About traffic studies

Unless you’ve been in a coma or cave or maybe sequestered somewhere you’ve heard about the traffic problems on the George Washington Bridge last September.  Everyone is investigating:  A joint special committee of the New Jersey legislature, the United States Attorney for New Jersey, at least two Congressional Committees and a great many news investigative reporters.  But until subpoenas come due in a week or so and people have a chance to digest all the material that will be submitted, including listening to cell phone conversations and searching for text messages and email, there is likely to be no new information.  So in case you are suffering from bridgegate withdrawal, here is some information on traffic studies.

Trust Calvin Trillin to be on the case.  First, his poem as published in the Nation.

Fort Lee Jam   

Chris Christie insists he knew nothing at all
Re jams at the bridge lanes. Well, maybe.
But, now, those commuters are smiling. They say,
“So who’s in a bigger jam, baby?”

traffic study

And then we have his imaginary consultant’s report from the traffic study published in the New York Times Sunday Review.

FINAL REPORT OF A TRAFFIC STUDY CONDUCTED AT THE FORT LEE, N.J., APPROACH TO THE GEORGE WASHINGTON BRIDGE, SEPT. 9-12, 2013

Object of the study. The study was designed to ascertain the effect on traffic if two out of three tollbooths at the Fort Lee, N.J., approach to the George Washington Bridge were closed.

Study designer. The traffic study was designed by Duane C. Milledge, Ph.D. Dr. Milledge was most recently the designer of a traffic study submitted to the agency that operates the two bridges that cross the Missouri River near downtown Kansas City, Mo. The design for that study calls for furnishing commuters on one bridge with $20 bills and instructions to say to the toll taker, “Sorry, it’s the smallest I’ve got,” collecting no tolls on the other bridge, and observing the result. Dr. Milledge is a member of the American Association of Traffic Engineers, a contributor to Queue Quarterly, and a Republican precinct captain in Summit, N.J.

Hypotheses. The principal hypothesis of the study was that the tollbooth closings might ease traffic flow onto the bridge, due to fewer cars from Fort Lee being able to gain bridge access.

Additional benefits that might accrue if the two tollbooths were closed permanently. It was posited that the space occupied by the two tollbooths in question might more efficaciously serve the revenue-flow needs of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey through a use other than collecting tolls — for instance, concessioning them out as a Shake Shack or a retail outlet for selling such souvenirs as George Washington Bridge coffee mugs, Springsteen memorabilia and CDs of Don Imus drive-time radio shows from the ’80s.

¶ Methodology. The methodology of the study was to shut down two out of three tollbooths and see what happened.

Interaction of researchers and commuters. The research team had no problem collecting data from individual drivers waiting to go through the one open lane, since their cars were virtually stationary. There were only 14 instances of violence directed at the survey takers, almost all of which consisted of commuters throwing coffee from travel mugs or paper cups. Fortunately, no researcher was scalded, since the drivers had been waiting so long that their coffee was cold.

…Corporal Sicola [research assistant]  found that 58 percent of the motorists in line shouted some imprecation, ranging from the sort often heard in the stress of a rush-hour subway or an overcrowded emergency room (e.g., “You people should burn in hell” or “You can take your study and stick it where the sun don’t shine”) to rare curses, presumably ethnic in origin (e.g., “May streetcars grow on the back of your throat”).

As we all know the lane closures were ended on Day 4, so a follow-up study is recommended.

Now, here is advice from Dr. Gridlock of the Washington Post on how to do an actual traffic study.

For close to three millennia— from the days of the Romans until the interstates were built — conducting a traffic study was simple, dreary work: send somebody out with a clip board to count ox carts or stage coaches or automobiles.

Did this create traffic jams on the Appian Way or Oregon Trail? Probably not.

Like everybody else who drives, Christie knows about traffic cameras. New Jersey has almost as many of them as it does cranberries,  and they outnumber the pigeons on the suddenly-controversial approaches to the George Washington Bridge.

Back in the days before he acquired a chauffeur Christie had to listen to the same radio traffic reports as the plebeians. As an observant fellow, he’s bound to have noticed that in the past decade they’ve gotten much more sophisticated.

Those cameras have helped, but a major advance has been because a company called Inrix and a few competitors take the heartbeat of traffic and supply local radio and TV stations with what they report. Inrix has a world-wide network of transponders installed in most trucks and what are called “fleet vehicles” — rental cars and delivery vans.

Those transponders provide real-time information, so your cheerful traffic reporter can tell you exactly how much traffic to expect — or where the major tie ups are — on, for example, the George Washington Bridge.

And then you can take the data collected and do some computer modeling.  Bill Baroni who was the one who tried to explain the fake alleged traffic study would have had some really nice charts to show them.  You don’t need poor Corporal Sicola!

Illustration by Peter Arkle for the New York Times

Petitions: Serious and not

The Obama administration created a place where people can petition for actions they want the government to take.  This is in a great American tradition as the Declaration of Independence was in a very real sense a petition to the British monarchy listing all the issues the founding fathers had with the King.  There are petitions for secession, for and against gun control (there has been a response to those), building a Death Star – you name it there is probably a petition.  When the process was started, I doubt that anyone expected so many and varied petitions.  So what happens to them?

Donovan Slack explains on Politico

So what happens to such petitions and will they actually get a response from the White House?

A quick look at program statistics on the White House web site shows that there are 159 open petitions, 45 of which that have reached the 25,000-signature threshold required for response.

Some of those have been waiting several months since reaching the threshold, including two asking about required labeling on genetically modified foods (created in September 2011 and April 2012), two asking the administration to denounce support of former Japanese “comfort women” (created in May and June), one asking that access to journal articles based on taxpayer-funded research be free (created in May) and another asking that foreign aid be pulled from Vietnam unless it returns land to former owners (created in August).

Some petitions don’t receive a response at all. The White House reserves the right to remove petitions that do not fall within its guidelines, for example those that ask for actions outside the power of the federal government. (A petition asking for the removal of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was removed in December.)

The White House has responded to 87 petitions since the program’s inception in September 2011, according to the site. Many of the responses read like dry talking points, others are basically a “no comment.” But a few appear to have had some impact. For example, the White House issued its response to petitions on Internet privacy (SOPA and PIPA) at the same time the House was considering legislation on the issue. The White House came out against legislation, helping lead to its demise. And there was of course the one that prompted the release of the White House beer recipe.

While the White House has yet to comment on the various petitions for secession, Calvin Trillin has made his comment.

A Short Message to Those Who Have Signed Petitions Asking to Secede From the Union

We do respect your point of view.
We’re glad to see the back of you.

Two recent petitions have caught my attention.  The first is a serious one about Westboro Church; the second, is the matching set of petitions to deport or not CNN’s Piers Morgan.  Lets look at Morgan first.

British Citizen and CNN television host Piers Morgan is engaged in a hostile attack against the U.S. Constitution by targeting the Second Amendment,” the authors write. “We demand that Mr. Morgan be deported immediately for his effort to undermine the Bill of Rights and for exploiting his position as a national network television host to stage attacks against the rights of American citizens.”

Last Tuesday, Morgan interviewed Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners for America, and called him “dangerous,” “stupid,” and “an idiot.” The next night he told John Lott, the author of More Guns, Less Crime that he needed “to stop repeating a blatant lie about what happens in other countries.”

This prompted a petition to deport Morgan and a counter petition by some British Citizens requesting that we keep him because they don’t want him.  I’m sure the White House response will involve a discussion of the First Amendment.  The counter petition doesn’t have many signatures so maybe when I finish writing this, I’ll log in and sign it.

The Westboro Chuch petition, however, is a serious matter.

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church chant anti-Marine Corps slogans and stand on American flags during their protest. | AP Photo

The church is composed mostly of members of one extended family who believe that every event is caused by tolerance for homosexuality.  Politico reports

More than 260,000 people have signed a petition to the White House asking for  it to label the notorious Westboro Baptist Church a hate group.

The petition aimed at the church best known for picketing military funerals  and other events with signs declaring “GOD HATES FAGS,” is believed to be the  most popular cause ever on the White House’s “We the People” petition site. Four  other petitions targeting the church’s tax-exempt status have attracted nearly  200,000 additional signatures. All five petitions have passed the number  required for a response from President Barack Obama’s administration.

“This group has been recognized as a hate group by organizations, such as The  Southern Poverty Law  Center, and has repeatedly displayed the actions typical of hate  groups,” the petition reads. “Their actions have been directed at many groups,  including homosexuals, military, Jewish people and even other Christians. They  pose a threat to the welfare and treatment of others and will not improve  without some form of imposed regulation.”

Westboro Church picketed funerals in Sandy Hook probably for no reason other than wanting publicity.  I thing that getting the IRS to look at tax exemption is a good way to go.  They, like Piers Morgan, have the right to free speech but they don’t have to be tax exempt.  I wonder if they claim travel expenses as a business deduction.

English: We the People, White House petition p...

English: We the People, White House petition platform logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Photograph of Westboro Church member:  AP

The death of the Republican party? Part 2

Maureen Dowd calls them  “A Lost civilization”. likening them to the lost tribes of civilization.

The Mayans were right, as it turns out, when they predicted the world would end in 2012. It was just a select world: the G.O.P. universe of arrogant, uptight, entitled, bossy, retrogressive white guys.

Just another vanishing tribe that fought the cultural and demographic tides of history.

Someday, it will be the subject of a National Geographic special, or a Mel Gibson movie, where archaeologists piece together who the lost tribe was, where it came from, and what happened to it. The experts will sift through the ruins of the Reagan Presidential Library, Dick Cheney’s shotgun casings, Orca poll monitoring hieroglyphics, remnants of triumphal rants by Dick Morris on Fox News, faded photos of Clint Eastwood and an empty chair, and scraps of ancient tape in which a tall, stiff man, his name long forgotten, gnashes his teeth about the 47 percent of moochers and the “gifts” they got.

Instead of smallpox, plagues, drought and Conquistadors, the Republican decline will be traced to a stubborn refusal to adapt to a world where poor people and sick people and black people and brown people and female people and gay people count.

As the historian Will Durant observed, “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.”

Who would ever have thought blacks would get out and support the first black president? Who would ever have thought women would shy away from the party of transvaginal probes? Who would ever have thought gays would work against a party that treated them as immoral and subhuman? Who would have ever thought young people would desert a party that ignored science and hectored on social issues? Who would ever have thought Latinos would scorn a party that expected them to finish up their chores and self-deport?

Calvin Trillin puts it this way

Mitt Romney Explains Why He Lost

Obama was clever as clever could be;
To targeted groups he gave gifts that were free:
Say, healthcare for free until age 26,
And free contraceptives (for sex just for kicks).
Debates in the primaries left our team bruised
From harsh accusations the White House then used.
Whatever the reason for losing might be,
Of one thing I’m sure: it could not have been me.
I’m perfect.

But those of us on the other side should remember that the Democrats have also had some near-death experiences – like after the 1972 election – and we have spent our time in the wilderness, too.  The party has had internal struggles and differences, but, correct me if I’m wrong, there has never been a point where the Democratic party was this close to making itself irrelevant.

Trillin again.

Republican Soul Searching   

We’re searching our souls and we’re wondering why
We got beat so badly our rivals are gloating.
It’s obvious now where our campaign went wrong:
We should have prevented more people from voting.

Two etch-a-sketch poems

Calvin Trillin has written two Mitt poems featuring the etch-a-sketch.

Mitt Doesn’t Think That Nearly Half the People In This Country Are Moochers After All

He was, he says, completely wrong;
To care for everyone is vital.
He’s singing now a different song,
And “Etch A Sketch” is that song’s title.

Foreign Policy Debate   

Mitt seemed to agree with Obama a lot.
Divergence in policy got hard to spot.
He used all the moderate words he could muster.
So where was the Mittster’s past neocon bluster?
He knew that those still undecided would hate it.
The answer then is that the Etch A Sketch ate it.

Eric Fehrnstrom told us this was going to happen and it has.  I guess he is the one person in the Romney campaign who can tell the truth.

The President as Nobel Laureate

I’ve been following all the stories about President Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize.  From imagining what he said when told ( bad word is likely) to Maureen Dowd’s conversation between Bill Clinton and George W. to the calls to give it back to the hysteria on the right to the disbelief on the left and a lot in between.

President Obama reacted to receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in the White House Rose Garden on Friday morning.

This picture from the New York Times shows the President making his statement about winning:  He will go to Norway to accept and he will give the money to charity.  And, yes, he was just like the rest of us, surprised.

While conservatives rather predictably expressed disbelief and disparaged the prize and the president, there also are many Democrats and those on the left who were scratching their heads early this morning. Nearly all agree it’s a rather stunning award for someone who hasn’t been in the presidency even a year, coupled with two wars, an economic downside, the Iranian threat as well as the intractable Mideast problems.

Two of the most interesting comments the collected on the Caucus blog are from Robert Krebs and John McCain.

Several people pointed to an article by Robert Krebs in Foreign Policy magazine last July, in which he argued that the Nobel peace committee’s intentions are always partisan:

And for good reason: The Nobel Peace Prize’s aims are expressly political. The Nobel committee seeks to change the world through the prize’s very conferral, and, unlike its fellow prizes, the peace prize goes well beyond recognizing past accomplishments. As Francis Sejersted, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee in the 1990s, once proudly admitted, “The prize … is not only for past achievement. … The committee also takes the possible positive effects of its choices into account [because] … Nobel wanted the prize to have political effects. Awarding a peace prize is, to put it bluntly, a political act.”

“Oh, I’m sure that the president is very honored to receive this award,” Mr. McCain said. “And Nobel Committee, I can’t divine all their intentions, but I think part of their decision-making was expectations. And I’m sure the president understands that he now has even more to live up to. But as Americans, we’re proud when our president receives an award of that prestigious category.

 ”But the best comment is from Calvin Trillin in his “Three Possible Explanations from the Nobel Committee”

Don’t be surprised. Don’t gasp. Don’t faint.
We’ve simply said, “George Bush he ain’t.”

The prize diplomacy can reap’ll
Prevent this guy from bombing people.

Since Henry Kissinger has won,
You know that this is all in fun.

Thank you, Calvin.

Some thoughts about Sonia Sotomayor and Race

Charles Blow has an interesting column in the New York Times about the Republican claims that Supreme Court nominee , Sonia Sotomayor would be a racist and rule consistently against anyone who isn’t a “minority”.   Those who call her racist generally only cite the New Haven firefighters case in which she joined the opinion of two other justices.  (No one ever talks about them, but given the composition of the judiciary, I presume both are probably white and at least one is male.)

Furthermore, the picture that those Republicans painted of Sotomayor doesn’t seem to be supported by her actions. The Scotusblog examined her court of appeals decisions in race-related cases and found that she rejected claims of discrimination 80 percent of the time.

Blow attached a nifty chart.  The chart shows that of the 96 cases involving discrimination she has heard on the Court of Appeals, in 78 she found no discrimination.  But, as Blow points out, the Republicans don’t want to apologize for calling her biased and racist.

Is such a stubborn stance good for the Republican Party?

No. Racial wounds are deeply felt and slowly healed. Having Hispanics feel racially slighted by the Republicans is suicidal. Hispanics are 15 percent of the nation’s population, and, unlike blacks, they’re not so monolithically democratic, at least not yet.

And here’s another take on the nonimation from Calvin Trillin.

The nominee’s Sotomayor,
Whom all good Latinos adore
But right-wingers tend to deplore.
They’d like to show Sonia the door.
Her record, they say, heretofore
Reveals that beliefs at her core
Would favor minorities more:
She’d hand them decisions galore,
Because of the racial rapport.

Whereas white male judges are, as everyone knows, totally neutral.

While I’m thrilled that President Obama has nominated a woman and a Latina, I worry that she is going to turn out to be more moderate than I would like.