September 2011 Archives

At what time in the morning do drivers begin to obey traffic lights?

Early morning drivers seem more likely to run reds than later during rush hour. The reasons are obvious, who wants to be bossed around by a stupid lightbulb? Especially when there is little traffic.

- dml

Linklist: September 29, 2011

GigaOM: Wheelz: Car sharing for campuses : "On Wednesday a startup called Wheelz launched at Stanford University with the idea to bring student-to-student car sharing to campuses. "

James M. Whitty - Bloomberg: Gas Tax Should Yield to Mile Fee as Cars Evolve:

Bloomberg: Missouri Mayor Pitches Mercy Killing for Town [Disincorporation due to failure to realize economies of scale in very small town]

Linklist: September 28, 2011

Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience Topological Isomorphisms of Human Brain and Financial Market Networks | [Markets are sort of like brains]

BBC News: Bolivia highway protests spread, paralysing La Paz: "Tens of thousands of demonstrators in Bolivia have brought traffic to a standstill in central La Paz.They were protesting against the construction of a highway which would pass through a nature reserve in the Amazon. The Bolivian government says the road is essential for development and would encourage trade by linking remote communities to market towns. But indigenous communities fear it could encourage illegal settlements."

BBC News Saudi woman driver's lashing 'overturned by king': "Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has overturned a court ruling sentencing a woman to 10 lashes for breaking a ban on female drivers, reports say."

Science Friday: Scifri Videos: Physics Of The Riderless Bike:

Peak Truck

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From Calculated Risk, we see this chart

This sure looks like peak truck (if not peak freight). We (in the US) have been plateaued for about half a decade, from before the recession. This tracks well with other evidence for peak travel.

Linklist: September 27, 2011

China Daily Shanghai subway trains rear-end, over 240 injured

TechCrunch Google Taps Kleiner-Backed Inrix To Provide Real Time Traffic Data For Maps And Navigation Apps [after dropping their own service]

Strib: Minneapolis slips from No. 2 to 4 in bike commuting [Blaming the bad winter, curse you continuous surveys, why cannot you be conducted on a single Spring day as in the past]

Talk in Chicago

I will be presenting at CUPPA's Friday Forum:

" Network Structure and Travel Behavior"

Guest Speaker: Dr. David Levinson

Friday, September 30, 2011, 12:00pm
Room 110
412 S. Peoria Street
Chicago, IL 60607


Transportation networks have an underlying structure, defined by the layout, arrangement and the connectivity of the individual network elements, namely the road segments and their intersections. The differences in network structure exist among and between networks. This presentation argues that travellers perceive and respond to these differences in underlying network structure and complexity, resulting in differences in observed travel patterns. This hypothesized relationship between network structure and travel is analyzed using individual and aggregate level travel and network data from metropolitan regions across the U.S. Various measures of network structure, compiled from existing sources, are used to quantify the structure of street networks. The relation between these quantitative measures and travel is then identified using econometric models.

Linklist: September 26, 2011

Washington Post: The re-building of Tysons Corner and Tysons Corner Center’s oil pipeline from Alaska

Pioneer Press $4 million to make walking to school safer - and no one's walking: "Of 620 students at Bailey, not one walks - not even those who live one block away."

LA Times: Neutrino jokes hit Twittersphere faster than the speed of light: "-Neutrino. Knock knock."

NY Times: New York No Longer Has Worst Commuting Time : "Maryland moved into first place last year with an average of 31.82 minutes, compared with New York’s 31.27 — meaning that it took Marylanders about 33 seconds longer to get to work than New Yorkers." [This is state averages rather than metro]

Dan Sperling and Richard Forman in Solutions Journal: The Future of Roads: No Driving, No Emissions, Nature Reconnected : "Suppose we could move gloriously and quietly along in our own comfortable car compartment some 20 feet high between the trees, yet with no engine running, no fossil fuel use, no greenhouse gas emissions, and no need to watch the road (Figure 1). Or, we could zip along in channels dug just below ground level and topped with translucent covers. No unpredictable drivers to worry about or vehicles to crash into. No driver fatigue, indeed, no driving. Barely any traffic noise. We watch nature around us, remember the bad old days of polluting traffic, play family games, work on the computer, or read. When ready to return to ground level, we simply take manual control of our fully charged battery “pod” car and drive off on local roads to our destination."

TED: Dennis Hong: Making a car for blind drivers : "Using robotics, laser rangefinders, GPS and smart feedback tools, Dennis Hong is building a car for drivers who are blind. It's not a "self-driving" car, he's careful to note, but a car in which a non-sighted driver can determine speed, proximity and route -- and drive independently." [Oh just build the self-driving car already]

ABC: OnStar: GM Privacy Terms Say Company May Record Car Information, Even After Customers Cancel Service : ""

Linklist: September 26, 2011


Washington Post: The re-building of Tysons Corner and Tysons Corner Center’s oil pipeline from Alaska

Pioneer Press $4 million to make walking to school safer - and no one's walking: "Of 620 students at Bailey, not one walks - not even those who live one block away."

LA Times: Neutrino jokes hit Twittersphere faster than the speed of light: "-Neutrino. Knock knock."

NY Times: New York No Longer Has Worst Commuting Time : "Maryland moved into first place last year with an average of 31.82 minutes, compared with New York’s 31.27 — meaning that it took Marylanders about 33 seconds longer to get to work than New Yorkers." [This is state averages rather than metro]

Dan Sperling and Richard Forman in Solutions Journal: The Future of Roads: No Driving, No Emissions, Nature Reconnected : "Suppose we could move gloriously and quietly along in our own comfortable car compartment some 20 feet high between the trees, yet with no engine running, no fossil fuel use, no greenhouse gas emissions, and no need to watch the road (Figure 1). Or, we could zip along in channels dug just below ground level and topped with translucent covers. No unpredictable drivers to worry about or vehicles to crash into. No driver fatigue, indeed, no driving. Barely any traffic noise. We watch nature around us, remember the bad old days of polluting traffic, play family games, work on the computer, or read. When ready to return to ground level, we simply take manual control of our fully charged battery “pod” car and drive off on local roads to our destination."

TED: Dennis Hong: Making a car for blind drivers : "Using robotics, laser rangefinders, GPS and smart feedback tools, Dennis Hong is building a car for drivers who are blind. It's not a "self-driving" car, he's careful to note, but a car in which a non-sighted driver can determine speed, proximity and route -- and drive independently." [Oh just build the self-driving car already]

ABC: OnStar: GM Privacy Terms Say Company May Record Car Information, Even After Customers Cancel Service : ""

Linklist: September 23, 2011

The Economist: Colombia’s infrastructure: Bridging the gaps: "Its route includes an unpaved track that locals call the “trampoline of death”, running from Pasto, capital of the Nariño department, to Mocoa in the Andean foothills. "

Reihan Salam - The Agenda: A Few Thoughts on the Great Relocation Thesis :

"Noah Smith has written a post on what he calls the “Great Relocation.” I recommend reading it, in part because I’m going to skip summarizing his argument. I agree with most of Smith’s prescriptions, e.g., an increase in high-skilled immigration, promotion of urban density, investment in infrastructure, lowering trade barriers, etc. I’ll focus on disagreements.

(1) Smith refers to the “nonsensical anti-train animus” of conservatives. As a fan of rail, I think it is safe to say that I have no nonsensical anti-train animus. I am, however, wary of the nonsensical pro-train sentiments of some non-conservatives, who assign quasi-mystical powers to high-speed rail. As George Monbiot has observed, many of the environmental claims advanced on behalf of HSR are overblown, particularly when we factor in the carbon-intensive process of manufacturing rolling stock. I am not averse to sustainable HSR that requires limited public subsidy, but like Stephen Smith of Market Urbanism I tend to think that cost-effective investments in medium-speed rail are a more sensible first step. 

Moreover, I often think that nonsensical pro-train sentiments flow from a failure of imagination. If Stanford’s Sebastian Thrun succeeds in fostering the widespread adoption of self-driving cars, we could radically reduce the congestion and energy costs associated with personal vehicles. The CityCar concept advanced in Reinventing the Automobile could make dense urban areas far more energy efficient while medium-range inter-city distances could be traversed by “trains” of personal vehicles that are made available via sophisticated sharing platforms and that move at least as quickly as the Acela. The advantage of these pseudo-trains is drivers could stop and start their journeys at any time and at any given place on an extensive road network.

Rail has the great advantage of being able to haul heavy goods at a relatively low energy cost, which is why the rail freight business has proven so successful. But people are very light. The Federal Railroad Administration mandates that passenger trains be far heavier than is strictly necessary, which swells the costs of domestic passenger rail projects. It is also true that sophisticated collision detection systems will allow us to build lighter personal vehicles, thus reducing their energy costs as well.

Projecting today’s transportation technologies into the future is, in my view, a mistake. Smith references Cowen’s thesis (by way of Peter Thiel) that transportation technology has been stagnant in recent decades, which is true enough, particularly if we use speed as our sole metric. But my view is that the rise of “the mesh,” i.e., of sophisticated Internet- and GPS-enabled sharing platforms, represents a significant step forward in transportation, and that the advent of self-driving cars and “intelligent roads” will deliver impressive productivity gains." …

Prestressed Concrete brings us this movie: Paving the road of the future.

I feel validated


In the Twin Cities, if you go to a meeting at someone else's invitation, and parking is not free, you can often get it validated by the inviting agency. The Center for Transportation Studies often does this for guests at its meetings on campus. The Metropolitan Council does this for their meetings at their HQ in St. Paul.

However if you arrive by transit, you cannot get your parking validated, as you did not park at your destination. I have complained about this for a while, and the last couple of meetings, the Metropolitan Council (also the region's transit operator) has sent me transit passes in the mail. Thank you Met Council. This should be standard practice, and given at the time of the meeting, in the same breath as "do you need your parking validated" they should ask "or a transit pass". Especially if your goal is to increase regional transit use, it seems obvious you should not subsidize its competitor.

AP says: Driverless car navigates Berlin streets:

"By KIRSTEN GRIESHABER, Associated Press – Tue Sep 20, 10:52 am ET

BERLIN – It can talk, see, drive and no longer needs a human being to control it by remote. The car of the future — completely computer-controlled — is on the streets of Berlin.

All summer, researchers from the city's Free University have been testing the automobile around the German capital.

The vehicle maneuvers through traffic on its own using a sophisticated combination of devices, including a computer, electronics and a precision satellite navigation system in the trunk, a camera in the front, and laser scanners on the roof and around the front and rear bumpers.

"The vehicle can recognize other cars on the road, pedestrians, buildings and trees up to 70 meters (yards) around it and even see if the traffic lights ahead are red or green and react accordingly," Raul Rojas, the head of the university's research group for artificial intelligence, told reporters at a presentation Friday.
"In fact, the car's recognition and reaction to its environment is much faster than a human being's reaction."
The scientists have worked on their research car, a Volkswagen Passat worth euro400,000 ($551,800) with lots of built-in special technology, for four years.
Several other groups have also been working on such technology recently, notably Google, which has been testing a robotic Toyota Prius in Nevada.

"There's a big trend for completely computer-controlled cars — many companies and research centers in several countries are working on it and it is hard to say, who's got the most-developed vehicle at the moment," Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, a professor for automotive economics at the University of Duisburg-Essen, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Dudenhoeffer estimated that with the technology advances, it could only take another decade for the fully automatic cars to start becoming available for consumers. "Even today's cars are often partially computer-controlled, for example when it comes to parking or emergency brakes.""

Linklist: September 22, 2011

Tyler Cowen: Do all serious economists favor a carbon tax?: " I say no. While I personally favor such a policy, here are my reservations"

PC Magazine: NASA Unveils $1.6 Billion 'Space Taxi' Plan : "NASA on Monday unveiled a plan that will allocate $1.61 billion to private companies that will transport U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station and low Earth orbit. The program, which will run from July 2012 to April 2014, will provide funds to multiple companies, which must design and maintain spacecraft, launch vehicles, launch services, ground and mission operations, and recovery."

Transit 2.0



Transit has several sources of revenue. One of course is the farebox. Another is advertising. While this is relatively small, it could grow. A TRB funded study (TCRP 133) makes a number of recommendations to increase this share of revenue. Just as much content on the internet, in newspapers, and in magazines is subsidized by advertising, some transportation service is subsidized by advertising as well, and more could be. This phenomenon of advertising supported services is encapsulated in the famous recent quote "If you're not paying for it, you are the product."

Transit advertising comprises several major components. One I will call "internal" (the industry must have a term of art for this, but I don't see it) inside the vehicle or station, aimed at customers, the other ("external") is on the vehicle or outside at bus stops, bus benches, etc. aimed mostly at non-customers.

Historically, internal advertising has been static. With smart-payment cards, we now know who is on the vehicle or in station, and with RFID tags we could even know where they are sitting. Advertising could be customized.

Department store magnate John Wanamaker is reputed to have said "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half." But now, just as with the internet, advertising could be customized. Electronic screens instead of cardboard can provide dynamic advertising customized to both the transit user and the location of the vehicle. It should be more effective. It might be more profitable (if the ability to sell advertising outweighs the extra costs). Both captive and choice riders are the classic "captive" audience, they can turn their heads, but can't really escape.

Users should appreciate this because it can (1) be more useful [i.e. advertising is not inherently bad, it might inform you of a product you actually would want but were unaware of, or of a discount on the product], and (2) the extra revenue from the advertising can keep fares down.

There are other, less innovative, but still possibly lucrative sources of funds. Station naming rights are generally a bad idea from a wayfinding perspective, but station sponsorships (such as Apple in Chicago) may help.

One of my favorite local blogs is going to get much better. "Twin Cities Streets for People is entering a new era", go the site and Help us pick a new name! |

{Comments THERE Please}

Second Ave. Sagas From LI Bus, a case study in the purpose of transit discusses the financial sustainability of transit systems. New York City (and even the metro area as a whole) seems like a place transit services should turn a profit. Obviously they don't under the current regulatory regime, ownership structure, union arrangements etc. However, the demand is clearly there, and a driver and bus should be able to make something of it, just as taxis are profitable, and jitneys are (when they aren't shut down).


Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic writes A Note on Transportation Subsidies :

Why bring up these issues? Because Levinson describes a situation in which everyone has the option to pay the true cost of transportation services, but in fact many do not. A more efficient approach to ensure that people make the most cost-effective decisions might be one in which everyone got a reasonable amount of money to begin with, but we do not live in a particularly redistribution-inclined society.

So we are left with alternatives along the sidelines. We can crusade for the elimination of transportation services that cannot pay for themselves and in the process eliminate essential mobility for people who need to get around now, all the while hoping that the poor will at some point be handed adequate funds to make economically sound decisions. Or we can recognize reality and admit that transit services are at their core not just transportation organizations but also welfare providers.

This may be a disappointing conclusion, since it provides no insight as to how the state of funding for transit could be improved, but it does suggest that there is no way of getting around the fact that subsidies will continue to be needed in the running of public transportation unless some future technological advance reduces operations costs dramatically. There are plenty of ways to improve the performance and cost effectiveness of transit systems, but we cannot ignore the fact that transit plays an important redistributionist role.

Yonah is basically describing the problem of the first best and second best. He is arguing that because there are poor people, and society won't give them enough money directly, we should subsidize services for them. Clearly that is what we do. But what should we do for the poor?

In my order of preference.

1. Give them money (a la Milton Friedman's Negative Income Tax). It is a clean elegant solution that avoids distortions. Hence politicians don't like it.

2. If you don't trust the poor with money (and this seems to be society's attitude, since we don't actually give them money directly), give them transportation vouchers (e.g. top up their per use transit pass with $X per week, or give them a monthly pass, or some other mechanism). This can be discreet, so no one else would know who received vouchers, everyone would use the same pay-as-you-go card. It accomplishes the appropriate ends, without burdening the transit system with this welfare function. It also allows freedom to be spent on taxi or rental car as needed (if in cash-equivalent form), rather than just fixed-route transit. Just because some people are poor does not mean they don't have other transportation needs.

3. Only as a last resort should we distort an entire transportation mode and drive it into perpetual "crisis" mode for the sake of subsidizing a subset of users.

I realize I am idealizing things a bit, but if we don't idealize, we will never improve.

Just as roads are underfunded and we see congestion, because they are not priced properly and spending is too focused on expansion rather than preservation, a point that has been made numerous times on this blog, transit is underfunded and we see both crowding in some places and literally, (yes literally) empty buses in others, both of which are the consequence of severe misallocation of resources to achieve the what Jarrett Walker calls "coverage" aims.

I expect that the places that would see service dropped once you went to an appropriate funding model are not the poor inner-city areas, which are (or ought to be with appropriate management/regulation/etc.) profitable given the relatively high densities, but instead the suburban routes. In fact, the current model is largely a cross-subsidy from the poorer areas to the middle-class areas.

See Brian Taylor (1991) Unjust equity. Taylor's abstract says:

Federal subsidies of public transit, particularly transit operations, are declining and the responsibility for supporting transit is falling increasingly on states and localities. In California, the Transportation Development Act (TDA) has become the state's principal source of transit operating subsidies. It is found that the strict per capita allocation formulas of the TDA strongly favor lightly patronized suburban transit service over more heavily patronized service in the central cities. Transit riders in San Francisco, for example, receive a TDA subsidy of $0.13 per trip, whereas the TDA subsidy to transit patrons in suburban Livermore is over $5.00 per trip. The built-in suburban bias of the TDA is the result of partisan compromises made to secure passage of the Act in 1971--compromises to assuage a Republican governor opposed to new taxes--and to include the interests of rural and suburban counties. The result has been a proliferation in California of new, well-funded, and expanding suburban transit operators that attract few riders whereas older, heavily patronized central city transit operators are forced to cut service because of funding shortfalls. This paper concludes by proposing a more efficient and equitable method for allocating TDA funds than the current formula, which, in the name of equity, provides all Californians with a "fair share" of public transit whether or not they use it. [Emphasis added]

While the numbers have changed in 20 years, the basic observation stands.

The Boat Anthropomorphic

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We now move from air to water in our exploration of anthropomorphic vehicles.

TUGS is a British television series created by some of the David Mitton and Robert Cardona, who were heavily involved with Thomas and Friends.

This was succeeded by Theodore Tugboat, a Canadian series by Robert Cardona. While Ringo Starr narrated Thomas in its early years, Denny Doherty (of the Mamas and Papas) narrated Theodore.

A YouTube of TUGS (not available on DVD despite an earnest campaign (a similar problem faced by Shining Time Station) is below. I must say, if you are not British, the Tug Boat characters are hard to understand.

On Thomas itself, Bulstrode the Barge is an unfortunate character whose utility is destroyed by Percy and is turned into a playground.

The size of the pedestrian city


In a previous post I identified the size of the pedestrian city as on the order of 50,000, let's do this a bit more systematically.

Let's illustrate with some assumptions:

  • One-way Travel time budget (B) = 0.5 h
  • Walking speed (S) = 5 km/h
  • Walking network radius (Rn = S/B) = 2.5 km
  • Network circuity (C) = 1.25
  • Walking euclidean radius (Re = Rn/C) = 2 km
  • Walking euclidean area (potential) (Ae=Pr*Re^2) = 12.56 km^2
  • Population density (D) = 5,000 persons per km^2 [As a point of reference, the current population density of Manhattan is 27,485/km^2, which I would argue is only enabled by 19th century technologies like elevators and transit. Rome currently has a population density of 2,101/km^2]
  • Population within TTB threshold (P=D*Ae) 62,800

Obviously you can construct a spreadsheet and play with population densities, which are highly disputed in ancient times. One sees claims that the City of Rome in ancient times had a population of 1 million people, but it is unclear over what area that was measured, and some estimates of those densities far exceed the densities of modern elevator cities (like Manhattan). I believe it is possible that high crowding occurred, but I think it unlikely that such crowding extended over large areas.

Also one can have a pedestrian city that exceeds the one-way walking travel time budget, but not a city one interacts with on a daily basis. This is more the equivalent of adjacent and overlapping cities, and likely have multiple cores.

I seemed to have a stirred a hornet's net recently.

Jarrett Walker responds to (and deconstructs) my post at Human Transit Should transit agencies "retrench" to become "profitable"?:

I agree with almost all that Jarrett said. In short, we cannot be afraid of accounting.

I didn't think equity, welfare and redistribution were derisive terms, though I am sure there are more politically correct terms of art to talk about these things to avoid bruising egos (The term "coverage routes" which Jarrett prefers is just trying to ensure spatial equity, redistributing funds from areas where transit is profitable to those where it is not, a form of financial aid from the government, or "welfare payment" we might say.) Many coverage routes are just "suburban welfare". Admittedly the term welfare has become politicized in the US ("welfare queens", "corporate welfare"), but providing for the general welfare is a primary function of the US government and is in the Constitution. Welfare economics is a major branch of that field.

The point is not that transit should be profitable (though that would be nice), but that if it is useful, it should break-even (i.e. be financially sustainable without depending on others). If people are not willing to pay for the service, it is insufficiently useful. I think the public utility model is valid (and historically how transit had been organized in the first place).

Overall, I am neither of the anti-transit right nor the anti-transit left nor the pro-transit right nor the pro-transit left, not anti-road right nor anti-road left nor the pro-road right nor the pro-road left. I don't subscribe to modal warfare. I walk to work, live in a 5 person household with one car, two strollers, a trike, and a scooter, (and which would have a bicycle were it not stolen), have a GoTo Card in my wallet and use transit when necessary.

To this extent I am Hayekian (and small "l" libertarian), I cannot know what you want better than you can, there is an inherent data problem (Hayek's Fatal Conceit). Maybe you want transit, but maybe you would rather have the cash I am spending to provide you subsidized transit service so you can do something else with it. The only way to know what the best allocation of resources is, is to charge for things what they cost (at least to the extent we can figure it out, and the collection costs of charging are not too great - which are not trivial problems).

Cars need not fail for transit to succeed. Each mode has its use, the problem comes in deploying it where it doesn't fit (e.g. urban freeways, cars on campus, low volume fixed route transit). If we don't acknowledge the misfit, we will waste scarce resources (time and money) that could be better spent elsewhere. And let's not kid ourselves, these resources are scarce. If we don't acknowledge the subsidies and the cross-subsidies in the system, people will continue to behave inefficiently. The argument that because there are subsidies in other modes, we should have subsidies in our mode is wrong. Two wrongs don't make a right. A bad subsidy does not justify more of the same, it justifies removal.

Linklist: September 19, 2011

Sam Staley writes: Feds Rule Out Transit Efficiency With Labor Rules: "Unfortunately, transit agencies have been hamstrung by federal regulations from using this management and efficiency enhancing tool through Section 5333(b), Title 49 U.S. Code (formerly known as Section 13(c) of the Federal Transit Act). According to the U.S. Department of Labor, any time federal funds are using to “acquire, improve, or operate a transit system, Federal law requires arrangements to protect the rights of affected transit employees.” U.S. law Section 5333(b) “specifies that the arrangements must provide for the preservation of rights and benefits of employees under existing collective bargaining agreements, continuation of collective bargaining rights, protection of individual employees against a worsening of their positions in relation to their employment, assurances of employment to employees of acquired transit systems, priority of reemployment, and paid training or retraining programs.”"

Jeff Jacoby: The enemies of Jim Crow : "In a notable study published in the Journal of Economic History in 1986, economist Jennifer Roback showed that in one Southern city after another, private transit companies tried to scuttle segregation laws or simply chose to ignore them."

Roback said in her abstract:

"The introduction of segregation laws for municipal streetcars is examined. The economics of private and public segregation is analyzed first, taking note of the particular features of the streetcar industry, followed by a discussion of the contemporary debates on streetcar segregation laws in a number of southern cities. The evidence presented suggests that segregation laws were binding constraints and not simply the codification of customary practice. Furthermore, the streetcar companies were not the initiators of segregation and sometimes actively resisted it. These findings are related to several major interpretations of the origins of segregation."

Audi ad


MediaPost reports on an Audi ad I spotted yesterday during a football game: : "A second execution points out that highway repair is underfunded, costing drivers $67 billion per year. The ads with the tagline "The road is now an intelligent place" will run in national and cable buys with print in national newspapers and online beginning this month."

Underfunded highways is a selling point for upgraded cars. This is really fascinating. Maybe we should just fix the roads. If anyone has a video of the ad, please let me know. Thanks to Mike Hicks for finding the link


Seattle Transit Blog: Metro’s New Bus Stop Signs. This is what I am talking about. While not perfect (London still seems a bit better), Seattle is hands over fist better than what Twin Cities Metro Transit uses at the vast majority of its bus stops in the Twin Cities (see video below from The Transit Camera). Transit mode work share in metro Seattle 8.7%, metro Minneapolis 4.7% (2009 ACS). Obviously the signs did not do all of that, but it is one important factor among many. And this is without a significant rail network. Bus Stop Signs are cheaper than track.

(Via Greater Greater Washington [DC].)

Linklist: September 17, 2011

David Brin: Libertarians and Conservatives must choose: Competitive Enterprise or Idolatry of Property: "Elsewhere I’ve called the Enlightenment’s principal tool Reciprocal Accountability (RA). But it really is just another way to say "get everybody competing." By dividing and separating power and -- more importantly -- empowering the majority with education, health, rights and knowledge, we enabled vast numbers of people to participate in markets, democracy and science. This has had twin effects, never seen in earlier cultures.

1) It means everybody can find out when a person stumbles onto something cool, better or right, even if that person came from a poor background.

2) It allows us to hold each other accountable for things that are wrong, worse or uncool, even when the bad idea comes at us from someone mighty.

The above led me to John Robb: Central Planning and The Fall of the US Empire: "One of the most interesting underlying reasons for the decline of the Soviet Union, and soon the US, is misallocation of resources due to a reliance on central planning. ... an extreme concentration of wealth at the center of our market economy has led to a form of central planning.   The concentration of wealth is now in so few hands and is so extreme in degree, that the combined liquid financial power of all of those not in this small group is inconsequential to determining the direction of the economy.   As a result, we now have the equivalent of centralized planning in global marketplaces.  A few thousand extremely wealthy people making decisions on the allocation of our collective wealth.  The result was inevitable:  gross misallocation across all facets of the private economy. "

Frederick Melo at Pioneer Press Sibley Bike Depot introduces low-income adults to bicycling's joys: "Thirteen years later, Tanzman - now development and outreach coordinator for the Sibley Bike Depot on University Avenue in St. Paul - is trying to regift that experience to a new generation of bikers, ones who aren't necessarily white, male, college-educated 20somethings like himself."

David Brooks in NYT says something I am not annoyed by: The Planning Fallacy : "In his forthcoming book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” (I’ll write more about it in a couple of weeks), Kahneman calls this the planning fallacy. Most people overrate their own abilities and exaggerate their capacity to shape the future. That’s fine. Optimistic people rise in this world. The problem comes when these optimists don’t look at themselves objectively from the outside."

Transit and road congestion


You often see claims that transit project X will reduce/alleviate/eliminate traffic congestion. E.g. This article discussing the issue

First this is usually wrong. Most transit users would not otherwise drive themselves. E.g. The 2004 Metrotransit strike could not be detected in the traffic counts. Most displaced users carpooled, walked, or biked. That is not to say there was no hardship, there was, but it was felt by transit users not drivers.

Second congestion reduction is not a good reason to support transit, anymore than claiming a new road will reduce crowding on the bus.

The purpose of transit is also not economic development, though that might occur as some people will pay a premium to live in places or work in places with good transit service. This indicates a willingness to pay above the fare being charged as well as an option value.

The purpose of transit is moving people from A to B who want (and/or don't have a good alternative) to use transit. Their willingness to pay for that trip is the primary (and perhaps dominant) benefit transit provides.

All else is noise.

- dml

Linklist: September 16, 2011

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Richard Florida edits: The Atlantic Cities, a new site with lots of content.

Andrew Odlyzko's 4th in his series on the Railway Mania: Charles Mackay’s own extraordinary popular delusions and the Railway Mania

"Abstract. Charles Mackay’s book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds enjoys extraordinarily high renown in the financial industry and among the press and the public. It also has an extraordinarily low reputation among historians.

This paper argues that Mackay’s sins of commission were dwarfed by his sins of omission. He lived through several giant investment manias in Britain, yet he did not discuss them in his books. An investigation of Mackay’s newspaper writings shows that he was one of the most ardent cheerleaders for the Railway Mania, the greatest and most destructive of these episodes of extreme investor exuberance.

Mackay’s story provides another example of a renowned expert on bubbles who decides that “this time is different.” His moves through a sequence of delusions help explain the length and damage of the Railway Mania. He was a free market and technology enthusiast, and faced many issues that are important today, such as government ownership or regulation, interconnection, standardization, structural separation, and analogs to net neutrality. A crushing national debt and high unemployment in an economy pulling out of a deep depression (and in perceived danger of falling into another one) were very important in shaping attitudes towards railway expansion. The analogies and contrasts between Mackay’s time and ours are instructive."

Mass transit systems in the United States are collectively losing money hand over fist. Yet many individual routes (including bus routes) earn enough to pay their own operating (and even capital costs). But like bad mortgages contaminating the good, money-losing transit routes are bogging down the system.

We can divide individual systems into three sets of routes:

1. Those routes break-even or profit financially (at a given fare). This is the "core".

2. Those lines which are necessary for the core routes to break-even, and collectively help the set of routes break-even. These are the "feeders".

3. Those lines which lose money, and whose absence would not eliminate profitability on other routes. These money-losers are a welfare program. We might politely call them "equity" routes.

Mass (or public) transit agencies are transportation organizations first, not welfare organizations. They should be considered public utilities rather than departments of government, which provide a useful service for a price to their users.

My thesis is that the local transit systems should identify and propose to retrench to the financially sustainable system, and present local politicians with a choice.

If local politicians want additional "equity" services, they should be presented with a cost of subsidy per line, and then can collectively choose which lines to finance out of general revenue, as this is primarily a welfare rather than an transportation function. In other words, public transit organizations would present the public with a bill for these money-losing services (the subsidy required in order to at least break even on operating them (i.e. the difference between their revenue and their cost), and not be expected to pay for them out of operating revenue.

If the cost of those lines is deemed too expensive (i.e. the politicians are unwilling to pay for them with general revenue tax dollars), they should be canceled. Transit agencies would no longer be losing money, they would now be break-even or slightly profitable. They might even pay a dividend to their owners (the general public).

General revenue (the treasury) would of course now be losing money, we didn't pull money from thin air, but since this is a social welfare/redistribution function, that is perfectly appropriate. This would entirely change public and political perception of transit services. It might also result in fewer bad routes being funded, since it would be crystal clear where the subsidies lay.

The which routes to fund decision should be revisited periodically (e.g. biannually).

Transit fares should be set at a sufficient level to at least break-even on the above system (plus a small positive rate of return).

If these fares are too high, politicians should give poor people money directly. It makes more sense to do that than to subsidize people who are perfectly capable of paying so that some group doesn't face a full cost they cannot pay. If they don't want to give poor people money (e.g. because they don't true poor people with cash, or fear they would use the money for something other than transit (like, say food, or housing, or heat)), they should top-up their transit smartcard (e.g. by adding funds weekly). These funds would come from a separate government agency (let's call it the "Transportation Opportunities Office") which is completely separate from the transit organization. The poor people would use the same smartcard as everyone else, so no public stigma is attached to using the card. Moving towards smartcard systems is efficient all around, saving boarding times and reducing transit run times.

Finally, these public transit utilities should have the freedom to contract with other organizations to provide services, much as London contracts out its routes.

Linklist: September 14, 2011


Richard's Real Estate and Urban Economics Blog: If the Walt Disney Company ran LA Metro...: "If the Walt Disney Company ran LA Metro... People would pay $80 a day to leave their cars in a garage, and then walk from one mode of rail transit to another.  And the rail trips would leave you where you started."

Donald Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek does not like government subsidies: Crony Capitalism 101: "Save for the one transcontinental line that received virtually no subsidies (J.J. Hill’s Great Northern), the building and operation of the other three lines were contaminated with graft, fraud, and corruption – of which the Credit Mobilier scandal is only the most famous instance. And on top of these shenanigans that predictably happen when government doles out subsidies were other, equally predictable results: shoddy construction, bloated costs, and inefficient and unsafe operation of the lines."

Toyota debuts plug-in Prius Hybrid and hopes to sell plenty of them - SlashGear: "The new cells will give the plug-in Prius a driving range on the battery only of 14.3 miles at 53 mph."

[This is obviously not much use on Intercity trips, but covers more than half of all local trips (which according to the NHTS average under 10 miles, Table 5]

MnDaily reports on: High-speed rail to Duluth gains steam

I get quoted.

The project’s estimated price tag is $750 million. Bob Manzoline, with the Regional Rail Authority, said that NLX is expected to carry 800,000 passengers annually.

David Levinson, a University of Minnesota civil engineering professor and an expert in transportation studies, disagreed with Manzoline’s ridership estimate. He called NLX an “outrageous” idea.

“The speed is too slow, very few people live immediately on the line and the destinations aren’t that popular,” Levinson said.

Though he believes NLX will eventually be built, he guessed that other rail projects, such as the Bottineau Boulevard Transitway, Central Corridor light rail and the Southwest Transitway will take priority and will push NLX’s opening to somewhere around 2025.

Manzoline said he thinks students will have a “substantial impact” on the NLX’s ridership numbers.

In fall 2010, 643 University students were from cities like Duluth in St. Louis County, according to the Office of Institutional Research. Currently, half of all undergraduates at the University of Minnesota Duluth campus are originally from the Twin Cities metro area.

If you believe the cost estimate, the capital subsidy is about $1000 per annual passenger, or about $33 per passenger over 30 years (ignoring discounting). If you believe the advocates, it breaks even operationally. I wonder how the now profitable private bus companies feel about this government subsidized competition.

What is the best use of $750,000,000 ? (Ok, it beats a Vikings stadium). Money spent on inter-city transport cannot be spent on urban transport.

Also, this is not High-speed rail.

As of 2006 flights from Mpls to Duluth had 227,361 riders. There is of course a casino, and providing rail service directly to the Casino is important public policy worthy of subsidy.

Common Ground USA


Common Ground USA sends along the following announcement, which might of interest to value capture fans.

Help start a Twin Cities chapter of Common Ground USA, a nation-wide 501c3 group advocating "value capture" in public finance. To start a local chapter, 5 MN residents would need to pay the $36 annual Common Ground USA dues, but the chapter then is entitled to a $12/per member rebate. Chapters also get funding for start-up costs and $50 each year for holding an annual meeting. If you are interested in learning more, contact Rich Nymoen at RNymoen [at]

[I did not even know there was an advocacy group for value capture, which sounds great.]

Colored Buses

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Wikipedia has a brief article on the history of Green Line Coaches

Rather than coloring each bus route (or BRT service) as Metro Transit is proposing, London and other cities color code buses based on the type of service. Green Line was service to the country (which was greener than the city, which retains its Red Buses).

We can imagine a system which the different services (express, local) received special branding rather than the Right-of-Way. As CityFix reports on Korea quoting John Calimente:

The bus re-brand certainly helped. Calimente explains what each of the colors mean:
  • Blue buses travel long distances on major arterial roads.
  • Green buses operate as feeder buses to the eight lines on the subway system.
  • Red buses are express routes with limited stops connecting major suburban towns to the central city.
  • Yellow buses are circular routes that travel between the major destinations in the central city.
  • The colors in Korea denote function, and are actually the color of the buses. This isn't about way finding, for which colors are not terribly natural solutions, and lend themselves to problems if any complexity emerges.

    London and New York, among others, don't waste their time on color-coding lines. (i.e. it is the District Line, not the Green Line, because of history, even if it is confusing due to various splits.

    We are throwing away 7 years of history (and natural way-finding) by renaming Hiawatha. Wouldn't it be easier to rename Bottineau Blvd to Hiawatha Ave N and keep the LRT name? [I think the Bottineau name is fairly new in most parts, and most people seem to call it County 81.] Maybe we should call it Bottinwatha. (Okay, this is facetious, but the point remains).

    We introduce more confusion if buses transfer from one BRT to another (as Brandon suggests the Red Line buses going on 62 to I-35W), or LRT vehicles don't follow the color-coded right-of-way. DC is going through contortions now, with various train services not matching the color coded tracks. The service is the color, or the track? When they were identical, not an issue, now it is.

    The Helicopter Anthropomorphic





    Continuing our series about anthropomorphic vehicles, we must begin at the beginning, Sodor.

    "Harold the Helicopter is a character in the Railway Series books by the Rev. W. Awdry and Christopher Awdry and the television series Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends." "Harold is based on a Sikorsky S-55 helicopter."
    He is a bit snooty in the TV series (at least that is how George Carlin plays him), but turns out to be a fine chap and a good complement to the railways (i.e. he is more mobile, but of course cannot carry large loads economically).

    My wife informed me about Budgie the Little Helicopter "On release of the first book, [Sarah] Ferguson [the Duchess of York] was forced to deny she'd copied the idea for the series from the earlier Hector the Helicopter book by A.W. Baldwin". Her being a royal, and me being an anti-Monarchist, I want to believe she is guilty, but I really have no evidence, and how many anthropomorphic helicopter stories can there be (helicopter meets airplane - helicopter loses airplane (to that crime-fighting rapscallion Zeppelin the Blimp) - helicopter regains airplane, helicopter vs. nature, helicopter vs. himself, etc.)? This Hector the Helicopter is not to be confused with the Hector at, which is based at the American Helicopter Museum and Education Center. Budgie seems to be based on a Bell 206.

    I have both Budgie and Hector on order at Amazon, and will report back on the plagiarism charge. I have not seen the TV series based on Budgie, which sadly is available only in VHS but not a modern format (nor apparently on BT - maybe I should have searched for helicopterz). Some YouTube clips are available, I share the intro below. (There are anthropomorphic airplanes on Budgie, so those can be added to the previous entry).

    Linklist: September 12, 2011

    Via Marginal Revolution: Monopoly Property Value Calculator Centives. Calculate the value of properties in the game of Monopoly. Cool for those of us in the Value Capture arena.

    Steven Hauser: Transit Usability Articles An interesting set of links on usability on Metro Transit by someone who works at the U.

    From Felix Salmon via Bruce Schneier (Schneier on Security): Moving 211 Tons of Gold: " The security problems associated with moving $12B in gold from London to Venezuela.

    "It seems to me that Chávez has four main choices here. He can go the FT’s route, and just fly the gold to Caracas while insuring each shipment for its market value. He can go the Spanish route, and try to transport the gold himself, perhaps making use of the Venezuelan navy. He could attempt the mother of all repo transactions. Or he could get clever.


    Which leaves one final alternative. Gold is fungible, and people are actually willing to pay a premium to buy gold which is sitting in the Bank of England’s ultra-secure vaults. So why bother transporting that gold at all? Venezuela could enter into an intercontinental repo transaction, where it sells its gold in the Bank of England to some counterparty, and then promises to buy it all back at a modest discount, on condition that it’s physically delivered to the Venezuelan central bank in Caracas. It would then be up to the counterparty to work out how to get 211 tons of gold to Caracas by a certain date. That gold could be sourced anywhere in the world, and transported in any conceivable manner -- being much less predictable and transparent, those shipments would also be much harder to hijack.


    But here’s one last idea: why doesn’t Chávez crowdsource the problem? He could simply open a gold window at the Banco Central de Venezuela, where anybody at all could deliver standard gold bars. In return, the central bank would transfer to that person an equal number of gold bars in the custody of the Bank of England, plus a modest bounty of say 2% -- that’s over $15,000 per 400-ounce bar, at current rates.

    It would take a little while, but eventually the gold would start trickling in: if you’re willing to pay a constant premium of 2% over the market price for a good, you can be sure that the good in question will ultimately find its way to your door.
    Any other ideas?"


    Environmental and Urban Economics: Travel by Bikes in Cities:

    "Those who live closer to the city center and live in "environmentalist communities" are most likely to commute by bike. There is a network externality here. If more people in the community want to commute by bike, the local Mayor has a greater incentive to supply infrastructure to support this choice. As the Mayor invests public funds in improving biking as a commuting mode, more "bike types" will move to this city and more incumbent commuters will choose to commute by bike.

    So, this is really a commons issue of reallocating land away from other uses towards being "bike friendly". In China right now, the opposite trend is taking place. Public space that was used by bikes is now being grabbed by cars. Now , can't "we all get along"? This is an open question given that cars and bikes move at different speeds and that the laws of physics are well understood."

    Marginal Revolution: Cities as hotels : "Earlier this year I posted about India’s private city, Gurgaon. Gurgaon has grown from nothing to a city of 1.5 million people in just 30 years and it has done so based almost entirely on the private provision of public goods, including transportation, utilities, and security."



    I found this (see photo of Discover Central Corridor Coupon Book) littering my sidewalk. Yes littering. It was not placed in the mailbox (which I realize is a federal crime since it was not delivered by the USPS), it was tossed randomly onto my sidewalk like a newspaper, except it isn't a newspaper, I didn't subscribe, and hence it is littering. Wikipedia: "Litter consists of waste products such as containers, papers, and wrappers which have been disposed of without consent."

    Now I realize this is an attempt to market the businesses on the now quite disrupted University Avenue Corridor, which is to be avoided at all costs by motorists with alternatives due to the construction of the Central Corridor Green Line. Things have not been helped by the poor signal timing. And I realize helping shoppers shop here is "a good thing". They should deliver it in the mail with all of the other junk I receive instead of creating a new pile of junk, thereby minimizing the number of waste streams I must process.

    We now have three names for this corridor: University Avenue, Central Corridor, and Green Line. Promoting the jargonish "Central Corridor" was a mistake, given the already existing and separate Central Avenue which Minneapolis wants to make a streetcar line and the recent Metropolitan Council decision to call it the Green Line. (There were worse names, Puce comes to mind, but there were also better, such as Maroon (my vote), to tie it conceptually better to the University of Minnesota (whose school colors are Maroon and Gold) where it stops thrice. The U of Mn is the University for which University Avenue is named, and which would make it both easy to navigate on a map, but also give Minnesota's largest transit system (still to be renamed) a more notable identity across cities, at least among transit geeks and travelers. Every city has a Green Line and a Red Line, we could have been the only North American city with a Maroon Line (apparently Nottingham has a Maroon Line bus). I suppose the logic was, we would have been the largest city in North America without a "Green Line", and since we can only follow, not lead, we needed one.)

    It was nice to give BRT lines in the Twin Cities colors, while the flailing Northstar was implicitly demoted with a mere name and number, not a full-fledged color (which would have been misleading given its lack of midday or frequent service). I always thought Hiawatha LRT (now the abstract Blue Line, presumably because it will interline with Bottineau at some point) would be Yellow to match the livery.

    However this color scheme will make it more difficult to offer services from St. Paul to Maple Grove, or from Bloomington to Eden Prairie, either of which might turn out to be useful. One could easily imagine offering alternating services so people who were time flexible could avoid a needless 3 to 6 minute transfer in downtown MPLS. Shall we soon see the Aquamarine line and Turquoise line for these other combinations of Blue and Green?

    Link List: September 10, 2011

    Lynne Kiesling @ Knowledge Problem Be indomitable. Refuse to be terrorized. : "And to what end — how justified is this fear? High financial, human, cultural costs, to avert events that are one-quarter as likely as being struck by lightning. Some may criticize the performance of relative risk assessments between accidents and deliberate attacks, but it’s precisely these crucial relative risk assessments that enable us to recognize the unavoidable reality that neither accidents nor deliberate attacks can be prevented, and that to maintain both mental and financial balance we cannot delude ourselves about that, or give in to the panic that is the objective of the deliberate attacks in the first place. Thus the title of this post, which comes from two separate quotes from Bruce Schneier — the first from his excellent remarks at EPIC’s January The Stripping of Freedom event about the TSA’s use of x-ray body scanners, the second from his classic 2006 Wired essay of the same title:

    The point of terrorism is to cause terror, sometimes to further a political goal and sometimes out of sheer hatred. The people terrorists kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up planes, trains, markets or buses is not the goal; those are just tactics.

    The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act.

    And we’re doing exactly what the terrorists want."

    Reason Foundation - Out of Control Policy Blog > Airport Policy and Security Newsletter: Airport Security 10 Years After 9/11: "Although my airline friends will disagree, I've concluded that the cost of aviation security measures is somewhat analogous to insurance. If you engage in risky behavior (drive a sports car, live in a beach house, etc.) you expose yourself to higher risks, and you rightly pay somewhat more for the relevant kind of insurance. Likewise, while it's not the fault of air travelers or airlines that aviation is a high-profile terrorist target, the fact is that it is. So from a resource-allocation standpoint, I think a sector-specific user-tax approach is less bad than having general taxpayers pay for this." [and much other good stuff]

    The Long Now Blog » The Archive Team - Long Views: The Long Now Blog: "One of our favorite rogue digital archivists, Jason Scott, has just posted a video of his talk at DefCon 19 about The Archive Team exploits. This is perhaps the most eloquent (and freely peppered with profanity) explanations of the problems inherent with preserving our digital cultural heritage. He also describes in a fair amount of detail what he and The Archive Team have been doing to help remedy the problem." [On a related note, The Metropolitan Travel Survey Archive has had its funding re-upped for another year, so we have more archiving to do, hopefully under less stressful conditions than Jason Scott above]

    On the Jobs Speech - By Reihan Salam

    Reihan Salam On the Jobs Speech : "I don’t oppose the idea of an infrastructure bank, but the crucial question concerns how we structure an infrastructure bank. The best version of the proposal I’ve seen thus far is in “Fix It First, Expand It Second, Reward It Third,” by Matthew Kahn, one of my favorite economists, and David Levinson, a transportation scholar at the University of Minnesota. I draw heavily on their proposal in a forthcoming project. "

    Linklist: September 9, 2011

    Cafe Hayek on Infrastructure: Crumbling: "Whenever someone writes about infrastructure or bridges, they always use the word “crumbling” and say that we have neglected our infrastructure. We have to spend more, we’re told." [The money is not being spent wisely, why give more, they say. The point is valid. The other point, that infrastructure is aging in place and something must be done also remains valid. What that something is, is, unfortunately not what will be done.]

    Yahoo! News (via Marginal Revolution) German city introduces "tax meters" for prostitutes - [a tax (or is it a toll?) on (street)-walking]

    Linklist: September 8, 2011

    MnDaily: U to implement bike reward system [RFID Tracking comes to biking before cars, and it is voluntary, something to look at for Road Pricing]

    Inner Auto Parts History Of Crash Safety : " … While the jumble of confusing ordinances continued to plague pioneer motorists, a new wrinkle was added: the "speed trap." In smaller towns, particularly, marshals and other law officials lay in wait for unsuspecting drivers, timing them by stop-watch or "by guess and by gosh." Some lawmen were authorized to shoot at tires or to stretch chains or wire across the road. Until the motorcycle became a police vehicle, the local sheriff's office was somewhat limited in their pursuit of fleeing cars, since they were either on foot or on bicycles. … " [I really like this history for some reason, but I don't know where it originates, i.e. there are no references. I suspect it is not from Inner Auto Parts originally]

    KurzweilAI: Human gait could soon power portable electronics [Capturing kinetic energy rather than letting it dissipate into heat].

    Thomas A. Rubin, James E. Moore and Shin Lee cite Peter Gordon on the irreversibility of infrastructure, and why "no" is never finalTen myths about US urban rail systems Transport Policy Volume 6, Issue 1, January 1999, Pages 57-73. "Local transportation authorities understand well the political mechanisms available to them, and they continue to apply their misinformation tools with full cognizance and considerable effect. Voter propositions may fail, but there is nothing to prevent local authorities from studying their message, refining the marketing context of their appeals, and proceeding again. In the end, “They can lose as often as they have to. They only need to win once.” (Gordon, 1994)." Gordon, P., 1994. Conversation with authors, Los Angeles, CA. 14 July..

    Geography Coffee Hour

    I will be talking at the Geography Dept at the University of Minnesota tomorrow:

    Geography Coffee Hour:

    Date: 09/09/2011

    Time: 3:15 PM - 5:00 PM

    Location: 445 Blegen Hall

    Cost: Free

    We are looking forward to seeing you in the JSA room this Friday to hear about all things transport from David Levinson. He will be discussing: Network Structure and Travel Behaviour

    Bring your own mugs if you can!


    To request disability accommodations, please contact Glen Powell, Geography,, 612-625-6080.

    Beyond Density


    Ryan Avent in the NY Times: One Path to Better Jobs - More Density in Cities (His article is apparently based on his new Kindle Single Gated City, which I have not yet read). I have several comments.

    1. I like density. This is a personal preference. Being mostly (small "l") libertarian, I feel no need to impose this on others. If lots of people like density, they should create dense places, or hire developers to do this for them. If they are more productive in dense places and earn more money, or are more consumptive and get more value for money, they are even more incented to do so. I am all for fewer regulations so long as negative externalities associated with density (congestion, pollution, parking spillover, etc.) are properly internalized. The lack of good property rights, road pricing, parking pricing, pollution pricing, etc., however, has led communities to develop a regulatory rather than pricing approach. See: Zoning and Externalities.

    2. Population density of the earth, the United States, Minnesota, etc. increases over time if population increases and land area does not.

    2a. Density of suburban areas is increasing over time as they are transformed from farms to not-farms.

    2b. Local density may decrease as cities of fixed boundaries depopulate. Part of this problem is the fixity of boundaries, part is consumer's desires as shaped by markets and policies to consume areas with locally lower density.

    3. I think the most important part of this argument is backwards. The primary causality is that cities (metropolitan areas) with growth create density as people and firms are attracted to faster growing areas (NIMBYism is certainly a cost, but there is plenty of housing in the Bay Area that goes relatively undemanded, think of Oakland, much of which begs for gentrification. Clearly housing is not so dear as to cause people to do *that*.). Take away the growth and leave the built infrastructure and even the people and you have a decaying city which slowly (or quickly) depopulates.

    4. Accessibility vs. Density. Density of itself does not create growth (despite economic correlations suggesting otherwise - correlation is not causation) or lead to more productivity without a useful transportation system. This is why fast growing areas are auto-oriented in many places, cars are faster than transit under many land use pattern/road network configurations and connect to more places in less time.

    Accessibility is the product of both density and speed, how much one can reach in a given time. Certainly density helps increase accessibility to a point (where the benefits of more people are outweighed by the congestion/pollution costs, etc.), but so does a faster transportation network. At the point where connecting by personal transport fails, mass transport may be appropriate, and is certainly necessary for very large conurbations like New York. The pedestrian city maxes out at about 50,000 (see City of London c. 1800 - 1850).

    5. Density is quite low in many places he describes (Silicon Valley, rather than San Francisco, is the job engine of the Bay Area, Oakland has plenty of density compared with say Cupertino or Mountain View). But there is still plenty of accessibility by auto (if not by walking, biking, or transit).

    6. Some industries (finance, government, media) value the connectivity provided by accessibility more than others (agriculture, large scale manufacturing), and so are more likely to cluster together. It turns out, these are also presently the faster growing industries in the economy. Unfortunately the rules that help finance be more productive (concentrate everything in Manhattan or London) does not necessarily generalize to other industries or other cities. Those cities just don't get as many financial headquarters and offices, and don't see the growth in those sectors, and don't need the accessibility as much (the premium they are willing to pay for accessibility), and aren't as dense.

    Similarly, within metro areas, the old, dense, downtown retain the regional financial, legal, and government headquarters while the new suburban areas that don't value the propinquity get less, since the density is costly and the benefits for those in certain sectors is small.

    7. There is also the inter-firm vs. intra-firm spillover argument. Many large firms, like universities and hospitals, build campuses to capture internally the spillovers from the random contacts that accessibility brings. This might lead to less vibrancy and turmoil in the market sector, as there are fewer independent actors competing, but it is also a natural stage of development from birth to maturity in sectors. To obtain economies of scale, firms consolidate, and fewer and fewer firms capture more and more market share. Ultimately gales of creative destruction come and the stagnancy of the few firms leads to their own demise, but that is the natural order of things. If firms could never capture their downstream profits by growing large, no one would ever invest. After all, the first few years are much less profitable than those after the monopoly/oligopoly has been established. (And capitalism is not about free markets and free trade, it is about profit (not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that, but let's be honest)).

    There are thus natural cycles. Firm formation is naturally higher in some sectors, in some periods, and in some places than others. But the successes of dynamism lead to consolidation. Increasing density exogenously (or removing some regulatory constraints in a few places where they are binding) has very little to do with this.

    Linklist: September 7, 2011

    TPM Idea Lab: The World's Smallest Electric Motor Is Made From a Single Molecule "As for uses--oh, yeah, there are actual uses for this thing!--scientists believe that this molecule could further be developed into a motor to power nano-sized devices in fields such as medicine." [Very very small cars]

    TPM Muckraker: Wis. Official To DMV Employees: Don't Offer People Free Voter-ID Cards Unless They Ask [An unrecognized role of DMV, and transportation agencies, is establishing identity, and who gets to vote]

    KurzweilAI: NASA needs strategic plan to manage orbital debris efforts [See Quark (TV series)]

    Mail Online: Phase one of world's first commercial spaceport is now 90 per cent completed - in time for first flights in 2013 [Space will soon be a regular mode, just like maritime and biking (should NASA be part of USDOT?), but I would hate to see space commercialization derailed by orbital debris.]

    Layer 8: Air Force awards $25K to inventor of insanely fast device that stops fleeing cars [It goes 130 MPH]

    Lisa reviews our paper at Sustainable Cities and Transport: Levinson and Xie on First Mover Advantages in Networks

    New GIS toolbox for network analysis: Urban Network Analysis


    Figure 1-2 Transportation Experience

    The speed of travel is increasing over time. While we might argue about the rate at which speed is increasing, this long term observation is consistent with improving transportation technology.

    Suppose we model technological progress so that the speed of travel is increasing with a compound interest model

    V_t = V_{t-1}*\alpha

    Where \alpha > 1. (E.g. if speed were increasing at 1 percent compounded annually, alpha would be 1.01).

    Escape velocity at the surface of the earth is 11.2 km/s.

    According to Wikipedia "[Robert H.] Goddard and his team launched 34 rockets between 1926 and 1941, achieving altitudes as high as 2.6 km (1.62 miles) and speeds as high as 885 km/h (550 mph)." (246 m/s).

    In 1959, A Rocket by the Soviets hit the moon at 7,500 mph (3,352.8 m / s). It traveled 236,875 miles in about 35 hours, for an average speed of 3,025.5 m / s.

    In 2006, an Atlas V rocket launched toward Pluto is traveling at 36,000 MPH (16,093.44 m / s), taking 9 years (including a Jupiter slingshot).

    Proxima Centauri is 4.2 light years (~ 4.0 × 10^13 kilometers) from Earth, or 270,000 times more distant than the Sun.

    If we are currently able to travel at 16,000 m/s it would take 2.5x 10^12 seconds to reach Alpha Centauri (about 79000 years).

    However, we have maximum speed growing at a compound rate of about 3.39 percent annually (rising from 3,025 in 1959 to 16,093 in 2006). (\alpha ~ 1.0339) (In fact the rate was higher from Goddard to the Russians, and so may be dropping over time, but let's assume this rate is fixed).

    So we want to be able travel to Proxima Centauri in less than 79000 years, if we can maintain this rate of speed growth for 100 years, our speed would be 448,718 m/s, but if we wait 1000 years, our speed would be 4,815,654,367,278,682,000 m/s. Since the speed of light = 299,792,458 m / s, that is our upper limit (if we believe Einstein rather than Roddenberry). It turns out, that at 3.39 percent annual compound increase in speed, we reach a maximum speed of 298,736,235 m/s in 295 years from 2006, or the year 2301, and reach the speed of light exactly shortly thereafter (Tuesday afternoon, 5:53 pm).

    Hence, we should leave for the stars in 2301 to minimize travel time, reach them in 2305, and try to avoid destroying the Earth and/or Solar System before then. That will get us there far sooner than trying to leave much earlier.

    We could leave as early as 2240 and arrive in 2275, but if we wait until 2251, we still arrive in 2275. We save travel time each year we wait after that, but will arrive a bit later.

    The Plane Anthropomorphic





    Anthropomorphic vehicles are now a common theme on the Transportationist. But I am not alone. Apparently this is an entire art form in Japan. Here we review a few popular anthropomorphic planes.

    Jay Jay the Jet Plane, set in Tarrytown. Unlike the original Thomas the Tank Engine, I am sure Jay Jay was created by committee. You can imagine the conversation. "Hey PBS is looking for a new kids show. Anthropomorphic Trains are popular. What do American kids like better than trains. Yes, airplanes. Let's do that." No TSA in Tarrytown.

    [This of course is not as bad as the committee that developed Dinosaur Train (in which it is the dinosaurs, but not the trains, which were anthropomorphized). {To be fair, An article in the Post Gazette says "Series creator Craig Bartlett was inspired when he saw his son, now in college, playing with trains and dinosaurs together back when his son was in preschool.", I remain dubious, it smells of committee.}]

    Jeremy from Thomas the Tank Engine. You could see this coming from the new airport in Calling All Engines!, in which Jeremy did not appear.

    Planes, a spinoff of Cars, coming soon Direct to DVD from Disney [a sure sign of quality].

    Disney has explored this territory before, with the 1943 film Pedro!, in which "A small plane has to face the perils of delivering the mail over the treacherous Chilean Andes". I do not know if they will revive (this now antique, and presumably much older and wiser airplane) for the above movie.

    And of course this ad by

    Linklist: September 6, 2011

    | 1 Comment

    MARIA POPOVA at Nieman Journalism Lab Accessibility vs. access: How the rhetoric of “rare” is changing in the age of information abundance : "Historically, the two main types of obstacles to information discovery have been barriers of awareness, which encompass all the information we can’t access because we simply don’t know about its existence in the first place, and barriers of accessibility, which refer to the information we do know is out there but remains outside of our practical, infrastructural or legal reach. What the digital convergence has done is solve the latter, by bringing much previously inaccessible information into the public domain, made the former worse in the process, by increasing the net amount of information available to us and thus creating a wealth of information we can’t humanly be aware of due to our cognitive and temporal limitations, and added a third barrier — a barrier of motivation.

    Here’s roughly how it works: I love biking and used to live in Philadelphia, home to one of the largest connected bike trails in North America. One year, I decided to move to an apartment that was tragically outside of my budget and far from where most of my friends lived, but it was right off one of the bike trails, so I figured it would be worth it — I figured that because the trail was so easily accessible to me, I’d access it frequently, a lifestyle premium I’d be willing to sacrifice other things for. In the years prior to moving, I lived much farther from the trail, but would bike there at least once every couple of months. And what happened when I moved closer? I went biking a total of once during the 18 months I lived there. Why? Because the trail was so readily available to me that I no longer had that nagging motivation to make time for it and actively pursue it."

    Sam Staley @ Planetizen Are TODs Really PODs? : "For a while now, I've wondered if we have been mislabeling the development around well functioning transit stops as transit-oriented developments (TODs). ... So, what explains the increase in property values? I believe it's the pedestrian access. "

    The Economist Boarding planes efficiently: Attention airlines: Please don't board by rows : "A scientist has proven what veteran business travellers long suspected: boarding planes by row is a terrible idea (PDF). Jason Steffen, who works at the Fermilab Center for Particle Astrophysics, conducted an experiment in which he asked 72 "passengers"—luggage and all—to board a Boeing 757 using several different methods."

    In a more developmental stage than our previous wikibooks, Transportation Geography and Network Science was developed by myself and students in my class of the same name this past Spring. Clearly there are many topics yet to be developed here, and the book is nowhere near as complete as the others. The book welcomes your attention. I hope future classes may be able to develop this further. Many of the links in the Table of Contents below are classic wiki 'red links' (which don't show up here as red) indicating they are yet to be written. But if you have ideas, please incorporate them.

    Introductory Material


    Characterizing Networks

    Network topologies

    Network technologies

    Flows and Walks

    Evolving Networks

    Networks and Travel Behavior

    Networks and biology


    Linklist: September 2, 2011

    The Economist: Infrastructure projects: The great train robbery : "High-speed rail lines rarely pay their way. Britain’s government should ditch its plan to build one"

    Research America: Research and the AP Top 25 gives research highlights of the NCAA Top 25 football schools. "20. Mississippi State. Higher gas prices mean fewer accidents – one of the few positive byproducts of paying more at the pump. Researchers, led by Guangqing Chi, PhD, analyzed factors leading to auto accidents between April 2004 and December 2008, tracking those numbers with gas prices. Chi and the other researchers noted an overall decline in drunk driving accidents, as well as lower short-term accident rates for younger drives and lower intermediate-term accident rates for older drivers and men."

    CNN: Insomnia costs U.S. $63 billion annually in lost productivity "Researchers surveyed 7,428 employed people across the U.S. and found that 23% experienced some form of insomnia -- such as difficulty falling asleep or nighttime waking -- at least three times a week during the previous month, for at least 30 minutes at a stretch. Not surprisingly, these sleep problems carried over into the workplace. Insomniacs were no more likely than their well-rested peers to miss work, but they were so consistently tired on the job that they cost their employers the equivalent of 7.8 days of work in lost productivity each year -- an amount equal to an average of about $2,280 in salary per person."

    Azul -

    The Little Engine That Could  -

    We previously discussed The Train Anthropomorphic, noting Thomas, Chuggingtons, Underground Ernie, and Transporters. I somehow missed two additional obvious examples.

    The first is clearly a Thomas knockoff: Azul the Train in Dora the Explorer.

    The Little Engine That Could - a story most famously conveyed by an author under the pen name "Watty Piper". This has been recently remade (2011) as a direct to DVD movie featuring Whoppi Goldberg (available on Netflix streaming). An earlier animated version (1991) achieved cult status in Wales.

    Wikibook: Transportation Economics

    In our continuing series, Better know a wikibook, meet Transportation Economics. This was based on materials developed by me, Michael Iacono, David Gillen, and others, and is used for my graduate Transportation Economics class.


    Industrial Organization


    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

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    About this Archive

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