Traffic control for molecules

An interesting article at ZDNet: A traffic control system for molecules. I don’t know if there are practical applications for transportation any time soon, but neat nonetheless.
(link courtesy Slashdot).
– dml

Having fun with roadside alert signs

For your amusement: Boing Boing: Having fun with roadside alert signs

Network Neutrality and Quality of Service

There has been a lot of discussion about “network neutrality” as being a core property of internet service. This discussion includes a number of inter-related concepts, which not every advocate agrees to. In particular, the wikipedia article on the subject identifies:
“* Non-discrimination means that all traffic over the network (typically or exclusively digital packets or bits) is treated the same by the network, including the traffic originating with the network operator. This principle of ‘bit parity’ means that all bits are treated as ‘just bits’, and no bit traffic is prioritized over other bits, and none is hampered or disabled.
* Interconnection means that network operators have both a duty of interconnection and a right of interconnection to any other network operator. Networks must be constructed so that there are a reasonable number of accessible interconnect points; that traffic is carried to and from rival networks at reasonable rates; and that the network is built with sufficient excess capacity to accomodate the reasonably foreseeable traffic that may be presented at the head-ends or peering points. Without a right of interconnection, there is no network.
* Access means that any end user can connect to any other end-user. End users may be people, but the term could also mean devices (modems, routers, switches) or even other networks. Access means that a piece of content, say, an email message, has a right to enter the network, and if properly addressed, be received by the other end user, even if said user is on another network. In other words, traffic can begin at any point on the network and be delivered to any other point.”

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What would someone less simplistic say

I wrote to my friends that Andrew Sullivan is right about conservative govt. being dead, but being quite simplistic about gas taxes (and sounds just like Thomas Friedman).
To which my friend Phil Goetz asked “What would someone less simplistic say?”

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Randall Crane on Accessibility

Randall Crane’s Urban Planning Research discusses accessibility vs. mobility. He seems to be searching for a definition.
Accessibility is nicely defined as the ease of reaching particular destinations. That can be operationalized (and easily communicated) as how much stuff you can get to in a particular amount of time (e.g. number of jobs within 20 minutes). Our book from the conference is now out. The first of many reports on methods for measuring accessibility will be out soon.
Randall rightly notes that the importance of different things varies for different people. Accessibility measured as above is clearly a supply (or opportunities) measure, and makes no account of demand. No one measure encapsulates the entire economy.
Choices have costs. Increasing acccessibility is not free. Enabling someone to access 101 grocery stores in 30 minutes travel by auto instead of 100 will likely not be noticed unless that grocery is somehow distinct, and valuable, to an individual consumer.
— dml

“Data” is not the plural of anecdote

In the blog L.A. traffic sucks: Let’s fix it! the author argues that driving is an “addiction”. I believe people are behaving individually rationally (with perhaps irrational preferences) to achieve personal satisfaction, which may result in societally unoptimal outcomes.

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The value of smooth roads

From today’s Star Tribune: State of our roads is getting bumpier
The article says “Department officials say they don’t consider the condition of the roads a safety concern,” and there is no evidence unsmooth roads (at least in the range considered in Minnesota, where roads are much better than, say, Africa), reduce capacity, so what is the rationale for smooth roads?
The answer seems to be to prevent future deterioration.
“”You can reconstruct the roads already in poor condition or you can keep the roads that are about to go into the poor category from ever getting there by doing something first,” Janisch said. “It’s cheaper to keep them up.””
But is there a value to smooth roads? How much of a premium would travelers pay, all else equal, to have a smoother ride?
— dml

Highways in Africa

In the most recent episode of The West Wing(the penultimate episode “Institutional Memory”), White House Chief of Staff C.J. Cregg is being recruited to help run a foundation loosely based on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and her idea of what the best use of $10 billion would be to criss-cross Africa with highways, which would enable the delivery of medicine, expand trade, and do all sorts of good things.

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Gas taxes are again in fashion

From The Becker-Posner Blog: Gasoline Prices–Posner’s Comment the higher gas tax is again in fashion.

A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King
A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King

Respected economist again advocates higher gas taxes:

Posner writes “But better than a government-planned and -funded project would be, in my opinion, heavy gasoline taxes. They would give private industry strong incentives to discover good substitutes and also means for reducing carbon-dioxide emissions and indeed removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”
Here in addition to instability in energy-producing countries (somehow justifying higher taxes, which will reduces those countries’ incomes, which is unlikely to increase stability), the global warming argument is identified.
Becker however cites the work of Resources for the Future (I believe referring to a study by Martin Wachs, formerly of UC Berkeley, now of Rand) Becker writes “Federal, state, and local governments of the U.S. combine to impose taxes on gasoline of about 60 cents per gallon. Studies by Resources for the Future suggest that this is more than adequate to cover all effects of pollution, aside perhaps from some larger estimates of the effects of gasoline consumption on greenhouse warming. The purpose of gasoline taxes is to cut consumption by raising gasoline prices to consumers, but the $1 increase in gasoline prices during the past year has cut gas consumption. These higher prices, if they stay, will cut gasoline usage much further as consumers have more time to adjust their behavior. If the optimal tax on gasoline was $1 when gasoline sold for $2, the effective tax is now $1.60: the 60 cents imposed by governments and the $1 increase due to market forces. So, if anything, this argument suggests that gasoline taxes be reduced rather than increased while prices are so high.”
(However Wachs has written a piece A Dozen Reasons for Raising Gasoline Taxes (PDF). An important reason is to help bring about better user charges, namely road pricing. )
Clearly there is uncertainty about the extent and cost and valuation of potential climate change. The fact that oil prices are now higher should decrease the calls for a gas tax, as the market is now accomplishing the ends a gas tax sets out to do. Yet, the market demand (expressed as the number of advocacy blog posts) for a gas tax apparently is rising as the price of gas rises.