Bloomberg Announces Carpool Rule for Manhattan-Bound Drivers

Streetsblog on the HOV-only bridges and tunnels in NYC will really help buses: Bloomberg Announces Carpool Rule for Manhattan-Bound Drivers : “After a morning and afternoon when car traffic completely clogged NYC streets and river crossings, Mayor Bloomberg announced new restrictions for drivers entering Manhattan via bridges and tunnels on Thursday and Friday. On most crossings, only cars with three or more people will be allowed to enter Manhattan.”

I hope Casual Carpooling takes off.

Moral (road) hazard:

“3 of every 4 states that have enacted a ban on texting while driving have seen crashes actually go up rather than down”

From Tim Haab: @ Environmental Economics: Moral (road) hazard:

“It’s perplexing for both police and lawmakers throughout the U.S.: They want to do something about the danger of texting while driving, a major road hazard, but banning the practice seems to make it even more dangerous.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that 3 of every 4 states that have enacted a ban on texting while driving have seen crashes actually go up rather than down.
It’s hard to pin down exactly why this is the case, but experts believe it is a result of people trying to avoid getting caught in states with stiff penalties. Folks trying to keep their phones out of view will often hold the phone much lower, below the wheel perhaps, in order to keep it out of view. That means the driver’s eyes are looking down and away from the road.


New New York and New New Jersey

Does the US have an obligation to rebuild New York’s subway? Does New York have this obligation?
Randal O’Toole (The Antiplanner) goes there: Should New York Rebuild the Subways? :

“As long as New York already had a subway, it probably made sense to maintain it. But building new subways, such as the Second Avenue subway which is costing more than $2 billion a mile, makes no sense. Will it make sense to perform costly repairs of the subways heavily damaged by Sandy?
There are those who argue that density has a great economic value and that all cities would be denser if it weren’t for barriers put in the way of density. On the other hand, if densities were lower, the damage from storms such as Sandy or other events such as earthquakes would be a lot lower.
Operating and maintaining New York’s transit system costs than $10 billion a year more than fare collections. While increasing fares by an average of $2.50 per ride could cover those costs, this wouldn’t be enough as the system isn’t being maintained to a state of good repair. Most of the subsidies come from auto users, out of either federal gas taxes or bridge tolls that are diverted to transit.
There are two alternatives to rebuilding the subways. The drastic alternative is to simply let the city fend for itself without subways. A more realistic alternative would be to convert the subways into underground busways. Electric buses could move just about as many people as the subways do with far less infrastructure.

Does the US have an obligation to bail out coastal regions which built where they shouldn’t have? Matt Kahn goes there: Rebuilding New Jersey and Coastal Moral Hazard

I predict that in the “no FEMA” equilibrium, that the state’s residents and leaders would invest in taking many more precautions to reduce their exposure to flood and hurricane risk. Zoning laws would change to discourage construction in the riskiest areas and to reduce population density in those areas. Coastal home owners would be incentivized by the state to take much greater precautions to reduce ex-post damage. “

Comment: Just as there are positive externalities to density, there are negative externalities which are subsidized by others, and there is moral hazard there – overbuilding due to social insurance. Moralizing and “must”-ing as politicians are wont to do does not get us to the right answer, it just reaffirms the status quo of existing built form and real estate markets. There may be better solutions which we fail to seek in the rush to rebuild just as we were.

Sandy and Redundancy

New York should be thankful it has bridges as well as tunnels, just as after the 1989 earthquake, The Bay Area was glad it had the BART Tunnel in addition to the temporarily damaged Bay Bridge. Redundancy has many dimensions, both multiple paths with the same technology and multiple technologies serving similar ends. But redundancy is not the only key to reliability.
In addition to spending on prevention (of storms, i.e. weather control and climate management), we need to spend on defense (sea barriers), mitigation (pumps), and in some cases accept the damage. It seems New York primarily (and by default) chose the “accept” strategy this time. In the future there should be a more multi-pronged strategy.

Above and Below New York

In the light of the recent closure of the New York Subway, some history on how it opened. From the forthcoming The Transportation Experience, 2nd Edition:

The London Underground opened in 1863. By 1870 other cities tried to copy. In New York, the publisher of Scientific American, Alfred Beach constructed, in secret, a short pneumatic tube railroad under Broadway. That it was constructed in secret (at night) is surprising to modern eyes, and was done because Beach did not have the approval of the Boss Tweed ring then governing New York City. Ultimately Tweed killed this nascent technological path though his influence over the Governor, who instead approved charters for elevated railroads. Though Beach tried to lower costs by switching from shield-tunneling to cut-and-cover, and Tweed soon went to jail, he could never get enough financial support to proceed. New York was condemned to elevated railroads rather than subways for the next 34 years when a new, non-secret, subway was opened.
Elevated Railways (Els) were constructed in Manhattan beginning in 1870. The initial foray using cable technology was soon replaced with steam engines, basically a railroad in miniature (though the gauge was standard). Els were eventually found on 9th, 6th, 3rd, and 2nd Avenues, and the latter two of these routes were ultimately extended to the Bronx. Manhattan Railways, their operator, was controlled by famed rail financier Jay Gould along with partner Russell Sage. These were electrified between 1900 and 1903 adopting the Multiple Unit Control system developed Frank Sprague, which was also applied to streetcars.

Despite New York’s vastly greater population, Boston preceded New York in operating a successful subway line, opening in 1897 with trolley cars operating in a subway adjacent to Boston Common. Electricity enabled deep-bore subways (which steam made infeasible for anything but cut-and-cover technology). For instance, the Pennsylvania Railroad, which previously served New York City via Ferry from New Jersey, now could tunnel under the Hudson and open up a station on the island of Manhattan.

In 1894 municipal voters under the leadership of New York Mayor Abram Hewitt approved the Rapid Transit Act, authorizing a new Rapid Transit Commission to contract with a private firm to construct and operate for 50 years a subway line. The Rapid Transit Construction Company (later the Interborough Rapid Transit Company) was formed to bid on this contract, led by John B. McDonald and August Belmont. After being awarded the contract, it acquired the Manhattan Railway company, operator of the Els, so that it could offer integrated service. Fares were capped at a nickel. The initial route was dubbed Contract One, and its extension Contract Two.

Advantages of shallow excavation (cut-and-cover) over deep bore tunneling included easier access to the tunnel from the ground, and once operating shorter distances for travelers, so that elevators would not be required. The major downside was the expense of utility relocation and shoring existing buildings.

The new cars were eventually built of steel rather than wood. Though there was some concern about the greater difficulty of rescue given a crash with steel construction (axes have a hard time breaking through steel), the greater protection in event of crash proved to be a more important consideration.
In the first year, the New York Subway attracted 106 million passengers.
Advertising on the subway platforms was an early issue. The franchisee for advertising was Artemas Ward (descended from the eponymous US Revolutionary War general). Opponents were not happy that advertising obscured the then new and nice tilework in the subway stations. Proponents argued that advertising provided useful information for potential customers. This tension would last for decades. The Washington Metro famously limited in-station advertising, while other systems (less graced by federal largesse) embrace it more widely.

Belmont’s IRT ultimately took over the Metropolitan Street Railway Company, consolidating control over transit. However the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (operator of the Els in Brooklyn) was given authority to build subway lines into Manhattan. The BRT entered Manhattan in 1908 taking its elevated trains across the Williamsburg Bridge into a Manhattan subway.
The control of transit became one of many fronts in local newspaper rivalries. The New York Times supported Belmont and continued private control of the subway, suggesting the test of a subway was a “reasonable certainty of profit.” while William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers supported municipalization.
The 1908 Elsberg Law shortened the length of contracts, which made it more difficult for potential competitors to enter the subway market (as they would have less time to amortized fixed capital facilities like power stations), and was passed over the opposition of the Rapid Transit Commission.

The Dual System was established in 1913, locking in the BRT and the IRT as the dual private subway providers. The Dual System established the network for each, providing competition in Manhattan, while the IRT dominated the Bronx and BRT was the primary provider in Brooklyn and Queens. Initially IRT and BRT supported the five cent fare because it provided a minimum floor that could not be violated. It later turned into a difficult ceiling for them.

BRT went into receivership in 1918 (after a strike and the resulting tragic Malbone Street Wreck, among other events). It was reorganized as the Brooklyn Manhattan Transit Company (BMT). The IRT narrowly averted the same fate.
In 1924, a new Independent City Owned System (IND) was established (opening in 1932) to compete with the private BMT and IRT, with a line from the Bronx through Manhattan to Brooklyn. While fares were fixed, competition was hoped to improve quality of service and the new line would add needed capacity on a system now handling over 700 million riders per year.

The capacity on the different services varied, as they were constructed at different times and used slightly different technologies. At the time of the IND opening, the IND could move 90,160 persons per hour per track, the BMT 73,680, and the IRT 59,400. Later technological improvements in signaling improved capacity on BMT and IRT. Turnstiles also were innovated to improve flow entering congested stations and the accuracy of revenue collection.
The downturn in the US economy was felt in New York. The IRT went into receivership in 1932, like the BRT before it. The private lines were municipalized in a process called Unification that was complete in 1940. Only $19 million from the IRT (and none from the BMT) was recovered to repay the funds laid out by the city as part of the Dual Contracts.

B.J. Cudahy. Under the Sidewalks of New York: The story of the Greatest Subway System in the World. Fordham University Press, 1995.

C. Hood. 722 miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.

D. King. Developing Densely: Estimating the Effect of Subway Growth on
New York City Land Uses
. Journal of Transport and Land Use, 4(2), 2011.

‘We don’t need to build more highways out in the suburbs’

Brad Plumer on Obama’s ‘We don’t need to build more highways out in the suburbs’:

“Last year, UCLA economist Matthew Kahn and the University of Minnesota’s David Levinson made a more detailed case for a “fix-it first” strategy. They noted that, at the moment, federal highway spending doesn’t get subjected to strict cost-benefit analysis, and governments often build new roads when they arguably shouldn’t. When a highway gets clogged, states find it more palatable to simply build new lanes rather than, say, put in place congestion fees — even though research has found that widening highways does little to alleviate traffic jams.

Among other things, there’s a solid economic case for making repairs a much higher priority. As Kahn and Levinson explain, road pavement tends to deteriorate slowly at first but then more quickly over time. It’s much, much cheaper to repair a road early on, when it’s still in “fair” condition, than when it drops down to “serious” condition. And that’s to say nothing of data suggesting that poor road conditions are a “significant factor” in one-third of all fatal crashes, and cause extra wear and tear on cars.”

Journal of Transport and Land Use 5(2)


The new issue of the Journal of Transport and Land Use 5(2) has just landed. In this issue you will find papers from the 2011 World Symposium on Transport and Land Use Research,


Journal of Transport and Land Use Vol 5, No 2 (2012)


Table of Contents

Special Issue: World Symposium on Transport & Land Use Research

Viewpoint: Triumph of the City PDF
Edward Glaeser  
Community design and how much we drive PDF
Wesley E Marshall, Norman W Garrick  
Urban form and travel behavior: experience from a Nordic context PDF
Petter Naess  
Understanding spatial variations in the impact of accessibility on land value using geographically weighted regression PDF
Hongbo Du, Corinne Mulley  
The impact of a new light rail system on single-family property values in Charlotte, North Carolina PDF
Sisi Yan, Eric Delmelle, Mike Duncan  
Impacts of low-speed vehicles on transportation infrastructure and safety PDF
Katharine Hunter-Zaworski  
The effects of transport infrastructure on regional economic development: A simulated spatial overlapping generations model with heterogenous skill PDF
Ioannis Tikoudis, Marcus Sundberg, Anders Karlström  
Evaluating the effects of land use and strategies for parking and transit supply on mode choice of downtown commuters PDF
Seyed Amir H Zahabi, Luis. F. Miranda-Moreno, Zachary Patterson, Philippe Barla  

Book Reviews

Transport for suburbia: Beyond the automobile age, by Paul Mees PDF
Jessica E. Schoner

Stay tuned for an upcoming announcement about WSTLUR 2014.

How to Create Fuel Out Of Thin Air

Wired: How to Create Fuel Out Of Thin Air :

“A small British company has developed a process that uses air and electricity to create synthetic fuel. Yes, it’s slightly more complicated than that, but the result is what Air Fuel Synthesis is calling, after much consideration to the term, ‘carbon-neutral’ gasoline.
Here’s how it works: air blows up into a tower filled with a sodium hydroxide solution mist. After reacting with some of the sodium hydroxide, the carbon dioxide in the air forms sodium carbonate. The mixture gets pumped into a cell where it gets hit with an electric current, which releases more carbon dioxide, the excess of which is collected and stored for subsequent reaction.

They plan to scale up slowly (a refinery in 15 years). However, play this out. Eventually we not only clean out all the CO2 we put into the atmosphere, we clean out all the CO2 animals exhale and plants inhale, killing all life everywhere. (Assuming we convert more to fuel than we burn). We can call this new threat Global Oxygenating.

Toronto v. Minneapolis

Now at Toronto v. Minneapolis.

Toronto v. Minneapolis

I first went to Toronto when I was 12. I had been following the city for a few years, having written to the city’s economic development / tourism office asking for reading materials as a young wannabe planner the summer before (along with about 50 other North American cities, whose addresses I obtained from the World Almanac). I was born before the Internet made this information trivial to obtain, so I carefully hoarded and filed information about cities. To be clear, I am not so obsessive that I still have it … at some point space constraints dictated recycling … , the only files I retain from my youth are really “rare” new town planning documents from the 1970s and 1980s. At any rate, based on the idea of Toronto, it was the city I most wanted to visit.






My father took me to Toronto with one of his friends who was a general aviation pilot, and so I went in a Piper and landed at City Airport. The primary purpose of the trip from my perspective was to visit theCanadian National Exhibition (the Ex), a cross between a State Fair and World’s Fair (closer to a State Fair). The Ex, the adjacent Ontario Place, and the rest of the city was modern and seemed like the future. The underground city (PATH) connecting the retail buildings makes the city like a single super-structure, an arcology. The City Hall was a classic of modernist architecture, taking the glass box and shape-shifting into something not boxy. The Hilton, with its rotating restaurant and best breakfast buffet ever gives a magnificent view of the city.

Ontario Place, the World’s Fair-like part, (which was part of the Ex when I attended, but is now being redeveloped) with its pre-Epcot, post-Expo ’67 geodesic dome and skybridges connected to the waterfront. But oddly wedged between the Expressway and Lake Shore Boulevard (rather than the Lake), the CNE fairgrounds layout, the State Fair-like part, without Ontario Place would make a modern urbanist cringe. Looking at the maps (linked at the bottom of this page) the worst bit is putting parking on the waterfront, which at least during Fair Season, should be a major attraction. (Some may argue the freeway cutting the city off from the waterfront is the worst part, which is hard to dispute.)

Many years later, after a conference in Ottawa, I took ViaRail to Toronto. While staying at a Howard Johnson’s during its last week of operation (really never stay in a hotel that is about to close, staff does not care), I walked from downtown and revisited the CNE and Ontario Place grounds (well I looked at them through a fence) (not during Fair season), and like any set of unused buildings, it seems more like a Hollywood set of what the 1970s thought the future would be like.

Ontario Place is where they would have set Star Trek: The Original Series for an episode describing a slightly more advanced planet, where everyone was civilized and there was universal health care, but there was some twist, like once a week, all the men get on the ice and whack each other with sticks, which the peaceable crew of the Enterprise abhors. And then they force Kirk, Spock, and McCoy into hockey uniforms, and make them play against professionals. (This is not all that different from Minnesota, but is unlike the rest of the US, where men get on ice-free gridirons and run into each other) [200 Quatloonies on the newcomers].

Still Toronto is one of my favorite cities.

To help administer a PhD exam at the University of Toronto, I went back to the city and spent time in and around the University district. This year, with my wife I went for theIATBR and we walked the central city on foot, visiting different parts than previous.

Toronto was founded before Minneapolis, and has always been larger. It now has a population of 2.6 million people in the City, and 5.5 in the Metro, vs. 0.4 million in the City of Minneapolis and 3.6 in the CMSA. Today Toronto has a population density 4,149/km^2 vs. 2,710 for the City of Minneapolis. So we expect Toronto to differ. But it differs more than we expect. It is not just the same city larger, rather it is a city in a different phase of matter.

Both cities are on a grid, yet Toronto is continuously walkable, and has more walk accessibility. The block sizes are smaller in central Toronto than Minneapolis (i.e. each Minneapolis squarish block is bisected in Toronto to be more rectangular, though the long side of the rectangle in a Toronto block is a bit longer than the long side of the Minneapolis block). (This of course is an approximation, as the grids in both cities vary.) The houses are less likely to have a side yard in Toronto. So in a single family neighborhood near the City Center, Toronto has 22 houses per blockface, Minneapolis about 11. And since the densities are higher, there is more to walk to. Sections of Minneapolis are walkable, but it is hard to find a decent path connecting it all, Uptown to the University, e.g.

Minneapolis has a skyway, Toronto the underground PATH, I call that a wash, both are cool, and logical responses to Winter.

The tallest buildings in Minneapolis (IDS Tower and Wells Fargo) are 57 stories. The CN tower is 147 stories equivalent, but it isn’t really a building. There are taller buildings in Toronto, First Canadian Place is 72 stories, which is higher, and what we expect for a somewhat larger city. So we can’t say Toronto is more walkable because it is flatter (i.e. because it spreads its people out over more surface area) due to height restrictions.

Subways have organized mobility in Toronto since 1954, which has the third highest transit ridership in North America. The Subways are arranged in a tight U pattern, so it is easy to walk from the Spadina/University branch to the Yonge Street branch. But there is a crossing line on Bloor Street, providing great accessibility at the interchanges. The key is that it is not a simple radial system. Further there are still streetcars, which were not removed as they were elsewhere. The best analogy for Bloor Street is Lake Street in Minneapolis, in that it bypasses downtown (about 1 mile N) and has lots of activity. Bloor is much ritzier than Lake though.

The subway in Toronto is unusual in that one can walk between the cars, as they have accordion-like articulations. But since they are much longer than the single (or double) articulated bus, looking down the train from one end to the other as it rounds a curve is dizzying.

Toronto is on a lake, so like Chicago, to enable just as many people to have equal access to the “center”, you have to have higher densities than a city on a plane (like Minneapolis). I discuss this a bit in a previous post on The Theory of Constraints.

Toronto serves a different role than Minneapolis, it is a financial capital, having locked in its position when Montreal decided to be Francophone first.

Airport connections via Transit are much easier in Minneapolis. In Toronto, they are clearly and deservedly ashamed of their airport transit links. Unless you are already a local and have a transit pass or tickets, it is difficult to find them at the airport (it is at the Currency Exchange if you are looking), and that puts you on a broken-down bus that connects to the edge of the Rapid Transit rail system. The airport bus stops do not have shelter, or real-time information. The tickets are old-timey paper passes, which have probably been in use since buses were motorized.

So what can Minneapolis learn from Toronto?

1. Real urban density can work in a midwestern city without significant adverse consequences.

2. Not all the action is downtown. Where the radials connect is a point of high accessibility.

3. Annexation and consolidation are a feasible form of governance. The “city” of Toronto has 7 times the population of Minneapolis.

4. Cities must be opportunistic and welcome immigrants, be they disaffected Quebec bankers or oppressed minorities.

5. How to serve better food. The bagels and the sushi are much better in Toronto.

What can Toronto learn from Minneapolis?

1. How to connect an airport to the city.

2. How to tie a city to its waterfront.