Thursday, April 28, 2011

Let's check in with the New York City Council President about how much parking is enough

Chrtistine Quinn, New York City Council President and representative of Community Board 3 in Manhattan, recently had this to say about parking in New York City:
"We in the Council have heard time and time again that people don't even want to bother with owning a car in New York City because of the excessive rules -- excessive and confusing rules -- that come with parking," said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who said it's time to make it easier to have a car in the city.

Not to be outdone, that quote is followed by:
City Council member Brad Lander echoed her sentiments.

"Author Calvin Trillin once joked that 'You can park your car on the streets of New York, or you can have a full-time job -- but you can't possibly do both,'" Lander said. "Unfortunately, for too many New Yorkers, this is all too close to reality. This new legislation would help solve this problem while still keeping our streets clean."

This is, to put it mildly, exactly the wrong approach the city should be taking, but as the city reviews it's parking policies these attitudes are prevalent throughout the process. NYC is doing just fine with limited parking. Considering Quinn's interest in affordable housing, her interest in increasing parking will only make housing more expensive, and the added traffic will degrade the quality of life her constituents enjoy. Besides, we all know the reason people come to New York from all over the globe is to enjoy our fine municipal parking facilities.

(H/T Nick Klein)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Apple Wants Your iPhone Location Data for a Crowdsourced Traffic App

From this article in Business Wire, Apple explains what all that location data people are freaked out about is good for:
8. What other location data is Apple collecting from the iPhone besides crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data?
Apple is now collecting anonymous traffic data to build a crowd-sourced traffic database with the goal of providing iPhone users an improved traffic service in the next couple of years.

There are a huge number of traffic oriented applications for smart phones. It is not at all clear that any of them will do anything to improve traffic at an individual or metropolitan level. Most of the apps just seem like applications that focus on traffic because that's where the data are, not because they are expected to actually be all that useful for users. Those that simply provide information seem like a nice convenience, but not necessarily substantial improvements to how we get around now or decide to travel.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Is $300 Million Enough to Get Over Gehry Envy?

The Wall Street Journal has a great story about a rich Iowan who is willing to give $300 million to any city that will 1) build a new art museum, and 2) hire anybody except Frank Gehry to design it. From the story:
An Iowa-based philanthropist and architecture aficionado has offered a $300 million reward to any city anywhere in the world that dares to hire someone other than Frank Gehry to design its gleaming new art museum.

"Don't get me wrong, I like iconoclastic, swoopy structures that look like bashed-in sardine cans as much as the next guy," says the philanthropist, who wishes to remain nameless for fear of enraging close friends in the art world. "I like Czech dance halls that look like a 747 plowed right into the fa├žade as much as anybody. I bow to no man in my admiration for an architect who can design an art museum that looks like a intergalactic recycling center. I just thought it would be nice to give the second-most-famous architect in the world a shot at a payday. Whoever he is. I know I've got his name here somewhere."

Here is what an anonymous city planner has to say about Gehry Envy:
A city planner who wishes to remain nameless for fear that he will be branded an enemy of iconoclastic swoopiness says that municipalities dread not having a Frank Gehry building somewhere within the city limits, even if it's only a postmodern nursing home or a puckish, irreverent library.

"Elciego, Spain, has a Frank Gehry building," he notes. "Herford, Germany, has a Frank Gehry building. Dundee, Scotland, has a Frank Gehry building. I'm going to level with you: I don't even know where those places are. Nobody does. I think they might be in Europe. But I'll tell you one thing: I know where Biloxi, Miss., is. Well, if Biloxi, Miss., has a playful Frank Gehry building, we just can't afford not to. Even though I can't tell you who we are."

Maybe $300 million isn't enough for an art museum no matter who designs it. Maybe the $300 million is offered as a lark. But this highlights a problem that is all too real for cities, which is they copy each other in weird ways in the name of competition. Whether it's architecture, rail systems, sports stadia, or, as it was in the 80s, Hard Rock Cafes, cities pursue very expensive and economically questionable investment strategies based in large part on what other cities have done, and without evaluating whether the copied cities' strategies were useful or economically viable. The last word comes from the philanthropist:
"Cities are afraid to seem backward and square," he concedes. "There's nothing a local tourism board or chamber of commerce fears more than acquiring a reputation for being un-cool. So there's a strong possibility that my $300 million might just sit there, unclaimed, forever. Though frankly, I still think the great city of Scranton might step up to the plate."

Thursday, April 14, 2011

IBM's Smart Traveler

IBM explains how embedded road data and your historical travel patterns (that IBM will collect) can help travelers choose optimal routes to get to work. Story here.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Cato Unbound takes on parking

This month's Cato Unbound is all about parking:
April, 2011: There Ain’t No Such Thing As Free Parking

Everyone loves a free lunch. Economists will tell you, though, that the free lunch doesn’t really exist: Someone picks up the tab for it, somewhere along the line. Giving away free goods or services can have hidden side effects, too. Back in the old days, saloons gave away free lunches to drinkers, who responded by—surprise!—drinking even more.

Free parking can be a lot like that, says this month’s lead essayist, Donald Shoup. Regulations mandating free parking create less walkable cities. They contribute to suburban sprawl. They stop the renovation of historic buildings. Rather than planning for people, we’ve been planning for cars — at the expense of people. Shoup recommends removing some of these regulations. It’s a free-market way, he argues, to get the kinds of cities we really want.

Urban planning entails setting the ground rules for some of the most complex social orders around, our cities. To discuss Shoup’s recommendations, we’ve invited a panel of distinguished urban economists: Clifford Winston of the Brookings Institution, Sanford Ikeda of SUNY Purchase College, and the Cato Institute’s own Randal O’Toole.