Donald Shoup debated calling his treatise Aparkalypse Now

Friday, September 3rd, 2021

Donald Shoup debated calling his treatise Aparkalypse Now, but he went with The High Price of Free Parking instead:

America’s 250 million cars have an estimated 2 billion parking spots and spend 95% of their time parked. To make cities more equitable, affordable, and environmentally conscious, Shoup makes the case for three simple reforms:

1. Stop requiring off-street parking for new developments.

2. Price street parking according to market value, based on the desirability of the space, the time of day, and the number of open spots.

3. Spend that revenue on initiatives to better the surrounding neighborhoods.

If people had to pay for street parking, he argues, it would bring in money to pay for local repairs, infrastructure (like that free Wi-Fi he was talking about), and beautification. It would also make public transit more attractive and force many curbside cruisers to head straight for parking garages and other paid spots—a win for neighborhood air quality, global greenhouse gas levels, and those still playing those two-ton games of musical chairs.

As anyone who lives in a city knows, the pandemic blew up most of what we understood about parking in America. Oh, it was possible this whole time to hand over parking spaces to restaurants? To turn whole streets into semi-permanent pedestrian thoroughfares? To cut traffic enough to yield noticeable improvements in air quality? All it took was a once-in-a-century public-health catastrophe.

[…]

According to his research, U.S. cities dedicate more land to parking than any other single use, including housing and commercial space.

[…]

In many cities decades-old ordinances require real estate developers to set aside a certain amount of space for parking — usually, a shocking amount. America has an average of 1,000 square feet of parking for each car, vs. 800 square feet of housing per person.

[…]

Most American restaurants have at least three times the square footage devoted to parking as they do to the restaurant itself.

The California pepper tree isn’t from California

Sunday, May 30th, 2021

The Big Sleep repeatedly mentions pepper trees, and the annotations in my copy explain why:

This is the second mention of a tree that was once as emblematic of Los Angeles as the palm. Like the palm, the eucalyptus, and most other trees in LA, it is not a native. First planted by the Spanish padres to shade the missions, pepper trees were enthusiastically adopted by Anglo Angelenos, who lined the boulevards with the graceful shade trees. Many of these were later replaced by palms when it was found that pepper trees hosted black scale, a pest fatal to citrus crops.

Pepper trees were some of the first arrivals in the young city of Hollywood: in 1896 Harvey Henderson Wilcox, the founder of Hollywood, planted them along a freshly laid road — today’s Hollywood Boulevard — and began selling lots to the brand-new subdivision. The trees were removed in the 1920s because they blocked store signs on the commercial strip, despite a storm of protests to save them, including a campaign led by the actress Mary Pickford.

The trees became known as California pepper trees:

The California pepper tree (Schinus molle) is a fast-growing, hardy evergreen. With an established root system, the pepper tree requires very little rainfall and is considered to be the largest of all Schinus species, growing up to five stories tall. Its wide canopy and drooping branches give it an appearance that closely resembles a willow tree, making the two species visually similar.

However, crushed leaves from the pepper tree release a distinct aroma close to that of commercial black pepper and easily sets the pepper tree apart from the willow. The leaves are narrow and cone-shaped, appearing feather-like from a distance.

Bright red and pink berries decorate the branches, hanging together in grape-like bunches. As the tree ages, its outer grey bark peels to reveal its deep-red inner wood.

The California pepper tree received its colloquial name from its high abundance, cultivation, and long history in California. However, contrary to its nickname as the “California” pepper tree, Schinus molle originates from the arid regions of northern South America and the Peruvian Andes.

California Pepper Tree

It has made its way across the globe and can be found in mild to warm climates. In certain regions, it is considered to be an invasive species. In South Africa and Australia, the pepper tree has encroached onto grasslands and dry areas. It often out-grows native plant species, gradually increasing in abundance and changing the local ecosystem.

In the United States, it is found in southern to south-western states and tends to crowd out native vegetation. Interestingly, it is not officially an invasive species in California given its long-term presence, common planting, and relatively low risk in comparison to other invasive plants.

The expanded Wilshire was emblematic of the newly auto-centric city

Saturday, May 15th, 2021

Chandler’s Marlowe novels take place in Los Angeles and “Bay City” (Santa Monica). My annotated version of The Big Sleep explains the historical importance of Wilshire Boulevard:

A historic and even prehistoric route, once traveled by the Pleistocene animals that ended up in the tar pits at La Brea, Wilshire was widened in 1924 as part of developer A. W. Ross’s scheme to move shopping away from the traffic-choked downtown.

The expanded Wilshire was emblematic of the newly auto-centric city: it could accommodate six lanes of traffic, had synchronized traffic lights, and funneled automobiles to a brand-new shopping district (named Miracle Mile in 1928) where each building had its own parking lot.

They didn’t foresee the high cost of free parking.

New York City traffic deaths rise during Covid-19 pandemic

Sunday, January 3rd, 2021

New York City is on course this year to record the highest number of deaths of drivers and passengers since it launched a traffic safety initiative in 2014:

Through Dec. 16 this year, New York City had recorded 234 total road deaths, including pedestrians and cyclists. They include 115 car drivers, motorcyclists and passengers who have been killed, a 69% increase from the same period last year and the highest number of such deaths since 2006. Meanwhile, pedestrian deaths are on track to reach a record low this year.

The fatalities have mounted despite the total number of crashes in which people were injured or killed falling to about 22,000 for the period from April through Nov. 30, about 30% lower than the same period last year, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of transportation department data. For every 1,000 serious crashes during the pandemic, there were 8.6 deaths—almost twice as many in the past three years.

Ms. Kite-Laidlaw said the increase in road deaths has been concentrated on highways and in the outer boroughs, especially in Queens, where fatalities including pedestrians and cyclists rose about 25%, and in the Bronx, where they rose about 50%, compared to the previous three years.

[...]

[Julia Kite-Laidlaw, the transportation department’s head of policy for Vision Zero, the city program to reduce road deaths] said that of the 66 motor vehicle occupants who died through Dec. 16 in New York City, 23 weren’t wearing a seatbelt. Among motorcyclists who died in a crash, only 14 of the 49 riders were properly licensed and registered.

It’s possible to travel all around the world and never leave AirSpace

Saturday, December 12th, 2020

Digital platforms like Foursquare are producing a harmonization of tastes across the world:

Every time Schwarzmann alights in a foreign city he checks the app, which lists food, nightlife, and entertainment recommendations with the help of a social network-augmented algorithm. Then he heads toward the nearest suggested cafe. But over the past few years, something strange has happened. “Every coffee place looks the same,” Schwarzmann says. The new cafe resembles all the other coffee shops Foursquare suggests, whether in Odessa, Beijing, Los Angeles, or Seoul: the same raw wood tables, exposed brick, and hanging Edison bulbs.

It’s not that these generic cafes are part of global chains like Starbucks or Costa Coffee, with designs that spring from the same corporate cookie cutter. Rather, they have all independently decided to adopt the same faux-artisanal aesthetic.

[...]

We could call this strange geography created by technology “AirSpace.” It’s the realm of coffee shops, bars, startup offices, and co-live / work spaces that share the same hallmarks everywhere you go: a profusion of symbols of comfort and quality, at least to a certain connoisseurial mindset. Minimalist furniture. Craft beer and avocado toast. Reclaimed wood. Industrial lighting. Cortados. Fast internet. The homogeneity of these spaces means that traveling between them is frictionless, a value that Silicon Valley prizes and cultural influencers like Schwarzmann take advantage of. Changing places can be as painless as reloading a website. You might not even realize you’re not where you started.

It’s possible to travel all around the world and never leave AirSpace, and some people don’t.

Traffic fatality rates increased during the pandemic

Tuesday, November 24th, 2020

There were fewer cars on the road last spring during the height of the pandemic, but traffic fatality rates increased 30% in the second quarter as evidence suggests drivers engaged in more risky behavior:

Total traffic volume fell 16% during the first half of 2020, NHTSA said in a release, while traffic deaths fell just 3%.

The fatality rate during the second quarter was 1.42 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, sharply higher than the first quarter rate of 1.10, which was in line with historical trends.

A second NHTSA study of trauma centers found seriously injured or fatal crash victims took risks during the pandemic that included speeding, driving impaired, and not using their seat belts.

For example, the study revealed a higher prevalence of alcohol, cannabinoids, and opioids in crash victims during the quarter compared to the months prior to the pandemic.

There’s only so much erosion a tax base can take before it starts to crumble from the inside

Thursday, September 24th, 2020

A former Bloomberg mayoral campaign manager says that New York City is in deep trouble:

In local political circles, it’s now fashionable to scoff at doomsday predictions and say that just as New York City came back in the 70s, came back in the 90s, and came back after 9/11, it will now too. It’s fashionable to say that even if some traditional office-based industries cut back significantly, the cheaper rents will lead to an artistic and technological renaissance that will spark new industries, trends and energy that will make the city better than ever.

Unfortunately, that’s probably more wishful thinking than anything else.

What we’re facing now is different: the beginning of a far more transformational shift in how we work, in many ways echoing the flight of manufacturing from the United States in the mid-late 20th century. Until now, there was a basic assumption that most white-collar employees would work in an office. Only something like a six-month quarantine could have challenged a norm so ingrained in our society.

[...]

There’s only so much erosion a tax base can take before it starts to crumble from the inside. Great American cities like Detroit, Baltimore and Cleveland were all decimated by the flight of manufacturing. Despite some well-intentioned marketing campaigns to the contrary, none of them really ever recovered.

New York has always been resilient because we’ve always been the physical home of industries like finance and media, law and advertising and health care. And not just one industry like some insurance towns, but many industries.

But that’s only because the idea that you don’t have to be anywhere else never occurred to anyone before.

[...]

Short term, the answer is to do everything possible to keep the city as appealing as possible. That means investing in quality of life measures like trash pickup and graffiti removal. It means figuring out how to curb abuses by law enforcement against blacks and Latinos while still bringing down the rate of shootings.

It means making the city an attractive place to do business. If you want to save jobs and help working people, raising taxes and adding regulations will only have the opposite effect.

Longer-term, it means trying to use newly vacant office space to spur new industries. It means reducing the cost of operating municipal and state government so that spending meets what the new tax base can actually afford.

It means having a mayor willing to personally call every major employer to ask what she or he can do to make them happy here, rather than having a mayor who is constantly trying to drive jobs away. And it means knowing that none of this may be enough and having five more approaches ready to go.

What buildings will look like after the Covid crisis

Tuesday, August 11th, 2020

The Wall Street Journal looks at what buildings will look like after the Covid crisis:

The New York-based company found that requests for home offices rose from 0.5% of messages pre-pandemic to 3% once the pandemic hit. Private outdoor space requests jumped by 20%, while in-unit laundry (a rarity in New York City) went up 17%. Interest in gyms plummeted. Requests fell by 10% for in-building gyms and by 50% for gyms nearby.

New Must-Have Amenities

Among the most common design changes made by developers is adding outdoor space or increasing access to those spaces. In a rental project in Quincy, Mass., now in the permit phase, developer LBC Boston is adding balconies to about a quarter of the units, said Margarita Kvacheva, senior vice president. “We are strategically placing the balconies on the south side, because those get the daylight and that’s where people can go out and get vitamin D,” she said.

Ventilation Systems Used by Individual Units

You can’t violate anybody’s civil rights while eating

Sunday, June 21st, 2020

What happens to America’s big blue cities, Steve Sailer asks, when The Establishment switches sides from the cops to the blacks?

Our elites appear intent on trying that experiment once again, although we have been through a couple of highly relevant historical examples that they ought to recall first.

Because blacks, despite making up only about one-eighth of the population, have accounted for the majority of homicide offenders in recent decades, overall long-term murder rates tend to be driven by the authorities’ attitudes toward African-Americans: indulgent or hardheaded?

Thus, the first Black Lives Matter era (2014–2016) saw the total number of homicides in the U.S. grow a record-setting 23 percent in two years. Moreover, the most spectacular exacerbations of homicide rates happened precisely where BLM won its most famous political victories over the police, such as St. Louis, Baltimore, Chicago, and Milwaukee. By this point, Black Lives Matter has gotten more incremental blacks murdered than all the lynchings in American history.

This “Ferguson Effect,” named after the celebrated August 2014 riots, was repeatedly denied by the media, until the evidence became overwhelming, at which point they stopped talking about it.

Voters at the national level didn’t allow the White House to continue to worsen homicide. Murders fell 7 percent from 2016 to 2018 under Trump.

And the earlier period in which the influential sided with blacks over cops, from the end of the Kennedy Era to the end of the Carter Era, saw the murder rate double nationally, destroying many American cities.

Most notoriously, in New York City murders grew sharply in the early 1960s, from 390 in 1959 to 634 in 1965, before exploding under the new liberal Republican mayor John Lindsay, reaching 1,691 in 1972.

Lindsay, a handsome WASP, had sided with blacks against the city’s Irish policemen and Jewish school administrators.

As usual, the cops responded by slowing down on the job: the retreat to the doughnut shop. By one estimate, NYPD cops got down to doing about two hours of policing per eight-hour shift. After all, you can’t violate anybody’s civil rights while eating.

White residents fled many neighborhoods, such as the once-tranquil Bronx (where Ogden Nash had complained in 1930 about the lack of excitement with the couplet “The Bronx?/No, thonks!”), which saw reported burglaries increase by 1,559 percent from 1960 to 1969. In turn, the white population of the Bronx fell nearly 50 percent between the 1970 and 1980 Censuses.

Today, the media portrays those whites who fled as the Bad Guys, far worse than the criminals who preyed on them: The whites were guilty of the racial felony of abandoning blacks and Puerto Ricans to the ravages of segregation. In the past, however, media coverage was less hateful and bigoted in part because journalists were often related to former outer-borough whites. But today fewer and fewer dare speak up about what really happened to white residents of the cities after the Civil Rights Era unleashed liberalism on them.

Average rush-hour speed rose from 39 to 61 mph

Saturday, May 2nd, 2020

Fewer drivers are hitting the road during the pandemic, yet police in some places are seeing an increase in deadly car crashes:

Minnesota and Louisiana recorded more traffic fatalities during the coronavirus crisis than in the same periods of past years, even though there were far fewer drivers on the road because of stay-at-home orders. In states including Missouri, fatality rates increased even as total crash deaths declined, according to state officials.

Speeding is a top cause of crash deaths in the U.S., and highway officials say it is a major culprit in the recent carnage.

Between March 16 and April 21, 35 people died in car crashes across Minnesota — the most in that period in at least six years. At the same time, state officials say, about half as many cars as normal have been cruising along the state’s roads.

[...]

In Louisiana, where officials say traffic fell by about one-third after a March stay-at-home order, initial figures show that from March 16 to April 20, the number of fatal crashes rose to 66 from 61 during the same period in 2019, the Louisiana State Police said. Lack of seat-belt usage, impairment and distraction were factors, officials said.

[...]

Passenger vehicle miles traveled, a measure of traffic volume, fell in every state, from 31% in Arkansas to 61% in New Jersey during the April 13-17 period compared with the last week of February, according to transportation analytics firm Inrix.

Roads in the 10 biggest metro areas have emptied, with volume down 63% in the New York City region. Meanwhile, cars are going faster during morning and evening rush hours, Inrix found in comparing April 13-17 with the first two weeks of March. The biggest jump in the 10 metro areas came in Los Angeles, where the average 5 p.m. speed rose from about 39 mph to 61 mph on limited-access roads and highways.

Some places have recorded far fewer crash deaths despite an increase in speeding. The California Highway Patrol said there were 10 fatal collisions in the month following the March 19 launch of a statewide stay-at-home order, compared with an average of 150 in that span during the previous four years, based on preliminary data. A spokeswoman pointed to stepped-up public education and enforcement as possible factors.

That said, the highway patrol wrote about 2,500 speeding tickets to drivers caught going more than 100 mph. That was an 87% jump from a year earlier, despite a roughly 35% drop in traffic volume on state roads.

It’s not a holiday; it’s like jail

Saturday, February 22nd, 2020

The Guardian describes how coronavirus has altered day-to-day life:

Wi, a 29-year-old Chinese PhD student in the Midlands, is originally from Wuhan, the city at the centre of the outbreak and where her parents have been in self-quarantine for more than 20 days. “They can’t walk, they can’t leave their own flat – it’s not a holiday, it’s like jail,” she said. “They are unable to even open windows for fear that the virus will spread through the air.

“Now the whole of Wuhan is closed, all public transport and private cars have been stopped, so they can’t even drive their own cars on the road. So they just stay at home, eating, sleeping and watching movies. That’s all they can do,” Wi said.

Wi’s parents have not been told when they will be allowed to leave their flat. Wi has become concerned about the mental health of those in isolation in the city, after seeing posts on social media with locals saying they would rather kill themselves than remain in quarantine any longer.

“The biggest enemy is not the virus, it’s mental health. When you stay in one room for half a month, that’s horrible, you cannot go outside or get fresh air.”

[...]

“My grandma keeps wanting to go out for walks, especially when it’s sunny, but I always try to stop her and walk around the apartment with her,” she said. “It is sometimes hard to explain to my grandma how dangerous things still are, as official news on TV is mainly good news.”

This strategy seems to be missing the point. There’s nothing dangerous about being out in the fresh air and sunshine. The only danger is from close contact with other people and the things they’ve touched. Going for a walk in the suburbs or in a park, for instance, should be totally safe, and in the city it should be fairly safe as long as you’re not sharing a crowded sidewalk or elevator, touching doorknobs or elevator buttons, etc. Being cooped up doesn’t make you safer.

Does owning a car hurt your health?

Thursday, February 20th, 2020

Does owning a car hurt your health? To really answer that, you’d need a randomized trial:

But who’s going to assign long-term car ownership on the basis of a coin flip?

The city of Beijing, it turns out. Because of mounting congestion, Beijing has limited the number of new car permits it issues to 240,000 a year since 2011. Those permits are issued in a monthly lottery with more than 50 losers for every winner – and that, as researchers from the University of California Berkeley, Renmin University in China and the Beijing Transport Institute recently reported in the British Medical Journal, provides an elegant natural experiment on the health effects of car ownership.

Led by Berkeley economist Michael Anderson, the researchers followed 180 permit winners and 757 losers for roughly five years, and looked for differences caused by the acquisition of a car.

“The randomization of the lottery is what gives us confidence,” Anderson explained in a statement. “We know that the winners should be comparable to the losers on all attributes other than car ownership.”

Not surprisingly, the winners took 2.9 fewer rides a week on Beijing’s dense public-transit network, representing a 45-per-cent drop in usage. They also spent 24.2 fewer minutes each day day walking or biking than the non-winners, a 54-per-cent drop.

You’d expect these behaviour changes to have health impacts. Over all, the winners gained an average of just more than two kilograms, a difference that was not statistically significant. But the effects were more obvious when looking only at winners aged 50 or older: They gained an average of 10.3 kilograms, a statistically significant and worrisome increase.

Why are medieval buildings made of squares and rectangles?

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020

Why are medieval buildings made of squares and rectangles?

What rooms are inside real medieval castles?

Tuesday, January 21st, 2020

What rooms are inside real medieval castles?

Why do medieval buildings overhang their lower floors?

Monday, January 20th, 2020

Why do medieval buildings overhang their lower floors?

(Hat tip to Alistair, who led me down the Shadiversity rabbit hole.)