Saturday, July 28, 2007

Enjoy Your Week

I'm headed up to Lake Superior. The laptop isn't. Posting will resume in a week.

Friday, July 27, 2007

You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby

I'm talking about local light rail here in Columbus. This Week reports that MORPC has dropped plans to pursue any of the three alternatives for rapid transit between downtown and Polaris, a story which Paul at Columbus RetroMetro elaborates upon. Oddly enough, MORPC doesn't seem to have any mention of this on their own website, but then again their website is in need of a little coordination and planning itself.

The article in TW states that none of the projects can hit the cost effectiveness criteria required by the Feds, so there's no point in going forward. Unfortunately for those of us reading the article, no attempt to explain any of the numbers is actually given. So I did some looking about...

The FTA has a grant process by which it helps fund new fixed-route transit projects. Projects under $250,000,000 are eligible for Small Start grants, larger projects (and the light-rail and streetcar alternatives are both projected to cost at least twice that) are funded through the New Starts mechanism. Al-Akhras, the MORPC spokesman, is communicating the FTA's message quite clearly: Only the most "cost-effective" projects need bother to apply. The Columbus Light Rail project is estimated at $82-$123, and projects above $23.99 won't even get a second look.

You might ask, as I did, $23 dollars worth of what? What assumptions about what numbers give us $123? How do we get to $82? You might go seek out the New Starts Guidance Document, as I did. You still wouldn't know, but you would have some help...

Cost Effectiveness appears to be calculated by first taking the annualized Capital cost of the project, adding the annual operating cost of the project, and subtracting the annual operating cost of transit components being replaced. This number is then divided by the annual number of trips taken on the new system multiplied by the average overall time savings per trip in hours. This isn't the benefit that I would choose, but it's the system we have.

So if we were to assume a marginal capital/operating cost of $125m/yr, and 12,500 passengers/day, each of whom is shaving an average of 20 minutes off of the trip they would normally take (either via the #2 bus or their own car), the Cost Effectiveness of the system is $82 (See spreadsheet below). I have no idea if these inputs are close to those used (except for the number of passengers), but they are consistent with the low-end estimate. Dropping daily ridership to 10,000 and upping the capital/operating increase to $150m/yr gives you $123. Once again, my choice of inputs may be way off, if you have expertise here, let me know.

If you're still with me, you're probably brainstorming ways to get down to that $23 dollar level. The first one is to reduce the cost, perhaps by shortening the corridor. Unfortunately, using the same ridership and time estimates as in our low-end estimate above, shaving $50m off of the annual budget still only gets us to a $49/hour-benefit. We could instead try to aggressively promote ridership. Leaving the budget as is and going from 12.5k to 20k daily riders only gets us from $82 to $51.

The number that really gets things moving is the time savings. A 35 minute time savings per trip gets us from $82 to $47. If the typical savings was 45 minutes, we're down to $36.

It would seem that making the train faster might help, but the big problem is that Columbus actually has one of the shortest commuting times in the country (60/69 among cities with population > 250k), so it's hard to shave time off of that. It takes a lot longer by bus, but not so many people use our bus system (in part because it takes way too long).

So the quickest way to become eligible for federal help in creating a modern transit system for Columbus appears to be to slow down north-south traffic on US-23 and I-71, with a smattering of extra congestion downtown at rush hour.... Anyone up for that?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Sounds Like Seven... and counting

On Tuesday night, an anonymous commenter posted a message responding to last week's mayoral update, saying:

guess you got your wish for a female for Bexley mayor

At the time, I didn't know what he/she was talking about. I'm pretty sure I do know now, but I'm going to wait a couple of days on that. As 'galago' confirms in the comments, Councilwoman Robyn Jones has announced her intention to run.

In the meantime, this is probably a good time to re-acquaint folks with the basic house rules:

1) I don't moderate comments. Yet. I don't want to have to moderate comments. Don't make me.

2) I strongly discourage comments left by the default name of "anonymous." I don't necessarily mind people leaving anonymous comments, but you should make up a name, even if it is just "anonymous1" or "aaa." This allows me (and others) to distinguish your comment(s) from those posted by other anonymous commenters.

3)I respect privacy and confidence. I can be reached at bluebexley AT gmail DOT com if you have information you'd like to pass along privately.

4)This is my blog, and I have opinions and preferences. I am under no obligation to provide balanced or objective coverage of races. Having said that, I am not now working, volunteering, or consulting for any candidate or issue advocacy group. If that changes I will make that abundantly clear.

Bill Harvey received what is likely the first anonymous internet attack in the history of Bexley Mayoral politics here on this blog, along with an anonymous defense. I don't expect it to be the last. I sent Mr. Harvey an email at the time inviting him to clarify or respond if he wished, with no reply. I can certainly understand that, but candidates (and that includes Council and BOE candidates should that become relevant), may consider that an open offer to themselves as well.

In related news, on Tuesday night City Council decided against putting the Police Station funding on the November ballot, opting to use general fund monies to finance the new facility. I was ambivalent on the issue, but it seemed to be one of the few that was actually causing some difference in opinion, and I would have liked to have gotten more of the candidates on the record. Too late now, I'll try harder next time.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sneer-Free Anti-War Reporting (almost).

The Dispatch report on last night's Iraq Town Hall in Columbus quotes office holders and their surrogates, physicians and activists, and all in all seems to describe a newsworthy event.

This is a positive development, because the mainstream media, for at least the last twenty some years, has not been able to look upon anti-war protestors without condescending. Others have discussed the historical and political reasons for this, but mainly it seems that all protest-like activity in the decades since Vietnam has simultaneously been too much and not enough like protests in the sixties.

Which, of course, leads me to the ukulele.

The presence of the ukulele player in the article completely undercuts the advances in tone and content otherwise present, and throws the piece firmly back into the narrative of war protestors as frivolous and irrelevant.

So I've got a confession. Even though I was not there, and am therefore operating on what should be considered insufficient information, I can't decide whether I'm more annoyed with Dean Narciso for writing about the ukulele, or with Tom Harker for playing it at the meeting.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Worth my donation right there

You may have seen the pictures of the offensive sign held up by Mitt Romney. You may have seen the autographed printout of those pictures signed by Mitt. You may have seen Mitt telling a young man to "Lighten Up."

If so, you probably know that that young man was the Ohio blogosphere's very own Jerid Kurtz.

If you don't know the story, Keith Olbermann does it better than I would.

Grump Monday - Justice Edition

Opened my inbox to find a pitch from Russ Feingold to give input on his upcoming Censure Resolutions. I sympathize with those who prefer impeachment, but I've always thought that this was the way to go. A year and a half ago I supported an earlier version, although I was unable to persuade my Senators:

Dear Jason:

Thank you for contacting me regarding President George W. Bush. I support
President Bush and his administration, and do not intend to call for his

Again, thank you for writing to me. If you have any additional concerns,
please feel free to contact me anytime.

Very respectfully yours,

United States Senator



Visit Feingold's Censure Page to chime in.

2) Payday Lenders. I cannot for the life of me figure out how any politician thinks that these folks make savory bedfellows. Jim Siegel has a piece in the Dispatch about how regulating these guys is uniting hardcore conservatives like Speaker-Wannabe Batchelder and Progressive Champ Ray Miller, but... Minority Leader Beatty not only likes Payday Lenders, she's threatening caucus members who side with Batchelder on the issue. She is quoted as saying:

"I have not had anybody call me and say, 'I go to a payday lending establishment, and I think you should close them down.' "

Ms. Beatty, have you ever had an addict call you and say "I go to a smack dealer, and I think you should close them down?" I know you're on our side, Joyce, but you're taking the morally wrong position on an issue that also happens to be the politically unpopular one. What gives?

3) Finally, someone points out the horrifyingly obvious - there are thousands of people in jail for crimes they did not commit (story behind NYT Select wall, I'll try to update with a public link later). For every DNA exoneration, there are ten crimes without the DNA evidence available, and for most crimes, it isn't even relevant. Now of course, the only way to absolutely ensure that innocent people are never convicted is to never convict anyone, and the debate over the acceptable ratio (Better five thousand/one thousand/a hundred/ten/five/two/one guilty men go free...) has gone on for millenia, but we do not do not come close to meeting even a standard of "reasonably well" here in America. This is true even when defendants have the benefit of our legal system, which is what makes our treatment of "enemy combatants" so suspect.

So anyway, guilty people go free, innocent people go to jail, and powerful people who should know better can't be bothered to concern themselves with victims. Happy Monday.