Five quotables

1. My comment on Felix Salmon’s rebuttal to John Cassidy in the New Yorker on bike lanes, echoing some previous comments about externalities and vicious/virtuous cycles in transportation:

Cars are unique among all common modes of *urban* transportation in that their sheer size — particularly in cities, which by definition have limited, expensive ground area for a large population to share — leads to a competitive, vicious circle of congestion when they’re overused. When more people drive, congestion gets worse for everyone, potentially destroying the positive economic effects of agglomeration, and as such the state has a vested interest in reducing congestion by discouraging driving.

Cycling, walking, and transit use are so much more space-efficient that, at typical urban densities, they are subject to a cooperative, virtuous circle of congestion that reinforces the positive externalities of urban agglomeration. More cyclists make for safer cycling conditions [P.L. Jacobsen, Inj Prev 2003;9:205-209], more foot traffic leads to lower crime rates, more transit riders creates demand for more frequent service. Looked at another way, each of these modes is subject to much higher thresholds where the virtuous circle turns vicious. The space occupied by three cars can easily fit 30 bicycles, one bus with 70 passengers, or hundreds of pedestrians.

Drivers tend to blindly bring their competitive outlook to all urban transportation, which is why Cassidy and others end up with such inane arguments.

[Commenter Olaf Storbeck puts it this way: “parking is a private good which the free market can easily provide… To a certain degree bike lanes are public goods,” since they are non-exclusive and non-excludable.]

2. Nick Kristof remarks on how Japan’s remarkable social solidarity helps it cope in times of trial:

Uncomplaining, collective resilience is steeped into the Japanese soul. We sent our eldest son to Japanese school briefly, and I’ll never forget seeing all the little kids having to go to school in shorts even in the dead of winter. The idea was that it built character. I thought it just gave kids colds. But it was one more effort to instill “gaman.” And it’s “gaman” that helped Japan recovered from World War II and tolerated the “lost decade” after the bubble economy burst in about 1990. Indeed, it might be better if Japanese complained a bit more – perhaps then their politicians would be more responsive… [after the Kobe earthquake] Japan’s social fabric never tore. Barely even creased.

Timothy Egan after a California earthquake last year, with a reminder that mountains and water, that most scenic of landscape combinations, erase one another, and the two cannot coexist peacefully:

“It is precisely because of these earthquakes that the most nervy ground is also the most sublime. The mountains, the deep harbors, the valleys and vistas we love are products of the same turbulence that can deal a mortal blow to a city.”

3. “Upski” now sounds like a Brookings metropolitan white paper.

4. Jeremy Anwyl, CEO of car site Edmunds, raises the idea that the certainty of a “gas price stabilizer” could be almost as good as a federal loan guarantee — and thus better smooth out the ups & downs of car market:

Taxing gas an additional $0.15 is a missed opportunity. We have seen that to move demand, gas prices need to climb much higher. Raising the price by $2 per gallon seems about right.

5. Select quotes from the 2011 issue of Emerging Trends:

For the first time since the early 1950s, no regional malls are under construction in the United States. “That’s stunning!”

[S]chools will con- tinue to be drivers in parent decisions of where to raise families. “But where are schools heading?” Will it matter as much where you are in the future? Will kids join classes from remote locations…? “It won’t necessarily be the same.” Some cities make strides in improving public schools and providing charter-school alternatives, while certain suburban districts falter under shrinking tax bases…

“Younger professionals want walkable centers where they don’t have to get into a car to have lunch or do errands,” says a Sunbelt developer… “I can’t imagine why anyone would want to own a suburban office building… It used to be back offices went to the suburbs. Now they go to India, Guatemala, Warsaw, or wherever.” These “easy-to-build assets” turn into a “trading commodity.”

It’s not kind to Chicago, where, once again, feelings of emptiness are rising in suburbs. (Perhaps my favorite Trib headline of all time.)

“Tomorrow has come to the suburbs,” where vacancies, including shadow space, “approach 30 percent.” […] Locals, meanwhile, find the condition of “state and municipal finances hugely troubling,” weighing down the market with the likelihood of higher taxes and fewer services.

This is honestly the nicest it’s ever been to Pennsylvania, describing it as “Not that Bad, Really.” I remember that years ago, when I worked for a subconsultant on ET, Philadelphia’s economic development authorities wooed us with a constant stream of good news about Center City — hoping that it would upgrade them to being a 24-hour city. It didn’t work then.

“We’re going to see a lot more places end up like Pittsburgh, if they’re lucky,” says a senior investment executive. “Here’s a city that used to be a major manufacturing center with many corporate headquarters. Now it’s cleaned up, the high-paying factory jobs have diminished dramatically, and a high ratio of workers have government or quasi-government jobs in education and medical fields.” Forbes magazine ranked it as America’s most livable city in 2010. However, “Property values and rents have essentially been flat and development has been sporadic.” […]

Interviewees lament how [Philadelphia] “suffers from its proximity to New York,” but others hope for gains from positioning as “a cheaper alternative.” […] If only high-speed rail—traveling 150 miles per hour—could be developed to link with Manhattan, the city might get a major boost… But institutional investors never muster much enthusiasm for the overall scene.

And finally, private sector investors are indeed griping about a lack of government investment in infrastructure, but somehow the politicians would rather care

Infrastructure Neglect. Economic travail and government deficits distract attention from dealing with the nation’s archaic and deteriorating infrastructure. Twentieth-century interstates and in sufficient mass-transit systems can no longer support population growth and commerce in many increasingly clogged metropolitan areas. Newer Sunbelt cities, developed through road and highway grids, strangle in congestion while older 24-hour metro areas desperately need to replace crumbling bridges, overpasses, and tunnels… Financing a makeover will cost trillions of dollars over the next three decades—money the country does not have or does not want to spend… Eventual decisions and costs related to infrastructure could force monumental changes in where people choose to live and work.