Saturday, August 30, 2008

Signs of gentrification and local transportation choices

Curbed New York has been keeping tabs on gentrifying neighborhoods. Their metric used to indicate that a neighborhood is gentrifying is the presence of Smart cars. This is a novel way to estimate whether a neighborhood is received new investment, but it's not clear if the Smart cars are a sign of new people moving in who already had Smart cars or if the existing residents are investing in their community through these autos.
Obviously the Curbed coverage is tongue in cheek, but there may be something to the idea that certain types of neighborhoods will feature unusually high clusters of certain cars. Evidence of this type of clustering (such as Matt Kahn's work on neighborhoods that feature high numbers of Prius in the Bay Area) suggests that social factors are at play for transportation decisions.

Friday, August 29, 2008

A Parking Ticket Obituary

This past spring a man died in Brooklyn, which isn't necessarily newsworthy on it's own, but he happened to die shortly before the alternate side parking rules were suspended for the summer. This meant that he didn't have to move his car, and no one thought anything of it not moving since the street spaces were often used for long periods of time. But in July the parking rules were again enforced and the tickets started piling up on his windshield. The collection of tickets was a sad announcement to his neighbors that he had passed, like some type of weird obituary written by his car.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Saving gas in Beverly Hills is more expensive than saving gas anywhere else

I received my last "Beverly Hills In Focus" magazine today as I am soon moving to New York. In the magazine there was a page about Beverly Hills being Green, and it featured a number of gas saving tips. The tips are different than the ones you'd expect in other areas, however. The first tip reads:

"Use the most energy-conserving vehicle you own as much as possible. You may even want to rent a fuel-efficient car for long trips and vacations."

It's nice to live in a city where people have enough cars they can choose which one to drive based on many different factors, including the relative efficiency. I don't see any fewer Mercedes and BMWs, though. Anyhoo, that tip sounds like a great idea, so I looked at a local car rental service to see what their rates were (I was actually wondering how much a Ferrari was for a day.). The Prius, which you would probably think was a great option if you were renting a car to save gas, was almost $300 a day! There is no way to drive a Prius enough miles in a day to make that up. Say you get a 20 mpg premium in a Prius, and you drive an average of 20 miles per hour (all city driving), your maximum potential driving distance is 480 miles, or 24 gallons of fuel saved with the Prius. That's still only $100 for gas, far short of the additional cost of the rental (a standard car costs about $60).

There must be a premium placedby visitors (maybe residents?) on looking the part in this city. While this may be obvious for boob jobs and Aston Martins, it does seem strange to include the standard rental car market. So if you want to save gas, rent a Prius. If you want to save money, rent a less efficient car.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Streetcar revivals and local transit finance

The NY Times has an article about the revival of streetcars in some downtown areas. What is remarkable about these projects is that they are largely locally financed. In contrast, most light rail and other major transit infrastructure are dependent on federal money.

I suspect that locally financed transit projects will be somewhat more efficient from an economic point of view in that rent seeking behavior will lessened. It is also welcome that these transit systems are designed to serve small areas, which is more in line with how people use transit-mostly for short trips.

The Cato Institute will object to any type of subsidy, but in the case of local transit investment this is a better financing model than waiting for even larger subsidies. In addition, with local finance the economic benefits of the investment are captured where the money is raised. This is part of a larger shift in transportation planning towards quality of life issues, and having a good transit system that allows people to get around their neighborhood without a car can be a justified investment for managing growth.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Jack Nicholson saw the hydrogen car future in 1978

In many ways the transportation problems that seem to be treated as new and suddenly important problems have long histories. Part of those histories is that the solutions being discussed today have also been around a long time (electric cars, hydrogen, more trains and buses).

Here is Jack Nicholson driving around in a 1978 Chevy that's been converted to run on hydrogen. This illustrates that technological solutions are often hampered by political hurdles rather than engineering ones. Had we spent the past 30 years promoting hydrogen, we'd certainly be much farther along in switching to cheap, clean fuel for transportation. Instead, thanks to political decisions that skew the market towards status quo we are grappling with how to move forward now in order to avert a potential crisis. How public policy should encourage innovation and new technological shifts in transportation is a major question that needs much more research.