Monkey-brained Musings

Thursday, May 12, 2005
 
Gulf Stream Slowing



The London Times on May 8th reported that scientists have detected signs that the Gulf Stream is slowing. One of the drivers of the Gulf Stream, the sinking of supercooled water off the coast of Greenland, has slowed to less than a quarter of its previous rate. This is significant beause the Gulf Stream keeps Europe warm during the winter. Britain is on the same latitude as Siberia.

Peter Wadhams, a professor of ocean physics at Cambridge University reports that "[u]ntil recently we would find giant ?chimneys? in the sea where columns of cold, dense water were sinking from the surface to the seabed 3,000 meters below, but now they have almost disappeared."

Wadham has also measured the North Polar ice cap and determined that it has become 46 percent thinner over the past 20 years. During summers as early as 2020 and almost certainly by 2080, the Arctic ice cap will melt completely.
 

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Monday, May 09, 2005
 
Urban Mobility and the Big Lie

The Texas Transportation Institute has released its 2005 Urban Mobility Study. This is the study that numerically confirms that traffic is getting worse and that is used to justify new road building and new toll roads. There is just one problem, the numbers don't jive with the conventional wisdom as expressed by the TTI's Tim Lomax: ''Austin didn't add transportation capacity in the '80s or '90s,'' and "The 'If you don't build it, they won't come' philosophy didn't work.''

First let's look at the numbers, then why Lomax's statement isn't supported by the numbers. Following are numbers from the 2005 Study for 2003 (the most recent year covered), 1992, and 1982 (the first year covered).

















Measure200319921982
Population850,000 (+109%)590,000 (+44%)410,000
Area445 sq miles (+48%)375 sq miles (+25%)300 sq miles
Density (people/sq mile)1,921 (+41%)1,573 (+15%)1,367
Peak Travelers459,000 (+162%)276,000 (+58%)175,000
Freeway VMT*9.2 million (+207%)6.1 million (+103%)3 million
Lane Miles740 (+147%)510 (+70%)300
Arterial Streets VMT5.24 million (+218%)3.39 million (+105%)1.64 million
Roadway VMT20.7 million (+192%)12.6 million (+78%)7.1 million
Centerline Miles3,320 (+114%)2,575 (+66%)1,555
Annual Delay23.2 million hours (+1189%)5.4 million hours (+200%)1.8 million hours
- Rank284237
Delay per Peak Traveler51 hours (+364%)20 hours (+82%)11 hours
- Rank133325
Annual Delay Saved by Public Transit2.95 million hours (+1080%)1.02 million hours (+308%)0.25 million hours
Hours per Peak Traveler6 (500%)4 (300%)1

* VMT = Vehicle Miles Traveled

These numbers clearly show that Austin did add capacity in the 80s and 90s. Freeway lane miles went up 147%, arterial streets were up 103%, and roadways were increased 114%. The construction of freeway and roadway miles actually exceeded the population growth between 1982 and 2003 (109%). In addition, due to the bust during the 80s, Austin's congestion actually grew at a rate slower than the national average. Between 1982 and 1992, Austin's congestion ranking fell from 37 in 1982 to 43 in 1992 even though the annual delay increased by more than 200% during that time.

The problem is that people have been driving further at rates ahead of roadbuilding. The miles traveled between 1982 and 2003 increased 207% for freeways, 218% for arterial streets, and 192% for roadways. The increase in miles traveled exceeded the rate of construction by 60% for freeways, 115% for arterial streets, and 78% for roadways.

That is the big lie that Mr. Lomax and the road lobby are perpetuating. It isn't that Austin didn't build roads in line with population growth; it is that people increased their driving distances at rates ahead of road construction. In addition, for the first 15 years of the study period, the road lobby spent much of its efforts pushing for roads to the southwest, into the Barton Creek Watershed and over the acquifer and into areas where the citizens of Austin have objected to development for more than 25 years. Had the road lobby pushed for construction of SH 130 during the 80s or if the Transportation Commission had approved funding for construction of the I-35 & Ben White interchange when the City first requested, our mobility statistics and our congestion ranking would be better today.
 

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Smartest Guys in the Room

I went to see Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room at the Alamo South tonight. It is a well-made and very disturbing documentary. It succinctly describes how key Enron executives and employees began with an aggressive business plan and an absolut pursuit of higher stock prices and then expanded it an every widening circle of questionable business practices. By the end, they are using markets as a weapon as a cover for fraud, extortion, and other crimes and acting in complete disregard of any semblance of honesty, ethics, and fair-dealing. It made me embarassed to be a Texan. It also made me wonder once again, as these executives were bringing home tens of millions of dollars while pension funds cratered, why Texas does not have an income tax.
 

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Thursday, May 05, 2005
 
Serenity Preview



Austin hosted one of the ten previews tonight for Serenity at the Gateway. We arrived at 8:30, earlier than we had planned for the 10 p.m. show. Still, we were in the back third of the line. Once inside, Nathan Fillion and Ron Glass surprised the enthusiastic audience. After the film, they stayed for more than an hour answering questions and signing autographs. Joss Whedon had taped an intro to set up the film and rev the fans up even more.

As for the film, it is all that a Firefly fan could want. The preview was a nearly complete cut with a only a few sound and visual effects remaining to be completed. I'm not going to reveal any spoilers, but they did a great job of setting up the universe and tackling River's story. I'm looking forward to seeing the final version in September.

Now, it's time for sleep.
 

1 comments

Wednesday, May 04, 2005
 
Sprint for Place 3

The race for City Council Place 3 is going down to the wire. The four candidates attempting to take Jackie Goodman’s seat are neck and neck in the homestretch. The race is almost certainly headed for a June runoff, and the leading candidate Saturday night will likely capture only about a third of the vote.

In many ways, the race is similar to how it looked back in January. Margot Clarke still appears to be leading with the other candidates competing to see who will be in the runoff. Clarke has the advantage in endorsements and organization and is the standard-bearer for the coalition of environmentalists and Central City neighborhoods that have been dominating Council elections for the last decade.

Gregg Knaupe has received funding from RECA and the toll road lobby. He could be seen as filling the conventional role of the developers’ candidate. Only, things are different this year. The city has grown, and neighborhoods in the southwest and northwest are now seeking more influence.

Jennifer Kim has challenged the conventional wisdom by raising the most money and by collecting several key endorsements, including those from the Statesman and the firefighters. As a successful small business owner with strong credentials in public policy and Democratic politics, she is bringing fresh ideas and a new perspective to a City Council election.

Mandy Dealey has a solid base of support and has gained some surprising new supporters around the University.

One of the key issues in this election will be where the City is going. With Daryl Slusher and Jackie Goodman leaving the Council, the winner in Place 3 will join a Council that will, in all likelihood, consist of Mayor Wynn, Lee Leffingwell, Betty Dunkerley, Raul Alvarez, Brewster McCracken, and Danny Thomas. One of the key questions for Place 3 is which candidate will provide the best and most distinctive leadership and will work best with the other Council Members. Applying the patented Hite Head-Heart Test, my head says to go with Clarke. She will likely be the top vote getter, and certainly, many of my friends are supporting her. My heart, though, is telling me to go with Kim. The City is changing, and in order to maintain Austin’s innovation and affordability, we need some new thinking.
 

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Tuesday, May 03, 2005
 
Health Insurance by Association

The Game Manufacturers Association is now offering health insurance to its member companies. Coverage will include Health Savings Accounts and Preferred Provider Organizations. This move provides many small retailers and publishers with an affordable health care alternative. This an excellent means for providing low cost health insurance by spreading the risk over a large pool of beneficiaries. I only wonder why more professional and business organizations do not take advantage of this opportunity.
 

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The scattered musings of Jeb Boyt, Austin Texas. A collection of the random bits that scamper through my monkey brain. This blog is my personal record. The opinions expressed here are my own and are in no way associated with any employer, board, commission, organization, or other entity that I may be affiliated with. So there.

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