9/30/10

Tax Cut White Board Video

I like this video a lot. It is clear and straightforward and Goolsbee is pretty compelling. But while the video is pretty good, I think it could be improved by casting Will Arnett as "Evil Goolsbee." For your consideration:



Austan Goolsbee

Evil Goolsbee?

Bike Chic Meme Will Never Die

From the New York Times:
Roadways are the new runways for these style-obsessed cyclists, their bikes no mere conveyance but a racy adjunct to their look. More than a few are infusing what used to be an athletic, or purely practical, pursuit with eye-catching glamour and sex appeal. Their style, a modish amalgam of fashion and function, is documented on blogs and emulated by like-minded sisters on wheels. Their enthusiasm is fueling an uptick in business among independent merchants.
Women, mostly young, have given the image of cyclists “an extreme makeover,” said George Bliss, who owns Hudson Urban Bikes on Charles Street in the West Village. His store caters to upscale New Yorkers whose aim it is to speed around town on a traditional Schwinn or three-speed Raleigh while sacrificing neither their decorum nor élan. They are a far cry “from the image of the adult cyclist as infantry solider with a helmet,” Mr. Bliss said, referring mostly to the athletes and messengers who whiz by in that all-too-familiar forward-thrust posture that has, he said, “alienated every pedestrian.”
Whatever. So now cycling gets to be inaccessible in two ways- either you're not lycra-ed enough with a $5000 carbon frame racing bike or you're not cycle chic enough with your vintage classic roadster. Can't we just let normal people ride normal bikes?

9/29/10

Bad Metrics Lead to Waste and Sprawl

To continue with the theme of wasted taxpayer dollars, here's this:
“This analysis, once again, shows that many of the assumptions driving big investments of taxpayer dollars that shape our communities are outdated, said CEOs for Cities President and CEO Carol Coletta.  Driven Apart adds to the growing body of evidence that shows compact development that puts many destinations close at hand has unexpected benefits — in this case, less time spent in traffic requiring less spending on highways.  If we heed its findings, we’ll save time and money.” Driven Apart ranks how long residents in the nation’s largest 51 metropolitan areas spend in peak hour traffic, and in some cases the rankings are almost the opposite of those listed in the 2009 Urban Mobility Report.

For instance, the UMR depicts Chicago as having some of the worst travel delays, when it actually has the shortest time spent in peak hour traffic of any major US metro area. In contrast, Nashville jumped from 31st to first on the list of those with the longest peak travel times.
 
While peak hour travel times average 200 hours a year in large metropolitan areas, Driven Apart proves that some cities have managed to achieve shorter travel times and actually reduce the peak hour travel times.  The key is that some metropolitan areas such as Chicago, Portland and Sacramento have land use patterns and transportation systems that enable their residents to take shorter trips and minimize the burden of peak hour travel.  If every one of the top 50 metros followed suit with Chicago and other higher performing cities, their residents would drive about 40 billion fewer miles per year and use two billion fewer gallons of fuel, for a cost savings of $31 billion annually. 
I don't have much to say about this other than that my ability to sit in traffic with any degree of patience has rapidly diminished since I started biking to work. 

More Biking and Less Public Spending

Here's something interesting about the cost of roads:

Local roads, where you most likely do the bulk of your daily bicycling, are a different story. The cost of building, maintaining, and managing traffic on these local roads adds up to about 6 cents per mile for each motor vehicle. The cost contributed to these roads by the drivers of these motor vehicles through direct user fees? 0.7 cents per mile. The rest comes out of the general tax fund.
This means that anyone who owns a home, rents, purchases taxable goods, collects taxable income, or runs a business also pays for the roads. If you don't drive a car, even for some trips, you are subsidizing those who do -- by a lot. The best primer on this is economist Todd Litman's highly readable 2004 report "Whose Roads." (It's also the source for most of the figures in this column. Download the PDF here). A journalist recently crunched the numbers in Seattle and found the discrepancy in 2010 to be as wide as ever.
There are many reasons for cities to encourage bicycling, and the economic argument is one of the best. Every time somebody gets on a bicycle instead of in a car, the city saves money. The cost of road maintenance is averaged at 5.6 cents per mile per motor vehicle. Add the so-called external costs of parking (10 cents), crashes (8 cents), congestion (4 cents), and land costs and that's another 28 cents per mile! Meanwhile, for slower, lighter, smaller bicycles, the externalities add up to one meager cent per mile.
The average driver travels 10,000 miles in town each year and contributes $324 in taxes and direct fees. The cost to the public, including direct costs and externalities, is a whopping $3,360.
On the opposite pole, someone who exclusively bikes may go 3,000 miles in a year, contribute $300 annually in taxes, and costs the public only $36, making for a profit of $264. To balance the road budget, we need 12 people commuting by bicycle for each person who commutes by car.
I'm still waiting for Cato to bring on a libertarian bike advocate. 

9/28/10

Biking While Immigrant

A really great article on the invisible cyclists of Los Angeles from the Planners Network:
Thousands of working-class people use bicycles to traverse cities and towns across the U.S. every day. In the city of Los Angeles, this group of cyclists is as dedicated as any other, riding through the wet of winter and simmering heat of summer.
Yet you won’t see invisible cyclists at Los Angeles City Council meetings demanding bike lanes. You might not see them in the street either, as these cyclists tend to ride alone, often intermingled with pedestrians on the sidewalk, and without lights or reflective clothing. These cyclists are also often Latino immigrants, and nearly 20,000 of them in the L.A. metropolitan area use a bicycle as their main means of transportation to work
As we’ll explain in this article, this particular group has different needs than other cyclists, yet their interests receive little attention. This article will also examine a program called City of Lights, which aims to bring invisible cyclists out of the shadows using a combination of self-empowerment training and advocacy work. We found City of Lights to be a promising model for assessing the needs of an under-served group and pursuing a more equitable distribution of resources.
Better cycling infrastructure and awareness of cycling as a real means of transportation is good for everyone. 

WABA Wants You To Remember Your Helmet

WABA posted a useful "Capital Bikeshare Rider's Guide," but point 5 seems weirdly punctuated:
Remember your helmet: For commuters using the system on a regular basis, getting in the habit of carrying around a helmet will be the norm.  A quick glance around the grocery store or local eatery, you’ll see someone toting around a bike helmet.  What’s tricky are the unplanned trips on a CaBi.  An unplanned afternoon ride home after a long stressful work day or a quick trip to a meeting across town.
I agree with the sentiment and the concern- unplanned trips are the ones that are most likely going to be done without helmets. I don't know if there's no predicate in the final sentence because it's just an unfinished thought or if WABA is undecided about whether should even take those trips if you don't have a helmet with you. As I've pointed out before, I hope that carrying around a helmet becomes the norm, but I think there will be plenty of cases where people (who normally wear helmets) will go without them in the name of utility. Just like you don't need to buckle your seatbelt to start your car, you don't need to cover your head to undock the Bixi. With or without a helmet, I advise  prudent, controlled, safe and legal cycling.

True Political Courage

A Republican supports "Complete Streets":
Representative Steve LaTourette (R- Cleveland suburbs, Ohio) has become the first Republican to co-sponsor the Complete Streets Act.  Thanks in large part to Lois Moss, Walk + Roll Cleveland, and local bike shop owners who have been meeting with the Congressman since he made headlines with comments this spring that appeared to question the benefits of bicycling facilities. Back in April, Representative LaTourette made it clear that he fully supports bicycling, writing on his website, “Nothing has changed my ardent support of bike trails, bike lanes and the right of cyclists to share the road.” Now, with his co-sponsorship of the Complete Streets Act, Rep. LaTourette’s actions are backing up his words in a big way.
I've always found it strange that bicycling doesn't find more support amongst Republicans and conservatives. Transportation infrastructure for cars is really expensive and requires a lot of government spending and intervention. It also requires consumers to pay a tax on gas and Republicans HATE THOSE TAXES SO MUCH. Bicycle facilities are considerably cheaper than roads primarily used by cars and they take up a lot less land, leaving more land for private companies to own and develop. They also require less maintenance and fewer public sector employees to maintain them. You don't need to buy any foreign oil from petro-dictators if you cycle everywhere. Plus, bicycling ties into a (basically now extinct) Yankee thrift that allows me to scrimp on my transportation spending (either owning a private automobile or supporting public mass transportation) and use my money towards more useful ends.
I'm sure that the support of driving is a result more of a cultural conservatism (Americans drive- that's just our way of life and who we are! USA! USA!) than from any sort of economic conviction. I just wish that we could depoliticize biking more- advocacy is important and fighting for funds for bike infrastructure is critical, but ultimately, people on bikes are just trying to get from one place to another and not (necessarily) making some huge political statement. I think that having more (open) conservatives in the bike advocacy community would be really helpful for a few reasons- new arguments and approaches, different political allies, and reinforcing the idea that just because you're on a bike, it doesn't mean that you're some sort of lefty, iPhone-owning, vegetarian yuppie (like me).

Poorly Designed Bike Lanes Are Bad

That's the takeaway from this great video. I hate to see bikers complain about dedicated infrastructure, especially when there's so little of it, but this seems quite justified. I don't know why you would install a bike lane on the extreme left side of the road with parked cars on the right. That's much more hazardous than a lane installed on the right, where traffic is used to slower moving vehicles. Ideally, there'd be no parking on the right side of this lane, but I'd rather take my chances getting doored by drivers cognizant of traffic to their left than drivers who, when parked on the left side of the road, aren't used to the idea of a separated bike lane.

9/27/10

Bikeshare is Coming to Budapest

It is old-ish news (from May), but I just found out:


The City Hall of Budapest announced on May 11 that it will launch a large-scale city-bike system in the central part of the Hungarian capital.
The new system will include 1000-1100 bicycles and 70-80 docking stations. It will cover the most densely build-up central part of the city of about 7 square kilometers. The cost of the system is HUF 1.32 billion (EUR 5 million). The system will be installed and managed by Parking Ltd. - a public company in charge of inforcing of the city's parking policy.
The flat part of the city, Pest, will have 60 docking stations, while the flat parts of the hilly Buda side will have 13 docking stations. A docking station will have on the average 22 bikes and will be installed not further than 300-400m from each other on road space allocated for car parking or on pedestrian pavements. Bicycles can be rented on a self-service basis, using bank cards, credit cards, chip cards or mobile telephones. The system will run 24 hours a day, the first 30 minutes will be free-of-charge, and then there will be incremental charging.
Testing will begin in June 2011. The project will be co-financed from European Union funds, based on a project that was submitted in June 2009.
Looks like I'll have to come back in June 2011 to test it out. 

9/24/10

My Thoughts on a New Lauren Conrad Reality Show

From People:
Conrad, 24, spoke about starring in a new MTV reality show about her life as a clothing designer on KIIS FM's On Air With Ryan Seacrest Friday. When Seacrest asked if the rumors of her return were true, Conrad coyly said, "It'd be safe to say [yes] . . . It would follow my career, set in L.A."

MTV later confirmed the news to PEOPLE.
I think that this is a tv corollary to the idea of wishing something to be true when it actually isn't- if you have a reality show about your being a clothing designer, it must mean that you're a real clothing designer! Anyway, yeah, I'll probably watch.

Free at Last! Free at Last!

The best tv news I've heard all week:
Jeff Zucker, the chief executive of NBC Universal, told the company’s employees in an e-mail Friday morning that he would step down from his position upon the completion of the takeover of NBC by Comcast.
 This is some sort of vindication for Conan. Yes We Can!

The Only Budget Problem Worth Talking About

Austin Frakt and Ezra Klein present on the most important and compelling chart on deficits that no one really knows about:
Here's Frakt:
When I read that the House leadership of one party has no plan for the future of spending by public health programs and the other party has done its best and can only find a way to a 6% adjustment, I want to laugh, I probably should cry, but all I can do is shake my head. Too bad two or more wrongs don’t make a right. Really, they just make a costly mess.
Is the graph above really so hard to understand?
(Insert usual disclaimer about how politics impose constraints on what can be done. Nevertheless, we’ve got to at least talk as if we know what the problem is, even if we can’t solve it right now.)
Here's Klein:
Luckily, the Democrats have gotten a start on Medicare. The graph in this post is pre-Affordable Care Act. That legislation made some progress on Medicare and Medicaid, though progress that the Republicans want to roll back. But it won't be enough. Not near it. So the fact that the main proposal Republicans have to deal with these two programs is to undo what little we've done to bring them closer to balance is really worrying. It's like you're nutritionist telling you to put M&Ms back into your diet.
Here's basically the problem- Medicare is viewed as a promise and not just a policy. And promises are considered sacrosanct, precisely because they are dependent on the parties of the present maintaining their faith to each other in the future. The future is a funny time because it hasn't happened yet and each individual can project what they'd like the future to be like without any real constraint. This kind of thinking makes for terrible, terrible public policy- which needs to be responsive to current conditions and able to self-correct as flaws become evident or exacerbated. Promises can't do that. An altered promise is a broken promise, but in this case, it's better to have a broken promise than a broke country.

9/23/10

The Upside of Poltical Suicide

Jon Chait: 

Here's the really crazy thing. Moderate Democrats worry that passing a tax cut for income under $250,000 would be portrayed as a tax hike, because it allows rates to rise on income over $250,000. As I've noted several times, that could be solved by holding a separate vote. But the moderate Democrats' solution is not to hold a vote on any tax cuts. In other words, they're worried that failing to vote on a tax cut for the rich will be portrayed as a tax hike on the middle class. Answer: decide not to vote on a tax hike for the middle class either.
If this winds up with a total stalemate and no extension of tax cuts for anybody, it's a huge policy win. At the same time it's sheer political suicide. Just one of the nuttiest decisions, on pure political grounds, I've ever seen.
My bet: bipartisan support for extension of all tax cuts in lame duck. Obama veto? Nope. If he did, that'd be great. Because the upside of political suicide (in this case) is that it'll basically balance the budget by 2015:

Here's a fact that should dominate much of next week's debate over taxes: Letting the Bush tax cuts expire would be just about enough to hit Obama's goal of balancing the budget (minus interest payments) by 2015. That's all they'd need: One non-act. Better: There'd be no sixty-vote threshold. You'd just need a veto of any extension bills and 34 votes to protect the veto in the Senate. And it's not as if there are no compromises available here. If Congress doesn't want to do it while the economy is weak, but could commit to doing it in two or three years, that would be almost as good.
But nobody thinks it'll happen. With the exception of retiring Sen. George Voinovich, few politicians have broached the possibility publicly. Congress's deficit hawks have not clamored for this idea. Republicans who warn about mounting debt have not embraced it (or, for all their talk of spending cuts, come up with any proportionate to their tax cut plan). Democrats who never wanted Bush's tax cuts and currently support the fiscal commission have no intention of getting behind a tax increase. In Washington, deficits are abstract. Taxes are real. If the much-feared bond market had designed a test to see whether we were serious about reducing the long-term deficit or whether we were just using deficit rhetoric as a partisan cudgel, it couldn't have done better than this. And we're failing.

Democrats are Idiots

That's all folks.

Washington's Must-Have Fashion Accessory

No, not the Kate Spade wedges. It's a bicycle helmet. There's no such thing as "Capital Helmetshare":
It is safe to say that the reception to the Capital Bikeshare program has been enthusiastic. The New York Times commented on CaBi. Alexandria, Falls Church, Montgomery County and Prince George's County may get in on the program.  Grist reports that Gabe Klein, director of the District Department of Transportation, wants to expand the program to 2,200 bicycles.
But 2,200 bicycles doesn't necessarily mean 2,200 helmets.
"In terms of distributing helmets on the street or through a machine, no one's been able to work that out," said Jim Sebastian, supervisory transportation planner for DDOT. He cited health department concerns, space, and distribution mechanisms as factors that put a helmet-sharing program out of reach.
David Canor maintains The WashCycle, a D.C. bicycle transit blog where some commenters have raised concerns about CaBi users riding without helmets. Canor says that for his part, he wouldn't trust a helmet-sharing program even if one were in place.
"If someone fell and cracked their helmet and put it back, you would never know," said Canor, a CaBi member.
Strictly speaking, DDOT does not have to encourage CaBi riders to use helmets: Helmets are not mandatory under District law. Or federal law. Thirteen states have no bicycle helmet laws on the books, and most helmet laws that do exist address underage bicycle riders, not adults. Nevertheless, DDOT has partnered with three bicycle shops -- Bicycle Space in Mount Vernon Square and the Bike and Roll shops at Union Station and Pennsylvania Avenue and 12th Street NW -- to offer discounts on helmets to new CaBi riders.
My wife was appalled when she found out that there's no way/mandate to give out helmets to CaBi riders. I appreciate the logistical nightmare of trying to maintain such a system, but there are basically two things that can happen as a result- more people can ride CaBi bikes without helmets or more people can carry helmets around with them. I would recommend the latter option, though I foresee the former as being more likely.
I hope that the helmet becomes fashionable and that Washingtonians learn to always have one on hand. Snazzy (yeah, that's right, I said snazzy) helmets- like this one- can easily become trendy and in this town, they'll serve as yet another way for the status-seeking among us to differentiate themselves from the hoi polloi. Their safety would merely be a byproduct of their vanity.

Apologies

Sorry it's been so long since I last posted. Apparently, nothing happened with transportation, taxes and television since last Friday. I should get back into putting some things up today, but I plan to ease into it.

9/17/10

Out of Patience, Out of Time

Dan Gross makes a prediction on tax cuts:
The upshot is this: If you're in the $250,000-per-year-and-up camp, even if you don't think you're rich, I'd start planning to pay higher taxes next year. But I wouldn't discount the scenario of all the tax cuts expiring. Look at what happened with the estate tax, another sop to the rich. In a bizarre turn of events, it was designed to decline throughout the decade, disappear entirely in 2010, and then return at a much higher level in 2011. Rather than compromise with Democrats on a permanent reduction that would leave lots of people better off but still require the richest of the rich to payer higher taxes, Republicans held out for a maximalist, all-or-nothing approach. They ended up with nothing. History may not repeat, but it sometimes rhymes.
This sounds right to me- especially if Republicans take back the House. I've mostly given up on the the idea that the Democrats can get their act together before November. I don't know if it's legislative myopia, or simply that enough elected Democrats care about rich people more than poor people or budget deficits, but I think the Democrats have caught too flat footed. I think that they were mostly hoping the economy would be better and the caucus planned to let the cuts die and that would just be the end of it- in a way, to use legislative inertia to do the dirty work for them. But, now that they're more vulnerable and the leaderships feels like they should be doing something, the caucus is just too exhausted and far apart on the issue to get moving in any one direction- even when it's an electoral slam dunk.

Mad Mitch: A Budgetary Thunderdome

Howard Gleckman explains the full extent of a the effects of a balance budget amendment to the constitution and they're absolutely insane:

Let’s give his constitutional amendment time to become law and use 2020 as a target year. The Congressional Budget Office projects a current law deficit of $685 billion in that year. Extending all of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts would add another $500 billion, so let’s round to a 2020 deficit of $1.2 trillion.
CBO figures Pentagon spending in 2020 will be about $900 billion. Medicare will spend another $900 billion. Since I don’t imagine the senator would let the nation default on its debt, there goes another $900 billion or so (CBO figures current law interest payments of about $775 billion, plus another $100 billion on the debt run up by those ongoing tax cuts). Finally, the senator hasn’t said, but I’m assuming he'd protect programs such as military retirement and veterans benefits—that’s another $150 billion off the table. Thus, of total projected outlays of $5.5 trillion in 2020, McConnell would leave roughly $3 trillion unscathed.
Thus, to balance the budget McConnell would have to slash the rest of the federal government in half. If you are tea partier, that probably sounds pretty good. But let’s look at what that would mean.
The biggest remaining program is, of course, Social Security. It happens that projected Social Security spending in 2020 is almost exactly equal to the $1.2 trillion McConnell would need to balance his budget.  But the vast bulk of that money would go to those who are already 60 or older and there are no serious proposals to make substantial reductions in benefits for those retired or close to it. The one change that might—slowing annual cost of living benefit increases —would reduce total payments by only about 4 percent by 2040. So there isn’t going to be much dough there, especially as soon as 2020.
What’s left? Well, McConnell would have to abolish all the rest of government to get to balance by 2020. Everything. No more national parks, no more Small Business Administration loans, no more export subsidies, no more NIH. No more Medicaid (one-third of its budget pays for long-term care for our parents and others with disabilities). No more child health or child nutrition programs. No more highway construction. No more homeland security. Oh, and no more Congress. No more nothin’.
We’re not talking about a temporary 1995-like government shut-down here. We are talking about a government that exists only to fund national defense, provide benefits to the already- or soon-to-be retired, and pay interest to the Chinese and our other lenders. 
"No more nothin'" 2020!

Why France is the Greatest Country in the World

Self-serve wine kiosks:

Bring your own resealable bottles, Poland Spring containers, jerrycans, whatever. Or you can get one at the store. Select your grade (red, white, or rosé). Pump. Print receipt.
Astrid Terzian introduced this concept that hearkens back to a bygone era when wine would arrive in Paris shops in tonneaux and consumers would bring their own flagons to fill. But today, Terzian says, she started this scheme in fall 2008 to fill a niche, tapping into two key themes, environmental awareness and the economy. (She actually wanted to buy a wine property and run a B&B but it was too expensive. So she turned to what she says she knew how to do: sales.) The elimination of packaging mass means that the wine can be shipped much more efficiently from a cost and carbon perspective.
The cost-savings are passed on to the consumer in the form of low prices of 1.45 euros/liter (about $2/liter). She installed her first machine in June 2009 at the Cora supermarket in Dunkirk and now has them installed in eight supermarkets in France. The wines vary; one is a 2009 from the Rhone, technically a vin de pays méditerranée.
The best part- it's coming to the US next year! If you thought that Trader Joe's is bad now, just wait til the Half-Buck Chuck Vending machines arrive.

9/16/10

BBC America: Now With More Barristers

Apparently, there's a Law & Order franchise based in the UK and BBC America is going to start airing it this fall:
This October, BBC AMERICA brings 26 episodes of the hit show Law & Order: UK home to the U.S. Based on Emmy award-winning producer Dick Wolf’s long-running crime series, Law & Order: UK follows the familiar two part format: beginning each episode with a crime, followed by the legal and court proceedings to convict the criminal. All scripts have been taken from the U.S. version to retain the grittiness of the original series, but adapted to fit with the British legal system, providing a uniquely British twist. Law & Order: UK premieres Sunday, October 3, 10:30p.m. ET/PT with subsequent episodes premiering on Fridays, 9:00p.m. ET/PT.
Set in and around London, Law & Order: UK stars Jamie Bamber (Outcasts, Battlestar Galactica), as Detective Superintendent  Matt Devlin, Bradley Walsh (The Old Curiosity Shop) as Detective Superintendent  Ronnie Brooks, Ben Daniels (The Passion, The State Within) as Senior Crown Prosecutor James Steel, and Freema Agyeman (Doctor Who, Little Dorritt) as Junior Crown Prosecutor Alesha Phillips.
That's right, it's BSG's Apollo (more fondly, Fat Apollo)! Anyway, I didn't know whether the more appropriate title for the post was "barristers" or "solicitors." There's a difference. I'm still not entirely sure I used the correct term. In any case, if you like procedurals and accents, enjoy.


Chic Bike Commuters, contd.

Some dude named Rantwick also has thoughts on "chic commuting":
I know some people are into this cycle chic thing, but I just don't get it. I mean, many of their bicycle choices are driven by the fact that they will be wearing "lovely shoes and trousers/skirt" (see the fenders section)... are these chic people really going to remain regular bike commuters in the long term? Not after the rain and sweat and dirt of commuting makes them look un-chic at work a few times. C'mon, chic people, instead of reducing the fun of cycling in order to increase the fun of wearing stuff, including your bicycle, just drop the high style and let your bike sing! A dutch city bike just looks like a depressed pack mule to me. That is what happens when you make a beautiful machine a mere servant of your clothes. Even if you really like that style of bike, why not do it some justice and ride the hell out of it instead of using it as an accessory?

You know what? Who am I to tell you what to do? Get your kicks however you like. Might I suggest, however, that a set of clothes separate from those you intend to wear at work all day would allow you to 1) ride more days of the year and 2) offer the opportunity to wear TWO fabulous outfits every day! The healthy glow and relaxed good nature that really commuting for fun will give you, combined with your awesome clothes, will make you even more attractive, I promise!
Stephanie told me the other night that one of her friends does in fact commute by bike in a dress (though with bike shorts on underneath). Hat tip: Stephanie. I do occasionally see college students biking in street clothes, especially ones that seem to live close to campus (either AU or GU), but much rarer is the young professional wearing street clothes. The weather in Washington being what it is, I sincerely hope that they work in small cubicles set away from other employees.

Streetcars vs. Metro

Dan Malouff thinks that we should rethink Phase II of the Silver Line:
Phase Two of the Silver Line will do no such thing. For $3.83 billion, more than a billion dollars more than Phase One, Phase Two will extend the line 11.5 miles into Loudoun County, with five stations that will be used primarily as park-and-rides plus a sixth at Dulles Airport. That's $333 million per mile.
Park-and-rides and transit access to the airport are both great things, but are they worth almost $4 billion?
Consider other transit investments we might make with that same amount of money.

Arlington's proposed streetcar on Columbia Pike will cost an average of $27 million per mile. That suggests that for the same cost as Phase Two, Northern Virginia could build 140 miles of streetcar lines.
I'm all for more streetcars, but I think there should be metro to Dulles. It's not an either/or situation. 

Joining Bikeshare When You Already Own a Bike(s)

Why would you join a bikeshare program when you already own a bike? Erik W tackles the issue:
After some thought, I decided to invest in a Capital Bikeshare membership, not despite owning my own bike, but perhaps even because I own my own bike. The argument should ring quite familiar to many of you, given that we make the same argument frequently for why people should take transit, despite the fact that they own a car and have already invested in that sunk cost.
We tell people to take transit over driving for many trips because:

  • Reduced wear and tear on the car, reduces maintenance costs and increases the longevity of your car
  • You don't need to find and/or pay for parking at either end of your trip
  • You won't have to worry about vandalism or theft that may be a concern at some destinations
  • You don't have to drive home, or worry about picking your car up later
The same reasons hold true for using Bikeshare over riding your own bike.
I'm not sure how compelling I find this analogy- transit and driving are two different modes of transportation, whereas Bikeshare and using my own bike are the same means. Nonetheless, the last three bullets are the most persuasive. Parking your bike, even for a short period of time, in an unfamiliar area sorta sucks. You don't know how prone to theft or vandalism it is and, frankly, I just hate leaving my bike locked to a street sign.
The author also suggest the idea of saving money on transit:
You can actually save money on transit. For anyone who lives and/or works close to a CaBi station or spends any significant time in the central part of the District or Crystal City, there is a strong chance you can actually save yourself money with a CaBi membership.
I live near the Foggy Bottom metro station, on the northwest edge of what you could call "greater downtown" DC. I work in Navy Yard, on the southeast edge of "downtown." In a typical month, I will have anywhere from 3-10 meetings out of the office, usually somewhere in downtown proper. Often times these meetings are at the end of the day and I usually plan to go straight home afterward.
At the end of these meetings I'm usually left with conundrum of how I want to get home. The walk is just a bit too far under all but the best circumstances (weather, temperature, what I'm wearing, what I'm carrying, etc.) and takes a while. It seems both lame and a waste of money to take the metro two or three stops. And, while the bus is cheaper, it's is probably only marginally faster than walking. Still, because of laziness or any of those other mitigating factors, I have ended up on the bus or the metro many times, shelling out anywhere from $1.50 to $2.50, to travel no more than two miles.
These are exactly the types of trips I expect to use CaBi for in the future. At $50 a year, by the time I replace anywhere from 20-34 short trips on bus or Metro with a trip on CaBi, I will have already made my membership cost back. Add to that the savings on chain lube, tube patches, brake pads, replacing stolen accessories, or worse, and I would argue that a Capital Bikeshare membership could actually save most regular cyclists money in the long run.
I think that what's more important than money is the idea of saving time. A bicycle is the fastest and most direct way to cover medium distances in an urban area. For example, if I wanted to leave work to go to Whole Foods at lunch, I have a few different options. I could take the free AU shuttle bus, which comes about once every 15-20 minutes. I could walk, which is again about 15-20 minutes. Or, assuming I drove to work, I could remove my car from the lot and drive down Nebraska Avenue to Tenleytown. Here's a map.
Well, I hate waiting for the bus when walking really doesn't seem that bad. I hate being passed by the bus while I'm walking because that makes me feel dumb. If I paid for a day's worth of parking, I don't like the idea of abandoning my parking spot and potentially losing it and having to pay again (the parking is done is a number-assigned basis- you basically rent the spot for a number of hours or the whole day, rather than pay for the car to stay anywhere in the lot). Bikeshare in this situation makes a ton of sense. You can go on your own schedule (and don't have to wait around with undergrads, eww) and it's a lot faster than walking.
Even if I biked to work, I'd still rather taking the CaBi bike than go unlock my own, which I have to clip-in to, so riding  not wearing bikes shoes is suboptimal anyway.
There's another reason for bike owners to join Capital Bikeshare, as well: we want the program to succeed because ultimately a successful bikeshare program will create more buy-in from city officials for better bicycling facilities. If my $50 membership helps "buy" more bike lanes and lead to a more cycle-friendly urban environment, it's well worth the money. Think of it as an investment. 

Cutting Rates, Raising Rates

Jon Chait sees a winning strategy for Democrats on extending some of the Bush tax cuts:
Well, there's a simple solution to that: hold two votes. First have a vote on the tax cuts for all income under $250,000. (That of course, also provides significant tax relief to upper-income taxpayers. Indeed, under that plan, the rich would get more than the middle class in total dollars):
Then you hold a separate vote on tax cuts exclusively for people earning more than $250,000 a year. Anybody who wants to vote for that can vote for that, too.
Remember, the uper-bracket tax cuts are unpopular. The only way the Republicans pass them is to combine them with middle-class tax cuts, then use the former to pass the latter. The whole tactic is to combine the two in order to put the GOP at an advantage. The Republican game is to hide their political shit sandwich in your ice cream sundae. Why let them play that game? Keep the two separate and let people decide which they want. There's no possible advantage for Democrats in combining the two.
There are so, so many obvious ways for Democrats to score political points on this issue (like this easy one) that I'll be curious to see what boneheaded idea they actually end up with. 

9/15/10

Ezra Klein Channels Tom Friedman

Putting words in the President's mouth:
This gets to something I've never understood about political rhetoric. Why not just level with people? Why can't Obama just sit down and say,"My friends in the other party want to extend George W. Bush's tax cuts indefinitely, which will add about $4 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years. I'd like to extend only tax cuts for every American making less than $250,000. That will add more than $3 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years. That's still a lot, but given our economic circumstances, I think it's worth it. But people may disagree. Another option would be to extend the middle-class tax cuts for three more years, and then let them expire, or phase them out, in order to begin bringing the deficit down. Either way, we should be clear about the choices we're making here."
I'm not saying this would be some sort of political coup. But I don't think it would be a political loser, either. And, at the very least, it would be honest, and contribute to a clearer discussion.
The most laughable phrase in the entire false speech- "my friends in the other party." 

Don't Tell Fox News...

Remember when everyone was all upset about Mexicans illegal immigrants? You know, before they were all upset about Burlington Coat Factories Ground Zero mosques? Well, it's time to get upset again because Univision's ratings are the canary in the coal mine for a massive culture change in the US:
Univision Highlights – NPM Broadcast Prime Week of 09/06/10
•       Last week, Univision out-delivered ABC, CBS, NBC or FOX every night among Adults 18-49 and Adults 18-34; on 6 out of 7 nights among Teens 12-17; and on 5 out of 7 nightsamong Total Viewers 2+.
•       Univision finished the week as the #3 broadcast network in overall primetime among Adults 18-49 (2.1 million) and Adults 18-34 (1.2 million); ranked #2 among Kids 2-11 (482,000) and #5 among Total Viewers 2+ (3.8 million).
•       For the week, Univision delivered 11 of the Top 30 programs in overall primetime among Adults 18-34 and 9 of the Top 30 programs among Adults 18-49.
Don't tell any olds but "real" American tv channels are losing out in ratings to a channel where you can't even understand what they're saying (unless you speak Spanish). 

9/13/10

Secretly Angling to Become the New Head of DDOT

David Alpert of the blog Greater Greater Washington (profiled in the City Paper) endorses Vince Gray for mayor:
I'm voting for Gray tomorrow because I believe Gray has been honest about supporting the policies we like, and will come to the right conclusions after listening to us and to everyone else as well. If he wins, I'll push him through insiders and from the blog to hire the best people and keep some of the best Fenty people on, and then keep pushing him as mayor to do the right thing for everyone in DC.
Alpert has been in the tank for Gray for a while, much to the chagrin at Matt Yglesias.I sort of hope he's either traded his endorsement (whatever it's worth) for Gabe Klein getting to stay in charge of DDOT or so that he himself can take over DDOT. I'm not convinced on Gray's urbanist bona fides and, while I think that Gray is a smart guy who knows a lot about policy and details, I'm fairly certain that his commitment to process and (the appearance of) inclusivity will lead to a slower, more inertia-ridden city government, especially when it comes to tackling big problems like development, transportation and schools.

Lady Biking

Rob Forbes argues that the rise in urban bicycling is predominantly due to a rise in women cycling:
But the greatest reason is that more women are riding, and they are more visible. The numbers are harder to quantify, but more interesting to observe from a style and culture standpoint. Female bike commuters are obvious to anyone looking at the streets—they tend to dress more fashionably and wear brighter colors. Newspaper style sections, including The New York Times, are obsessed with the trend, as are fashion photographer blogs like The Sartorialist.
Women today ride in dresses, pumps, hats, and all kinds of professional and casual attire. They are also more visible socially and politically. Women are opening bike stores around the country, manage and staff hip bicycle cafes, and design innovative and stylish cycling clothes and accessories. They also head up some of the most influential advocacy organizations in our country.
Notice the lack of statistics. I ride in every day and I do see a lot of women on bikes. They're not clad in pumps and in cute dresses- they're wearing basically the same outfit as all DC bike commuters- bland t-shirt, shorts (sometimes lycra) and a helmet. Maybe Washington just isn't stylish (boxy Ann Taylor black skirt suits anyone?) or maybe this trend, while true, isn't exactly taking the form that style-conscious cycling advocates want it to take. Nice slide-show though.

9/10/10

Big Future First-ish Lady of New York TV Show News

That's right, Sandra Lee, girlfriend of Andrew Cuomo and fan of tablescapes and cocktails, is coming back for a 14th season:
“Semi-Homemade Cooking,” the one-of-a kind program that started with a razzle-dazzle fusion of food and home-fashion from tablescapes, cocktail time, and decadent dishes made in a snap, returns for a fully-loaded 14th season with an eye-popping new set, “dynamic, doable and dramatic” tablescapes, and special episodes highlighting quick-serve meals prepared with a new formula twist: 70% fresh ingredients combined with 30% store bought, ready-made products.
Sandra Lee has flipped the script. Here's a description of the show as previously constituted:
An internationally-acclaimed home and style expert, Sandra Lee's trademark 70/30 Semi-Homemade philosophy combines 70% ready-made products with 30% fresh, giving everyone the confidence to create food that looks and tastes from scratch.
For those of you keeping score at home, that's +40% fresh and -40% store bought. I hope this doesn't mean moonshine-tinis.

9/9/10

Entertainment News: Awfully Written

Like this:
Joel McHale is in final negotiations to star opposite Jessica Alba in Robert Rodriguez's "Spy Kids 4" reboot for Dimension.He will star as a spy-hunting reporter married to Alba's character, the stepmother to his kids.

Not knowing very much about the "Spy Kids" franchise, I'm a little bit confused by the syntax. Are his kids the "spy kids"? Here's some more:
Alba will play a spy who is forced out of her retirement to help two new spy kids, with the original spy kids.
“Rebecca’s not exactly supportive of her father’s new partner, and utilizes her ingenious skills as a prankster to thwart her stepmother every step of the way. Cecil’s a little less hard on Jessica, frequently asking his sis to cut her a break. Ultimately, Jessica and Rebecca have to put their differences aside when they’re both called up for active-duty.”
Hollywood news is not very important, but would it kill either of these writers to be a little clearer? For example, who are Rebecca and Cecil? I'm guessing Joel McHale's kids (from context), but it would be nice to see that explicitly written. And I see quotation marks, but I don't see any attribution. Who is telling me these key plot points? The author? An unnamed source? God?
Anyway, the reportage on "Spy Kids 4" isn't the most important thing in the world, but it is unclear writing and this kind of unclear writing does a great disservice to the fans of this movie franchise and to clarity in written English.


PS- Way to go Hollywood for casting (real-life mom) Jessica Alba as a stepmom to (presumably) tweens and not as their biological mother.

John Boehner Will Take the Deal!

Boehner says that he'd go along with a two year extension on all of the Bush tax cuts. Commentators are (rightly) calling bs:
Let's nip this one in the bud, please. Boehner's offer is no compromise, and it is no way a "concession." The Republican position two years from now will be identical to the Republican position today: Keep all the tax cuts in place. And two years from now, Republicans will probably have more seats in the Senate and House than they do today, and thus more power to prevent any future return to tax sanity.
 And: 
That's some concession. Think of the timing: A two-year extension now means the tax cuts would expire ... at the end of 2012. Coincidentally, there's a presidential election right around then. So the tax cuts would again be an election-year issue, with Republicans and their presidential candidate again warning that Obama and the Democrats are planning an immense tax hike (that Republicans built into law), and Democrats again trapped between letting taxes rise and letting deficits soar.
I'm starting to wonder if Obama and Orszag teamed up on this and it was all one big Boehner trap. Here's what I think a really effective Boehner trap would look like:
A tanning bed and a regressive, budget-busting tax scheme? He couldn't resist.

9/8/10

Casting the Ronald Reagan Biopic

EW on why it will be so hard to cast Ronald Reagan in the upcoming biopic:
Reagan is such a politically-sensitive figure, and CBS/Showtime’s 2003 miniseries with the liberal-leaning Brolin playing The Gipper was anathema to Reagan supporters. So the current audition process for Reagan might not only include talent and physical resemblance, but voter registration and political affiliation. Which might be a shame, because Ben Affleck, a supporter of many Democratic political candidates, wouldn’t be the worse choice to play our 40th president. He’s preternaturally boyish and disarming, not unlike the prez, and both men were underestimated as lightweights before finally achieving widespread success and acclaim. If the film’s producers make political purity part of their casting criteria, the talent pool will thin in a hurry. The Reporter‘s readers’ poll nominated Zac Efron and Star Trek‘s Chris Pine, and I’d throw James Marsden into the mix. Of course, I don’t know who these three voted for in 2008.
I've got a suggestion, but I don't think it'll fly: Levi Johnston. 

The President agrees with me on taxes

From The New York Times:
Mr. Obama’s opposition to allowing the high-end tax cuts to remain in place for even another year or two would be the signal many Congressional Democrats have been awaiting as they prepare for a showdown with Republicans on the issue and ends speculation that the White House might be open to an extension. Democrats say only the president can rally wavering lawmakers who, amid the party’s weakened poll numbers, feel increasingly vulnerable to Republican attacks if they let the top rates lapse at the end of this year as scheduled...
But by proposing to extend the rates for the 98 percent of households with income below $250,000 for couples and $200,000 for individuals — and insisting that federal income tax rates in 2011 go back to their pre-2001 levels for income above those cutoffs — he intends to cast the issue as a choice between supporting the middle class or giving breaks to the wealthy. 
Now, I can't say for sure that Obama reads this blog (though it's likely- if he starts referring to the tax cuts as the Goldman Sachs-Lebron James taxes. we'll know for sure). I also have received some feedback that my previous post on Orszag didn't clearly enough elaborate my position on letting the tax cuts expire and instead was more persuasive for idea of extending the tax cuts.  But here's the plan:
Politically, however, the president is, in effect, daring Republicans to oppose the plan, in that way proving Democrats’ contention that they will block even their own ideas to deny Mr. Obama any victories. And by proposing business tax breaks that, according to nonpartisan analyses, would do more to stimulate the economy than extending the Bush tax rates for the wealthy, Mr. Obama hopes to buttress Democrats’ opposition to extending those rates.
Here's Jon Chait's elaboration on the strategy:
It seems to me that Democrats need to take advantage of their shrinking window in which they control the legislative process and can control the terms of debate. They should bring up an extension of the middle class tax cuts. If Republicans block it, then Democrats can attack them for raising taxes on the middle class, while enjoying the benefits of the higher revenues brought about by that tax hike. They can keep bringing up middle class tax cuts and keep daring Republicans to block it on the grounds that the rich don't get a big enough share.
In conclusion, it's all going to be for naught because in a 60 vote Senate, nothing (renewal or modified extension) will move forward anyway. It's all just shadow boxing. 

9/7/10

Orszag on Bush Tax Cuts

Peter Orszag, noted budget super-genius and heartthrob, wants to extend the Bush tax cuts for a little while:

In the face of the dueling deficits, the best approach is a compromise: extend the tax cuts for two years and then end them altogether. Ideally only the middle-class tax cuts would be continued for now. Getting a deal in Congress, though, may require keeping the high-income tax cuts, too. And that would still be worth it.
Why does this combination make sense? The answer is that over the medium term, the tax cuts are simply not affordable. Yet no one wants to make an already stagnating jobs market worse over the next year or two, which is exactly what would happen if the cuts expire as planned.
Higher taxes now would crimp consumer spending, further depressing the already inadequate demand for what firms are capable of producing at full tilt. And since financial markets don’t seem at the moment to view the budget deficit as a problem — take a look at the remarkably low 10-year Treasury bond yield — there is little reason not to extend the tax cuts temporarily.
As neither a noted budget super-genius or heartthrob, I'm having a hard time agreeing with him, at least on the politics of it. Extending the tax cuts for two years does a few things:
  1. This year, it saves moderate Democrats from being branded as "tax hikers." I mean, aside from the untruthful assertion that they're "tax hikers" no matter what they do.
  2. Makes a (presumably) Republican house in 2012 have to find the votes to make them permanent or they'll sunset (but for real this time). This moves the burden from the Democratic leadership to the Republican leadership and (maybe) allows for Democrats to forge a better compromise than one they could make right now.
  3. Makes their extension a 2012 presidential election issue. You know, like it was in 2008. 
  4. Gives the economy and jobs market (maybe) enough time to recover so the effects of the tax increase won't be so harmful. Though, I'm not sure that Republicans have ever seen an economy so good (or so bad) where the answer to all questions about it isn't more tax cuts.  I don't think that they're going to grow out of it in two years either, especially in a presidential election year against noted foe of capitalism Barack Obama.
Given all of these reasons, I'm still not convinced that extending the tax cuts now (in toto) is the right thing to do (politically). The right thing to do right now is to absolutely (appear to) soak the rich. Put forth a bill where you'll extend all tax cuts but for those lucky Americans making more than one million dollars. Bump their marginal rates back up to Clinton-era levels and let Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor go on Meet the Press and say that you're being unreasonable in proposing the "Goldman Sachs-Lebron James (or whatever name they want to use, but I like this one) Millionaire Tax."
Another problem I have with the idea of temporarily extending the tax cuts is that it's yet another tough revenue decision that Congress is refusing the deal with. We've already got the AMT and the "doc fix" and we've got 3 more months for a potential solution to the estate tax (which I'm guessing will be resolved in the lame duck). Perhaps if Congress let a few more things sunset, they'd stop resorting to chicanery like tax bills with 10 year expiration dates.

But How Will This Affect My Farmers Market?

Arlington wants to wrest control of Columbia Pike from VDOT:
The Columbia Pike is a major road through Arlington County. But over the last few years, plans to improve it have run right into a big problem -- no state transportation money.
Now the county is moving to get around that.
The state transportation board will consider a proposal later this month to turn over the Pike to Arlington. The county would then move ahead with extensive re-development.
Columbia Pike is my favorite road in Arlington. It reminds me a little of Route 7 in New Milford and a little of East Colfax in Denver (without the 15 bus- which apparently has Yelp reviews). Arlington wants to transform it into "Arlington's Main Street"  (whatever that means) and, more importantly, add a streetcar. This would mean a  high-density walkable community and maybe eventually they could even move the farmers market from the Rite Aid parking lot.

9/6/10

Goodbye Fan Page

It became an annoyance for me to keep two distinct Facebook pages and now that I have marginally more to do at work, I'm all about streamlining. This will allow me to keep the fresh content coming and move away from banal administrative duties (regarding the blog, not at work. I'll still have plenty at work, but I get marginally paid to do those). Anyway, thanks to both all of the fans. Big TV week coming up (CW season premieres), so look for me to have some banal administrative exciting thoughts on those.

David Carr Doesn't Get It

Watching (or not watching) TV is too hard for David Carr:
Television, which was once the brain-dead part of the day, had become one more thing that required time, attention and taste. I have fond memories of the days when there were only three networks and I could let my mind go slack as I half-watched Diane and Sam circle each other on “Cheers,” because that was pretty much the only thing on.
Did watching those shows raise my cultural I.Q. or put me in the thick of social media discussions over whether Snooki was actually the author of her own place in the cultural narrative? Um, no. But neither did it turn me into a cool hunter, worried about missing something, or a technologist, juggling devices and platforms the minute I got home.
I understand that it's difficult trying to keep up with the myriad entertainment options- there's a lot on and a lot worth watching. I love tv and I love being part of (or maybe just aware of) the pop cultural conversation.  But it's just tv and you should only feel compelled to watch it if you're interested in what's on. It's not a case of that "gone now is the guilty pleasure of simply staring at something mildly entertaining"- plenty of people still do that (it's called CBS!) and they live normal and happy lives. You just have to learn your limits and make peace with them because no one, when it comes to cultural production, can or should, stand athwart it and yell stop.

Redundancy and Technical Savvy

I have a limited amount of technical savvy and I frequently find myself copying and pasting the the link to the most recent blog post into Facebook and I find that annoying. I'm trying this thing where maybe the blog gets automatically updating to twitter and then it automatically updates Facebook and then I don't have to do anything except type posts here, but we'll see how that actually works. I cannot guarantee that this will make any of the posts here more interesting.During this time, I thank both all of you for your patience.
In another effort to combat redundancy, I'm looking to not use my own name any more for the name of this blog. My name is  hindering me from creating a dynamic online persona boring and I look forward to any suggestions.

9/3/10

Down with the OG

OG meaning Olive Garden. Is America addicted? Matt Yglesias says probably not, but:
The point, however, is not to argue the merits of these restaurants but merely to observe that they’re successful. And in particular, they’re successful at exactly what our health care & university systems are terrible at, namely actually balancing cost and quality or even at times finding innovative ways to skimp on quality. I doubt anyone involved would try to convince you that the Olive Garden is the world’s greatest Italian restaurant. But the point of something like their “Culinary Institute of Tuscany” exercise is precisely to identify top-quality practices and then think if there’s some way to do something vaguely similar for radically less money. If you look at the trajectory of college tuition, it’s clear that we’re not going to be able to simultaneously stay on that pace and expand the number of people who go to college. But a college degree seems to be very valuable. If it were possible to provide even a fraction of that value to more people cheaply, we’d be making major progress.
Basically, diplomas should be more like unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks.

Using a Picture of Jon Hamm to Get an Article Published on Salon

Is Don Draper to blame for the male makeup boom? No, he's not. But, does the article really even offer a reason why "Don Draper" would be in the title anyway? Let's check:
Don Draper, meet male vanity. And actually, come to think of it, Don Draper has a lot to do with this. Not because he’s the protagonist of a show about how Madison Avenue built an empire by sowing doubt in the American psyche. Heck, that’s just Capitalism 101. What makes Don Draper relevant to this discussion is that he’s a quintessential, if outdated, example of the new stylized male.
How is a fictional tv character a "quintessential, if outdated, example of the new stylized male"? Let's look in the rest of the article for the explanation...THERE IS NO EXPLANATION OFFERED! Anyway, here's this:

West Virginia Defeats Healthy Living

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution (the Emmy winning show!?) has been renewed for a second season, but with a format change:
The first season of the show echoed Oliver's original UK hit, chronicling his to overhaul a West Virginia school lunch program. For the second season, the show will move to Los Angeles and broaden out, helping people of all ages improve their eating habits in schools, homes, workplaces and even restaurants.
Sorry Huntington. Looks like your wildly out of control health care costs and poor health outcomes won't be mitigated through better eating as taught by a famous British television chef through the enlistment of high school-aged chefs, sassy lunch ladies, and a flash mob where college kids dance their way through the preparation of stir fry. It's as if ABC and Jamie Oliver only cared about making good tv, in spite of earnest protestations otherwise.

Anthony Bourdain Interview in THR

Some nuggets:

THR: So which city has the best food?

Anthony Bourdain: Wow, tough question. Either Hong Kong, San Sebastian [Spain], Saigon -- those would all be strong candidates.

THR: How about best in the U.S.?

Bourdain:
New York, of course. We have a good mix of high and low cuisine. We have large immigrant communities, so we have Mexico, Central and South America, all over Asia.

THR: And the worst?

Bourdain:
Bucharest [Romania] and Tashkent [Uzbekistan] are not high on my list.
 Sucks for you, Bucharest. But, ultimately, not very surprising.
THR: How about face-stuffing competitions, like Travel Channel's "Man vs. Food"?

Bourdain: It's a little morally [questionable]. I think Adam Richman of "Man vs. Food" is enormously likable and a compelling character who really makes that show interesting, but I fear for his life! I mean, the guy must really like T-shirts.

9/2/10

The Most Interesting Article about Traffic Math You'll Read All Day

Traffic! Math! Sexy topics like these don't always get enough blog coverage. But we're trying to change that:
Rather than plan new roads, most traffic engineers are working to spread traffic out more evenly. The first step is to measure demand more accurately. In the 1930s, traffic engineers stood on the side of the road, clipboard and stopwatch in hand. Today, they have tools such as radar, lidar, detectors embedded in roads, and video, says Robert Bertini, deputy administrator of the Department of Transportation's Research and Innovative Technology Administration.
Prof. Bayen's research group is merging such data with inputs from cars' GPS devices. The idea is to stitch together all these data points—60 million per day—to detect patterns and build a prediction engine. "The game now is massive data fusion," says Prof. Bayen. "We're trying to bring mathematical answers to these questions." His next goal is to predict traffic accurately within 20 minutes, at 80% reliability.
IBM is designing systems that cities can use to weave together information about multiple modes of transportation, including road and rail, then attempt to shift traffic accordingly. The company expects to sign a contract in the next month with a U.S. city, says Naveen Lamba, the company's global lead for intelligent transportation, that will use such information to tell drivers, via electronic roadway signs, how long it will take to get to a popular destination by different routes. "We can get a lot more use out of our existing transportation infrastructure," says Mr. Lamba.
It's not just the roads that cause problems- it's the drivers, too:

In addition, traffic can slow even without heavy demand, because of driver reaction time. Traffic engineers have shown that even when the number of vehicles shouldn't tax a road, a small perturbation—such as a slight deceleration by one car—can ripple through the cars behind them, as they brake in reaction. Japanese researchers in 2008 published a study demonstrating the effect experimentally in 2008, by assigning roughly two dozen drivers to cruise along a closed circular track at about 19 miles per hour. After some time, a jam developed, and the cars within it ground to a halt until the cars ahead of them accelerated. The jam traveled backward through the track at roughly 12 miles per hour.
Gabor Orosz, a mechanical engineer at the University of Michigan, and his colleagues have demonstrated why this occurs mathematically, developing a model that accounts for driver reaction time. "Driver behavior is very important," says Dr. Orosz. "It would be great to have a magic formula. What we are thinking is that there is no magic formula."
In conclusion, traffic math=futile pursuit, much like traffic math blogging.  

Obama Punts on Tax Reform

Howard Gleckman sees a huge missed opportunity:
Obama might have used this exercise to jump-start a debate over fundamental tax reform. Instead, the report does nothing to fill the policy vacuum that is being filled by an argument over what to do about the decade-old Bush tax cuts.
Imagine if Obama used this group to start the process of doing what President Reagan did, develop a broad-based reform plan. Or even if he had allowed the panel to design full-blown alternative tax structures—a step George W. Bush took in 2005 (although, it must be noted that Bush ultimately ignored the suggestions of his own commission).
This panel might have had some clout. Former Fed chairman Paul Volcker headed the group, which included economic heavyweights such as Marty Feldstein and Laura Tyson, as well as business executives such as John Doerr and Jeff Immelt. But Obama hamstrung them from the beginning by prohibiting the committee from considering any changes that would raise taxes on those making less than $250,000-a-year. He also limited its charge to simplification, compliance, and corporate taxes—the first two, at least, relatively low-hanging fruit.
There is nothing wrong with the report’s focus: These are important issues, though obviously not the whole story. But per White House instructions, the committee makes no recommendations at all, instead merely describing general options for change and outlining both the benefits and disadvantages to each.
As if that was not enough, the report comes with not one but two disclaimers:
First: “It is important to emphasize at the outset that the PERAB is an outside advisory panel and is not part of the Obama Administration. Our report is meant to provide helpful advice to the Administration as it considers options for tax reform in the future.”
And if you didn’t get it, there is also this: “The report does not represent Administration policy.” 
Thus, the study was thrown under the bus.
In this climate, I can't really imagine the political collaboration that would be needed to get a real tax reform through, especially given the Republicans' "no higher taxes ever" screed.

JP Morgan Chase Can Own your Guest Bathroom!

A candidate for Congress has some ideas about propping up the housing market:
Banks becoming equity partners with homeowners. Let's explain that with an example:
Jim has a $100K mortgage from the bank for his $120K house. If the house is currently appraising for $75K, the bank would readjust Jim's mortgage to $75K and take, say, a 20% ownership stake in the house. The result would be that Jim's monthly payment would be substantially reduced and he becomes much less likely to "walk away" from his house. The bank has a loan which has immediately become more solid and, say, in 10 years when Jim sells his house, the bank, as a 20% equity partner, can share in the upside.
While the fine print still need to be worked out, this type of private-sector administered program actually cuts to the core of the issue and establishes the foundation for a sustainable housing market.
Why would a bank want to own my 20% of my house? If it made more sense for banks to do this, wouldn't they have already? Banks are in the business of trying to get people to own more of their own homes, not less. And in this scheme, would people have to promise not to sell their houses for a certain amount of time? Or make a promise not to sell the house for a loss? And can your bank teller come over and watch your tv pretty much whenever because Wells Fargo owns your man cave? 

Emmy Nominees, contd.

So in the wake of the "discovery" about the ages of dramatic female Emmy nominees, I had a few conversations regarding why this might be so. Stephanie opined that it's simply a question of roles: dramas afford older women a greater number of roles than comedies and provide the "gravitas"-itude that these actresses would do best in.

Chris McEntee, CPA, thought it might be correlated with GDP growth, whereas older actresses might be considered safer assets in a time of slowing GDP growth. There was no significant statistical evidence to support this, but I think, from what I understood, there was some kind of correlation. Comments are welcome.

My theory is that older actresses tend to get nominated in these roles because they have more established careers and they're a) easier to Emmy voters to vote for because they've already heard of them and b) easier for the networks to support because, as high cachet stars, the networks don't need to expend to much "persuasion capital" to convince voters that these actresses are deserving.

9/1/10

No-Brainer Green Infrastructure



Sustainable storm drain systems seem like a really smart way to have a greener city infrastructure. Here's how they work:
These are not ordinary tree boxes. Instead of draining into a standard storm sewer, these gutters drain into the tree boxes, where stormwater then naturally drains into the ground instead of into a storm sewer. This reduces the amount of water entering the combined storm and sanitary sewer, and thus can help reduce the number of combined sewer overflow (CSO) events. Since the combined sewer system mixes storm water and regular sewage, substantial rainfall will force the system to overflow into area rivers, dumping raw sewage mixed with stormwater directly into the Anacostia and Potomac.
 First of all, that sounds gross. Second of all, what a good way to get improve tree care.

Bikeshare Pix

The first installation!. The warehouse! I think it looks pretty snazzy.