Further to the topic “Who Will Report the News?”

In our Thursday post CAUSE and EFFECT we included a By the Way (BTW: 1) which, expanded slightly for clarification, read:

“BTW 1: TAMU’s (Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University) Urban Mobility Report with 2003 data is out today. We will look at it with care when time allows but it appears at first glance to have the same strengths and weaknesses as the last 20 of these annual reports. (See our column “Spinning Data, Spinning Wheels” 20 September 2004 at BaconsRebellion on the TAMU 2004 report with 2002 data. We also posted a note on this blog on 10 May 2005 with a summary of the 2005 TAMU report.) On the “MSM-does-not-know-what-they-are-talking-about” theme, Forbes.com calls the report the “Urban Utility Report.””

It turns out there are errors in this note.

What was I thinking? TAMU is two years behind so the 2006 report should have 2004 data. It probably will when the 2006 report comes out. The Forbes.com coverage I saw on 16 Feb was a para for para rewrite of the first part of the CNN coverage from the 9 May 2005. There is information from a recent phone call to get a quote on what TAMU staffers “guess” the cost of delay is now because of gas price increases since 2003 but there is nothing new (aka, 2004 data) out yet. I found this out when I went to the TAMU site to follow up as promised and then backtracked when I found no new report. A check of our printouts of past studies confirmed the problem.

I should have been forewarned. The headline reads: “Worst Cities (sic) For Traffic.” TAMU is an “urbanized area” report, not a municipal (city) or regional report.

Also, by way of clarification, you may have seen a posting on this site that suggests that TAMU data supports the view that “the only cities (sic) that saw congestion levels fall were spread out Houston and Phoenix, along with job deficient Pittsburgh. Americas most traffic snarled cities (sic) are its densist (sic) and most transit intensive.”

Here is a quiz: How many errors can you spot in this quote?

Hint: The answer is more than four not counting the geographical misidentification.

Do not take our word for it. Go to the reports and see for yourself. (The reports for 2005 (2003 data) and 2004 (2002 data) plus information on many of the reports are easily accessed at http://tti.tamu.edu

It may save you time in getting a complete understanding of what the TAMU reports really say to first read “Spinning Data, Spinning Wheels,” (20 Sept 2004) at db4.dev.baconsrebellion.com

The spin on the information in the TAMU studies is impressive. So is the spin of the spin as noted above. All this raises again the problem of reliable information in a data besotted society.


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One response to “HOODWINKED”

  1. I made a mistake.

    I thought the information was based on TAMU but after reviewing my sources I find it is not. The information about Pittsburgh is from another source but the basis for my comment about Houston and Phoenix is a paper entitled “Transport and Land Use:Key Issues in Metropolitan Planning and Smart Growth” by Robert Cervero at the Dept. of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of California. He doesn’t give the source of his data, but I’m willing to assume it is correct or was at the time. The current TAMU data is not germaine to the argument I made.

    The exact quote is as follows:

    “With smart growth, there must be some degree of private sacrifice, at leaswt in part, for public gains. The public-private conundrum is revealed by the commuting statistics. Suburbanization has lengthened average commutes, but average driving speeds have gone up even faster. The only U.S. cities that saw congestion levels fall from the mid 1980’s to the mid 1990’s were spread-out Houston and Phoenix. Americas most traffic snarled cities are also its densest and most transit intensive. With smart growth personal time losses incurred when switching from cars to transit are matched by societal gains like clean air and fuel savings.

    Portland shows that policies like urban growth boundaries are a necessary pill to curb the sprawl disease. However, supply constraints have inflated land costs (both per square ft and per residence). Portlands experience shows that public gains (i.e. cheaper infrastructure per mile, cleaner air) are at the expense of private losses(i.e. higher housing and land costs). What remains unclear is how much cost inflation is due to constrained land supplies versus Portland being an attractive place to live and do business, in no small part because of successfully linking transportation and land development.”

    So there you have it. Smart growth boils down to a tax increase for the purpose of supporting unquantified public benefits.

    And this is from a guy that is supportive of smart growth. But even he says smart growth is sometimes ridiculed as a command and controlo economy and that persons with children will continue to live in the suburbs and beyond. But he says smart growth is mainly about expanding choices. Single person households, retirees, empty nesters, and childless couples may prefer in-city, small lot living in attractive environments that are well served by public transport and easy to get around by bike and foot. “It is precisely for this reason that smart growth will prevail as the dominant paradigm of community building in the twenty-first century.”

    Well, yeah, maybe. But when I was a single member household, it was nothing for me to make a thousand mile weekend trip for skiing or sailing. Anyway, what is a community without kids?

    I was in Portland recently and I observed a lot of mostly empty busses and trolleys, A high proportion of panhandlers on the streets, a vibrant red-light and booze district, a two block long gay bath house, and a coffee shop on every corner. There are almost no kids.

    To be fair the buses were more crowded during rush hour, but the streets and freeways were jammed. There were many pleasant looking mixed use apartments, but evidently people can’t stand to be in them because cruising the streets went on far into the night. Cruising the streets waws the only option because most reputable businesses closed down.

    Since Cervero wrote his paper, Oregon residents have twice voted for major reforms in their land planning. And Portland’s transportation plan includes major money for long delayed highway projects. Housing prices ahave become even more unaffordable there as the economy revived. And Cervero points out that it is difficult to link land use and planning because major transit plans occur infrequently while land use is much more fluid.

    The TAMU data has been wildly distorted by people on both sides of the fence. Mostly because it is the only data available, and even the authors admit it is barely scratching the surface of transportation issues.

    As I said, right or wrong isn’t an issue. No one knows anywhere near enough to make grand pronouncements about what is “the only way” to proceed.

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