Michael Lewyn's blog

Michael Lewyn is an assistant professor at Touro Law Center in Long Island.
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Are Passenger-Miles a Valid Measure of Anything?

Every so often, one sees an article arguing that one mode of transportation is cheaper, more efficient, or less dangerous than another because it uses less energy/kills more people/costs more per passenger-mile. (1)

It seems to me, however, that per passenger-mile comparisions are flawed in one key respect: they assume that trips on any mode of transportation will involve the same mileage, so that if the average driver lives 20 miles from work, the average bus rider will also live 20 miles from work.

What mobility really means

Every so often, I read a blog post or an article talking about the trade-off between "mobility" and making places more accessible to nonmotorists.  The hidden assumption behind such statements is that "mobility" means cars going as fast as possible.  So if every street is an eight-lane highway with cars going 70 miles per hour, overall social "mobility" is therefore high. 

Two Separate Problems

Conventional wisdom dictates that middle-class families would find urban schools more tempting if we only “fixed the schools”- a concept that implies that urban public schools are simply unable to educate anyone, because they are either horribly underfunded (in the liberal version of this claim) or horribly mismanaged (in the conservative version).

The Failure of Voluntarism

I recently read an article containing a World War II-era poster: “When You Ride Alone You Ride With Hitler.” The authors of the article asked whether governments could use similar powers of persuasion today to discourage energy consumption and thus address climate change.

Learning from TTI

This week, I finally got around to looking at the latest (2009) Texas Transportation Institute study on traffic congestion. (1)

Two facts struck me as interesting.  First, the great congestion surge of the past decade or two is over.  In most large metropolitan areas, congestion (measured as hours lost to congestion per traveler) peaked around 2005, and actually declined in 2005-07.  For example, in Atlanta, hours lost to congestion peaked at 61, and decreased to 57 by 2007.  Congestion increased in only three of the fourteen largest regions (Washington, Detroit and Houston)- and in each of these by only one hour per traveler.

Public Options in Transit and Health Care

Over the next few months, Congress will continue to debate health insurance reform, and in particular, whether to create a "public option"- a government-financed insurance company which would compete with private
health insurers.  Opponents of the public option fear that the government package might drive private insurers out of business.  Are such concerns legitimate? American transportation history may give ammunition to both supporters and opponents of the public option. 

How to drive traffic away

A few days ago, I was trying to take a streetcar in Toronto- and the streetcar was just as congested as any suburban arterial. The lines in front of streetcars were so long that I couldn't get into the first streetcar. Or the second. Or the third. Instead, I had to wait a few minutes (horrors!) for the fourth streetcar.

I asked myself: what if streetcars only ran every hour, instead of every few minutes? Would the streetcars be equally crowded? Of course not. People would abandon the streetcars and start to use cars (if they owned them) and buy them (if they did not yet own them).

The Genesis of Stalemate

Some of my acquaintances believe that climate change may end human life (or at least civilization) and that the only way to save humanity is to massively reduce economic growth and consumption. Other acquaintances believe that climate change is, if not an outright hoax, a minor problem- and that even the slightest attempt to regulate emission-creating industries will itself destroy American civilization.

A Middle Ground In The Bag Wars

The San Jose City Council is considering a proposal to ban plastic bags and most paper bags in supermarkets, out of concerns about the greenhouse gases used to manufacture them and about the waste from discarded bags.  But this policy might create as many environmental problems as it solves. 

In a city without disposable bags, shoppers who seek to buy large amounts of groceries will have to drag around an army of nondisposable containers.  For drivers, this is not a big deal.  Susie SUV can always find  space for dozens of nondisposable bags in her truck.  And because Susie’s bags can stay in her truck forever, she will always be able to make impulse purchases without difficulty.

Stress and the city, part 2

Not long ago, I posted on what makes some cities more stressful than others. (See http://www.planetizen.com/node/40441 ). In that post, I remarked that the ideal objective indicia of stress (resident surveys on crime, illness, etc.) often do not exist for most cities.