on 35W, and as many as 5 percent are violating on 394, MnDOT says.  

Troopers cited 223 motorists for driving without the MnPASS account needed for those who aren't carpooling, and gave warnings to 49.  

And 21 drivers who held MnPASS accounts were cited for misusing them to avoid paying tolls.  

So if I do my math correctly, the $450,000/(223+49+21)cost per citation is $1535? That seems really high, and not cost effective. Maybe there is some missing information here.

Eric Morris has a nice post on the Freakonomics blog: Seeing Red: Why L.A. Needs to Keep its Traffic Light Cameras

Policemen on the street, on the other hand, are vastly more invasive and potentially unjust because they are surveiling you when you are not breaking the law, have the ability to bust you on more severe charges emanating from a traffic stop (e.g. if you have drugs in the car), have fallible judgment about whether you were in the intersection, and have the ability to enforce the law selectively (e.g. racial profiling). If privacy is your concern it would actually be far better to have RLCs, but ban police from the streets. If you concede that it is kosher to have policemen on patrol I see little basis for arguing against RLCs, which are actually considerably more benign.

A major problem for RLCs is common to many public policies: those who are punished know who they are, but the beneficiaries do not. Also, it is hard to point to the benefits of something not happening. People who get tickets from RLCs are often bitter, and can turn into vocal enemies of the program. However, there are hundreds of people walking around today whose lives were saved by an RLC but will never know that they cheated death thanks to a camera. Consider that you might be one of them. Or if you really do hate RLCs, I’d suggest you fight back and teach those money-grubbing bureaucrats a lesson… by stopping at each and every red light.

Alas they are unconstitutional in Minnesota.

The City Fix has a nice report out: From Here to There: Marketing and Branding Public Transport .

I don't know how much of transit's problems are marketing, but certainly some of it is. It is not just advertising, but how we understand the system, how it fits with the market it aims to serve, and how that market responds to the interface transit presents.

Baltimore Accessibility Maps


We have mentioned the Access to Destinations maps here before.

Baltimore has a similar project which allows calculation of accessibility maps using TransCAD as a back end. This is part of the Environmental Justice in Transportation Toolkit.

Updated June 27, 2011 (at bottom)

The Pioneer Press reportsAnother potential shutdown casualty: Stillwater Lift Bridge

The Stillwater Lift Bridge would likely close during a state government shutdown, city officials have been told.

The employee who operates the bridge is not expected to be classified as critical, and the bridge would be left in the up position to allow river navigation.

It would close to traffic starting June 30.

About 18,000 cars use the lift bridge on an average day, said Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki, with 25,000 or so on peak summer weekends. Traffic would be routed over the Interstate 94 bridge.

Some points:

(1) This is of course stupid for a variety of reasons, and would not occur but for the needless politicization of transportation. No other public utility would find itself shut down because of the state budget problem. Imagine they turned off electricity, or water, or even transit.

(2) This will make an excellent experiment on the importance (or lack) of this bridge. If only someone were doing before, during, and after studies. Of course with the shutdown, no one would get paid to do a "during" study.

(3) The evidence that the facility is not considered "critical" is telling about its importance.

Update June 27, 2011 with Pioneer Press article

The Stillwater Lift Bridge could remain open even if a state government shutdown occurs Friday, Minnesota Department of Transportation officials said this morning.

MnDOT is including operation of the lift bridge as a core critical function in its contingency planning efforts, pending a final court ruling.

After consulting with public safety officials and healthcare providers over the past several days, MnDOT officials have determined that the lift bridge is a "core service critical to maintaining life and health safety," said Kevin Gutknecht, a spokesman for MnDOT.

"We looked pretty hard at that, and we understand the issues so it seemed to like a good thing to do," Gutknecht said. The lift bridge will remain open primarily to allow ambulance traffic to continue between Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Republican legislators have scheduled a 1 p.m. news conference near the bridge to urge Gov. Mark Dayton to continue delivery of critical services such as the bridge in the event of a government shutdown.

The news conference was planned before MnDOT made its announcement.

I guess MnDOT reads the blog and concluded the optics of a shutdown would look bad for this and for a potential replacement bridge.

Cap'n Transit posts: Cap'n Transit Rides Again: Schumer calls for horse "no ride" list in wake of terror plot

Schumer calls for horse "no ride" list in wake of terror plot

Sen. Charles Schumer called today for the creation of a "No Ride List" for American horses to prevent suspected terrorists from targeting the US equine system.


Photo: John Haeger, Oneida Daily Dispatch

The move follows reports from intelligence gathered at Osama bin Laden's compound that showed the Arabian Horse Association was considering attacks on US horses.

In a press conference at his New York City office, Schumer said he will begin pushing congressional appropriators to increase funding for rectal inspections of commuter and passenger horse systems, as well as heightened monitoring and support for security at local horse stables throughout the country.

The Democratic senator said he also asked the Department of Homeland Security to expand its Secure Flight program to stables, which would essentially create a "No Ride List" to prevent suspected terrorists from mounting horses.

Intelligence analysts who examined the documents seized from bin Laden's compound in Pakistan concluded that al Qaeda was considering attacks on high-profile dates, including the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the conclusion of the State of the Union address and high traffic holidays such as Christmas and New Year's Day, Schumer said.

"We must remain vigilant in protecting ourselves from future terror attacks, and when intelligence emerges that provides insight into potential vulnerabilities, we must act with speed," Schumer said.

Under the current program for airlines, travelers' names and other identifying information are cross-checked with the terror watch list to select passengers for enhanced screening and prevent possible terrorists from boarding planes.

Schumer wants that program to be applied to stables when passengers purchase their passage before mounting the horse.

Schumer noted that the nation's horse system transported 90,000 passengers in 2010 and carries 90,000 passengers every day on 90,000 different horses.

Not all horseback riders were enamored of the plan. "Sounds like a big load of horseshit to me," said noted equestrian 'Cap'n' Ignatius R. Transit. "Like something you'd read in the Post."

(Via Schneier on Security.)



Alexandra Lange at Design Observer does not like the New Apple HQ

Wouldn't it have been more radical for Apple to double down on an actual town? To act more like J. Irwin Miller in Columbus than CG chairman Frazar Wilde in Bloomfield. Miller hired Alexander Girard to spiff up Main Street, and masterminded adaptive reuse of the old storefronts to provide his employees and his neighbors what they needed in town. Cupertino leaders fell all over themselves in their desire to keep Apple's taxes in town, but wouldn't it be better to benefit from some of its knowledge and physical assets?

This is a classic trade-off. Interaction between people is of course good for generating ideas, productivity, etc. But which interactions, between which people, do you want to maximize: Interaction within the firm (a la Apple's HQ) or interaction between the firm and the outside world (Lange's proposed solution)? Given finite time budgets, more of one means less of the other. For Apple, with its secretiveness part of the formula of its success, the answer is obvious. For many universities, the issue is the same (town vs. gown), even without the profit motive. The most productive work-related random interactions I have are on-campus, not between me and some random town-folk (sorry Minneapolitans I meet on the street).

This is the same argument as Eric Raymond puts forth in The Cathedral and the Bazaar, which argues in favor of the Bazaar model of software development (which gives us Open Source products like Linux) rather than the Cathedral (Microsoft or Apple, e.g.). Open source and open content are good things (my Open source and open content projects include the Metropolitan Travel Survey Archive, Simulating Transportation for Realistic Education and Training, some wikibooks, and the Journal of Transport and Land Use), and interaction with the community is a good thing, for the community. As an employee of a not-for-profit University, I am enabled to do these community-benefitting works.

But if open dissipates the quality of internal interactions, or costs the profits necessary to justify a high fixed cost investment, the reasons for resistance are quite clear. Apple's business model is such that it cannot make large multi-year investments if someone else can get their ideas and come to market at the same time without the investment. In some areas, those with high fixed costs but low excludability (ideas are easy to steal and hard to protect, hence patents) and low rivalry (my possessing an idea does not prevent you from possessing it) require secrecy for development. If the fixed costs of development were low relative to the variable costs of production, the isolation and secrecy would be less critical, since the cost of production would be proportional to units made, that does not describe software, where all of the investment is up front.

The Linux strategy of openness works quite well at producing low-level operating systems (which underlie Android phones, servers, cable boxes, and airplane entertainment systems (see figure) among the countless other systems out there), but not well at User Interface, for that someone needs to come along and put something proprietary on top, or hardware/software integration. Google did a UI stack on top of Linux with Android and essentially gave it away in exchange for advertising revenue (if they are not selling to you, they are selling you). This is a different business model.



A cool redesign of the London Underground/ Railwaymap: here, I am not sure how I feel about it yet. The Union Jack is a bit gaudy, the Thames is a bit swirly, the zones are a bit too prominent. Compare with Harry Beck's original below.

(Via Lisa Schweitzer.)

Feat of feet of street


Getting Around Minneapolis reports on Feet of street :

The brilliant blog Mapping the Strait posted an infographic yesterday comparing the feet of street per resident of 8 American cities.

The metric is supposed to give an indication of the amount of infrastructure per resident, to augment standard persons per area measures of population density.

According to the Design Guidelines for Streets and Sidewalks, Minneapolis has 1,423 miles of roads and vehicle bridges, not counting freeways. My rough Google Earth measurement of freeways within city limits is 30.3 miles (that includes the part of 62 on the border but does not include highways 55 & 121 because I think they are in the city’s measurement, although that’s just a guess). That makes for 7,673,424 feet of streets and highways, or 20.1 feet for each of the 382,578 residents counted in the 2010 census. We’re closer to Detroit, Phoenix or San Antonio than Philadelphia, Los Angeles, or Chicago on this count.

That doesn’t seem to be an unreasonable result to me, although by measuring residents only you ignore the significant market for infrastructure represented by workers. In that case cities such as San Antonio or Houston that contain most of their employment catchment area in their city limits are going to be more accurately portrayed by this metric. One of the commenters at Mapping the Straight asked for this metric by area of paved surface – I think using lane feet would be better than centerline feet, but probably less widely available. Fun to think about anyway.

Wendell Cox at New Geography takes a look at the Brookings data in Transit: The 4 Percent Solution

He says:

Brookings did not examine a 30 minute transit work trip time. However, a bit of triangulation (Note 1) suggests that the 30 minute access figure would be in the range of 3 to 4 percent, at most about 4,000,000 jobs out of the more than 100 million in these metropolitan areas. At least 96 percent of jobs in the largest metropolitan areas would be inaccessible by transit in 30 minutes for the average resident.

He concludes:

More money cannot significantly increase transit access to jobs. Since 1980, transit spending (inflation adjusted) has risen five times as fast as transit ridership. A modest goal of doubling 30 minute job access to between 6 and 8 percent would require much more than double the $50 billion being spent on transit today.

Moreover, there is no point to pretending that traffic will get so bad that people will abandon their cars for transit (they haven't anywhere) or that high gas prices will force people to switch to transit. No one switches to transit for trips to places transit doesn't go or where it takes too long.

Nonetheless, transit performs an important niche role for commuters to some of the nation's largest downtown areas, such in New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. Approximately half or more of commuters to these downtowns travel there by transit and they account for nearly 40 percent of all transit commuters in the 50 largest urban areas.

Yet for 90 percent of employment outside downtown areas, transit is generally not the answer, and it cannot be made to be for any conceivable amount of money. If it were otherwise, comprehensive visions would already have been advanced to make transit competitive with cars across most of, not just a small part of metropolitan areas.

All of this is particularly important in light of the connection between economic growth and minimizing the time required to travel to jobs throughout the metropolitan area.

The new transit job access is important information for a Congress, elected officials, and a political system seeking ways out of an unprecedented fiscal crisis.

A four percent solution may solve 4 percent of the problem, but is incapable of solving the much larger 96 percent.

Police on his back

YouTube - bike lanes


(Via NT.)

260px Close packed spheres with umbrella light camerea (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Close-packing_of_spheres)

NPR says: Don't Believe Facebook; You Only Have 150 Friends and discusses Dunbar's number.

Dunbar says there are some neurological mechanisms in place to help us cope with the ever-growing amount of social connections life seems to require. Humans have the ability, for example, to facially recognize about 1,500 people. Now that would be an impressive number of Facebook friends.

Yet the problem with such a large number of "friends," Dunbar says, is that "relationships involved across very big units then become very casual — and don't have that deep meaning and sense of obligation and reciprocity that you have with your close friends."

One solution to that problem, he adds, can be seen in the modern military. Even as they create "supergroups" — battalions, regiments, divisions — most militaries are nonetheless able to maintain the sense of community felt at the 150-person company level.

"The answer has to come out of that," Dunbar says, "trying to create a greater sense of community.

Wikipedia says of Dunbar's number

Dunbar's number is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person. Proponents assert that numbers larger than this generally require more restrictive rules, laws, and enforced norms to maintain a stable, cohesive group. No precise value has been proposed for Dunbar's number. It has been proposed to lie between 100 and 230, with a commonly used value of 150. Dunbar's number states the number of people one knows and keeps social contact with, and it does not include the number of people known personally with a ceased social relationship, a number which might be much higher and likely depends on long-term memory size.

Dunbar's number was first proposed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who theorized that "this limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size, and that this in turn limits group size ... the limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity is simply on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained." On the periphery, the number also includes past colleagues such as high school friends with whom a person would want to reacquaint oneself if they met again.[3]

Christopher Allen writes about "The Dunbar Number as a Limit to Group Sizes", and posits various sizes are stable, and others unstable, focusing on online communities.

In 2-dimensions, one penny can be surrounded by exactly 6 pennies (of equal size) that it touches. A group of eight pennies will not be as stable as a group of seven (six plus one), since the eighth orbits the close packing of pennies. However if you can fill the second ring, then you can add 12 more pennies (for a total of 19).

Closest packing of circles, spheres, cubes, pyramids, etc, provides a certain number of linkages at degree 0, another number at degree 1, and so on. This is like the valence number of electrons around the nucleus of an atom. Some numbers are stable, others are + or - and less stable.

Does the Dunbar number correspond to any particular physical shape that is stable around 150, but falls apart if larger? This might help explain the limits and network topology of our neurology.

A new report from CTS: How Affordable is Transportation? A Context-Sensitive Framework

Yingling Fan, Arthur Huang
May 2011
Report no. CTS 11-12, Series: Transitway Impacts Research Program
Projects: How Affordable is Transportation? An Accessibility-Based Evaluation
Topics: Modes, Transit

Transportation affordability refers to the financial burden households bear in purchasing transportation services. Traditional measures, which focus on what share of household disposable income or total budget goes to transportation services, often fail to consider the wide variation in households' transportation needs and locational settings. In this project, we propose a contextualized transportation affordability analysis framework that differentiates population groups based upon their socio-demographics, the built environment, and the policy environment. The necessity of such a context-sensitive framework is demonstrated via a case study of the Twin Cities metropolitan area, which shows heterogeneity among different population groups in terms of their transportation needs and resource availability. The proposed context-sensitive framework points to two dilemmas associated with transportation affordability. First, the socio-economically disadvantaged group has the lowest auto ownership rate, yet its transportation needs are better served by automobiles. Second, while automobiles can reduce transportation hardship for the socio-economically disadvantaged, the existing auto-oriented urban landscape in the U.S. requires more travel for access to destinations, which leads to higher transportation costs. The dilemmas call for a multi-modal transportation solution: reducing societal auto dependence and providing financial subsidies for car access among disadvantaged populations are equally important to enhance transportation affordability and social welfare.


A couple of days ago from MPR (back when it was summer, not winter), but more fodder for the asphalt vs. concrete war: Heat buckles pavement, snarling Twin Cities traffic

"Heat buckles pavement, snarling Twin Cities traffic by Nancy Lebens, Minnesota Public Radio June 6, 2011

St. Paul, Minn. — The Minnesota Department of Transportation is warning motorists to watch out for roads that might buckle without warning.

MnDOT spokesman Kent Barnard said the heat and humidity had caused pavement to heave on some Twin Cities metro highways.

Monday afternoon lanes were closed in I-94 in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Barnard said heat damaged roads in more than 20 places.

Barnard said he has not heard of accidents associated with buckling pavement. But he'd heard reports of damage to cars.

Older concrete highways are more prone to heave up, as debris fills the cracks between the panels, leaving no place for the pavement to expand.

'The natural expansion places are filled up and so there is no place for that pavement to expand,' Barnard said. 'And the stress of that expansion looks for the weakest area. It could be another crack in the pavement or it could happen real close to where the expansion joint actually is.'

There's no way to predict exactly where pavement will heave. Barnard said motorists should watch the road and not tailgate.

While the roads are still prone to buckle yet through the evening, Barnard said they should be better by the Tuesday morning commute."

3-Way Street

3-Way Street from ronconcocacola on Vimeo.


3-Way Street from ronconcocacola on Vimeo.

Strib reports on I-94 repairs Driving I-94 from city to city now borderline nuts:

Now, I-94 motorists are discovering that the daily rush-hour between cities is being slowed by as much as 20 to 30 minutes thanks to the $23.9 million resurfacing and repair that runs for about four miles between Cretin Avenue in St. Paul and Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis.

The work on one of the busiest stretches of Twin Cities highway is expected to last until late fall before resuming again next spring.


Magee said the work is part of a plan to upgrade the road following the 2007 I-35W bridge collapse. Weeks after the disaster, a stretch of I-94 was re-striped to add a fourth lane in each direction as part of an emergency measure to cope with the traffic rerouted from 35W. The extra lanes were later made permanent with permission from the Federal Highway Administration, which required the state to complete the upgrades now under way, Magee said.

"Anybody who drives that road knows [the upgrades] needed to be done," said Kent Barnard, a MnDOT spokesman.

While I realize the scope is larger than what MnDOT did with I-94 after the I-35W Bridge Collapse
(1) That project was done and then undone
(2) It cost only $1,162,000 according to MnDOT 10.23.07
(3) It was done in a couple of weekends
(4) It functioned quite well at the time (i.e. this one lane in each direction reduced congestion about as much as the more expensive replacement I-35W Bridge).

I suspect this is just mostly redoing that project in more expensive way. We found that the 2007 I-94 lane restriping and some additional pavement paid off in a matter of a month. This contrasts with the reconstructed I-35W bridge, which at 3% interest rates paid off in about 23 years.

California Farmer reports that now All UC Campus Seminars Online

This would be a great thing if true. See http://seminars.uctv.tv/ Ironically, the article does not allow cut and paste. Somehow, I don't think it is quite all seminars though. I doubt it is even all online seminars. Still this is progress and would a good thing to emulate.


MTA.ME New York's subways in musical motion

GOODAn App That Organizes Your City by Travel Time : ""

Mapnificent is a Google Maps application that provides a brilliant new way of looking at your local geography. Rather than letting you specify a start point and end point and then giving you directions and travel time, as most map applications normally do, Mapnificent allows you to specify a starting location and then see all the places you can reach by public transportation within a certain amount of time. This lets you pick an apartment, restaurant, or bar based on the amount of travel time you can tolerate. Someone hire this Stefan Wehrmeyer fellow (and not just for the fun accent).

This sounds a lot like our Accessibility mapper for the Twin Cities, which is multi-modal and does more. I assume this works off of Google Transit Feeds, which seems a reasonable approach for scaling up. Of course the video focuses on jobs (great) and coffee shops, which is the irrational target destination of 20-something planner types.

Mapnificent from Stefan Wehrmeyer on Vimeo.

SFGate Reports Patri Friedman makes waves with 'seasteading' plan:

"Milton Friedman's grandson Patri has a vision that might have made the economist proud: to build a floating libertarian nation 12 miles off the coast of California.

Billed as "Burning Man meets Silicon Valley meets the water," the planned nation flotilla would be constructed on a variety of barges and water platforms within sight of San Francisco. It would include everything from homes, schools and hospitals to bikes for transportation and aqua farms for food.


Seasteading is necessary because in San Francisco, "the government isn't as efficient as it could be. Stuff just doesn't get done in a way that makes sense," says Bell. "Like Muni is so slow."


While I agree that SF is not the most efficient local municipality, you won't need Muni on a boat, also, I suspect boats aren't much faster after all is said and done.

"Friedman's mission is to open a political vacuum into which people can experiment with startup governments that are "consumer-oriented, constantly competing for citizens," he says.

"I envision tens of millions of people in an Apple or a Google country," where the high-tech giants would govern and residents would have no vote. "If people are allowed to opt in or out, you can have a successful dictatorship," the goateed Friedman says, wiggling his toes in pink Vibram slippers."

I trust Google with search, and Apple with phones, but I don't think I want them running the government. This sounds a lot like David Friedman, Machinery of Anarchy. Those interested in this in practice should visit Somalia.

More than 4,000 National Academies Press PDFs Now Available to Download for Free

But not TRB? TRB really needs to get on board with this.

From Freakonomics Blog: Airplane Seat Reclining: A Good Real-World Altruism Test? Quoting WaPo:

Before things got out of hand, it was a typical annoyance that happens once a flight gets airborne: A passenger hit the recline button and sent his seat intimately close to the lap of the guy sitting behind him.

What followed wasn’t typical at all: a smack to the head, peacemakers diving about the cabin to intervene and a pair of Air Force F-16 fighter jets scrambling into the night skies over Washington.
It happened late Sunday, just after a United Airlines Boeing 767 bound for Ghana with 144 passengers took off from Dulles International Airport.

Not long after the 10:44 p.m. departure for the overnight flight, the offending seat was lowered into the offended lap, and a fight ensued. A flight attendant and another passenger jumped in between, said sources familiar with the incident who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to provide details.

The pilot has complete authority over the aircraft, a United spokesman said, and he decided to return to Dulles to sort things out rather than continue the transatlantic flight to Ghana when he was unsure of the scope of the problem.

My sympathies with the smacker.

Yonah Freemark argues that Value Capture will be insufficient to fully fund a subway in Toronto: Sinking Dreams of a Privately-Funded Subway in Toronto, which is too bad. It would be nice however if Value Capture were at least partially used to fund lots of projects now paid for out of general revenue.

(Via Human Transit.)

(Also I am disappointed I did not get invited to this, though I couldn't go anyway.)


Updated June 3, changed Twitter ID.

In case you did not know, The Transportationist has been on Twitter for some time, basically auto-retweeting the blog via FriendFeed. But if you like your posts Twitterized, you can follow the Transportationist at @trnsprttnst . (The user name @transportationist was not allowed because it was too long!)


PNAS has an article relating GDP with luminosity: summarized in ScienceNOW Bright Lights, Rich Cities:

In the hope of finding an alternative means of measuring GDP, macroeconomists Xi Chen and William Nordhaus of Yale University turned to nighttime images of the globe taken by U.S. Air Force satellites. They overlaid a grid on these high-resolution images and measured the amount of light, or radiance, emanating from each cell. For countries that already provide economic information widely considered trustworthy, brighter radiance in a given region correlated tightly with a higher GDP in that region, the researchers report online today in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Using this data, the economists built a statistical model, correcting for certain variables such as location on a continent (reflections on large bodies of water can distort satellite images) and distortion of the image by the atmosphere, that then allowed them to estimate the GDP for countries with unclear economic status.


(Via WM)


Transportation For America has put out a new report and Map of Fatalities

DC Streetsblog has an article on the subject.

In short, while Missing Persons may have been correct that "Nobody walks in LA", Nobody should walk in Florida. As a pedestrian myself, I am pleased metropolitan Minneapolis is ranked 48 (which is relatively good) out of 52 US metros above 1 million population.

As with Bicycles, it seems the more people who walk to work, the safer walking is. (And the causation is likely to be mutual).

It is interesting to note:

Pedestrian fatalities have fallen at only half the rate of motorists, dropping by just over 14 percent during the period.

Two major reasons auto fatalities have dropped is safer vehicles (airbags, crash resistance, etc.) and better emergency medicine and response time. Clearly only the latter would play into pedestrian fatalities. These numbers suggest each factor is about equally important in the decline.

There is a Minnesota Go Channel‬‏ on YouTube

, featuring more videos about issues facing the transportation community. Well worth visiting. As noted previously, my video is here.

The Train Anthropomorphic

Victoria Chuggington Transporters Thomas There is a fascination with anthropomorphized trains among the younger set. My six year old is no longer interested in watching Thomas on TV, but still plays with trains and is totally absorbed by model railroads. We can't get Underground Ernie here in the US (even on torrent sites ... as we would say at Georgia Tech: "damn poor British pirates"), and Chuggington seems a cheap knockoff. Transporters aims to help children, especially autistic children, to read emotions, but somehow lacks the same entertainment value. The early years of Thomas were especially problematic in this regard as the train's faces were quite static, now CGI Thomas may have rectified this issue. I found this quote online from SFGate:
"Children's TV show characters that need to be fired: I have no clue how Sir Topham Hatt still has a job. The island of Sodor is the most inefficient and dangerously run railroad in history. I would rather ride in the Indiana Jones Temple of Doom mining cart than take a trip from Knapford to Tidmouth on any of those death traps." ...

Sir Topham Hatt ("Thomas & Friends"): Considering that Sir Topham Hatt seems to be more of a robber baron/dictator than a CEO, who has enslaved a bunch of anthropomorphic trains on his secret island, I'm thinking a firing might not go far enough. He really needs to be tried for war crimes. In any event, the Island of Sodor railways are so badly mismanaged and filled with preventable accidents, that it makes Muni look like the shining jewel of transportation safety by comparison. I'm especially annoyed by the fact that Sodor appears to have the broken-down infrastructure of a Third World country, but everyone dresses like English royalty. Fire Hatt!

I personally envision Sir Topham Hatt as a super-villain who needs to fight James Bond.

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

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