I get quoted in this Minnesota Daily article about the Central Corridor. Some of the students are quoted talking about the “wrong people”. I respond ““I don’t think the [personal] safety issues are any worse than with bus,”” Light-rail project 74% complete.
I assume the “wrong people” being referred to in the article are criminals, as opposed to ordinary townies.
The data on does transit bring crime is not well organized or complete. A 2011 study “THE EFFECTS OF THE ANNOUNCEMENT AND OPENING OF LIGHT RAIL TRANSIT STATIONS ON NEIGHBORHOOD CRIME”, STEPHEN B. BILLINGS, SUZANNE LELAND, DAVID SWINDELL says:
The debate over crime and rail transit focuses on whether such investments “breed” criminal activities with new targets of opportunity or transport crime from the inner city to the suburbs. Yet, little empirical evidence exists on whether new rail transit actually does lead to increased crime rates around stations. In order to study this question, we test the relationship between crime and rail transit with the 2007 opening of the Charlotte light rail line. We use Geographical Information Systems software and micro-level data on reported crimes to generate measures of criminal activity in and around light rail transit (LRT) stations. We then implement a quasi-experimental before-and-after methodology using two alternate transit corridors to control for differences between neighborhoods that contain LRT stations and other neighborhoods. We find light rail does not actually increase crime around stations. Instead, we see a decrease in property crimes once the station locations are announced, which remains relatively stable after the light rail begins operating.
Stadtluft macht frei – urban air makes you free. If you were a German in the Middle Ages, and you somehow got inside the city gates for a year and a day, you would be a free citizen, and no longer a serf.
The modern equivalent of the city is the airport.
If I can get through the secure gates, I can go anywhere in airport-land, a highly dis-contiguous place where all travel is by airplane. I can stay in the airport I have entered and have the full gamut of services my credit card can pay for.
If I can get a ticket (now deliverable wirelessly), I can travel to any airport in the United States and stay there, or to any place else in the world, where I will be forced through local customs. I may even be stuck there.
Inside the airport I have freedom from fear, as the security will ensure nothing bad can happen. The airport is probably the safest place from other non-governmentally employed citizens. I no longer need pass through security, so my dehumanization is over. I am liberated.
And of course, food eaten at the airport has no calories.
“The Power Broker, by the way, is in my view one of the best non-fiction books ever, so read it if you don’t already know it.”
[Agreed, I read it soon after my Riverside, New York-based Aunt Maitie, who was taking Urban Studies courses on the side, gave it to me along with Jane Jacobs when I was an ~11 year old wanna-be City Planner. In retrospect, it was probably the best (and certainly the longest) book I read in elementary school. Admittedly I did want to be Robert Moses, so my take differed from Caro. I read it again later and it made more sense. I assign the New Yorker-abridged version of the book to my graduate students. Jane Jacobs is good too.]
So what will the robot have to do? Quite a bit. For just one of the disaster challenges, DARPA anticipates that the robot will have to:
1. Drive a utility vehicle at the site.
2. Travel dismounted across rubble.
3. Remove debris blocking an entryway.
4. Open a door and enter a building.
5. Climb an industrial ladder and traverse an industrial walkway.
6. Use a power tool to break through a concrete panel.
7. Locate and close a valve near a leaking pipe.
8. Replace a component such as a cooling pump.”
“In a world where information is scarce it’s often helpful to have lots of physical redundancy. If it’s hard to find out the answer to the question “where’s the closest X” then it pays off to stockpile as much stuff (cars, bikes, power tools, etc.) as possible in your garage. That way you know the answer is always “it’s in the garage” and this information is valuable even though most of the stuff isn’t being used at any given time. But as information grows more abundant, there’s less and less need for physical redundancy:”
Lynne Kiesling @ Knowledge Problem Be indomitable. Refuse to be terrorized. : “And to what end — how justified is this fear? High financial, human, cultural costs, to avert events that are one-quarter as likely as being struck by lightning. Some may criticize the performance of relative risk assessments between accidents and deliberate attacks, but it’s precisely these crucial relative risk assessments that enable us to recognize the unavoidable reality that neither accidents nor deliberate attacks can be prevented, and that to maintain both mental and financial balance we cannot delude ourselves about that, or give in to the panic that is the objective of the deliberate attacks in the first place. Thus the title of this post, which comes from two separate quotes from Bruce Schneier — the first from his excellent remarks at EPIC’s January The Stripping of Freedom event about the TSA’s use of x-ray body scanners, the second from his classic 2006 Wired essay of the same title:
The point of terrorism is to cause terror, sometimes to further a political goal and sometimes out of sheer hatred. The people terrorists kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up planes, trains, markets or buses is not the goal; those are just tactics.
The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act.
And we’re doing exactly what the terrorists want.”
Reason Foundation – Out of Control Policy Blog > Airport Policy and Security Newsletter: Airport Security 10 Years After 9/11: “Although my airline friends will disagree, I’ve concluded that the cost of aviation security measures is somewhat analogous to insurance. If you engage in risky behavior (drive a sports car, live in a beach house, etc.) you expose yourself to higher risks, and you rightly pay somewhat more for the relevant kind of insurance. Likewise, while it’s not the fault of air travelers or airlines that aviation is a high-profile terrorist target, the fact is that it is. So from a resource-allocation standpoint, I think a sector-specific user-tax approach is less bad than having general taxpayers pay for this.” [and much other good stuff]
The Long Now Blog » The Archive Team – Long Views: The Long Now Blog: “One of our favorite rogue digital archivists, Jason Scott, has just posted a video of his talk at DefCon 19 about The Archive Team exploits. This is perhaps the most eloquent (and freely peppered with profanity) explanations of the problems inherent with preserving our digital cultural heritage. He also describes in a fair amount of detail what he and The Archive Team have been doing to help remedy the problem.” [On a related note, The Metropolitan Travel Survey Archive has had its funding re-upped for another year, so we have more archiving to do, hopefully under less stressful conditions than Jason Scott above]
The Hill says Ron Paul proposes to Abolish TSA , including privatizing airport security.
“If the perpetrators were a gang of criminals, their headquarters would be raided by SWAT teams and armed federal agents,” he continued. “Unfortunately in this case, the perpetrators are armed federal agents.”
Paul said he was introducing a bill called the “American Traveler Dignity Act,” which he said would force TSA employees to follow existing laws against inappropriate physical contact.
“U.S. air travelers already pay to check bags and buy onboard snacks, among other charges. But would they pay to avoid those long airport security lines?
A sizable chunk of them would, according to a recent survey by the U.S. Travel Assn., the nationwide trade group that has been pushing the idea of a fee-based plan to unclog the gridlock at the country’s airports.
The survey of 1,007 Americans found that 45% of those questioned would be either “very” or “somewhat” likely to pay an annual fee of up to $150 to undergo a government background check to speed through a new, faster airport security line.”
Security lines have been less painful of late, so I really, really doubt that 45% random Americans would actually pay an ANNUAL fee of $150 to save 10 or 15 minutes two or four times per year. (The average American flies about once a year, though I am sure jet-setting readers of this blog are exceptional in that regard) But I am sure that it would be worth it for those who travel on 2 or more flights per month.
Schumer calls for horse “no ride” list in wake of terror plot
Sen. Charles Schumer called today for the creation of a “No Ride List” for American horses to prevent suspected terrorists from targeting the US equine system.
The move follows reports from intelligence gathered at Osama bin Laden’s compound that showed the Arabian Horse Association was considering attacks on US horses.
In a press conference at his New York City office, Schumer said he will begin pushing congressional appropriators to increase funding for rectal inspections of commuter and passenger horse systems, as well as heightened monitoring and support for security at local horse stables throughout the country.
The Democratic senator said he also asked the Department of Homeland Security to expand its Secure Flight program to stables, which would essentially create a “No Ride List” to prevent suspected terrorists from mounting horses.
Intelligence analysts who examined the documents seized from bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan concluded that al Qaeda was considering attacks on high-profile dates, including the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the conclusion of the State of the Union address and high traffic holidays such as Christmas and New Year’s Day, Schumer said.
“We must remain vigilant in protecting ourselves from future terror attacks, and when intelligence emerges that provides insight into potential vulnerabilities, we must act with speed,” Schumer said.
Under the current program for airlines, travelers’ names and other identifying information are cross-checked with the terror watch list to select passengers for enhanced screening and prevent possible terrorists from boarding planes.
Schumer wants that program to be applied to stables when passengers purchase their passage before mounting the horse.
Schumer noted that the nation’s horse system transported 90,000 passengers in 2010 and carries 90,000 passengers every day on 90,000 different horses.
Not all horseback riders were enamored of the plan. “Sounds like a big load of horseshit to me,” said noted equestrian ‘Cap’n’ Ignatius R. Transit. “Like something you’d read in the Post.”
Techdirt is outraged, but this isn’t just Homeland Security, it is the whole damn government which doesn’t systematically compare benefits to costs.
“Homeland Security Doesn’t Do Cost/Benefit Analysis; They Just Do Fear And Bluster
from the you-might-die!!!!!! dept
This should hardly come as a surprise, but a new paper that analyzes money being spent on Homeland Security finds that it’s incredibly wasteful (found via Julian Sanchez). You can read the full report (pdf) by John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart, which probably confirms what most people were already thinking. Basically, Homeland Security has ratcheted up spending at a massive rate, and there’s little to no effort to judge that spending against the actual risk reduction. That is, there’s simply no one doing any sort of real cost-benefit analysis on this spending. The report seeks to do some of that, and what it finds isn’t pretty. From the abstract (with my emphasis):
The cumulative increase in expenditures on US domestic homeland security over the decade since 9/11 exceeds one trillion dollars. It is clearly time to examine these massive expenditures applying risk assessment and cost-benefit approaches that have been standard for decades. Thus far, officials do not seem to have done so and have engaged in various forms of probability neglect by focusing on worst case scenarios; adding, rather than multiplying, the probabilities; assessing relative, rather than absolute, risk; and inflating terrorist capacities and the importance of potential terrorist targets. We find that enhanced expenditures have been excessive: to be deemed cost-effective in analyses that substantially bias the consideration toward the opposite conclusion, they would have to deter, prevent, foil, or protect against 1,667 otherwise successful Times-Square type attacks per year, or more than four per day. Although there are emotional and political pressures on the terrorism issue, this does not relieve politicians and bureaucrats of the fundamental responsibility of informing the public of the limited risk that terrorism presents and of seeking to expend funds wisely. Moreover, political concerns may be over-wrought: restrained reaction has often proved to be entirely acceptable politically.
In seeking to evaluate the effectiveness of the massive increases in homeland security expenditures since the terrorist attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001, the common and urgent query has been “are we safer?” This, however, is the wrong question. Of course we are “safer”–the posting of a single security guard at one building’s entrance enhances safety, however microscopically. The correct question is “are the gains in security worth the funds expended?” Or as this absolutely central question was posed shortly after 9/11 by risk analyst Howard Kunreuther, “How much should we be willing to pay for a small reduction in probabilities that are already extremely low?”
Among other things, the report looks at everyone’s favorite DHS boondoggle, the naked radiation scanners at the airport by the TSA. Apparently, DHS was directly told by the GAO to study the cost-benefit and it refused to do so. The same is true of other DHS expenditures:
Indeed, at times DHS has ignored specific calls by other government agencies to conduct risk assessments. In 2010, the Department began deploying full-body scanners at airports, a technology that will cost $1.2 billion per year. The Government Accountability Office specifically declared that conducting a cost-benefit analysis of this new technology to be “important.”12 As far as we can see, no such study was conducted. Or there was GAO’s request that DHS conduct a full cost/benefit analysis of the extremely costly process of scanning 100 percent of U.S.-bound containers. To do so would require the dedicated work of a few skilled analysts for a few months or possibly a year. Yet, DHS replied that, although it agreed that such a study would help to “frame the discussion and better inform Congress,” to actually carry it out “would place significant burdens on agency resources.”
Of course, from a political perspective, this makes perfect sense. It’s all game theory. You don’t get praised and promoted for doing a cost-benefit analysis that saves taxpayer money from wasteful and useless projects if a terrorist attack happens. So the end result is that the incentives for everyone at DHS to just spend as much as possible in the hopes that it stops something, knowing that if anything bad happens (as it inevitably will), all of the blame will go towards anyone who said “we shouldn’t do project x that would have prevented attack y.”
Of course, the real problem is that this is exactly what our enemies would like. They don’t care about “terror” for the sake of terror. They want the US to spend itself silly to completely bankrupt the country. And it appears to be working. That doesn’t make me feel any safer at all, no matter what the cost.”