Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bus Stop Gimmicks

With all the billing and cooing about the new capability to see on your cell phone when the bus will arrive, nobody seems to have noted the situation in which this new-found power would actually help people and attract riders.

We've all been there. You want to wait in the building lobby, or at least under the overhang, until one minute before the bus arrives, and then step out to the bus stop. It's dicey.

So put the "Next Bus Will Arrive In X Minutes" sign in the lobby. Have the transit agency lease a room where riders can stay warm and dry while they wait. Or give a large sign to the owner of a coffee shop or sandwich shop to display.

Put the signs where we can stay warm and dry while we wait- not out at the bus stop.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Wikipedia Blowback Machine

Over the past half century the government has increasingly marked documents as 'secret', essentially shielding them from critical reading or challenge, and ever-increasing amounts of dubious documents were labeled as such for exactly those reasons. 300-page 'reports' emerged from one door, blinked in the sun hardly long enough for anyone to read the titles, and then disappeared into another door, effectively, forever.

And then, one day, this dustbin of history exploded, scattering the 'secret' collection of secrets, rumors, information, and disinformation across the landscape- the real-life analogue of the moment that Jack Nicholson's wife, in The Shining discovers that the novel he is writing consists of the single sentence "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" written over and over and over.

A few people will be momentarily embarrassed by the releases, but all will take consolation from the fact that it can't possibly all be true. The only real secret they were hoping to protect is the fact that the US government has SFB, but the cat's out of the bag now.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Cities Will Be Huge

Cities will be big players in curbing AGW. They can look for big gains if they play their cards right, and big losses if we fail. Conservation, by clustering people in high-density communities of new buildings using less energy, can replace many current forms of power generation and meet our needs.

It's a challenge, but the modern city has resources no previous cities had, and cities have done pretty well in the past. What aspect of modern life, always excepting the climate itself, is not ten times as fast or strong as what went before? And the 20th century offers plenteous example of the patchwork reconstruction of civilized life by private and government agencies performing iterations of social organizing to provide social welfare for the community and the individual.

Most cities know they won't get much help from their central governments, but they must prepare for the deluge of former suburbanites who will want to move into town, when the full cost of carbon emissions are understood and levied against the users.

Most of the former suburbanites will have suffered ruinous financial losses before giving up and moving into town, and this will be one problem among many in dealing with huge increases in population. Still, for a city, that's a good problem to have. It is, in a sense, the problem they've always solved so well.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Middle Ages- Not So Dark

The Roman era in Britain may be characterized by the country houses, with central heating and hot baths, of the wealthy landowners, protected more by the Roman culture of law than by the soldiers who could be summoned in times of emergency. This lifestyle is what Britain, and other areas governed by Rome, had to lose when the Roman Empire fell. And Britain did lose this when Rome failed, c. 400-550 AD.

But most of Europe didn't. Growth plateaued but did not become decline until an economic crisis, c. 800 AD, led to both famine and reforestation of abandoned farmlands, this event being well decoupled from the 'fall' of Rome. Arguably, the darkest thing about the Dark Ages is the zeal with which the monks and clerics destroyed any written document that did not affirm the latest rulings from Rome- the Rome of the Pope, busily engaged in 'catholicizing' the writings and laws of the church.

Even impoverished Britain, in those chilly days, could afford a few ermine furs, but Normandy, from the late 9th century on, was engaged in building cathedrals, universities, and the cadres of educated men to staff them. They were constrained by their technology, but they were not poor people. Northern Italy was prosperous, with walled cities fed by well-ruled hinterlands, financing and carrying on trade with Constantinople and the Levant. The Hanse had emerged as a loose coalition of prosperous and vigorous cities reaching out to expand their markets and trade. In general, prosperity, here defined as adding 1-2% each year to the economy instead of losing that amount, reigned.

At that point in European history, the nation-state lay in the past- they had tried that, and it failed. They had replaced it with feudalism, a complex system in which each person owed allegiance to, and was governed by, many different jurisdictions and levels, many of which could, and did, conflict with each other. Maybe we can see some of the force of feudalism when we contrast how the nation-states of the past had been gobbled like popcorn by an expansionist Rome, while feudalism knit the entire continent of Europe into a semi-cohesive whole.

The city-state, on the other hand, prospered. It proved unnecessary for the city to legally rule the hinterlands- the city did that naturally by controlling the markets- and cities became compact and powerful centers of productivity, petitioning for charters and special privileges. Ruling themselves feudally, as did their society, they also became the first pillars of self-government.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities

In 1969 a blizzard hit NYC on Sunday morning. We rode the subway to where it came out of the ground and there it stopped. By noon the snow was 18 inches deep and the city unexpectedly silent. Nothing moved.

The next morning I put on a suit (I didn't own an overcoat) and hoofed it briskly to the subway to work. Everything on the surface was snowed under, but millions of us showed up on time.

So many, in fact, that the Bagel Crisis emerged, as we rapidly ate our way through the 179 million bagels that were on hand and looked longingly towards the bakeries of Queens and Brooklyn for resupply. Fortunately, civic leaders understood the importance of this matter and quickly opened transport lines to the bakeries. Don't mess with a New Yawkers bagel or his 'coffee'.

In Seattle in 2010 a mini-blizzard dumped 3-6 inches of snow on Seattle. Surface transportation was paralyzed and workers were advised not to come to work if they could avoid it. The only thing that ran on time was the light rail line out to the airport. There's a lesson in there somewhere, if we choose to see it.

Cheney Spins Bush

A brief excerpt from George Bush's book provides a view into the 5-year-old minds of the Bush White House. As it opens, Dick Cheney is treating Bush as though he's one of the manly men -

"Dick asked me directly, ‘Are you going to take care of this guy, or not?" Bush "appreciated Dick’s blunt advice" but "told him I wasn’t ready to move yet." Suddenly, Cheney realizes that Bush is not the manly man he appeared to be, but is, instead, a stuffed shirt, a boss, someone from headquarters.

"Okay, Mr. President, it’s your call,’ he said.”

So, now it's not 'George', it's 'Mr. President', and it's going to stay that way until George can prove to Dick and Don that George can be a member of the gang too. It's the white guy equivalent of a 'beating in', just like you remember from grade school.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How About NOW For That BRT?

We've heard a lot about 'Bus Rapid Transit', the perennial gimmick of the transit-impoverished. Could there be a better time to make the central principles work than in a civic snowstorm emergency? Give the buses space to work in. Clear the streets of other traffic.

Reports from Monday's commute in Seattle show 3-4 hours commutes on the bus. This is wrong. Some thoroughfares should be kept open for buses only- doubling their speed, which in this case would be the very achievable increase from 3 MPH to 6 MPH, effectively doubles the number of buses available to passengers. Every rider is one potential stalled car that's not on the road.

This would send the strongest possible signal to improve productivity, because people could come to work in a snow emergency. As matters stand now, workers are being advised to stay at home. Nobody wants to do that, it just happens because we do not have an all-weather transportation system.

When it snows, convert some streets to handle fleets of buses, traveling faster than a man can walk, carrying people to and from the business of the city. It just might work.