Youth culture as throwaway culture

Ok, you’re not getting any real content today because I’m still trying to write a paper that doesn’t sound deranged (I’m failing) and so I haven’t any juice for higher thought.


I was in having my hair done yesterday (shut up) and I was looking at Star magazine (shut up; I was under the dryer and I’d finished my book) at their “Best and Worst Beach Bodies” issue. My God. If there is anything that will convince one that the US has become a decadent and decaying empire along the lines of ancient Rome circa Gratian, it’s Star magazine and this issue in particular. YUCK. Next time I am bringing the Journal of Urban Economics.

However, it’s the obvious, at least to me, connection between youth-obsessed celebrity culture and throwaway culture that got me. I mean, all the “best” bodies were sixteen year-old girls with Terry Hatcher thrown in, and the “worst” were any woman over the age of 25 with Richard Gere thrown in because he has a little bit of a tummy. WHAT? That guy looks better than just about everybody on the earth on their best day. And all of the supposed worst LOOKED FINE. If you have to take Photoshop and circle the supposed “fat” in white and then use an arrow to point at it, then maybe it’s not as obviously hideous as you want to make out. A bigger mix of misogyny and age-hate you couldn’t create if you tried.


4th International Symposium on Transportation Network Reliability

July 22-23, 2010

University of Minnesota

The aim of the International Symposium on Transportation Network Reliability (INSTR) is to bring together researchers and professionals interested in transportation network reliability, to discuss both recent research and future directions in this increasingly important field of research. The scope of the symposium includes all aspects of analysis and design to improve network reliability, including:


This event will be held on campus at the University of Minnesota. More details will be available as the date approaches.

This conference is being sponsored by CTS at the University of Minnesota.

You can find the conference website here.

Ian Parry and policies to reduce climate change emissions from vehicles

In the “papers I wish I had written” department, there’s:

Parry, I. 2007. “Are the Costs of Reducing Greenhouse Gases from Passenger Vehicles Negative?” Journal of Urban Economics. 62: (2): 273-293.

You can find it here.

From the abstract:

Energy models suggest that the costs of reducing carbon emissions from transportation are high relative to those for other sectors. This paper discusses why taxes (or equivalent permit systems) to reduce passenger vehicle emissions produce large net benefits, rather than costs, when account is taken of (a) their impact on reducing other highway externalities besides carbon and (b) interactions with the broader fiscal system. Both of these considerations also strengthen the case for a tax-based approach over fuel economy regulation, while fiscal considerations strengthen the case for taxes over grandfathered emissions permits. The paper also comments on the practical relevance of automobile fuel taxes, or their policy equivalents, to broader legislation intended to mitigate climate change.

High Speed Rail on the Freakonomics Blog

Eric Morris on the Freakonomics blog takes up the issue of high-speed rail and offers a reasoned, and unique to the public debate, focus on the limitations of the mode’s promised environmental benefits.

There are so many things to think about here, it’s hard to know where to begin. First, the very fact that we have consultants even doing lifeline environmental analysis of rail is a step forward for the discourse around rail. Yes, it has environmental costs, too, especially something like high-speed rail which fragments habitats, for instance. Back in the day, this is something that was never raised surrounding rail, much to my irritation.

What’s my expert opinion on high-speed rail? From my perspective, changing intra-regional travel to lower impact modes, like walking, is a much more pressing and cost-effective climate change strategy.

While I do not deny the very real evidence of climate change, I am terrified when I look at the data for actually intervening in climate change. It is the elephant in the room for those worried about climate change: if we admit it looks futile, then nothing will get done and it will, in fact, be futile. But all our hoping for best and advising for the best does not mean that changing things still won’t be futile. The power of positive thinking here has to meet reality. Maybe the economic downtown will dampen population growth a bit, but still. Given population figures, I tend to favor strategies that have high potential co-benefits and lower costs. HSR has some of the former and just way too much for the latter.

David Levinson’s estimate for HSR comes in at $80 million. Last year, I had my students cost out the HSR, and the estimates ran from $110 billion to $81 billion. That’s more than Obama has set aside for foster kids for the entire country. Do you know what we could do for foster kids with $80 billion? Bus riders? Schools? No, these are not separate issues no matter how various sector advocates and institutions would have us think of them. Fiscal capacity is finite.

If we are really talking about saving car trips, the bigger potential markets are likely to be intra-regional, not inter-regional, like HSR. To be metaphorical for a second, HSR is a gold-plated response to climate change when we should perhaps be thinking about stainless steel. It’s like insisting that we have a $2K tiara when we can’t afford pants.

HSR is being sold on environmental benefits, as usual with rail, but the reasons why its backers love it so much because they see dollar signs. Federal capital subsidies, right now, and more subsequent growth in inter-regional tourism and economic activity, particularly for Central Valley communities. All good things. But worth the money not spent on other things, like schools or inter-city transit? Ehhhhh. The assumption among its environmental proponents is that HSR will cut out air travel and auto trips. It may do so, in the short term, but in the end it will, like most new supply, provide capacity for additional travel between SF and southern California. These additional trips will be in a mode that has fewer emissions than the other two, great, but the other two are not going to reduce appreciably in the long term with growth in overall demand. There is a difference between disciplining demand for dirtier modes entirely and simply providing extra capacity in a cleaner (and jollier) mode. The first is a stick; the second is a carrot with no stick. In transport policy, we are addicted to the latter.

If we are worried about carbon emissions and we want HSR because we want the travel option, the way to get this system built is to apply a carbon tax to fuel consumption across all modes and then use the money to juice up transit provision in general, as quickly as possible. But instead, we continue to do what we have always done: throw money at big systems up front, taking the money from everywhere else to pay off bond obligations rather than presenting travelers with the real prices of their travel consumption choices. Then we ply them with carrot after carrot. This strategy means politicians get to stand in front of big projects and say they have Struck A Blow for the environment, environmental NGOs get to to do the same, and the cost is carried by socially devalued services (like education–3.1 billion in cuts, any one?) and unpopular minorities (like poor people who rely on public education.)

We can talk about whether fuel taxes “tax the poor off the road” another day. As for predictions, this is going to be California’s Big Dig. It will set records for costs and over-runs. It will be a beautiful and wonderful service when it is done. And I (and a whole bunch of other people) will get a book out of it.

New manuscript on evacuation

Murray-Tuite, P., L. Schweitzer, S. Liu. 2009. “Impacts of Family Responsibilities and Car Availability on Household No-Notice Evacuation Time.” 14 p.

Available for download here.

The family gathering phenomenon is a critical evacuation consideration. Recently, researchers have placed greater emphasis on capturing household member interactions for emergencies, but most of these efforts have not specifically addressed associated gender issues. This paper examines the impact of gender-based family gathering responsibilities on family evacuation delay from the optimal conditions for a hypothetical no notice event during school hours. This study uses initial results of an original interview data collection effort addressing home and work locations, pre-evacuation actions, and family gathering responsibilities, among other considerations. Many of the women with appropriately aged children indicated responsibility for collecting them. The impact of assigning gathering responsibilities to a single parent on household evacuation time is determined using a nonlinear integer program that assigns activity chains, meeting locations, and final destinations so as to minimize household evacuation time in a multimodal transportation network. The effects of car availability are also examined for a sample household in Chicago Heights. The number of and locations of dependents were also varied as well as whether one parent stayed at home or both parents worked. If only one vehicle was available and with the parent further from the dependents, household evacuation time could substantially increase (e.g. double), especially if the family did not unite prior to arriving at the final destination. Consideration of gathering behavior, household responsibilities, and persons dependent on transit will lead to more accurate evacuation models that help emergency agencies make better decisions and potentially save lives.