Understanding the Republican Party’s Reluctance to Invest in Transit Infrastructure

A great look at the geography behind the Republican demonization of mass transit.  To a large degree in the US cities are democratic and the exurbs and hinterlands are republican.  Since so much of our transportation funding gets funneled through the federal government, this means cites spend a lot of time getting screwed.  Policy decentralization would help a lot.

Links for the week of November 28th, 2009

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Continue reading Links for the week of November 28th, 2009

Shared Links for May 12th

  • Forecast: On Climate Change, Cooler Temperatures Bring Hotter Air – Augh, we are prisoners to so many perceptual fallacies. Recency and narration loom large among them. It turns out that the average temperature of the last 12 months is a reasonably strong predictor of whether or not people think they'll personally experience the effects of climate change (a multi-decade to century-scale process). We are failing to deal with problems we didn't evolve to perceive clearly. (tagged: climate statistics fallacy propaganda science )
  • In German Suburb, Life Goes On Without Cars – Ah, the New York Times has discovered Vauban! Now if only it had happened when gas was $4/gallon, we might have had a chance. We desperately need more experimentation in urban design, so we can have working examples to look at and build on. (tagged: sustainability green urban design bicycles germany transportation parking architecture )
  • Spuds in a Box – Build a box whose sides you can progressively remove from the bottom up, plant potatoes in the bottom, and fill with dirt as they grow. Remove lower slats to harvest spuds. I've certainly heard this suggestion from other people too. Will be interesting to see how well it works for these guys. Seems like you could also do this with some kind of bag, and if you sewed in sleeves/tubes periodically, that you could tie off, and then untie when you wanted to reach in and root around for a spud, you wouldn't have to worry about soil falling out when you pry off the boards. Others are supposedly reporting 50kg of potatoes from 0.5 m^2 area. (tagged: gardening green sustainability agriculture food urban design potatoes )
  • How Much Do You Earn? – A great annotated visualization of income distribution in the US as of the year 2000. It would be awesome to see an animated version of this, and see how it evolves through time. Turns out I make just about the most likely income in America ($20k), which is far below the mean (and the median). As a "household" though, I suppose we're right about at the median ($40k). Interesting. (tagged: economics wealth taxes government policy visualization )
  • The Capitalist Threat – Geoge Soros on Karl Popper's Open Society, from the mid-90s. He rails against the West's failure to extend a helping hand to the post-Soviet nations. He acknowledges that Truth may not be a strong enough motivator for most people, and that within a society that has decided to be Open, there are still many other choices to be made, but somehow fails to mention the way these two things end up pushing an Open Society closed with propaganda, apathy, and misinformation. Political evangelism – the process of deciding what (arbitrary) values your society is going to have – creates huge incentives for those who do not highly value truth to assert authority. I guess that's part of his point though, to robustly inoculate society against those assertions of perfect (authoritarian) knowledge. (tagged: economics politics popper society philosophy )

Shared Links for Apr 3rd

  • Stealing Commodities – Our infrastructure is (unwittingly) built around the assumption that the materials it is composed of are, and will remain, cheap, and not worth the trouble of stealing. If this assumption breaks down, copper power lines start disappearing from the desert, and iron manhole covers begin to vanish in the night. Problematically, the raw materials (even when valuable) are still only a small fraction of the value of the infrastructure, meaning replacement costs are high. If commodities were to remain "expensive" in the long run (i.e. worth stealing), how would we re-design our infrastructure systems? (tagged: sustainability economics security infrastructure commodities )
  • Dyson as Sociologist? Death Trains, Values, & Climate Action – Not sure I know quite what to make of Nisbet's take on Dyson. I agree that the catastrophe narrative is dangerous, and much prefer Richard Alley's precautionary point of view, but I really think Dyson is catastrophically wrong on this, and potentially dangerous as a figurehead, whether knowing or unknowing. (tagged: climate science policy propaganda politics )
  • Argentine economics and maker culture – An interesting and personal look at mass production vs. local/handmade goods based on currency strength and protectionist trade barriers. Where labor is cheap, the food and goods are often unique. Where it's expensive, you get mass production. Makes me want to bike S. America. Again. (tagged: economics argentina local money food )
  • China Out to Dominate in Electric Cars (and Why Not GM) – A short chronicle of GM's missteps toward electric vehicles, and China's long view of the same. Honestly, I don't care much who does the dominating, so long as somebody gets this market going. (tagged: cars transportation technology economics china )
  • Oregon’s mileage tax experiment – If you can imagine an America in which vehicle fuel economy increases with time (despite the fact that our national fleet today gets the same mileage as a Ford Model T), then eventually, funding road maintenance with a gas tax becomes a problem. Instead of taxing the fuel, you need to directly tax the road usage – miles driven, normalized by some kind of wear-and-tear factor for a given vehicle. Thus, the idea of a VMT (vehicle miles traveled) tax. Political suicide, you say, but it worked in this (politically insulated) trial in Oregon, and is going ahead gangbusters in the Netherlands and other nations, coupled with GPS enabled congestion charging, and time/location dependent parking fees, it could go a long way toward making personal transportation costs transparent and efficiently priced. (tagged: transportation privacy taxes vmt cars oregon policy )

Shared Links for Feb 26th

  • Zombie Bank Monster Mash – An animated monster mash, starring our bailed out financial "industry" (or is it just a lobby now?). Sadly Mark Fiore seems unwilling to implicate the current administration in the continuing mess. (tagged: cartoon zombie finance bailout banks economics politics geithner )
  • No, Wait! You Got It Backwards! – Well, so much for any hint of "change" in the administration's policies toward the banking industry. The Treasury's plans to buy convertible preferred shares in the banks is completely backwards – giving a put option to the banks, instead of getting a call option in exchange for the risky investment. Taxpayers are guaranteed to be screwed. (tagged: treasury banks bailout geithner obama economics finance )
  • The Case Against Home Ownership – An infrequently made point in the US: owning is often more expensive, and less convenient, than renting… and that's even before you account for the massive government incentives that have been put in place since WWII to encourage people to buy their own place. People frequently look at me like I'm crazy when I suggest we should just live close to where we work as a way to avoid the expenses of driving, or the inconveniences of (bad) public transit. (tagged: subsidy transportation housing economics suburbia planning taxes )
  • Copenhagen to continue Copenhagenizing – Denmark's take on "economic stimulus": massive investments in public transit and bike infrastructure. In a nation of 5 million, they're committing $16 billion over the next 10 years, which is about $1/day per person (which is less than 1/5 what the average US family spends on their automobiles) Regional rail, intra-city light rail. Bike lanes and paths. Road pricing for drivers. Etc, etc. I'm glad someone is setting a good example. It will be interesting to see how the world responds to Copenhagen later this year, when the next round of climate talks takes place. I can't think of a better city to represent my hopes for the future. (tagged: transportation politics copenhagen bicycle rail denmark stimulus )
  • NYPD fires rookie cop caught on YouTube video bashing bicyclist – Last fall a cyclist was body checked off their bike by a cop in the midst of a Times Square Critical Mass ride. Said event was recorded via cameraphone. Cop perjured himself in official report, claiming cyclist ran into him intentionally. Video viewed on YouTube 2 million times. Cop now unemployed and facing 4 years in prison for assault, falsifying documents. Sometimes we win. Makes me want to record just about everything. (tagged: bicycle police transparency youtube )

Shared Links for Feb 19th

Too big to fail is too big, period

With the collapse of Bear Stearns and the US automakers and airlines tanking, and the prospect of a trillion dollar bailout of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and who knows how many other large lenders, all because they are, putatively, “too big to fail” (by which is meant, obviously, not that they are so large as to be incapable of failing, but that they are so large as to make the consequences of their failing worse than the immediate, visible consequences of bailing them out), I’ve started wondering if perhaps what we really need is an update to our anti-trust laws, to the effect of: if you’re too big to fail, you’re just plain too big.

Instead of allowing corporate juggernauts to form, and then eventually being “forced” to save them from their own follies, why not just keep these captains of industry small enough that we never need to save them. The Feds already have to approve the bigger mergers and acquisitions – they already have this power by-and-large. Keeping our companies a little smaller would increase competition, and diversity within the corporate ecology of our markets. GM doesn’t want to make fuel efficient cars? Fine – their small-cars division can spin off and do its own thing. Sink or swim in its competition with Toyota, while GM itself just sinks, into an ever shrinking ocean of $150 oil.

Instead, we give taxpayer cash to large companies that have made bad business decisions, and absolve them of their obligations to pay the pensions they promised to their lifelong employees. We inflate the dollar and erode both our spending power, and our savings, while simultaneously crippling the long term competitiveness of our biggest industries. I don’t think the marginal increase in productivity from economies of scale that happens between being a $20 billion company and a $40 billion company is really worth it, if it means we’re all eventually on the hook for bailing out the $40 billion company, when we wouldn’t have to shovel mountains of cash at the two $20 billion companies… one of which might actually have made some good business decisions.