You can go home again

I give a talk at my alma mater Georgia Tech on Thursday:

Thursday, February 2, 2012
11:00 AM to 12:00 PM
Instructional Center, Room 205
Join CEE and Dr. David Levinson of the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Minnesota as he speaks about network structure and travel behavior on Thursday, February 2, 2012 from 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM in the Instructional Center Room 205 (behind ISYE building). A light lunch box will be provided.

Abstract
Transportation networks have an underlying structure, defined by the layout, arrangement and the connectivity of the individual network elements, namely the road segments and their intersections. The differences in network structure exist among and between networks. This presentation argues that travelers perceive and respond to these differences in underlying network structure and complexity, resulting in differences in observed travel patterns. This hypothesized relationship between network structure and travel is analyzed using individual and aggregate level travel and network data from metropolitan regions across the U.S. various measures of network structure, compiled from existing sources, are used to quantify the structure of street networks. The relation between these quantitative measures and travel is then identified using econometric models.

Bio
Dr. David Levinson is a faculty member in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Minnesota and Director of the Networks, Economics, and Urban Systems (NEXUS) research group. He currently holds the Richard P. Braun/CTS Chair in Transportation. In academic year 2006-2007 he was a visiting academic at Imperial College in London. He has authored or edited several books, including The Transportation Experience and Planning for Place and Plexus, and numerous peer reviewed articles. He is the editor of the Journal of Transport and Land Use.

The Cost of Knowledge – Boycotting Elsevier

A growing set of researchers are boycotting Elsevier, a major academic publisher, details at: The Cost of Knowledge. From that website:

“Academics have protested against Elsevier’s business practices for years with little effect. The main objections are these:

  1. They charge exorbitantly high prices for their journals.
  2. They sell journals in very large “bundles,” so libraries must buy a large set with many unwanted journals, or none at all. Elsevier thus makes huge profits by exploiting their essential titles, at the expense of other journals.
  3. They support measures such as SOPA, PIPA and the Research Works Act, that aim to restrict the free exchange of information.”

The long review process is another complaint, but this is journal or editor specific, rather than Elsevier as an organization.
For those in the field of transportation research, Elsevier is an oligopolist and the dominant player at that, it publishes the well-known Transportation Research parts A – F and other journals in the transportation field (Research in Transportation Economics, Transport Geography, Accident Analysis and Prevention, Transport Policy, and Journal of Air Transport Management, as well as the new Economics of Transportation: Journal of ITEA)

Basically this is a collective action / coordination problem, someone has to coordinate academic publishing. Some money needs to be collected somewhere. Papers don’t typeset themselves. The problem is the charge for this service is outrageous, allowing Elsevier in particular to collect excess rents (monopoly profits).

I have not yet joined the boycott, I am still debating internally. Words are cheap, actions have consequences. While undoubtedly I could get by, my students careers may be hurt if they were unable to publish in some of the highly ranked Elsevier journals. I count 7 papers currently under review in Elsevier journals and I don’t want to restart the process on all of them. I have published other papers in Elsevier journals. And of course, all this may flop.

In transportation we need more alternatives. There are not enough open content journals, and only a few other serious non-Elsevier choices. We have the following significant English-language non-Elsevier journals I am familiar with, (this list seems like a lot, but few have the reach or the legacy of the TR journals, and many are specialized):

* indicates open access.

[Did I miss any (I intentionally excluded journals from Bentham and SCIRP)?, a more comprehensive list is maintained by Robert Bertini here, a list of Open Access journals in Transport is here and Transportation is here ]

There are also lots of journals in adjacent fields (Safety, OR, Planning, Regional Science, Geography, Civil Engineering, etc.)

I have done what I can with JTLU, but I can’t operate 15 open access journals, other people need to step up. We need new models.

The whole publication field is in flux, Public Library of Science and arXiv have been around a while in the sciences, and a new initiative called Faculty of 1000 is promoting “post-publication” peer review in biology and medicine.

Previous posts on Elsevier:

Linklist: January 31, 2012

Metropolis Mag on The Socialist Car: Automobility in the Eastern Bloc:

“the collection of essays edited by Lewis Siegelbaum, is a fascinating look at automobile use, production, and urban planning behind the Iron Curtain. It reveals a system that, if far from socialist or egalitarian in origin, created a culture of automobile use distinct from the western world.”

Minnesota's Gas Tax Rate is Low by Historical Standards and Shrinking
Minnesota’s Gas Tax Rate is Low by Historical Standards and Shrinking

Carl Davis sends me to: Historical Gas Taxes for 26 States from Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (Minnesota’s is shown here) Building a Better Gas Tax – a set on Flickr

Why We Reason: How To Generate A Good Idea :

“The modern day coffeehouse can be found in the office buildings of the most innovative companies. At Pixar, for example, Steve Jobs insisted that the architect positioned the bathrooms at the center of the building so that the animator could easily strike up a conversation with the designer who could bounce ideas off of the COO. ” [internalizing economies of agglomeration]

Pollution vs. Vaccines

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (or the one).” – Surak

The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.” – Kirk
Case A. An individual releases toxic substances into the unowned environmental commons where it is breathed in by many members of the community for the individual’s benefit and to some community-members’ cost. This is pollution.
Case B. The community releases toxic substances into an individual where it is ingested by the individual for the community’s benefit and to some individuals’ cost. This is immunization.
Is A bad and B good?
A produces in economic terms a “negative externality”, an unwanted side-effect on third-parties. (Strictly speaking, pollution may also produce positive externalities, e.g. some agriculture may benefit from a change in the chemical composition of the air, or change in temperature, etc., these are often thought to be relatively small compared to the downsides)
B produces a “positive externality” (a good side-effect on third parties) [e.g. Herd immunity is whereby the immunity of a significant portion of the population protects others from disease, as it limits the ability of viruses to spread.]
So long as most individuals benefit from immunization, people seem to let it slide. But there have been a number of immunization attempts that were not generally successful, where the downsides may have outweighed the upside, the 1976 Swine Flu immunization is an example, where the flu killed 1 person, and the immunization killed 25 (of course, the story is quite complicated, and those who were immunized in 1976 were less likely to get ill in the 2009 outbreak, so it may have been net positive in the long run).
Pollution exists and is known to cause harm. Most people think all else equal, pollution is bad for society. There is debate on how much to regulate or price pollution, as well as the magnitude of the harm caused from individual pollutants. In the US, air pollution in general is down, though decreasing some pollutants may increase other pollutants (e.g. processes that reduce the size of pollutants may reduce the amount of large particulates but increase the number of small, less easily measured, particulates).
It is known that vaccines have side effects, it is not known in advance which unlucky individual will be the recipient of those side effects.
If you are a communitarian, A is unacceptable, B is acceptable. If you are an individualist, A is acceptable and B should be voluntary.
An individualist may willingly submit to immunization, but only if their personal benefit outweighs their personal cost, not strictly for herd immunity of for the benefit of others (unless those are things that they get salutary benefits from, either from a feeling of moral righteousness or from rising in status do to the perceptions of others). They believe society does not have the right to forcibly vaccinate individuals, or coerce individuals into vaccination in exchange for mandatory services (e.g. public education).

An Assessment Scale for Travel Information at Bus Stops

Bus Assessment Scale
Bus Assessment Scale

At TRB this week, I ran into former student and University of Minnesota Civil Engineering alumnus Michael Groh, who was working with National Transit Institute in New Jersey. He was presenting a poster (reduced version pictured, BusAssessmentScale (PDF)) titled “An Assessment Scale for Travel Information at Bus Stops”. There is an associated paper obtainable from the author or on the TRB website for attendees.
In brief, it provides a systematic way to assess bus stops according to four basic questions:

  • Where does the bus go?
  • How soon is the next bus?
  • What does it cost?
  • Is the bus stop design usable for everyone?

This is a much needed metric to remind operators what constitutes passing and failing bus stop performance. The vast majority of the Twin Cities bus stops would rate an “F” by these criteria, only a few of the newly remodeled downtown stops warrant an “A”.
Bus stop signage is really important for a variety of reasons, but especially for what is often called “choice” ridership. People cannot choose a product if they have no information about it, and won’t choose a product if they feel uncomfortable using it.
When living in London, I felt very comfortable taking the buses to neighborhoods I had never been before, with full knowledge there was an ‘A’ or ‘B’ level bus stop sign on the other end to help me get back home. In Minneapolis, if I rode a bus to an unknown neighborhood, I would likely wind up walking home for all the information that Metro Transit is going to give me.
See also previous posts:

Seattle Metro’s New Bus Stop Signs

Towards an Urban Interface – Some Design Principles

On “A Streetcar Named Development”, Streetcars, Buses, and Signs 

Linklist: January 26, 2012

Some links on visualization and interface …

Annie Mole @ Going UndergroundNext-Gen London Underground on-platform display – Tells how crowded next Tube is [an interesting user-interface mockup.

David King @ Getting from here to there: Visualizing NYC Taxi Activity

Graphserver Growing Shortest Path Trees.

Network Structure and Spatial Separation

MiamiMapRecently published:

Abstract. This research aims to identify the role of network architecture in influencing individual travel behavior using travel survey data from Minneapolis-Saint Paul and Florida (Fort Lauderdale and Miami). Various measures of network structure, compiled from existing sources, are used to quantify roadway networks, and to capture the arrangement and connectivity of nodes and links in the networks and the spatial variations that exist among and within networks. The regression models show that travel behavior is correlated with network design.
Keywords: network structure, travel behavior

Five articles on self-driving cars

Five articles on self-driving cars

Tom Vanderbilt @ Wired: Let the Robot Drive: The Autonomous Car of the Future Is Here

Molly Rants @ CNET News: Self-driving cars: Yes, please! Now, please!

John Markoff @ NY Times: Google’s Autonomous Vehicles Draw Skepticism at Legal Symposium [The first thing we do, let's kill all the ___]

Matt Yglesias @ Slate: Three Barriers To Robot Cars

Jeremy Hsu @ MSNBC: [Sebastian] Thrun leaving Stanford for online startup: “When a Stanford University professor [and autonomous vehicle developer, ed.] first offered a free online version of his “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” class, he attracted 160,000 students from around the world. Now he has given up his tenured academic position to create a startup that could deliver university-level education for low cost to anyone with an Internet connection.”