Linklist: February 24, 2012

357 Transportation Infographics and Data Visualizations @

Bloomberg: U.S. Postal Service to Cut 35,000 Jobs as Plants Are Shut:

“The service plans to shut 223 of its 461 mail-processing plants by February 2013, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said in a telephone interview today. The closings will cut about 35,000 jobs, said David Partenheimer, a spokesman.”

Blair Barnhardt at Kansas University discusses The Three Legged Stool | Saving America’s Infrastructure [YouTube], which makes use of our Brookings Report: Fix It First, Expand It Second, Reward It Third: A New Strategy for America’s Highways (starting at the 23:47 mark running to about 36:00)

. There is also a LinkedIn Group: StreetSaver Pavement Management Group. In fact it is the source of some homework assignments in his course.

Why Transportation Costs Too Much, 39 Hypotheses and Counting

Late last year I provoked a bit of a fury with Transportation costs too much and the main follow-up Is transport too expensive?

For the first time, I will briefly list all of the hypotheses in one post.

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

My coauthors (alphabetically) include John Bedell, Peter Gordon, Michael Iacono, David King, Dick Mudge, Randal O’Toole, Lisa Schweitzer, Stephen Smith, and others who posted anonymously. It goes without saying (which means it doesn’t since I am saying it) that not everyone agrees with everything. At the bottom, I have grouped the causes into larger meta-causes where appropriate.

  1. Standards have risen [Smith’s Man of System].
  2. Principal-agent problem.
  3. Thin markets.
  4. There are in-sufficient economies of scale (Excess Bespoke Design).
  5. Projects are scoped wrong.
  6. Benefits are concentrated, costs are diffuse [Logic of Collective Action].
  7. Decision-makers are remote [Fatal Conceit].
  8. No one actually does B/C analysis.
  9. The highest demand areas for maintenance and new stock occur in places that are expensive.
  10. Project creep.
  11. Envy is a much bigger problem in public works than in personal life.
  12. Benefit cost is only as good as the integrity of the data and the analysts.
  13. Federal funds favor capital-heavy technologies and investments.
  14. Design for forecast.
  15. Planners and engineers are paid as percentage of total project cost [Principal-Agent Problem].
  16. Materials are scarcer (and thus more expensive).
  17. Regulations like ADA and environmental protection are driving up costs.
  18. Formula spending reduces the incentive or need to worry much about costs. This is obviously related to many of the other hypotheses already considered but I think deserves it’s own number.
  19. The State Aid system and associated standards.
  20. Stop/start investment.
  21. Poor commissioning.
  22. “Starchitecture”,
  23. Separation of design and build.
  24. Doing construction on facilities still in operation.
  25. Union work rules (not wages)that inhibit productivity gains through new technologies.
  26. Fragmented governance leads to large and meandering projects rather than centralized projects. Politicians have to “share the wealth” of projects. This is perhaps a cause of “project creep.”
  27. Environmental Impact Statements (Reports) lead to “lock-in”
  28. Public-private partnerships trade additional up front costs for faster construction.
  29. Open government/costs of democracy.
  30. Climate change adaptation is increasing the costs of projects.
  31.  Ratchet Effect.
  32. Baumol’s cost disease.
  33. Transit investment isn’t realizing any productivity gains from labor.
  34. Utility works are uncharged.
  35. Experience and Competence.
  36. Ethos, training and prestige.
  37. Government power.
  38. Legal system.
  39. Lack of user fee funding.

Some other points:
1. Standards arguably includes 14, 17, 19, 21, 24, 27, 29, 30,
4. Insufficient scale economies, there is some relationship to 1, since bespoke probably means higher quality (better local fitting).
5. Scoping, includes 10, 14, 22, 26

Light rail gets a name, new logo

MPR reports that Light rail gets a name, new logo :

“St. Paul, Minn. — The Twin Cities light rail system is getting a new name.
Under a plan the Metropolitan Council approved Wednesday, the light rail and rapid transit lines will be known as “Metro” once the Central Corridor line opens in 2014
The system will feature a “T” logo instead of an “M,” said Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb.
The decision was made after brand testing a variety of logos.
“The qualities that people associated with the “T” logo are really solid ones that we really want to build the system around,” Lamb said. “That’s reliability [and] the system approach toward transit.”
Lamb says the Hiawatha light rail line will become the blue line and the Central Corridor will be the green line.

Readers of this blog of course know the real name they stuck with a “T”, it was so they would not have to change all the Bus Stop signs. One only hopes they thought about buses when choosing the name, since you know, buses carry some 90% of transit users in the region.
Alternatives names were considered but rejected. These include:

  • Hennepin-Ramsey Transit (HeRT)
  • Ramsey-Hennepin Transit (RaHT)
  • METRO – Moving Everyone (without a car) Through the Region On-grade
  • MeToo – Minnesotans Emulating Transit names of Other Organizations

Linklist: February 23, 2012

TechCrunch says: Strategic Sharing: Zipcar Leads $13.7M Investment In Campus Car-Sharing Startup Wheelz:

“Well, you have to hand it to the strategy team over at Zipcar. Arguably the largest on-demand car-sharing network, Zipcar went public last year and not long after saw its market cap cross $1 billion. It’s since fallen back, and with collaborative consumption and the market for car-sharing heating up, the big players have to make moves. Zipcar has since forged a partnership with Ford, making it the largest provider of cars for Zipcar’s University program, and, in December, the company took a controlling stake in Spain’s largest car-sharing network, Avancar.
Today finds Zipcar making another strategic move to get its mitts in fellow car-sharing companies, again with a focus on universities, whose students are among the most eager adopters of car-sharing models. What do I mean? The company today announced that it is a lead investor in the $13.7 million Series A financing of Wheelz, a junior, university-focused version of itself.”

KurzweilAI: GPS jamming: a clear and present reality :

“A secret network of 20 roadside listening stations across the UK has confirmed that criminals are attempting to jam GPS signals on a regular basis, according to New Scientist One Per Cent blog.
Jammers seem to be being used by truckers to prevent their journeys being tracked by their bosses, or by thieves stealing commercial vehicles.”

Xconomy: Google Transit: A Search Giant Remaps Public Transportation :

“To enable all that, Google introduced a new standard in 2011 called GTFS-realtime. It builds on GTFS, but is a different animal, since it includes new feed types for trip updates, service alerts, and vehicle positions, as well as provisions for constantly refreshing this data throughout the day. In an advisory to agencies, Google puts it this way: “Because GTFS-realtime allows you to present the actual status of your fleet, the feed needs to be updated regularly—preferably whenever new data comes in from your Automatic Vehicle Location system.””

More on Elsevier as rent-seeking monopolists.

Tim Leunig, an Elsevier editor of Explorations in Economic History, writes: Elsevier have a right to price their journals as they see fit, but they must be honest in their reasoning and not attack boycotters with untruths. :

“I therefore have no difficulty in defending Elsevier’s right to price its journals as it sees fit. Equally, I have no difficulty in understanding the decisions of individuals and libraries not to subscribe to Elsevier’s journals. What I strongly dislike is the Chief Executive claiming that the objections of Elsevier’s critics are based on “misstatements or misunderstandings of the fact”. He should be honest and state that in many cases his journals have an element of monopoly power which as a commercial, capitalist company he is determined to exploit as fully as possible. I would respect him were he to say that. For him to claim otherwise is simply false – and as a journal editor it is my job to expose those who speak falsely. That responsibility extends to rejecting comments made by my Journal’s publisher’s Chief Executive, just as much as it extends to rejecting articles that make unsubstantiated and unwarranted claims unsupported by the evidence.”

Linklist: February 22, 2012

Robert Bruegmann @ Bloomberg: Driverless Car Could Defy Sprawl Rules:

“The driverless car could well extend that flexibility in dramatic fashion, combining some characteristics of automobiles and public transportation and allowing people more choice in the way they live, whether it involves more compact, high-density cities, more dispersed low-density settlements — call it sprawl if you like — or, perhaps most likely, all of the above.”

Fanis Grammenos @ Planetizen Choosing a Grid, or Not :

“Breaking the convenient, but outdated, uniformity of the 18th and 19th Century American grids would be a first step in recovering the land efficiency mandated by current ecological and economic imperatives. Pointing in that direction, Savannah’s composite, cellular grid includes variable size streets and blocks for private, civic and religious functions. A second step would be to include block sizes that can accommodate building types and sizes unknown in the 1800s, again defying block uniformity. A third step would be to adapt its streets for the now universal motorized mobility, of cars, buses, trucks, trams and motorcycles, that is radically different from when oxen, equine and legs shared the transport of goods and people.”

Eric Jaffe @ Atlantic Cities: The Tale of a Taxi Driver Who Just Won’t Stop Driving [He claims he is not a taxi driver, since he doesn’t charge (making it up in tips), the court disagreed]

Lynne Kiesling @ Knowledge Problem: Extreme Makeover: Regulation Edition :

“Yes. Hayek’s Pretence of Knowledge meets Smith’s “man of system”, Tullock’s rent seeking, and Olson’s concentrated benefits and diffuse costs. Regulatory complexity creates benefits for politically-powerful special interests, but it creates costs for everyone else, and this ongoing process feeds the egos of our elected representatives who believe they can engineer, design, and manipulate society to achieve their desired outcomes.”

Capital Business Blog – The Washington Post: In White Flint, the mall is being turned into a town :

“The plans ultimately call for 5.2 million square feet of buildings, including 1 million square feet offices in three buildings along Rockville Pike, 1 million square feet of retail, 2,500 residential units and a 300-room hotel. The current three-level mall is about 800,000 square feet.
Civic amenities are also envisioned. On the south side of the property the companies have reserved space for the construction of a new elementary school and on the east side plan to build a public park, part of 13.1 acres of open space on the property.”

CBC News: TTC chief Gary Webster fired:

“TTC chief general manager Gary Webster has been relieved of his duties, following a vote during a special meeting of transit commissioners Tuesday.
In a motion describing termination “without just cause,” the transit commission voted 5-4 to fire Webster, who has worked at the service for 35 years, just two weeks after he expressed open defiance to a subway plan championed by Mayor Rob Ford. His ouster comes a year before he was set to retire.
“This was not how I expected this to end — certainly not how I wanted it to end,” Webster told reporters shortly after his termination. “But clearly the choice has been made to replace me as chief general manager and I accept that.””

Joe Soucheray @ Let’s turn I-94 into a tollway. No, I’m serious.:

“About 30 minutes after you cross the Illinois border below Milwaukee, you are offered the tollway option, which is the only way to go. I went last weekend, and before I left, the CP slapped the transponder onto my windshield.
It made me feel big city. I am certain that if I lived in the western suburbs or had to use I-35W, I’d be a MnPASS customer.”

[We lack toll roads, a new battle on the urban featuritis war begins, accompanying convention centers, light rail, and NFL Stadia.]

The Transportationist is now also syndicated on Alltop


Bottineau line: Most Promising Alternatives
Bottineau line: Most Promising Alternatives

I heard a nice presentation by Kim Zlimen on Friday concerning the proposed Bottineau Transitway.
Bottineau Transitway is a proposed line from downtown Minneapolis to the Northwest. Currently planners and decision-makers are evaluating technologies and rights-of-way. They seem to have two proposed alignments through Minneapolis, one along Penn Avenue (D2 in the figure) and another through Theodore Wirth Park (D1). If LRT, and that is the direction things seem to be going, the Penn Avenue alignment requires taking houses. There are alternatives (e.g. using Oliver Ave for one or both tracks) that were ruled out that did not require taking houses, but obviously required taking roadspace from parked (and moving) cars. To say those were too disruptive (by requiring people to park a block away), and that taking houses was not, is strange.
Maybe I am just cynical, but I think that the planners were cynical by defining the on-street alternative as requiring the taking of houses on Penn Avenue. In the context of a post-Rondo Twin Cities, house takings, especially in a poor neighborhood make that an unacceptable alternative, and thereby force the alignment through the Theodore Wirth Park.
In the end, if the aim is to serve suburban commuters to downtown, using the Park alignment is probably better for those travelers. If the objective is to serve transit dependent populations in North Minneapolis, this completely misses. The claim is that both objectives are important, but clearly there is a conflict here.
I suspect this is an application of the Overton Window, by framing the choices in a particular way to get the desired outcome.
This does clear North Minneapolis from LRT, making it more amenable to streetcars, which is perhaps the objective (… See, North is underserved by LRT, we simply must provide Streetcars).
[Alex Bauman also has a nice series of posts with another take at Getting Around Minneapolis: Bottineau-no for North, part I part II, and part III.]

Assessing Alternative Methods for Measuring Regional Mobility in Metropolitan Regions

Recently released: NCHRP 08-36, Task 102
Assessing Alternative Methods for Measuring Regional Mobility in Metropolitan Regions

“The objective of this project is to assess methods for defining and measuring mobility in metropolitan regions. How an agency or jurisdiction defines and measures mobility greatly determines selection of strategies and ultimately investment decisions. In metropolitan areas, measuring mobility at the system level is often limited to the measure of traffic congestion and resulting delay on the freeway and signalized arterial networks. Although traffic congestion does inhibit mobility, it alone may not be a sufficient measure of system performance, particularly as transportation agencies strive to embrace a more multimodal approach to transportation planning.”

The report supports the use of accessibility as a standard performance measure.

h. Accessibility as an integrated transportation-land use measure. Trip- based mobility measures are the starting point for accessibility measures, but they are blind to trip purpose or opportunity; they just measure the performance of trips within a given time window. Accessibility measures layer on the trip purpose or type of destination represented by the trip and are meant to measure the ease of reaching opportunities – goods, services, activities and other destinations. Three factors affect accessibility: congestion (or impedance), transportation system connectivity, and land use patterns. Thus, accessibility measures capture all four of these simultaneously; it is still important to understand the contribution of components, especially mobility as this is under more direct control of transportation agencies and easier to communicate to a general audience for a greater range of purposes. Note the accessibility can apply to the ease of getting to activities (such as jobs, recreation, shopping) or aspects of the transportation system itself (freeways, transit route, bike facilities).

[The lead was Cambridge Systematics, with Dowling Associates and TTI, I was on the project team]

Linklist: February 21, 2012

KurzweilAI: Traffic intersections of the future will control autonomous vehicles : “Intersections of the future won’t need stop lights or stop signs. They’ll look like a somewhat chaotic flow of driverless, autonomous cars slipping past one another as they are managed by a virtual traffic controller, says computer scientist Peter Stone, a professor of computer science at The University of Texas at Austin.” [Interesting, but I disbelieve this is the likely technology path, there are 1 million signalized intersections and lord knows how many stop signs in the US, autonomous vehicles will develop protocols with each other before most jurisdictions fix their pathetically antiquated traffic signal controllers.]

Joe Verdoorn @ Newgeography Unintended Consequences of the Neo-Traditional City Planning Model: “This tactical criteria of the Neo-traditional model, however, can create unintended negative consequences. The criteria to which I refer includes:

  • grid street patterns
  • connectivity to adjacent neighborhoods
  • mixed, non-residential land uses
  • alley access/rear loaded house

The inflexible application of these tactical criteria enhances opportunities for criminal activities to occur.”

Via Martin Engel: CALIFORNIA HIGH SPEED RAIL on Vimeo: “a short, fun jaunt through history comparing the Ca. High Speed Train budget to other big ticket national projects.”

Bradley Heard @ GGW Ride The Tide of light rail, Virginia Beach – Greater Greater Washington: “Dubbed “The Tide,” South Hampton Roads’ light rail system made its debut in Norfolk on August 19, 2011. The initial $338 million segment, operated by the regional transit agency, Hampton Roads Transit (HRT), is 7.4-miles, has 11 stops, and is currently located only within Norfolk’s city limits.

Initial weekday ridership during the first year was projected to be only 2,900. However, the 6-month data shows that those early projections have been blown away. About 4,642 people ride The Tide during an average weekday. An even higher number—4,850—use the system on Saturdays, with 2,099 usually riding on Sundays.” [Dumbing Success Down: If they forecast Zero Riders, it would have been Infinitely more successful]