Thursday, April 29, 2010

Long term effects of oil spills

In January of 1969 an off-shore oil platform suffered a blowout that spilled about three million gallons of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Santa Barbara. This was a major spill in terms of ecological damage, but it is also credited with accelerating the environmental movement in the U.S. The direct costs of that spill were enormous, but the regulatory and policy effects were perhaps even more profound. The Santa Barbara spill indirectly shaped energy policy for a generation by ushering in a moratorium on off-shore drilling, but also land use planning and policy. Shortly after the spill the U.S. Congress passed the Environmental Policy Act that requires an environmental impact study for all development involving the federal government. States then followed suit.

It wouldn't surprise me if the oil spill that is about to reach the Gulf Coast has similar long-term effects on policy and planning. (This NY Times piece details the initial reaction of politicians, and Environmental Economics notes the timing of the Cape Cod wind farm.)The Gulf Coast spill is much larger than the Santa Barbara spill, where 210,000 gallons per day are leaking and no one really knows how to stop it yet. This weekend will certainly bring pictures of oil-soaked birds, dead fish and greasy shoreline. All of the recent drilling enthusiasm may vanish, but a spill like this also provides tangible evidence of our energy choices. People will insist on a sane energy policy if they can see how it affects them much more easily than lending support to an energy policy that costs more now but provides benefits to future generations.

Getting closer to flying cars

DARPA is leading the way on flying cars. The above video is of the Puffin, a low noise electric vehicle. Here is more.

I'd buy one.

Friday, April 23, 2010

And now for something completely different...

Rarely do you read explicit pro-auto arguments against transit improvements. Transportation policy and finance are certainly tilted towards auto-benefits, but usually even the pro-car set keeps pretty quiet about transit improvements in downtown areas. Yet here is Jalopnik making a not very convincing argument that NYC's new transit and pedestrian plan for 34th Street in Manhattan is harmful to drivers. It's a bad argument, and I think they are wrong about pretty much everything, but it is a clear argument of how policy (in their view) should favor cars at the expense of everyone else. In the case of the actual proposal, it is likely that many more people will benefit from a better pedestrian environment and improved transit than will be harmed because of restricted car access.

We never used to call pro-auto policies "an assault" on transit users, pedestrians and cyclists, and no one should call policies that favor modes other than cars an assault on automobiles. It is simply better transportation planning, at least in the case of mid-town Manhattan.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

More transport platforms in the UK elections

Since the Monster Raving Loony Party is unlikely to do well in the UK elections, Top Gear has assembled a handy overview of the minimal interest any of the major parties have taken in transportation issues. The big potential winners are electric cars and bicycles, though there is an encouraging amount of interest in new pricing mechanisms.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Monster Raving Loony Party proposes floating bikes for Britain

The Monster Raving Loony Party, a political party aiming to capture some seats in the upcoming British elections, has unveiled a new transportation plan for London. It is innovative and introduces fresh thinking to problems of mobility, especially in light of the impending floods due to global warming. The centerpiece of their proposal is a fleet of floating bikes.

Two other aspects of the MRLP platform:
The Monster Raving Loony manifesto also calls for buildings to be fitted with air conditioning units facing outward to combat global warming.

They demand that all politicians be permanently painted the colour of the party they represent.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Pricing queues and fairness

Should people be able to pay for the privilege of going to the front of the line? Sandy Banks of the LA Times doesn't think so, at Disneyland at least. She compares premium passes to premium seating at Dodger games, but the issues of fairness she raises are the same complaints heard against congestion pricing on roads, not about the cost of baseball tickets.

I'm amazed that it has taken as long as it has for amusement parks (and other businesses, such as paying an extra dollar per ticket to buy movie tickets online) to pick up on this idea. Maybe if people get used to the idea of paying for short queues at Disneyland they will support the same idea for freeways.

Parking reform in Beijing

Local officials in Beijing recently raised parking rates in order to reduce traffic congestion. The city doubled curb rates in order to get drivers to park off street. Since cruising for parking is a substantial component of congestion--some neighborhoods have as much as 45 percent of traffic simply driving around looking for a place to park--pricing the curb to discourage long searches is important for reducing energy consumption and pollution. The Beijing experience seems to be about as large scale of parking reform as exists, and early evidence suggests that carpooling and transit use have increased due to the higher parking costs. It also seems that people are parking just outside of the metered areas in order to avoid the fees.

One of the research problems with the Beijing policy is that it does not present a natural experiment as the city is simultaneously implementing and extending many other programs including "no car day," where the drivers are not allowed to drive their cars one day per week based on the last digit of their license plate, new rail and bus transit, new work schedules for government employees and other efforts. It is hard, if not impossible, to disentangle the effects of each policy and what the complementary effects are.

More evidence that volcano monitoring is good

The news from Britain that all flights are canceled due to volcanic ash in the air reminds me of the silly complaints about volcano monitoring from last year. The complaints were dumb then, and are dumber now.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Young and old drivers are bad, but for different reasons

The Auto Insurance has compiled information about teen and elderly drivers and put it in a handy graphic. Both groups of drivers are bad, though teens likely get better over time (and practice) while elderly just have declining skills and inattentiveness.

Monday, April 12, 2010

How to value livability

New York Magazine hired Nate Silver to create a ranking of New York neighborhoods based on quantitative analysis. He finds that Park Slope comes out on top.

In the model he developed, housing cost is the largest factor affecting livability followed by transit measured by commute time. It is difficult to disentangle these factors as people trade transportation access for housing costs. I think access to opportunities overall is a better measure than commuting, and he notes that small changes in other measures creates big results. The story also has a nifty livability calculator to test your own ideas.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Environmental Justice and transit revisted

The Twin Cities StarTribune has a story that explains community concerns about a new light rail project that will connect the downtowns of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. The Rondo community fears that history will repeat, as this is the same area that was largely demolished to make room for I-94. Now, as then, the community is largely minority. For good reason they are skeptical of the economic benefits of the new transportation project, and they are rightly concerned that construction will decimate their existing economic activity.

Unlikely allies in parking reform

Bill Dwyer of the LA Times is angry that the California taxpayers are footing the bill for a new shuttle bus to Dodger Stadium. Here is the nut of his argument and analysis:
Let's crunch some numbers: If those 2,500 bus-users represent 1,250 car-parkers, at $15 each, the Dodgers have taken a revenue loss of $18,750 a game or $1,518,750 for the 81-game home season. But also, if 1,000 of the bus-users have been enticed to go to the game and buy a ticket because of ease of transportation, and they pay $25 a ticket, that's a revenue gain of $25,000 a game, or $2,025,000 a season. Speculative numbers, of course.

Let's tally up. The air will be better. Traffic will be improved. There will be less stress just getting to the game. The Dodgers won't lose any money and will probably make more.

So Bill Dwyer thinks that cross-elasticities of demand with adequate substitutes favor reducing parking in order to increase ticket sales. I didn't expect a throaty defense of parking and transit reform on the sports pages. Of course, if he believes this for Dodger games he must also believe this for other activities.* So I'll count Bill Dwyer as an unlikely ally in parking reform.

*I don't actually think he supports parking reform. I think he likes complaining about the Dodgers.

Ending geographic toll exemptions

One way the NY MTA is closing their $800 million budget gap is to eliminate the geographic exemption from paying bridge tolls currently enjoyed by people of Broad Channel, Queens. The agency expects to raise about $3.5 million annually, which works out to about $1,150 per resident per year. There is a free bridge option at the other end of the island, but that is quite a bit longer. It will be curious to see what the effect on travel decisions will be once the exemption is lifted.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Who will build new rail systems in the US?

Not American companies, according to this NY Times article. This is not surprising since there aren't any US train manufacturers. I think it does make the push towards high speed rail a bit surprising politically as it clearly isn't an infrastructure policy that benefits a specific industry.

Cash for Clunkers may not have shifted sales

The White House just released a report that argues Cash for Clunkers did not merely shift auto sales that would have occurred anyway forward a few months. The data suggests that new sales were induced through the program, which increases the environmental and economic benefits of the program. It still may not have been a perfect program, but the timing looks like it helped the auto industry and related employment. By clearing out inventory, it likely helped set the stage for the recent strong performance by automakers with new models.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Cash for Clunkers Across the Pond

The UK government is wrapping up their cash-for-clunkers equivalent this week. The above photo is of an airfield full of cars destined to be scrapped. This article from the Daily Mail briefly explains the program. It sounds like it suffers from the same good and bad results from the US program, but the comments (at least so far) are less vitriolic than those from similar stories in the US press.

Friday, April 2, 2010

I wouldn't call the Cross Bronx Expressway an amenity, per se

The NY Times has all but declared the CBE a desirable amenity in this article. The reporter talks with a number of people who watch the traffic go by, and one woman who is hoping to catch a crash. It is disingenuous to say that:
when you live hard by the Cross Bronx, special compromises must be made.

The next sentence doesn't sound much like a compromise:
On Fteley Avenue, where Mrs. Moore lives, the children on her block know not to play past the stop sign where merging traffic lurks.

That sounds like a restriction dictated by traffic, not a mutual agreement between parties.
In any event, any positive value from watching traffic is outweighed by the costs of noise, pollution and safety. It would be worthwhile to consider building above the roadbed and let the nearby residents finding a new diversion.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

More transit security

The Moscow subway attacks have spurred a few new thoughts about transit security. The Christian Science Monitor offers five ways to make transit safer here. Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy argues that efficiency concerns have to be considered when evaluating levels of security here. He was responding to this BBC editorial that argues Moscow was unprepared for the attacks, especially considering the attacks last year on the train between Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Improving airport security

Airport security is problematic. The lines are long and unfair, and once you get to the screening area the rules are inconsistently enforced. The potential new head of the TSA has some sound ideas about how to improve air security and move away from the inefficient system we currently have. I think we can all agree that "intelligence-driven security" sounds better than what we endure currently.

Over the long term, airline/airport security will improve one way or the other, and security for other public modes will likely increase. There have been a number of transit attacks over the past few years, the most recent one in Moscow. At some point these attacks will lead to increased train security. There are already regular security exercises in large transit systems. This will reduce whatever perceived advantage trains and transit have over air travel. More importantly from a policy perspective, we shouldn't assume that security measures are fixed over time. They evolve as we (hopefully) get better at it.