January 31st, 2014

Factors Influencing Regional Snow and Traffic Management

I think this is a mostly complete list:

(1) Total vehicles per day and total vehicles per hour during peak travel times
(2) Total miles of road in region under consideration
(3) Frequency of snow
(4) Volume of snow
(5) Mean number of days until snow is expected to melt if untreated
(6) Number and grade of hills, and location with respect to arterials/population/jobs

Basically, if you have a lot of miles of road, but not many vehicles, then you won't plow or treat to bare pavement; you'll just make your drivers drive cars that handle well in compact snow and ice, and expect them to run a different set of tires during snow season than during the rest of the year. Public buses might run chains part of the time.

If you have snow frequently, but at a low volume, you might not plow or treat, because it doesn't ever accumulate and it tends to blow off the roadway (but your roadways will probably be slightly elevated to exploit the wind factor).

If you have an enormous volume of snow, but only occasionally, you'll probably plow, because there's some risk that if you don't plow, then you'll get another enormous volume and roads will become impassably untreatable.

If the mean number of days until snow melt is believed to always be short, then you won't plow or treat, but you will be expected to forecast correctly and close everything for those days, because absolutely no one is running appropriate tires, has familiarity with running on compact snow and ice, the city won't own vehicles to plow and treat, the money isn't in the budget etc.

So when a midwesterner (huge number of miles, comparatively small number of vehicles, frequent snow and sometimes high volume snow if lake effect, with months delay before full melt) critiques a southern state for handling things poorly, the midwesterner dismisses the importance of correct forecast, and advises an insane investment in cars/tires/training for all the drivers. When a New Englander critiques a southern state for handling things poorly, they understand the value of a good forecast, but don't really understand what happens at the kinds of temperatures involved: that seems too warm and too small a volume of snow to be a problem, and New Englanders have a very small number of days dealing with sheet ice or ice particles suspended in water (and when they do encounter those conditions, they have accidents comparable to a Seattle driver or Atlanta driver. Physics is physics.).

People in Seattle know not to go up and down (certain) hills in slippery weather; they spend a lot of time passing around media depicting what happens when you/the bus driver makes this error. They'll focus on Atlanta school buses being sent out on routes with those hills and no alternative plan.

Etc.

Portland, Oregon's extremely rigorous growth boundaries take on a whole different meaning if you think about them in this context. Portland has ice storms, all the freaking time. You can't necessarily just salt your way to vehicular happiness, because the environmental destruction would be disproportionate (trees grow very slowly in the PNW, vs. the East Coast). I have to wonder if a compact settlement pattern was chosen because it makes those ice storms a lot easier to keep working and going to school through (walk/public transit, fewer vehicle corridors so more traffic per mile thus the cars warm the roadway helping to keep it ice free). Obvs, the geography of the area has a bit influence as well.

After thinking about the southern storm while trying to resolve conflicting opinions from people whose adult life was spent in different regions, I have concluded that R.'s response is classically New Hampshire/central-western Massachusetts: a compromise between treatment and an expectation to have good tread on the tires and show good judgement about deciding when to travel, along with zero personal experience with school closures outside of Longmeadow (tiny, walkable) and Acton (less tiny, still fairly walkable, very flat). My response is Seattle (there's white stuff; just stay inside until it goes away) with a sprinkling of New Hampshire (if you don't keep the driveway down to bare pavement, you won't be able to stop before hitting something on the downward slope and that's part of the house up there) and a generous helping of Metrowest (hey, we pay money for you to keep these roads clear. Why didn't you plow again and when are you going to plow the rest of the sidewalks). My sister's response is southern: the government _will_ fuck this up, so show good judgment where your kids are involved and bring along stuff in case something happens along the way. Etc.

And then I'm a nerd, so I'm pro technocrats will solve this if we just get the right ones.

TNC and Robot Lawn Mowers (unrelated to each other, link heavy)

Uber is an example of a TNC: Transportation Network Company. They have an app and a couple of service formats. One is a batch of commercial drivers (licensed like car services); the other is UberX, sort of "normal" people who are willing to offer rides in their own vehicles. (There are a bunch of other companies offering services in both of these modes, as well as regular taxi services and car services which have apps to hail or reserve rides.) Uber handles payments/tips via the apps, but everything else seems to be sort of contracted out, leading to some interesting liability/insurance/regulatory issues.

California is attempting to regulate this innovative nascent industry: http://techcrunch.com/2013/09/19/cpuc-ridesharing-regulations/

There are some real insurance problems: http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Drivers-for-Uber-Lyft-stuck-in-insurance-limbo-5183379.php

California has also already had an early tragedy attributable to this innovative nascent industry: http://www.wired.com/business/2014/01/uber-wrongful-death/

There are lawsuits: http://www.xconomy.com/boston/2013/06/27/uber-still-fighting-two-federal-lawsuits-in-boston/

Some humor value in a Boston cab company accusing Uber of RICO violations. That article also notes that the UberX side (and also Lyft and Sidecar) are encountering enough enforcement at LAX to tell their drivers not to do pickups there (airports typically requiring anyone doing business at the airport to be permitted by that airport).

And now, for some humor: robots to mow your lawn, a capsule link-story.

In 2005, for over $2000, a lawn mowing robot aimed at ordinary consumers.

http://www.engadget.com/2005/05/26/ambrogio-evolution-robotic-lawnmowers-poised-to-take-over/

Ah, the boom! Also, Italians! Product seems real and still exists.

http://www.ambrogiorobot.com/en/prodotti

iRobot, makers of Roomba (today, ours choked on a small, plastic ball and had to be Heimliched. Well, okay, I had to find and extract the ball. Often, it exhausts itself trying to hump the base of the floor lamp, or crawl under the sofa) thought about making a lawn bot.

http://www.engadget.com/2006/08/23/irobot-cooking-up-lawn-mower-bot/

I mention this because there is a new entry:

http://gigaom.com/2014/01/31/within-a-few-years-a-self-powered-robot-could-be-mowing-your-lawn/

New wrinkle: it is powered by the grass it eats, er, mows. Whatever. Currently going after hay, the creator(s) have idealistic visions of selling to Africa to supply power. Or something.

I feel like things like lawn bots would do better in a world with less unemployment.

a very short comment on Bridgegate

With a few interruptions, TRMS has been non-stop New Jersey for weeks now. Which is fine. New Jersey is pretty fun, pretty much all the time, and lately it's been exceptional. It helps a lot that I read and really enjoyed _The Jersey Sting_ not too long ago, and have a relatives (in-laws and a sister) in New Jersey and some ancestry in New Jersey that I've researched a little. This is kinda familiar stuff, and not just from watching reality TV.

Recently, however, the story has broken much more widely, leading to coverage like this:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/01/nyregion/christie-bridge.html

Wildstein has Woes. The Port Authority has declined to cover his legal costs, if I have understood things correctly. He took the fifth a bunch when the New Jersey legislature asked him questions, possibly leading to some contempt issues. And he has made it _abundantly_ clear that he'll talk in exchange for immunity. So we're basically eating popcorn every evening wondering whether anyone is going to decide that he knows something worth exchanging for immunity, that they can't get on their own through subpoena'ing everyone's cell phones.

Not the cell phone data or records. _The actual phones_.

I totally love this story. It's not quite as good at the 60ish IT guy in England accused of trying to get it on with some farm animals, but it's pretty close.

This really doesn't mean anything to anyone (other than it does suggest the party's are approaching parity when it comes to oppo research between Presidential election cycles, which is a Good Thing), altho we can all take away an important lesson from this: texts are surprisingly persistent.

ETA: The SPCA developments are _much_ more fascinating, imo, than the Hoboken mayor's accusations -- but it's all good. In a very bad sort of way.