On a new Infrastructure Bill

The Democrats under Chuck Schumer are proposing a big federal infrastructure bill. The Pretender in Chief is also proposing a big infrastructure program funded by tax credits. Both are quite different, aside from the word “infrastructure”, but they are similar in that they are both big programs and both bad policy and both will raise the national debt.

  1. Democrats are making a strategic error in trying to work with the administration. As the Republicans showed in the previous administration, the path to victory in divided America is through resistance to the administration, not cooperation. It is becoming more Parliamentary in that respect.
  2. If a Bill is somehow made law, and it is popular, the Pretender in Chief will get all the credit. Sure Schumer will get to attend the signing ceremony, and have one more photo with him and the least liked politician in America, but aside from his constituents, everyone else will say who is that old white man in the background. They will get no credit from the public.
  3. Massive investment in Infrastructure at this point in history is not only bad politics for the Democrats as a whole, it is bad policy.
    1. We are moving to an era where maintenance outweighs new construction, politicians are all about new builds, not maintenance. Politically driven construction lists will not be those projects with the highest benefit/cost ratios, but simply new projects that grab ribbon-cutting headlines while old infrastructure continues it’s long path of deterioration.
    2. We are moving to an era where we can use infrastructure more efficiently with autonomous vehicles.
    3. The benefits are all local, the funding should be local as well to align interests.
    4. It provides the federal government one more lever to use against New York if it doesn’t like some local policy (Sanctuary Cities anyone?). New York City should understand why it wants as much financial and political autonomy as it can get.
    5. Infrastructure costs will only rise going forward with so much concrete going into the Mexican Wall.
    6. The economy is near full employment in the construction sector. This will drive up wages but not output as labor is the scarce commodity. Bring this back maybe when there is significant unemployment.
  4. New York will get an outsized share of federal dollars from any bill, and New York needs new infrastructure more than anywhere else in the US, but New York has shown an inability to manage its own money and infrastructure properly, and until it can deliver infrastructure at a reasonable cost, there is no reason for the rest of the US to subsidize it. Notably both Schumer and Trump are from New York and probably don’t care that other people are paying for New York’s managerial ineptitude. New York will vote Democrat in any case, so this doesn’t help the party elsewhere in the country.

I am optimistic no such bill will actually pass. Schumer may be leader of the Opposition, but he is no friend of the Resistance.

On Resistance


Resistance is not helpfully defined as “the act or power of resisting, opposing, or withstanding.” A better definition is that:

Resistance jams up the system. Resistance is political congestion. 

On Congress’s Role

To stop the actions of any administration, resistance is the only recourse.

This means voting “no”, always, on a vote for something “they” want and “you” don’t, for instance a cabinet nominee. Recently, the Senate has been confirming cabinet nominees with support from both the majority Republican Party and well more than one member of the minority Democratic Party. As the majority of the Senate are in the same party as the President, their vote is to be expected. Thus there is absolutely no reason for the minority  to vote “yes” other than provide a cover bipartisanship to the majority.

Under divided government, there might be reason to vote to confirm compromise candidates in order for business of government to proceed. In our current situation there is not, appointees will be confirmed anyway if the majority holds.

As the Republicans demonstrated in 2016 by withholding a vote on the US Supreme Court nominee, there is no reason to cooperate even in divided government if you actually want to achieve your ends.

This means using the tools of governance, e.g. the rules of the Senate while they last, to procedurally delay and filibuster anything the Republican President supports.

This means not supporting anything from the Administration, even things that might sound good, like an Infrastructure Bill.

All else is capitulation. Expect the vast majority of the professional political class to act cravenly on most issues. Perhaps at some point they will be rallied. Yet, the current Democratic leadership does not appear capable of leading.

The only hope for the Legislative Branch is the incompetence and overreach of the Congressional Republicans on issues where they have an unpopular position, like privatizing Social Security, Medicare, or taking away health insurance.

On the Judiciary’s Role

If the President overreaches, and someone sues, and the Court finds for the plaintiff, the government must abide  This requires lawsuits. Support the ACLU.

If the Executive fails to abide, the system has fully collapsed into authoritarianism, requiring extraordinary responses.

On the Bureaucracy’s Role

The Civil Service (and Military and various uniformed agencies) are charged with implementing policy. They can do this more or less efficiently, or ignore them altogether. They can follow judicial stays or ignore them. They can interpret words broadly or narrowly. They can blow whistles when they see illegal activity or quietly keep their heads down.

On the State’s Role

The 10th Amendment states pretty clearly:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Sadly, as the US Federal Government has continued to grow in size, this Amendment has been increasingly ignored. While immigration policy, however misguided, is clearly the remit of the United States, Sanctuary City policy is not. The cities and states have no obligation to act as agents of the immigration authorities or turn over information to the federal government.

The question lies in whether they can be bribed or coerced to do so. The enormous amount of cross-subsidy has given the United States a great deal of leverage with regards to threatening to withhold discretionary funds to individual states and cities that don’t behave well in their eyes. California is testing whether this is a two-way street. Nullification was decided once in the US. It may come back for another test.

So strategies available to states range from the conventional to the radical:

Is Rebellion too much? The Civil War did not go well, and it’s too early to commit to, but it’s never too early to plan or extend the Overton Window.

A well-governed United States is stronger together. A poorly-governed one is not. As the saying goes: Best Government, Good Czar; Worst Government, Bad Czar. One bad week is too short a period of time to justify divorce, but how long and how bad does the relationship need to be to justify one?

It’s hard to imagine most states seriously considering dissolution of the republic, but given the loose secession talk during the Obama administration (with favorable comments by then Texas Governor and incoming Energy Secretary Rick Perry), and for years in Alaska, with a wink and nod from former Alaska Governor and VP nominee Sarah Palin, the Republicans have no grounds to say it is beyond the pale. Secession is far more warranted now, with a federal government bent on expelling long-time residents and disenfranchising the rest.

Ideally separation could be achieved peacefully, like Czech and Slovakia’s Velvet Divorce, but (ironically) unlike Central Europe, the boundaries of Red and Blue America are fairly awkward. Perhaps there is some buyer’s remorse among voters in the Red States, and some will choose to join a stronger Blue Union. Many would not.

Resistance cannot merely react to executive orders vomited forwarded from a White House out of control. If the Federal government has invasion plans for Canada (and vice versa), surely the states have a moral obligation to prepare plans for (ideally peaceful) Secession and if necessary  Rebellion against a rogue central actor. As the Boy Scouts say, “Be Prepared”. As the Romans said: “Si vis pacem, para bellum.”

Recognize of course that many “Blue Americans” living in “Red States” have long seen the federal government as protection against bad behavior by “Red” state governments. The Voting Rights Act is the best example historically.  That may or may not remain true going forward. There is no guarantee that the federal government remains the best guarantor of liberty.

Pragmatically, getting 20 out of 50 free states is better than 0 out of 50.

On the City’s Role

Cities are units of the state, and have the authorities delegated by the state. As noted above, many have passed Sanctuary City laws. Maintaining these laws is essential to Resistance. While deprivation of federal funds to Sanctuary Cities have been threatened in yet another overreach of federal power, cities should nevertheless resist.

One tactic that Minneapolis just fell into is weak and distributed local governance. Because various agencies in the Twin Cities are decentralized, Minneapolis’s resistance will not affect funding of separate agencies that control the airports, schools, housing, libraries, parks, transit, water and sewer, and so on.

It turns out that decentralization is more robust to this kind of threat from the federal government. Cities like Chicago that have concentrated everything under a strong mayor are now vulnerable to losing far more funds. Governments should be designed to be less fragile.

Just as states should have more power and the federal government less, cities should have more power and states less. Bringing about this federalism is difficult, but it should be part of the agenda.

On the Citizen’s Role

We still have “the People.”

Government only works with the “Consent of the Governed“. To rephrase oil billionaire J. Paul Getty•:

If you are the only member of the governed who does not consent, that is your problem. If all members of the governed do not consent, that is the government’s problem.

Hence the idea of Massive Resistance (famously used by Segregationists in the US South).

Most Americans are pragmatists to a fault, they go along to get along, and do not concern themselves with distant problems like what happens in Washington DC if they can avoid them.

Martin Niemöller‘s famous poem is apt.

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

As sad is this is, and despite Emma Lazarus’s famous poem:

  • a majority of Americans will not stand up for immigrants or refugees or undocumented workers,
  • a majority will not stand up for Black Lives,
  • a majority will not stand up for Muslims (even those who are citizens),
  • a majority will not stand up for Athiests.

The administration understands this. And so one-by-one minorities are peeled away, class by class, category by category. Group by group will be disposed of, deported, or disenfranchised, thereby strengthening the remaining majority.••,•••,••••. If a particular Executive Order or Bill is struck down, a new, more carefully crafted one rises to take its place.

It is essential the resistance understand the reality of their position as well. Neither side has majority by acclimation. The country is divided. Success requires struggle.

As the Pretender-in-Chief has demonstrated, a majority is not required. If an activated minority can achieve change, imagine what an activated majority would. Even more, an activated minority that is vocal can appear to be a majority.

Most people go along with the (perceived) majority on issues they don’t have strong feelings about. When Washington begins to affect their lives, things get noisier, and angrier.

So the Resistance, undoubtedly beginning as a minority of the citizenry, taxpayers, and voters, can achieve its ends with unity and organization.

There are many prongs:

  1. Persuade others.
  2. Engage and influence the legitimate political process (while it lasts). Call your Representative, write letters, testify, etc. This is what you do with normal threats and policy issues.
  3. Fund the organized Resistance. The ACLU, BLM, EFF, SPLC, etc. Sometimes dollars are far more valuable than another voice shouting in the crowd.
  4. Ensure a free press. Subscribe to real news, like the New York Times or Washington Post, not alt-facts. Insist on sousveillance, police cameras, freedom-of-information.
  5. Protect your own privacy.
  6. Support others doing what the US will not (International Rescue Committee).
  7. Protest and demonstrate. Shut down streets and highways and airports. Protest and demonstrate for sympathetic groups that you are not a member of.
  8. Boycott collaborators and financiers of the administration and those who try to break the resistance, like Uber.
  9. Diffuse the leadership of the resistance. One leader can be identified, slandered, and disposed of. A continuously changing network cannot be.
  10. Sow fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the administration. This is easy, since they do it for you. There is no need to actually lie.
  11. Jam the system, withhold taxes and deprive the US government of revenues.
  12. Organize. More general civil disobedience. A General Strike.
  13. Disobey without civility.

This list is far from complete.

This is not Star Wars. There will be no Princess to lead the rebellion.


The direction the US is sliding is clear to anyone with open eyes, the only open questions are the speed and the duration of the slide. It’s a massive own goal, with cheering from the sidelines by our enemies.

The United States Constitution, and the political system that has arisen under it, lay out a series of checks and balances to try to ensure good government and prevent demagogues and authoritarians. To date three layers of those checks: the Party system, the general electorate, and the electoral college, have failed, and a fourth (Congress) is teetering.

The US periodically has paroxysms of resistance. The late 19th century’s Gilded Age brought about Progressives, who first under Theodore Roosevelt, and especially under Franklin Roosevelt, changed the role of government.  Just in the past five decades or so, the Civil Rights Protests and the Vietnam War Protests of the 1960s, the anti-Nuclear Protests of the 1980s, the anti-Gulf War Protests of the early 2000s, the Occupy Protests of the late 2000s, and the Black Lives Matter Protests in the 2010s have all been significant. Undoubtedly there are others. Some are more consequential and more successful.

Is this time (2017 until this is resolved)  different?  This is not just one focused grievance that can be righted, it is a set of issues, with invented crises providing new fresh meat daily.•••••  The focus should instead be on the person who Pretends to be Commander-in-Chief, who a majority dislike from the git-go.

The best outcome would be that as the protests get larger and larger, the center can no longer hold. Congress, his Cabinet, (or the Deep State) will see no reason to maintain him in office when a more pliant, less antagonistic Vice President will achieve their policy ends, and we can all say “caretaker Pence administration” with relief until the next election.

A very bad outcome is the resistance peters out, and America just surrenders, and liberty collapses with it.

The worst outcome would be justification of the state to use its monopoly of power to justify crushing the protests, and the remnants of civil liberties with them. But if that happens it is (ex post) evidence that was going to happen anyway without resistance.

So, logic argues, might as well Resist.

Appendix: Defining Resistance

Definitions from electrical engineering and transport are more useful in thinking about what resistance really means.

A definition from electricity is a useful place to start (from wikipedia):


where I is the current through the conductor in units of amperes, V is the voltage measured across the conductor in units of volts, and R is the resistance of the conductor in units of ohms. More specifically, Ohm’s law states that the R in this relation is constant, independent of the current.

A definition from transport is more useful still.

q=kv or k=q/v or k=qp

Current (I) is the equivalent of traffic flow (q) (this is intuitive), voltage (V) is the equivalent of traffic density (k) (this is not intuitive, but electricity is strange), and so resistance is the equivalent of 1/velocity or pace (p) (e.g. minutes per mile). (Note Vv). For a fixed density, increasing the resistance reduces the flow.

For a given flow, resistance increases the density of traffic.

In short resistance jams up the system. Resistance is political congestion. 


  • • Getty said: “If you owe the bank $100 that’s your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that’s the bank’s problem.”
  • •• Other groups, such as those identified in the poem (socialists, trade unionists, and Jews) as well as LGBTX probably have stronger support than those above, but only so long as other minorities are still in the pool.
  • ••• And while this is about Americans,  prejudice is fairly universal.
  • •••• Even when it is in their own interest, a majority of Americans will not stand up for free trade, even though it provides them collectively both more employment and cheaper goods and services. Given the general regard of journalists, a free press would not survive the purge.
  • ••••• Kale for the vegetarians.

Elon Musk’s Tunnel Could Make LA’s Traffic Worse | Popular Science

Sarah Fecht at Popular Science writes: Elon Musk’s Tunnel Could Make LA’s Traffic Worse, or a Toll Road. I get quoted. The puns are mine.

Elon Musk is a man who makes the future happen. He’s building solar panels, and electric cars that can run off of the clean energy they create. He’s helping humanity become an interplanetary species by making spaceflight dramatically cheaper. But his idea to build a tunnel to avoid traffic congestion in Los Angeles seems uncharacteristically outdated.

In December, the billionaire tweeted that L.A.’s traffic “is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging.” At the time it seemed like a joke, but this week he posted an update:

The Guardian confirmed that Musk’s people have been talking to folks in the city government, but no permits have been issued so far. There aren’t many other details.

Perhaps the tunnel would be a private entrance to his Tony Stark-like lair. If so, Musk might be better off just taking a helicopter to LAX. Tunnel-boring is not cheap, and permitting can be a nightmare.


“If he wants to build a tunnel on his own land, more power to him,” says David Levinson, a transportation engineer at the University of Minnesota. “If he wants to build it under other people’s land, he will find infrastructure construction is a slow, boring process.”

And if Musk is planning to make the tunnel open to the public, he may be in for more disappointment. About 20 years ago, civil engineers and urban planners started realizing that building freeways and tunnels was only making traffic worse.

Adding new arterial roads makes driving easier and less infuriating, so people are more likely to make unnecessary trips and choose driving over public transit. It’s called induced traffic. New arterial roadways can lower traffic initially, but within a few years, congestion basically returns to its original levels of torture.

Researchers are trying to quantify the relationship between road expansion and induced traffic. Depending on the area, for every one percent increase in the miles of lanes in an area, there may be a 0.6 to 0.9 percent increase in traffic.

The new roadways can also cause traffic congestion on roads that are upstream and downstream of the new project, says Levinson.

It’s worth noting that induced traffic studies aren’t perfect, because studying cities is hard. A lot of the data is correlational. It wasn’t collected expressly to test how a new roadway affects traffic, so it can’t definitively prove that a city’s addition of a roadway caused a traffic increase. And there are any number of variables that can affect where and how much people drive—from new shopping complexes and housing developments to the presence or absence bike lanes and sidewalks—so devising a well-controlled urban experiment is difficult.

However, “[t]here is no question that road improvements prompt traffic increases,” writes Robert Cervero, a professor of city planning at UC Berkeley.

Those traffic increases can also come with increased likelihood of car crashes and pollution. “Though if everyone is driving a Tesla powered by a Solar City panel,” Levinson jokes, “I suppose the pollution issue is minor.”

Public transit might seem like a better investment, but it has similar problems. Expanding capacity on public transit induces more traffic, with only a small portion of redirected from automobiles. Although it serves other important societal functions, it doesn’t actually have much of an impact on road congestion, says Levinson.

He thinks that if Musk wants to relieve congestion, his best bet may be to make his tunnel a toll road. “Adding capacity without doing that is throwing money down a hole.”

Some additional thoughts:

A tunnel is just a link, it’s no different than any other limited access highway from a transport perspective. They tend to be costly (which is why there are so few). Of course they don’t require taking much surface land (some for entry, exit, and ventilation) so there is savings there, and they are less unpopular. How much travel time savings and for whom depends very much on the context.

In general adding capacity, by lowering the cost of travel, increases the number of trips that are made and their length. (Just as lowering the cost of Cigarettes increases the number smoked). This is not inherently a bad thing, it means more people can do what they want with their time, but it means more traffic congestion on upstream and downstream links that may not have been expanded (and less congestion on parallel links that serve similar markets).

Implementing road pricing would relieve congestion (although it is obviously politically difficult).

The purpose of public transport is to serve PT passengers, not relieve congestion. (See https://transportist.org/2015/05/13/for-whom-is-transit/ )  It should not be invested in “to relieve congestion” but to provide access for transit users. It has the same types of induced demand effects anything else does, if there is more capacity in times which are constrained, it will attract new demand (with an elasticity similar to road expansion), only a small share of which will come from roads. And those who switch from roads will free up capacity that will be used by others switching into the peak (with an elasticity similar to road expansion). This does not mean investment is inherently a bad thing, it gives people more choices, but transit’s effect on road congestion is really limited, especially in a place like LA (or most of the US for that matter). Similarly we should not expand roads to relieve transit crowding.
If he aims to make money at this venture, it will be very difficult without public subsidy.

On punching Nazis

As Jake says: “I hate Illinois Nazis“. I also hate Missouri Nazis. I hate Wisconsin Nazis. I hate Nazis from all over.

On the one hand, we have a set of values and standards calling for peaceful resolution of disputes and tolerance for alternative, even if despicable, ideas. If we start responding to speech with violence, we become just like them.

On the other hand, they have a set of values and standards different from ours. If you don’t respond to their speech with violence, they won’t understand, and will think you are weak. Their entire strategy is to exploit the weakness of the system to gain power, and to change the system to retain power.

The second hand is correct. You really need to think about two groups, we, the civil, and they, the uncivil. You treat the civil with civility, that is how civilization was built. You treat the uncivil with barbarity, that is how civilization is preserved.

We in the US have a Constitution, as imperfect and imperfectly administered as it has been historically, which governs individual and government rights and roles. If you subscribe to the Constitution, you are eligible to receive its protections (being secure in life, liberty, and property and so on, like not being punched in the face, and having the puncher jailed). You are a member of Team Civilization. If you do not subscribe to the Constitution and the system it engenders, you are not eligible to receive its protections.

Now, who is to decide who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? Each and every one of us does this daily, at our own risk. There is ambiguity, some of our fellow citizens obviously miscalculate. Almost everyone thinks they are the good guys.  If we all assessed this correctly, or at least identically, politics would be much simpler.

Here is a brief 2×2 matrix describing behavior:

Who is in Power?  
    Nazis Team Civilization
Who is acting Nazis violent until done crushing violent until in power
Team Civilization violent until crushed or victorious generally non-violent, except with Nazis

So the question arises: Is some neo-Nazi, like say Richard Spencer, violent. His beliefs are not something I know at a personal level. However, he appears to be trying to make the US a white ethno-state. This means he is essentially calling for the “peaceful” expulsion of non-whites (as defined by him). I argue that he is advocating (seemingly through peaceful means) violence. This gets to the question of what is voluntary and peaceful.

At the risk of opening a philosophic can of worms, interaction can considered on a continuum between voluntary and compulsory. Free exchange between two parties is in some respects voluntary. However, if the good is necessary, like food, then while the particular exchange may be voluntary, the underlying demand is compulsory. A monopolist would have existential power. The archetype of compulsory relationships, the gun to the head as an implied threat of death when offered the opportunity to freely hand over your money, has in it some voluntary elements – though the “choice” of attempting disarmament or dying may not be appealing compared with turning over your money. The gunman has far more freedom of action than the victim in this case.

If in Spencer’s America, non-whites don’t voluntarily leave after some time window has passed, surely they will be forced to leave by the state, the institution with a legal monopoly of force. The state is the gunman in our “voluntary” expulsion. Calling for a white ethno-state is advocacy of violence, even if you are calling for it to be “legal” and “peaceful” and”constitutional”.

Saying “I wish you were dead” is not a crime. Acting to speed along someone’s death is.

In contrast, as far as I can tell, aside from neo-Nazis of various stripes (or should I say swastikas), who are clearly a minority, and their confederates, the vast share of the remainder of the US is not calling for expulsion or extermination of fellow citizens. We could go deeper and look at whether and which non-citizens are allowed to immigrate to the US. As we know, due to Prospect Theory, a loss of something you have (expulsion) is considered far worse than not winning (being prohibited from entering), even if both result in you being in the same place. Team Civilization gets to decide its membership. I personally think the membership should be broader, but the Constitution establishes the process by which the rules of membership are established. I will voice my opinion, but will not violently rebel.

Though I generally wouldn’t do it personally, it’s morally acceptable for individual members of Team Civilization to punch Nazis. It is proactive self-defense. Your body does this all the time with the immune system.  It probably should not be legal, nor officially sanctioned by the state, as many members (at least 47%) of Team Civilization appear to have poor judgment.  But the punishment should fit the crime. However, if you mistake a member of Team Civilization for a Nazi when punching them, you should go to jail. We cannot tolerate auto-immune diseases. As a wise man once said: “Aim for the king best not miss.”


  1. As has been pointed out, we went to war with the Fascists (and they did start it) and didn’t merely punch them, we killed them, which is objectively worse.
  2. There are other groups which advocate violence through nominally peaceful means. They need to be treated with similar immune system defenses.
  3. Individuals who act violently are already treated this way.
  4. In short, the only thing we cannot tolerate is intolerance.




The Transportist: January 2017

Welcome to the fourth issue of The Transportist. As always you can follow along at the blog or on Twitter. Just like waiting for the bus, this one is long because the last one was early.

Transportist Posts

And an 11 part series based on a transcription of an interview I gave on the future of transport.

And this from a year ago went viral (thanks to Reddit), giving me about 100x my usual traffic for a day:

Notably when it was posted on Reddit nine months ago, it went nowhere. Virality is such a strange thing.



If you follow the blog closely, you would have seen announcements that the following books were temporarily on deep discount at Amazon. They are still a good value:

Previous Editions

Transport Projects

Transport News




Justice and Equity

Logistics and Retail

Political Economy

Technology Change




Recent Papers by Us

Recent Papers by Others

Some Other Newsletters

As a public service, I list some other transport newsletters here:

This is surely an incomplete list, if you know of others, please pass them along.

Calls for Papers

Music Video



  • In 2032, we will wonder how we ever walked around in winter before autonomous electric municipal sidewalk plows proliferated. – Charles Carlson on Twitter


The Wait for the Bus Feels Longer If Your Stop Is Near Heavy Traffic | Streetsblog

Angie Schmitt at Streetblog writes: The Wait for the Bus Feels Longer If Your Stop Is Near Heavy Traffic

If you’ve ever waited for a bus on a narrow sidewalk next to a dangerous high-speed road, this research is for you: A new study published by the Transportation Research Board finds transit riders perceive waiting times to be longer if they’re at a stop with heavy traffic and high levels of pollution.

Blogger Tim Kovach has been looking at the research in light of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s recent decision to kick buses off the city’s newly redesigned Public Square. The square is now an attractive, car-free public space, but bus riders don’t get to wait there anymore.

Not only has Jackson added to the local transit agency’s serious financial crisis by rerouting buses, he’s also squandering an opportunity to improve perceptions of transit, Kovach writes:

In their introduction, authors Marina Lagune-Reutler, Andrew Guthrie, Yingling Fan, and David Levinson (herein Lagune-Reutler et al) point out that the amount of time transit users spend waiting to ride is vital for shaping people’s perceptions of public transit. Research even suggests that time and service quality are more important for influencing people’s transportation mode choice than financial costs. Accordingly, if a transit agency makes efforts to cut waiting times, or even the perception of waiting times, they can enhance their public standing and potentially increase ridership without undertaking major capital investment.

The authors conducted surveys from 822 transit users to capture the amount of time they felt they spent waiting for the bus or train during July-August 2013 and February-April 2014. They then compared these self-reported times to video footage, which provided actual waiting time for these same participants.

Their results showed that, on average, transit users tended to overestimate their waiting times by roughly 18%, stating they felt they waited for a mean of 6.45 minutes, when the actual value was 5.48 minutes. Air pollution and heavy traffic combined to cause riders to significantly overestimate their waiting times. A 2.5-minute wait was seen as 3.88 minutes, while a 10-minute wait grew to 12.13.

Tree cover, in turn, can alleviate this effect, particularly for longer waits. Riders perceived their 10-minute waits as lasting just 7 minutes when surrounded by mature trees…

This finding provides an important point that has largely been ignored in the Public Square debate to this point. It’s not simply a matter of whether closing the Square to buses will cost more or whether a unified square is more aesthetically appealing. What matters is that transit riders have every right to take advantage of this outstanding public green space, which their tax dollars helped finance, and that doing so will make them more inclined to enjoy their transit experiences.

What a Logistic Curve of the S&P 500 Tells Us

The S&P 500 is a broad-based stock market index. Because markets are noisy, sometimes it goes up, and sometimes it goes down. (See Mr. Market.) The long-term trend is up, as over the last century or so the US economy is generally growing.

Often people treat this growth as an exponential process. Instead I fit a logistic growth curve (S-Curve) to the data. While at some scales, and particularly in the early period, exponential and logistic curves look similar, eventually a logistic curve implies slowing growth. There is active debate about whether growth is in fact slowing, and whether this is temporary or more permanent.

If you buy this curve, it provides some insights, most notably that sometimes the value of the S&P 500 is below the long-term trend and other times it is above. When it is below, historically it has been a good time to buy stocks. When it is above it is a good time to sell stocks. Obviously the best time to sell is at the peak, and the best time to buy is at the trough. (By “at”, I mean moments before, while it is assume buyers are price-takers, there is always some aspect of “price-maker” as well).

Finding the peaks/troughs is tricky, but finding whether or not the market is high or low is straight-forward. We can speculate that dollar cost averaging into and out of the market may be a good way to avoid the traps of timing imperfections. When it is above the line, dollar cost average selling, when it is below, dollar cost average buying. History waits to prove whether this is better than the simpler dollar cost average into the market that so many personal investment advisors advise.

Currently we are above the trendline. Not as much above as in 2000, but pretty close to where we were in 2008. In my mind this is a “sell signal”: it is a time to own cash, not stocks.•

Since I tend to think this is a reliable indicator, I am mostly in cash right now. It’s not clear where the top or bottom will be, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either very rich or lying (or both).


A logistic curve has to have a maximum value (which is asymptotically but never actually reached), which we call “K“. The estimation follows the procedure outlined here, which I am my classes have used to understand technology deployment, particularly in transport. The data come from Quandl.

In this case, K=3035 gives the best fit (highest R-square), the model implies the S&P 500 will approach but never exceed 3035. This model is estimated for data from 1980 forward, and then applied for data from 1900 forward. Since tnought is 2010, the indication is that growth has slowed (we are in late growth).

Arguably there was a phase shift in the stock market around 1980, with the gold standard and oil embargo in 1973 through deregulation in the late 1970s and early 1980s changing how the economy operated compared with the post-World War II era.

It is certainly possible technology will great improve the economy and future profits, or policy will make or break the economy. But the economy is a big thing, it is hard to move much. When we worry about doubling of unemployment from 5% to 10% that is a personal tragedy for many people, but the economy as a whole sees employment drop from 95% to 90%, which is a 5% difference, not a 100% difference.

Some individual stocks may be buys at this point, even as the market as a whole is not. On the other hand, a falling market sinks all boats, to mix a metaphor.



The model is given below:

1980 start INTERCEPT -208.9
b 0.1039
RSQ 0.9129
tnought=intercept/-b tnought 2010
K 3035



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Don’t sue me if you lose money.

These U.S. Cities Offer the Best Job Access to Transit Riders | Streetsblog

Angie Schmitt at Streetsblog writes: These U.S. Cities Offer the Best Job Access to Transit Riders

How well does your city’s transit system connect people to jobs? A new report from the University of Minnesota lays out how many jobs are accessible via transit in major American cities.screen-shot-2017-01-06-at-12-46-27-pm

New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and D.C. offer the best transit access to jobs, the authors concluded. In addition, Seattle and Denver are two regions that punch above their weight, according to co-author David Levinson, a University of Minnesota civil engineering professor.

The research team analyzed transit schedules and walking distances to transit stops for every Census tract in the United States. Then they measured how many jobs were accessible via transit to the typical person in the region within 10-minute intervals. So for each region, they calculated how many jobs the average resident could reach on transit in 10 minutes, 20 minutes, and so on, up to an hour. The rankings are based on an average of those numbers, with more weight given to jobs accessible via shorter transit commutes than longer ones.

Both Seattle and Denver have devoted significant resources to transit expansions recently (with Seattle making especially strong progress enhancing transit in the central city). But transit accessibility is influenced by other factors in addition to the extent and frequency of the rail or bus network. Land use — or how close jobs are to workers — is another big component.

Portland, for example, probably performs well more because of its urban growth boundary than its relatively recent streetcar additions, the authors say. And San Jose may owe its high ranking to “a lot of jobs in the San Francisco metropolitan area accessible from the San Jose metropolitan area,” Levinson said.

The boundaries of regions as defined by the Census do add an element of randomness to the rankings, Levinson notes. But while small regions have fewer jobs than big regions, and thus fewer transit accessible jobs, rankings tend to hold up when you adjust for size. In the lowest-ranking region, Birmingham, Alabama, just 3.4 percent of nearly 500,000 total jobs are accessible within a 60-minute transit commute for the average resident, while in New York City, about 14 percent of the region’s 8.5 million jobs are transit accessible.

Levinson and his colleagues have been using this type of analysis to rank cities on job accessibility via walking and driving as well. In every U.S. metro region, the average resident can access more jobs by driving than by transit. “But the advantage is smaller in large cities (like New York) than smaller cities,” said Levinson.

Accessibility, Levinson says, is a more useful metric to analyze transportation systems than measures like congestion, or annual hours of delay in traffic, which transportation planners have relied on for decades. “We build cities to maximize access, so that people can easily reach other people, goods, and ideas they care about,” he said. “Without the benefits of access, there would be no reason for cities at all. So accessibility is how we should assess how well infrastructure is serving our cities.”

Travel from Pittsburgh to Columbus, Ohio, in 15 minutes? | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Ed Blazina at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes: “Travel from Pittsburgh to Columbus, Ohio, in 15 minutes?” Yes dear reader, the Hyperloop publicity machine is out in full force.

The technology is based on a simple concept of sharply reducing drag on a moving vehicle, said Kaveh Hosseini, lead aerodynamicist at Hyperloop One.

Pods that could hold 20 to 40 people or carry freight are placed in a tube with air pressure 1/1000th of the normal rate. Using a quick jolt of magnetic energy to begin moving, the pods travel on a cushion of air at speeds Mr. Hosseini estimated could be 15 percent to 30 percent faster than jet travel.

Pods could be designed with individual seats or stations for businessmen or families traveling together. The speed of the pods mean they could leave every few minutes, almost creating an on-demand travel system that would make it possible to live in Columbus and commute to work daily in Pittsburgh, 185 miles away.

David Levinson, a professor of civil engineering at the Intelligent Transportation Systems Institute at the University of Minnesota, called the idea “just silly” and potentially dangerous if it moves ahead too quickly. He said the technology is less developed than the ill-fated maglev system proposed here in the 1990s.

“People don’t want to be hurled at 700 mph… People aren’t made to move at that rate,” he said. “It might be OK for freight, but I’m doubtful.” By comparison, he noted, it took the aviation industry several decades to develop after the Wright brothers made their demonstration flight near Kitty Hawk, N.C., in 1903.

Mr. Hosseini disagreed, saying access to computers, simulation and optimization software and advanced manufacturing techniques sharply reduce extended field tests. “Something that used to take weeks of trials and field tests can be optimized with the push of a button,” he said.

Obviously I know people have traveled faster than 700 mph. The point was more about the proposed acceleration and deceleration of 5 m/s. I can’t imagine freight needs to move that fast. In any case, no one believes that simulation substitutes for field tests.

[Also the Intelligent Transportation Systems Institute hasn’t existed for a few years, but I guess the website is still up.]

But let them get a test track going and test actual people inside their vehicle, before they start proposing actual services, much less networks. They are definitely putting the cart before the horse, and only agencies with money to burn should be talking about this.

For better critiques see Alon Levy at Pedestrian Observations.