Another War of Jenkins' Ear

Resist The Pointless

Posts Tagged ‘transportation

On why we call them “Parkways”

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The New York Times is running a piece stating that cities are being short changed on stimulus funding.  They link to several figures and reports to back up this assertion.  If we take a look at the NYT generated graph, there a few things that leap out.  First is the use of Per Capita to visually display how the money is spent.  According to population figures from the Washington State Office of Financial Management the county would need nearly three times the amount of money to balance out the population disparity between Seattle and next populace place, Spokane alone.  Of course, all of this makes that tacit assumption that population and needs correlate.  Suburban growth has been traditionally viewed as free rider on the cities they border.  Or as the article puts it:

“We have a long history of shortchanging cities and metropolitan areas and allocating transportation money to places where few people live…Professor Gutfreund said that in some states the distribution was driven by statehouse politics, with money spread to the districts of as many lawmakers as possible, or given out as political favors. In others, he said, the money is distributed by formulas that favor rural areas or that give priority to state-owned roads, often found far outside of urban areas.

They cite an excellent study by the Texas Transportation Institution on the cost of congestion in cities.  However, by dint of their population density, Cities can have an adverse effect on their surrounding counties.  Take for example of Upstate New York.  With the rising cost of gas and tolls, increasing numbers of trucks are cutting through local villages to avoid sections of the the Thruway and its toll.  As this press release from Governor Patterson announcing a state-wide study on the issue:

Each day, non-local, garbage-laden trucks leave the interstates and cut through towns across the Finger Lakes and Central New York to save money on gas and avoid tolls and weigh stations. The trucks jeopardize the region’s quality of life by hazardously barreling down small rural roads that are unable to handle their weight.

It then goes on to point out that most of these Trucks come from New York City.  The link between population pressure and garbage seems self evident, so too should the link between truck traffic and wear on a given roadway.  Also one might ask if New York City is hard up for transportation money, perhaps they should scale back the 3.2 Billion dollar PATH terminal?

So where does this leave us; besdies the fact that once again a doubious criteria is choosen to make a graphic easier to read?  Parkways were named for nammed for their intended purpose; one was supposed to park along the road to enjoy nature and perhaps have a good old fashioned frolic.  However, anybody who has driven the Taconic Parkway or tried to leave Stewart Airport quickly realize these roads have evoled into narrow, deer infested lanes whose only improvement seems to be the prepesnity to flood.  All of these shortcomings are becasue of the choosen design astetic.  Hence the defects become apparent with a literal translation of the name.  The TIGER stimulus projects were also nammed in a literal fashion.  These were projects that construction could start on as soon as possible in order to stiumlate the economy.  It stands to reason that most of the proects would be as simple as possible to minizme the often complex regulations that involve dealys in planning and permitts (none of which are being waived) and not be a grand WPA style monstosity.  In retrospect, the deer are starting to appear on the perhiary of this idea.

Written by mb1066

July 9, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Posted in Data, Economics

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Government Behaving Like a Business

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NYT:

If a $4 million deal is approved on Wednesday, the nexus of subway stops at Atlantic Avenue, Pacific Street and Flatbush Avenue in Downtown Brooklyn will add an additional name to its already lengthy title: Barclays.

This may seem odd, since Barclays is a bank based in London with offices in Manhattan, and the only Barclay Street on the city map is not even in Brooklyn. (It’s in Manhattan, in the financial district.)

There will, however, soon be a Barclays Center, the sports arena planned as the focal point of the Atlantic Yards project, and the developer, Forest City Ratner, has agreed to pay the transportation authority $200,000 a year for the next 20 years to rename one of the oldest and busiest stations in the borough.

This raises a few questions. An academic might talk of the intersection between public and private space. A straphanger may ask how all those names can fit into one announcement.

And if a company can pay to get its name on any station, a New Yorker might wonder what’s next: Coca-Cola Presents 59th Street-Columbus Circle?

The answer is maybe. Once upon a time, geographic relevance determined a station’s name, but now, the authority says it is open to any naming agreements that can raise revenue for its transit system, including ones not directly tied to location.

“It’s always a question of balancing our need for revenue and our stewardship of public space,” said Jeremy Soffin, a spokesman for the agency. Advertising may make the most sense for a company associated with a station, he said, “but we’re not closing anything out.”

This is undoubtedly a good idea for the MTA. One, it always has trouble raising money. Two, they have plenty of stops where they could advertise. Now, I’m sure no one is beating down doors to pay millions for the Classon Ave. stop. But anyone with experience with the annual MTA budget fights knows that every penny of revenue is important.

There probably won’t be any outrage over this. But once in a while, advertising strikes the nerve of people, particularly in America. This normally only happens in sports. Take, for instance, the disaster of Spiderman 2 promotion with MLB when people became outraged that logos would appear on bases. If a major sport started advertising on uniforms in America, there would likely be outrage. I’d guess that the public would have to view something as pristine in the first place to be upset about something spiling it.In fact, it’s probably the view of baseball as pristine that has led to a higher standard on steroids compared to the NFL, where all players have to actually be physical freaks of nature to play at all.

But I’ve gone off on a tangent. For now, the takeaway is that while businesses run like governments recently (major losses? get bailouts!) some government agencies are trying to run like businesses. And that’s a good thing.

Written by John Whitehouse

June 24, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Posted in Economics, Politics

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Transportation Tragedies, Psychology, and Infrastructure

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Matt Yglesias looks at potential causes of yesterday’s Metro crash, and also notes that by all accounts trains are safer than driving, which undoubtedly is true. Take, for instance, this crash, in which a 16 year old girl driving a car appears to have caused an accident that killed her mother and seriously injured a number of others. It’s only getting coverage because people were comparably famous. It’s also true that airplane travel is safer than driving. And yet, people don’t have as much fear about driving as they do about flying. Amtrak has been constantly mocked for crashes, but it’s safer than driving comparable distances.  Moreover, we’ve created a policy of favoring driving and air travel over using trains and rails in most of the country. Why?

There’s plenty of speculation out there, but one underrated element is the element of control. When people are in cars, they either are driving or have direct, immediate access to the person who is driving, which provides an important layer of security. At some point during this Metro tragedy, someone will say of the victims that they did nothing wrong. This implies, presumably, that those in a car that is an accident conceivably did do something wrong, whether by omission or comission.

This has important policy implications. Everyone is in favor of extended rail networks it seems. It passed recently in California, and one would find no great principled opposition to a great rail network, say, in the upper Midwest. But it’s very, very unpopular to pay for rail now. Rail networks are most extensive on the east coast, but even there most were not built recently. The Second Avenue Subway in New York has been planned for decades now. Most of the development of the NYC subway was done before cars became as primary as they currently are.

This leads back to another one of Yglesias’ points, and how it is endemic to a public rail system: the problems of financial support for track upkeep. In the best of times, track upkeep is dramatically unpopular, whether on local or regional rail. I’ve sat in the Cumberland gap for an hour because of track upkeep on a train into Washington DC. I’ve sat through painfully long NYC subway rides on weekends. They’re not any fun. But they’re necessary, though.  Because inevitably, these upkeeps are held off longer than would be ideal, especially looking at the ages of various subway systems.

Going forward, train advocates like myself need to be aware of the utility of pushing for maintaining the current system. It’s easy to get fixated on expansion and drawing new maps and lines and what now, but that’s not usually going to be the prudent use of funds. This can easily be applied to infrastructure on the whole as well. Whether it be water delivery systems, steam pipes, bridges, roads, or other infrastructure, it’s boring to talk about spending money on upkeep but it’s crucially important to public safety.

Written by John Whitehouse

June 23, 2009 at 10:56 am

Posted in Politics

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