April 2012 Archives

How to pay for the Vikings stadium is the topic of the hour here in GreaterMSP. I have another solution that has not been broached to recover part of the $77 per ticket subsidy.

Let us establish a Congestion Zone around the proposed Minnesota Sports Complex, which is in effect on game days only (and could be extended for other special events). Drive into this zone on game days and pay $100 $150 (assuming an auto occupancy of about 2, and most fans drive) as a congestion charge. As with the London Congestion Zone, on which it is loosely modeled, residents would get a discount. This would ensure people driving to the game, regardless of where they park, would have to pay.

The funds earned would pay for administering the zone and the new stadium. Wilf would have no say in the matter. I have put a first draft of the zone boundaries on the Google map below, but obviously this could be discussed (should it extend to Cedar-Riverside or to St. Anthony Main? I am counting on the inherent laziness of Vikings fans being unwilling to walk to counter-act their inherent frugality. Every entrance to the zone would be cordoned, starting say 10 am on game days, and running until say the end of the first quarter, and people would have to pay to enter the area or produce evidence of residence.

Fans coming by transit, foot, or bicycle would be exempted.

Obviously there would need to be some new legal framework established for this.

View Vikings Congestion Zone in a larger map

Linklist: April 30, 2012

New Scientist: One Per Cent: Expressive car sends its 'emotions' ahead

Tyler Cowan notes: Amy Finkelstein wins the John Bates Clark award. Transportationistas may remember her mention here for her work on E-Z Tax

Wikipedia: Rocket mail

Arnold Kling: My Thoughts on Technology and :

"I think that urbanization increases the demand for government. When people are crowded together, many more externalities are created. Water and sewage management become a huge deal. So does planning a road and transportation system.

Technology for long-distance trade also increases the demand for standardization and enforcement of standards. That is likely to raise the demand for government."

Jason Scheppers writes in at Kids Prefer Cheese: We Get Letters: Polls on I-95. The general point is that if a road is uncongested, and tolls are imposed which reduce use, this is a welfare loss. This is why we should continue to use average rather than marginal cost payment systems for uncongested roads (which is most of them), like the flat mileage-based user fee (in the future), gas tax or worse, property taxes. We still need to pay for the road if it is a worthwhile part of the network, but differential tolls or tolls on some uncongested roads but not others are not terribly efficient (though it may be profitable for the toll collector). The beauty of the gas tax (over the property tax) is that it better gets at road users in proportion to use.

Recently published:

Transportation systems are built with the intention to serve communities by providing accessibility and mobility. Yet seniors residing in these communities face different challenges compared to regular commuters. Seniors have special needs in terms of desired destinations and challenges faced due to limitations in mobility and decline of accessibility levels where they reside. In this research paper we discuss major findings from a mail-out mail-in survey conducted in Hennepin County, Minnesota to measuring met and unmet urban transportation needs of seniors. Compared to previous research this study uses primary collected data rather than relying on travel surveys, which does not measure the unmet urban transportation needs of seniors. The findings from this survey is consistent in term of measuring the existing travel behavior of seniors, which raises our confidence in the information being collected related to the unmet transportation needs of seniors. Seniors are found to be generally independent and rely mainly on auto usage to reach desired destinations at higher rates compared to the rest of the population. The majority of seniors reported although they are currently independent they do know that such independency is not permanent and they have to learn more about alternatives available to them. This study helps transportation engineers and planners in better understanding the current and future challenges that they will face with an aging population.

Linklist: April 27, 2012

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From DW: Road Rents not Road Rage. A short clip from youtube that points to a more efficient transport system.

Jim Foti (The Road Guy) asks @ MPR: Having a pro football team may make us feel good, but is it worth it?

PZ sends me to: Strollerderby who asks: Was There a Carmagedoon Baby Boom in Los Angeles?

Wired: As Interest in Autonomous Cars Rises, Google Shops For Automaker Partners:

"A study released by J.D. Power and Associates shows that 1 in 5 consumers would purchase a vehicle equipped with autonomous driving capabilities. The report comes days after Google expressed interest in partnering with automakers to bring the technology to market."

The Onion Transit Issue. It is moderately amusing, and well worth reading if you find a copy on the floor of the bus and your earphones broke and you finished your book.

The new issue of the Journal of Transport and Land Use 5(1) has landed. Inside are:

Introduction to the Special Issue on Value Capture for Transportation Finance

by David Levinson and Jerry Zhao

This special issue includes 5 articles on value capture strategies used in transportation finance.

Joint Development as a Value Capture Strategy in Transportation Finance

by Zhirong Jerry Zhao, Kirti Vardhan Das, Kerstin Larson

This article examines joint development as a value capture strategy for funding public transportation. We start from the concept of joint development, its rationale, a brief history, and the extent of its use. Joint development projects in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tokyo, and Thailand are profiled, as well as domestic examples in Washington, DC, New York, NY, and Portland, OR, etc. Then we provide a framework to classify joint development models by ownerships (public or private) and by types of transaction (real property or development rights). Next, joint development is evaluated along four revenue criteria including efficiency, equity, sustainability and feasibility. Finally, we summarize the advantages and disadvantages of joint development as a transportation finance strategy, and provide recommendations for policy consideration or implementation.

Rail integrated communities in Tokyo

by John Calimente

Tokyo’s railway station areas are models of transit-oriented design. To differentiate them from transit-oriented developments (TOD), the term rail integrated community (RIC) has been created to describe these high density, safe, mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly developments around railway stations that act as community hubs, served by frequent, all-day, rail rapid transit and are accessed primarily on foot, by bicycle, or by public transit. Japanese private railways have been instrumental in creating these RICs. Though they receive little financial support from the government, private railways in Japan achieve profitability by diversifying into real estate, retail, and numerous other businesses. Tokyu Corporation is used as the case study to exemplify how government policy and socioeconomic context contributed to the successful private railway model. Ten indicators, such as ridership, population density and mode share are used to analyze two stations created by Tokyu to demonstrate how this model is manifested in Tokyu’s rail integrated communities.

Prospects for transportation utility fees

by Jason Junge and David Levinson

Transportation utility fees are a financing mechanism for transportation that treats the network as a utility and bills properties in proportion to their use, rather than their value as with the property tax. This connects the costs of maintaining the infrastructure more directly to the benefits received from mobility and access to the system. The fees are based on trips generated and vary with land use. This paper evaluates the fees as an alternative funding source in terms of economic, equity and administrative effects. The experiences of cities currently using utility fees for transportation are discussed. Calculations are included to determine the fee levels necessary for transportation maintenance budget needs in three sample cities and a county in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Proposed fees for each property type are compared to current property tax contributions toward transportation. The regressive effects of the fees and the effect of adjusting for the length of trips generated are also quantified.

Financing transportation with land value taxes: Effects on development intensity

by Jason Junge and David Levinson

A significant portion of local transportation funding comes from the property tax. The tax is conventionally assessed on both land and buildings, but transportation increases only the value of the land. A more direct, efficient way to fund transportation projects is to tax land at a higher rate than buildings. The lower tax on buildings would allow owners to retain more of the profits of their investment in construction, and have the expected side effect of increased development intensity. A partial equilibrium simulation is created for Minneapolis, Richfield and Bloomington, Minnesota to determine the intensity effects of various levels of split-rate property taxes for both residential and nonresidential development. The results indicate that split-rate taxes would lead to higher density for both types of development in all three cities.

The value capture potential of the Lisbon Subway

by Luis Miguel Garrido Martínez and Jose Manuel Viegas

This paper tries to build on traditional value capture measures, to estimate the potential of application of some of these mechanisms to the Lisbon subway, examining their ability to contribute to cover the financial costs of the system operation and development. The study will just focus on the municipality of Lisbon where this system mainly operates. This research uses spatial hedonic pricing models of the real estate of the region, calibrated on previous stages of the study, to asses, to which extent, transportation infrastructure is currently capitalised into the real estate market. The paper uses a Monte Carlo simulation procedure to estimate a synthetic population of residential and non residential properties that matches the census blocks statistics, allowing, measuring the subway valuation for each synthetic property and aggregate the results for the whole municipality. This potential value capture estimate is then used to estimate an annual tax that could be charged under different value capture measures configurations (i.e. land value tax, special assessment). The results suggest that there is a significant potential of the use of this instrument to finance the subway infrastructure.

Linklist: April 26, 2012

Via AO: Rock, Paper, Shotgun: And Now The Game: A SimCity Preview :

"It extends to traffic as well, which also initially sounds more boring than a visit to the plywood factory with the lead singer of Keane, but has all manner of fascinating repercussions. When a new citizen moves into your city, they actually move in – removal van, arduous unloading of cardboard boxes, the lot. If your roads are narrow or busy, that big van parking up on the street might cause traffic to slow down or even gridlock in that area. Which isn’t necessarily a problem – this is modern living, right? But what if there’s a fire engine stuck in that traffic queue? And what if one of your buildings has just suffered an arson attack from one of the ‘personality’ NPCs who’s recently pitched up in town looking to cause trouble?"

Spatial Analysis: Sensing the City: Mapping London’s Population Flows [Lots of cool visualizations, some linked here before, some new].

Stephen Levy @ Wired: Can an Algorithm Write a Better News Story Than a Human Reporter? [Yes]


The Minnesota Sports Complex, like an inferiority complex, plagues the state. If we in Greater>>MSP lack one pro sports team in the Big Four, we are inferior to big cities who have all four teams, like Los Angeles, or New York (er. New Jersey).

But I am not here to talk about psychology, I am here to talk of urban form. The image above, apparently from the Vikings, looking eastward towards the sadly named Minnesota Sports Complex because naming rights have yet to be sold, makes some very significant proposals about urban form.

(1) The LRT will run on a car-free mall with new pavers. This is unlike today. 5th Street will join the Washington Avenue Mall on campus and Nicollet Mall as pedestrian/transit mall. I am cool with that.

(2) The two blocks just north of 5th street will have surface parking lots. Seriously? After this level of investment, the Vikings don't believe that there will be demand for structures, even structured parking? What kind of redevelopment is this? I am not cool with that.

(3) There will be meandering sidewalks south of the parking but north of fifth, despite the straight pedestrian mall. Why? Is this because it resembles the edge of a football?

(4) I see some open-air transit-like vehicles (lollies in Century Village East retirement community terms). This is for the oldsters who can't walk a couple of blocks? Why can't this run on the transit mall? What becomes of the paths the other 357 days a year?

Linklist: April 25, 2012

Via Daring Fireball, @ the I love typography, the typography and fonts blog The design of a signage typeface

Brad Plumer @ WaPo on airline deregulation: Should we worry about cities abandoned by airlines?

Brendon @ streets.mn: Why urbanists (and others) should love the coming of the robot car (Part 1)

Behind the Big Wheel Special Event On Thursday, April 26!:

"Drivers of large vehicles and bicyclists share the road every day but rarely get an opportunity to see the road through each others eyes.

In this special demonstration event, bicyclists & pedestrians will be able to get behind the wheel of a big rig or bus, sit in the driver's seat, and check blind spots while bikes & pedestrians walk in the street below.

"Share the Road" safety information will be available to all participants.
Thanks in advance for helping us make the University of Minnesota campus a safer place for all!
If you have any questions about the event, please email biking@umn.edu.."

Reihan Salam @ The Agenda on National Review OnlineA Few Thoughts on Sorting and Agglomeration

Linklist: April 24, 2012

SR sends me to Freep: Charitable contributions funding Detroit LRT: Woodward light rail line group says it will pay for first 10 years of operations

GigaOm: U.S.’s first smartphone rail ticketing service headed for Boston: "Boston rail commuters will soon have a mobile alternative to traditional paper tickets, allowing them to use their smartphones to buy and display their train tickets. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), which serves 1.3 million people a day, will launch the U.S.’s first smartphone rail ticketing system this fall through a partnership with Masabi, a London company which has been rolling out mobile ticketing services in the UK."

Linklist: April 23, 2012

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Andrew Leigh: Five science breakthroughs that will transform politics: #1: Driverless cars, #2 Space elevators. This is via Robin Hanson who discusses Ems.

Via JW: Technology Review: GM Tests a Self-Driving Cadillac [Note, it is really only semi-autonomous, which is like being a little-bit pregnant, except the opposite] [Man said if we wanna shoot nails, this here’s the Cadillac. He mean Lexus, but he ain't know it. -- Snoop]

David King deconstructs: Land Use Regulations, School Quality and Metropolitics, noting that school quality is not somehow fixed if you change the neighborhood.

Earth Day v. Arbor Day

Can't the trees and the earth get their act together and cooperate:

Arbor Day is April 27

Earth Day is April 22


Imagine a merger, just like Presidents Day, all the economies of scale, it might even become a federal holiday, Last Monday of April.

(This was not accidental)

Linklist: April 20, 2012

Blake Masters: Peter Thiel’s CS183: Startup - Class 4 Notes Essay:

"The Last Mover Advantage … The usual narrative is that capitalism and perfect competition are synonyms. No one is a monopoly. Firms compete and profits are competed away. But that’s a curious narrative. A better one frames capitalism and perfect competition as opposites; capitalism is about the accumulation of capital, whereas the world of perfect competition is one in which you can’t make any money. Why people tend to view capitalism and perfect competition as interchangeable is thus an interesting question that’s worth exploring from several different angles."

DMI News & Views - Viewpoints: Design Thinking: A Solution to Fracture-Critical Systems:

"Fisher: Absolutely. And it’s necessary. The humanities are engaged in a study of the past, the sciences and social sciences study the present, and design is one of the few fields that imagines alternative futures—in a rigorous way."

A collection of Road Markings & Street Furniture from a model RR site.

DeluxeVille: ~Bus Stop Goddess [Some interesting philosophy about riding buses along with interesting examples of vintage bus stop eroticism, who says buses can't be sexy.]

Alex Jones @ Infowars! Mandatory ‘Big Brother’ Black Boxes In All New Cars

Linklist: April 19, 2012

Via Tyler Cowan, Foxnews: Disney's ‘NextGen’ plan is expected cut wait times for rides and more:

"Details of the plan emerged in February 2011 when Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Tom Staggs announced some major changes at an investors' conference.

“Guests will be able to reserve times for their favorite attractions and character interactions…secure seats at our shows and spectaculars…make dining reservations…and pre-book many other favorite guest experiences -- all before even leaving their house," Staggs said. 

Since then, Disney has remained quiet about the project -- even its existence. 

“I can’t confirm nor deny it,” said Disney representative Marilyn Waters when FoxNews.com asked her about the NextGen project."

A gravity-ish model of the brain - KurzweilAI reports: A statistical model of the network of connections between brain regions :

"Researchers at the University of Cambridge have developed a simple mathematical model of the brain which provides a remarkably complete statistical account of the complex web of connections between various brain regions.

The brain shares a pattern of connections that is similar to other complex networks such as social networks and the Web. However, until now, it was not known what rules were involved in the formation of the human brain network.

The scientists, from the Behavioral and Clinical Neuroscience Institute in the University of Cambridge Department of Psychiatry, and the National Institute of Mental Health in the U.S., discovered that the network can be modeled as a result of just two different competing factors: a distance penalty based on the cost of maintaining long-range connections between various brain regions, and a second term modeling the preference for links between regions sharing similar input."

Linklist: April 18, 2012

Jacoba Urist @ The Atlantic No Taxes, No Travel: Why the IRS Wants the Right to Seize Your Passport:

"It all started last fall, when Senator Barbara Boxer introduced the "Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act" (or "MAP-21" as it's now called), to reauthorize funds for federal highway and transportation programs. While that doesn't sound like anything having to do with your taxes, the bill includes a little-noticed section that allows the State Department to "deny, revoke or limit" passport rights for any taxpayers with "serious delinquencies."

Here's how it would work. If someone owed more than $50,000 in back taxes, the IRS would be able to send their name over to the passport office for suspension, provided that the IRS already either filed a public lien or a assessed a levy for the outstanding balance. The bill does provide a few exceptions though. For example, if a person has set up a payment plan (that they're paying in a timely manner), is legitimately disputing the debt, or has an emergency situation or humanitarian reason and must travel internationally, they may be able to leave for a limited time despite their unpaid taxes."

Stephen Levy @ Wired: Going With the Flow: Google's Secret Switch to the Next Wave of Networking:

"If any company has potential to change the networking game, it is Google. The company has essentially two huge networks: the one that connects users to Google services (Search, Gmail, YouTube, etc.) and another that connects Google data centers to each other. It makes sense to bifurcate the information that way because the data flow in each case has different characteristics and demand. The user network has a smooth flow, generally adopting a diurnal pattern as users in a geographic region work and sleep. The performance of the user network also has higher standards, as users will get impatient (or leave!) if services are slow. In the user-facing network you also need every packet to arrive intact — customers would be pretty unhappy if a key sentence in a document or e-mail was dropped.

The internal backbone, in contrast, has wild swings in demand — it is “bursty” rather than steady. Google is in control of scheduling internal traffic, but it faces difficulties in traffic engineering. Often Google has to move many petabytes of data (indexes of the entire web, millions of backup copies of user Gmail) from one place to another. When Google updates or creates a new service, it wants it available worldwide in a timely fashion — and it wants to be able to predict accurately how quickly the process will take.

“There’s a lot of data center to data center traffic that has different business priorities,” says Stephen Stuart, a Google distinguished engineer who specializes in infrastructure. “Figuring out the right thing to move out of the way so that more important traffic could go through was a challenge.”

But Google found an answer in OpenFlow, an open source system jointly devised by scientists at Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley. Adopting an approach known as Software Defined Networking (SDN), OpenFlow gives network operators a dramatically increased level of control by separating the two functions of networking equipment: packet switching and management. OpenFlow moves the control functions to servers, allowing for more complexity, efficiency and flexibility."

Reuben Collins @ Streets.mn The Problem of Hiawatha Avenue

Linklist: April 17, 2012

ion: The Mathematical Proof that got a Physicist out of a Traffic Ticket

Schneier on Security: Hawley Channels His Inner Schneier [Former TSA Director seems to be reasonable, what gives?]

Tyler Cowan @ Marginal Revolution: The economics of Robert Caro :

"The Power Broker, by the way, is in my view one of the best non-fiction books ever, so read it if you don’t already know it."
[Agreed, I read it soon after my Riverside, New York-based Aunt Maitie, who was taking Urban Studies courses on the side, gave it to me along with Jane Jacobs when I was an ~11 year old wanna-be City Planner. In retrospect, it was probably the best (and certainly the longest) book I read in elementary school. Admittedly I did want to be Robert Moses, so my take differed from Caro. I read it again later and it made more sense. I assign the New Yorker-abridged version of the book to my graduate students. Jane Jacobs is good too.]

PC Mag: DARPA Seeking to Build (Friendly) Terminators:

" So what will the robot have to do? Quite a bit. For just one of the disaster challenges, DARPA anticipates that the robot will have to:

1. Drive a utility vehicle at the site.

2. Travel dismounted across rubble.

3. Remove debris blocking an entryway.

4. Open a door and enter a building.

5. Climb an industrial ladder and traverse an industrial walkway.

6. Use a power tool to break through a concrete panel.

7. Locate and close a valve near a leaking pipe.

8. Replace a component such as a cooling pump."

Kottke shows a very long Visualization of shipping routes from 1750 to 1855

Yglesias talks about private bike sharing service Splinster [whose site is unavailable]: Will Sharing Apps Make Physical Stuff Obsolete?:

"In a world where information is scarce it's often helpful to have lots of physical redundancy. If it's hard to find out the answer to the question "where's the closest X" then it pays off to stockpile as much stuff (cars, bikes, power tools, etc.) as possible in your garage. That way you know the answer is always "it's in the garage" and this information is valuable even though most of the stuff isn't being used at any given time. But as information grows more abundant, there's less and less need for physical redundancy:"

Magical Thinking

I am interviewed by Nick Sudheimer in the Mn Daily: Minneapolis continues debate over benefits of adding streetcars to city’s north side :

"But David Levinson, a transportation expert at the University, said the argument that streetcars will spur significant development is “magical thinking.”

“There is nothing magic about steel wheels on steel rails,” Levinson said. “There’s nothing special about it except that you’ve made some investment that you could’ve made in some other technology.”"

The whole article is worth reading, though I think it conflates Arterial BRT with Freeway BRT.

There is another nice factoid from former student Charlie Carlson:

Carlson said traditional buses are actually moving less than half of the time.

“About a quarter of the time, buses are stopped at red lights and about a third of the time, were stopped for people to get on and off the bus and pay their fare,” Carlson said.

BRT would make stoplights change so buses would wait less at red lights and would allow passengers to prepay for tickets.

Linklist: April 16, 2012

Elon Musk to Jon Stewart: sustainable energy easier than making life "multi-planetary"

[But we won't switch quirky to sustainable energy, if such a thing really exists, so we really need to keep the off-planet option open]

San Jose Mercury News: Deal cut to give Menlo Park millions of dollars in exchange for Facebook expansion:

"To get Menlo Park's approval of its expansion plan, Facebook has agreed to pay the city millions of dollars in the coming years, seed a community fund with a $500,000 donation, sponsor internship and job training programs, support efforts to boost local businesses, back affordable housing and improve bike and pedestrian pathways. Those and other commitments are outlined in a proposed development agreement released by the city late Thursday. "While Facebook's obligations under the DA (development agreement) will be considerable, they build upon the most significant aspect of Facebook's move -- its commitment to building a stronger community and being a good neighbor," John Tenanes, Facebook's director of global real estate, wrote in a letter accompanying the term sheet."

[Social networks and infrastructure networks meet again]

Rohit T. Aggarwala discusses infrastructure: Fiscal Games Can’t Hide True Cost of U.S. Roads- Bloomberg:

"Chicago’s approach will probably bear some fruit because local governments face many problems of timing. A city government doesn’t have the cash to make building retrofits that will lower its energy bills, but future savings can pay back the loan and then some. A water utility whose rates are set to break even has expensive leaks, but no general-revenue bonding authority to fix them. A highway department wants to extend a toll road, but its capital budget is constrained. These are all problems that finance can solve because investment can unlock future revenue that can be shared with a lender.

Unfortunately, America’s most dire infrastructure problems are not like this. Most of them are like Pennsylvania’s 6,000 structurally deficient bridges. Replacing these won’t create new value, serve new traffic or generate new economic development, so financing has to come from existing income. And that’s a problem not of timing, but of wealth. Even if a replacement bridge can be financed through an infrastructure bank, the debt service on the loan has to be paid back with existing wealth."

[He says "replacing these won't create new value". Not replacing these (the default option) destroys value, so replacing them creates value that would otherwise not be there were they not created. The market may naively think these are permanent, but closing a few of these would quickly disabuse of it that notion. I think the author confuses income and wealth. If I have a steady stream of income, and I don't spend all of it, my wealth increases. The debt service would be paid by future income, not existing wealth, unless you have somehow speculatively capitalized income you don't already have.

As he notes, an infrastructure bank could be backed up by tolls on the new replacement bridges (really, it could, Washington State has put tolls on existing bridges to help build new ones), or gas tax revenue if politicians are too chicken to do that, or value capture on nearby landowners whose access would be maintained. I agree with the general point that user fees are preferred. ]

A really cool map of globalPopulation Density

Big cities have lots of congestion. Big cities have lots of accessibility. Therefore congestion causes accessibility. . Therefore accessibility causes congestion.

I don't think the last sentence is necessarily correct either. It might be more accurate to say that congestion is an indicator of economic activity (and poor resource management). However increasing the number of people per unit space (density) without increasing the transportation capacity to move them, or changing their travel behavior, will increase congestion. Similarly, increasing the number of people per unit space (density) without changing their travel costs will increase accessibility, and may increase accessibility even if you increase their travel costs.

As a reminder, accessibility is a measure of the ease of reaching valued destinations, which we often operationalize as the number of things (jobs, shops, schools, etc.) you can reach in a given time (10, 20, 30 minutes) by a particular mode (car, bus, walk, bike) at a particular time of day (7 am, noon, 5 pm, midnight). This operationalized measure is called cumulative opportunities, and is easily explained, even to politicians. Big cities have more things, and higher density, and thus usually have more accessibility, especially at longer time distances. The opposite of accessibility is isolation (or access to nothing, how much of nothing I can reach in 10, 20 or 30 minutes). We know people care about accessibility, since the cost of land in the most accessible places is much higher than the least accessible places.

Congestion occurs when a facility is overcrowded. So if a bridge can carry 3600 people an hour (its capacity), but 4000 people want to use it (its demand), we say it is congested. At the end of the hour, there will be 400 people left waiting to use the bridge (who will presumably be first in line to use it during the next hour). Congestion occurs potentially on all modes, since every mode has a capacity, and on any facility, which again have some capacity. Many modes however are operating very far from capacity, have excess, unused, or spare capacity, and thus don't see congestion with additional users. Congestion matters to users because of the delay that results, the travel time above and beyond what the user would have experienced in its absence.

So can we increase accessibility, which people value, without increasing congestion, which people dislike?

There are several possible strategies:

  1. Increase capacity
    1. Expand capacity on the congested mode or facility.
    2. Expand capacity on an alternative mode or facility.
    3. Build new facility.
    4. Better manage existing capacity

  2. Reduce per capita demand

    1. Price
    2. Ration
    3. Exhortation

There are many different ways these can be implemented.

To start, we could simply increase capacity without trying to address demand. Unfortunately, there are rising costs (and diminishing returns) to capacity investments. All the high benefit, low cost projects have already been done (the economist's proverbial $10 bill is not lying on the street is it?). So we are left with really expensive projects to get more capacity, which often involve tunneling or elevated structures (since all the good rights-of-way are already used). Perhaps there will be technological breakthroughs which reduce the costs of tunneling, or other construction. It hasn't happened yet.

We might better manage capacity. This is certainly an option. If we can get the driver out of the loop, so cars can drive themselves, we could narrow lanes (and thus get more of them per unit of pavement) and cars could follow more closely. Both of these things will increase throughput. There are simpler technologies (ramp metering, rapid incident clearance, and so on) that have already been widely deployed in many cities.

Pricing comes in numerous flavors. It might be very precise to time and location, or might be in selected areas, or on selected facilities, or at selected times of day, or everywhere. HOT Lanes that charge by time of day on selected facilities may guarantee that a particular facility is uncongested (by limiting demand on that facility). This is as much pricing for reliability as pricing to reduce congestion. The political advantage of HOT lanes is their voluntary nature, and the untold alternative. We could certainly extend this to truck-only toll lanes (TOTs) and perhaps to some other domains. The London Congestion Charge affects most traffic entering Central London, regardless of time of day or miles traveled. In Germany heavy goods vehicles pay to travel on the autobahn. Some people have even come up with the silly concept of paying people not to drive. By pricing more in the peak (and less in the off-peak) flexible travelers will switch travel times from when capacity is fully utilized to when there is spare. Of course, induced demand operates in all cases, but that can be considered when setting prices.

Rationing seems fair, and is used in many megacities throughout the world, either rationing number of vehicles, or the days they can be driven. During World War II, the US rationed rubber tires and fuel. Rationing however often devolves into a black market (and thus pricing), as people pay for rations. For instance there is a large market in license plates in cities that have day of week license plate rationing.

We often mock exhortation (well at least in my social circles), but on occasion exhortation has been used fairly effectively, often coupled with monetary incentives: smoking has gone down, and recycling up in the US in part due to exhortation. (My 5 year old daughter tells me how recycling is better than throwing in the trash, so clearly the education campaigns start young). How much of the change is due to changing mores and social preferences, and how much to cigarette taxes or trash collection discounts for recycling is hard to say. On the other hand, modern campaigns to encourage transit use and carpooling have been notable failures.

In short, to paraphrase John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Congestion is over! If you want it. We can have accessibility without (or with less) congestion. I don't think we want it badly enough. The choice is really congestion OR pricing, and the political cost of pricing has to date outweighed the political cost of congestion. We don't value the time savings of accessibility enough for politicians to do the things necessary to save time. On the other hand, voluntary tolls (HOT lanes, TOT lanes, and so on) are more politically acceptable, giving people travel time reliability for an uncertain price, which is better than nothing, but certainly not the best possible.

A large part of the problem is thus its political nature. We would not in the US tolerate periodic blackouts from an electric utility because they could not manage supply and demand. In fact this was the what in large part led to the downfall of Governor Gray Davis of California and the rise of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Why do we tolerate the transportation equivalent of queueing? Because roads are owned and operated by governments. If they were separate (and regulated) organizations, not directly responsible to the state legislature, we might have different outcomes. The notions of "free" and "already paid for" and "double-taxation" that are used to politically defeat tolling proposals would be replaced with a "fee for service" concept common in public utilities. My mental model of governance is that "institutions loosely coupled", each with specific missions, management, and revenue, would outperform a giant monolithic government that tries to do everything for everyone.

Getting from our current world to a slightly better one can be achieved calmly and rationally via white papers and deliberation, or through a real or politically generated "crisis" (the preferred mode of governance in the US). I have the feeling that so many people have played the "crisis" card that there is "crisis-fatigue", and as a rationalist would certainly rather we went at this systematically. However, politics does not seem to want to make transitions without some stress. Perhaps the rise of electrification and the collapse of gas tax revenue will be the crisis required to move to a new and different organizational regime in surface transportation. But this is a slowly building crisis that could take the rest of my career, and I am impatient.

Below I posit some directions for research in transport and land use. Comments welcome.

1. We need more panels and time series and fewer cross-sectional analyses. If we want to establish causation, we need to look across time, otherwise, we are stuck simply with correlations. [And as we know, correlation is not causation]. We need data that examines the evolution and dynamics of transport and land use systems. I have not quite come to the conclusion that all analyses must be temporal (that is rejecting any atemporal analysis), but I am really tempted to do so as a reviewer.

2. We need to improve the scientific rigor of our research. The discipline is ripe for continuing meta-analysis to establish the magnitude of effects, and to reduce the range of estimates (and explain the range that exists through different underlying causal factors).

3. We need to more systematically consider network structure when looking at explanations of travel behavior. This includes measures of topology, morphology, and hierarchy. The measures that have historically been used have been relatively easy to estimate, but don't get at the gestalt of the network as an integrated system.

4. We need to systematically look at the difference between travelers perceptions of how systems operate and how long are travel times, and what we analysts measure. The differences can be systematically explained, at least in part, and people of course make decisions based on how they think the world works, not on how we think it does. We could then examine why perceptions differ from measurements, how much is simply differences in linguistic interpretation (when a trip begins and ends is somewhat ambiguous, e.g.), and how much is differences in time perception, and how much is "rounding" error, and how much is strategic to either impress with the length of the commute (which brings to mind the Four Yorkshiremen sketch) or to exaggerate in order to get sympathy or a policy response.

5. We need to increase the inter-disciplinarity in the study of transport and land use research, with planners, geographers, engineers, economists, and others working together looking at these problems.

6. We need more international and historical cases in the field to build towards a general truth. Reasoning is both inductive and deductive, but so much of what we are doing is complex, one often cannot simply derive from theory whether a change will lead to more or less travel, it depends on parameters, for instance. the fixed costs of engaging in a trip vs. the variable (and non-linear) costs of travel.

Wall of Sound





There is a lot of noise in my neighborhood about a new sound wall erected on I-94 by MnDOT. Some neighbors (on the north) are complaining they are getting more noise as a result of the wall (on the south side of the highway), as the noise bounces off that wall and up to their house, which is above the noise wall on their-own side of the freeway (and where the wall is punctured by Franklin Avenue). The house shown below has a party of signs and balloons with various anti-noise slogans.

Noise is of course unwanted sound. Your music is my noise. It is a classic externality of transportation, and in fact one of the most costly (its economic value may exceed the cost of air pollution). To reduce the amount of externality, transportation agencies erect noise walls, reducing the amount of noise on the other side of the wall (and thus diminishing the decrease in property value). But that noise doesn't just disappear, it makes the road noisier, or it is claimed, in this case, the north side of the freeway.

People can often adapt to a steady stream of white noise as on a crowded freeway, but it is the unusual noises (the one loud truck, the motorcycle, the airplane, the train) that are more disruptive and annoying.

So who has rights here?

If there is a homeowner, and someone moves in next door and makes a lot of noise, we often say the new neighbor is creating the noise externality. We often hear about the "Polluter Pays Principle". But Coase (who is still alive at 101!) would say that but for the homeowner, there would not be an externality either. (If a truck roars in the forest and there is no-one there to hear, does it make a noise?) Either the homeowner should pay the neighbor to shut up, or the neighbor should pay the homeowner to get insulation and better windows, or the homeowner should accept the damages, or the neighbor should pay him for his damages, society is indifferent. What we need is a clear source of property rights. Clearly who wins and loses in these two circumstances does change with the allocation of those rights. Managing these externalities (so that we can avoid expensive "nuisance" lawsuits) is one of the important jobs of planning. Do I have a right to quiet, or do you have a right to make noise?

Airports often face the question with their neighbors. Clearly airplanes create noise. Should the neighbors be compensated? Well, if the neighbors moved in after the airport already made a lot of noise, they paid less for their house (or pay a lower rent) already, why should they be compensated twice? If the airport is paying, then the airlines are paying, and if the airlines are paying, their customers are paying. But if the airport moves in after the neighbors had already built their houses (and to help tilt the playing field, the airport had been zoned as a park previously so there was no airport-anticipation), we feel it should compensate.

In this case, maybe there is an inexpensive technical solution. Maybe there is an expensive technical solution. Maybe MnDOT should buy out Mr. or Ms. Unhappy-with-Noise and resell the house at a noise-affected discount with a noise-easement. Maybe Mr. or Ms. Unhappy-with-Noise will just have to live with a noisier world.

Linklist: April 11, 2012

Bloomberg: Microsoft Inspired by London Tube Seeks Sleeker Designs

Bloomberg: California High-Speed Rail Spending Probed by U.S. House :

"A U.S. House of Representatives committee said it will investigate reports of conflicts of interest at California’s high-speed rail authority when it received federal money to start construction."

Bloomberg: ’Fortune 500’ of 1812 Shows U.S. Banks’ Early Influence [Look at all those Turnpikes and Canals though]


Autoblog Green: U.S. new-vehicle fuel economy hits 24.1 mpg, another record, in March


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Jason Hong sends me to his project: Livehoods:

About the Livehoods Project The Livehoods Project presents a new methodology for studying the dynamics, structure, and character of a city on a large scale using social media and machine learning. Using data such as tweets and check-ins, we are able to discover the hidden structures of the city with machine learning. Our techniques reveal a snap-shot of the dynamic areas the comprise the city, which we call Livehoods.

Livehoods allow us to investigate and explore how people actually use the city, simultaneosly shedding light onto the factors that come together to shape the urban landscape and the social texture of city life, including municipal borders, demographics, economic development, resources, geography, and planning. Livehoods is a research project from the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University.

Cool maps at the site.

Linklist: April 9, 2012

David King: By This Logic, Perhaps the Whole Thing is Flawed:

"Second, Rail Authority Chairman Dan Richard explained omitting Anaheim based on the cost of travel time savings:
Electrifying and improving the Los Angeles to Orange County route would cost $6 billion and save only 10 minutes of travel time, said rail authority Chairman Dan Richard.

"Why would we do that, pay $600 million per minute?" he said in an interview Friday.

Let's do the math here. The project is justified on travel time savings, and the Chairman has now said that $600 million per minute is too high a cost. At about $70 million, the current project needs to save more than two hours (116 minutes) to justify the expense if each minute is worth $600 million. Yet Richard says $600 is too high, but by how much? The current (new) business plan offers about 2 hour and 40 minute service from San Francisco to Los Angeles on some routes. (How travel times didn't increase with the blended plan is still a bit of a mystery.) So, can you get from Union Station to San Francisco in less than or equal to 4:40 under current technologies? Yes you can. Flying is faster, even with airport hassles (Try Burbank to Oakland!). Driving is a bit longer, but is much more likely to get you exactly to your destination resulting in similar door to door times."

AEI: A plea for beauty: a manifesto for a new urbanism :

"In her celebrated book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which first appeared in 1961, Jane Jacobs argued that zoning, the concept on which the entire American planning system is based, is misconceived. Zoning leads to a disaggregation of the many functions of the city so that people live in one part, work in another, spend leisure time in a third, and shop in a fourth.[2] Whole swaths of the city are thereby deserted for large parts of the day, and the fruitful interaction of work and leisure never occurs.

Zoning contributes to the dereliction of the city when its local industries die and ensures that the central areas are not places of renewal, but at best museums and at worst vandalized spaces no one can use. In successful cities like Paris, New York, and Rome, workshops, apartments, offices, schools, churches, and theaters all stand side by side, with houses borrowing walls from whatever building has a boundary to spare.

The complaint against zoning is surely right. But it is not a complaint against planning. The great planning disasters, some of which have been studied by Peter Hall, owe their negative impact at least in part to their scale.[3] When the layout of a town is conceived from a master plan, the possibilities for disaster are legion."

Annie Mole: More 3D London Underground Cutaway Diagrams

Now at streets.mn: Twin Cities Ten Million!

Linklist: April 6, 2012

Via Greater Greater Washington: Animated history of the T:We have our animated history of Metrorail. Vanshnooken­raggen has created a similar animation showing Boston's T growing (and sometimes shrinking) over time.

[Of course, if you are interested in this stuff, see what we have done over here.]

Krista Nordback @ Vehicle for a Small Planet: Guest post: Adjusting for variation in bike counts.

NYTimes: Biking and Sexual Health in Women.

Why doesn't Ron Paul go after Romney in the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination fight. I just figured it out ... Romney's first son is Tagg, as in Taggart, as in Dagny Taggart, while Paul's first son is of course Rand Paul. One is named for the main character of Atlas Shrugged, the other for the novel's author Ayn Rand. (Unusually both men are named for women).

The Objectivists, not the Tea Party, have captured the GOP.

The transportation connection, Dagny Taggart ran a railroad.

Linklist: April 5, 2012


Recently published: Levinson D, Huang A, 2012, "A positive theory of network connectivity" Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 39(2) 308 – 325. [doi:10.1068/b37094]

Abstract. In this paper we develop a positive theory of network connectivity, seeking to provide the microfoundations of alternative network topologies as the result of self-interested actors. By building roads, landowners hope to increase their parcels’ accessibility and economic value. A simulation model is performed on a grid-like land-use layer with a downtown in the center. The degree to which the networks are tree-like is evaluated. This research posits that road networks experience an evolutionary process where a tree-like structure first emerges around the centered parcel before the network pushes outward to the periphery. Road network topology becomes increasingly connected as the accessibility value of reaching other parcels increases. The results demonstrate that, even without a centralized authority, road networks can display the property of self-organization and evolution, and that, in the absence of intervention, the degree to which a network structure is tree-like or web-like results from the underlying economies.

Keywords: road network, network growth, network structure, treeness, circuitness, topology

Download Older Preprint.

Linklist: April 4, 2012

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Strib: Judge rejects Roseville impact-fee ordinance. Streets.mn also discusses. [Rational Nexus, Rational Nexus, Rational Nexus]

twin city sidewalks: Department of Transportation Buildings of America #1

David King @ Getting from here to there: Steady Progress Toward Autonomous Cars:

"Rather than one day having a brand new model of fully autonomous vehicles, it is most likely that parts of the driving experience will be computerized (for instance fully autonomous freeway driving, just as fully autonomous parking is now commonplace) before the entire experience will be computerized. By encouraging and supporting incremental advances the technological, political and legal issues will have a chance to develop together, and adoption of new and safer technologies will happen faster. Consider what is happening with electric cars as a similar type of issue with deployment of new technologies. Electric cars are just not very popular as few people are adopting the revolutionary powertrains. The Chevy Volt is on hiatus, and Chevy just announced that it will be on hiatus an additional week. George W. Bush's "Freedom Car" and Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Hydrogen Highway" were failures, as was the entire "hydrogen revolution" because the infrastructure and technology isn't there to support widespread adoption, and still aren't. Maybe someday in the future hydrogen will be a standard fuel, but now people tend to really like their hybrids (Toyota is setting sales records with it's Prius models) which are an incremental improvement to what people already use.

All of this is to say don't hold your breath that autonomous vehicle technologies will first appear in a fully, full-time autonomous car, but also don't expect that driverless cars will not become commonplace. Drivers are already ceding some driving to their cars, and over time they will cede more and more until the driver is simply a passenger. Then someday no one will remember that is was ever any different."

David King @ Getting from here to there: Why Didn't California Propose a Faster, Cheaper and Better High Speed Rail Project in the First Place?:

"Ultimately, all of the business plans, wild swings in price and size, and dubious claims of benefits leave me with the feeling that no one knows what, exactly, this train is supposed to accomplish. We can optimize transportation networks for various purposes, but I don't see any evidence that the California HSR project is being optimized for any reason other than to prove that it can be built, at any cost."

Cap't Transit sends me to this:IND Station Tile Colors

Nokohaha: Vegetable Man! Where Are You? :

"There was a time when Saturday mornings brought parade of vendors to good old Lincoln Avenue in Saint Paul. It often began with the Melon Man in a long wagon leaded with watermelons. He’d shout at the top of his voice at 6am waking up everybody in neighborhood. Pretty soon there followed the Vegetable Man, also with a horse-drawn wagon. All the housewives in the area had a soft spot for his amazing carrots and cucumbers. Next came Filthy Junk and Rag Man. The kids loved to harass him and call him names. He never got mad at them, but he used to spit if they came too close. The Junk Man was often followed by a young Irish woman with wheelbarrow full of Mississippi Mussels, alive, alive-oh!"
[Who says we need to go to the store, the store can come to us]

Autopia: Google Maps Brings Traffic Back

Strib: Transit looks to get going in the south, west metro :

"Experts agree there’s a color line developing in Twin Cities transit: While lots of places fantasize about future transitways, the serious projects are those that are far enough along to have been assigned a color-coded name as part of the Met Council’s so-called “Metro” system. If you have a color, that means you have a line.

Conversely, if you don’t have a color — a Red Line or a Blue Line or another such hue – you don’t have a line. You’re just standing in line."

Recently posted to streets.mn: Minneapolis, the Venice of the Upper Midwest .

BART Addfare

BART Out of order 01

BART Out of order 02

This past Sunday I went to Berkeley to give a talk. Like all good Transportationists, I took BART from SFO to the Downtown Berkeley station. As noted previously, I carry a BART fare card with me, and so I used that to enter the system at the airport. When I got to Berkeley, despite the a few dollars on my card (the amount was unreadable due to the poor printing from previous trips), I still owed money, so I went to the Addfare machine. It said I needed to add $4.05. I had 4 dollar bills and some twenties. The machine only took singles and fives. It further did not take credit cards. How was I supposed to leave?

I was literally Charlie on the M.T.A..

The station agent (at least there was a station agent to keep me from being a gate-jumper), pointed to a change machine, outside the gate. A fellow traveler in the same predicament went with permission of the agent, outside the gate, to get change, to get back inside the gate, to put money on the card, so she could go outside the gate. She went before me while I watched her bag, to get change, which she then put into the machine.

I begged a nickel from her and completed the transaction. I figure, since I am in Berkeley, might-as-well ask for handouts.

[Pictures of BART machines, out-of-order, from the last decade. I assume they are fixed by now and there are no more broken BART machines.]

Blues tones copy

March 32, 2012

You may have heard recently of the decision of the

Metoopolitan Council to name all of the rail and express bus lines after colors. Not wanting to leave out the local bus routes, they made a decision to rename the bus lines after colors as well.

Therefore, bus routes that intersect with the newly named Blue line LRT will be named after shades of Blue. Some of the new routes are listed below:

  • Route 2 will now be referred to as the Sailor's Delight line

  • Route 3 as Birds of a Feather

  • Route 5 as Midnight Clearing

  • Route 7 as Bluesday Afternoon

Similarly, all of the bus routes that feed the new Green Line LRT will be named after shades of Green.

These include the following changes:

  • Route 16 will now be referred to as Mr. Pistachio
  • Route 62 as Ribbet!
  • Route 65 as Lemony Lime
  • Route 87 as Cricket Hop Green

The Director of Interior Design at the Metoopolitan Council, Dr. Ronald "Dutch" Buoy, suggested that the system will aid navigability and reduce complexity associated with using buses. He also said that each bus will be repainted to indicate which line it will serve. He advised "Just look for the color of the bus that is going to your destination." He further suggested "People don't like numbers, Math is Hard!"

Critic of the decision, former Metoopolian Council Chair bell peters declared it was "Too Matchy-Matchy".

Any routes that don't intersect the LRT system will be discontinued once this system is deployed. And lines that intersect more than one LRT route will also be discontinued. "We aim to build a tree upon which the Twin Cities transit users can travel." stated Metoopolitan Council director of Network Services Name Redacted. "It will also be easier to model, since there will be only one transfer point."

We wish to learn the lesson of Transantiago and concentrate as much traffic on as few vehicles as possible. "Our plan is to just do this one day without notice, so as not to needlessly worry our customers." the Metoopolitan Director of Public Relations suggested. People inconvenienced by the system are advised to change jobs to somewhere in downtown Minneapolis.

The press release did not include the full list of route changes. If you, my loyal Transportationistas, uncover any others, please post them to the comments section.

Ethical Ethanol

The Meetopolitan Council. Saint Paul. April 1, 2012

The Meetopolitan Council announced today the conversion of its entire bus and rail fleet to 100 percent pure Ethical Ethanol(™). Ethical Ethanol(™) is a type of ethanol that is carbon negative. All Ethical Ethanol is derived from plant stocks, usually corn, grown within 32.6 miles of its use.

The corn stalks are hand harvested by US citizens and wheel-barrowed to the nearest grain elevator. The wheel-barrows are made in northern Minnesota by indigenous wheel-barrow crafts-persons, using methods developed 600 years ago prior to the European colonization.

All corn is allowed to range free, no factory farms are admitted into the program. The corn is fed only locally-grown organic pork and beef waste, but is not permitted to be fertilized with waste products of older corn. This is intended to avoid Mad Corn Disease.

The advantages of Ethical Ethanol(™) are several. First it reduces electrical pollution resulting from electric vehicles and electric power generation. Second it guarantees Minnesota will not be subject to the vagaries of the international energy trade market.

To finance this conversion, an Ethical Ethanol(™) surcharge is being placed on all vehicle-vehicle transfers. This surcharge, a mere $4/transfer, is intended to help finance the conversion. Meeto Transit is also applying for a US Department of Energy grant to help pay for the conversion. "We are happy not to have to raise rates", Council Chair Firebottom stated.

All vehicles which cannot be converted to Ethical Ethanol will instead be converted to fertilizer, as shown in the attached picture.


Image shows unconverted transit vehicles being converted to Ethical Ethanol fertilizer.

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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