January 2013 Archives

Heilmeier's Catechism

I saw a presentation by Prof. Sheldon Jacobson yesterday, and he mentioned following Heilmeier's Catechism as a criteria for successful NSF proposals. I had not heard of this, so looked it up, and it is worth repeating:

Heilmeier's Catechism:

A set of questions credited to Heilmeier that anyone proposing a research project or product development effort should be able to answer.
  • What are you trying to do? Articulate your objectives using absolutely no jargon.
  • How is it done today, and what are the limits of current practice?
  • What's new in your approach and why do you think it will be successful?
  • Who cares?
  • If you're successful, what difference will it make?
  • What are the risks and the payoffs?
  • How much will it cost?
  • How long will it take?
  • What are the midterm and final "exams" to check for success?

We have an insufficient number of Catechisms dictating the practicalities of academic research.

Recently published:

Traditional "chalk and talk" teaching in civil engineering is gradually being replaced with active learning that focuses on encouraging students to discover knowledge with innovative pedagogical methods and tools. One interesting such tool is the board game. This research examines the efficacy of adopting transportation board games as a tool in graduate-level transportation planning and transportation economics classes at the University of Minnesota from 2008 to 2011. The Department of Civil Engineering offered these courses with transportation board games on weekday nights. Students were asked to evaluate the effects of the games on their learning and to write self-reflective essays about their findings. The postgame survey revealed that the students' understanding of the planning process, network deployment, and practical issues, and their ability to form opinions about transportation planning had improved. Student essays on the game economy and its implications on planning further validated that the learning outcomes derived from this game process met the pedagogical goals. This analysis shows that students who are oriented toward learning more on the basis of the visual, sensing, active, or sequential learning styles, with all else being equal, tend to learn more effectively through this approach than those who do not share these learning styles. Overall, this research suggests that properly incorporating board games into the curriculum can enhance students' learning in transportation planning.

Stairing us in the face

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There are lots of social engineering messages to get people to take the stairs instead of the elevator. I normally do this if I can, and agree that it is probably healthier (though the energy savings is small).

However, the state of our stairs is disrepair and disgrace. Many of our buildings were not designed for this new trend, and stairs seemed to be only intended for fire emergencies.

To wit, some pictures of my favorite staircases, which I use regularly at the University of Minnesota. Clearly no one has got the message that stairs should be at least as attractive as elevators, even if they are fire emergency stairs.

The first photo is a staircase at the Washington Avenue Parking Ramp (Garage for those outside the Midwest). It is at least painted, and has windows, but one would hardly call it nice. It functions not just as a transportation corridor for people, but also for drains, making it easy to service, like your utility room.

The second photo is from the same building, but a different staircase. Not even as attractive as the first. Without windows or natural light, not carpeted nor tiled, the walls painted with an undifferentiated institutional color.

The third photo is from the Civil Engineering building, this is a side entrance, not intended by the architects as anything but for service, yet it is the fastest way in and out of that highly circuitous building from the south and it gets a lot of traffic.

Compare this with your most recent elevator ride. If it was the CE building, it was admittedly equally decrepit, but the elevators there are under repair. In other buildings, the elevator is usually a much a nicer ride. Why?

If we want people to take the stairs, let's make the stairs just a little bit nicer.


Now at streets.mn There’s no business like snow business :

" I wouldn’t say we become bad drivers. We are bad drivers, we just reveal it when the environment changes to the unexpected."


Recently published:

"This report summarizes previous phases of the Access to Destinations project and applies the techniques developed over the course of the project to conduct an evaluation of accessibility in the Twin Cities metropolitan region for 2010. It describes a methodology that can be used to implement future evaluations of accessibility, including a discussion of the development and use of software tools created for this evaluation. The goal of the 2010 accessibility evaluation is twofold: it seeks both to generate an accurate representation of accessibility in 2010, and to identify data sources, methods, and metrics that can be used in future evaluations. The current focus on establishing replicable data sources and methodology in some cases recommends or requires changes from those used in previous Access to Destinations research. In particular, it is important to standardize data sources and parameters to ensure comparability between multiple evaluations over time. This evaluation recommends data sources and methodology that provide a good representation of actual conditions, that are based on measurements rather than models that provide a reasonable expectation of continuity in the future and that are usable with a minimum of manual processing and technical expertise."

QRious sidewalks


ST sends me to Rio (via AP) which reports Bar codes on sidewalks give tourist info:

"Rio de Janeiro is mixing technology with tradition to provide tourists information about the city by embedding bar codes into the black and white mosaic sidewalks that are a symbol of the city."

This might be a solution to improving navigability, though I think it will puzzle archeologists in 1000 years. The problem of course is it makes people look (1) at their phones rather than the city, and (2) at the sidewalk instead of what's in front of them.

Reihan Salam at NRO on Ending the Federal Surface-Transportation Program Might Be Crazy in a Good Way :

" So far, the most attractive realistic proposal for reforming federal highway expenditures is ‘Fix It First, Expand It Second, Reward It Third: A New Strategy for America’s Highways’ by Matthew Kahn and David Levinson, which calls for the following:
First, all revenues from the existing federal gasoline tax would be devoted to repair, maintain, rehabilitate, reconstruct, and enhance existing roads and bridges on the National Highway System. Second, funding for states to build new and expand existing roads would come from a newly created Federal Highway Bank, which would require benefit-cost analysis to demonstrate the efficacy of a new build. Third, new and expanded transportation infrastructure that meets or exceeds projected benefits would receive an interest rate subsidy from a Highway Performance Fund to be financed by net revenues from the Federal Highway Bank.

But now Rohit Aggarwala of Bloomberg Philanthropies has called for a more radical approach, which might garner bipartisan support while forcing believers in competitive federalism to ‘put up or shut up.’ The proposal closely resembles an idea floated by Christopher Papagianis, my erstwhile Economics 21 colleague. Aggarwalla calls for abolition of the federal gasonline tax and the devolution of responsibility over surface transportation to state governments:

Getting rid of the tax would force a serious discussion in each state about how, and how much, to fund roads and transit. States could choose to reimpose the same tax, or they could set a different rate based on their desired level of transportation spending. They could choose to raise other kinds of revenue to pay for roads and transit — such as sales taxes, property taxes, local taxes or tolls. Or they could simply reduce their transportation spending. "

I have been thinking about this for a while.

In the wake of MAP-21, it is worth reflecting on "Why is there a federal role?" In short the argument against are that the system exists, most is traffic local, and the states are perfectly capable of managing and preserving the system, since they already do. All they need to do is raise their gas tax by the amount the federal tax is reduced, and they are no worse off (assuming all federal transportation funds come from the Highway Trust Fund, which is less true than it used to be.

The federal role could be reduced to research (which might look self-serving as I am a researcher, but I support a federal role for this outside my field as well, since research is a public good with positive externalities), and safety regulations.

One argument against the Aggarwala position is that it is needlessly cumbersome to to fight 50 gas tax fights in 50 states, there is a strong convenience of existing revenue source, and this greatly reduces political transaction costs, since it is the status quo.

A second argument against is that we essentially need to rebuild the Interstate in place, and this recapitalization is a national need, just as the initial construction was, justifying a national funding source. We would not want one state to let its existing Interstates devolve to rubble due to poverty, even if it mostly hurt them. I don't think that would happen (at least not at a large scale), but clearly different states would have different investment levels without the federal minimum funds.

I suggested in Enterprising Roads that state DOTs be transformed to be more like public utility than a branch of government.

Norton (in Fighting Traffic) defines " a public utility was not just an enterprise 'of real public importance,' but also one in which competition was unfeasible." That seems to be an accurate representation of most roads in the US. We could argue about long distance roads being competitive, but there are large network economies at the local level, and while we could think about what might happen with atomistic competition (a really neat idea), it is not practical implementability in the short run.

We don't have or need federal funding of the backbone public utility electric grid (though there is regulation, and I am sure some subsidies somewhere), and seem to do ok, surely roads are similar. However, in the absence of that public utility transformation and movement to fuller understanding of direct user fees as the best funding source, avoiding 50 political battles and relying on the status quo funding (which is also an indirect user fee) for a few more years, and directing that existing funding, seems to me a good second-best solution, better than immediate complete devolution. Of course, one could argue that devolution might help force the transformation, so this is not obvious.

Looking for rationales for the highway program I stumbled on the following. In part this falls under the category: We have learned nothing in 30 (60) ((90)) years. The following paper could easily have been written today.

Gomez-Ibañez, Jose, (1985) Chapter 7 "The Federal Role in Urban Transportation" in
Quigley, John M., and Daniel L. Rubinfeld, editors American Domestic Priorities: An Economic Appraisal. Berkeley: University of California Press.

The Rationale for Federal Aid

Whatever the appropriate level of urban highway investment, one key issue is why the federal government should be so heavily involved. Since 70 percent of the United States population lives in urban areas, the majority of the country clearly has a strong interest in urban highways. At least in theory, however, our federal system reserves powers and responsibilities to state and local governments unless some compelling and distinct national interest is involved. This devolution of responsibilities is based both on democratic ideals and the pragmatic argument that those who are closest to a problem often know best how to solve it.

The principal rationale for federal highway aid programs has been the national interest in an intercity transportation system that serves long-distance or interstate as well as local traffic. When federal highway aid began in 1916, the road system was largely unpaved and road construction and maintenance were the responsibility of county governments. The counties were notorious for their failure to cooperate in improving roads that served more than one county, perhaps because their dependence on property tax revenues made it difficult to finance improvements that served more than local needs. An interconnected road system would benefit all, it was argued, by promoting interstate commerce and reducing the social and political isolation of rural communities. The federal government gave highway aid directly to state governments, on the theory that states would have more interest than counties in promoting an intercity highway system.[18]

While federal intervention may have been needed to promote an interconnected highway system seventy years ago, it may be unnecessary today. Thanks in part to early federal aid, each state now finances and administers its own system of trunk highways, leaving county and city governments responsible mainly for local or secondary roads. Federal aid may not be necessary even to induce states to build a coordinated interstate highway system. In the decade before the Interstate System was funded,
for example, many Eastern and Central states cooperated in the construction of an interconnected system of limited-access toll expressways that allowed motorists to travel between New York and Chicago or Boston and Albany without ever having to stop for an intersection or traffic light. Toll financing had eliminated the problem of using local taxes to support interstate travel and by 1956, when Interstate funding ended the boom, around 12,000 miles of toll expressways had been built, started, authorized, or projected.[19]

To the extent that there is a distinct national interest in the highway system, it applies more clearly to roads that primarily serve long-distance and interstate rather than local travelers. Although Interstate System planners rationalized the inclusion of urban segments on the grounds that interstate traffic often originates or terminates in urban areas, urban expressways probably have a limited claim to federal aid, since their design is largely dictated by peak-hour local commuting traffic.
Perhaps the strongest argument for a federal role is in the areas of highway research and demonstration projects. Research on pavement durability, highway planning techniques, and highway safety measures is of potential benefit to all states. Since no single state captures all the benefits, there is little incentive for a state to fund research alone. The federal government, however, can consider the benefits to all states in designing its research program.

He also wrote a section on Mass Transit

The Federal Rationale

The rationale for federal involvement in urban mass transit shares many of the weaknesses of the rationale for federal aid to urban highways. The argument most often cited in the early 1960s debates over the initial federal capital grant program was the need to counterbalance federal highway aid. The federal and state highway trust funds, all financed with dedicated gasoline taxes, were thought to have induced state and local governments to channel too much capital spending into highways and too little into mass transit. Transit had declined because of undercapitalization, the argument continued, and federal transit aid was needed to correct the imbalance.[47]

The failure of the transit investments of the 1970s to increase ridership significantly suggests that undercapitalization was probably not a major cause of the decline of mass transit patronage. Rising real household incomes, suburbanization of jobs and residences, and other demographic trends probably played more important roles in the postwar patronage losses. Even if local governments had seriously over-invested in highways and underinvested in transit, a massive new transit aid program may not have been the correct answer. By subsidizing both the highway and transit modes the federal government might reduce the balance between transit and highways only at the risk of overcapitalizing transportation in general. Reducing or eliminating the federal highway aid program might have encouraged more balanced spending on all forms of transportation.


18. Gifford, "The Federal Role in Roads"; Burch, Highway Revenue and Expenditure continue
Policy ; and John B. Rae, The Car and the Road in American Life (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 1972).

19. Rae, The Car and the Road , pp. 173-82.

47. For examples of this argument see Lyle C. Fitch and Associates, Transportation and Public Policy (San Francisco, Calif.: Chandler, 1964); Thomas E. Lisco, "Mass Transportation: Cinderella in Our Cities," The Public Interest no. 18 (1970): 52-74. The contrast between the overcapitalization and the demographic hypotheses was shown most clearly in George W. Hilton, "The Urban Mass Transportation Assistance Program," pp. 131-44 in Perspectives on Federal Transportation Policy , ed. James C. Miller, III (Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute, 1975); and George W. Hilton, Federal Transit Subsidies (Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute, 1974).

Enterprising roadsp1

Recently published:

Most roads in the United States are owned and managed directly by government, with funding for construction and maintenance derived primarily from taxes on gas. For many decades, this system worked well enough, despite widespread problems with congestion and road quality. Recently, however, rising maintenance costs and falling fuel tax receipts have begun to call into question the sustainability of this model.

At their current levels, gas taxes will not provide the revenue needed to maintain America’s roads satisfactorily, let alone to rejuvenate and extend the network where necessary. Yet, direct political management hinders the development of new revenue streams, leads to operational inefficiencies and hampers innovation. Put simply, the organizations that built the U.S. highway networks are no longer suited to running them.

A better approach is urgently needed. Ideally, the organizations that manage roads should be able to finance road construction and maintenance through the sale of bonds, without requiring direct consent from higher political authorities. And they should be able to cover the costs of those bonds by charging for road use. More generally, they need to be capable, energetic, ingenious and ready to act. And for all those reasons, they need greater autonomy.

This paper argues that roads should be managed by independent enterprises, with a clear mission of providing service to customers. One way to achieve this, while maintaining overarching political control—and thereby prevent abuses of monopoly power—is to convert existing government operated road management organizations (such as the state Departments of Transportation) into regulated public utilities.

Within such a framework, a wide variety of ownership structures are possible, ranging from municipal- or state-ownership to mutual- and investor-ownership. Each structure has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, but all are superior to the existing system in one crucial respect: they clearly orient the road enterprise away from day-to-day politics and toward providing value to their users.

The regulated public utility model is already well-established in other important sectors in the U.S., including water, energy and telecommunications. Indeed, around 10% of wastewater utilities, 20% of water utilities, most pipelines, electric utilities, natural gas utilities, and virtually all telecom and cable utilities are investor-owned.

Internationally, the regulated public utility model is already operating successfully in transportation. The New Zealand Transport Agency, for example, has an independent board of directors who appoint the CEO, and works in accordance with a performance agreement negotiated with the New Zealand Ministry of Transport. Management is separated from governance, and service delivery is separated from policy. New Zealand’s approach has delivered large efficiency gains without compromising service levels.

Australia’s state road enterprises, meanwhile, demonstrate the benefits commercialization could bring to state Departments of Transportation in the U.S. By contrast with their American equivalents, Australian road enterprises—like New South Wales’s Roads and Traffic Authority or Victoria’s VicRoads—are innovative and highly business-like.

The United States should follow Australia and New Zealand’s lead, and transform its state Departments of Transportation (or the highways divisions thereof) into separate, publicly regulated, self-financing corporate entities. Full-cost accounting—as already performed by Arizona’s Department of Transportation—constitutes a necessary first step in this direction. In making the transition, policymakers should strive to impose regulation only where absolutely necessary, to minimize the anti-competitive effects of any such regulation, and to leave social objectives to the government, thereby freeing road enterprises to focus on economic ones. Accordingly, road enterprises should be permitted to pursue cost-effective contracting and public private-partnerships as they see fit.

The new road enterprises should also be given latitude to make greater use of user fees—as opposed to general revenue—for funding their activities. Such charges are not just more efficient and equitable than traditional funding sources; if properly designed and implemented, they are also better suited to reducing congestion through effective pricing. Vehicle-miles-traveled charges, weight-distance charges and electronic tolling are all options that road enterprises should be free to pursue.

There is no single formula for success. Road enterprises will learn by doing, and by trialing alternate strategies. The U.S. has 50 separate laboratories of democracy in which road enterprises and state authorities can experiment to find out what works and what doesn’t. There will be successes and failures along the way: successes will be replicated; failures will be eradicated. It is only by establishing a learning process like this that innovative progress in surface transportation can be made.

Metro strategic plan 2013-2025

PZ sends me to The Washington Post which discusses the WMATA/Metro strategic plan

Source document here: Momentum: Metro strategic plan 2013-2025

Several comments from a preliminary reading:

1. Metro benefits are presented in terms of reduced car use (p.10). This is the wrong way of looking at the benefits. The main benefits of Metro are the service to riders (more trips, faster trips, higher quality trips), not the reduction in congestion for non-riders. Who knows how many auto trips there would be instead? If Metro were closed for a day, everyone would work from home. If it were a month, people would carpool. If it were a few years, jobs would relocate. The ridiculous assumption that everyone would drive instead, and need to park in garages filling all of the central area are self-negating.

2. The region expect to keep growing, to 8.6 million people in 2040 (including an outer ring that includes many of Baltimore's suburbs). If it continues to grow, it will need more service. Will it continue to grow? I would much prefer a scenarios approach (e.g. high growth/low growth/decline) and consideration of alternative strategies for alternative futures. I bet if we looked at Detroit's plans from 1950 or 1960 or 1970 or 1980, they anticipated growth too (amusingly Google classifies that link as "fiction", unfortunately it is not downloadable, so I can only speculate). Maybe DC will become the east coast's primate city, displacing New York, analogous to London or Paris or Tokyo.

3. It looks like Fleet expansion solves most problems (Table 4), begging the question of why there needs to be new tunnels. (Not that there need not be tunnels, but high crowding is the price to be paid for dense cities, and Washingtonians should become better acquainted with their neighbors, just like Londoners and Tokyo residents). Further, why can't more streets just be converted to bus-only transitways to satisfy the demand? This should require some paint and little else at the margin. (And of course can be as expensive as you want to make it).

4. p. 11 "The Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) added 275,000 households and 295,000 jobs between 2004 and 2010. Of that growth, 6.4 percent of new households and 13.8 percent of new jobs located within one-half mile of suburban and one quarter-mile of urban Metro stations. The land area around these Metro stations comprised only 0.5 percent of the MSA land area, which suggests that Metro-adjacent locations are capturing far more than a simple share of growth" (6.4% of HH is only 17,600 HH, or 2514 per year over 7 years. Metro should do better than that. And a half mile is a pretty long area, most people within 1/2 mile in suburban Washington will not be using transit)

5. p. 12 "The land around Metrorail stations generates $3.1 billion annually in property tax revenues to the jurisdictions. Of these revenues, $224 million of incremental property value is from land near Metrorail stations – extra value that would not exist without Metro. " $224 million in incremental property value revenues (I assume this means taxes) is great. This should be captured to pay for the system improvements. Over 30 years this is $6.6 billion in additional revenue (assuming no additional development and 0% interest rates). Ballpark, this is oneway of capitalizing the value of the system. A value capture district around all the stations would be a good idea.

6. Figure 6 shows that Washington has more vehicle-miles per capita of transit service, and it is claimed this means more competitiveness. I am unconvinced of the causality here:

Do Agglomerating benefitting industries create density and demand public transit,

Or does transit create population density attracting agglomeration-benefitting industries?

I am all for mutual co-location as a theory and explanation, but there are reasons some industries (government and its courtiers, e.g.) likes to agglomerate, which are independent of transportation. Transportation serves and reinforces (and maybe attracts) that industry of course. A city without government (or finance, or one of the few other strongly agglomerating sectors) would see far less demand for central city development and commensurate transit. Since Washington has this industry, it should have more transit than a fast-growing metropolis without such industries (e.g. Phoenix)

More Vehicle-miles per capita without accompanying mode share indicates an inefficient land use pattern. I would think if people were closer together, fewer vehicle-miles of transit needed to be provided to serve the same trips. (The data I think comes from this 2004 study, which perhaps surprisingly has Minneapolis in third place for Economic Competitiveness, Figure 7, despite its relatively poor public transit showing).

Titling Articles

A number of papers in the academic literature use words in the title like: Understanding, Examining, Studying, Determining, Assessing, Modeling, Evaluating, Impacts of, Effects of, etc. I am guilty of this myself in some papers where insufficient thought goes into the name. Often these words can be eliminated.

There is no formula for good titles. There are however statistics on what types of words and punctuation marks lead to better or worse citation rates (Huggett 2011). As a simple illustration, there is a reason Adam Smith's "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations" is shortened to "Wealth of Nations".

In titles, as in life, Omit Needless Words.


Huggett, Sarah (2011) Heading for success: or how not to title your paper. Research Trends #24.

Transit Space Race 2013

Reconnecting America updates its Transit Space Race for 2013

. Their main point seems to be there are $250 billion worth of unbuilt transit in the US, and we should build it, and at current federal spending rates, we won't get this done for 8 decades. I can think of a lot worse uses for the money, but also better. Of course the estimated cost is only the cost for 497 projects which have estimated costs, and does not include the 224 projects without cost estimates.

There is no answer as to why it is a federal responsibility to fund local serving transit.

They provide a map of the US, with number of projects per CMSA. The Twin Cities comes in fourth (behind LA, Baltimore-Washington, and Chicago) in the number of proposed but unfunded projects. I am not sure whether to be proud or dismayed that we weren't first.

At any rate, it won't take long for the observant reader to identify some double (or I think triple) counting or alternatives under different guises both of which would likely never be built (streetcar and rapid bus in the same corridor, e.g.). Nevertheless, as a first cut summary, this is useful for the fantasy transit planner in all of us.

They also have categories of BRT (bus rapid transit) and Rapid bus. This is confusing to professionals, much less the public. We need better terms of art for one or both of these things. There are lots of terms floating around, but I think the aim is to obfuscate as much as communicate.

Update, Jan 22, 15:55. Reconnecting America writes in:

Hey David, Thanks for posting about the space race. Since you turned off comments a few weeks ago I’d like to email a few comments instead. First of all, in the introduction under the map we do mention that “this catalog is not a list of projects we would like to see built or an endorsement of any project. It is simply a list of what regions around the country have listed as potential projects.” As you know many of these projects can be dogs and we certainly don’t wish them all to be built. In fact there are reasons why many of them fall to the wayside. But I think it is important to list them. I also agree that Rapid Bus and BRT are confusing. In some spots we do have BRT listed because there is a hope locally that dedicated lanes will be available but we know that really won’t happen when the costs are shown. One of the biggest reasons for not collecting data on all the rapid bus lines in the country is the sheer number out there. When we first started collecting data they just showed up in droves, which I guess is good that folks are thinking about transit, but hard to get a handle on what was just a colored bus running the same route it always had. In any event, thanks again for posting and I think you’re characterization of it is spot on. It’s meant to be a first cut list of all things possible and its certainly an interesting look into what regions are thinking at this point in time.


Nexus group alumnus Brendan Nee has a new blog on Tech + Urban Transportation: techsportation

Not dead but buried

I talk about air rights over freeways: Not dead but buried at streets.mn

- dml

JTLU in Scopus

The Journal of Transport and Land Use (JTLU), an international, open-access, peer-reviewed online journal that publishes original interdisciplinary papers on the interaction of transport and land use, is pleased to announce that it is now indexed in Scopus.

Scopus is the world’s largest abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed research literature. Scopus is managed by Elsevier and covers more than 20,500 titles from more than 5,000 international publishers. The Scopus title reviewer commented on JTLU:

“Excellent journal, and an excellent addition to the Scopus data base.”

Domains covered by JTLU include: engineering, planning, modeling, behavior, economics, geography, regional science, sociology, architecture and design, network science, and complex systems. JTLU is also the official journal of the World Society for Transport and Land Use Research.

For more information on JTLU, please visit www.jtlu.org. To learn more about Scopus, please visit www.info.sciverse.com/scopus.


Dear Credit Card Company:

I make a reservation for plane to Toronto using your credit card.

I used your credit card to hold a hotel reservation in Toronto .

Why, once I am in Toronto, do you decline my card to pay for that same hotel for "suspicious activity", making me call you (international long distance or hotel telephone rates) to get my card released. (A hotel, that by the way, checks photoID of customers).

Surely, with all the Big Data you have available to you, and the interest rates you charge to customers, you should be able to figure this out. I did all I could to telegraph to you about my travels but write you a letter.


Annoyed customer.


A picture of the Ryno is to the right. (I have yet to see one in the wild). It is self-balancing, and so the Segway of mobility scooters/motorcycles. As they say, don't let the road get in the way of your life. It is limited to 12.5 mph, and so one may ask, how is this better than a bicycle? Well if you don't want to pedal. ... How is this better than Segway? Well if you don't want to stand, and somehow it looks cooler.

A page devoted to vehicles with only one wheel is here: Motorwheels monowheels They are not all of the unicycle variety.

Nexus group members (myself included) and affiliated researchers will again be presenting papers at next week's Transportation Research Board Conference in Washington DC. Our papers are listed below. (I will be at many, but not all of these places). We hope to see you there.

Day and TimeSessionSession Name/Article NamePlace
Sunday173Aligning Organizations with Needs of Their 21st Century MissionsHilton, Georgetown East
1:30PM- 4:30PM Enterprising Roads: Alternative Governance for America's Highways  
Monday 280Planning Applications: Sustainability and Transportation NetworksHilton, Lincoln West
10:15AM- 12:00PM Network Structure and the Journey to Work: Intrametropolitan Analysis  
Monday 413Innovations in Statewide Multimodal PlanningHilton, International Center
4:15PM- 6:00PM Understanding the Impact of Gasoline Price Changes on Traffic Safety: A Time Geography Approach  
Monday 424Understanding Interactions at Transit Stop and Route Levels: Tools to Estimate Accessibility and DemandHilton, International Center
4:15PM- 6:00PM The Time Between: Continuously Defined Accessibility Functions for Schedule-Based Transportation Systems  
Tuesday 504Emerging Learning Environments to Meet the Needs of the Transportation Workforce of TomorrowHilton, International Center
8:30AM- 10:15AM Multiagent Route Choice Game for Transportation Engineering  
Tuesday691Transportation Agglomeration and Network Effects in Urban and Rural EconomiesHilton, Columbia Hall 8
7:30PM- 9:30PM Agglomeration, Accessibility, and Productivity: Evidence for Urbanized Areas in the United States  
  Rural Highway Expansion and Economic Development: Impacts on Private Earnings and Employment  
Wednesday 733Finding Our Way: Modeling Route ChoiceHilton, International Center
8:30AM- 10:15AM Route Choice Dynamics After a Link Restoration  
  Network Structure and Travel Time Perception  
Wednesday 731Activity and Travel Behavior Mega-SessionHilton, International Center
8:30AM- 10:15AM Uncovering Influence of Commuters' Perception on Reliability Ratio  
Wednesday724Safety: Performance, Data, and New Advances, Part 1 (Part 2, Session 725)Marriott, Salon 2
8:30AM- 10:15AM Urban-Rural Difference of Gasoline Price Effects on Traffic Safety

Going Underground

Figure c8 f3a

Figure c8 f3b

Figure c8 f3c

Figure c8 f3d

Prior to the advent of the steam railway, London was a metropolis of just over 1 million people. It was well served by both canals and turnpikes connecting to other parts of Great Britain. Internally, there were omnibus services. The London & Greenwich Railway was the first of many railways to reach London, with the first section opening in 1836 and being completed in 1838, making it possible to reach Greenwich in twelve minutes instead of the hour required by horse-drawn omnibus or steamboat. Famously built on a viaduct, the route was initially paralleled by a tree-lined boulevard that operated as a toll road, serving those unwilling to pay rail fares. However, the toll road was disbanded when the viaduct was widened to enable more frequent services to the densely populated urban core, ultimately growing from two tracks to eleven.

Soon many other railways sought to connect to London. To avoid disruption in the core, a Royal Commission on Railway Termini, appointed in 1846, drew a box around central London and decreed no line shall enter the cordon. [This box resembles the congestion charging zone adopted in the early 21st century, which aimed to reduce cars, rather than prohibit trains]. The result was railway terminals locating on the edges of the central region. London, like many cities, has no unified railway station, as the North, South, East, and West lines have no common intersection. The problem is worse though in London, as even lines from the north run by different organizations would be build adjacent (St. Pancras/ Kings Cross), or nearly adjacent (Euston), stations without convenient interchange. Later (between 1858-60) some penetrations of the box were permitted by Parliament, but most of the City of London (the original walled city where the financial district still lies) remained untouched. While preventing railways from severing the most densely populated part of the city, which would have been expensive for both the railways and the city, it created a need for a connection between the termini to allow transfers. The Metropolitan Railway, a private concern like all railways of the era but with some support from the Corporation of the City of London, was approved by Parliament in 1854. It aimed to connect the northern termini (Paddington, Euston, St. Pancras, King's Cross, and Farringdon, which was later added to the plan) to ease movement for through travelers.

The trends in the City of London were quite different from the rest of London. The City of London has seen a long trend of depopulation from 1851 (prior to the first Underground line) and for many years saw increasing employment, lending support to the notion that the railways, especially the Underground, enabled decentralization of residences and concentration of employment.

The Metropolitan Railway opened in January 1863, and was extremely successful. Clearly the market was much larger than inter-line transfers. The firm paid dividends throughout its life. Accounting in the early years of the Metropolitan Railway, especially prior to the Regulation of Railways Act of 1868, was a bit dodgy, and dividends were reportedly paid out of capital. To quote Jackson (1986) p. 38, describing the era of 1865, ``It was . . . a house of cards, a precarious game in which the level of dividend was kept up at all costs, by finding money from somewhere, with no regard to sound accounting or financial rectitude.''. Emulation is the proof of success. Many new railway lines were proposed, the 219 London-area railway bills brought before Parliament during the period 1860-1869 totaled 1420 km (882 miles).

Some of those lines were proposed prior to the opening of the Metropolitan, indicating the smell of success was in the air, though the peak years were between 1863 and 1866, following closely on the heels of the Metropolitan's opening. The most important of these was the Metropolitan District Railway (later called the District line), which ran just north of the River Thames, but south of the Metropolitan, connecting a number of the southern railway termini (Victoria, Charing Cross, Blackfriars, Cannon Street). Proposals for what became the Circle Line service linking the Metropolitan and District (roughly inscribing the box described above) were quickly proposed, but the two lines were not connected on both ends until 1884. Both the Metropolitan and District lines were constructed using cut and cover techniques. Later lines, from the City and South London Railway (first section opened in 1890) onwards, generally used deep-level tunneling techniques to avoid disruption of city streets, existing railway lines, and public utilities when they needed to be below grade. Outside the Circle Line however, the railways could emerge above ground and competed fiercely in some markets, while operating unfettered in others, to provide suburban services. In some cases this involved building new lines, in others it involved acquiring running rights on (or ownership of) existing lines. The development of suburbs was a way to develop traffic for lines that in the city, though profitable, were operating below maximum capacity, and thus maximum profitability.

Adapted from

Also see:

Faster Starts

Drew Kerr of Finance and Commerce describes the new changes that are occurring in the Federal Transit Funding process in his article Funding changes may speed transit projects, which is found, unfortunately, behind a paywall. I get quoted:

David Levinson, a transportation engineer with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Studies, said studying alternatives is valuable but that preferred outcomes aren’t typically impacted by such studies. “If you already know what you’re going to do, than the analysis is needless and there really is no point in doing it,” he said.


I am not integrally involved this process (fortunately), I only know what I read in the papers (and on blogs)). A key point to me seemed to be that they made it optional to consider alternative modes (e.g. LRT vs. BRT). Benefit/Cost Analysis is not required (nor was it before).

Travel time improvements would still be considered in that time savings would drive the number of passengers using the line. Similarly for quality improvements in principle.

Some debate on this is at the Wall Street Journal and Reconnecting America.

The rule itself is quite long, the press release is readable. The key points below, my comments in italics.

  • FTA is adopting a simpler, more straightforward approach for measuring a proposed project’s cost-effectiveness. FTA will no longer require communities to compare a proposed project’s travel time savings against a hypothetical alternative project. Instead, FTA will look at the estimated cost to construct the project communities intend to build compared against a rigorously analyzed estimate for the number of passengers the project will serve.

    It looks like they are using cost-per-trip as their metric, but of course, not all trips are equal, and this new rule would seem to favor projects serving more short trips rather than fewer long trips (not necessarily a bad thing, but a thing).

  • FTA is expanding the range of environmental benefits used to evaluate proposed projects. In addition to taking into account the Environmental Protection Agency’s regional air quality designations, FTA will also look at the dollar value of the anticipated benefits to human health, energy use, air quality (such as changes in total greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants) and safety (such as reductions in accidents and fatalities).

    This seems a good thing

  • FTA is adding new economic development factors to its ratings process. FTA currently looks at local plans and policies already in place to encourage economic development and how well they’re working in a given area. Going forward, a broader set of economic impacts will be included, such as whether local plans and policies maintain or increase affordable housing.

    I am in general skeptical of our ability to accurately measure, much less forecast, economic development benefits . I do not understand why the decisions of non-transportation agencies (like affordable housing programs) have any bearing on whether to construct a mobility improvement whose main effect if any will be to locally increase the price of land (as accessibility benefits are captured by real estate). I am sure this has to do with the administration's Livability Initiative. However the point should be riders.

  • FTA is streamlining the project evaluation process by reducing regulations and red tape. FTA will allow project sponsors to forgo a detailed analysis of benefits that are unnecessary to justify a project. For example, projects that receive a sufficient rating on benefits calculations will not be required to do an analysis to forecast benefits out to some future year. Similarly, FTA is developing methods that can be used to estimate benefits using simple approaches.

    Reducing regulations that were designed to mimic an idealized rational planning process but in the end were just make-work for agency staff and consultants in politically driven processes will save money, but is a defeat for rationalism.

The rule appears to weight all objectives equally, so cost-effectiveness is only one of several criteria here. Another point, assuming FTA objectively applies its rules (i.e. there is no political interference), then this ranking may produce different outcomes than the old ranking system. Projects "on the bubble" before, might not make it here, and near misses before might make it with this system.

Nevertheless, the whole system is still affected by federal subsidies for capital (not operating) costs, pushing local governments to capital intensive projects. See Chen, Wenling (2007) Analysis of Rail Transit Project Selection Bias With an Incentive Approach Planning Theory March 2007 vol. 6 no. 1 69-94.

There is also not a good rationale for federal funding in the first place, since the projects are each individually locally geared (there won't be much interstate travel on the Central Corridor LRT, e.g.), but federalism is a much larger topic, and given the game, the policy change is probably an improvement.

Transportation Benefits Too Little

Highway Chart Graph 1

We are not building much new transportation in the US not just because the costs are too high, but because the benefits are too low.

My 2011 post Transportation Costs Too Much made the claim that new projects were too expensive, and listed a series of hypotheses as to why that might be the case. The whole list is collected here.

When we were much younger as a nation, say 1956, and growing fast, with relatively poor connectivity, you could do almost anything and it would have a benefit/cost ratio above 1. Very little of the interstate has been reversed. But the productivity of new investments has declined over time (as shown by Nadiri, M.I. and Mamuneas, T.P. (1996) Contribution of Highway Capital to Industry and National Productivity Growth Federal Highway Administration. Office of Policy Development.)

The first 3 data points on the graph are rates of return from their work, the last is an extrapolation. This is illustrative only,but someone should update their study.

Updated Jan 10, 2012. Matt Logan points me to a study that shows the authors updated their study in 2006 (Mamuneas, T and Nadiri, M.I. (2006) Production, Consumption and the Rates of Return to Highway Infrastructure Capital)

They report net rates of return are as follows (Table 5)

PeriodNet Rate of Return
1949-1950 : 0.554
1960-1969 : 0.480
1970-1979 : 0.298
1980-1989 : 0.212
1990-2000 : 0.136

My guess is that the 2000s are significantly lower.

A value of approximately zero returns in recent years is consistent with recent work by Noland and his colleagues. This is what you expect with life-cycle theory, and it applies well to existing modes.

The reason we don't draw new lines on the map is that the net benefits are not perceived to outweigh the net costs. The costs have risen as land has gotten scarcer and for all the reasons linked above, and the benefits of additional lines drop. Here we explore the second point.

  1. Diminishing marginal returns to new roads due to diminishing distance reductions as the network is increasingly complete.


    This is a spatial argument, illustrated in the Third Figure (Source: Figure 27.4 from The Transportation Experience). Imagine you have a network with a 1 mile grid (typical for much of the US). With development of farms, you add roads in between, say at 1/2 mile spacing, this reduces travel costs some, as people don't need to back-track as much, and this might be a significant share of the distance for short trips. At most, you are saving someone 1 mile (1/2 mile at the beginning of the trip, and 1/2 mile at the end of the trip). Now add additional links to diminish spacing to 1/4, This requires twice as many links, but only reduces travel costs by at most 1/4 mile at each end of the trip (1/2 mile total). New links do less and less to reduce distances. Distances, along with speed, determine travel time.

  2. Diminishing speed savings for new roads

    Recognition that transport links become congested, and thus slower over time due to:

    1. induced demand
    2. induced development
    3. induced driveways and interchanges, which increase friction on roadways and slow them down over time. While access management addresses this on arterials, very few interchanges are removed to speed freeways, they are almost irreversible
    4. Thus we have to discount the opening year forecast travel time benefits to account for the fact that the travel time savings of any expansion will in part (if not in whole) be eaten up by more travel. While this is not of itself a bad (travel is a measure of people doing something that they value), it is not perceived to be a good thing (because it creates congestion and pollution externalities which existing travelers bear).

      There is some compensation for induced demand and induced development, as more travelers may lead to more service (induced expansion of existing links and construction of new links), but this is a longer term process, and only works up to a point (and more easily with transit services than roads).

  3. Diminishing demands for new roads

    1. peak travel
    2. slowed population growth, particularly in un-roaded or under-roaded exurban areas.

    Implies the benefits from new construction are falling.

  4. Disillusionment with the quality of travel and transportation facilities

    The saying goes: Fast, Cheap, or Good, pick any two. It sometimes seems we have none of these. We know transport costs too much. We know transport takes too long to build. Surely if we are paying a premium, it should be of high quality. It seems not. Maybe the few facilities which are brand new, expensive, and took too long to build are, but the rest of it is not. Even then, I have doubts. Big Dig Ceiling Collapse is one of many notable failures, this one all the worse because the facility was new and expensive.

    An earlier post, It Just Makes You Feel Poor describes the poor quality environment around some local new LRT stations.

The arguments about benefits apply to mature systems in general, and are modally independent. If a new mode comes about that is better than existing modes for some market, it has lots of room to run while providing benefits in excess of costs. But if the new mode is inferior to existing modes, than it has little in the way of prospects.

What constitutes better or inferior is in the eyes of the customer. Certainly customers care about time and price, but they do also consider quality, and may be willing to sacrifice one for the other. But as experience with zeppelins and cruise ships (and conventional intercity rail in most of the US) show, high comfort at slow speed will not trump low comfort at high speed.

This also has implications for the Preservation vs. Expansion argument (Fix It First). If the old projects had high benefit/cost ratios, and without proper maintenance are at risk of disappearing (either failing catastrophically, or being closed to prevent such an end), it is incumbent to maintain them. In fact, given that land uses and resultant activity patterns that have evolved around transportation networks, the benefit/cost ratio of preserving those links is probably much higher than it was originally, and certainly higher than the B/C of new links.

Menace 2 Society


For reasons mentioned in a previous post, we got a new car. I had been hoping my next car would be self-driving, but that was not to be. The new car needed to be bigger than the previous as we have 3 children who sometimes all need to be transported. The Subaru Forester and similar sized cars are incapable of carrying three children in the back row in three car seats (which is what the law requires in some states, seriously the car seat lobby must be making a fortune on fear-mongering). This requires 3 rows. After filtering for size of car, we considered the Dodge Durango, GMC Acadia, Ford Flex, Honda Odyssey, Honda Pilot, and Toyota Siena. Nissan was out of the running based on previous quality issues (damn poor Sentry that stalled out at intersections), and in the end that did in GM as well (damn poor Chevette that leaked over the driver's foot when it rained, because water accumulated in the vents). Based on quality of ride and build, and reliability (both perceived and real), and the fact that I would not want to be in a minivan, we wound up with the Pilot, which we have nicknamed Menace 2 Society.

The car buying experience was not great (I purchased at Buerkle (pronounced Berkeley) Honda). The salesman let me do a short test drive, I would have preferred to be longer. They had their best price. I asked for lower. They had their Costco price. I asked for lower. They said ok to a lower price (take that Costco price guarantee). I probably could have pushed them more, but I didn't have all day, and didn't want to come back (since I was in a daily rental from Enterprise).

But then they had their financing people. I chose to finance primarily because I don't carry around that much cash, but interest rates are so freakin' low it would make sense in any case. Strangely the finance people also sell the service contracts. I don't have special fondness for dealer service (though they are usually fine in my experience, if pricey), but I like to make one organization responsible for everything so there is a minimum of finger pointing. It seems break-even in costs, based on history with previous cars, though they get some money in advance, but like I said, the interest rates are really low. They also sell the undercoating/rust proofing after-market. There is controversy about this, some say it is like mattress protection, and too expensive or worthless. I plan on holding the car a long time assuming it doesn't break, crash, or the price of gas doesn't go about $10/gallon, so I am interested in long term preservation. My last car was held 14 years, and after treatment did not rust (but was beginning to rust beforehand at edges with scratches.) At any rate, they sold as a package and it is hard to decompose how much it is for each item. There is an insurance aspect to this, hoping I won't use it, but if something goes wrong in the first 8 years, they can be held accountable.

As part of their service contract, they include a contracted service (Honda Care Roadside Assistance via Cross-Country Motor Club) that is like AAA for stranded cars etc. Good luck finding them though, this is not information they want you to have, or a service they want you to use (since you already paid for it, using it is a cost to them without future revenue.) In some ways I want to test it, and see if it works. I worry though that if I call them I will get a "no one is home" message. We are still AAA members from last season, I am debating re-upping.

Honda Financial Services are not swift with their systems. First, their site says this:

Please note: email spam filters may block our emails from being delivered. If you have a spam blocker, please set it to accept email from: hondafinancialservices@emailnotify.net

Why would this be? Was your server taken over by spammers? Can you not fix this properly?

Second, once you sign up for electronic payments, they don't actually debit the first payment, only the second. Again, why? Then, since you didn't make your first payment (assuming naively that since you signed up, they could deal with it), they send bill collectors after you. Wouldn't it be cheaper to just take the money that was offered the first time.

The car runs and rides very nicely. It feels like I am just gliding down the road (especially compared to a 1998 Subaru Forester). My main complaint is with user interface:


There are so many buttons and dials on the dashboard, if only they had voice control. It does, but it is voice control c. 1998 automated phone tree. You have to push a button, and then wait so long for it to tell you what you can do you have already reached your destinations. I complained about it in the test drive, and the salesman tried to explain that it wasn't the most god-awful terrible piece of crap user interface (or something like that which I muttered), but really, this was a 2012 model, not a 1998 model.

The buttons are sort of randomly placed, environmental controls sandwiched between the radio and the navigation system. The problem is keeping your eye on the road and hitting the right button. I don't have a solution, but I am sure Apple would. Start with fewer buttons, or maybe a touch screen that only gives you controls in the right mode (environment, entertainment, navigation, communications, car statistics, whatever), or maybe a good voice control that actually does what you tell it to.

The GPS is generally accurate in my limited experience, and not too intrusive, but programming it for the destination you want is a pain. Again touch screen would be really nice here. Give me a map, let me point to where I want to go, and then you find the best path from here to there. Or a smart voice control that could understand what I said at a normal rate of speech.

I periodically get surveys from someone on behalf of Honda about whether I would recommend it to a friend or family member. Thus far aside from the UI, I am happy with it, but as the saying goes, YMMV.

No comment

In short, I have turned comments off on this website.

Since the middle of our brief sojourn in the 21st century, social media has exploded. Facebook has peaked (by which I mean, of course, my use of it has peaked), Twitter is still on the rise (by which I mean, my use is continuing to increase). Overall we may have passed Peak Blog (although we just may be in the Trough of Disillusionment).

Many people read this blog from an RSS feed (usually Google reader or some frontend for Google reader: I use Reeder on the iPhone and PerfectRSS on the iPad and Google Reader on my computers).

Others see posts on Twitter. Some actually come to the blog website itself. A very small fraction post comments. A slightly larger fraction see them (those who click to comment themselves, or come to the blog via Twitter, but not those who read it on RSS or even the website, since unless you are sharing the post, or explicitly want to read comments, there is no reason to click through to the page). I wish everyone would just use RSS to read links and we could be done with it. But that is not the world we live in.

Most of the few comments were useful. A small fraction of prospective commenters also complain to me the commenting system is painful or broken. This blog is a MoveableType blog administered by the University of Minnesota UThink service, so I have very little control over the system. Authentication is aimed to reduce spammers, which it does at the cost of annoying non-spammers (Security is the enemy of efficiency).

The Transportationist was never really intended to be a community, though of course it has its partisans. I am not making a living off my blog (or from book sales) so I have not done much in the way of SEO or attempting to drive traffic. My blogging earns no academic credit, it does not appear on my CV, and is probably viewed by colleagues as a distraction or waste of time. At best it earns me fame, at worst, infamy. Given the number of readers (which can be measured in Micro-Grubers), I doubt either is the case. I doubt I got any research projects funded due to blogging. My views are eclectic on the conventional political axes, and so no one is really sure if I am on their team.

Where else I write:

  1. Books (and Wikibooks) [In engineering, Books earn almost no academic credit. You should read (and write) them anyway.]

  2. Articles and Reports - Typically in peer reviewed journals, at conferences, or working papers, linked to on my website.
  3. Streets.MN - Approximately biweekly, approximately 1000 words, approximately on something transportation-land use related in Minnesota.
  4. Twitter - Public, but short, usually for links ... this is where the energy on Linklists has gone. Some have noted that there are a lot less linklists than before. This was about a 1 year experiment. I know it was relatively popular, but the effort was high, higher than it should be due to the wrong tools. In particular, if I read on an iPad, it is a pain to share a link via the blog (my workflow entailed emailing it to myself, loading the link on my desktop, sending that to the blog), but quite easy via Twitter. Since much of my blog reading has migrated to 5:00 am in bed on an iPad, this is how it has worked out. Twitter also gets a twitterfeed from my blog, since by definition, everything I write here I think is link list worthy.

    There are also a slew of other blogs (TransportationNation, The Other Side of the Tracks, Autoblog, Politico: Morning Transportation, etc.) that do similar link lists (I know a few follow me), so my value-added here is fairly low, maybe catching an interesting article or promoting a story earlier than it otherwise would be. They are paid for this, I am not.

    Anyway, if you like my curation of links, follow me on Twitter. The reason I do this is mainly for my future reference rather than what I think others are interested in, but if you are interested in some of what I am interested in, it will work for you.

  5. Emails (one to one or one to few conversations). I try to keep these as brief as possible. In some cases, down to a single letter (Y, N). If you don't ask an explicit question requiring a response, you may not get a response.

And then there are the Other Social Networks:

  1. Facebook. I used to automatically feed my blog here, but it stopped. I just it started again with Twitterfeed. I assume most people will ignore or block me. I occasionally comment on someone's post, or like something. I don't know why. I occasionally post pictures of the kids, but I am torn between that and Flickr, and lately Flickr gets more love. If I know you in real life, feel free to FB me.
  2. LinkedIn. I still don't know what it is for, but I have lots of contacts. I don't write here and stopped feeding the blog here when they had some technical issues (posting a picture of Jenny McCarthy with my post). I just started again with Twitterfeed, since there are a few readers there. Feel free to Contact me there.
  3. GooglePlus. I send my posts to Google+. I don't know why, though there are a few readers there. Feel free to Encircle me there.

The Transportationist dates from April 2006 (notably post-tenure). So what is the purpose of The Transportationist: It is temporally random, featuring posts of random length but almost always less than 5000 words and often less than 500, generally something transportation-land use related or an announcement of something I or my students have written or edited elsewhere, or a conference, or a talk, etc. In short it is my and my research group's blog (but I am solely responsible for its content). It is not a community website, or intended for comments generally (in contrast with e.g. Streets.MN), though some posts in the past have drawn quite a few. If you think what the blog says is interesting, follow it. If not, keep calm and carry on.

If you have comments, you should get a blog (or if you have one, post there). As someone on the web remarked, that will get a lot more attention for both of us due to Google's PageRank formula than posting on comments with a nofollow tag. If you think I should post something, feel free to email me, I sometimes posts "A reader writes" type of posts, or "A reader responds". Let me know if you prefer anonymity from the rest of the world, but I still need to know who you are.

Another complaint about comments. I don't much like anonymous speech (though I understand the need in the case of totalitarian dictatorships, that is not the situation here). Most comments are anonymous. If I ever migrate to a new platform, I will reconsider. As someone said, never read the bottom half of the internet. Also don't feed the trolls.

If you want to get in touch with me, there are lots of channels, frankly too many. Email is probably best. You are smart, you can find it.

So if you are still with me, thanks for reading to the end of the post.


Recently Published:

  • Chi, Guangchi, Jeremy Porter, Arthur Cosby and David Levinson (2013) The impact of gasoline price changes on traffic safety: a time geography explanation. Journal of Transport Geography Volume 28, April 2013, pp. 1-11 [doi]

    The impact of gasoline price changes on traffic safety has received increasing attention in empirical studies. In this study, we use time geography to provide a theoretical framework for examining the effects of time-varying fluctuations in gasoline prices and their relationship to traffic safety in a case study of Mississippi from April 2004 to December 2010. Application of time geography theory suggests that gasoline prices act as one type of capability constraint of the space–time path. As gasoline prices increase (that is, as the capability constraint becomes stronger), we hypothesize traffic crash rates decrease, and they decrease more for groups for whom the constraint is stronger. The results corroborate the hypotheses and suggest that gasoline prices have stronger effects on reducing less severe crashes and negligible effects on reducing fatal crashes. Gasoline price effects on reducing crashes start at a 9-month lag, peak at a 12-month lag, and diminish after an 18-month lag.

As commentary, the recent increase in crashes this last year (2012 vs. 2011) as the effects of the recession wane (and the budgetary constraints on travel relax) provides corroborative evidence.

Underground 150

Happy Sesquicentennial to the London Underground. In its honor, I relink to a movie of London's growth from 1801.

More movies and higher resolution here.

I am entitled

| 1 Comment

2012 08 29 at 17 11 28

In 1998 I bought a Subaru Forester at Albany Subaru in California. We test drove two all-wheel-drive vehicles with high reliability, it and the Outback. We asked Jeff, the salesman, which car would be better in the post-apocalypse. He said the Forester. In the event, that need has not arisen (yet), but the car was surprisingly useful once I took a job in Minnesota, the White Subaru being the car-du-jour of the Minneapolis Winter. When I moved to Minnesota, the car was still mortgaged to a California Credit Union, but I dutifully transferred license plates. We paid off the car sometime around 2001, and thus owned it outright. I never received the title, it was probably never sent, or may have been sent to my old California address. One never looks for things one is not expecting. For 11 years, this never mattered.

Though we maintained the car well, sometimes the fate of cars is as shown in the picture on the right (no people were seriously injured in the making of this photograph). It being a 14 year old car with serious body damage, it was not worth it for us to repair. We had been considering upgrading for a few years anyway, this accelerated the decision. The car was in the St. Paul impound lot. We had several options for disposal

(1) abandon it on the St. Paul Impound lot. This would get rid of the problem, but not provide a tax deduction;

(2) donate to charity;

(3) sell it untitled on Craigslist;

(4) abandon it on the street to be picked apart by recyclers.

To get it off the lot, or get anything out of the car, you have to pay rent to St. Paul. Since we still had things in the car, we paid the rent. Then AAA helpfully towed the car to the front of my house. However the car was barely operational. Surely it would be picked up in a day or two. I quickly realized that was not to be. I concluded after about a day I did not want to drag down property values in my neighborhood anymore with the unrepaired eyesore, and burned some rubber (the driver side rear tire was bent inward and so created a burning rubber smell when it moved, but it did move while making an awful noise and mechanically the car still worked) and drove the car from the front of my house to my garage in the back alley.

Anyway, we wanted the second option, as it would give us a tax deduction. Unfortunately, all the charities require a title.

I searched my otherwise complete records. I had no title. (I had every insurance form since 1998, and every car care receipt, but no title). A charity helpfully informed the car title was registered in California.

I obtained a notarized lien release letter from my Credit Union, who is remarkably at the same address and phone number as 12 years ago.

At the beginning of September, I filled out a form and sent a check, with the lien release, and asked California to send me the title. About a month later I received a letter in reply returning the check uncashed saying they don't keep records older than 4 years.

The next day, I sent a letter to Minnesota, filling out a form, with various explanations, asking to transfer title from California to Minnesota, with a check, a copy of the letter from California, and the lien release notice from the original lender. A few weeks later I got back a letter, with my original attachments, the check uncashed, saying that was the wrong form, and I need to send them a letter with a different form, asking for a title for untitled vehicles, rather than a transfer.

I sent them the new form. A few weeks later, they sent back a letter asking me to send them the letter from California and the notice from the Credit Union that they held no lien on the car. Naively I assumed they didn't need that again, since they saw it the first time. Surely they would scan it and have it in their records.

So I resent the new form, with the letter from California and the lien release.

Success, finally in the beginning of December, I received a title in the mail from the State of Minnesota.

The next day, we went to Newgate School, which teaches car repair, and gave them the title and the keys to the car. I held the title for less than 24 hours. Two days later, they towed the vehicle from our garage. I hope someone learns something about bodywork, and someone else gets a decent car in return. We got our garage back, which the new car barely fits.


I thought about calling this post "DMV: Or why people hate their government". People often have unpleasant experiences with their government, especially the bureaucratic end (as opposed to the other non-bureaucratic end, like ?). DMV is perhaps the most common and most regular, but I could discuss the planning and permitting offices of local government, which are needlessly bureaucratic and succeed in preventing me from legally doing ethically reasonable things with my property. I don't want to pick on Minnesota DMV (technically Driver and Vehicle Services here), since when I get my driver's license, the line is far shorter than say it was in Maryland or California.

My main gripe has been the annual vehicle registration DVS has. I can do it online, if I pay an extra fee, or I can do it the old-fashioned way and write a check, which is cheaper to me, and must be costlier to them. Does no-one think about incentives?

Further, it was clear what I wanted on my first letter to them (the title to my car which they know I own and I have registered legally here for 13 years), they should have been able to handle it, or called and asked if they could tick a different box on a different form if that is what makes their databases happy. I could have done this in person, but mailing a letter is faster in terms of using less of my scarce time, though not faster in terms of solving the problem in real-time. In short, I would like people to think about ends and not just means.

California really shouldn't be dumping data after 4 years either (are hard drives that expensive?). They must have some privacy rationale, but really, this is a car title, it is in the national registry, they should have been able to handle this too.

(In short, no wonder gun owners don't want to be registered.)

Red Line



Question to Regional Transit Planners:

Why does the Red Line Freeway BRT along Cedar Avenue/Mn 77 not continue beyond Mall of America on 77 and 62 to interline with the Orange Line on I-35W to downtown Minneapolis? [Yes I know, there will still be Express Buses services from 77 to 35, but you weaken the brand, no? All the other colored lines go to downtown, and red is a primary color.]

Why is it better to make people transfer at Mall of America to Hiawatha (Blue Line) and stop 16 times rather than go on the Freeway BRT and stop 2 times before reaching downtown? [Yes I know, it is not for people going downtown, but then, are we really expecting this to carry lots of people justifying high frequency.]

Are you afraid picking up passengers at Mall of America to downtown will reduce your LRT ridership? [Or am I too cynical?]

A poor implementation here will harm the future of Highway BRT just as the poor plan of Northstar is hurting Commuter Rail. The UrbanMSP thread is here, but I haven't seen these questions addressed.

A year ago, my mom gave me her SmarTrip card to use on the DC Metro system. SmarTrip, like GoTo, Oyster, and others is a smart card.

I used it on a recent trip to DC to go from the airport to downtown. I then met my mom for "tea". On my way back to the airport, the card no longer worked. The station agent kindly gave me a get of jail free pass, and I made it to the airport. When I asked SmarTrip what happened, they said the card was cancelled. Having not cancelled it myself, I asked who did this (My speculation was on bots harvesting unregistered cards, registering them, canceling, and transfering balances somewhere.). They said they couldn't tell me, but "ask a relative".

My mom, forgetting she gave me the card a year ago, thought she lost it, so cancelled it that morning, since that was the morning she was going to use Metro to meet me in DC, and wanted to transfer the balance to her new card. Lesson, the card is most likely to be cancelled when it is most needed.

She was kind enough to send me a new card in the mail, which I just registered under my own name.



Via BS, Betabeat: You Were Warned: Uber Says E-Hailing Fares Will Skyrocket Amid New Year’s Eve Demand :

"NYE pricing is not for the faint of heart. The average surge multiple will likely be 2x normal prices, but during extreme spikes it could cost you $100 MINIMUM before time and mileage charges! So be careful with those Uber ride requests. Uber rides will be reliable on New Year’s Eve, but they’ll also be pretty pricey."

The more of this and *not* having road prices vary by time of day will seem strange. We should just use the words "surge pricing" rather than "road pricing".

The Argument for Platform Barriers

Alex Newmark at Transportation Nation reports NY MTA Tepidly Explores Platform Barriers After Subway Track Deaths … Again :

"Though the MTA would not cite a cost figure for installation, some proposals place barriers at over a million dollars per station. There are 468 stations."

Okay, lets use $468 million as our back-of-the-envelope price. The article also says:

"In 2012, 54 people have died on the tracks, either through falls, shoves or suicide."

Lets use $6 million as the value of a statistical life, consistent with US DOT. Let's assume there is a lifetime of 10 years, when the technology needs to be replaced. Let's assume no discounting. Let's assume it is 100% effective. The system will save 54*10=540 people for a value of $3,240,000,000 ($3.2 B), or a Benefit/Cost ratio of 6.9. I wish more transportation projects would get that.

We can make other assumptions, discounting, less than 100% effectiveness, higher prices fewer deaths per year and so on, which diminish this. There are additional benefits though (confidence in the system, fewer injuries, longer capital life, and so on) which would also need to be accounted for.

In the end, it sure seems like the B/C ratio would be well above 1.

The systems I have been in (like Kyoto below) that had them worked well. Of course retrofit is a more difficult issue, and this is New York, so the cost will inevitably be higher.

Walk Minneapolis

The Twin Cities should have something like Walk London (only better)

. I don't want just trails (I am familiar with the Grand Rounds, but there should be more), but actual urban paths I might want to take because they are walkable, interesting, and minimize conflicts with traffic. These paths should not simply be on a website or mobile app, but either be marked or signed, or otherwise self-navigating.

In London you have:

The route is indicated on the ground by a variety of signs and waymarks, which are very similar to those of the London Loop. In open spaces they consist mostly of a simple white disc, mounted on wooden posts and containing a directional arrow with the Big Ben logo in blue and text in green (but note that in Richmond black replaces green due to local conservation area considerations). A word of warning: the arrow's direction may not be clear until you are close up. It is easy to assume that it points ahead, but it may turn - look closely before continuing.

On streets the posts are replaced by larger aluminium signs strapped to lampposts and other street furniture, and additionally carry a walking man symbol. On link routes to stations the word 'link' is incorporated into the logo. At major focal points you will also meet tall green and white signposts that give distances to three points in either direction. Some of these locations may also have the big, round-topped information boards.

And of course, they should be contiguous.

The best I can find is this, which helps me if I am a planner, but not a pedestrian. At Bike Walk Twin Cities, which feels like , let's be honest, Bike Bike Twin Cities, the "maps" link has links to 8 different bike maps on their maps page, only one of which is really only for hiking too, and that is for outstate. The Walking maps page leads me to the useless City of Minneapolis page, the route planner from Metro Transit, and two Skyway maps.

Maybe there is some other resource I am missing. Maybe someone has a grant to do this. Maybe someone had a grant to do this, but didn't do it.


The most visited page on the German Wikipedia 2012 is Sackgasse, with over 10 million views, more than both the otherwise explainable Deutschland and How I met your mother.

Any ideas why "cul-de-sac" is so important there in Deutschland?

Avis Budget announced it would acquire Zipcar, the to-date essentially profitless carsharing company, for $500 Million. The stock today is trading at $12.22 a share. It is worth noting Zipcar's Stock Price History. It went public in April 2011, and is off $15.24 per share (55.55 % after today), from an an initial opening shy of $30 per share.

As a former Zipcar customer (member?) I suspect car sharing is the mode of the future, and like fusion power and Brazil, always will be. While I believe it is possible they will overcome their technical difficulties, the problem of scale remains. Even at the University of Minnesota, one of the largest campuses in the US, there are very few available cars at very few locations. There has been more than a half a decade to work out this problem, it just hasn't taken off.

When I was a graduate student at Berkeley, I was carless, and used the neighborhood Avis as an effective carsharing service, renting a car maybe once or twice a semester. The contract paperwork was a general nuisance, and like any captive customer I was resentful, and the rate killed it. Carsharing with its very high overage charges are in practice similarly expensive. A thicker market would permit lower rates. There are definitely economies of scale AND positive network externalities to be had.

Carsharing is a great idea, and in principle works well if everyone uses it (i.e. if there were a station on every other block, or within 1/4 mile (400 m), just like walking to transit). In the absence of robot cars, this require either really high population densities or really high market penetration. Thus far we have neither in most places. Even with robot cars, it will require a major social change, affecting how people consider property and treat vehicles.

I am convinced people don't want to think about every transaction, and if they are charged per use, obviously would use less, but will be less happy, and more determined to get a car of their own to avoid transaction costs. Just as we went from terminals and mainframes to personal computers, and internet cafes to internet at home, we went from trains and transit to private transportation once we could afford it. The cost savings will have to be considerable for people to want to go back.

The best market of course is the urban hipster: with enough money to afford, enough transit to get to work and back with minimum hassle, enough childlessness to have a regular schedule, enough desire to signal greenness to avoid owning a car, but enough sense and desire for dates in the country to recognize the occasional need. This is a non-zero market, Avis assesses at over $500 million in net present value of profit over the discounted future. About half the price of a new NFL stadium (about one-half a giga-dollar).

David Levinson

Network Reliability in Practice

Evolving Transportation Networks

Place and Plexus

The Transportation Experience

Access to Destinations

Assessing the Benefits and Costs of Intelligent Transportation Systems

Financing Transportation Networks

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