September 2012 Archives

Redistribution vs. Building

TPM: Heller Bails Out:

"Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) does the requisite distancing from Mitt Romney’s 47% comments …
‘I do believe the federal government has certain responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is building bridges and roads, and national defense,’ Heller said Wednesday in Washington. ‘I also believe in a safety net for individuals who need the help, so that’s why I would respectfully disagree with the comments that (Romney) made.’
Heller pointed out that his mom was a school cafeteria cook, so that he had a ‘different view of the world’ than Romney."

Interestingly of course, the federal government does not in general build bridges and roads. It redistributes (that word again) money collected in the states (particularly the federal gas tax) back to the states that, along with locally collected funds, enables states to build (or more precisely hire contractors to build (or even more precisely, hire contractors to hire subcontractors and laborers to build)) bridges and roads.

We built bridges and roads before the federal government got involved. We probably would benefit from a debate as to what the federal value added in the redistribution of funds is. It is also interesting that building bridges and roads is something a Republican actually feels comfortable in assuming as a shared responsibility, clearly they have never heard of road privatization. One might call them "socialists", if one called people names or labeled people.

California OKs Driverless Cars


Kendra Levine: California OKs Driverless Cars:

This week Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB1298, legalizing driverless cars in California. Some people are concerned about the safety risks of these robot cars. At the signing, Google's Sergey Brin said, "You can count on one hand the number of years it will take before ordinary people can experience this."

(I copied the brilliant use of anthropomorphized vehicle for illustration.)

Pioneer Press: Timelapse video: New Hastings Bridge is floated into place:

"Watch the entire process of moving the 6.5 million pound bridge down the river and being lifted into place, which took about 60 hours from start to finish, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

The roadway for the bridge won't be poured until next spring."


Mike Isaac - Social - AllThingsD: Mapping Silicon Valley's Own Private "iWay" :

"That’s why many engineers live in the much more hip San Francisco, relying on the private network of shuttle services provided by each of the major tech outfits, which have no issue carting their young, valuable staff back and forth through the 40-mile stretch between the Valley and the City by the Bay."

Original here.


Julie Kosbab on: MNDot Launches Pedestrian Safety Campaign

In my pedestrian-centric view, The most important one is on the right: "Hey Drivers … EVERY CORNER IS A CROSSWALK. Yep … every single one". This is especially needed at T-intersections of minors meeting majors. Especially unmarked crosswalks. Now if there could only be consistency about crosswalk markings (i.e. no markings) to help remind drivers of this.

Wendell Cox nicely summarizes the recent American Community Survey @ Newgeography: A Summary of 2011 Commuting Data Released Today :

"As estimated employment improved from 137.9 million in 2010 to 138.3 from 2010 to 2011, there was an increase of 800,000 in the number of commuters driving alone, which, as usual, represented the vast majority of commuting (105.6 million daily one way trips), at 76.40 percent. This was not enough, however, to avoid a small (0.17 percentage point) decline in market share.

Car pooling experienced a rare increase of 120,000 commuters, which translated into a 0.1 percentage point loss in market share, to 9.68 percent. Transit increased 190,000 commuters, and had a 0.09 percentage point increase in market share, to 5.03 percent. This brought transit's market share to above its 2008 share of 5.01 percent and near its 1990 market share of 5.11 percent.

Working at home increased by 70,000, with a modest 0.1 percentage point increase from 2010."

Newspaper Advertising


The Transportationist just loves him some S-curves. This via Business Insider: CHART OF THE DAY: Newspaper Advertising It is self-explanatory (and speaks to dematerialization and substitution of the electronic for the physical).

Linklist: September 18, 2012

Wired: Sept. 18, 1830: Horse Beats Iron Horse, for the Time Being

Green Car Congress: Volvo Car Corporation intends to lead in field of autonomous driving technology; targeting the next-generation of consumers

Spinlister | Find a bike to rent [I read this as Splinster, which is a cooler name. At any rate, seriously, this gets VC funding? I am in the wrong business. [The problem is the transaction costs for something like this are too high for the value. Bikesharing is more viable, or hotels or AirBnB with a bike rental option, but not strangers for a few hour bike ride. Otherwise this is just a yellow pages for commercial bike rental, which is nice, but hardly earthshaking]]


In my lab today we had a discussion over the proper way to say the word "Route" dictionaries and professional linguists who were consulted give both "root" and "rout" as acceptable pronunciations, leaving us no wiser than before.

But online, we find this Dialect survey (color matching the map).

Dialect Survey Results:

"26. route (as in, "the route from one place to another") 
     a. rhymes with "hoot" (29.99%)
     b. rhymes with "out" (19.72%)
     c. I can pronounce it either way interchangeably (30.42%)
     d. I say it like "hoot" for the noun and like "out" for the verb. (15.97%)
     e. I say it like "out" for the noun and like "hoot" for the verb. (2.50%)
     f. other (1.40%)
     (11137 respondents)"

As a north-easterner myself, It was always take Root 29 or Root 95, but in the South, we were on Rout 85. In the midwest, it seems more Rout than Root. In any case the "e" is superfluous, as it doesn't modify in a consistent way, since we already have a double vowel. The word is also superfluous, since we already have the word "road" from the same root. Damn French imports.

Etymology online says: route (n.) early 13c., from O.Fr. rute "road, way, path," from L. rupta (via) "(a road) opened by force," from rupta, fem. pp. of rumpere "to break" (see rupture). Sense of "fixed or regular course for carrying things" (cf. mail route) is 1792, an extension of the meaning "customary path of animals" (early 15c.).

See also this on Highway Linguistics


To avoid reading a biography, I was looking for a biopic about Isambard Kingdom Brunel (IKB), the second greatest Briton of all time. Bridge engineer, Railway director, Shipbuilder, and so on, he truly encapsulated the Victorian era. I had never seen a biopic, but figured the British must have done something. Indeed they did:

IMDB delivers this: Great (Isambard Kingdom Brunel) (1975): "An animated film about the British engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who spearheaded numerous engineering marvels of the early 19th century - including the Thames Tunnel, the Great Western Railway, and the Great Eastern steamship (for 40 years the world's largest steamship). Various styles of animation are used to depict events in his colorful life. "

So going to the usual places, I found a copy of this and watched it this past weekend, twice. The description does not do justice. Imagine Terry Gilliam meets R. Crumb, with some Ralph Bakshi and Schoolhouse Rock thrown in.

The cartoon is offensive (well, if you are a human being, it is offensive, also if you are among certain non-human species). It is bizarre (you just don't get to see too much animated Queen Victoria soft-core in the US, maybe this is more common in Britain). It is mostly about Brunel, but it is also telling of the state of the UK in the early 1970s. Something was clearly wrong that this was green-lighted. I can imagine the conversation.

Producer: We are going to make an animated history of the Great Engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Network: Sounds great, we need more educational programming.

Producer: Um, Thanks, the budget will be 100,000 pounds.

Network: See our accountants.

And then many drugs were consumed no one supervised production. I don't know when or if this aired, one imagines Saturday at 11 pm. One hopes not Saturday at 11 am. And because of this, no one else has since produced a Brunel biopic.

While generally historically accurate in the bits you would expect to be accurate, and pointing out stories I had not heard (the difficulty of launch for the Great Eastern, and the boiler explosion) (for lack of reading one more biography), it misses some of the best Brunel stories, like how he swallowed a coin in a failed magic trick, or how he nearly drowned in the Thames Tunnel. Still if you like animation, cheesy music (including an love song to the Great Western Railway), and can overlook what was barely acceptable racism in 1970s England, this is an interesting piece, telling you as much about the pre-punk, pre-Thatcher ethic as the Victorians.

For the record, IMDB records there were two other Brunel biopics, as well as some other documentary mentions, plus the very strange 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony, where he was portrayed by Kenneth Brannaugh.

  • ITV Play of the Week" - Engineer Extraordinary (1959) TV episode, Played by Peter Wyngarde
  • The Romance of a Railway: The History of Achievement (1935) Played by Carl Harbord

I have not seen these.

Who will raise my Taxis |

Now @

Who will raise my Taxis?

License plates


From xkcd

Brad Templeton against California HSR

Reihan Salam @ The Agenda - National Review Online: Brad Templeton Makes the Most Compelling Case against California HSR -:

"Brad Templeton, director of the Electonic Frontier Foundation, and chair of the Networks and Computing Systems Track at Singularity University, makes a number of worthwhile observations regarding California’s effort to construct a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco:

(1) though HSR strikes many Americans as very “futuristic,” it is a 50-year-old legacy technology that may well be rendered obsolete by a number of emerging technologies that are cheaper and better suited to the realities of modern urban travel;

(2) self-driving automobiles have the potential to radically reduce door-to-door travel times, not just downtown-to-downtown travel times that are less relevant in polycentric metropolitan regions, and are compatible with mobility-on-demand models that could more efficiently allocate mobility resources across large, dense populations;

(3) innovation in air travel might center not on increasing speed but rather on making more efficient use of travel time to airports and streamlining security procedures, and self-driving automobiles might complement a dense network of “air taxis” that make better use of currently underutilized air strips;

(4) new rail technologies will almost certainly emerge in the coming decades;

(5) and telepresence, including telepresence robots, might reduce the demand for inter-city travel. (I’m somewhat skeptical, but you never know.)"

Basically, quoting Gretzky, skate to where the puck will be.

Alexis Madrigal @ The Atlantic: How Google Builds Its Maps—and What It Means for the Future of Everything - Technology :

"Or as my friend and sci-fi novelist Robin Sloan put it to me, 'I maintain that this is Google's core asset. In 50 years, Google will be the self-driving car company (powered by this deep map of the world) and, oh, P.S. they still have a search engine somewhere.'

Of course, they will always need one more piece of geographic information to make all this effort worthwhile: You. Where you are, that is. Your location is the current that makes Google's giant geodata machine run. They've built this whole playground as an elaborate lure for you. As good and smart and useful as it is, good luck resisting taking the bait. 

Middle Class

Why do so many people think they are middle class, even 1 per centers, even poor people? Why do both parties claim to appeal to the (vast) Middle Class, as opposed to any other class. One could divide the world into three classes (lower, middle, upper) of equal sizes. Americans divide the world into one class.

People typically buy into the most expensive neighborhood they can afford, as this will have better services, schools, etc.. Thus, they are in neighborhoods where they have about median income. Half the people in their neighborhood have more money, half have less money, the within-neighborhood disparity is not too wide. They more or less correctly perceive themselves as median for their neighborhood, half the people they know are wealthier. Every day they are in the middle, struggling to keep us with the Joneses.

Most people do not take the broader perspective of considering the wealth of the neighborhoods they cannot afford, nor the poverty of neighborhoods they avoid. If they do think about, they discount that significantly, compared with the people they see on a daily basis. This is a proximity/perception bias. They assume their perceptions are median perceptions.

Keeping up with the Joneses is a struggle (even if you are Mitt Romney and have to keep up with the Huntsmans, for all but one person on the planet, someone is wealthier). The number of things one could buy exceeds available funds. Capitalism is excellent at creating unfulfilled desire, and everyone is a relativist in economics and happiness. And once you have $75,000 year, money doesn't make you happier.

Linklist: September 4, 2012


The Minnesota Daily: Campus buses implement GPS tracking system [The University adopts NextBus, really cool bus stop signs, again leads MetroTransit]

KurzweilAI: California passes driverless car bill :

"Catching up with Nevada, it will be legal for autonomous cars to drive in California, probably within the next five years, if Gov. Brown signs SB 1298, just passed by the California Senate, the San Jose Mercury reports."


KurzweilAI: Self-driving cars in 2019, report says:

"Autonomous cars will be in showrooms as early as 2019, or maybe even sooner, according to a report released by KPMG and the Center for Automotive Research."
[I am still very skeptical of connected vehicles. We need autonomy first.]

The Hill's Transportation Report: Stalled labor talks threaten to paralyze US ports - :

"Ports in the United States could be unable to import and export goods if a labor fight is not resolved by October"

SafetyUnderground China Bridge Collapse Raises Infrastructure Concerns:

"HONG KONG — One of the longest bridges in northern China collapsed on Friday, just nine months after it opened, setting off a storm of criticism from Chinese Internet users and underscoring questions about the quality of construction in the country’s rapid expansion of its infrastructure."

NYTimes: Why Waiting in Line Is Torture : "

SOME years ago, executives at a Houston airport faced a troubling customer-relations issue. Passengers were lodging an inordinate number of complaints about the long waits at baggage claim. In response, the executives increased the number of baggage handlers working that shift. The plan worked: the average wait fell to eight minutes, well within industry benchmarks. But the complaints persisted.

Puzzled, the airport executives undertook a more careful, on-site analysis. They found that it took passengers a minute to walk from their arrival gates to baggage claim and seven more minutes to get their bags. Roughly 88 percent of their time, in other words, was spent standing around waiting for their bags.

So the airport decided on a new approach: instead of reducing wait times, it moved the arrival gates away from the main terminal and routed bags to the outermost carousel. Passengers now had to walk six times longer to get their bags. Complaints dropped to near zero."



You've Heard of Skyscrapers. But What About a 'Depthscraper'? - Design - The Atlantic Cities [I work in one, lots of water-related issues]

Systemic Failure: The Problem of Under-Insured Drivers :

"In June 2010, Kaitlynn Fisher was killed in a car crash when the other driver, Ronald K. Hope, ran a red light. There was no doubt as to culpability: a jury and even Hope’s insurer (Nationwide) agreed that Hope was at fault.

The story gets interesting because Fisher’s insurer, Progressive, did not want to pay out a claim. You see, Fisher carried coverage for under-insured drivers. Hope had maxed out his $25,000 in coverage, and Fisher’s policy provided up to $100,000 coverage for accidents involving uninsured and under-insured drivers. Obviously hoping to avoid paying out a $75,000 claim, Progressive interjected itself into the wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Hope."

Human Transit: Grids on the brain


Seat2B The airline industry has "permanently shriveled":

"Scheduled flights within North America this month are at their lowest levels in a decade, according to OAG, the global guardian of flight statistics. OAG estimates there will be around 21,400 fewer flights this month than last August and nearly a million fewer seats available to book. And this comes against a background of an airline system that has been shrinking relentlessly since the economic upheavals of 2008."

Digital Trends: ‘Double’ transforms your iPad into a $1999 telepresence robot:

"Imagine you’re at your company, seated at your desk, when this iPad perched on a kind of pared-down Segway rolls up beside you. On the screen is the face of one of your co-workers located in another country who today is poking about your office, getting to know the layout, meeting some new people, asking a few questions. After a brief chat, it rolls off to the other side of the office. You look up five minutes later and do a double-take as you notice two of these devices having a conversation with each other by the water cooler.

Thanks to Double Robotics’ iPad-on-wheels – otherwise known as ‘Double’ – such a scenario could one day become a reality."

The Hill's E2-Wire: Report: Carbon emissions hit lowest levels in 20 years:

"Carbon emissions have fallen to their lowest levels in 20 years, primarily due to market forces, The Associated Press reports.

The U.S. Energy Information Agency, a part of the Energy Department, said Thursday that carbon dioxide emissions in the United States have fallen close to 1992 levels.

Though the agency credited a large number of factors for the reduction, it said that the primary reason for the drop has been cheap and abundant natural gas."

Transportation Team Trivia Night

I will be your congenial (not congenital) host of WTS MN/YPT Transportation Team Trivia Night :

"Join WTS Minnesota and YPT for our first-ever Transportation Team Trivia night, hosted by David Levinson.

Are you a master of obscure transportation knowledge?

WTS Minnesota and YPT Minneapolis (Young Professionals in Transportation) are joining forces to bring you a night of transportation team trivia fun!

Using the classic pub trivia format, U of M professor David Levinson (the Transportationist himself) will host a five-round multimodal trivia bonanza on September 11 at Republic, home to one of the best craft beer lists in Minneapolis.

There is no cost to attend, and all are welcome, so bring your friends and colleagues! The winning team will receive bragging rights and a prize to be announced.

Get there early to take advantage of Republic's excellent happy hour specials. No need to form a team in advance--just show up ready to test your knowledge and have fun with colleagues!

The details

When: Tuesday, September 11, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

5:30 p.m. Happy Hour (food and drink specials available until 6:00 p.m.)
Trivia begins promptly at 6:00 p.m. and will go until approximately 8:30 p.m.

Where: Republic, Aux 1 room

Who: Transportation students and professionals of all ages

Cost: Free (food and beverages will not be provided)

RSVP: Appreciated, but not required. RSVP to Katie Roth by 4:00 p.m. on September 11."

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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