CategoryEconomics

Carnage culture dispatch #1

I’ve been a “fan” of carnage culture news and discussion for several years, mainly since I started reading Streetsblog (probably in 2007) and their Weekly Carnage series. I write about “carnage culture” here and a little bit on Grid Chicago. But on Grid Chicago I tend to keep the coverage about crash data plus more “reasonable” (a euphemism for less angry, maybe) and objective.

Carnage culture to me is a description of the level of life and property damage Americans are willing to accept as a cost of doing business, and a cost of living. And I think that level of acceptability is much too high. Is the person responsible for these crashes paying for the damage they caused? Did the City bill the driver for the trees, curbs, landscaping, and guardrail he ran into?

I present here the first Chicago Crash Diary. From the photos and background information I received from a reader, combined with the Illinois Department of Transportation crash data, I was able to “reconstruct” a particular damaging crash in 2010. I made a color flyer from this information to quickly distill the details.

It seems continuing our system of having extremely high health care costs (without an equivalent return in quality or faster care when compared to countries with lower health care costs) is an acceptable cost of perpetuating backward ideas about society’s responsibility to take care of its members and refusing to allow a system that shares health care costs for those not already covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or child health insurance programs.

This is like carnage culture: we accept the damage to property, to human lives, and to society, to continue a culture (including our built environment) that depends on and glorifies automobile ownership and driving to places where other modes suffice. Our culture that allows unlicensed drivers, uninsured drivers, drivers with limited education (driver’s education is not needed for those 18 and older), being distracted by cellphones, and lax enforcement,* is the same one that allows $300 billion to be spent on “picking up the pieces” after crashes (study from AAA by Cambridge Systematics). But ours is the same culture that builds its cities and neighborhoods and places of employment to only be accessible by those who can drive.

The cost of crashes are based on the Federal Highway Administration’s comprehensive costs for traffic fatalities and injuries that assign a dollar value to a variety of components, including medical and emergency services, lost earnings and household production, property damage, and lost quality of life, among other things. [This story is interesting because the press release’s angle was that crash costs are three times higher than congestion costs, which is constantly in the news; congestion is apparently something we care more about.]

I don’t think $35 per month liability insurance, or the police, district attorneys, and courts, are protecting us from this damage.

*I could go on. Just search for “top causes of car crashes”.

Do people really know the cost of driving?

Billboard over the Kennedy Expressway advertising Metra and that it’s “easy come, easy go”.

Updated 11:50 AM: I was mistaken about the vote timing: the Metra board will vote on the fare increase plan on November 11, 2011, not October 14, 2011.

I’m having a wonderful time reading the minutes from Metra’s September 2011 board meeting. This is when Metra staff made their first fare increase proposals. They made a second proposal at the October board meeting – this is available for public comment. These minutes are not yet available.

Here’s Lynnette Ciavarella, Senior Division Director Capital and Strategic Planning, talking about how Metra is cheaper than driving, in the same discussion she had with the board about how Metra fares have not been keeping up with inflation:

She [Lynnette Ciavarella] concluded that it is well known that commuter rail fares are much lower compared to the cost of driving downtown everyday. In previous meetings, staff has used a Drive Less/ Live More calculator. Staff has modified this calculation to be much more conservative. The drive cost now is calculated at traveling 22 days per month, averaging 25 mpg, at $3.95 per gallon, and an average cost of parking downtown at $18.00. The Metra fares no longer include a parking component, so under this approach, a Metra customer living 20-25 miles from downtown under the estimated proposed fare scenario could potential save over $5,000 per year.

I disagree that it’s well known that taking the train to work downtown is cheaper than driving. It does not advertise this; I don’t believe any Chicago transit agency publicizes this fact.

Metra has cryptic messages on its billboards: “Easy come, easy go” and “The way to really fly” neither describe what Metra is and where it goes nor the benefits of using it. These billboards are often placed on train viaducts over the highway so people driving in traffic jams can see them.

The message they should be sending is right there in the meeting minutes: “Take Metra downtown instead of driving and save $5,000 each year”. Complement that text with a link to a new website that helps interested drivers find a station near their home and a schedule; sign them up for a local parking lot wait list or tell them how to ride their bike to the station on a good route and lock up properly when they arrive.

The Drive Less Live More website, operated by the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), has a maps page that links users to CTA station maps, a PDF of an RTA system map, a broken link to a Metra system map, and links only to an Illinois bike map, not the Chicago bike map. This doesn’t make it easy to switch to transit! The Metra homepage does have a “station finder”.

Study: American Public Transportation Association (APTA), March 2011 –  $11,889 annually in Chicago.

Board meeting minutes

Federal funding primer and why projects take so long to construct

Many Chicagoans who ride bikes are in awe (myself included) at how fast the Kinzie Street protected bike lane (the first of its kind in the city) has been designed and constructed in four weeks.

I explain how it’s been possible to do something so fast:

  1. Federally funded projects, like “commuter bicycle parking” (u-rack manufacturing and installation, using CMAQ federal funding) in Chicago, are under the control of the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), which must review and approve every design.  If it takes IDOT six months to tell the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) it does NOT approve and requires revisions, it will take IDOT another six months to review and approve the revised design. I experienced this directly when I was modifying the current bike parking contract. That’s one extra year added to a project based on a cumbersome state review process. Cities and their mayors have been advocating the federal government to give federal aid directly to cities so they can work faster.
  2. All design work must be completed and approved by everyone before a contract can be advertised for competitive bidding. Federal funds generally cannot be used to pay for local city forces, like CDOT crews, to do the work.
  3. Then comes the procurement process…

[This process is nearly the same for all cities.]

While there is room for improvement in the above process, it’s may not be fair to blame the City or CDOT for taking a long time to implement a project like Stony Island (tentatively scheduled for 2014), when Chicago doesn’t have authority over it’s own roads*.

If every project were locally funded – CDOT is funding the project with budgeted but unallocated funds – and approved, we could see a lot more projects like the Kinzie Street protected bike lane happening very fast. It should be obvious, also, that Mayor Emanuel and new CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein are extremely motivated to show their commitment to the transition plan as well as complete this project by the Bike To Work Day Rally on Friday, June 17th.

*This can be interpreted in two ways:

  1. There are roads in the city that are under the jurisdiction of the state providing an additional burden when it comes to modifying them.
  2. The process described above removes from the City authoritative control of its roads when projects modifying those roads are funded in part by the federal government.

Construction on Kinzie Street has been happening at a breakneck pace.

Save the depot

The last thing we did in Detroit was visit the Michigan Central Station, once the world’s tallest train station (according to contributors of Wikipedia). It’s an interesting area, with big lawns and boulevards leading up to it. There are many homeless people hanging around under the broad trees. One of them came over to ask that I don’t take her photo.

Travelers

Photo of me and the “tourist assistant” by Francesco Villa.

A guy riding his bike came over to talk to us. I asked him if he knew how to get into the train station. He did and showed us where the fence could be easily lifted (someone even tied a rope to the fence) and you could slip under. I gave him a dollar for his help (actually, he asked when I said goodbye).

Thankfully the cool station is on the National Register of Historic Places* making demolition much harder. The problem is getting the right idea and developer married to renovate the station and put it back into productive use.

Amtrak served the station until 1988. I find it odd that Amtrak, or any passenger train, came here in the first place – the station feels far from downtown Detroit. Walking is possible, along Michigan Avenue, but there’s no street activity along the way. I presume that when it was constructed in 1913, the Corktown neighborhood was a bit more hoppin’.

We walked from the train station to the Greyhound station at 1001 Howard Street, a 1.2 mile walk. We stopped for lunch at Great Wall Chinese Food. It was cheap and tasty. Another customer there told us he drives 40 minutes for this restaurant. He also said he worked the light show at the VitaminWater stage at the Movement Festival (formerly Detroit Electronic Music Festival) we spent the previous two days dancing at.

Someone has placed letters at the top of the building saying, SAVE THE DEPOT.

Detroit has so much space. What should we do with all of that room?

*The National Register website doesn’t have permalinks (stupid). So search here for reference number “75000969” or name, “Penn Central Station”. I don’t know why the NHRP calls it Penn Central Station.

There used to be homes here

This is a testament to the destructive power of urban highways, be they tunneled, trenched, or elevated.

While biking through Chicago’s west side on Monday along the Congress branch of the Chicago Transit Authority Blue Line, my friend Tony remarked subtly on the “neighborhood” that lines the Eisenhower expressway (you call them highways or freeways):

There used to be homes on the other side of the street.

Indeed, there were homes across from the homes, like a typical neighborhood in any city. Or something useful and interesting for the neighborhood across the street that wasn’t 12 lanes of fast-moving automobiles and a rapid transit line, with all the noise, pollution, and crashes that comes with it.

Let’s not ever let this happen again; no more highways through neighborhoods.

Commuting rates in Chicago – a conversation

I had this conversation last night with a friend from Chicago. Enjoy. Data is from the American Community Survey, Table S0801. If you were to rate how much we bike, from a “typical Chicagoan’s” point of view, he would be “eccentric” and I would be “psychotic.”

Photo by Joshua Koonce.

Me
A friend of mine in Europe asked for bicycle commuting statistics for Chicago.
Man, the numbers were sad.

Friend
No shit.

Me
if we look at the 3-year estimates for work trips, then it’s
-2005-2007: 0.9%
-2006-2008: 1.0
-2007-2009: 1.1

Friend
Chicago is also a gigantic, sprawling modern city of hundreds of square miles and wide roads designed for masses of cars.

Me
And if we look at the 1-year estimates, which Matt argued on my blog are useless, it’s
-2005: 0.7%
-2006: 0.9
-2007: 1.1
-2008: 1.0
-2009: 1.1
The 3-year estimate has a MOE of ±0.1 so essentially, it could mean no change from year to year.
And the 1-year estimate has a MOE of ±0.2, so again, it could mean no change from year to year
UGH

Friend
Comparatively, old European cities don’t have a lot of bandwidth for autos and have density where people take short trips.
That’s still probably two or three times the distance people in Copenhagen or Cambridge or Amsterdam.

Me
So let’s say 50% of trips are 5 miles or less, and 25% of trips are 2.5 miles or less.
Yet 1% of all trips are taken by bike
If we could just DOUBLE that, it would be a miracle
The Bike 2015 Plan’s goal is to have 5% of all trips under 5 miles by bike.

Friend
That’s an ambitious goal.

Me
We don’t have any baseline data to show how many trips under 5 miles in 2006, at the inception of the Bike 2015 Plan, are by bike. In the end, we’ll never know if our ambitious goal was attained!

Aaron Renn: Ideas about innovation

Note: I originally posted this entry immediately after writing the notes from Aaron’s keynote at the UIC Urban Innovation Symposium, put on by the graduate students in the Urban Planning and Policy Student Assocation or UPPSA. Aaron Renn writes The Urbanophile and works for a management consulting firm.

Aaron is probably best known for his 50 ideas to increase the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) ridership in an ideas challenge from the Chicago Chamber of Commerce and InnoCentive. (Boo to the Chicago Tribune who removes web pages after awhile.)

“How many ideas were implemented? Donut.”

The ideas in and of itself don’t make things happens.There are enormous structural barriers to innovate in the world. Most of you inspire not just to have innovative ideas, but to actually change for the better the places you live and work.

Consulting for businesses

Aaron’s career: Doing consulting for clients. “I used to think that people hired consultants because ppl think we’re smart guys. I thought I could use some of my ideas in the company. Nothing happened.”

Why do people and companies really hire consultants?

First off, there’s the tyranny of the organization chart. Everyone is in a box. Everything you do is seen in the box you occupy. What are the odds you will get an audience with the CEO, and then take your idea?

The reason people hire consultants is because they exist outside the organization chart. Innovation occurs in the bottom 95% of the organization chart pyramid. There’s no mechanism to have those ideas bubble up.

If something is untried, unproven, people are afraid to do it cuz they think their career’s on the line. So they bring in the biggest consultant they can find (meaning they have the biggest reputation).

On becoming known

I started my blog 4 years ago. I had no credentials. I started having journalists contact me. They would only paraphrase Aaron’s responses because “You are not authoritative enough to be quoted in my article.”

Only after I won the innovation challenge about the CTA would they start quoting me.

Building ideas for our cities

Aaron gave the audience a metaphor from the Bible of the sower [I missed the exact reference if he gave one]: “Our problem is not enough fertile seeds. It’s a problem of not having enough fertile soil.”

“I think building on assets is a trap. It’s the stuff we did yesterday.” Having a lot of assets to focus on may blind you to the ways you need to think about in order to innovate.

I see cities all the time defending the past. Cities are about people, not buildings. We always talk about building and form, but we don’t think about the people.

It’s very clear they’re talking about the buildings in that neighborhood – you can’t love the neighborhood if you hate the neighbors. Think about the actual human beings your project affects.

“If you don’t know where people are, you can’t lead them somewhere else.”

I like to travel. I like to meet the local bloggers and have them take me around. If I didn’t know [which city I was in], nothing about that building would tell me where I was. I don’t get a strong sense of the place. I think we have to think deeper about our cities. Think about the unique chartacter, history, and vlues of the cities we’re in. A lot of our cities seem kind of the same, and they don’t have that quaint Euro charm.

How can we make our plans, our cities, and our buildings more expressive of where they are? This is in this place and it’s right here. I think Chicago is one city that has done that. “It’s not about creating a sense of place, it’s about creating a sense of this place.”

High-speed rail in Illinois, February 2011 edition

View a map of the places described in this article.

A friend of mine traveled by Amtrak’s Lincoln Service from Chicago to St. Louis in January 2011. He reported, “It’s extremely smooth north of Alton and south of Lincoln. You can barely even hear or feel that you’re on a train.” Track replacement as part of President Obama’s economic stimulus and high-speed rail plan is complete between Alton and Lincoln, Illinois.

Photo shows a Union Pacific work train next to new track in Carlinville, Illinois. Photo by Tim Carman, taken in November 2010.

The next track replacement phase will take place between Lincoln and Dwight, scheduled to be completed in Fall 2011. A December 2010 press release from the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) explains the next steps for the first state to begin construction on high-speed rail grants provided by American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA):

  1. Installation of new, enhanced grade crossing warning protection
  2. New cars and locomotives
  3. Station upgrades

Like all press releases, this one also seems to ooze idealistic endeavors by adding that the “public can expect to enjoy its first taste of 110 mile-per-hour train service when a 20-mile segment between Dwight and Pontiac is completed in 2012.” But this project has a high likelihood of being completed as described.

Read more posts on high-speed rail in Steven can plan.

Chicago mayoral candidate scorecard: Transportation

There are six candidates who want to be Chicago’s next mayor. What are their views on transportation?

EI = Environmental Illinois, a statewide environmental advocacy organization. Note that ALL candidates answered YES to all of EI’s questions asking about if they support certain green and sustainable transportation initiatives. I provide links to the answers of the candidates who had additional comments (Del Valle, Emanuel, Walls).

Candidate View Plan
Carol Mosely Braun Wants to double transit ridership and bicycling usage. Link. No plan at this time
Gery Chico Supports diverse, sustainable, and active transportation, including transit. No plan at this time.
Miguel Del Valle Supports diverse, sustainable, and active transportation, including transit. Complete streets. View plan details: One

View answers to EI questionnaire.

Rahm Emanuel Supports diverse, sustainable, and active transportation (think walking and biking), including transit, freight, and high-speed rail. Complete streets. View plan details: One, Two

View answers to EI questionnaire.

Patricia Van Pelt Watkins Unknown at this time No plan at this time
William “Dock” Walls Unknown at this time No plan at this time

View answers to EI questionnaire.

This post will be updated as more becomes known. If you have information, share in the comments below or email me.

Three of the six candidates pose for a photo after the community and environment forum downtown sponsored by Friends of the Parks.

More transportation analysis:

I should note that contrary to the belief of many Chicagoans (and perpetuated by the implications of at least one candidate), the Chicago Transit Authority is a quasi-governmental agency (or “municipal corporation”) created by the Illinois state legislature. A detailed description from Chicago-L.org:

The governing body of the CTA is the Chicago Transit Board consisting of seven members, of which four are appointed by the mayor of Chicago and three by the governor of Illinois. Each’s appointment must be approved by the other. Each board member serves a seven year term, staggered to minimize abrupt changes in policy. The board chooses a General Manager (changed to “Executive Director” in 1976 and now called “President” since March 1992) to oversee day-to-day operations. The first board took their oath of office September 1, 1945, with the first Executive Director, Walter J. McCarter, taking office in 1947.

The board, at least since Frank Kreusi, has always hired the president that Mayor Richard M. Daley chose, although it is not the mayor’s responsibility.

Some disjointed thoughts about bike commuting rates and how we get them

  1. In November 2010, I wrote that Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, have a higher percentage of workers (16 and older) commuting to work by bicycle.
  2. Yesterday, I updated an article about how the frequency of women in Chicago bicycling to work is decreasing.
  3. Today, I started updating the November Minnesota article to include the 2007-2009 3-year estimates from the American Community Survey (which shows that bicycling to work is growing faster in Minneapolis than Chicago). View the rudimentary spreadsheet. Bottom line: MPLS jumped from 3.55% bike mode share to 4.14% and Chicago only went from 1.04% to 1.13% (but again, only counting employed people!). Can we get some recession job statistics?
  4. Unemployment rate in Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI MSA is 6.5%; Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL-IN-WI MSA is 9.0%. See the table on Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But now I must pause and look at what I’m analyzing.

Someone pointed out in the comments on Chicago bicycling (and working) women that the sample size is low and the margin of error high meaning it’s hard to make accurate interpretations of the change in ridership from year to year. He suggested increasing the sample size.

Add this to the fact that the Census Bureau only collects data on trips to WORK and not everywhere else that people go daily. In this recession, fewer people are working. In fact, perhaps women lost their jobs more frequently than men. That could perhaps explain the drop in women bicycling to work. To increase the number of women bicycling to work, perhaps we just need to find more jobs for women. See points 3 and 4 above for evidence on the number of people who bicycle for transportation that we’re not counting.

After thinking these things over, my point is that gauging a city’s ridership based on Census Bureau home to work data is insufficient.

If these Phoenix bike riders aren’t going to work, they aren’t being counted.

To move from a bicycle subculture to a bicycle culture, we’ll need to know when we get there. We need a better picture on who is riding and for what purpose. CMAP rarely performs their household transportation survey (which gathers data on all trips on all modes and in many counties) and when they do, they don’t single out cities. In essence, Chicago doesn’t know where or why people are riding their bicycles (except for the limited and noisy information the Census or American Community Survey provides) – we have no good data!

Both New York City, New York, and Portland, Oregon, methodically perform bicycle counts annually. Both cities also count ridership on their bridges: Portland has at least 5 to count, NYC has over 10 (also called a screenline count). They can report how many people are riding bikes on the street, blind to their trip purpose and destination. It’s easy to note changes in ridership when you count all trips over work trips.

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