Friday, September 10th, 2010
I will be speaking at an upcoming Chicago Council on Global Affairs event on Thursday, September 23. The topic? What else – privatization. The program is called “No Free Money: Is Privatization of Infrastructure in the Public Interest?” The program is free, so for those who are in Chicago, I’d encourage you to attend. Also speaking are Michael Pagano, dean of the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at UIC, economist Charlie Wheelan at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Affairs, and Zach Egan, an investment fund manager.
Kevin LeMaster, publisher of the wonderful Building Cincinnati, has decided to call it quits after the venture was not financially sustainable. Believe me, I can sympathize with that. I do know this, Kevin gave Building Cincinnati his all. Win, lose, or draw, the city is luck to have an entrepreneurial spirit like him. Best of luck to Kevin in his next endeavors.
1. Nuvo: Carmel, Indiana’s Jim Brainard Is a Mayor for the New Millennium – A fantastic interview by David Hoppe
3. Washington City Paper: How 32 year old Google veteran David Alpert and his band of bloggers are shaping 21st century DC – A great profile of the very cool Washington, DC blog Greater Greater Washington. It’s sort of like a Streetsblog with a wider focus than livable streets.
4. The American Conservative: The Real Costs – A look at the exploding costs of rail transit systems: “Rail transit’s great enemy isn’t public support or political will but its enormous price tag….America’s rail infrastructure won’t be resurrected overnight. But history shows that we can build rail economically and on time. After all, we have been constructing systems of all sizes and complexities in this country for well over a hundred years. Recalling those past experiences today will give us the tools we need to build the trains of tomorrow.”
5. Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco: The Effect of Immigrants on U.S. Employment and Productivity – “Statistical analysis of state-level data shows that immigrants expand the economy’s productive capacity by stimulating investment and promoting specialization. This produces efficiency gains and boosts income per worker.”
More Indy Parking Meters
I was honored to be on Amos Brown’s radio show for the first time yesterday talking about Indy’s parking meter deal. I don’t have embedded audio, but you can listen to the segment here. I must say, the role of activist is an new and uncomfortable one for me, but I feel compelled to step up.
A couple of additional points on the Indy meters:
- You might think that an almost 90% potential profit margin for the vendor is ludicrously unbelievable. Think again. This isn’t like the Toll Road. The Toll Road had never earned a nickel for Indiana in 50 years. By contrast, the parking meters are very profitable. The city already makes millions in profits every year off them. In fact, even with the existing inefficient system, the city itself is already generating a 77% profit margin. With higher rates, longer hours, penalties galore, and promised efficiencies, it is easy to see how that goes way up. Again, let’s review – Toll Road: a money loser turned into $3.9 billion. The parking meters: a lucrative business of which as much as 3/4 of the value is being given away for $35 million. In effect, ACS is loaning the city $35 million and is getting repaid with potentially a billion in interest. That’s like you or me borrowing $35,000 and paying back a million in interest. Even credit card companies aren’t that greedy. This is like taking out a 50 year payday loan from the worst check cashing store in town.
As for the $400 million revenue share, that money already belongs to the city. Instead of giving away $724M to $1.2B, why not just raise rates yourself and keep it all for the public? Unlike with Chicago where rates went up to something like $8/hr and people were literally carrying around ziplocks full of quarters, these rates are only going up to $1 to $1.50/hr total. That will hardly provoke a riot. Everyone knows rates need to be raised – an action I fully support.
- Amos Brown asked me about MBE participation in the deal and I did not know the answer. But I looked it up. The Chicago contract requires 25% MBE participation, Indy requires 15%. Indy is higher for WBE at 8% vs. 5% in Chicago, and also has a 3% veteran owned business requirement Chicago does not. That’s 30% vs. 26% for total DBE target.
Since this deal was won by ACS, I should be sure to note that I used to work for an ACS competitor, though I never was in the public service practice and don’t ever remember competing against them. I don’t know who the others bidders all were, but to the best of my knowledge, my former employer was not one of them. I don’t have a financial interest in the deal, and if anything opposing it is a pure cost to me since I’ve doubtless made several new enemies in return for nothing.
I normally maintain a policy of not getting involved in current political disputes or criticizing elected officials. But when there is something with the potential for significant, long term, irrevocable harm, I have to speak out. I don’t hate Mayor Ballard. In fact, I think he’s done many good things ranging from the water deal that I think was a great one (and very creative too – Michael Huber did a fantastic job on that one), to endorsing IndyConnect, to his bike infrastructure initiative, SustainIndy, and re-establishing mayoral control over the police department. I appreciate his looking at creative ways to close an infrastructure deficit that he had no role in creating. But this is not the right way to do it. If I didn’t believe this deal was a serious, long term danger to downtown and the city, I never would have spoken up, no matter how bad the financials were. I beg the city to reconsider and not do this deal. Fifty years is an awful long time to have your hands tied.
In another progressive move, New York City has released a landmark Pedestrian Safety Study and Action Plan, a comprehensive look at accidents and how to reduce them.
One of the things that so impresses me about what New York is doing in the transportation space is that its isn’t just about looking pretty or saving the environment or supporting alternative transportation. Rather, NYC DOT is fixated first and foremost on safety. If you get to hear Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan speak, you’ll hear her talk about how the changes they’ve implemented have made the streets of New York safer.
Typical state DOTs think about safety in terms of adding lanes and expanding intersections and such. But the NYC DOT is looking at it more comprehensively. According to this article, for example, streets with bike lanes are 40% less deadly for pedestrians than those without. Maybe this isn’t apples to apples, but the numbers are sure interesting. The city is also installing 1500 countdown pedestrian signals and, yes, improving intersections. This includes removing curb parking to improve visibility. Try that in Indianapolis after the meter lease is approved!
This study is worth checking out.
Mapping Racial Boundaries in Chicago
World and National Roundup
Richard Florida: The Power of Density
The Economist: Stop the Suburbs, I Want to Get Off
Foreign Policy: Miami Swoon – An interview with Saskia Sassen on global cities as a follow-up to the magazines special issue on cities.
Foreign Policy: Don’t try this at home – The failed attempts to recreate Silicon Valley.
So often people complain about the government, but they don’t have any policy alternatives to present themselves. But here’s an exception. Economist Constantin Gurdgiev has laid out the start of a very detailed policy manifesto for Ireland. It doesn’t cover all policy areas yet, but it goes through quite a bit. Whatever you might think of it, here’s a guy who thought hard about the problem and put a stake in the ground for specific, tangible solutions.
Jim Russell: Not so Rust Belt Chic Baltimore – Among other things, Jim documents how Rust Belt Chic – a term I believe he coined – is now a rapidly spreading meme.
Chicago Sun-Times: Mayor Daley is not seeking another term – The headline says it all. I’m not saying much about this right now since I don’t have much to add and no doubt you’ve already heard about it.
A Chicago cop named John Andrews published a long essay on his personal blog called A City at War With Itself: Chicago – On the Fast Track to Anarchy that made a big splash as you can imagine. This has landed Lt. Andrews in hot water, and he is now under investigation by Internal Affairs for the matter.
Human Transit: Chicago: A Draft Frequent Network Transit Map
Broken Sidewalk: New York construction fence shows world walk symbols – A very cool art project at a NYC construction site.
More Amazing Really Old Color Photos
The web site My Urbanist posts a delightful selection of mostly color photographs from very long ago. Here’s one sample of Melbourne, Australia in 1917:
More Cool City Videos
Here’s a cool time-lapse video of what I believe is Tokyo. (If the video doesn’t display, click here):
And of course, what would Urbanoscope be without a tilt-shift video, this time of traffic in Boston. (If the video doesn’t display, click here):
The Gotthard Base Tunnel in Sedrun, Switzerland from the Subterranean Builder’s Guide on BLDGBLOG.