America’s transport infrastructure: Life in the slow lane

| The Economist bemoans the sorry state of US infrastructure … America’s transport infrastructure: Life in the slow lane :

“Although America still builds roads with enthusiasm, according to the OECD’s International Transport Forum, it spends considerably less than Europe on maintaining them. In 2006 America spent more than twice as much per person as Britain on new construction; but Britain spent 23% more per person maintaining its roads.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that America needs to spend $20 billion more a year just to maintain its infrastructure at the present, inadequate, levels. Up to $80 billion a year in additional spending could be spent on projects which would show positive economic returns. Other reports go further. In 2005 Congress established the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission. In 2008 the commission reckoned that America needed at least $255 billion per year in transport spending over the next half-century to keep the system in good repair and make the needed upgrades. Current spending falls 60% short of that amount.”

(Via Yglesias.)

Experts of course disagree on what constitutes “need”, but the evidence is the system will continue to deteriorate unless funds are upped for preservation and renewal. See our report Fix It First for details on how to do this.

Zombie Transportation, Irreversibility, Planning Limbo, and Why Projects Never Die

A few days ago I was quoted discussing the so-called high-speed rail project between Chicago and the Twin Cities saying “It’s deader.”
Peter Bell discussed the many “Near death experiences” of the Central Corridor LRT, which recently got fully funded from the federal government, and is now, almost assuredly, irreversible, as these things go.
Well, of course, in transportation, nothing ever truly dies as long as the line on the map is a memory in the mind of an advocate. A decision to not build a project is easily reversed, since “no” involves no investment in fixed costs, unless something is done in its stead. This is especially a problem if the right-of-way for the facility is being preserved, through either land purchases or prohibitions on development.

Following the lead of John Quiggin, who titled a book “Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk among Us“, we might call these old ideas “Zombie Transportation”, projects that are now “bad” (or at least no longer “good”) ideas, effectively seemingly dead, yet still live in people’s minds (and occasionally, like the California HSR, get partial funding before their plug is eventually pulled).
There are lots of other projects one can think of that were lines on maps for decades before being realized. Maryland 200 (the Inter-County Connector), Minnesota 610 are two that come immediately to mind, on the map for 60 and at least 40 years respectively.

In many cases, the problem is simple, ruthless, benefit/cost analysis, the B/C ratio, which may have once been above 1.0, falls to a lower level due to changed circumstances, increased costs due to environmental or other concerns, or a change in demand associated with different finance (tax to toll) mechanism or price of energy. Yet because it is a “commitment” (political, or moral) to a community that their turn will come, they too will get their line built, the line on the map never comes off the map.

Once a project is completed and open, it is essentially irreversible, it will almost never be shuttered before it physically fails (a few exceptions to be noted: e.g. collapsing urban freeways in San Francisco), or requires replacement (Streetcars in many US cities). And even then, many facilities which should be shuttered continue to be maintained and operated, and later reconstructed instead. The difficulty with gravelization is an extreme example of this.

The End of Traffic and the Future of Access: A Roadmap to the New Transport Landscape. By David M. Levinson and Kevin J. Krizek.
The End of Traffic and the Future of Access: A Roadmap to the New Transport Landscape. By David M. Levinson and Kevin J. Krizek.

We need a better system for truly killing bad or obsolete ideas in transportation, for culling the losers or the no longer winners. Otherwise, agencies will look at decade old maps, say to themselves: “what remains unfinished”, and proceed along to build zombie facilities despite newer priorities rising to the fore and old ideas ceasing to be effective.

TomTom user data sold to Dutch police, used to determine ideal locations for speed trap

TomTom user data sold to Dutch police, used to determine ideal locations for speed traps — Engadget

POSTED APR 27TH 2011 01:53PM
TomTom user data sold to Danish police, used to determine location of speed traps
We like it when the accumulated speed data from GPS devices helps us avoid traffic incidents and school zones. As it turns out, though, there are some other uses for the same stats. Dutch news outlet AD is reporting that such data captured by TomTom navigation devices has been purchased by the country’s police force and is being used to determine where speed traps and cameras should be placed. TomTom was reportedly unaware its data was being used in such a way, but if the police would only agree to sell the data on the location of its speed cameras and traps back to TomTom, why, this could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
Update: TomTom has issued a statement, which we have embedded after the break. To be totally clear all this data is being collected anonymously and the police have no idea exactly who is speeding, just that speeding has taken place.
Update 2: We have an English-language video from TomTom CEO Harold Goddijn embedded after the break. In it he says that the company will ‘prevent that type of usage’ of the navigation data going forward. So, no need to turn off the ‘ol GPS when you’re late for work tomorrow morning.

PR Statement
1) Customers come first at TomTom;
When you use one of our products we ask for your permission to collect travel time information on an anonymous basis. The vast majority of you do, indeed grant us that permission. When you connect your TomTom to a computer we aggregate this information and use it for a variety of applications, most importantly to create high quality traffic information and to route you around traffic jams.
We also make this information available to local governments and authorities. It helps them to better understand where congestion takes
place, where to build new roads and how to make roads safer.
We are actively promoting the use of this information because we believe we can help make roads safer and less congested.
We are now aware that the police have used traffic information that you have helped to create to place speed cameras at dangerous locations where the average speed is higher than the legally allowed speed limit. We are aware a lot of our customers do not like the idea and we will look at if we should allow this type of usage.
2) This is what we really do with the data;
– We ask for your permission to collect historical data. You can opt in or opt out and can disable the data collection function at any time.
– If you are using a LIVE device, you receive traffic information in real time and you automatically contribute to generating traffic information.
– We make all traffic data anonymous. We can never trace it back to you or your device.
– We turn anonymous data into traffic information to give you the fastest route available and route you through traffic jams in real time.
– We are working with road authorities around the world to use anonymous traffic information to help make roads flow more efficiently and safer.
– Our goal is to create a driver community capable of reducing traffic congestion for everyone.