Category Archives: Infrastructure

Park Slope and The Rats of NIMBY

Elisabeth Rosenthal at NYT:

Park Slope, Brooklyn. Cape Cod, Mass. Berkeley, Calif. Three famously progressive places, right? The yin to the Tea Party yang. But just try putting a bike lane or some wind turbines in their lines of sight. And the karma can get very different.

Last week, two groups of New Yorkers who live “on or near” Prospect Park West, a prestigious address in Park Slope, filed a suit against the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to remove a nine-month-old bike lane that has commandeered a lane previously used by cars.

In Massachusetts, the formidable opponents of Cape Wind, a proposed offshore wind farm in Nantucket Sound, include members of the Kennedy family, whose compound looks out over the body of water. In Berkeley last year, the objections of store owners and residents forced the city to shelve plans for a full bus rapid transit system (B.R.T.), a form of green mass transit in which lanes that formerly served cars are blocked off and usurped by high-capacity buses that resemble above-ground subways.

Critics in New York contend the new Prospect Park bike lane is badly designed, endangering pedestrians and snarling traffic. Cape Wind opponents argue the turbines will defile a pristine body of water. And in Berkeley, store owners worried that reduced traffic flow and parking could hurt their business.

But some supporters of high-profile green projects like these say the problem is just plain old Nimbyism — the opposition by residents to a local development of the sort that they otherwise tend to support.

Ryan Avent:

The Times piece delves into the psychology of this kind of neighborhood opposition, but what it doesn’t say is that as annoying as this is, it has a far smaller impact on net emissions than the far more common anti-development strain of NIMBYism. Bike lanes make New York City a teeny bit greener. But New York is already much, much greener than most American cities, thanks to its dense development pattern and extensive transit network. Net emissions fall a lot more when someone from Houston moves to New York than when someone from New York starts biking.

Happily, lots of people would LOVE to move to New York. This is one huge benefit we don’t need to subsidize to realize. Unhappily, the benefit is nonetheless out of reach because of the huge obstacles to new, dense construction in New York. New York can’t accommodate more people unless it builds more homes, and it can’t build more homes, for the most part, without building taller buildings. And New Yorkers fight new, tall buildings tooth and nail. They fight them on aesthetic grounds, and because they’re worried about parking and traffic, and because they’re worried about their view, and because they just think there’s enough building in New York already, thank you. And many do this while heaping massive scorn on oil executives and the Republican Party over their backward and destructive views on global warming.

Of course, the obstruction of development is offensive for lots of reasons: it makes housing and access to employment unaffordable, it reduces urban job and revenue growth, it tramples on private property rights, and so on. But the environmental hypocrisy is galling, and it’s not limited to New York. My old neighborhood, Brookland, voted overwhelmingly for Obama (about 90-10, as I recall). Many of the locals are vocally supportive of broad, lefty environmental goals. And yet, when a local businessman wants to redevelop his transit-adjacent land into a denser, mixed-use structure, the negative response is overwhelming, and residents fall over themselves to abuse local rules in order to prevent the redevelopment from happening.

This project would bring new retail with it, which would enable more local residents to walk to a retail destination. It would bring new residents, and those residents would be vastly more likely to walk or take transit to destinations than those living farther from Metro. Forget the economic benefits to the city, the people occupying the new housing units would have carbon footprints dramatically below the national average. But this basically does not matter to the NIMBYs however much they profess to care about the environment.

To the extent that public opinion matters and can be shaped, I think it would be a huge boon for humanity for attitudes toward NIMBYism to turn decidedly negative. People should be ashamed of this behavior, which is both selfish and extravagantly dismissive of property rights.

Kevin Drum:

Earlier today, I linked to a Ryan Avent post complaining that although dense cities like New York are much greener than towns and suburbs, his lefty, environmentally-aware neighbors fight against new high-density developments in the city anyway. A little later, I had an email exchange with HW, a lefty, environmentally-aware New Yorker who thinks Ryan has it all wrong. Here’s the exchange:

HW: It is true that people living in NY have much much lower carbon footprints than those who live in lower density areas. It’s also true that it is a highly desirable place to live. So wouldn’t the way to accomplish more people living in high density areas like NY be to replicate it elsewhere? Or should we insist on cramming more people into NY against NYers’ will and make it a less desirable place to live?

Wouldn’t it be better for 8 million people to live in NY and have it serve as a beacon for a great, lower carbon footprint lifestyle? If you cram an extra million people in, sure, you lower their carbon footprints, but you may also make high density urban living far less attractive and less likely to be replicated around the country.

Avent mentions problems with parking and traffic as a throw-away, but I can tell you, the 4-5-6 running up from midtown to the Upper East Side is quite literally crammed wall-to-wall with people every morning. Parking is unlikely to be an option for anyone unwilling to spend several hundred dollars a month. And yes, another ten skyscrapers will result in the city becoming a darker and more depressing place. Not to mention the fact that the last ten high rises that went up on the Upper East Side were creatures of the housing bubble, resulting in massive losses and lots of empty units.

So would it be so terrible if we built up the downtown areas of Jersey City, White Plains and Stamford instead?

My reply: Well, that’s the funny thing. Building new high-density areas is the obvious answer here, but no one ever does it. Why? I assume it’s because it’s next to impossible to get people to move to new high-density developments. You get all the bad aspects of density without any of the good aspects of living in a big, well-established city.

It’s a conundrum. We could use more well established cities, but no one wants to live in the intermediate stages that it takes to build one. And of course, in well-established smaller towns and cities, the residents fight like crazed weasels to prevent the kind of development that they associate with crime and gangs.

I don’t really know what the answer is.

HW again: I’m not sure that’s entirely true. What about all the downtown redevelopment projects that have happened around the country? Or the urban centers that sprout up around the core of big cities like NY. Next time you are in NY, look across the East River and take a gander at Long Island City. It’s as close to midtown as the Upper East Side, easy to build there, far less expensive, and just as dense. And every single one of those luxury high rises went up in the past 12 years; it’s literally a skyline that didn’t exist 12 years ago. Jersey City is a similar story, both for residential and financial (every big bank has moved their IT back office out there). Or look at the gentrification of Brooklyn!

So why obsess on cramming a couple hundred thousand more people on the island of Manhattan, which will push it past the bursting point? It’s just not a smart premise. In fact, I’ll go further: it bears no relationship to reality. No one would stop a luxury high rise in any of the other four boroughs or right across the river in NJ and it’s just as dense and low-carbon to live in those spots. It’s just that Ryan Avent doesn’t WANT to live in those spots. He wants to live in a cheaper high rise in Manhattan (which, by the way, has seen tons of them go up already in the past decade — in the Financial District, Hell’s Kitchen, the Upper East Side). Avent should ride the 4/5/6 at 8 am every morning for a week, come back, and tell us if his article makes any sense. As a 4th generation NYer, I don’t think it even begins to.

I don’t really have a dog in this fight since I’ve lived in the leafy suburbs of Orange County all my life. But I thought this was an instructive response that was worth sharing. Back to you, Ryan.

Avent responds to the e-mail exchange:

I’m just pointing out the obvious here — many more people would like to live in Manhattan, it would be good economically and environmentally if they did, and it’s bad that local neighborhood groups are preventing them from doing so because they’re worried about their view. Further, my guess is that even without a relaxation in development rules Manhattan will cram in a couple hundred thousand more people, and demand will continue to rise; somehow, Manhattan will manage not to burst. Though it might eventually be swamped, if city-dwelling NIMBYs continue to make Houston exurbs ever more affordable relative to walkable density.

The transportation problem can be solved, in part, by better transportation policy. It is a crime that the subways are crammed while drivers use the streets of Manhattan for free, but that’s a policy failure, not a density failure. It’s also worth noting that heights fall off sharply as one moves away from the central business districts of Lower and Midtown Manhattan. If developers could build taller in surrounding neighborhoods and add residential capacity there, then more Manhattan workers could live within easy walking distance of their offices, and fewer would need to commute in by train.

Finally, let me point out that this is not about what I want. I’m not planning a move to New York, and I’m not remotely suggesting that the government should somehow mandate or encourage high-density construction. I’m simply saying that it should be easier for builders to meet market demand. It should be easier for builders to meet market demand in Manhattan, and Brooklyn, and Nassau County, and Washington, and downtown Denver, and so on. People clearly want to live in these places, and it would be really good for our economy and our environment if they were able to do so. And I find it very unfortunate that residents deriving great benefits from the amenities of their dense, urban neighborhoods are determined to deny those benefits to others.

Matthew Yglesias:

I don’t want to say too much about the debate over increased density in Manhattan because, again, ebook proposal. But one reality check on this whole subject is to note that the population of Manhattan 100 years ago at 2,331,542 people. It then hit a low of 1,428,285 in 1980 and has since then risen back up to 1,629,054.

Back in 1910 there were only 92,228,496 people in the United States. Since that time, the population of the country has more than tripled to 308,745,538. And if you look at Manhattan real estate prices, it’s hardly as if population decline in Manhattan has been driven by a lack of demand for Manhattan housing. Back around 1981 when I was born, things were different. The population of the island was shrinking and large swathes of Manhattan were cheap places to live thanks to the large existing housing stock and the high crime.

Karl Smith at Modeled Behavior:

Many years ago I gave a talk entitled, Green Manhattan, where I made the case that Metropolis was the greenest place in America.

Naturally, I got a lot of funny looks but the line that seemed to win a few converts was this: the best way to protect the environment is by keeping people out of it.

I admit I took a few liberties in the talk, not discussing how agriculture would be performed and supported, for example. Nonetheless, I think this framing breaks the intuition that green is about living with nature rather than letting nature live on its on.

Megan McArdle:

New York hasn’t actually been growing steadily; it’s been rebounding to the population of roughly 8 million that it enjoyed in 1950-70 before the population plunged in the 1970s.  It’s really only in the last ten years that the population has grown much beyond where it was in the 1970.

This matters because I think you can argue pretty plausibly that New York’s infrastructure has put some limits on the city’s growth–that by 1970 the city had about grown up to those limits, and that we can push beyond them only slowly.  The rail and bus lines that sustain the business district are pretty much saturated, and the roads and bridges can’t really carry many more cars at peak times.  Adding busses could conceivably help you handle some of the overflow, but unless those busses actually replace cars, they’ll also make traffic slower.
Unless you plan to fill the city entirely with retirees who don’t need to go to work, there’s actually not that much more room to build up New York–you could put the people there, but they wouldn’t be able to move.  And even the retirees would require goods and services that choke already very congested entry and exit points.  There has been peripatetic talk about switching all deliveries to night, but that would disturb the sleep of low-floor apartment dwellers, and be fantastically expensive, forcing every business to add a night shift.
At the very least, the current city dwellers are right that adding more people would add a lot more costs to them–crammed train cars, more expensive goods.  In New York, much more than in other places, the competition for scarce resources like commuting space is extremely stark.
That doesn’t mean it is impossible to add a lot more people to New York.  But doing so requires not just changing zoning rules–as far as I know, there’s already quite a lot of real estate in the outer boroughs that could accommodate more people, but it’s not close to transportation, so it’s not economically viable.  If you want to add a lot more housing units, you also need to add considerable complimentary infrastructure, starting with upgrading the rest of the subway’s Depression-era switching systems (complicated and VERY expensive because unlike other systems, New York’s trains run 24/7).  And ultimately, it’s going to mean adding more subway lines, because short of building double-decker streets, there’s no other way for enough people to move.
Those lines don’t have to go to the central business district; there’s already been some success developing alternate hubs in Queens and Brooklyn.  But they do have to go from residential neighborhoods to somewhere that people work, and they have to add actual extra carrying capacity to the system–line extensions do no good if the trains are already packed to bursting over the high-traffic areas of the route.

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Filed under Go Meta, Infrastructure

Choo Choo Canned Heat Collectivism

George Will in Newsweek:

So why is America’s “win the future” administration so fixated on railroads, a technology that was the future two centuries ago? Because progressivism’s aim is the modification of (other people’s) behavior.

Forever seeking Archimedean levers for prying the world in directions they prefer, progressives say they embrace high-speed rail for many reasons—to improve the climate, increase competitiveness, enhance national security, reduce congestion, and rationalize land use. The length of the list of reasons, and the flimsiness of each, points to this conclusion: the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.

To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they—unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted—are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.

Time was, the progressive cry was “Workers of the world unite!” or “Power to the people!” Now it is less resonant: “All aboard!”

Jason Linkins at Huffington Post:

One way of looking at high-speed rail systems is that they are a means by which distant communities get connected, economic development and jobs are fostered, and workers with a diverse array of marketable skills can improve their mobility and thus their employment prospects. But another way of looking at high-speed rail is that it’s some nonsense that came to a bunch of hippies as they tripped balls at a Canned Heat concert. That’s my takeaway with George Will’s latest grapple-with-the-real-world session, in which he attempts to figure out “Why liberals love trains.” It’s “Matrix” deep, yo

Sarah Goodyear at Grist:

In case you’re wondering about the provenance of that “collectivism” word — well, collectivism was a favorite demon of Ayn Rand, right-wing philosopher and the Ur-mother of libertarianism in the United States. Here’s a typical usage, from The Objectivist Newsletter of May 1962 (via the Ayn Rand Lexicon):

The political philosophy of collectivism is based on a view of man as a congenital incompetent, a helpless, mindless creature who must be fooled and ruled by a special elite with some unspecified claim to superior wisdom and a lust for power.

“Collectivism” also recalls some of the very worst communist ideas, including the “collectivization” of farms in the Stalinist Soviet Union — among the great atrocities of the 20th century (a crowded category).

Which makes it a pretty strong term to be throwing around when it comes to funding different modes of transportation in 21st-century America. But Will persists with his formulation:

To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they — unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted — are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.

A couple of things here. First off, automobiles are not the only vehicles capable of encouraging “delusions of adequacy.” Bicycles, one might argue, are a lot more capable of encouraging such delusions — fueled as they are entirely by the body of the “unscripted” individual. Which is perhaps why they seem to enrage people in cars, who have to worry about gasoline and the like, so very much.

Second, let’s talk about modern air travel. What mode of transport is more capable of sapping the human sense of possibility, more confining of the untrammeled human spirit? Perhaps before Will goes after high-speed rail, he should call for the defunding of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Paul Krugman:

As Sarah Goodyear at Grist says, trains are a lot more empowering and individualistic than planes — and planes, not cars, are the main alternative to high-speed rail.

And there’s the bit about rail as an antiquated technology; try saying that after riding the Shanghai Maglev.

But anyway, it’s amazing to see Will — who is not a stupid man — embracing the sinister progressives-hate-your-freedom line, more or less right out of Atlas Shrugged; with the extra irony, of course, that John Galt’s significant other ran, well, a railroad.

Matthew Yglesias:

But I do think this is a good look into the psychology of conservatives. Maybe high-speed rail is a waste of money and maybe it isn’t. I think it’s plausible to say we should just spend the cash on better regular mass transit or whatever. But I’ve long struggled to explain the right-wing’s affection for status quo American policies that amount to massive subsidization of the automobile. A small slice of that is spending on roads. A much larger amount is minimum lot size rules, parking mandates, the whole shebang. It’s a bit odd, and my instinct had been to say that this just goes to show that conservatism has nothing to do with free markets and everything to do with the identity politics of middle aged white suburban conformists. But Will offers another explanation here. Automobile use is not a sign of the free market, but an actual cause of it. Driving inculcates habits of freedom, and thus coercive pro-car regulations are, in a way, freedom-promoting.

More Krugman:

A bit more on this subject — not serious, just a personal observation after a long hard day of reading student applications. (My suggestion that we reject all applicants claiming to be “passionate” about their plans was rejected, but with obvious reluctance.)

Anyway, my experience is that of the three modes of mechanized transport I use, trains are by far the most liberating. Planes are awful: waiting to clear security, then having to sit with your electronics turned off during takeoff and landing, no place to go if you want to get up in any case. Cars — well, even aside from traffic jams (tell me how much freedom you experience waiting for an hour in line at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel), the thing about cars is that you have to drive them, which kind of limits other stuff.

But on a train I can read, listen to music, use my aircard to surf the web, get up and walk to the cafe car for some Amfood; oh, and I’m not restricted by the War on Liquids. When I can, I prefer to take the train even if it takes a couple of hours more, say to get to Boston, because it’s much higher-quality time.

Yes, your choices are limited by the available trains; if I wanted to take a train from beautiful downtown Trenton to DC tomorrow, I’d be restricted to one of 21 trains, leaving roughly once an hour if not more often, whereas if I wanted to drive I could leave any time I wanted. Big deal.

And don’t get me started on how much more freedom of movement I feel in New York, with subways taking you almost everywhere, than in, say, LA, where you constantly have to worry about parking and traffic.

So if trains represent soulless collectivism, count me in.


As Krugman says, trains really are the best way to travel, at least for travel times that are roughly competitive with air travel. That fact doesn’t automatically mean that therefore we should spend huge amounts of public money on it, but, you know, it does mean that people like trains for more reasons than their insidious collectivist promotion.

Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns and Money:

Manypeoplehave, for good reason, taken their knocks at syndicated columnist William F. George’s ludicrous column about trains, with particular emphasis on the substantial amount of government subsidies that facilitate “individualistic” car travel.    In addition, I’d note that the flying experience is a good example of Republican “freedom.”   For some distances flying is of course necessary and useful, although a good high-speed train network would reduce the number of routes that make flying more practical. For the ordinary person, however, flying is a miserable experience — more waiting in line than a Soviet supermarket during a recession, the potentially humiliating security theater, and incredibly cramped and uncomfortable travel.     But — and here’s the rub — people as affluent as Will can buy their way out of the worst aspects of flying, with separate security lines, private lounges, and first-class seating.   With trains, on the other hand, the experience for the ordinary person is infinitely superior but the affluent can obtain an only marginally better experience.   So you can see why Will hates it.   The fact that trains might represent more meaningful freedom for you isn’t his problem.

More Krugman:

Some of the comments on my various pro-train posts have been along the lines of “Oh yeah, try taking the train to Los Angeles.” But that, of course, misses the point.

I think about the trains/planes comparison something like this: planes go much faster, and will continue to go faster even if we get high-speed rail; but there are some costs associated with a plane trip that can be avoided or minimized on a rail trip, and those costs are the same whether it’s a transcontinental flight or a hop halfway up or down the Northeast Corridor. You have to get to the airport at one end, and get from it at the other, which is a bigger issue, usually, than getting to and from train stations that are already in the city center. You have to wait on security lines. You have to spend more time boarding. So if we look just at travel time, it looks like this:


Suppose that I put those fixed costs at 2 hours; suppose that planes fly at 500 miles an hour; and suppose that we got TGV-type trains that went 200 miles an hour. Then the crossover point would be at 667 miles. It would still be much faster to take planes across the continent — but not between Boston and DC, or between SF and LA. Add in my personal preference for train travel, and I might be willing to train it to Chicago, maybe, but not to Texas.

Now, if we got vacuum maglevs

More Yglesias:

I endorse Krugman’s analysis, but in some ways I think the fact that you can’t get to LA on a train actually is the point. You can’t take the train from New York to Los Angeles. You can’t drive from New York to Los Angeles. You need an airplane. But LaGuardia Airport has limited runway capacity and many daily flights to Boston. Clearly, though, you can take a train from New York to Boston. So money spent on improving the speed and passenger capacity of NYC-Boston train links is, among other things, a way to improve New York’s air links to the West Coast.

Now a separate question is whether there’s any feasible way to actually do this in a country that doesn’t have a French (or Chinese) level of central political authority empowered to build straight tracks through people’s suburban backyards. The answer seems to be “no,” but the potential gains from greater rail capacity in the northeast are large and would (via airplanes) spill over into the rest of the country.

More Goodyear:

In the dark days immediately after 9/11, Will seems to have had a revelation about how a certain mode of transportation could help our nation be stronger and more secure. In an Oct. 1, 2001 column syndicated in the Jewish World Review, Will recommended three steps in response to the attack that the nation had just sustained. First, buy more B-2 bombers. Second, cut corporate taxes. And third? Let Will speak for himself (emphasis mine):

Third, build high-speed rail service.

Two months ago this columnist wrote: “A government study concludes that for trips of 500 miles or less — a majority of flights; 40 percent are of 300 miles or less — automotive travel is as fast or faster than air travel, door to door. Columnist Robert Kuttner sensibly says that fact strengthens the case for high-speed trains. If such trains replaced air shuttles in the Boston-New York-Washington corridor, Kuttner says that would free about 60 takeoff and landing slots per hour.”

Thinning air traffic in the Boston-New York-Washington air corridor has acquired new urgency. Read Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker essay on the deadly dialectic between the technological advances in making air travel safer and the adaptations to these advances by terrorists.

“Airport-security measures,” writes Gladwell, “have simply chased out the amateurs and left the clever and the audacious.” This is why, although the number of terrorist attacks has been falling for many years, fatalities from hijackings and bombings have increased. As an Israeli terrorism expert says, “the history of attacks on commercial aviation reveals that new terrorist methods of attack have virtually never been foreseen by security authorities.”

The lesson to be learned is not defeatism. Security improvements can steadily complicate terrorists’ tasks and increase the likelihood of defeating them on the ground. However, shifting more travelers away from the busiest airports to trains would reduce the number of flights that have to be protected and the number of sensitive judgments that have to be made, on the spot, quickly, about individual travelers. Congress should not adjourn without funding the nine-state Midwest Regional Rail Initiative.

Now that it’s a Democratic administration advocating for rail, Will sees it not as a sensible solution for moving people from one place to another, but instead as a tool to control an unsuspecting populace:

To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they — unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted — are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.

In his recent screed against rail, Will explicitly dismissed arguments that it would be good for national security. He also didn’t mention air travel. Maybe that would have reminded him of what he himself wrote nearly 10 years ago.

David Weigel:

Good get, but if we’re going to be talking about stupid ideas people had right after 9/11, we’ll be here all day. Will’s rail fetish was a passing fancy, and since then he’s come around to the conservative consensus that rail can never, ever work as a replacement for air travel, so rail projects are essentially boondoggles.

This is an odd discussion to have as the Atlas Shrugged movie comes out. The book and the film absolutely fetishize rail; the film makes it clear that rail will become necessary once gas starts to really run out. And this is something liberal rail adherents point out, too. But I don’t see conservatives coming around to HSR, which needs a massive manpower and financial and land commitment to get going, outside of that sort of crisis thinking.

Jamelle Bouie at Tapped:

This isn’t to play “gotcha,” as much as it is to note a simple fact about our world: We’re all partisans, whether we admit it or not. Reason’s opposition to the individual mandate has almost nothing to do with the substance of what is truly a center-right policy and everything to do with current political circumstances. The mandate was implemented by a Democrat. Reason, as a right-libertarian institution, is part of the conservative opposition to the liberal president. Likewise, Will’s opposition to high-speed rail is purely a function of partisan politics.

This isn’t a bad thing. Yes, partisanship can be taken too far and veer into ideological blindness, but, in general, it is a useful way of organizing our thoughts on policies and politics. Indeed, it’s how most voters process political information. Political commentary would be much more bearable if pundits were willing to accept the partisan origins of their biases and skepticism, instead of playing a game where we pretend to be open-minded observers.  Most are anything but.

Gulliver at The Economist:

Mr Bouie might be overstating the influence of partisanship a bit, and it’s hard for people to know exactly what is driving others’ opinions—or even one’s own. Still, partisanship is certainly a useful frame through which to view both the most ardent opponents and the most passionate defenders of HSR. There is political science research that shows that a president weighing in on one side of a given debate (as Barack Obama has with high-speed rail) dramatically increases political polarization on that issue. Of course, if Mr Bouie’s theory is correct, we should be able to point to some lefty supporters of HSR whose support seems to be driven primarily by partisanship—or even a few who, like Mr Will, have switched positions on the issue. Anyone have a nomination? Let us know in the comments.

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Filed under Infrastructure, Mainstream, New Media

The Blogosphere Puts It In Park

Tyler Cowen at NYT:

IN our society, cars receive considerable attention and study — whether the subject is buying and selling them, the traffic congestion they cause or the dangerous things we do in them, like texting and talking on cellphones while driving. But we haven’t devoted nearly enough thought to how cars are usually deployed — namely, by sitting in parking spaces.

Is this a serious economic issue? In fact, it’s a classic tale of how subsidies, use restrictions, and price controls can steer an economy in wrong directions. Car owners may not want to hear this, but we have way too much free parking.

Higher charges for parking spaces would limit our trips by car. That would cut emissions, alleviate congestion and, as a side effect, improve land use. Donald C. Shoup, professor of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles, has made this idea a cause, as presented in his 733-page book, “The High Cost of Free Parking.”

Many suburbanites take free parking for granted, whether it’s in the lot of a big-box store or at home in the driveway. Yet the presence of so many parking spaces is an artifact of regulation and serves as a powerful subsidy to cars and car trips. Legally mandated parking lowers the market price of parking spaces, often to zero. Zoning and development restrictions often require a large number of parking spaces attached to a store or a smaller number of spaces attached to a house or apartment block.

If developers were allowed to face directly the high land costs of providing so much parking, the number of spaces would be a result of a careful economic calculation rather than a matter of satisfying a legal requirement. Parking would be scarcer, and more likely to have a price — or a higher one than it does now — and people would be more careful about when and where they drove.

The subsidies are largely invisible to drivers who park their cars — and thus free or cheap parking spaces feel like natural outcomes of the market, or perhaps even an entitlement. Yet the law is allocating this land rather than letting market prices adjudicate whether we need more parking, and whether that parking should be free. We end up overusing land for cars — and overusing cars too. You don’t have to hate sprawl, or automobiles, to want to stop subsidizing that way of life.

As Professor Shoup wrote, “Minimum parking requirements act like a fertility drug for cars.”

Under a more sensible policy, a parking space that is currently free could cost at least $100 a month — and maybe much more — in many American cities and suburbs. At the bottom end of that estimate, if a commuter drives to work 20 days a month, current parking policy offers a subsidy of $5 a day — which is more than the gas and wear-and-tear costs of many round-trip commutes. In essence, the parking subsidy outweighs many of the other costs of driving, including the gasoline tax.

In densely populated cities like New York, people are accustomed to paying high prices for parking, which has helped to encourage a relatively efficient, high-density use of space. Yet even New York is reluctant to enact the full social cost of the automobile into policy. Proposals to impose congestion fees have failed politically, and on-street parking is priced artificially low.

Matthew Yglesias

Arnold Kling:

I am not sure that the argument is correct. I worry that there is a lot of confusion between fixed costs and marginal costs. Creating a parking place carries fixed costs. However, the marginal cost of using a parking space is often zero.

The marginal cost of using a cell phone network is often zero, so your cell phone company tries to offer you a plan that makes the marginal cost feel like zero to you. It could be that free parking emerges for the same reason.

If we abolished free parking, would parking spaces be scarcer? Keep in mind that if the price of parking went up, this would cause movement along the supply curve as well as along the demand curve. Maybe the total number of parking places would decline (it depends on elasticities), but the one result you can predict with certainty is that the number of unused parking places would go up. Is that necessarily welfare-improving?

Suppose I have a piece of land that could be used for parking or for other purposes. You might argue that having a price for parking would send me a clearer signal about the best use.

However, the cost of converting that land from one use to another is very high, so I have to choose one purpose or the other and stick with it. One exception to high conversion cost is lanes that change from parking lanes to traffic lanes during rush hour. There, the price of parking during rush hour is very high (you get ticketed and towed), and that seems to work.

Once I have decided to use land as a parking place (say, land in front of a store), then there is no reason for me to want to deter people from parking in empty spaces. That suggests charging a price of zero other than at peak times.

The problem is one of congestion pricing. You need paid lots to charge people to park at peak times, such as concerts or sporting events.

Cowen responds:

The key is not to “abolish” free parking, but to a) abolish minimum parking requirements, and b) put prices or higher prices on congested municipal-owned parking spaces.  Both a) and b) will lower the demand for parking and a) will lower the supply of parking, so why should the number of unused parking spaces necessarily go up?  If you treat something as an appropriately scarce resource, it should be used more effectively.

There are plenty of DC restaurants which don’t have their own parking lots, but they use paid valet parking and find ingenious ways to store cars more effectively.  The parking fee means that some people walk there or use the Metro, rather than driving and parking.  No one finds this arrangement especially objectionable and while valet parking is at a discount to market still it is priced.  At lunch time valet parking is less likely but still people pay to park, usually in nearby lots.  No one would suggest that these restaurants be forced to put in minimum parking.  Nor would anyone suggest that mandated minimums would be neutral with respect to parking efficiency.

I’m simply asking for the same switch in reverse, namely to do away with minimum parking requirements.  Very likely, such a change will have a bigger impact on future developments than on past developments (it can be hard to reconfigure a parking lot), although some malls might sell off or rent their now-liberated parking spots to other commercial ventures.

Mark Thoma:

I don’t have much to say about this in particular, just a general point about moving to market based allocations of some goods and services, particularly those controlled by government.

As the price of a good or service rises, it begins to price some people out of the market. I don’t mean that they choose to consume other things instead, I mean that no matter how much they want it, they can never have it. It’s not a matter of desire, or willingness to pay, they simply cannot raise the needed funds — it’s just not possible to afford the good or service in question.

Because of this there are some goods and services controlled by government, national parks come to mind, where we choose to allocate goods by other means than the price system, lotteries, waiting time, random draws, that sort of thing. It generally occurs when we think equity is a primary consideration, i.e. that everyone should have a relatively equal shot at consuming a good or service.

For example, suppose we believe that everyone should at least have a chance to swim in the ocean. Willingness to wait indicates desire for the good in the same way that willingness to pay does, and this can be used to allocate the good or service. That is, willingness to circle for a period of time looking for a parking place so you can go to the beach — which varies with demand for parking in that area — indicates the depth of desire to do this activity and thus has desirable allocative properties — and we can eliminate the externalities Tyler is worried about through a tax on carbon and congestion at the pump. The supply of parking, which is controlled by government, could be determined by the carrying capacity of the beach, which is itself influenced by considerations such as habitat protection that private markets may not handle well in any case. And, of course, public transportation could be provided as an alternative, but that’s not available to everyone so some parking would likely be needed. Perhaps parking wouldn’t be all that expensive, or maybe it would given the prices Tyler cites in the article for places like California, but the example is intended mainly to illustrate that prices aren’t the only allocation mechanism available, and that sometimes other alternatives are desirable. There are certainly cases where price is a barrier and we choose to allocate goods by other means.

Robin Hanson:

Re Mark Thoma, if we were concerned about overall equity of utility, we’d just give the poor more money and let them buy what beach trips they wanted. If we paternalistically thought poor folk irrationally buy too few beach trips (why?!), we might give them beach travel vouchers. But surely the vast majority of free parking is not well explained by our thinking the poor irrationally take too few car trips.

Re Arnold Kling, I didn’t see Tyler saying to force prices above marginal cost; he just opposed laws requiring excess supply. Why should we treat parking spots much different than thousands of other familiar products whose average costs are often above marginal costs? Should we require every mall to have enough movie theaters seats to handle the premier of a record blockbuster, all because since theatres are rarely full their marginal cost is near zero?  How about similarly requiring a vast supply of restaurant tables which would then rarely be full?

Sometimes good economic analysis says that the world should be different than it is. Yes you should wonder if such an analysis is missing something important. But you shouldn’t strain too much just to justify the status quo. We require the creation of way too much parking, and we’d be better off to coordinate to stop it.

Kling responds to Hanson:

So, there are two issues.

a. How much land should be devoted to parking spaces?
b. Given the answer to (a), what should be the price for parking?

I argue that for (b) the answer is often zero. A higher price would simply result in unused parking places, which does not increase welfare. Robin is falling back on issue (a), and here the thinking is that the state provides, either directly or through regulation, more parking spaces than are optimal.

Suppose there were no state provision of parking places. What would the equilibrium look like? Some possibilities:

1. You get Berlin, where the public transit is highly efficient and lots of people ride bicycles, even in the rain.

2. Individual housing developments and businesses undersupply parking. The thinking is that if parking runs out in front of your business, your customers will use the parking spaces in front of the business next door. This leads to stores putting up warning signs that say, “unless you patronize my store, your car will be towed.” Neighborhoods put up signs that say, “unless you have a residential permit, your car will be towed.” This imposes all sorts of enforcement costs as well as inefficient use of space. The warning signs often deter people from parking in places where they impose no cost at that particular time.

3. Land use responds, but not toward the Berlin scenario. On the contrary, businesses relocate farther away from cities, to locations where parking is cheap to supply and you don’t get into fights with other businesses about towing rules. Housing developments are built without street parking but instead with large driveways–in effect, each household requires its own oversized parking lot to accomodate its peak demand . As a result of these sorts of adaptations, it takes more parking places to accommodate the same number of cars.

4. After a lot of Coasian bargaining, businesses agree to each provide a minimum number of parking places and housing developers agree to provide streets wide enough to allow parking.

The point is, you don’t necessarily get (1). And you might get (4).

Thoma responds to Hanson:

In response to Robin Hanson, I think Arnold Kling makes some good points about why government intervention in parking may be necessary to resolve externality problems. Arnold doesn’t say that government intervention is necessary, and he would likely resist that interpretation, a Coasian bargaining solution is the outcome in his scenario. But the usual sorts of considerations, i.e. transactions costs, unclear property rights regarding street parking in front of residences — some people, for example, use cones and other devices to save parking spots — and other barriers may prevent the Coasian bargaining outcome. (Robin Hanson doesn’t like what I wrote either, though, again, I was trying to make a general point about equity versus efficiency and probably should have chosen another example besides parking near the ocean to make that point

Randal O’Toole at Cato:

I am disappointed that the distinguished George Mason University economist, Tyler Cowen, has fallen for the “high-cost-of-free-parking” arguments of UCLA urban planner Donald Shoup. Shoup is an excellent scholar, but like many scholars, he has the parochial view that the city that he lives in is a representative example of what is happening everywhere else.

Shoup’s work is biased by his residency in Los Angeles, the nation’s densest urban area. One way L.A. copes with that density is by requiring builders of offices, shopping malls, and multi-family residences to provide parking. Shoup assumes that every municipality in the country has such parking requirements, even though many do not, and that without such requirements there would be less free parking. This last assumption is extremely unlikely, as entrepreneurs everywhere know that (outside of New York City) 90 percent of all urban travel is by car, and businesses that don’t offer parking are going to lose customers to ones that do.

Shoup portrays such free parking as a “subsidy” because not all people drive and so the ones who don’t drive end up subsidizing the ones who do. But any business offers a variety of services to its customers and employees, and no one frets about subsidies just because they don’t take advantage of every single service. How often do you actually swim in the swimming pools or work out in the exercise rooms of the hotels you stay at?

Shoup also supposes (and Cowen accepts) that universal parking fees would greatly reduce the amount of driving people do. “Minimum parking requirements act like a fertility drug for cars,” Cowen quotes Shoup as saying. Metro, Portland’s regional planning agency, submitted this question to its transportation model and concluded that requiring all offices, shopping malls, and multi-family residences to charge for parking would reduce driving by about 2 percent. The model showed that charging for parking has a greater effect on driving than spending billions on light rail, building scores of transit-oriented developments, or increasing the urban area’s population density by 20 percent. But 2 percent still isn’t going to do much to relieve congestion or solve any of the other problems Cowen associates with driving. Plus he never really explains why he thinks reducing mobility is a good idea in the first place.

Tim Lee:

A key point to emphasize here is that parking mandates aren’t just a subsidy to car ownership, they’re also a burden on pedestrians, who must trek across parking lots to get to almost any building. So not only does walking mean giving up the state-mandated subsidy of free parking, but it also means walking significantly further than you’d have to in a city where the availability of parking was determined by market forces.

And this results in the opposite of the virtuous cycle I wrote about a few weeks ago: as density falls, you get fewer pedestrians, which depletes the market for small, pedestrian-friendly establishments. And fewer pedestrian-friendly businesses establishments means that even fewer people walk. The result is the situation in most cities in the Midwest and the Sun Belt, where even people who strongly prefer to live in a “walkable” neighborhood find there are few if any neighborhoods that cater to that preference.

James Joyner:

To all this, I’d add a couple of points.

First, this is a very difficult conversation to have because of the radical differences in reference frames of the two sides.    Aside from economists, anti-free parking types are invariably urban dwellers where parking is difficult and the demand for every square foot of space is high.   People who live in suburbs, especially those that don’t regularly drive into the handful of dense urban centers where any of this matters, are befuddled.  Nobody would pay to park at the Hamilton Place mall on the outskirts of Chattanooga.   At the Pentagon City mall, nobody thinks twice.

Second, while ordinances requiring the allocation of parking spots for apartment buildings, storefronts, and the like are doubtless a boon to car owners, they are mostly an attempt to limit negative externalities.   If I build an apartment complex in a major downtown center and provide no parking, I’m obviously less competitive than those who do.   But, at the same time, those who live in my building who own cars are going to have to park somewhere, and they’ll therefore occupy spaces — often for hours and days on end — that could otherwise be used by short-term parkers who want to patronize the local merchants, taverns, and restaurants.   Similarly, if I run a downtown business that caters to clients who don’t need to come to my storefront, I’d never pay to construct parking spaces for my employees, as it’d be cheaper to subsidize their parking elsewhere.   But, again, that means my employees, who arrive before the shops open, are taking up spots that could be used by customers of service-oriented businesses.

Taking both of these into consideration, then, it seems to me that the key good to control is street parking in crowded downtown areas at peak hours.   We want residents of apartment buildings and houses and employees of businesses to be out of the way to accommodate short-term parking that allows commerce to take place.   So, in places where street parking is scarce, charge variable rates at meters and limit the number of hours that can be parked there.  (A tangentially related pet peeve: And delivery vehicles can’t be allowed to take up these spaces, much less double park, which means that those activities have to be time-shifted to the early morning or late evening hours.)

These regulations would be anathema in most of the United States, which simply isn’t crowded enough to have that kind of government intervention in the lives of citizens.   But it makes sense in New York, Boston, DC, San Francisco, and a handful of other metro areas long since accustomed to the need for state to smooth over daily interactions.

Ryan Avent:

But the main point is that it’s very difficult to make a positive case for government provision of parking spaces or mandated parking minimums. Given the existence of government provided spaces, it’s harder still to argue against market parking pricing. We have many examples of private firms building and operating parking lots or decks, charging positive prices, and doing a lovely business that seems to work well for operator and driver alike. How does one justify government intervention?

Now you might argue that there are public good considerations involved; that parking spots are like other bits of transportation infrastructure in that there is a role for government provision. Personally, I think parking spots are more like gas stations than roads, and meanwhile roads should be congestion priced (as many transit systems already are — and then some, in some cases). You’d think that libertarians making the public good argument would have no problem defending government provision of and subsidy for transit, but of course they don’t. They get around this by arguing that people want to drive and they don’t want to ride transit. This is strange in that in few other cases would a libertarian claim to know what markets want, and while they might refer to mode shares, those shares are themselves determined by decades of heavy subsidies for all things auto.

William Brafford at The League:

But the phrasing at the end of Cowen’s column is unfortunate, as it seems to imply that someone out there should be raising fees: “Imposing higher fees for parking may make further changes more palatable by helping to promote higher residential density and support for mass transit.” It’s clear from the beginning of the article that Cowen is speaking of removing the zoning laws and street parking procedures that keep the cost of parking artificially low in places, but I could see how a too-quick reader might wrongly infer that the column argues for high parking costs as a policy goal regardless of market prices.

Weirdly, several libertarians have taken issue with Cowen’s article. Randal O’Toole is pretty sure that “free parking is a free-market choice,” and thinks Cowen should support it. Well, I’m sure there are plenty of places where it will make a lot of sense for businesses to build large parking lots, but it’s strange to me that a libertarian would be all right with regulations that make this decision for the businessmen. Perhaps he sniffs out an urbanist agenda behind the argument…

Arnold Kling suspects that if we didn’t like state-mandated free parking, we won’t necessarily get the low-driving paradise we desire. Perhaps the American people, accustomed to driving, will simply embrace further sprawl as businesses relocate to exurbs where land is cheap. Or maybe local governments will be faced with skyrocketing enforcement costs as people cheat aggressively on parking. (Cowen thinks Kling’s microeconomic logic is a little bit off.)

Neither of Kling’s scenarios seems particularly likely to me, but then again I don’t study this stuff and I don’t really have the first clue what would happen if cities aimed at more robust markets for parking. All I can really provide is one lonely data point: having arranged my life so I can do most of what I want to do without having to drive, I can say for sure that if parking prices went up in Baltimore, I’d sell my car. At any rate, I am a huge fan of sidewalk cafes and not having to walk through parking lots to get to stores, so I’d love it if more city businesses were given the opportunity to do without parking lots.

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He Got His 15 Minutes On An Emergency Exit Slide

Radar Online:











Heather Robinson at Huffington Post:

And I gotta say, the guy made my day.

The funny thing is, I was seated on this flight yesterday — JetBlue #1052, Pittsburgh to JFK — next to a lady who was scared to fly. At the outset, she pulled out a rosary and started praying (that’s not unusual, especially on a flight from Pittsburgh, which is a heavily Catholic city).

As we ascended, the turbulence was a bit more intense than typical, but nothing to be alarmed over. She was crossing herself and fidgeting, so I told her, “There’s nothing to worry about. I’ve been flying multiple times a month all my life and this is normal.”

She thanked me, and we got to talking a bit. I told her the same thing — “it’s totally normal”– when we heard the bump of the wheels coming down prior to landing.

It was when we stood up to disembark — in those annoying moments when everyone is waiting to be released from the metal can we’ve been packed in together — that Steven Slater commandeered the PA system and issued his rant. I didn’t take notes so the following is not exact, but a paraphrase: “F— you! F— all of you! I’m f—— through with this! I’VE HAD IT! I’ve been doing this for 28 f—— years and I can’t take it anymore. And for the f—– a—–who told me to f— off: f— you! That’s it! I’m done! F— you all!”

At that point the older Catholic lady looked back at me and crossed herself, and I told her, “No, that is not normal.”

College students sitting nearby were laughing. One of them mentioned that a flight attendant had been bleeding and speculated that that might be “the guy” who’d just engaged in the rant.

I missed Slater’s inflation of the emergency chute, and didn’t know until I woke up this morning about his racing home to Belle Harbor, Queens in his silver Jeep Wrangler and hopping into bed with his boyfriend (leave it to the great New York Post to get those wonderful details).

Overall, it got me to thinking: in a way it’s a shame things like this don’t happen more often. Let me explain: in an age when, for good reason, authorities are constantly on the alert for terrorists and mass shooters, when any highway altercation, we are warned, can escalate into a gunfight, when eighty-year-old women are forced to relinquish their knitting needles and nursing mothers their bottles of milk at airport screening because of dread of vicious acts of brutality, Americans must restrain ourselves and behave obediently at all times in public places. Current mores leave no room, no outlet, for the venting of frustrations, or for freewheeling, spontaneous behavior of any kind.

No one who would engage in deliberate violence against another person is doing so because of petty frustrations; obviously, something deeper is askew in such an individual. But what about the rest of us? The “normal” decent people who feel fed up with the lack of civility, the many little humiliations, of everyday life? People who would never dream of doing anything violent, and who–because of the actions of a few truly evil people–are prevented from expressing normal frustrations, normal anger, out of (often justified) fear that someone might “go crazy,” show up packing a gun, etc.? Sometimes we need to get in someone’s face and tell that jerk to f— off. Likewise, sometimes people just need to get out of a situation, to take an escape, when doing so does not harm anyone else.

Gulliver at The Economist:

The ramifications for Mr Slater are serious, and he faces charges of reckless endangerment and criminal mischief. Who knows what damage the slide could have done to somebody on the ground, etc. But only a heart of stone could fail to sympathise. Indeed Mr Slater could well end up lionised by fellow flight attendants for telling a surly, unco-operative passenger exactly what he thought. And he should also be praised for the manner of his departure. If you are going to effectively jack in your flying career, then speeding down the emergency slide, beer in hand, is no bad way to do it.

Joel Achenbach at WaPo:

I think we all want to pull a Slater now and then. We want to activate the escape slide. Maybe at work, maybe at home. We want to shout “It’s been great!” and grab a beer and slater on out of there.

Flight attendant Steven Slater got arrested, of course, because you’re not supposed to deploy the emergency slide on a plane except in an emergency. But you can just picture what might have happened (and the Times story goes into some detail): Some passenger for whom the rules don’t apply, who perceives himself as more important than everyone else, leaps out of his seat before the plane has reached the gate. Slater tells him to sit back down. The passenger refuses and yanks his oversized bag out of the overhead compartment and bonks Slater on the head. Slater, temporarily deranged, uses the public address system to point out that this man is a total and complete arsehat of the first order. Slater at that point surely realizes he has future in the airline industry. What’s he going to do? Emergency slide!

But what makes him an instant legend, of course, is the beer. He grabs the beer on the way out. That’s the “Animal House” meets “Airplane!” note. No wonder he’s an instant Internet icon. His name will become a verb, just watch.

James Poniewozik at Time:

Move over, Sully Sullenberger, there’s a new folk hero in the skies. OK, maybe not a universally acclaimed hero. And not a “hero” in the sense of, like, saving lives, or stopping a terrorist, or really doing anything traditionally considered “heroic.” Still, Steven Slater—the JetBlue flight attendant who reportedly had an altercation with a passenger who injured him in the head, cursed her out over the PA, then deplaned, with a beer, via the emergency slide—is the talk of the country today. (And, I’m guessing, the talk of late-night TV for a while to come.)

There are a lot of reasons Slater’s exit might have struck a chord: general frustrations with work, the economy, or the rudeness of strangers, or specific irritation with the breakdown of airline civility. But above all, the Slater story is fascinating because it provides an irresistible image of screw-you liberation: the put-upon employee telling off some jerk, kissing off his job over a PA system, then taking off. Grabbing a beer. And going down a slide. A freaking slide! Yabba dabba doo!

Obviously, Slater’s was not the most level-headed course of action. He flew off the handle, freaked out in front of a plane full of passengers and caused inconvenience and expense to others by abusing an emergency exit. I don’t endorse that. Don’t try this at home, kids stay in school, &c.

But it may be the impracticality, the ballsiness, or the craziness of Slater’s gesture that makes it so fascinating. Quitting your job dramatically, after all, would seem to be the last thing you want to do in the middle of an economic downturn. Maybe that’s the appeal. Slater may have had his personal reasons for cracking, but there was a kind of ’70s, mad-as-hell-not-going-to-take-it,  Take This Job and Shove It sensibility to his rebellion, and people responded to it: over 11,000 people had joined the Free Steven Slater! page on Facebook by this afternoon

Glynnis MacNicol at Mediaite:

Steven Slater, the Jet Blue flight attendant who lived out the dreams of every worker frustrated with their job (and probably most people frustrated with the state of flying in this country) with his dramatic, expletive-laden exit “not only from the plane but, one imagines, also from his airline career,” has landed on the cover of all the major New York City papers.Not surprisingly the New York Post wins for headline, though it fails to pack the full punch one normally hopes for. Meanwhile, the NYT, who put the story below the fold on A-1 sans a picture, wins hands down for their write-up:

Mr. Slater asked for an apology. The passenger instead cursed at him. Mr. Slater got on the plane’s public-address system and cursed out the passenger for all to hear. Then, after declaring that 20 years in the airline industry was enough, he blurted out, “It’s been great!” He activated the inflatable evacuation slide at a service exit and left the world of flight attending behind.

Roger Ebert, meanwhile, thinks Slater is a hero fit for our 2010 time: “Predicting JetBlue’s batshit flight attendant becomes a folk hero and guests on cable and talk shows. A Sully for 2010.”

Chris Rovzar at New York Magazine:

When we first read the story of JetBlue steward Steven Slater, who went crazy yesterday after a passenger rudely bonked him on the head with a piece of luggage, our takeaway was simple: This guy’s going to become a folk hero. This morning in the Daily News, columnist Joanna Molloy decided it had already happened, that his status as a populist icon was already sealed. “How many of us have wanted to say Take This Job and Shove It? I’m As Mad as Hell, and I’m Not Gonna Take It Anymore?” Molloy asked. “Slater did it, and he did it with flair, cursing back over the plane’s public address system at the obnoxious passenger who conked him on the head with his suitcase, then releasing the emergency exit slide and jumping out and disappearing across the tarmac. He even had the presence of mind to toss his carry-on luggage down the slide first.” She even predicted: “There’ll probably be a song about him online today.” There isn’t quite yet, but of course there will be.

So what has the Internet wrought on this new icon so far?

• This morning he is both the Nos. 1 and 2 topics on Google Trends, and is trending on Twitter.
• There are already the requisite Free Steven Slater T-shirts.
• Unfortunately, they are not yet available on
• There are multiple Steven Slater fan pages on Facebook, the largest one with at least 12,000 fans.
• There is already a PayPal-linked Steven Slater Legal Defense Fund, if you care to chip in.
• There’s a movement to contact JetBlue directly on Slater’s behalf (though, judging by the fact that the airline waited nearly a half-hour after Slater’s escape from the plane to alert authorities in order to allow his full getaway — and enough time to have sex with his boyfriend before getting arrested — we suspect JetBlue is already at least a little on his side).
• Dealbreaker is already pushing to find Slater a new employer.

Of course, as Steven Slater is bound to find out soon, in the Internet era, folk heroes have about the same enduring presence as the feeling of cleanliness you get from a moist airline towelette. So to the man of the day: Sell that TV interview now, get the biggest payout you can for pictures in a celebrity weekly (we wanna see that boyfriend you were doing when the cops showed up!), and nail down at least one endorsement deal for Xanax or something. Because this isn’t going to last.

UPDATE: Byron York and Ann Althouse at Bloggingheads

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I Thought The Worry Was Black Helicopters

Christopher Osher at The Denver Post:

Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes is warning voters that Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper’s policies, particularly his efforts to boost bike riding, are “converting Denver into a United Nations community.”

“This is all very well-disguised, but it will be exposed,” Maes told about 50 supporters who showed up at a campaign rally last week in Centennial.

Maes said in a later interview that he once thought the mayor’s efforts to promote cycling and other environmental initiatives were harmless and well-meaning. Now he realizes “that’s exactly the attitude they want you to have.”

“This is bigger than it looks like on the surface, and it could threaten our personal freedoms,” Maes said.

He added: “These aren’t just warm, fuzzy ideas from the mayor. These are very specific strategies that are dictated to us by this United Nations program that mayors have signed on to.”

Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs:

OK, we have a winner in today’s Crazy Dumb Fear-Mongering Sweepstakes: Colorado GOP gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes, who’s convinced that the Mayor of Denver’s bike-sharing program is only the first step on a slippery slope leading inevitably to a United Nations invasion of Denver.

Don Suber:

That’ll cost him 5 points in the polls in Mork-and-Mindy Land.

Steve Benen:

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t literally laugh out loud at this. “That’s what they want you to think” is something of a comical cliche, used by those making fun of paranoid conspiracy theorists.

In this case, a leading Republican gubernatorial candidate — and Tea Party favorite — was completely serious. Maes went on to tell the Denver Post that efforts to promote bicycling and related programs seem like “warm, fuzzy ideas,” but they’re really “very specific strategies that are dictated to us by this United Nations program.” He added, “This is bigger than it looks like on the surface, and it could threaten our personal freedoms.”

Honestly, is there something in the water this year? Is the RNC handing out crazy pills to all of its candidates?

In this case, Maes is concerned about Denver participating in “the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, an international association that promotes sustainable development and has attracted the membership of more than 1,200 communities, 600 of which are in the United States.”

There’s nothing especially nefarious about sustainable development — it’s actually a smart idea — and Denver joined the effort in 1992, more than a decade before Hickenlooper became mayor.

Unless, that’s all part of Hickenlooper’s radical plan, and he just wants us to think he wasn’t involved in 1992. In reality, he was plotting even then, teaming up with the Illuminati, the Loch Ness Monster, and Bigfoot, working together in some giant pro-bicycle U.N. scheme. All of this is, after all, “bigger than it looks like on the surface.”

Jocelyn Rousey at Mediaite:

Okay, Mr. Meas. A few things:

1) Define “U.N. community” without resorting to paranoid Michelle Bachmann-esque talk of one-world governments and the imposition of “European socialism” on America. Then, if don’t mind, could you walk me through the connection between initiating a privately-funded bike rental program for the city and the degradation of personal freedoms, please?

2) What exactly is so threatening about riding a bike? Just because Europeans love their bikes and Vespas doesn’t mean that by also liking bikes Americans will start pining for “European-style socialism.”

3) Just a technicality here, but Denver gets a lot of snow, which isn’t exactly conducive to biking. At best, Hickenlooper will end up with a seasonal U.N. community.

So, if you could just get back to me on that, that’d be great. Thanks.

Matthew Yglesias:

I don’t really think bike commuting is going to take America by storm next week, but it is a cheap and healthy way to get around that will appeal to some people. And since in addition to being cheap and healthy, it’s also better for air quality than driving a car, it makes perfect sense for municipal leaders to try to ensure that transportation infrastructure accommodates cyclists.


Fortunately, once Maes is governor, every single bicycle lane in Denver will be eliminated to accommodate the coming wave of wider SUVs, and transit pass holders will be given dune buggies

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First Church Of Uglyville

A Flickr group for ugly churches

Nicolai Ouroussoff at NYT:

There’s something both touching and disturbing at the heart of “Claude Parent: Graphic and Built Works,” a marvelous exhibition at the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, Paris’s architecture museum, and it has to do with what the show tells us about our diminished cultural expectations.

Organized by Frédéric Migayrou and Francis Rambert, the show takes us back to a bolder and more innocent age. In the process, it re-establishes the 87-year-old Mr. Parent as a pivotal force in European architecture after decades of neglect by the design mainstream — a force whose influence can be clearly felt in the works of younger luminaries like Wolf Prix, Rem Koolhaas and Jean Nouvel.


These early experiments crystallize in a series of mostly unbuilt civic projects designed between the mid-1960s and the early ’70s. These monumental buildings at first seem to have been inspired by the postwar Brutalism of architects like Le Corbusier and Peter and Alison Smithson. In fact, they are firmly planted in the technological assurance and psychic anxieties of the cold war period.

The Église Sainte-Bernadette du Banlay, completed in 1966 in the small city of Nevers, can be read as a brash critique of Le Corbusier’s 1954 Chapel of Notre Dame du Haut — one of the great monuments of postwar Modernism. Le Corbusier’s composition of concave and convex forms evokes primitive temples and mosques; Mr. Parent’s building — massive concrete walls with rounded corners and slot windows — is the expression of a culture living under the constant threat of nuclear annihilation and still haunted by the devastation of World War II.

Inside, two sloped seating areas converge under the light of a long, narrow window running the length of the roof, creating a space of disquieting solitude. The message is ambiguous. Is it a safe haven from the vulgarities of the new consumer society? Or the final resting place for a fixed moral order that is dying out?

Either way, this zone of intimate, even tender social encounters carefully sheltered from the outside world became a recurring motif in Mr. Parent’s work, and is the aspect of it that can make it so moving despite its aggressive qualities.

Rod Dreher:


An image of this monstrous French church, L’Eglise Ste-Bernadette du Banlay, assaulted me as I read the NYT Arts section today.


I have a perverse fascination with ugly churches. They’re supposed to lift our eyes toward heaven, and to help us connect to God. It is vitally important for churches to be beautiful, no matter what style (and many different styles can be beautiful … though not all styles are). Given the stakes, when churches fail aesthetically, they fail epically. Consider Our Lady of Chernobyl, in suburban New York, or the Florida church complex that looks like an bologna ziggurat sculpted by Oscar Mayer, next to a giant tortilla warmer. This is what happens when people forget what church architecture and design is for, and when insecure clergy and church lay leadership get fugaboo’d and intimidated by architects who want to make a Statement.

If you have any images you’d like me to share with readers in a Gallery of Regrettable Churches, send me the links at roddreher (at) rdreher (at) — for a limited time.

More Dreher:

You might want to revisit the post to read the new stuff in the comboxes. I had a good laugh over this comment:

You’re out of your league here, Mr. Dreher. Why is it you did not choose any – ANY – of the godawful 19th and early 20th century Roman churches in the US that are cheap knock-offs of neo-gothic architecture? I suppose that any building that looks like the platonic ideal (i.e. the gothic church of your dreams) is going to fall short. It’s sad that you publish this without any understanding of the principles involved in contemporary liturgical design and architecture. But it’s a lot easier to criticize what you do not understand. I have to say that the St. Mary church in Florida (i.e. your Oscar Mayer comparison – probably because of color scheme) is really stunning. Both the reservation chapel and the gathering space are strikingly beautiful. But what do I know? I’m just a church theologian who works in the field.

Mercy me, what would we do without church theologians to tell us what’s beautiful and what’s not?

Andrew Sullivan

Ross Douthat:

I have fairly reactionary taste in architecture, as the preceding passage no doubt suggests, but like many laypeople of the “why are these buildings so ugly?” school, most of my distaste is focused on the brutalism of the post-war period. (Dreher linked to Theodore Dalrymple’s wonderful essay on Le Corbusier, whose title, “The Architect as Totalitarian,” offers the perfect epitaph for that era.) I can admire, if not necessarily love, many examples of modernism and post-modernism — skyscrapers and museums, theaters and libraries and skyscrapers again. But I have never seen a church or cathedral executed successfully in any of the architectural styles that have prevailed since the 1920s and ’30s. From Italy to San Francisco, the showpiece modern churches tend to succeed as monuments but fail as spaces for prayer and worship; their smaller imitators, scattered across the American suburbs, are almost always blights on whatever religious community is unhappy enough to occupy them. In the end, I suspect that something in the spirit of modern architecture is inherently secular: The forms and tendencies can be appropriate for office buildings, government houses and museums, but churches adopt them at their peril.

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Libertarians And The Sprawl

Heather Horn has the round-up.

James Howard Kunstler:

On Mar 3, 2010, at 4:52 PM, Lott, Maxim wrote:

Hi Howard,

John Stossel of the FOX Business Network is doing a show this Friday at 6pm on zoning. We’re going to be comparing zoning rules in Cleveland and Houston, and will also have Randal O’Toole on the show. He will say that we need to get rid of zoning because it gives the government planners too much control.

I was on a John Stoessel ABC show a few years ago and I consider him a completely unethical person, since he used me as a straw man and distorted everything I had to say — in the editing process.
Randall O’Toole is a shill for the sprawl-builders. You deserve him.
Please tell Stoessel he can kiss my ass.

James Howard Kunstler
“It’s All Good”

John Stossel at ABC:

Suburban sprawl is evil. The unplanned growth, cookie cutter developments is gobbling up all the space and ruining America. Right?


But in town after town, civic leaders talk about going to war! They want “smart growth.” They say sprawl has wrecked lives.

So-called experts on TV say all sorts of nasty things about the changing suburban landscape.

James Kunstler, author of “The Geography of Nowhere,” said, “Most of the country really is living in these mutilated and defective environments.”

Kunstler and others say suburbs are despicable places. He calls them, “uniformly, low-grade miserably designed environments that make people feel bad.” Even ABC News’ “Nightline” ran a program called “America the Ugly.”

What upsets many critics most is the loss of open space.

But is open space disappearing in America? No, that’s a total myth. More than 95 percent of the country is still undeveloped.

You see it if you cross this country. Only a small percentage is developed. Yes, in some places, like some suburbs, there are often huge traffic jams.

But lots of people, while they don’t like the traffic or the long commute to work, like where they live.

“I like that I have a nice piece of property, and I have privacy,” one woman said.

Another said, “Even with all the congestion, it’s a wonderful lifestyle.”

The anti-sprawl activists say more Americans should live the way I do. I live in an apartment, and most days I walk or ride my bike to work. But should everyone have to live the way I do?

I like my lifestyle, but I chose it, voluntarily. Other people want to make different choices the critics don’t call “ideal.”

Austin Bramwell at The American Conservative:

For the 101st time: sprawl — an umbrella term for the pattern of development seen virtually everywhere in the United States — is not caused by the free market. It is, rather, mandated by a vast and seemingly intractable network of government regulations, from zoning laws and building codes to street design regulations.  If Stossel wants to expand Americans’ lifestyle choices, he should attack the very thing he was defending, namely, suburban sprawl.

It’s odd that self-described libertarians such as Stossel are so slow to grasp that government planning makes sprawl ubiquitous. You would think that libertarians would instinctively grasp the deeply statist nature of suburban development.  First of all, with a depressingly few exceptions, virtually every town in America looks the same. That is, it has the same landscape of arterial roads, strip malls, and residential subdivisions, accessibly only by car. Surely, given America’s celebrated diversity, you would also see a diversity of places. As it turns out, all but a few people live the same suburban lifestyle.  Government, as libertarian assumptions would predict, is the culprit.

Second, the few places in America that have a distinctive character are also exceedingly expensive. John Stossel himself admits to living in an apartment and walking to work most days. Now, I don’t know where exactly Mr. Stossel lives, but it sounds as if he lives in Manhattan, where residential space costs over $1000 a square foot (that means a two-bedroom apartment where a family of four could fit costs at least $1.5 million).  If Mr. Stossel’s lifestyle, as he puts it, is less popular than the suburban lifestyle, then why does his cost so much more? He apparently never asks himself the question.

Jim Henley:

I don’t disagree with Bramwell’s thesis, but I think anti-anti-sprawl libertarianism will exist so long as there are libertarians who hate hippies more than they hate central planning – which is to say, it will exist for a long time.


John Stossel, like a lot of self-descrbed libertarians*, isn’t so much “libertarian” as he is an anti-liberal. He is reflexively opposed to anything that liberals favor, even when there is significant overlap in goals and implementation. Which is how he finds himself in the strange place of defending a status quo that is just as statist, if not more so, than the imagined alternatives. If liberals like it, then it must be bad, regardless of the merits.

Matthew Yglesias:

Not being a libertarian or a conservative of any sort, I’m happy to just take it for granted that you’re never going to have a genuinely “small government” approach to the built environment. But I would sort of be interested to see, as an exercise, someone try to put together a serious, genuinely libertarian view of how cities and towns should be built—what’s the absolute minimum we could get away with.

But whatever that would be, it’s certainly not what we have in America’s sprawlier places. Take the thrilling Maricopa County Zoning Ordinance in Phoenix and it’s suburbs. Chapter 6 covers single family residential zones. You’ve got your R1-35 areas in which you need 35,000 square feet of land per dwelling unit, your R1-10 areas where you need 10,000 feet, and then separate zones for 8,000 square feet per unit; 7,000 square feet per dwelling; and 6,000 square feet per dwelling.

If you want to build a mult-family structure in those places, you can’t. If you find yourself an R2 zone you can, but it can only be a two family structure. Also your building can’t be taller than 40 feet, “There shall be a front yard having a depth of not less than 20 feet,” the year yard needs to be 25 feet, and the side yard needs to be at least 5 feet. On average, buildings can only occupy at most 50 percent of the lot. And there have to be two parking spaces per dwelling unit. And you can go so on and so forth throughout the whole thing. The point, however, is that walkable urbanism is illegal in most of the county. Not just giant skyscrapers, but anything even remotely non-sprawling.


Despite my efforts on this humble blog, I still think many people don’t quite get that, as Yglesias says, walkable urbanism is illegal to build in most places, often including existing walkable urban areas (meaning, new development faces restrictions that make it impossible to build new or redo existing areas in walkable fashion).

But the point of the post is to respond to a commenter over there who brings up Houston. Houston doesn’t have zoning, though deed restrictions set up a kind of de facto zoning to some exist, but it still has land use regulations and building codes. Zoning and land use generally get jumbled up, but zoning is more about what kind of function you can have on a property, while land use restrictions are about what kind of building you can build, whether there are setback and parking requirements, etc. So building walkable urbanism in Houston is as difficult (illegal) as anywhere.

E.D. Kain:

Sprawl is a result of massive statist interventions into our culture and society, and its symptoms are equally enormous.  Everything that conservatism has historically stood for is undermined by sprawl.  It is not only the physical manifestation of our decline, it is a poison which continues to contribute to that decline.  Its repercussions can be felt in our discourse, in our speech, in our way of thinking.  This is not merely a matter of aesthetically pleasing communities, but of communities which allow individuals to be a part of the whole.  I doubt this is sustainable, this suburban maze – in any way: fiscally, socially, spiritually.  It is, as James Howard Kunstler called it, “a peculiar blip in human experience.”

Rod Dreher:

But isn’t sprawl just another manifestation of the hypermobility that contemporary Americans see as a fundamental right? I might well dislike urban sprawl, but given that I haven’t shown any sense of being loyal to a place, I’m as implicated in the general rootlessness that Erik decries as any denizen of sprawlsville. Still, I am increasingly convinced that Erik is right about the need to pioneer a kind of anti-political politics to change the culture.

UPDATE: Randal O’Toole at Cato

Yglesias responds to O’Toole

UPDATE #2: Kevin Drum

Ryan Avent

UPDATE #3: Yglesias responds to Drum

Drum responds to Yglesias

Avent responds to Drum

UPDATE #4: Samuel Goldman at PomoCon


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