Wednesday, June 29, 2011

On The Value of Flexible Transit: Getting to Your Drug Test on Time

Here is a tweet at Dollar Van Demos that nicely explains the value of flexible transit, including taxis, dollar vans and other types:
yeah! . @AzanaBaby Today is my day. I tell Dolla Van driver I'm late for drug test & he decides to drop me all the way there OUT OF HIS WAY!

High quality door-to-door service is extremely important for lowering auto usage. In transit dependent areas these services may be provided formally or informally, but they will likely be provided somehow. Let's hear it for the driver and his commitment to service, and I hope they passed their drug test!

Monday, June 27, 2011

European Driver Stifling and and Transit Fares

This NY Times article titled "Europe Stifles Driver in Favor of Mass Transit and Walking" is getting a lot of attention around the transport blogs and communities today. The article is a nice overview of many cities' actions, and many cities in Europe certainly have a different approach to mobility than US cities. I'm glad that better parking regulations were mentioned as well as the constraints of the older built environment of the central cities. These are important pieces of the puzzle for a less auto-dominated city, lower emissions and safer streets.

However, the piece fails to talk about the cost of transit. The high cost of gas in Europe is mentioned. The article states that a gallon of gas costs over $8 per gallon, and I don't think the author means diesel which is more popular than gas. Diesel is cheaper than gas by 10-20% due to lower taxes. That said, high transit ridership, lower auto usage and more walking and cycling in Europe occur with higher transit fares than in the US. Here is one compilation of transit fares around the world, and here is another for subway fares only. Broadly speaking, the US model of low transit fares has not resulted in high levels of transit ridership but has eliminated a lot of potential revenue from transit operations. See tables of farebox recovery ratios from around the world here. High transit fares in Europe (and Asia) don't necessarily "stifle" transit ridership. Having a well-funded transit system is a critical aspect of achieving social, environmental and safety goals.

One point unrelated to transit fares is that there is evidence that European metros are suburbanizing (or sprawling). Will anti-auto regulations inhibit or contribute to sprawl? That's a huge question and something to watch closely. Here is one piece by Wendell Cox about European sprawl. Cox responded to another piece by Michael Lewyn, and Lewyn was challenging Robert Bruegmann's idea that sprawl in inevitable.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Chicane Chicanery?

Here is a story about Newton Township, PA's attempt at traffic calming with waving lines and rubber posts. The anecdotal evidence is decidedly mixed as to the effectiveness of the project.

View more videos at:

Narrower streets, speed bump/tables, lit crosswalks and other improvements may be better solutions here. That road looks like a speedway, and taken together brings to mind this conversation with an engineer:

(via Jalopnik)

Friday, June 17, 2011

How much is a parking space worth? $60k in Park Slope!

(via Curbed)
Here is a listing for a parking space in Park Slope, Brooklyn, available for $60 (negotiable!) plus $270 per month in maintenance. Using the handy mortgage calculator on the listing site you can see that this space is yours for the low price of $525.25 per month, each month, for the next 30 years at 5% interest and including taxes and maintenance.

Here is the Curbed NY post.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Will Anyone Buy Autonomous Cars?

Edward Tenner of the Atlantic is skeptical that people will buy autonomous cars. Rightly, I think, he wonders about the social obstacles rather than the technological ones:
Automated driving's biggest problems, though, are social, not legal or technological. It will eventually work well in homogeneous, prosperous nations with strict checks, like those of Germany's rigorous nonprofit inspectorate, the TÜV, and Japan's private garages. (At least as recently as the 1990s, required repairs even of late-model cars were so expensive that they helped create a booming export market and stimulated frequent new-car buying.) The smaller, richer, more disciplined and more homogeneous the country, the better the prospects. The shaky financial state of many American drivers and the notoriously high cost of electronic component replacements (safety systems need multiple redundant versions of key hardware and software) would make the automated car an exotic techie luxury here, the 21st-century Segway.

I mostly agree with his idea that social factors will be the largest impediment to autonomous cars, but I am more optimistic that people will embrace the technology. His point about "smaller, richer, more disciplined and more homogeneous the country, the better the prospects" applies to all policy and social shifts and is not limited to driverless cars.

New Color Will Be Added to Traffic Signals

The color purple will be added to traffic signals according to the Onion. Listen to the story here. "Green means go, red means stop and purple means prepare to be entertained."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Global Warming is Now Statistically Significant! Should We Care?

The BBC reports that global warming has passed an arbitrary (though conventional) threshold of statistical significance. From the article:
By widespread convention, scientists use a minimum threshold of 95% to assess whether a trend is likely to be down to an underlying cause, rather than emerging by chance.

If a trend meets the 95% threshold, it basically means that the odds of it being down to chance are less than one in 20.

Last year's analysis, which went to 2009, did not reach this threshold; but adding data for 2010 takes it over the line.

"The trend over the period 1995-2009 was significant at the 90% level, but wasn't significant at the standard 95% level that people use," Professor Jones told BBC News.

"Basically what's changed is one more year [of data]. That period 1995-2009 was just 15 years - and because of the uncertainty in estimating trends over short periods, an extra year has made that trend significant at the 95% level which is the traditional threshold that statisticians have used for many years.

I agree with Andrew Gelman's response here. Overall this is a pretty good example of why fixating on statistical significance is often weird and distracts from the importance of the core analysis, which in this case is pretty important.

(via Andrew Gelman)

Friday, June 3, 2011

James Fallows on How to Think About China

In the Atlantic, James Fallows has a nice post about the importance of paying attention to China's development but stopping short of:
being pie-eyed, gape-mouthed, and otherwise credulous about the overall nature of China's success.

Here Fallows explains we need to think clearly about China:
I'm talking about applying a common-sense BS-detector when you hear the next claim about how rapid, inevitable, trouble-free, and strategically-perfect the Chinese ascent will be. You could think of what I'm worried about as the "Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony" syndrome, or the "I just rode the bullet train to Tianjin, and holy shit, we're doomed!" approach.

For what it's worth, I'm also worried about the "I just rode the bullet train to Tianjin, and holy shit, we're doomed!" approach. Whether or not China has fast trains should not affect US transportation or environmental policy, which is the implicit suggestion buried in the (made-up but plausible) quote.

So go read Fallows' post, and then read the piece he says to go read.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Smart Growth Around Transportation Hubs Panel Discussion at New York Academy of Sciences

Tuesday, June 7 I will be presenting at and moderating a panel titled: "Smart Growth Around Transportation Hubs" for the New York Academy of Sciences. Details:
Smart Growth Around Transportation Hubs

Tuesday, June 7, 2011 | 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM
The New York Academy of Sciences

Presented by the Greening Transportation & Infrastructure Discussion Group
Register Now

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Travel & Lodging

In 2010 New York State passed the Smart Growth Public Infrastructure Policy Act to ensure that state infrastructure funding is consistent with smart growth principles. This Act requires investment priority be given to existing infrastructure facilities which are consistent with local governments' plans for development. These principles are consistent with goals for climate change mitigation and adaptation and smart growth actions. This panel for the New York Academy of Sciences will explore the implications of legislation for smart growth, and discuss how multiple layers of government coordinate investment and growth decisions to efficiently use existing transportation facilities. These issues are critical for meeting the challenges of carbon reduction and climate change adaptation.

Networking reception to follow.
David King, PhD

Columbia University
Gerry Bogacz

New York Metropolitan Transportation Council
Peter B. Fleischer

Empire State Future

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Even the President has to Pay Congestion Tolls Because the Embassy Won't

The Mail Online reports that U.S. President Obama is not exempt from the London congestion toll. From the story:
Barack Obama will have to pay the London congestion charge for his mammoth security vehicle 'The Beast', London Mayor Boris Johnson said today.

Each car in the President's huge fleet, including the notorious armoured Cadillac, will be billed $16 for journeys made through the centre of London in peak time during his state visit.

'Our roads were not closed during the President's visit so his motorcade will pay. The Beast will pay the charge, I'm delighted to say,' Mr Johnson said.

And talk about the "Ugly Americans," here is why the London Mayor is so insistent that the President pay up:
The Mayor of London has put his foot down after speaking to Mr Obama about the U.S. embassy's refusal to pay $8.7million in fines incurred while driving in London's congestion zone.

The embassy claim it is immune from paying the charge because it is technically a tax, which should be reserved for UK residents alone.

Mr Johnson, however, remains defiant on the issue and told the U.S. President during a state banquet at Buckingham Palace that his fleet would not be receiving preferential treatment.

It is a good thing the President's limo is equipped to pay tolls, as I blogged about here.

UPDATE: I would be remiss if I didn't point out that congestion tolls are not taxes in the traditional sense. If you drive, you cause congestion and should be subject to any tolls designed to reduce congestion.