Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Japantown in SF is Nice!

My two cents about an article in the Chronicle today, hating on Japantown Center. It's what I call a "dumb article". I really like the whole area around Japantown Center, and it's very well-traveled by pedestrians. There are always people and families around. I'm puzzled that someone would describe this part of SF as drab or dead. Try Market west of Powell after 8pm. That is what a dead, drab area looks like.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Darth Nepotis

I felt I must draw attention to the profile picture that Oaktrooper uses in his/her profile on the Chronicle.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Oakland CANNOT Cut Police

There were 9 murders in Oakland just in April. Because there's no media coverage doesn't mean it's not happening. In what nightmare world does that make it time to talk about cutting police? This effectively translates into abandoning the residents and merchants in (for example) East Oakland, the majority of whom said they wanted more officers when they briefly had a media voice in the post-Lovelle Mixon spotlight.

In the comments around the blogosphere, one theory is that this is the old trick to send up the alarm and get Oakland funding - i.e., threaten to cut something important, everyone freaks, and the city government can either get outside funding more easily or at least has more tolerance from voters to expand their revenue options (taxes, bonds, etc.) If that's true, then I'm happy to be part of the kneejerk "NO!" that will help the cause, but frankly, I don't credit Dellums with being that clever. I think he sees a major shortfall and he wants to cut police, period.

The reaction from saner quarters? Because we still don't have a permanent chief, the Chronicle typically gets comment from the head of the Oakland Police union, Dom Arotzarena. "Crime will go up," Arotzarena said. "More people will die." Public Safety Committee Chair Larry Reid adds "I just think there's an issue (with cutting officers) when crime is Oakland's No 1 priority. I understand the difficult budget challenges we have, but it took us a long time to get the police department up to 803 officers."

Amazingly, Dan Lindheim said, "If we don't get outside revenue, we will have to cut public safety personnel. There is no question about it." I knew little about Lindheim, but he's confirming the suspicions of many that he's a Dellumzombie. Rather than throwing up our hands, Jane Brunner suggests that we try to find another way to fund the police that we fought so hard to get in the first place. Alright Jane - so how do we do it? Show me a way and you have my support.

Facing cuts in March of last year, Mayor Chuck Reed of San Jose clearly got it: ”Even though we're trying to make cuts in some areas, public safety is our number one priority. It's our core service." Emphasis mine. This is a city that doesn't have nearly the crime problems that Oakland does, and still, for them, cutting police is not an issue.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Links for Information about H1N1 Flu

...can be found here.

Now that at least one school in Berkeley is closing as a precaution, I would be surprised if it doesn't show up in the East Bay soon. In my nonprofessional opinion, it's encouraging that so far it has been highly non-lethal in the United States, especially compared to Mexico, though it's been speculated that individuals are underreporting non-lethal infections in Mexico, therefore the denominator is smaller than in reality, therefore there isn't a mortality discrepancy between Mexico and the U.S. and it's not nearly as bad in Mexico as the statistics make it look.

Friday, May 1, 2009

How Serious Are We About Public Transportation?

There's an opinion piece in the Thin Green Line on the Chronicle today about fare increases on Muni. I've used Muni less than five times in my life. I've principally used BART for public transport, but almost certainly less than 100 times in more than 10 years in the East Bay. In the last election I voted for state prop 1A, but against Oakland Measure VV (transit bonds for AC transit; it passed anyway). But this fare increase is a symptom of a larger attitude.

Why am I a car addict? Because for the most part, public transportation in the Bay Area doesn't go where I need it to, and we're constantly disincentivized from using what public transportation there is.

In my case, if I drive to work, even at peak rush hour, it rarely takes an hour. On the other hand, if I take BART, it will be at least one hour and seven minutes before I'm in my office, and probably closer to the max of an hour twenty-seven. It involves a 10 minute walk from home to BART, then if I catch the train exactly right I go from Rockridge to Glen Park in 32 minutes, and then if my company's shuttle leaves immediately after I come out of the station it's another 15 minutes to campus, and then it's a 10 minute walk to my office. And I might have to wait 10 minutes for BART, and 10 more for the shuttle.

Let's look at the benefits and drawbacks to me. (Like you, I am a rationally self-interested optimizer):

Cost$7.30 = $3.65 each way x 2$10.00 = $4.00 toll + (22 miles each way x 2)x(18 mpg)x($2.45/gal)
ProsCan read or do work on the wayComplete scheduling freedom
Consabout an hour more per day tied up with commuting; can't run errands at lunch; have to get to and leave work by certain time or pay for taxiCan't read or do work in car(1)

Ask me if $2.70 and some low-quality interrupted reading/work time is worth complete schedule freedom, and the answer will be yes. Now imagine if I didn't work for a business magnanimous enough to provide a shuttle (and how many do?) The closest BART station is South San Francisco, and it's 3 miles away. This is either a bike ride on some heavily-trafficked streets (and what if my company doesn't have a shower?) or $30 of cab rides every day.

My point in leading you through the economics of my commute is that, for most people in the Bay Area, using public transportation doesn't make sense. People aren't going to plan their lives around it unless you force them (if there were a 200% gas tax increase I'd start thinking about it). Not everybody works in downtown SF or Oakland. For the most part, public transportation doesn't go where we need it to, and it doesn't run when we need it to either. In particular on this last point, I have always wondered why BART stops running so early. Don't you hate having to look at your watch and leave your friend's party after midnight to catch the 12:50? Somehow, New York can manage a much bigger 24-hour system. Every time I'm driving across the Bay Bridge at 2:15, I wonder how many drunk drivers there are within a half mile of me. The worst part of it is that BART can definitely run 24 hours - because it did for nine months when the bridge was out after the Loma Prieta quake in 89.

Add to that the idea of charging BART riders more for riding at peak hours (and charging Muni riders more all the time), and you start to wonder how serious we all are about it - "we" meaning governments, public transit administrators, and voters. Charge me more to ride BART during rush hour? Thanks for the disincentive! I don't even mind if you charge me more to ride home with the other drunks at 2:30am if that's what it takes to keep it running all night, but don't raise fares and expect me not to keep driving. I know they need money, but that's the hard reality of economic behavior.

All this says to me that we're still not serious about public transportation. It doesn't go where we need it to, when we need it to, and we're punishing the people who use it. I hope the measure VV bonds send AC transit where I can use it more easily, when I can use it. I hope BART starts running later. Because until it does, you'll see me crossing the upper deck of the Bay Bridge every morning in my SUV.

(1) Drawbacks of my driving to myself are few, but to others they include: continued oppression of subjects and de facto slaves of medieval theocracies benefiting from petroleum extraction; climate change to inhabitants of predominantly low-lying countries and marginal precipitation environments. But the effects of my driving can be dispersed to everyone in the world, so I don't care. A classic suboptimization problem. Until there are more laws, you can expect me and every other rational person to continue behaving this way. An unpleasant truth, but you can't be effective if you insist on denying human psychology.

Later addition: I took BART to work this morning, with my company's private shuttle. 90 minutes each way, $7.30 round trip. If I worked in this area and did not have a private shuttle, it would be about $37.30 round trip EVERY DAY with the taxi ride, or I could ride my bike to work if they have a shower (if not, I guess my coworkers would just have to deal with me stinking all day for the sake of the planet). Or, I could plan my career around the few places that are convenient for public transportation; and isn't that what little girls and boys dream about when they tell you what they want to do with their lives?