Transportist: January 2022
The seventh January of the long 2016.
When Bill Lindeke reminded me that streets.mn turns 10 round about now, I was sort of surprised, it feels both younger and older than 10 simultaneously. In 1867, 154 years ago, the Minneapolis Tribune was founded, it remains with us today. Ten years ago streets.mn launched, so has been around for about 6.5% of the life of the Strib. Will streets.mn be around in 144 years? Will the Strib?
We founded streets.mn back in the era of blogging, with the idea that all of us who wrote blogs about Twin Cities transport and land use issues would be get more views at one address together than at 10 separate URLs apart. That worked out reasonably well. For the first couple of years we had exponential growth in readership. I was the Chair for the first 4 years (4 years longer than I wanted to be).
At first I imagined it would be a place to argue about the merits of topics like Minneapolis skyways or arterial buses vs LRT (I hope the answer is becoming more obvious with the H line being planned ). Billions of dollars are being spent on transport infrastructure, and it is hard to believe it is being invested well.
But things took a dark turn. This is not so much because the world changed, though it did, but more because we became unavoidably aware (with a phone in every pocket, cameras, and social media) of how it always was.
Someone said the role of journalism is “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”. Streets.mn should agitate for more systemic change, this will inevitably afflict the comfortable. Very few people reading this would look around and see that everything is alright. We might disagree about what needs changing or how it should be changed, but it should not be that hard to agree on a few things that are the opposite of ideal.
I am disappointed to regularly seeing Minneapolis on the forefront here in Sydney: Justine Diamond remains front page news. And Minneapolis claimed the front page world over with the murder of George Floyd. This follows the case of Philando Castile in nearby St. Anthony.
Police on civilian violence is very much a transport and land use issue that should be within the purview of streets.mn. Foremost because this violence often occurs on public streets, and is justified by police stops purported to enforce traffic safety regulations. But the violence has a chilling effect on the willingness to use streets, to go places, to be able to access the amenities that cities uniquely provide. This kind of state-sanctioned violence, in which everyone is implicitly complicit, is far worse (per victim) than terrible epidemic of civilian on civilian violence which is also found in excess throughout the United States, and is yet one more aspect of unfortunate dysfunctional American exceptionalism.
The reason we build cities and transport networks is so that people can readily access people, places, and activities that they value, while maintaining their ability access other things in the future. Maintaining that ability means being able to do things at a low cost. That cost includes not only their travel time and monetary expenditures, but the costs they impose on society like pollution and carbon emissions. But it also needs to include both a feeling and reality of safety and security, the belief that anyone can make a trip and return in one piece, uninjured by either car or bullet and unharassed by police or other people.
When your great-grandchildren read streets.mn in 2165, will Minnesota have at least solved the problems of today?
Addendum: Another Minnesota case on my Sydney front page: Kim Potter found guilty of manslaughter for killing Daunte Wright after to a traffic stop.
Did software eat public transport?
We have seen numerous older technologies get wiped out as new technologies emerge: email ate the post office; TV, DVDs, etc ate the movie theatre; MP3s ate the record. Now old technologies still exist, a shadow of their former selves.
From 1918 forward, the automobile began to eat public transport in the US. The pandemic had something to do with it, but the lower costs and rising convenience of cars helped. Transit had reached some stability by the beginning fo the 21st century. COVID has knocked it further for a loop, as CBD workplaces, one of the primary markets that transit served emptied out. But they emptied out because personal computers, mobile smartphones, cell towers, internet, software, and so on replaced some of the core functions of a workplace: doing office work (making virtual things: electronic reports, accounts, data manipulation, knowledge creation) and having meetings (discussing making virtual things , and occasionally real things). It turns out you don’t need to be physically anywhere to make virtual things, so long as you have access to the electronic network where such bits are moved from one side of the monitor to the other and the work is stored.
We may mourn the slow decline of office and public transit as we mourned the slow decline of department stores, shopping malls, urban factories, streetcars, which is to say, we won’t, except in some somewhat ironic articles in high-end magazines and blog posts.
Eventually we may mourn the suburbs, other worksites, and cars and highways, as they too are replaced, and everyone lives in a glass box on a cliff by the ocean with a electric gyrocopter on the roof.
Now available for purchase in paperback or on Kindle: Applications of Access.
You can still join 1772 other people and download it for free: PDF (University of Sydney Library eScholarship Repository). [I am actually a bit surprised at the number of downloads in such a short time for an academic book, but thanks for your support, and I hope you enjoy it. As a point of comparison a typical MIT Press book sells 300-500 copies. They are now going to be open access. If you are an academic, you can go with an academic publisher if you want, but why?]
Recent Student Theses
Li, Haoang (2021) Streetcars Across America: An Analysis of the Growth and Decline of Electric Urban Railways in the United States from Directory Data. Honours Thesis. Advisor D. Levinson
O'Toole, Maggie Mae Mizuki (2021) The Evolution and Prediction of Bus Transportation in Greater Sydney Using Econometric Models. Honours Thesis. Advisor D. Levinson
Turner, Hamish (2021) Creating a Historical Database for Roads in Greater Sydney using Map Digitisation. Honours Thesis. Advisor D. Levinson
Wang, Yingshuo (2020) Network Econometrics and the Evolution of Transport Systems. Honours Thesis. Advisor D. Levinson
Recent Work by Others
Traffic Engineering and Management textbook from the folks at Monash, free download
Madrid’s Modular Metro: How to build a subway at half the cost and twice the speed.
40% of saved time goes to work: [This is, the % of wage rate used in value of travel time savings calculations]
The Greatest Mistake?
Perhaps modern US (and AU) cities’ greatest mistake was thinking of streets primarily as infrastructure instead of public space. We destroyed the space/place function for inferior infrastructure.