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Weekend transit links

[ 110 ] August 23, 2015 |

What I’m reading lately, public transit edition:

Jarrett Walker has a thoughtful, inconclusive post on the issue of transit agency integration (reflecting on the excellent SPUR report on Bay are transit). Like Walker, when I first encountered and tried to use transit in regions with confusing and poor integration (Bay Area, late 90’s) I assumed integration into a mega-agency was the right answer. Like Walker, I’m much less sanguine about that view now. One potentially attractive solution in balancing one of the potential shortcomings of integration–municipalities in a larger agency who want to have greater than average levels of service (and are willing to pay for it)–emerged out of necessity in Seattle/King County last year. The County-wide agency avoided cuts during the recession by postponing capital investments, cutting recovery times down to the bone, spending down its rainy day fund, and an emergency 2 year $20 car tab. Facing inevitable cuts last year in light of those choices, they went to the voters in an April special election with a $60 car tab and .1% sales tax increase, and lost. Seattle politicians, noting that the measure passed handily in the city, and on the urgent need to preserve and expand transit there, put together a Seattle-only version of it for the November ballot, where it handily won. (In the ensuing months economic forecasts improved such that many of the previously proposed cuts wouldn’t have been necessary anyway, meaning that the additional revenue could expand service within Seattle–a fact that if anything probably helped the measure pass.) This doesn’t bring back Seattle Transit as an independent agency, it just means the KC Metro has a baseline level of funding and service (and, since 2010, clear service revision guidelines governing the geographic distribution of service), and municipalities within the county can purchase additional service from the agency. The model is now there for other cities who might wish for more service (Mercer Island has in a very limited way taken advantage of this model for a new shuttle, and may purchase more additional service). This model doesn’t address all the problems mega-agencies present, but it seems like a potentially useful model for at least one of them. It recognizes the need for a route around regionalism without abandoning regionalism altogether.

Parking shortages: perception vs reality.

The first so-called “Dutch Intersection” in the US, went live in Davis earlier this month. In the near future we’ll see them in Austin, Sacramento, Boston, and Salt Lake City.

No, Frank Blethen, you fear-mongering, dog-shooting asshole, Eastlink isn’t going be dangerous.

A helpful road diet explainer. When done well, road diets improve safety and access without increasing congestion.

Houston’s ambitious and significant revision of its bus network just launched. It’s cost-neutral, but embraces the principles and practices transit wonks are constantly imploring agencies to adopt–fewer lines, straighter, more frequent, simple and legible. I’m generally persuaded by this vision, but acknowledge it’s mostly theoretical at this point. What happens with Houston ridership in the near future is well worth watching, and very important data point for reformers (if this goes well) or their legacy-route protectionists (if it doesn’t).

…..a few more:

Jeremy W. in comments has a good link on the right wing war on the MBTA in Boston.

I’ve written before about the leveling off of vehicle miles traveled overall (which means a per capita decline) and the refusal of DOTs to recognize it. The most recent numbers show that trend may, lamentably, be starting to shift back to growth, leading to some unseemly gloating from the FHWA. Doug Short takes a closer look at the numbers, which are rather more ambiguous than the FHWA would suggest. (It occurs to me, in looking at data like this, to wonder how many VMTs restrictive, exclusionary zoning, which prevents people who might want to do so from living closer to their jobs, adds to this total.)

Speaking of the clusterfuck that is the deep bore tunnel project, the estimated completion date is now 2018, and WSDOT is no longer even pretending to believe Seattle Tunnel Partners estimates. And when it does go online, it’ll probably screw up bus service and create congestion for people actually trying to get downtown, that place where the jobs are and the tunnel doesn’t go.

GamerGate a Year Later

[ 95 ] August 23, 2015 |

Her lips say “Let’s play.” but her eyes say “I can’t believe I’m the mascot for these assholes.”

GamerGate was a months-long distraction for me. As I am not a gamer or involved in the gaming world whatsoever, or even a prominent feminist, I could dip my toes in its fetid poo-waters and remove them whenever I liked. And at one point I did, completely. I could just walk away. For the women who were targeted by the movement it wasn’t so easy.

I came at GamerGate from a weird angle, as the gaming world is pretty foreign to me. But I recall being at once completely absorbed and repelled by the politics at play in this “movement.” (You say “consumer,” I say “bowel.) I recall following the hashtag religiously. I recall following a handful of accounts of some of its most vocal critics. Most of all I remember following Zoe Quinn and then reading my timeline to discover that her past as a sex worker had been shouted from the rooftops by slavering Gators. (I don’t know when or in what capacity she worked in the industry, nor do I care.) And I remember my chest aching when this woman I didn’t know from Adam declared that the people in the sex industry had treated her with far more respect than the Gators had. Zoe Quinn doesn’t get to just walk away from GamerGate. She’s been hounded and harassed and humiliated for a year. That’s something you limp away from, even if I’m guessing (hoping!) she’ll fare better and better as time goes on.

LGM poster Origami Isopod sent me two GamerGate-related links recently. I thought  to  myself “Do I want to open up these old wounds?”  Then I counted myself lucky that I considered them “old” wounds, because for the women directly impacted by GamerGate those wounds are still quite fresh.

Tangentially related: here is Amanda Marcotte on the right-wing pile-on of #BlackLivesMatter’s Shaun King.

Sunday Book Review: Hunter Killers

[ 8 ] August 23, 2015 |

This is a guest post by Dr. Jonathan Gitlin of Ars Technica.
The Cold War activities of the Royal Navy’s submarine fleet are the subject of a rather fascinating book, Hunter Killers by Iain Ballantyne. From the late 1940s onwards, British submarines were sent on regular intelligence gathering missions into hostile waters, cataloguing new naval vessels, eavesdropping on missile tests, and snooping on the Soviets from periscope depth.

With far fewer submarines available to it than its US cousin (which could afford to send a different sub each time), Royal Navy crews would often complete several cruises during their time with a particular boat. That resulted in already well-trained sailors earning a reputation as some of the finest submariners on the planet, even earning the respect of insurance salesman and sometime novelist Tom Clancy.

Hunter Killers follows the evolution of the Royal Navy’s fleet of attack submarines, beginning with post-war diesel electric boats which later gave way to nuclear powered feats of engineering (known by the shorthand SSN). Those early boats sounded like hellish places to spend several weeks. Foul air, cramped quarters, and the risk of running low on food days or even weeks before resupply were all features of the early Cold War submarine service, but at the same time Ballantyne describes it as a branch of the Navy where iconoclasts and non-conformists found a happy niche within which to serve their country.

The arrival of SSNs significantly enhanced the Royal Navy’s intelligence gathering abilities, since the much larger ships could loiter in Soviet waters without needing to frequently surface to let the crew and engines breathe. These SSNs were also tasked with finding and trailing Soviet counterparts, both attack subs and the missile-packed SSBNs that formed part of the USSR’s nuclear deterrent. Even in peace time these were dangerous activities, and more than once a British boat had to sail back into port under cover of darkness and wrapped in tar-painted tarps to conceal damage resulting from underwater collisions.

Ballantyne also details the punishing submarine school that potential sub captains had to complete, known as the Perisher. Officers would spend four weeks having their command potential, as well as their nerve, tested over and again in exercises stalking other ships, delivering special forces to beaches, and so on.

Much of the book is written from the perspective of British submariners (both officers and enlisted men), presumably from their notes and log books. This novel-like style may not sit well with everyone, particularly if you expect your history books to be on the dry side, but it’s an engaging device that—in my opinion—brings this particular slice of the Cold War to life effectively. It’s certainly a story that ought to be more widely appreciated.

Birmingham

[ 120 ] August 22, 2015 |

Birmingham, Alabama is 73 percent African-American and of course a history of some of the nation’s most notorious racial violence. The Birmingham News now has 0 black reporters.

Times Square

[ 69 ] August 22, 2015 |

One doesn’t generally expect to side with Andrew Cuomo against Bill de Blasio. But de Blasio’s apparent openness to his police commissioner’s terrible idea to tear up the Times Square plazas and turn them back into car sewers deserves serious pushback and Cuomo is right to give it. Kimmelman:

It’s hard to grasp his calculus. One of Mr. de Blasio’s big initiatives, Vision Zero, aims to improve pedestrian safety. Ripping up the pedestrian plazas in Times Square, restoring cars and forcing millions of people to dodge traffic again, runs headlong into his own policy.

As an exasperated Tim Tompkins, the president of the Times Square Alliance, put it on Thursday: “Sure, let’s tear up Broadway — we can’t govern, manage or police our public spaces.”

“That’s not a solution,” he added. “It’s a surrender.”

The Times Square plazas were devised by the former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan. Not for the first time, Mr. de Blasio is creating a peevish impression that, even now, he is running against his predecessor when he needs to be running the city. After the plazas opened in 2009, pedestrian injuries dropped 35 percent, and injuries to drivers and passengers in cars fell 63 percent, according to city records. Skeptics forecast calamity for retailers and commercial real estate. Business boomed. Surveys reported leaps in satisfaction by residents, workers and tourists.

Sometimes public spaces can be messy, and difficult to govern. I don’t have any particularly strong views about how the costumed panhandlers and their ilk should be addressed, or even how much of a ‘problem’ they actually are. But I do know that responding to this kind of challenge by giving up and turning public spaces into deadly car sewers isn’t a progressive position, and de Blasio shouldn’t be entertaining it.

The War on Social Security

[ 36 ] August 22, 2015 |

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…is, as Helaine Olen observes, also a war on women:

Social Security is rightly viewed as a program that provides economic security for all Americans in their old age. But who is most likely to benefit from it? From the time an American can first claim eligibility at age 62, the majority of those receiving a Social Security check in retirement are female—56 percent to start off, to be specific. But because women outlive men, that discrepancy grows only larger with time. By age 85, about two-thirds of the recipients are women.

Moreover, women—who earn less than men and take more pauses from the workforce (due in part to their assumption of caretaking duties for everyone from children to elderly relatives)—are more dependent on Social Security for their economic well-being in their final years than their male peers are. According to the National Women’s Law Center, 30 percent of women 65 or older rely on Social Security for at least 90 percent of their income. Men? Only 23 percent are so reliant. And women’s checks are smaller, too. The average retired female worker receives more than $300 less a month from Social Security than a male one.

Viewed all together, this leaves women more likely to suffer from any cutbacks in Social Security, even the most innocent-sounding ones. Take a look at calls to change the formula to determine annual cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security payments, a position supported by, for example, Ted Cruz.

This is one of the many reasons to oppose radical efforts by Republicans to end Social Security,* and it’s also one of many reasons to oppose the Chained CPI proposals floated by Obama. Politically, Democrats need to position themselves as the party of strengthening and expanding Social Security, period. It’s good policy and good politics.

*George W. Bush did not just run on privatizing Social Security in his 2004 campaign but in his 2000 one, exhibit ZZZ showing why people who insist that there was no way of knowing how conservative he was ex ante just didn’t know what they were talking about.

Train a Comin’

[ 23 ] August 22, 2015 |

This is the kind of thing that’ll make you rethink your position on the Air Force:

French President François Hollande planned Saturday to meet three Americans who foiled a suspected terrorist attack on a packed high-speed train running from Amsterdam to Paris.

A gunman opened fire Friday on the high-speed train — a route packed with officials, busi­ness­peo­ple and diplomats — before being tackled and tied up by three men, according to family members and French officials, who said their quick work had foiled a major tragedy…

One of the Americans, Air Force serviceman Spencer Stone, was stabbed and remained in the hospital Saturday, said the parents of his two friends. The Pentagon did not provide his name but said that his wounds were not life-threatening. A dual French-American citizen was wounded by a stray gunshot, Cazeneuve said.

One of the others was a member of the Oregon National Guard. The initial reports indicated that the men on the train were Marines, based, I dunno, on the default assumption that only Marines would do this kind of thing?

In any case, genuine heroism. The gunman might have killed dozens of people if these guys hadn’t been heads up.

Trump and Wallace

[ 79 ] August 22, 2015 |

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Who do you think Donald Trump reminds Alabama voters of?

“Donald Trump is telling the truth and people don’t always like that,” said Donald Kidd, a 73-year-old retired pipe welder from Mobile. “He is like George Wallace, he told the truth. It is the same thing.”

That’s really what we are dealing with here–the early 21st century version of George Wallace. Trump has about the same chance of entering the White House as Wallace too but both also represent the phenomena of race resentment and fear of non-whites.

Strange Hellos

[ 0 ] August 21, 2015 |

A Friday evening link to one of my very favorite songs of 2015.

Friday Links: UNINTIMIDATED Edition

[ 81 ] August 21, 2015 |

Suing the EPA over the Gulf Dead Zone

[ 5 ] August 21, 2015 |

gulf_bloom

Good on the Gulf Restoration Network for suing the Environmental Protection Agency for not doing its job to regulate the fertilizers and other chemicals that have created the huge biological dead zone where the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Everyone knows this is a major problem but the power of agribusiness provides a lot of incentive for the government to not crack down. This is much like how greens had to sue the U.S. Forest Service for not protecting northern spotted owl habitat under the Endangered Species Act because the agency was operating as a tool of the timber industry. If the government isn’t actually going to protect the environment, lawsuits have proven a good way for environmentalists to make change. It’s not quite as clear of a case here as it was with the spotted owl, but it’s probably the only way to actually get the government to take the problem seriously.

It’s not an easy problem for sure. But while I really respect Obama’s executive orders on coal and climate change as a good start, it would be nice if he took these agricultural issues a bit more seriously than he has through his entire administration.

Children and Immigration in the 19th Century

[ 32 ] August 21, 2015 |

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Above: the ancestors of today’s anti-immigrant Republicans.

As this nation is going through one of its occasional freakouts about immigrants, it’s worth looking at how the nation has dealt with immigrants in the past. Specifically, how did the nation start dealing with American born children of people it wanted to deport? Hidetaka Hirota:

Upon the inspection, the Collector of Customs at the port of New York found that Nellie was “in destitute circumstances.” He then decided to detain Nellie and her children at an immigrant hospital on Ward’s Island on the East River as paupers who would be sent back to Scotland under the federal Immigration Act of 1882.

Nellie Wilkie could have been a simple addition to the list of excluded foreigners, but her American-born child made her case complicated. While denying Nellie and her children admission for the moment, the customs officer was not entirely certain if he could prohibit a native-born American citizen from landing in the United States and send the child to a foreign country. Nellie was an alien pauper who could lawfully be returned to Scotland, but could a citizen of the United States be banished with the immigrant mother? Realizing that the matter belonged to higher authority, the customs officer requested instructions from the Department of the Treasury, which was then charged with supervising issues of immigration to the United States.

In response, the Treasury Department reached a remarkable decision for Nellie Wilkie. In the first place, a native-born citizen could not be sent out of the country. If Nellie had to go back, her exclusion could be done only by “separating it [the citizen child] from its guardian by nature.” But it was not “the intention of Congress to sever the sacred ties existing between parent and child, or forcibly banish and expatriate a native-born child for the reason that its parent is a pauper.” Accordingly, the Treasury Department instructed the customs collector to admit Nellie and her children.

The case of Nellie Wilkie was not a one-time exception. A year later, the Treasury Department opposed the possible deportation of two Irish immigrant women on the grounds that they had native-born children who were “American citizens, under the natural guardianship of their mothers.” Considerations of the deportability of immigrant mothers, the department decided, “cannot affect the rights of their children since born on American soil and under the jurisdiction and protection of the United States.”

This and so many other cases also make me want to shake all the people today of Irish and Italian and Polish descent who are so worried about non-white immigrants and supporting Donald Trump. What about when your great-grandmother was the anchor baby?

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