Monday, February 15, 2010

Does Paracrine Signaling Explain Traffic in Cairo?

Jalopnik has a nice post that attempts to explain how traffic operates in cities like Cairo without a clear set of rules. They argue:
To understand the libertarian beauty of Third World traffic, you have to let go of system-level traffic structures and focus on near-vehicle interactions.

A fascinating and poorly understood layer of communication between cells in the human body is paracrine signaling: unlike endocrine hormones, which affect faraway organs, paracrine factors enable cells to communicate with their immediate neighbors, free of the grand designs of the body itself.

Using para, the Greek prefix for “near”, one might call Third World traffic paravehicular in nature: compensating for the mostly complete disregard for the structures of conventional traffic regulation is a set of ad hoc rules which only apply to a vehicle’s immediate surroundings.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The difficult politics of naming rail lines

You may think that naming rail transit lines is a technocratic exercise, and one of the easier aspects of building a transit system. You can either use numbers, letters or colors and move on to the next problem. Sometimes transit agencies make the names too complex to easily understand, but at least the names don't offend anyone.

But like everything else in the world, naming transit lines is more complicated than originally thought. In Atlanta MARTA officials are in trouble over re-naming the line that runs through the Asian-American community the "yellow line." There are a lot of colors in the world, maybe they should have picked a different one.

Sometimes the color has nothing to do with the name but is also contentious. In Los Angeles the new rail line will be called the Expo Line--a diversion from the standard color names--in order to improve the brand of the community it runs through. That was a tough set of negotiations, but only set up the real fight about what color to make the line on the map. As of now the issue is unresolved.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Don't be so sanctimonious about trains working in bad weather

There are many arguments about the benefits of trains over air travel that don't add up. Here is the latest example.
Paul Krugman, in a post that followed a good economics post about mis-specified models, sanctimoniously notes that Brad DeLong is stranded at a DC airport while he is speeding along on the Acela between Boston and NYC. Talk about mis-specified models! If he looked at Amtrak service in the DC area rather than Boston he would know that most train service was canceled in the area for Saturday. It simply doesn't matter if you want to get out of DC by train or airplane in the middle of a blizzard. You aren't going anywhere. Yet even with a blizzard in DC the NYC and Boston airports are open for business, so his travel would not have been affected had he flown. Trains are subject to the constraint of the weather, too.

Friday, February 5, 2010

More cool NYC mapping tools

The New York Public Library is awesome. They now have an online service to help rectify old maps to current, more accurate ones.

Here is a link to Battery Park. Check out the amount of land fill since 1897!

Testing the Tiebout hypothesis as local government disinvests in services-UPDATED

Since the economy is ravaging local tax collections many cities and counties are cutting services. In some ways the service cuts are changing the fundamental aspects of what local government provides, and once these changes are made who knows what the new equilibrium (or "status quo") will be for demand for services. Of course, the fact that these governments have to continue to pay for labor and pension agreements (plus other contractual obligations) into the future means that there is little hope of a corresponding tax reduction anytime soon. Which brings us to Charles Tiebout, who wrote a piece published in 1956 entitled "A Pure Theory of Local Expenditures."* Tiebout posits that local governments will spend on bundles of services that will attract residents and businesses. Because preferences are heterogeneous, the bundles supplied will be, too. This is why neighboring cities offer different public services such as parks, schools, police, etc.

So what will happen in Michigan now that they are converting some paved roads to gravel? This is a downgrade in service provided. As is what is happening in Colorado Springs, where voters turned down a request for new taxes and will now face dramatic service cutbacks. These types of debates about how to best supply public services within the tax constraints enforced by the voters are happening everywhere. Will people from Colorado Springs move to neighboring communities where the tax and service bundle is more appealing or will they raise revenue to pay for what they value? Will the neighboring cities invest in what Colorado Springs is letting go in order to provide a more attractive bundle of services? Will Michigan counties be harmed economically because they have lower quality but cheaper roads? Perhaps cities will disinvest in the services valued by families, which are expensive, and rather spend that money on services favored by commercial enterprises, which are relatively cheap. These are big questions and how they are answered could shape our cities for generations.

UPDATE: Another way cities can compete is by coming up with more efficient and clever ways to supply services. Here is a story about Tokyo offering some services through 7-11. Talk about convenience!

*Tiebout's piece, as noted in the title, was about spending. It was not about raising revenues or taxation. His idea has since been expanded by many to include taxation as part of the local services bundle, but that was not in his original work.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A colorful drive around 1927 London

(via Jalopnik)

Here is a video of 1927 London. And it's in color! Perhaps the most amazing part of the traffic shots is that there aren't any street signs. It's very Monderman-esque.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

More underwater flying cars--Who needs DARPA?

Richard Branson is a very rich man because he figures out what we want before we do. That's one of the secrets to entrepreneurship and becoming a billionaire. Another secret is use someone else's money as to minimize risk.


Richard Branson also knows what DARPA wants before they want it. He has built an underwater plane. He still has to get his design to fly out of water, but it seems that if he wants he has a step on the DARPA competition as he has already partially resolved the weight issue. Of course, his opportunity costs are such that the prize money is not likely worthwhile.