The Argument for Platform Barriers

Alex Newmark at Transportation Nation reports NY MTA Tepidly Explores Platform Barriers After Subway Track Deaths … Again :

“Though the MTA would not cite a cost figure for installation, some proposals place barriers at over a million dollars per station. There are 468 stations.”

Okay, lets use $468 million as our back-of-the-envelope price. The article also says:

“In 2012, 54 people have died on the tracks, either through falls, shoves or suicide.”

Lets use $6 million as the value of a statistical life, consistent with US DOT. Let’s assume there is a lifetime of 10 years, when the technology needs to be replaced. Let’s assume no discounting. Let’s assume it is 100% effective. The system will save 54*10=540 people for a value of $3,240,000,000 ($3.2 B), or a Benefit/Cost ratio of 6.9. I wish more transportation projects would get that.
We can make other assumptions, discounting, less than 100% effectiveness, higher prices fewer deaths per year and so on, which diminish this. There are additional benefits though (confidence in the system, fewer injuries, longer capital life, and so on) which would also need to be accounted for.
In the end, it sure seems like the B/C ratio would be well above 1.
The systems I have been in (like Kyoto below) that had them worked well. Of course retrofit is a more difficult issue, and this is New York, so the cost will inevitably be higher.

Walk Minneapolis

The Twin Cities should have something like Walk London (only better). I don’t want just trails (I am familiar with the Grand Rounds, but there should be more), but actual urban paths I might want to take because they are walkable, interesting, and minimize conflicts with traffic. These paths should not simply be on a website or mobile app, but either be marked or signed, or otherwise self-navigating.

In London you have:

The route is indicated on the ground by a variety of signs and waymarks, which are very similar to those of the London Loop. In open spaces they consist mostly of a simple white disc, mounted on wooden posts and containing a directional arrow with the Big Ben logo in blue and text in green (but note that in Richmond black replaces green due to local conservation area considerations). A word of warning: the arrow’s direction may not be clear until you are close up. It is easy to assume that it points ahead, but it may turn – look closely before continuing.
On streets the posts are replaced by larger aluminium signs strapped to lampposts and other street furniture, and additionally carry a walking man symbol. On link routes to stations the word ‘link’ is incorporated into the logo. At major focal points you will also meet tall green and white signposts that give distances to three points in either direction. Some of these locations may also have the big, round-topped information boards.

And of course, they should be contiguous.
The best I can find is this, which helps me if I am a planner, but not a pedestrian. At Bike Walk Twin Cities, which feels like , let’s be honest, Bike Bike Twin Cities, the “maps” link has links to 8 different bike maps on their maps page, only one of which is really only for hiking too, and that is for outstate. The Walking maps page leads me to the useless City of Minneapolis page, the route planner from Metro Transit, and two Skyway maps.
Maybe there is some other resource I am missing. Maybe someone has a grant to do this. Maybe someone had a grant to do this, but didn’t do it.

Carsharing is the mode of the future, and always will be


Avis Budget announced it would acquire Zipcar, the to-date essentially profitless carsharing company, for $500 Million. The stock today is trading at $12.22 a share. It is worth noting Zipcar’s Stock Price History. It went public in April 2011, and is off $15.24 per share (55.55 % after today), from an an initial opening shy of $30 per share.

As a former Zipcar customer (member?) I suspect car sharing is the mode of the future, and like fusion power and Brazil, always will be. While I believe it is possible they will overcome their technical difficulties, the problem of scale remains. Even at the University of Minnesota, one of the largest campuses in the US, there are very few available cars at very few locations. There has been more than a half a decade to work out this problem, it just hasn’t taken off.

When I was a graduate student at Berkeley, I was carless, and used the neighborhood Avis as an effective carsharing service, renting a car maybe once or twice a semester. The contract paperwork was a general nuisance, and like any captive customer I was resentful, and the rate killed it. Carsharing with its very high overage charges are in practice similarly expensive. A thicker market would permit lower rates. There are definitely economies of scale AND positive network externalities to be had.

Carsharing is a great idea, and in principle works well if everyone uses it (i.e. if there were a station on every other block, or within 1/4 mile (400 m), just like walking to transit). In the absence of robot cars, this require either really high population densities or really high market penetration. Thus far we have neither in most places. Even with robot cars, it will require a major social change, affecting how people consider property and treat vehicles.

I am convinced people don’t want to think about every transaction, and if they are charged per use, obviously would use less, but will be less happy, and more determined to get a car of their own to avoid transaction costs. Just as we went from terminals and mainframes to personal computers, and internet cafes to internet at home, we went from trains and transit to private transportation once we could afford it. The cost savings will have to be considerable for people to want to go back.

The best market of course is the urban hipster: with enough money to afford, enough transit to get to work and back with minimum hassle, enough childlessness to have a regular schedule, enough desire to signal greenness to avoid owning a car, but enough sense and desire for dates in the country to recognize the occasional need. This is a non-zero market, Avis assesses at over $500 million in net present value of profit over the discounted future. About half the price of a new NFL stadium (about one-half a giga-dollar).