Thursday, September 30, 2010

Don't Fund the Atlanta Streetcar, Obama Administration

I never thought I would ever be against an attempt to expand rail transit in the United States. As someone who is finally being forced to get a license so I can join Zipcar for the too-frequent occasions when Atlanta's transit doesn't cut it, I would normally be thrilled by it. But the Atlanta Streetcar seems like an unbelievably stupid idea.

Now, while heavy rail is better (for dense city areas), it's also much much more expensive, and I am generally quite supportive of light rail, and I am generally supportive even of modern streetcars.

However, even though I really, really hate to say anything to undermine A.J. Robinson and Central Atlanta Progress, I have to oppose the Atlanta streetcar.

This is not to say I am against adding passenger rail capacity that runs in the streets in denser areas of Atlanta. I differ with AJC's in-house 30-something right-winger Kyle Wingfield on that.

However, Mr. Wingfield made some good points, and unlike far too many right-wingers, spends probably more of his column bashing wasteful highway spending (on the other hand, Wingfield is terribly handicapped by his position against actual planning instead of letting developers run hog-wild with no regard for anything else like this country has for the last 60 years; he fails to realize that laying transit to encourage smart development is a good thing, and should visit Washington, DC and I'm told, Portland, if he doesn't believe me).

Tourists would be the biggest beneficiaries of the streetcar, which would run from the aquarium, alongside Centennial Olympic Park, through Fairlie-Poplar, and finally down Auburn Avenue to historic sites from the civil rights era.

Nothing against tourists, but Atlanta’s biggest congestion headaches come from commuting, not tourism, and generally are on highways, not downtown surface streets.

And never mind that MARTA already runs a subway line that comes within a couple of blocks of most of the major destinations, is canceling a little-used bus route that’s very similar to the proposed streetcar’s path, and discontinued a previous tourist trolley in the same area due to poor ridership.

The broader plan also calls for a trolley line along Peachtree Street, north to Brookhaven and south toward Fort McPherson. It’s central to an attempt to create Atlanta’s version of the Champs-Élysées in Paris or Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

Actually, MARTA runs BOTH of its lines (well, technically there are four lines, but they split only at the ends, with the east-west line only having one green-line only station) in the area around the initial proposal for the streetcar.

Typical tourists would not use it either, as typical tourists will be willing to walk a mere 2-3 miles over the course of a day or two of seeing a city. Only fat/lazy/old and wheelchairless tourists would use it (this is why they canceled the non-rail tourist trolley, I assume).

Moreover, I cannot really see commuters using it. Businesses in downtown are basically all already close enough to MARTA that people are not going to waste time waiting for a streetcar because they can walk from the MARTA station and get there more quickly. Or rather, any businesses that are not close enough are also not close enough to be much shorter walking distances from the streetcar that would be necessary for people to transfer rather than just walking.

Of course, the really ugly thing about Downtown (and Midtown) as, for some reason, Mr. Robinson seems to miss is the unholy percentage of both of them devoted to parking lots.

I filled in all (or almost all; I may have missed a few so it may be worse) of the parking lots in downtown (north of I-20, west of I-75/I-85, east of the major rail line (leaving out the area between it and Northside, and south of Ivan Allen). Look (the embedding has so many lots it won't even show) here; it's absolutely unbelievable.

Note if I'd included the full downtown, with borders of I-20 on south, Piedmont on the east, Northside on the West, and North Avenue on the North, it would be just as bad, but Google Maps can't draw that many vector shapes.

Anyway, it's really really wasteful to have to have so much parking in the middle of town, where as many offices should ideally be located to minimize aggregate commutes while affording freedom of places to live.

That being said, the smartest thing to do to expand rail transit would be to browbeat/coerce (I can think of all sorts of unorthodox ways to do so) Gwinnett and Cobb into joining MARTA, and extending the Green Line north through rail corridors through Knight Park to Underwood Hills, then west across the Chattahoochee, following the rail corridor north through Vinings to Cumberland Mall, Symrna and then ending in downtown Marietta or cutting from there to the Interstate and heading to Kennesaw State.

Additionally, extending the Gold Line along the Buford Highway rail corridor northeast from Doraville through to Norcross and Duluth.

Too bad it wasn't done already. Atlanta has been majorly losing ground on mobility.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Shocker: States with Loose Gun Laws Sell More Guns Used Criminally

Of course, the actual news story that brought me to this study, said something even more trite; that 10 states account for nearly half the guns bought and taken across state lines to commit a crime.

The reason this is particularly trite is, of course, that 10 states (California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, North Carolina) account for more than half the population of the United States.

That being said, the actual study, done by the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition has some slightly less obvious information in it.

Specifically, three of those states (Arizona, Indiana, Virginia) are not in the top 10, and Georgia, which is only the 9th largest state, has been the #1 offender in this category for the last four years.

Moreover, using the data provided, I ran a correlation test on the number of interstate criminal guns sold per 100,000 state residents with the score that state receives for its gun laws by the pro-gun control Brady Campaign.

The result was a -0.57 correlation, quite high.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins Co-Sponsored the Employment Non-Discrimination Act

Yet they both voted today against cloture on money for our men and women overseas just to oppose the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell"

Jeff Merkley sponsored the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the Senate; Barney Frank (unsurprisingly sponsored it in the House).

From the Congressional Record Summary:

- Prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity by covered entities (employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, or joint labor-management committees). Prohibits preferential treatment or quotas. Allows only disparate treatment claims.

Prohibits related retaliation.

Now, admittedly, this bill does exempt the US military, in addition to religious organizations (so Fred Phelps can still keep his group gay-free), so it's not technically hypocrisy.

In the House, incidentally, one of the few Republican co-sponsors was Michael Castle.
On the plus side, discrimination against witches was and is legal, so feel free to discriminate against Christine O'Donnell in the Delaware Senate race.

Nathan Deal Cannot Be Trusted on Passenger Rail

So according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Republican gubernatorial candidate Nathan Deal has come out in favor of the regional transportation tax

That being said, the actual quotes from Deal given are a bit less than absolute commitment to build, with what seem to me like caveats in warning about expenses.

“The question always is, what is the priority, and where do you spend your money first,” he said. “Whether it’s light rail, heavy rail, passenger rail, whatever you call it, it’s expensive because of capital expenditures.”

Any new rail operation would also likely require subsidies to keep it afloat “and that’s difficult to do. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be working toward it.”

Never mind that Nathan Deal has to my knowledge not spent time arguing that we need to eliminate all of those expenditures for automobile transportation. Other than the vehicles themselves (which for automobiles are owned by people, which makes it different entirely from public transportation), 100% of operating expenses for roads come from taxes. And for that matter, we've been subsidizing vehicles via years and years of favorable legislation to (at least American-made) automobile manufacturing plants, even those made by non-American companies; we've given sweetheart deals to Asian companies to build plants in the South, all of this well before the auto industry bailout and cash for clunkers.

And of course, operating expenses for automobile transportation are also subsidized. Streetlights on highways, for instance. That electricity isn't free. Neither are traffic police. I would also say we have subsidized the cost of gasoline over the years with what have amounted to sweetheart deals on drilling on federal land/in U.S. waters. And last but certainly not least, we have massively subsidized parking those automobiles. Using land for parking lots is a major, major cost, and yet in so many places, one can park for free, and in many others, parking costs are under "market rate" for parking lots in that area, for various reasons. Of course, private companies also subsidize parking in addition to the government doing so. Still, those companies charge everyone higher prices to compensate for the loss from the free parking.

So let's not pretend the need for the government to provide operating subsidies and essentially 100% capital expense is qualitatively different from what we do for personal automobiles.

At any rate, given his past record, Nathan Deal cannot in any way be trusted on this.

Monday, September 20, 2010

MSNBC's Senate Moderates: Should Bob Casey, Dick Lugar, Bob Corker Be Included?

So Chuck Todd is usually pretty brilliant, but I find his and the other NBC "First Read" people's views on "The Gang of Moderates" to be a little bit off.

Here’s one other point we want to make about the middle striking back: Note these senators who are all up in 2012: Snowe, Dick Lugar, Jon Tester, Claire McCaskill, Bob Corker, Bob Casey, and Jim Webb. What do they all have in common? They’re all moderates, and all of them could face -- potentially -- tough primaries or general elections two years from now. Don’t be surprised if these folks try to work with each other to stay elected. It will be an interesting caucus to follow. This gang (of something or other) is going to make a comeback, and if they actually stick together they COULD, become a governing force. The Balkanization of the Senate appears to be inevitable.

This is not just because of the major unlikelihood of people from opposing parties trying to work with each other to stay elected.

It's also because, for instance, Bob Casey is not so much a "moderate", per se, as he is just a moderate or so on social policy and foreign policy. On economic policy, he's been scored by National Journal either among the most liberal Senators, or in the middle of the Democratic caucus.

Then, of course, there's the bewildering question of where in the world they got the idea that Bob Corker is a moderate. True, the National Journal ranked him as the 7th most moderate Republican in 2009 (he was ranked 21st most moderate Republican in 2007 and 22nd most moderate in 2008), but that just means that at most, he's more moderate than a majority if not most of the Republicans in the U.S. Senate today.

But that does not make him a moderate. It just makes today's Republican party unbelievably right-wing and uncompromising.

I mean, take a look at the 8 longest-serving Republicans (in other words, all of the Republicans who have been in the Senate since January 1987). There are three special cases, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, the Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, and Richard Shelby, who was a Southern Democrat in January 1993.

The other five guys (yes, they are all male) are Richard Lugar, Orrin Hatch, Thad Cochran, Chuck Grassley and Kit Bond.

Consider how the American Conservative Union and the Americans for Democratic Action rated their voting records during the 100th Congress (1987-1988). By averaging the ACU score and 100 minus the ADA score, we get a composite conservative score.

Of the 46 Republicans in the Senate at the time, Grassley, Cochran and Lugar ranked right in the middle, at 22nd most liberal, 23rd most liberal and 24th most liberal. Bond was slightly to the right, at 31st most liberal, and Hatch was solidly in the conservative wing, only 36th most liberal.

Incidentally, McCain was the 26th most liberal and McConnell was the 30th most liberal, while Ted Stevens ranked 13th most liberal, Pete Domenici 17th most liberal, and John Warner the 20th most liberal.

Now, looking at the 109th Congress, averaging the National Journal rankings, we have, out of the 49 Republicans, Lugar as 7th most liberal, Hatch as 13th most liberal, Cochran was 18th most liberal, Grassley 27th most liberal, Bond was 33rd most liberal,

Incidentally, Warner was 8th most liberal, Stevens was 11th most liberal, and Domenici was 14th most liberal.

Finally, in 2009 we have Richard Lugar as 2nd most liberal, Bond as 10th most, Hatch as 11th most, Cochran as 12th most, Grassley as 14th most liberal, out of the 40.

My point is that the reasonable conclusion is not that every one of these guys got more liberal, but that the rest of the party got more conservative. Hence, not really moderates.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Christine O'Donnell Doesn't Like Witchcraft, Either

From an Op-Ed she wrote in the Washington Post, June 15, 1997 about her group hosting a booth at HFStival:

We pulled into parking lot No. 5 at RFK Stadium and began looking for our assigned spot. With colorful open-air tents and corporate banners draped on every fence, the area had been transformed into a carnival. Only instead of cotton candy and roller coasters, this carnival offered a celebration of death, in the guise of free condoms, "pro-choice" literature and glorification of the occult.

Not just evolution: More About Christine O'Donnell

She's also, for instance, a young Earther. In the same interview/"debate" with Miles O'Brien and an evolutionary biologist (Dr. Michael McKinney) on CNN on March 30, 1996, she makes that clear with some sort of weird rant about Mount Helens and hundreds of millions of years.

I agree with what the gentleman said about we need to teach DNA, and I think that when you look at genetic engineering, it all points to creationism, because genetics can be traced back to the obvious existence of a higher being - of God.

Now, he said that it's based on fact. I just want to point out a couple things. First of all, they use carbon dating, as an example, to prove that something was millions of years old. Well, we have the eruption of Mt. Saint Helens and the carbon dating test that they used then would have to then prove that these were hundreds of millions of years younger, when what happened was they had the exact same results on the fossils and canyons that they did the tests on that were supposedly 100 millions of years old. And it's the kind of inconsistent tests like this that they're basing their 'facts' on.

Carbon-dating, as Dr. McKinney points out, is only useful up to about 50,000 years back; Carbon-14 has a half-life of about O'Donnell's belief of the age of the universe (assuming the literalist Christians do hold by the Jewish (according to most halachic authorities) symbolic count of 5771, so it makes sense, since only about 2^-8 is left after 50,000 years, and much more than that and our instruments aren't precise enough.

Then there's this gem:

Because you're getting out of a public arena. The public schools are a public arena and you can't present one view point as more accurate than another.

Interesting. If she's serious and applies this idea across the board, this means that Christine O'Donnell supports teaching, among other things, the homosexual agenda, communism, masturbation, abortion and of course, the David Icke view of history.

But wait. She doesn't support those at all:

"Every single person on [the board] leans more to a mixed message of 'use a condom' than the message of 'exercise self-control and abstain from sex until you're married,' " said Christine O'Donnell, spokeswoman for Concerned Women for America, a conservative family-advocacy group.

"We have the solution [to teen pregnancy]," Miss O'Donnell added. "We know if we all band together and tell these kids that it's OK to say 'no' - and not only is it OK, it is the best choice for them - we would see a great turnaround." (Washington Times, April 3, 1996)

More in subsequent posts

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Go Back to 1990, Don Haddix

Seriously. The mayor of Peachtree City is for whatever reason too blind to see the absolutely crucial need for a unified, expanded rail transit system for Atlanta, ranting about his disapproval of the TSPLOST (Transportation Local Option Sales Tax) meeting today.

He claims he doesn't see anything in it for Fayette County (actually, the Georgia Department of Transportation has commissioned studies that would have a commuter rail line going from Peachtree City to Atlanta, although admittedly that wouldn't be the top priority of getting something to Cobb, Gwinnett and Clayton). But anyway, that's not the worst part.

Additionally, I asked if any other solution than [mass] transit and new roads had been considered. The answer was no.

It is troubling that those who developed this plan almost all are either with transit groups or from the counties using transit already.

What are people going to do? Fly to work and jobs? Apparate? But somehow I tend to doubt this guy was going for the alternative of bicycling and walking to work, and frankly, he might just be one of those guys who burn Harry Potter books (or wait, the Koran is the in book to burn these days), so I doubt it's Apparating.

So what's left? Tell me, Mayor Haddix, what's left?

Monday, September 13, 2010

How Does Atlanta Compare on Public Transportation Use

Thought of a good idea for something to look up and write about today: how does Atlanta compare to other urban areas in terms of usage of public transportation and various other methods of commuting to work.

I am using urban areas (from the 2000 Census) because urban areas were defined by the Census Bureau in a fairly technical way.

Their reason for defining these urban areas were to avoid the imprecisions of using legally defined places in determining how many people live in an urban area. Using city limits obviously does not work (this makes, for instance, El Paso, Omaha, Fresno and Tucson seem larger than Miami).

The idea of metropolitan areas, which were created at least 60 years to try to address this problem, are better, but the use of legally defined places (counties) means that some rural areas in counties that qualify for being part of the metro area get counted.

The exact criteria used by the Census Bureau can be found in the Federal Register from March 15, 2002 and is quite technical and detailed (they tweaked things when empirical tests did not "look right"), but is probably about as good as it could be.

I am using data from the American Community Survey 2006-2008 3 year estimates (these are the most recent data available, and the 3 year combined estimates greatly reduce the error caused by low sample sizes).

Anyway, here is how Atlanta ranks among the 25 largest urban areas in the United States in terms of the transportation they use to get to work (using that form of transportation that takes them the longest distance):

Note that other means is anything not listed elsewhere on the table, but includes bicycles, motorcycles, taxicabs and everything that isn't in another category

Of the 25 urban areas, Atlanta ranks 10th in terms of percentage of workers who get to work by driving their car by themselves (76.1%). This, of course, is the least efficient and overall most expensive way to get to work, but it is unfortunately often most convenient. Those urban areas even worse in this category (i.e. a larger percentage get to work by driving their car by themselves) are, in order, Detroit (84.4%), St. Louis (81.8%), Cleveland (81.7%), Tampa (80.4%), Dallas-Fort Worth (79.6%), Miami (78.6%), San Jose (78.0%), Houston (77.5%) and Minneapolis-St. Paul (77.5%).

Atlanta's urban area ranked 15th in percentage using public transit (4.28%), ahead of Miami, San Jose, San Diego, St. Louis, Houston, Phoenix, Dallas-Fort Worth, Riverside-San Bernardino, Detroit and Tampa.

Atlanta's worst categories are percentage of people walking to work (1.52%), which places it 24th, ahead of only Dallas-Fort Worth (1.36%), and percentage of people who bicycle to work (this is my category, incidentally), where it places dead last (.14%), just behind Dallas-Fort Worth (.15%), meaning it also places 24th in percentage of people getting to work on their own personal power (1.66%), one of just 5 of the top 25 urban areas where less than 2% of people get to work on their own power, along with Dallas (1.52%), Detroit (1.79%), Houston (1.87%) and St. Louis (1.84%).

In only 8 of the top 25 urban areas do more than 4% get to work on their own power; Boston (5.85%), New York (6.75%), Philadelphia (4.43%), Pittsburgh (4.46%), Portland (5.18%), San Francisco-Oakland (6.88%), Seattle (4.49%) and Washington (4.04%).

With the exception of Pittsburgh, these are also the top 8 urban areas in terms of least percentage of people driving to work alone. Chicago (probably due to the freezing winters) has only 3.64% of people getting to work on their own power, but their high use of transit ranks them 6th in this category; Pittsburgh's relatively lower rankings in carpooling (15th), public transit (9th), and working at home (24th) push it to 12th in least driving alone, behind the aforementioned 8, Los Angeles, Baltimore, and Phoenix (with Phoenix's rate due to a rather high rate of carpooling)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Information on 2010 Georgia Ballot Measures

Update: On Monday, The Atlanta Journal Constitution finally bothered to provide clear explanations of the ballot measures, so I'll be analyzing them with those summaries in mind.

I just realized I had better look at the State of Georgia's 2010 ballot measures at some point before Election Day.

The state provides a pamphlet on the Georgia Secretary of State's website that tries to explain the 5 Constitutional amendments and 1 state-wide referendum on the ballot this November. I think the summaries are available on Election Day on the ballot, but I am not sure about this.

I myself don't really understand the ballot measures. The League of Women Voters is often helpful in providing clearer explanations of ballot measures, but their voter guide for Georgia in 2010 does not have any information on the ballot measures.

So, since they are all "legislative referral", meaning the voters have to approve (or disapprove) some bill passed by the legislature. I decided to check how the legislature voted on that bill and what members of the legislature said about them, to try to get an idea of whether or not I ought to support it. Here is what I found:

Question 1: Allows competitive contracts to
be enforced in Georgia courts

bill was sponsored by Democrat Kevin Levitas and Republicans Mike Coan, Butch Parrish, Joe Wilkinson, Richard Smith, and John Lunsford. The Conference Report was approved almost unanimously. Only 3 in the House voted NAY, Democrats Doug McKillip and Brian Thomas, and Republican Bobby Franklin. There were 0 NAY votes in the Senate.

In other words, this bill does not seem to have created much controversy in the legislature, which means it probably makes sense to go ahead and vote for it.

Update: This is apparently a bad bill for working people, and it seems that I trusted Georgia's Democrats more than I should have.

Labor attorneys oppose it

Well known Atlanta labor attorney Ed Buckley has a strong opinion of Amendment One:

"It's a damned lie."
Attorney Buckley disagrees, saying the amendment will "shackle" employees to their jobs.

"Shackle is an ugly word," 11Alive reporter Jeff Hullinger replied.

"That's what it is," Buckley said. "You can be forced to sign an agreement to keep your job than (sic) fired the next day and not be able to work."

The story goes on to say that ads supporting the Amendment are being funded by the Chamber of Commerce, which, except on public transportation (which the Chamber usually favors) is almost always an automatic reason to vote the other way.

It would provide courts with the ability to uphold the legal parts of an non-compete agreement with illegal clauses (non-compete agreements are agreements which some employers make employees sign that "seek to stop employees from moving to a business competitor or starting a competing business for a specific time period and in a specific geographic area.") In liberal terms, moving towards legalized slavery of the form similar to the old reserve clause in Major League Baseball (baseball players made far far less money, even adjusting for inflation, under the reserve clause)

In conservative terms, this lets judges re-write contracts you've signed (rather than just declare them either A) valid or B) null and void)

I will be voting no.

Question 2: Adds $10 tag fee on private
passenger vehicles to fund statewide trauma care expansion.

The bill was sponsored by Republicans Greg Goggans, Cecil Staton, Renee Unterman, and Don Thomas and by Democrats David Adelman and Valencia Seay.

In the Senate, the final version was opposed by Republicans Bill Heath and Jeff Chapman. In the House, it was opposed by 12 Republicans, Timothy Bearden, David Casas, Clay Cox, Matt Dollar, Bobby Franklin, Rich Golick, Michael Harden, Billy Horne, Roger Lane, Bobby Reese, Martin Scott, Daniel Stout and by 2 Democrats, Alan Powell and Rob Teilhet.

Again, a pretty overwhelming majority of both parties. I certainly intend to vote for it, though I suppose that isn't fair since at present, I am one of the rare Georgians who does not own a car (and will be trying to limit myself to no more than a Zipcar in the next few years), and so I won't immediately be subject to the fee.

Question 3: Allows the State to execute multiyear contracts for
long-term transportation projects

"Amendment 3 seeks to remove the state Transportation Department’s road projects from under the constitution, which requires the agency to fully fund projects before it enters into a contract. "

The bill was sponsored by Republicans Jeff Mullis, Chip Rogers, David Shafer, Tommie Williams and Judson Hill, and by Democrat Steve Thompson. 9 Republicans in the Senate, Balfour, Chapman, Cowsert, Goggans, Grant, Heath, Staton, Tolleson and Unterman voted NAY, as did 2 Republicans, Hatfield and Reese, in the House.

So a fair bit of opposition in the Senate by Republicans, but almost none in the House. At any rate, I'm voting for it. Georgia Republicans tend to be unable to think ahead for multiple years on the need for transportation, which (along with fear of blacks moving in; not that it worked for Clayton or for parts of Cobb for that matter) is why MARTA was limited to the 2 counties of Fulton and Dekalb only; although in those days the Republicans were Lester Maddox Democrats. As such, opposition by them does not faze me, but maybe it fazes others, I do not know.

Of course, on the other hand, GDOT has tended to be extremely hostile to public transportation, so it may not be a good idea to let them do something like this unless the constitution is also modified to remove the provisions limiting public transportation funding sources.

Question 4: Allows the State to execute multiyear contracts for
projects to improve energy efficiency and conservation.

The bill was sponsored by Republicans Chance, Rogers, Williams, Douglas and Staton, and by Democrat Steve Henson. 2 Republicans, Hatfield and Setzler, voted NAY in the House. There were 0 NAY votes in the Senate.

So pretty unanimous. Again, I'm voting for it.

Update: Someone thinks it's important enough to campaign for, and as such, news organizations are finally explaining it. It is indeed a good, smart, thing to do, as it will help the environment and in the long run, save Georgia money as well due to lower energy consumption, which is a win-win.

Taxpayers for Energy Efficiency announced Tuesday the launch of its $150,000 "Yes To Amendment 4" campaign, with a website and a page on the Facebook social-media networking site.

The amendment would change the constitution to permit certain multiyear contracts for the retrofitting of the state's 15,000 buildings.

Supporters say it will provide an economic stimulus while reducing energy consumption. And the work would be paid for with the energy savings rather than a new expense to the state's tight budget.

Question 5: Allows owners of industrial-zoned property to choose to remove the industrial designation from their property

The amendment would allow the owner of a property to remove it from an industrial area and allow it to be irrevocably annexed into a city, which would provide services.

The bill was sponsored by Democrats Bob Bryant, Mickey Stephens and Craig Gordon and by Republican Ron Stephens. It was opposed by 18 Republicans in the House, and by 2 Democrats in the Senate.

I figure I'll still vote for it.

Finally, the state-wide referendum (that is not a constitutional amendment)

Question A: Provides for inventory of
businesses to be exempt from
state property tax.

This I will have to look up some more; I'm leery about this.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dedicate Gwinnett I-85 HOT tolls to fund commuter rail

The inability of the Georgia Department of Transportation to think beyond the highway is mind-boggling.

Now, let me be clear. I am in no way against High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes as a way of raising revenue; a HOT lane is a special lane that is either open free of charge to people in high occupancy vehicles (in this case I believe 3 or more people); I believe these lanes usually have their special status only during peak hours of use.

Why am I not against it? First of all, it is a progressive use fee (tax, if you wish) in two different ways. First of all, in general, lower-earning workers are already far more likely to be carpooling to work. In Gwinnett, according to American Community Survey Estimates over 2006-2008, 18% of workers in the lower third or so of income ( less than $25000 a year) carpooled, while 12% of workers in the middle third of income and 7% of workers in the top third or so of income (more than $50000 a year) did.

Now, admittedly, while there is a major gap between percentage of workers in the lower third (68.1%) and middle third (81.9%) driving to work alone, the gap between the middle third and the upper third (82.8%) is small. This is largely due to the fact that only 79.2% of those making over $75000 drove to work alone. This is due to several factors, the largest being that those people are far more likely to work at home. Additionally, they are slightly more likely to (because they can more easily afford it) live close enough to work to walk or bicycle and may have the time to do so as well. Finally, the way public transportation is structured in Gwinnett County (quite little of it in-county, but with express buses to the big office towers in Atlanta) means that a little bit more of this group actually commutes by public transit than the public at large.

Second of all, it is a tax on unnecessary energy use (single-person commuting), which is good for the environment and for a sound energy policy. So yes, I have no issue with the tax, as it will be a tax primarily on the rich, and of course the state does need money it can get.

What is mind-boggling to me is the way Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) spokespeople answered the final question posed to them by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Q: Is this just another tax?

A: No, it’s optional, Barron said. Besides, with limited road funds, the state is running out of options, Rabun said. "Twenty years into the future traffic is going to be 50 percent more. We cannot put enough lanes out there to handle that traffic. What do you want me to do?"

This is a rather silly defense of the HOT lane. Making a HOV lane into a HOT lane is unlikely to take cars off the road, since carpooling's benefits were already increased by the existence of the HOV lane. It will move some cars to the HOT lane, and perhaps with the capacity they have, the increased carpooling from having the high occupancy lane and getting some rich people off of the rest of the road is the best private-vehicle way to reduce congestion.

But there are other options, and the Georgia Department of Transportation knows it. Look at this picture of proposed commuter rail lines that dates from July 2002.

How much has been done on this? Less than has been done on the BeltLine, for which MARTA still has not submitted anything to the Federal Transit Administration (but that is another story).

Seriously, though. Commuter rail today does not make sense only in New York, any more than any form of rail transit makes sense only in New York. 12 of the 16 metropolitan areas with over three million people have commuter rail (assuming the lines from California's Inland Empire to (largely) allow people to commute to Los Angeles counts), of which 7, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington DC, Boston, Philadelphia and San Francisco have at least three lines to augment their good (well, Los Angeles does not really qualify as 'good', per se, but it is surprisingly extensive these days, and gets more trips on heavy and light rail combined than MARTA does, even though 15 years ago it only got about 1/3 the riders combined and even though the Atlanta area has grown much much faster in the intervening period).

In the South and West, Atlanta is one of the few large metropolitan areas to have done absolutely nothing to upgrade its rail transit system in the last 10 years, since the extensions to North Springs and Sandy Springs were finished (seeing as nothing "serious" has been done with plans, and seeing as the stripped-down Peachtree Streetcar seems like a tourist attraction more than something to really help transportation and will, I suspect, not get full funding).

Systems have seen and/or are in progress to see significant expansions in Los Angeles, San Francisco-Oakland, Portland, San Jose, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Denver, Dallas, Sacramento, Miami

and began and are expanding in Albuquerque, Seattle, Houston, Charlotte, Austin, Phoenix, Nashville, with Norfolk/Virginia Beach/Newport News and Orlando to see openings soon.

This is not to say, of course, that we haven't seen extensions in some of the other metropolitan areas in that time period (New York, Washington, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, and especially Minneapolis, which just started its system in the last 10 years, now has one light rail line, one commuter rail line, is in progress on an east-west line between Minneapolis and St. Paul and about to submit to the FTA on a southwestern line, and Pittsburgh is still in progress on its Bore to the Shore, which is not insignificant because it makes further extensions a lot cheaper).

The point is that Atlanta is missing the boat.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Demands and Sayings of Lee The Discovery Channel Gunman

Mind you, I'm not at all sanguine about the planet being able to sustain much more if any human population growth (especially at Western standards of living), but this guy Lee nevertheless has a hilarious, hilarious manifesto and demands of Discovery which can be read here.

Note that he's not a straight-up crazy leftist; the "they terk er jobs" crowd would agree with parts.

Programs must be developed to find solutions to stopping ALL immigration pollution and the anchor baby filth that follows that.

Some of the best parts:

Focus must be given on how people can live WITHOUT giving birth to more filthy human children since those new additions continue pollution and are pollution. A game show format contest would be in order.

Nothing is more important than saving them. The Lions, Tigers, Giraffes, Elephants, Froggies, Turtles, Apes, Raccoons, Beetles, Ants, Sharks, Bears, and, of course, the Squirrels.

Won't someone please think of the Froggies!

A picture of James Jay Lee the Gunman: