Linklist: February 29, 2012

The Speculist (via Kottke): In the Future Everything Will Be A Coffee Shop

Marginal Revolution: Probability fact of the day:

“The average class size experienced by students is almost always larger than the average class size experienced by professors.
More at God Plays Dice. I recall a JEP piece (?) many years ago which used the same idea to explain the “road curse”–given two equally good roads most people will always choose the more crowded!”

I use this example to explain transit ridership. Two buses, 1 carries 50 people, 1 carries 1 person. 50 people observe a bus with 50 people, 1 observes a bus with 1 person. Perceived average ridership is about 49, actual average ridership is about 25.

Standing There Like Idiots

There are many useless traffic signals. (Some are also useful).
The most useless traffic signal I see everyday (multiple times) is at the intersection of Beacon St. and Harvard Avenue. Not only is there little traffic for the traffic light, so a stop sign (or better a yield sign, roundabout, or shared space) would do, the pedestrian signal has Beg buttons. I just saw someone who looked a lot like Eric Kaler (who is obviously not an idiot) waiting and needlessly obeying the law while pushing the pedestrian signal actuator multiple times to call for a walk signal, which eventually came. If no one pushes the actuator, you actually don’t get a walk signal, so it is working, just pointless.
Why do we have these signals, on a university campus of all places, making pedestrians (who probably are equal in number to cars at this intersection) stand there like idiots while cars can drive through, and even make a “right turn on red”?

Minnesotans Emulating Transit-names of Other Organizations

London Green Bus (Country Bus)
London Green Bus (Country Bus)

The Metoopolitan Council recently unveiled its name “Metro” for rail and BRT services. I don’t like the framing. How does this branding compare with other agencies? I looked up the top 10 US agencies (by bus ridership, which is more or less the top 10 ranking overall).

  • New York MTA
    • Bus and Subway (uses letters and numbers),
    • Commuter Rail lines (names): LIRR, Metro-North
  • Los Angeles LACMTA
    • Metro Local, Metro Express, Metro Rapid, Metro Rail (uses colors for BRT and Rail)
  • Chicago CTA
    • CTA, ‘L’
  • San Francisco
    • Muni (Bus, Rail=Metro, uses letters for rail lines)
    • BART (uses destinations for route names)
  • Philadelphia
    • SEPTA (color for rail lines)
    • PATCO
  • Washington WMATA
    • Metrobus,
    • Metrorail, (colors for rail lines)
  • Boston MBTA
    • The “T” (colors for rail lines)
  • Seattle
    • King County Metro (Bus, RapidRide BRT)
    • Sound Transit (names for rail lines)
  • Baltimore MTA Maryland
    • Bus,
    • Heavy Rail=Metro,
    • Light Rail (colors for Heavy and Light Rail),
    • Marc Commuter Rail (names)
  • Miami Miami-Dade Transit
    • Metrorail (colors for line names)
    • Metromover,
    • Metrobus

Minneapolis is actually 11th on the list, so we should look upwards, at least for information.

So what does “Metro” mean? It is part of a Commuter Rail name (NYC), it indicates all transit (LA, DC, Miami), Heavy Rail only (San Francisco-Muni, Baltimore), the Bus agency (Seattle). “Metropolitan” is also in the agency name in many places (NY, LA, DC, Seattle), as in the Twin Cities.

In general, the names are distinguished (if at all) by the technology.

I personally like the DC, LA, Miami convention of Metro-technology as a way of distinguishing between the various transit modes. The word “Metro” does not imply privilege as is currently proposed for the Twin Cities, just its metropolitan nature. We could easily have meTrorail (the LRT), meTrobus (local bus service), meTrorapid (BRT) and meTroexpress (commuter bus) or something like that. I have used inCase capitalization to emphasize the “T” logo. Surely that is in the works. (As to whether it should be Metro Rail, Metro-Rail, Metro-rail, or Metrorail I will leave to the grammarians).
Within systems, the naming of routes is also non-standard. Commuter rail tends to be named, heavy and light rail can be lettered (NY, SF-Muni), colored (LA, DC, Boston, Baltimore, Miami), named (Seattle), or place-based (SF-BART). In contrast with rail, for bus there is a standard, bus routes are almost uniformly numbered in large cities. Of course the numbering convention is localized. The use of colors for rail lines as proposed in the Twin Cities is much less awful than the Metro for rail only proposal.

Linklist: February 28, 2012

Brendon sends me to Property Management Insider: First Robotic Convenience Store at U.S. Apartment Community Debuts in Fort Worth .
Brendon says “Soon you’ll be able to drive your robot car to a robot convenience store.” In my view, it will drive itself there, and pick up groceries for me.

NYT: U.S. Rule Set for Cameras at C:

“However, in a preliminary version circulated for public comment, regulators predicted that adding the cameras and viewing screens will cost the auto industry as much as $2.7 billion a year, or $160 to $200 a vehicle. At least some of the cost is expected to be passed on to consumers through higher prices.
But regulators say that 95 to 112 deaths and as many as 8,374 injuries could be avoided each year by eliminating the wide blind spot behind a vehicle. Government statistics indicate that 228 people of all ages – 44 percent of whom are under age 5 – die every year in backover accidents involving passenger vehicles. About 17,000 people a year are injured in such accidents.
“In terms of absolute numbers of lives saved, it certainly isn’t the highest,” Mr. Ditlow said. “But in terms of emotional tragedy, backover deaths are some of the worst imaginable. When you have a parent that kills a child in an incident that’s utterly avoidable, they don’t ever forget it.””

$2.7 B/year for 100 lives a year gives a value of life of $27 million. Official US DOT Value of Statistical Life is about $5.8 million. We are losing ~300 lives per year that could otherwise be saved by doing this instead of using the same resources for the better thing. [This calculation is complicated by how injuries are dealt with among other issues]. Guilt is expensive, it is worth ~3 kids, but at least they are anonymous, and in this case the private sector is paying instead of the public.

Why transportation costs too much, 4 more explanations

A Transportationista who wishes to remain anonymous sends this in response to Why Transportation Costs Too Much, 39 Hypotheses and Counting:

“It occurs to me that transportation in the United States is usually underpriced at the user level. For instance, when I get in my car and drive to the store the variable costs I incur are minimal. If I take the bus the cost to me is low because the service is heavily subsidized. But while the direct cost to transportation system users is generally modest it is certainly true that as a society we spend a lot on transportation,
much of which is in the form of fuel taxes and license fees of various kinds. I won’t venture an opinion on whether we are spending the “right” amount, but in any case we spend quite a bit. Perhaps the question should be “why don’t we get more for what we spend?”

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

In addition to the reasons you have already listed consider the
following possible explanations:
1. Transportation agencies attempt to provide high levels of peak capacity to accommodate the demand that results from un-priced roads and highways. This is very costly capacity to provide. If tolls were charged that reflected true costs people would drive less, especially during peak hours. It would therefore cost much less to provide the economically optimal amount of peak system capacity.
2. Federal funding programs create perverse incentives that lead to very costly capital projects. Almost any project looks good if somebody else is paying for most of it. For example every year billions of dollars are spent on passenger rail projects that would never be funded were it not for generous Federal grants. Just look at the high speed rail program or the FTA New Starts program. There are examples on the
highway side too, such as bridges to nowhere and freeways in rural areas with little traffic. These Federal programs, no matter how well intentioned, tip the local decision making process in favor of expensive capital projects and discourage consideration of lower cost options and policy reforms.
3. Most of the transportation system is owned, planned, and managed by public agencies. These entities have many objectives but efficiency and cost-effectiveness are rarely a high priority. The public sector does some things well but it doesn’t usually do them very efficiently (I say that as an experienced bureaucrat). As a result transportation revenues are not always efficiently converted to transportation user benefits.
4. Because transportation involves a large number of public agencies with overlapping or intertwined responsibilities planning is complex and
inefficient. Projects end up with all the bells and whistles needed to satisfy the agencies and constituencies that could block a proposal. Local elected officials often load up regional plans with pet projects that do little to improve transportation system performance. There is a whole science to how public agencies bargain with each other and interact, unfortunately the results are rarely optimal from a cost-effectiveness perspective. The principal/agent problem is part of
the reason for this, but only a part. In nearly every metropolitan area in the United States institutional structure results in transportation plans and policies that fall far short of the cost-effectiveness that could be achieved.
These four factors help explain why we have difficulty efficiently converting our large transportation expenditures into user benefits.
However, it does not explain why we spend as much as we do. That is a somewhat different question the answer to which has more to do with other relationships. In particular, a number of studies have shown that people tend to spend a relatively constant percentage of their income on transportation. So it follows that a wealthy society like ours will spend a lot on transportation because we have a lot to spend. I would
add that mobility has a very high value and as our cities spread out and decentralize that value may be increasing. Being able to travel around a region confers huge benefits in terms of employment, education, shopping, etc. Given those large benefits perhaps we should not be surprised at our willingness to pay. Now the challenge is to enact the institutional reforms needed to more efficiently use transportation revenues so those expenditures yield greater benefits.”

Linklist: February 27, 2012

Mashable: Google To Test Driverless Cars On Nevada Roadways:

“The roads in Nevada are ready for driverless robot cars. Earlier this month, Nevada’s Legislative Commission approved testing of autonomous vehicles on the state’s roadways. The cars will be identifiable by a red license plate.”

Lisa Schweitzer in Politico: Opinion: Obama clueless on transit funding:

“His problem? The legislation would eliminate the deficit-plagued Highway Trust Fund as a funding source for transit, walking and biking projects. Money for those projects would instead have to come out of the general fund.
Transit and sustainability advocates are outraged. Don’t the bill’s supporters know how crucial these non-automobile means of travel are to cities?
Unfortunately, the bill is an all-too-predictable backlash against the White House and its apparent cluelessness about the difference between national transportation policy and urban transport policy.”

Washington Mall Extended

Cross-posted from Washington Mall Extended.

Washington Mall Extended

Washington Avenue Mall will open in a couple of years along with the Central Corridor LRT. It will cover the space from Walnut Street to Coffman Union on what is Washington Avenue. The new Mall will prohibit private passenger cars, while allowing Buses and Bikes. Today the remnants of Washington Avenue SE to the Mall’s east are mostly devoid of cars, as motorists have found other routes and modes to avoid the closed section of Washington Avenue.

The question I have is, why should the Mall not extend four blocks east to University Avenue? I have heard two rationales.

The first is to allow access to the Washington Avenue ramp. But this can be accessed from Harvard Avenue (to Beacon Street to Union Street) (from the south), and Harvard can be accessed from Fulton Street, providing access from the South-east. From the North, it accessed via Pillsbury Drive to Beacon to Union. Only if you are coming from due East (on University) does Washington provide better access. Once the University of Minnesota blows up the Field House (which is presumably in the plans), 18th Avenue can be reconnected through Pillsbury to Harvard, providing slightly better (2 blocks shorter) access from University Ave east of campus.

The second is the desire for local retailers to have the ability to drive up to the store. But with the elimination of parking on Washington Avenue, along with the rapid elimination of local businesses as single-story taxpayer buildings get torn down and replaced with 4 story student-oriented apartments, this would seem to be moot.

Conversion of the remainder of Washington Avenue into a Bicycle/Pedestrian/Transit Mall would extend what is sure to become a valuable urban space. It will signal a change as one enters the University region from a typical auto-oriented streetscape to one more conducive to a place where the population is non-motorized and the trips are short. This transformation is one mostly of perspective. We don’t allow cars lots of places: inside buildings, shopping malls, parks, campuses, and so on. By converting to Washington Avenue into car-free mall, we will be declaring that space within rather than outside the campus. It will make distances feel shorter, removing one more barrier between places north and south of Washington Avenue.

Elimination of auto traffic on Washington Avenue will also improve driving conditions for motorists at University Avenue and those moving north-south at Huron, Ontario, Oak, and Walnut Streets, and improve conditions for buses and LRT on Washington Avenue itself.

Will this cure cancer or solve world hunger? No. But it will make life a little better for many people at a very low cost and little transportation consequence.

Value of travel time reliability: A review of current evidence


Recently Published: Carrion, Carlos and David Levinson (2012) Value of travel time reliability: A review of current evidence. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice 46(4) 720–741.[doi]

Travel time reliability is a fundamental factor in travel behavior. It represents the temporal uncertainty experienced by travelers in their movement between any two nodes in a network. The importance of the time reliability depends on the penalties incurred by the travelers. In road networks, travelers consider the existence of a trip travel time uncertainty in different choice situations (departure time, route, mode, and others). In this paper, a systematic review of the current state of research in travel time reliability, and more explicitly in the value of travel time reliability is presented. Moreover, a meta-analysis is performed in order to determine the reasons behind the discrepancy among the reliability estimates.
Keywords: Variability; Reliability; Travel time; Scheduling; Meta-analysis

Slow, infrequent, and inconvenient

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

Transitway Network: Metropolitan Council approves METRO name, vehicle graphics for LRT/BRT transitway system (February 23, 2012 Metropolitan Council News Release) :

““The METRO system name identifies the developing LRT/BRT services as unique,” said Arlene McCarthy, director of Metropolitan Transportation Services for the Council. “METRO riders can expect fast, frequent, and convenient service, whether they ride the Blue Line to Target Field, the Red Line to Mall of America, or the Green Line to the State Capitol.””

Apparently the 90 percent of regional transit riders who use local buses can expect slow, infrequent, and inconvenient service, whether they ride the 3 to downtown or the 8 to Franklin Avenue Station.
The framing like this aims to diminish local buses into second-class service.