Market pricing and then some

Austin, Texas has the perhaps-dubious distinction of being the largest city in the nation served by only a single Interstate. Loop 1 — the MoPac — runs more or less parallel to I-35, a few miles to the west, and it becomes a toll road north of Parmer Lane. TxDOT’s latest idea to relieve congestion on the MoPac is to add two lanes to the existing six between Parmer and the river, a distance of about 11 miles, which will have variable tolls, and I do mean “variable”:

[T]he added northbound and southbound lanes would be open only to those willing to pay a toll, to transit buses, to registered van pools and to emergency vehicles.

But the real departure would be the nature of the tolls themselves, which would change minute by minute depending on the level of traffic in the lane. The point … would be to keep the toll at a level calibrated to keep speeds in the lane at 50 mph or more.

If traffic gets too thick and traffic begins to slow, the toll would instantly increase in an effort to discourage some people from choosing to use the express lane. Signs well upstream of the express lane entrances would alert people to the current toll rate.

Since traffic on MoPac is occasionally moving a lot slower than 50 mph — sometimes it’s not moving at all — people might be willing to pay quite a bit to get up some speed. Chris Bradford thinks it’s a swell idea:

This is how we ought to add new capacity. It will make everyone better off. The people who choose to pay the toll will be better off because they value the time savings more than the cost of the toll. Bus commuters will be better off — they might be the biggest beneficiaries, in fact — because they will get a suddenly much shorter commute for (I presume) the same bus fare. Drivers who continue to use the free lanes will endure slightly less congestion, even if it’s just a narrower period of peak congestion. Finally, taxpayers, if not better off, will be no worse off because they won’t have to pay for the extra capacity. The capacity will be paid by those who value and use it.

How much would this toll be?

Wilbur Smith Associates, which has been doing traffic and revenue studies on the project for the [Central Texas Regional] Mobility Authority, has indicated to officials that the project would be financially feasible with a top rate initially of $2.57 in 2011 dollars. Since the road wouldn’t open until 2016, that would equate to about $3 on opening day. Officials emphasized that the actual toll rates have not been set yet and that Wilbur Smith later will produce a more rigorous “investment-grade” study.

During periods of low or no congestion — I am told that such exist — the toll might be as low as 50 cents.

So drivers will be faced with a choice. Bradford explains:

[T]he congestion cost each driver imposes on his fellow drivers will be approximately equal to the price of driving in the congestion-free lane. That’s one of the quirks of the economics of congestion — it turns out that the cost of congestion a driver imposes is equal to the congestion-clearing price.

Which seems counterintuitive, but it seems to work in real life.

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Do you in fact have any tires at all?

If this sounds like a variation on a theme by Monty Python, there’s one substantial difference: it isn’t funny. But it’s actually happening: tire dealers can’t get enough stock these days.

Now my supplier of choice is Tire Rack, so I dialed up their Web site and punched in the appropriate size. Of the first ten tires listed, four were out of stock and one was available in limited quantities. (More alarming: the tire I bought last time out, which I’d happily buy again, is no longer being made in my size/performance combination, and this brand’s one offering, a tire I consider to be a downgrade, actually costs more.)

Fortunately, I don’t need tires right this minute — current rubber has only about 30k on it and the wear bars are still fairly far away — but I will not be a happy camper if this situation prevails for too much longer, especially if prices are soaring.

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Consider yourself Kylierolled

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Then again, Dinah might

The New York Times editorialized thusly in 1963:

“Any city gets what it admires, will pay for, and, ultimately, deserves. Even when we had Penn Station, we couldn’t afford to keep it clean. We want and deserve tin-can architecture in a tinhorn culture. And we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed.”

And an anonymous Wikipedia scribe described the mood just prior to the moment:

A point made in the defense of the demolition of the old Penn Station at the time was that the cost of maintaining the old structure had become prohibitive. The question of whether it made sense to preserve a building, intended to be a cost-effective and functional piece of the city’s infrastructure, simply as a monument to the past was raised in defense of the plans to demolish it.

Not that we’d ever do such a thing, here in the shadow of the shiny new Devon tower.

(NYT editorial found at Maggie’s Farm.)

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Jump Balrogs

One does not simply walk into the Rose Garden: all kinds of scary creatures lurk therein, and the scariest might be LaMarcus Aldridge, who always causes grief for the Thunder and tonight ran up a season-high 39 points. It didn’t help that Nicolas Batum was grabby all night and managed to get called for only two fouls. Then again, Thunder shot selection in the fourth quarter was debatable: after nine minutes, they’d scored only ten points, and the Trail Blazers, who’d trailed by as many as twelve, were up four. OKC fought back to a tie, but Portland was back up by two going into the last minute. Then with six seconds left, Kevin Durant put up a shot, Aldridge put up a hand, and goaltending was called. With the score tied at 103, Batum went for the last shot, and Russell Westbrook made sure he didn’t get it.

With 30 seconds left in the overtime, OKC had outscored PDX 6-4, and a questionable call — one of several this evening — gave the Blazers the ball. Kendrick Perkins obliged with a timely block, and at :02, Durant, in his role as Captain Crunch, slammed the ball into the net. OKC 111, Portland 107, evening the season series at 1-1, and the Thunder managed to walk out of the Rose Garden.

OKC did come up with the bulk of the night’s rebounds (59-39); Serge Ibaka had 13, Perkins 10, and Westbrook (!) 11. Durant rolled up 33 points, Westbrook 28, James Harden 19, and Ibaka 12. We won’t discuss the 19 turnovers.

For Portland, Jamal Crawford started at the point, Raymond Felton having sprained his ankle. Crawford wound up playing almost 45 minutes; he acquitted himself well, scoring 17. Wesley Matthews added 18 more. But as always, the major thorn in the Thunder’s side was Aldridge, who got those 39 on 14 shots and 11 consecutive free throws. Marcus Camby cleared off 15 boards to lead the Blazers.

So it’s 1-1 with three games to go on this road trip. Tomorrow night: Golden State, followed by a Thursday game in Sacramento. No rest for your weary correspondent. (I’ll get over it.)

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How to comprehend social media

This went over well on one of those networks, so I figured I’d port it over here:

Social media explained

As Rod Stewart used to say, “Every picture tells a story — donut?”

(Purloined from Marc Rotenberg’s Facebook page.)

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Sonics II?

If you thought, not unreasonably, that Seattle’s current position on the NBA is “Screw ’em,” you might want to take the following under advisement:

A wealthy San Francisco hedge-fund manager and officials in the Seattle mayor’s office have been working behind the scenes for eight months to bring an NBA team back to the city as early as next fall and build a new arena, according to emails and documents that reveal a far more concerted effort than previously known.

The documents, released Friday to The Seattle Times under a public-disclosure request, also provide the first glimpse of how the largely unknown hedge-fund manager, 44-year-old Seattle native Christopher Hansen, approached the city about his desire to buy an NBA team and build an arena south of Safeco Field.

But which team? The ownership most likely to sell would be presumably dealing with both arena issues and an indifferent (or worse) record. Which means — yes, you guessed it:

Although the documents don’t mention how Seattle would obtain a team, they show the city has been following developments in Sacramento, which is under a March 1 deadline to come up with a viable proposal to build an arena for the Sacramento Kings. In September, Hirsh emailed a copy of an Associated Press story to Raup that outlined the Sacramento situation.

If Sacramento fails, the Kings could be playing in Seattle next fall if the city and Hansen reach an agreement, according to a Seattle City Hall source who has been briefed on the matter.

Second choice might be the league-owned New Orleans Hornets, but David Stern has always said he’s looking for an owner who would keep them in the Big Easy.

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Yeah? Tag this, pal

Bob Burke’s ODOT 100: Celebrating the First 100 Years of Transportation in Oklahoma (OKC: Oklahoma Heritage Association, 2011) contains the following bit of history, which should surprise no one who’s been exposed to this state’s tendency toward orneriness:

As the new Highway Commissioner [in 1911], [Sidney] Suggs had good intentions. However, he had little money to work with. A large number of Oklahoma vehicle owners, perhaps as much as 60 percent, refused to pay the $1 per vehicle tax. There was no organized system of collecting the tax, no central list of vehicle owners, and no effective enforcement effort to punish vehicle owners who did not pay.

Suggs, no dummy, came up with this brainstorm: local citizens, rather than state employees, would be appointed to collect the tax, which they would then send to the state, keeping a small percentage as a fee. The tag-agent system continues to this day.

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Second gear: lean right

With a kind reference to this January post, Robert Stacy McCain once again explains to you clodhoppers cluttering up the left lane why the essence of transportation is speed:

On your 20-mile rush-hour commute, the difference in road-time between driving 40 mph and driving 50 mph is inconsequential. But on a 500-mile trip, an average speed of 62 mph means an eight-hour trip, while an average speed of 77 mph means a 6-and-a-half-hour trip. Why should I spend an extra hour-and-a-half on the road, if I can safely drive 77 mph without getting pulled over? (On a 70-mph freeway, no trooper will waste his time busting you for 77, when so many drivers are actually doing 80.)

This fits nicely with my own highway observations. It is no advantage to be the fastest driver on any given slab — the guy doing 80 instead of 77 on the 500-mile trip stands to gain no more than 15 minutes, and is far more likely to attract the attention of your friend John Law — but there is a major disadvantage to being the slowest, especially if you’re parked in the left lane and more rational drivers are routing around you as though you were damage. Because you are.

Allow me to point out the law where I live:

Upon a roadway which is divided into four or more lanes, a vehicle proceeding at less than the maximum posted speed, except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation, shall not impede the normal flow of traffic by driving in the left lane. Such vehicle shall be driven in the right-hand lane except when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.

Note that “the normal flow of traffic” is given deserved priority over some associate member of the Anti-Destination League plodding along at 66 in a 70 zone. And That Mr. G Guy points out that in south Florida, 75 mph marks you as slow; I’ve never driven south of Orlando, but last time I was down that way, 80 was routine on I-75 south of the Georgia line.

(Title source.)

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Strange search-engine queries (314)

The distinguishing characteristic of the Morning After is that there was a Night Before. And while many of you were enjoying (or being repulsed by) that night, I was shuffling through the logs with an eye toward this morning. Which is not to say I’m industrious or anything.

2010 buick lacrosse, headlight switch seems to dim the navigation display:  If you look around, you’ll see that all the displays are dimmed; Buick (and just about every other automaker) has done that for about, oh, seventy years now.

mariska hargitay net worth:  Way more than yours or mine, I suspect.

caliente resort tampa older hung guy:  That was Hung Qi. Give him any lip, and he’ll deck you.

michelle bachman inside thighs:  You could always just ask Marcus; there’s even a chance he might not deck you for it.

last friday night katy perry cursed because of dead people:  If she cursed at all, which I doubt, it was because of dead microphone.

whitney’s yogurt 1982:  I’d be really leery of opening that package after thirty years.

“farts penalty”:  This is an application of Newton’s third law: he who dealt it also smelt it.

what does that mean when u get new transmission:  It means you live on franks and beans for the next three years, assuming you can still afford franks.

monokini “back-formation”:  The front formation is pretty nice too.

there is a lot of stuff here:  Noticed that, did you?

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Slow on the uptake

Set the time machine for early 2005 and Vent #425, “The dancer and the bird.” It’s the story of a print that hangs on my wall — been on some wall every place I’ve lived since the 1980s, except for a brief period of storage during the California experiment — which I’d never properly identified. Therein you will find the following statement:

It’s way too big for my scanner, of course, even out of the frame, and I am disinclined to pull it out, inasmuch as it was a really good framing job and I’d never get it back to normal.

The discerning reader has already asked “So why didn’t you just take a picture of it?” Short answer: I was out of film when I wrote it, and then I didn’t think about it anymore.

Mysterious print of dancer with birdThe next year — right before the aborted World Tour ’06, in fact — I bought one of those mediumfalutin’ digital cameras. “Out of film” was no longer relevant. But I didn’t get prodded into action until last night, when I read something on Jennifer James’ Facebook page: she’d picked up a painting at a thrift store, posted a shot of it, and a few months later she got an email from someone who had another painting by the same artist. My reaction was an immediate facepalm, followed by “Now why didn’t I think of that?” I tabbed over to my original article, reread it, and then uttered several chunks of choice Anglo-Saxon in the general direction of the mirror.

So I took down the print, propped it up on the breakfast bar — best lighting in the whole house — and took four shots; this was the keeper. (Flickr will embiggen for you.) Maybe someone’s else’s memory will be jarred.

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No nit left unpicked

One of the hazards of writing for the Web, identified by Jack Baruth:

Part of writing for the Internet is that, even when you explicitly state that something is a “tale” which “may not be true”, there is someone waiting to crucify you because it doesn’t match their recollection.

Presumably the grandparents of these people wrote letters like,

dear cs lewis, lions can’t talk so I didn’t enjoy your narnia chronicals. Yours sincearly, little timmy. Ps my wardroab at hom has a solid back.

Persons wishing to audition for the part of the Troll must first write this entire passage on the blackboard one hundred times. (No credit for cut-and-paste.)

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Paging Ben and/or Jerry

The Mane Six from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, translated into ice cream:

MLP ice cream

(Found at Know Your Meme.)

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Continued somewhere in the cloud

The publishers of major magazines have evidently decided that the only value of their print products is to get you to fire up a browser and visit their Web sites. This is somewhere between an irritation and a nuisance, as Roger Green reports:

I’m sitting, reading my magazine, and the last thing I want to do is turn on some electronic device. Especially if I’m reading a week-old magazine and am having trouble FINDING the related piece.

Parade is a particularly heinous offender:

On the page right after the cover, there’s a box with a quote, and we’re supposed to guess which celebrity said it. But the answer is not within the pages of the magazine. No, I have to go to I don’t FEEL like going to; I’ve been there, and it’s cheesy and a slow-loading site to boot, which I find difficult to navigate.

This hasn’t bothered me quite so much just yet, but I suspect that I’m going to be encountering a lot more of it.

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Put me in Coach

An acquaintance in the Twitterverse let it be known that she’d snagged a pair of these:

Breana by Coach

This is the semi-fabled Breana by Coach, and I couldn’t tell you which of their bags it matches, but it’s a spiffy little shoe, if a bit on the tall side — 4½ inches, ½ inch of which is platform. The price is also moderately lofty, at $178. (There’s a pricier version that has a stylized Coach logo on the heel, if you feel the need to spend $20 to tell the world whose shoes you wear and you can’t afford to spring for something obvious like Louboutins.) The color here is called “Biscuit”; there are black and pewter versions as well.

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SuperbOwl open thread

I’m just guessing that there will be at least some people today who aren’t glued to their sofas watching the winter equivalent of Yankees-Red Sox.

Oh, you want a superb owl? One reader recommends the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus), “one of the few creatures that will take on a skunk.” It’s the honey badger of birds.

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