Seven hours in New York City

I was briefly in New York yesterday. By briefly I mean I left Minneapolis when it was daylight, and returned and it was still daylight. This is of course much easier to accomplish when you are near the summer solstice, but still it suggests the technical feasibility, though definitely not the desirability, of cross-continental commutes.

On the Minneapolis side, things went very smoothly. I left my house at 5:45 AM, caught the bus at 5:53, was at the LRT by 6:00, caught the ~6:03 LRT to the airport and was there by 6:20. Security was quick, the weather was good, the 8:05 flight was on-time.

Some comments on transportation in America’s largest city.

For a city with so many airline passengers, and presumably airline profits, some of the airport terminals (JFK Terminal 2) are still quite dumpy (Yes there is a plan to fix this). One would think that if there were competitive owners of each different airport (and each terminal), they would have to compete for customers (both passengers and airlines) by differentiating quality (presumably upwards). Though there has been some terminal modernization, New York is far behind the rest of western (and eastern) civilization in this arena.

Second, there is not good transit access from the airports to the City. New York, with the US’s largest subway system has had more than 50 years since the dawn of the jet age to connect its airports to its transit system successfully, and seems to have failed to avail itself. (I am aware of JFK’s AirTrain, it seems to require a separate charge from the transit system and a transfer, surely someone could figure out how to bundle that. It also required taking the subway with 33 stops to my Midtown destination). This is not an unknown problem, and solutions are proposed for LaGuardia (via Bus, apparently the train proposal was shelved) and JFK (at about $10B, which seems excessive, but this is NYC).

At any rate, someone else was paying for my surface transportation, so I was in a car. (Which I realize makes me part of the problem, not the solution, but also gives me the perspective of enlightened commentators such as Dorothy Rabinowitz. Yet I did not notice any problems with CitiBikes on my brief stay. There were some bicycles darting in and out of traffic, but that was because cars were not moving and bikes could). On the way in I also got to hear the political philosophy of my driver (a well-educated Russian immigrant from over 30 years ago), who is probably best described as a Peter King Republican, which probably would not have happened on a subway train. The driver seemed to be of the belief that bus lanes were a bad idea because they delayed cars, and in general was opposed to the Bloomberg administration. He also thought most of the works were badly managed and timed poorly (this I agree with) so the Unions could flex their power, and that trucks should only enter the city at night. Of course where you stand depend on where you sit.

Third, New York has far more street traffic congestion than it should. Of course it is crowded, and it probably shouldn’t build more highways, but it doesn’t manage scarce roadspace the way a well-managed city would.

  • On the way in to the city, one of the lanes on the Queens Midtown Expressway was blocked so someone (1 person) could sweep the shoulder, with a broom, in the middle of the day. To be charitable, maybe there was recent broken glass that required cleaning, but this seemed far more substantial cleaning than the debris from a fender-bender. The queues formed by the lane closure were several miles in length.
  • Why is on-street parking permitted in the middle of the day on both sides of the street on major congested streets (37th Street)? This seems to be more than loading/unloading and more than temporary construction crews.
  • And why is don’t block the box not enforced. This would seem a perfect opportunity to use red light running cameras to ticket people who block cross-traffic on the red light.

This is even before considering what economists normally think about when they say pricing, some form of congestion charge, which has been proposed and not implemented because the winners could not bring themselves to pay off the losers.

Fourth, why is there congestion at the airport on a clear day with as perfect weather as one could ask for? Leaving LaGuardia, we boarded the plane on-time and the plane was 17th for take-off with about 40 minutes of ground wait. We landed “on time”, meaning the airline (Delta) built in 45 minutes of ground delay into the schedule to ensure “on time” arrivals. If the schedule is such that the same flights are repeated daily (an approximation), then our plane would take off at the same time every day regardless (unless it was worse due to weather). Which means, we could have been scheduled a half-hour later and not waited in the plane on the ground. This is a simple coordination problem that could be solved with reservation pricing. I suspect this is a problem because there are competing airlines which want to offer the same departure time (~6:45 pm), but a monopoly airport. In a different airport a dominant (hub) airline might internalize the delay costs. See Daniel (1995) on Congestion Pricing and Capacity of Large Hub Airports: A Bottleneck Model with Stochastic Queues.

Lots of Parking in Minneapolis

Why pay more to park on the road
Why pay more to park on the road

A reporter asked: How much parking is there in Minneapolis? This is not a question for which there is a well-sourced answer.

Downtown Parking: There are nearly 25,000 parking spaces in 38 parking lots and ramps throughout downtown,

In the City there are 7000 metered spaces:

Minneapolis Municipal Parking System has 17 parking ramps and 7 lots
These Ramps and Lots encompass over 20,000 parking spaces. (Subtracting this from the first estimate suggests only 5,000 parking spaces are private).

Outside of downtown requires estimating.

On street-unmetered parking? The City has 1100 miles of street . (I think this excludes state and county roads, I am not sure about park roads, but this is most of them). My guess is 200 spaces per mile (@ ~26 feet per car). If there were no “no parking restrictions” this gives 220,000 on-street spaces (The vast majority of which are unmetered).

Off-street private parking. There are 155,155 households. If each one has 1 off-street space (some have 2 or 3, some have 0), that would be 155,155 off-street spaces in residential areas. I would guess based on national data about twice as many in commercial areas. Roughly every car has to have a space at home, work, and shop.

In short there are lots of parking.

Does anyone have a better estimate?

No Parking and De-Signing Streets |

I have a new post @ No Parking and De-Signing Streets :

“Why is the default assumption that we give away scarce public right-of-way for the free storage of private vehicles?”

No Parking and De-Signing Streets


I was traveling down St. Anthony Boulevard with my then 3 year old daughter. She was learning her alphabet and noted the P on a lot of street signs. Every time she saw it, she shared her observations. “P with a slash through it”, “P with a slash through it”, “P with a slash through it”, “P with a slash through it”, … “P with a slash through it”.

Well, this is one of the joys of parenthood, teaching reading and the alphabet through road signs. But it brings up a relevant policy question:

Why is the default assumption that we give away scarce public right-of-way for the free storage of private vehicles?

That is, the default assumption could be no on-street parking except where permitted, which would result in fewer signs on St. Anthony Boulevard, and more elsewhere.

There are three aspects of this:

  1. Scarceness of public right-of-way. Are you not complaining of congestion? Are you not complaining of the cost of maintenance? If we make streets wide enough to store vehicles, we increase their construction and maintenance costs.
  2. Storage of vehicles. Might we store private vehicles on private land? Would this not increase the cost of private vehicles (i.e. by removing one of the subsidies we do provide to cars)? Would that not diminish the amount of private vehicles (demand curves are downward sloping).
  3. Free. If you do want to store private vehicles on public land, at least charge for it. This does not require meters, it could involve permits with enforcement.

Now I know we don’t want large areas of surface parking lots either, and if we have already built roads that are too wide for the purpose of moving vehicles, we might as well use them for storage, they aren’t earning interest doing anything else. But we are not done building and rebuilding roads, why are we building them with the intent of using roadspace for vehicle storage?

Perhaps it should be obvious where parking is permitted (the road is marked as one lane and more than say 15′), and where it is prohibited (freeways, right lanes narrower than 15′). Perhaps we need only sign when parking restrictions differ by time of day (no parking in peak hours). Perhaps we can paint the curb instead of putting up ugly signs. Perhaps we can change paving materials.

Certainly there are technological solutions with augmented reality which would overlay virtual signs on the environment, and if we all walk around with Google glasses, or their future equivalent, this might eventually happen. And certainly driverless cars will have a lot of this pre-programmed. But given the time it takes to fully deploy these advanced technologies, we are probably 30 years out before we can remove regulatory signs from our environment wholesale. There should be some intermediate solutions that can help us de-sign our streets.


Mis-structuring employee parking charges: An example from a local university

Cross-posted from Mis-structuring employee parking charges: An example from a local university

Mis-structuring employee parking charges: An example from a local university


Parking in a structure is the quintessential private good. It is excludable (no pay, no park), and it is rivalrous (if I park in a space, you cannot). Someone at Metropolitan State University does not understand this, and is instead trying to get all employees and students to pay for a parking structure at the St. Paul campus, whether they use it or not (transforming this into a club good). The attached images show the memo of the proposedpolicy.



See particularly Section 6:

“Parking fees for all employees, irrespective of their office location, (resident and community faculty, staff, and administrators) are mandatory …

The estimated annual parking fee for full-time staff and faculty is $400 per year … The anticipated rate for students will be $10.50 per credit. … “

So if you take the bus to the Midway campus (nowhere near the main St. Paul campus), you still subsidize parking in St. Paul. If you pay for parking in downtown Minneapolis and walk to the Minneapolis campus via the Skyways, you will subsidize a parking ramp in St. Paul. If you take an online course (distance learning), you still subsidize parking in St. Paul.

Leaving aside the urban design aspects for now (see below) and the creation of a fortress campus, this is so misguided from an economics perspective I don’t know where to begin.

(1) Why is Metropolitan State University in the parking business? Is this a core part of their mission? Shouldn’t they contract with someone to build and operate the ramp and charge parkers (students and staff) market rates? If they need to subsidize staff to work where it is more expensive (or lose people), they can pay them more. (I realize other universities have parking as well, but they charge users directly, and don’t charge non-users, since parking is profitable.) If they lose students from their St. Paul campus, that might indicate they have a bad location.

(2) Why don’t they charge people who want to buy parking contracts directly, or charge people who use it on an ad hoc basis directly, instead of charging everyone? The incentives they are creating will encourage more people to drive to campus rather than fewer.

(3) Why doesn’t Metro State have a subsidized transit program (like U-Pass) for their staff and students?

(4) Why doesn’t Metro State work with Metro Transit to coordinate service with class schedules. The longer-term plan seems to be providing BRT or LRT on the Gateway Corridor, with a stop at Mounds Boulevard (on either 3rd or 7th depending on which alternative is picked), easily accessed from campus.

(5) If the neighborhood is concerned about student (or staff) parking on public streets, why don’t they start putting meters on the street (maybe exempting residents who pay for a seasonal pass), and make some money for the neighborhood. Parking benefit districts are a logical and positive response to parking spillover.

Now to the urban design aspects. Metropolitan State almost has a quad (with a driveway in the middle, but that is easily remedied). It actually has nice architecture on the St. Paul campus. Why muck that up with a parking ramp? You could see from their existing surface lot how the campus might naturally extend across Maria Avenue, and later across Bates Avenue. If you must build something, do it underground rather than wasting precious above ground space that could be used for better purposes. Stored cars need no natural light.

Yes, parkers should pay for parking. No, non-parkers should not pay for parking. No, parking costs are not the same everywhere, nor should the prices be. No, St. Paul does not require more parking ramps.

Disclosure: I have a family member who is an employee of Metropolitan State University. These views are my own.

Linklist: June 18, 2012

NY Times: Experimental Campaigns Pay Drivers to Avoid Rush-Hour Traffic

[This idea has been around for a while in various forms. The problem is, it can be gamed (I won’t drive in peak hour, pay me … even though I wouldn’t have anyway), and who pays for the carrot.]

Places: Design Observer gives us some recent book reviews: Reviews: ReThinking a Lot, Reinventing the Automobile

Two views on Transit in Apple Maps: Greater Greater Washington: Apple dropping Google Transit is actually good for transit and Cocoanetics Public Transit in iOS 6

Linklist: May 22, 2012

NYT: Big Data Troves Stay Forbidden:

” In the future, he said, the conference should not accept papers from authors who did not make their data public. He was greeted by applause from the audience.
In February, Dr. Huberman had published a letter in the journal Nature warning that privately held data was threatening the very basis of scientific research. ‘If another set of data does not validate results obtained with private data,’ he asked, ‘how do we know if it is because they are not universal or the authors made a mistake?'”

In the “be careful what you wish for department” … NYT: George Lucas’s Plans in Marin:

“But after spending years and millions of dollars, Mr. Lucas abruptly canceled plans recently for the third, and most likely last, major expansion, citing community opposition. An emotional statement posted online said Lucasfilm would build instead in a place ‘that sees us as a creative asset, not as an evil empire.’
If the announcement took Marin by surprise, it was nothing compared with what came next. Mr. Lucas said he would sell the land to a developer to bring ‘low income housing’ here.”

TOLLROADSnews: Traffic congestion dropped off 30% in 2011 INRIX says – weak economy, higher gas prices :

“2011 saw a dramatic drop in traffic congestion in the US – 30% fewer hours wasted in congested traffic according to INRIX, the nation’s leading provider of traffic data. The 2011 improvement is only outmatched in the years since INRIX has been measuring congestion by the financial crisis year of 2008, when congestion dropped 34%. In 2009 congestion was up 1% and 2010 saw a 10% regrowth of congestion.

[I call ‘Bullshit’. There may have been a methodological problem they are calling a trend.]

Wired: SpaceX In Orbit – Successful Launch of Falcon 9 Rocket :

“CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida — The second time’s the charm for SpaceX. This morning at 3:44 a.m. EDT the company’s Falcon 9 rocket lifted off Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral. After a faulty valve led to an aborted launch on Saturday, today’s successful flight marks the third of the Falcon 9 rocket, the second flight of the Dragon capsule, and the first flight for a commercial spacecraft bound for the International Space Station (ISS).”

Kottke: Douche parking: “I can’t tell if the app featured in this video is imaginary or not, but it’s a great theoretical solution to the problem of douche parking. Douche parking is basically parking like a douche, and is way more prevalent in Russia than in the US. The Village feels publicly shaming is the best way to deal with douches. Unfortunately, one trait of douches is an inability to be shamed.”

Matt Kahn @ Environmental and Urban Economics: New UCLA Research Suggests that Men Should Not Bike:

“A study by researchers at the UCLA School of Nursing has found that serious male cyclists may experience hormonal imbalances that could affect their reproductive health. “

Mobile Showroom


By occupying metered parking spaces on Oak Street, General Motors has set up a mobile showroom for its Chevy line in Minneapolis. Is this guerrilla marketing or standard business behavior (I haven’t seen it before)? Is it legal? Should the city charge more for parking if it is going to be used like this?
It seems clever, since this is right before graduation, and many graduating students will be in the market for new cars.

Linklist: March 16, 2012

Two related points, the first from Pedestrian Observations in Surreptitious Underfunding Not all “transit” funding is really for transit and the second from Getting Around Minneapolis in Do Bloomington, don’t mind the Pedestrian Barriers Not all “pedestrian” funding is really for pedestrians.

Two related points from San Francisco, where land is scarce: Wired: Scoot Bringing Zipcar-like Electric Scooters to San Francisco and NY Times: Program Aims to Make the Streets of San Francisco Easier to Park On [It is easier to park because it is more expensive, so fewer people do so for as long, instead they rent electric scooters, which won’t require a full standard parking space. Are the parking meters equipped to handle electric scooters? ]

Finally, Aaron Renn in points out The Sorry State of American Transport

Parking in Motion

CNET has an article of interest about a new mobile app: Tiny start-up tackles big driving hassle: Parking

“[Parking in Motion], in its early stages now, is mostly a directory of parking lots and garages. Like GasBag, a database of gas stations and the prices they charge, Parking In Motion shows you how much you’re going to pay for parking at various lots. Users can update the data if it’s inaccurate. Great feature: the app has arrows to show where garage entrances are.
Ultimately, the app will do much more, according to co-founder Sam Friedman. First of all, it will show which lots or garages are full. This information can’t come from users–it’d be too late to be useful. Parking In Motion is instead working with garage operators to collect this data on a broader scale. But first it might have to help operators actually get that data themselves.
Tighter integration with parking structure operators will eventually allow drivers to reserve spots and to pre-pay for them–possibly with a discount. This is where Parking In Motion will make its money, taking a percentage of those transactions.
The app will also, eventually, offer advice on street parking. It won’t be able to direct you to a specific spot, unfortunately. Even though many cities are installing smart parking meters, the data collection is too slow to direct drivers to open spaces. Rather, Parking In Motion will collect data from users and meters and tell them which streets or areas are most likely to have open spots, and how long it will likely take to find them.
Down the line even further, Friedman has this vision: “Five years from now, you’ll be able to get in your car, find parking on the street, and pay for it from within your car. And then if you’re in a meeting and it’s running over, you’ll be able to re-up your meter from the conference table.”
The company’s flagship cities are Philadelphia and Santa Monica, Calif., where it has reservations and street parking data coming online. But it has garage data in about 300 cities, and the iPhone app is free and available in the App Store today.”