Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Friday, October 22, 2010
I was just thinking about related issues - why do we have so much resistance to innovative transportation planning? Could the problem lie with environmental assessment?
Steinemann confirms (somewhat anecdotally) that alternative projects are often boxed out by the project objectives as stated by the agency, or are eliminated later as not being "cost effective" where the costs are defined narrowly (in terms of agency or construction costs - benefits don't seem to be a factor).
Other problems involve difficulties integrating agencies. I chuckled when I read this: As a federal highway agency official said, "Why would we want to pursue transit alternatives, and give some of our money to them?"
Right, so FHWA/FTA are competing for the same funds, FHWA is the lead agency, why would they want money to go towards a transit project?
This type of initial foreclosure is even happening with the bit of innovative planning that's going on in California in response to SB 375. It's even a little more insidious. SACOG is conducting a series of workshops presenting the pubic with (four?) alternative futures for transportation. Two are extreme and one is status quo. The other is a reasonable middle ground. Obviously folks are choosing that one. What good is a public process if the outcomes are determined in advance?
A related article by Michael Smith reviews appellate court decisions involving NEPA alternatives analysis. He finds that the "purpose and need" statement can be circumscribed by an agency who is conducting an environmental assessment in response to an application by a private party. So, if I want to build an oil pipeline through a wetland, I need only apply to the relevant agency who can then compare the project to a "no-build" scenario. No other alternatives need be assessed so long as the agency provides some justification. This is the primary lesson from the paper - that if an agency gives some justification for the exclusion of an alternative, it will likely be successful in court should the environmental review be challenged.
Smith's article leaves me feeling a little more pessimistic than Steinemann's. His conclusion that
if federal agencies construct a solid and legitimate statement of purpose and need, analyze [a] reasonable range of alternatives in detail that stems directly from that purpose and need, and explain clearly and with rational reasoning [?] why they are dismissing other alternatives to their project that may appear reasonable, they will nearly always be successful if they face future litigation...So, he's basically laid out a roadmap for agencies to follow if they want to avoid being defeated in litigation whereas Steinemann has an eye toward improving the process (conducting assessments earlier, involving the public in deciding alternatives). Clearly the extant alternatives assessment is broken. Why would we keep it as is?
Thursday, October 21, 2010
[BART General Manager Dorothy] Dugger said the only thing the delay in the project over civil rights and funding had accomplished was to increase construction costs. “I think one of the sad realities is that these kinds of major infrastructure projects take a long time to get to the starting block. It’s a truth that goes along with any large project: delay is generally not helpful. Delay only adds cost to the taxpayer.”Does Dugger mean to imply that we should not oppose or question transportation projects at the risk that we might increase costs to the taxpayer? What about making the project more suitable for the individuals who will be using it?
If they instead allowed genuine public participation, perhaps they would see fewer of their projects delayed?
As part of an initial scoping study, three alternatives were reviewed. One was the expansion of the highway, one was the expansion of several arterials combined with travel demand management, and the third was a transit alternative. The last two were rejected as either too expensive or as not meeting the project requirements.
[Q1: How extensive were evaluation of these alternatives? Were they evaluated on the same terms as the others? Were only costs considered? or was there a cost/benefit analysis? Did the benefits include things like improved land use from non-expansion alternatives?]
Sierra Club filed a complaint (Sierra Club v. US Department of Transportation et al.) in the United States District Court for the District of Nevada (310 F. Supp. 2d 1168). This case was decided in March, 2004, was appealed and then settled in 2005. The initial decision touches on issues of air quality, induced demand, data, modeling, analysis of alternatives, and public participation.
While each of these has interesting components, the thing that struck me reading through the court documents was the complaint about public participation.
Sierra Club alleged that the FHWA violated 23 USC §128. This section addresses public hearing requirements for state DOTs proposing federal-aid highway projects. It states only that the state certify that it has had "public hearings, or has afforded the opportunity for such hearings" and that it submit a transcript of the hearing to the Secretary of Transportation. FHWA regulations stipulate that state programs for public hearings must follow guidelines somewhat stricter than those specified under section 128. They are still quite general, only requiring that the DOT
explain the project's purpose and need; alternatives to the project; the social, economic, environmental, and other impacts of the project; relocation assistance and right-of-way acquisition process; and procedures for receiving both oral and written statements from the public.This is a legislatively and administratively guaranteed one-way flow of information, from the decision makers and the decisions already made to the public.
Pursuant to these regulations, the FHWA approved NDOT's proposal to hold "open house" style hearings where posters with project information are displayed and officials are on hand to speak with citizens. The transcript in the case of the open house includes precisely what interested individuals choose to say to a stenographer hired for the event.
Since FHWA administers the federal-aid highway program, it is charged with administering section 128. When it reviews the agency's interpretation of a statute (here it would be FHWA's implicit finding that open house-style "hearings" satisfy section 128), the court employs a two-part test established in Chevron v. NRDC (467 U.S. 837, 81 L. Ed. 2d 694, 104 S. Ct. 2778 (1984)). First, is the intent of Congress clear as to this precise issue? If yes, then deference is given to Congress. If no, then deference is given to the agency's interpretation of an ambiguous statute. Since section 128 provides no explicit definition of "public hearing" or "transcript" it is ambiguous.
Further, FHWA studied the open house process in 1987 and concluded that it had a number of benefits over the traditional (testimony-based) public hearing including the avoidance of "emotionally charged" testimony (hah!).
So, the court grants summary judgment in favor of the defendants (US DOT et al.), but, surprisingly (to me at least) feels compelled to address what it sees as "serious deficiencies" in the open house-style hearing.
The court argues that the "public" part of the public hearing is diminished since open house hearings result in a number of mini private meetings between citizens and officials. Citizens attending do not get to hear their fellow citizens' comments, nor do they get to influence and be influenced by them. The open house format appears fundamentally anti-democratic.
Imagine if hearings surrounding the adoption of the Scoping Plan had had an open house format. What would happen if a number of "emotionally charged" individuals showed up and disrupted the proceedings? Presumably there would be no record of what was said or what happened. Would the disruptive group be asked to leave?
I just did a quick search to see if the FHWA took the court's advice and stopped allowing/approving open house meetings. It seems that, no, they haven't. The single public meeting listed at the Caldecott Tunnel Fourth Bore Project page seems to have been open house-style.
Interestingly, I hadn't heard about these meeting types before. Maybe other (higher stakes?) policy folks know that they wouldn't fly in their communities?
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
In addition, this form of metric has the advantage of directly addressing growth rate differences between MPO regions. Addressing growth rate differences between the MPO regions is important given that growth rates are expected to affect the magnitude of change that any given region can achieve with land use and transportation strategies. The relative characteristic of the metric ensures that both fast and slow growth regions take reasonable advantage of any established transit systems and infill opportunity sites to reduce their average regional greenhouse gas emissions. [Emphasis added, RTAC report p. 24]Isn't this just saying that growing regions (with growing absolute GHG emissions and VMT) should be able to feel good about measures that they're taking even though they won't actually be making absolute progress towards the Scoping Plan's mandated target? With growing populations, per capita emissions have to drop quite a bit for there to be anything like an absolute reduction. How does this jive with the Scoping Plan's goals? Were they updated to reflect per capita targets?
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Friday, September 24, 2010
I'm reading parts of Survey Errors and Survey Costs by Groves. At the beginning of the chapter on nonresponse, he quotes Genesis 3:8-10 - where Adam and Eve hear God walking through the garden and hide themselves because they're naked.
The first nonresponders!
Thursday, September 23, 2010
“I think [R] addresses a niche market for high-end data analysts that want free, readily available code," said Anne H. Milley, director of technology product marketing at SAS. She adds, “We have customers who build engines for aircraft. I am happy they are not using freeware when I get on a jet.”
Happy they're not using freeware when you get on a jet? Because a small corporate staff can make a better product than the whole world working together? I, for one, am happy that I'm not using their product!
Later, one of the co-founders of R (Ross Ihaka) nails it:
“R is a real demonstration of the power of collaboration, and I don’t think you could construct something like this any other way,” Mr. Ihaka said. “We could have chosen to be commercial, and we would have sold five copies of the software.”
The turn to open source here is interesting. But more and more I'm moving to Google's closed-source-but-free model.* I don't think there will be a google R anytime soon, so at least in the stats realm we're fine for a while.
I was surprised to learn yesterday that there are commercial implementations of R. I guess I don't have a problem with people packaging R slightly differently and providing support (and charging a fee). Well, actually I do think it's a little weird to take an open source project and package it such that it becomes (partially) closed.
But what type of support would a commercial operation provide? Surely you couldn't call them and say "We have data on X and we're interesting in some relationships among them - What statistical methods should we use and how do we run them on your product?" Maybe it's just this latter part (how to run them?) that you can ask? But if you've looked up the appropriate methods already, then it's a short jump to figure out how to run it in R.
Maybe this is why I hadn't heard of the commercial implementations before -- they're basically useless in the face of such a strong userbase and narrow scope of the software.
*I'm kind of migrating to Chrome and I already use gmail and docs extensively. Oh, and this blog is on blogger.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Thursday, September 16, 2010
I was initially confused because I assumed that Krippendorff would take issue with Neuendorf's definition of content analysis but I wasn't sure why I thought that. Now I'm pretty sure that he's only criticizing far earlier definitions, although a little disingenuously. Check it out:
Neuendorf (2002): Content analysis is a summarizing, quantitative analysis of messages that relies on the scientific method … and is not limited as to the types of variables that may be measured or the context in which the messages are created or presented.
Krippendorff (2004): Content analysis is a research technique for making replicable and valid inferences from texts (or other meaningful matter) to the contexts of their use.
Exemplary older one:
Berelson (1952): Content analysis is a research technique for the objective, systematic, and quantitative description of the manifest content of communication.
Krippendorff takes big time issue with the idea that CA has to describe the "manifest content of communication." He claims that this definition of CA arises from the Shannon-Weaver model of communication which leads to the idea that one message has one and only one meaning. If we accept this model, then content is inherent in a text rather than acknowledging that multiple readings of a text are possible (i.e. there is a multiplicity of "content" and thus meanings associated with a message/text, depending on context - K's favored view, which is just constructivist?). If we take Berleson's definition (according to Krippendorff) then we have to accept the idea that the only thing we can content analyze is that which is the same for the sender, receiver, and content analyst (which would obviously be extremely limiting and boring).
Now, I think this is a bit of a straw man, since the early content analysts probably wouldn't agree with Krippendorff's description of what they were doing. If K is right, though, then he would have a point. I'm just not sure I can justify the expense of intellectual energy right now to dig deeper.
In any case, it seems that Neuendorf's definition is consistent with Krippendorff's since she has the idea of context, and says that any variables are possible (i.e. from extremely manifest to extremely latent). The idea of inference is also interesting -- apparently early content analysts (Olsti) wanted to be able to make inferences from the CA results to characteristics of the source or effects on the receiver. Krippendorff and Neuendorf are both fine with this in principle, but they want us to have more information about the source/audience for corroboration (which I'm in total agreement with).
At root it seems like K is just trying to inject some constructivism into this positivist model of CA from the 50's (this is a pretty tired debate by now, I'm sure...?). Neuendorf seems to acknowledge this also, but her exposition is a lot clearer than K's (in my opinion).
Friday, August 27, 2010
Thursday, August 26, 2010
This article adopts a social constructionist perspective that views the environment as a social construction. That is, "environmental problems" are social problems; they are socially constructed claims defined through collective processes. By social construction, I mean that environmental problems are not static. They are not always the product of readily identifiable, visible, or objective conditions (Hannigan, 1995, pp. 32-33; Klandermans, 1992, p. 78; Spector & Kitsuse, 1973, p. 146). That is, groups in a society perceive, identify, and define environmental problems by developing shared meanings and interpretations of the issues. Therefore, a constructionist perspective is concerned with how people assign meanings to their social world (Best, 1989, p. 252; Hannigan, 1995, p. 33).
Friday, August 20, 2010
As Kevin Mumford states in the introduction, Interzones attempts to “excavate a genealogy and map a geography or black/white sexuality” (p. xi). In so doing, Mumford crafts an anti-essentialist history that combines the analysis of race, gender, class, and sexuality to draw a map centered in space on the vice district—an urban area of commercialized sex and public leisure—but encompassing the American city (and later, rural America) and extending in time through the Progressive and Prohibition eras. Mumford’s history draws on, and moves fluidly between diverse sources including archived vice commission reports, novels, travel guides, theatre, film, and newspapers. Mumford’s use of temporal and geographic metaphor throughout the book is helpful, as it mimics the ebbs and flows of individuals and groups into and out of the vice districts and helps to make the construct of the “color line” between white/black sex concrete by drawing parallels to geographic borders. These districts were formed after Reformers “solved” the problem of white prostitution. Due to the pervasiveness of a “white slavery” discourse, black prostitutes were subsequently not seen as worthy of uplift, their demographic data was not collected or was ignored. As a result of such racialist social policy, vice was pushed into black neighborhoods in Harlem and Chicago’s south side and forgotten. Fortunately, the vice districts had redemptive qualities which included the formation of a novel culture of non-mainstream sexuality. The contribution of Mumford’s work is to provide concrete historical data to supplement and expand the theorization of racism at the time the book was written (p. 175).
I come to Mumford’s book (and this class) as a historical novice—interested in methods and fascinated by the possibilities for my own work. Interzones has shown me that theory and history can be combined to produce a subversive and accurate historical text that problematizes the content of historical documents by shining light on their unspoken assumptions. Mumford does this using both “with” and “against the grain” readings . By looking at the regularities of the sociology emerging from the University of Chicago in the 1920s, Mumford reads “with the grain,” and shows how white researchers unfairly stigmatized those individuals, such as Filipino taxi dance hall patrons, as “disorganized” or “socially unadjusted” (p. 59) when in fact the researchers most likely had difficulty reconciling the accounts of white dance hostesses with their own experiences. He shows that black prostitution was both ignored as a problem (p. 27) and then overrepresented in demographic data (p. 39) using this method. These with the grain readings examine regularities and omissions which are highlighted by understanding the “racial commensurabilities,” or the unspoken essentialist conceptions of race (that black sex workers are immoral and unworthy of uplift), of the time period under study . Conversations with black prostitutes are read “against the grain” to determine that these individuals were historical agents capable of resistance through seemingly small acts (pp. 106-7).
It helped me to see concrete examples of both types of readings to apply the first week’s readings to practice. An interesting question was raised for me by Mumford’s critique of the simple positivism espoused (either knowingly or unknowingly) by the University of Chicago researchers he studies. Speaking of inflated arrest data for black prostitutes he states, “the statistical data can also be read or interpreted as cultural representations” (p. 39). Indeed, in the vice committee reports, the numbers of black prostitutes were placed unproblematically alongside value judgments on the relative severity of the transgressions of “hostesses” (white) and “streetwalkers” (black). To the vice investigators, they were merely reporting objective truths, but Mumford’s readings show otherwise. Within my own discipline(s), positivism is firmly entrenched, and I view it as a problem—the solutions suggested are too simple, the explanations offered too neat. My concern is that applying today’s analytic categories to evidence from the past will make it too easy for positivists now to write it off simply as a historical phenomenon: it was bad then, but it’s better now. I’m wondering how to connect Mumford’s critique of positivism to today’s work, to improve research done on contemporary problems. I acknowledge that this may not even be of interest to the historical community (a similarly critical stream of thought, the discipline of science studies, has been unwilling or unable to effect changes in scientific practice over the past several decades and have encountered fierce resistance from scientific researchers). Connecting the theory to current practice is often my overarching concern. With Interzones, Mumford shows that race can’t be ignored when considering urban problems, but how has the book been received by 1) the historical community—are they skeptical of his methods and 2) those shaping policy today? If it has been ignored, how can we change this? Engaging in these kinds of dialogues is of great interest to me, and I hope to begin some of them in this class.
 Stoler, A. (2002). "Colonial archives and the arts of governance." Archival Science 2(1): 87-109.
 Ibid, p. 100.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
[Edit: I think all I meant with this was that Orski cited a report from the Reason Foundation as justification that highway trust fund revenue should be used only for highways. I.e. not other modes as has been the case since the 70s. This seems shortsighted, though since we get to pick what is socially desirable; meaning that we get to decide whether we want to take money generated from fuel sales and turn that to transit. The system of automobility is subsidized in so many other ways that sticking to a user pays principle for the HTF is absurd on its face, since we would need to kill fossil fuel subsidies, ethanol subsidies, and incorporate the external costs of the automobile before talking about using HTF revenue only for freeways. I think that's pretty much it.]
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Here's a quote from Whitelegg on why following "economic development" as an end is not necessarily the best idea:
For this [the free market model of development] will mean more roads, more long-distance freight, less local economic development, more pollution, poor health and more loss of landscape. [emphasis added]He goes on to discuss inequality as an outcome. I think he hits the nail on the head by emphasizing local economic development. If the highway in Eureka is widened and Walmart does move in, is there a cost to the local economy? How can we quantify it? Are cheap toilet seats and fishing rods worth the cost in low-paying shit jobs and other hidden quality of life hits?
Monday, August 2, 2010
What's underlying all of this is my exposure to Willem Vanderburg's preventive approaches in undergrad. Unlike most (all?) graduate students, I can still say that my graduate application's statement of purpose is highlight relevant.
My undergraduate education has left me with pressing questions related to the practice of professional engineering. If we accept that engineering activities aim to improve the quality of life, to promote environmental sustainability, and to ensure economic well-being, how is it that we find ourselves, faced with many threats to our very life support systems? Why are economic viability and environmental well-being so often viewed as fundamentally irreconcilable? How might I address these problems through my own engineering practices? In my graduate education, using the tools of rigorous engineering analysis and academic research, I plan to seek answers to these and related questions.I'm doing okay, except what's happened is that I've drifter further and further from engineering practice to the point where I'm doing social science to get the answers that I want -- this is a little beside the point since I've got academic support for these methods.
The point is that I read a couple of things this morning that brought up a Vanderburgian idea that I touch in in the above paragraph. Vanderburg points out that we're often forced to choose between environmental and economic objectives. (I.e. we're told that if we prioritize the environment then we will surely lose jobs. Q.v. the prop 23 debate.) Jobs (and by extension, the economy) often win out.
A corollary is that economic expansion and job creation trump not only environmental objectives, but also local visions of and for the economy.
Caltrans has a proposal to widen 101 through Humboldt County in the name of economic development thereby eliminating truck restrictions -- widening would allow trucks to travel from the Port of Oakland to Eureka in ~275 miles instead of ~700.
Critical Mass by John Whitelegg talks about Cornwall (a town in Southwest England) that was being pressured to "improve" highway access in the late 90s.
In both cases it seems like pressure is being exerted mostly by political actors, while actual residents are/were opposed. In Cornwall, residents enjoyed their remoteness, in Eureka, it seems like some enjoy having difficult truck access since it appears to be keeping out the likes of Walmart).
What is the Caltrans role in all of this? What is the language being used to justify the proposal? Are they presenting themselves as objective observers, simply responding to the economic development needs of the population? How does this relate to Bruce Seely's work on the Bureau of Public Roads and their role in the development of the (pre-Interstate) US highway system?
Why are folks so afraid of envisioning alternative economies and livelihoods?
Monday, April 5, 2010
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: ivan evans
Date: Mon, Apr 5, 2010 at 9:54 AM
Subject: Emergency Faculty Meeting in Support of Academic Freedom and Tenure
Cc: ivan evans
Emergency Faculty Meeting in Support of Academic Freedom and Tenure
Tuesday, April 6 5PM in SSB 101.
Our colleague and member of the UCSD Faculty Anti-Racism Coalition Professor Ricardo Dominguez (Visual Arts) is being targeted by members of the Senior Leadership Team for criminal charges and revocation of tenure.
Professor Dominguez researches and engages in various forms of technology-based art, activism and protest, including facilitating virtual sit-ins, which allow individuals to protest organizations by occupying their web sites virtually. Ample precedent has established both the legality and effectiveness of Professor Dominguez' research. Professor Dominguez' internationally acclaimed leadership in digital activism led to his hiring as an Assistant Professor at UCSD and promotion to tenure. Most recently, Professor Dominguez' b.a.n.g. lab has developed a Transborder Immigrant Tool to reduce the death toll of immigrants crossing the border by helping them navigate to water caches, and facilitated a virtual sit-in of the UCOP web site in support of students protesting budget cuts.
Professor Dominguez' recent activities have resulted in numerous violent threats by local racists. Instead of committing university resources for securing Professor Dominguez' safety, members of the Senior Leadership Team have:
-harassed Professor Dominguez' B.A.N.G. Lab with a time-consuming audit
-initiated the process of revoking Professor Dominguez' tenure
-sent UCSD detectives to threaten Professor Dominguez with criminal charges of city, county, state and federal statutes.
Not only do these actions undercut Professor Dominguez' physical safety, they also threaten the academic freedom and tenure of all faculty, especially those who have been working to address and improve the toxic climate at UCSD.
The Senior Leadership Team's brazen misuse of the audit, criminal and tenure systems to go after a faculty member of color working to better our campus climate and the border region in which we live demands an immediate and forceful response by the faculty. Note that no-one at the Koala has been charged with anything to date. The student who hung the noose in the library will almost certainly not be charged too. Exploring criminal charges against Professor Dominquez is yet another insult that we refuse to accept. It is a rapid reversion to the racial insensitivity that is the norm for this campus.
The Faculty Anti-Racism Coalition has called an emergency meeting for Tuesday, April 6 at 5PM in SSB 10 to organize such a response. Please sprtead this email to as many colleagues, students and staff as you are can.
UCSD Faculty Anti-Racism Coalition
"Another University is Possible"
Friday, April 2, 2010
What does this project tell us about contemporary efforts to shift away from a legacy of auto-centric transportation planning towards a more sustainable system incorporating a variety of transportation modes while simultaneously remaking the cities in which we live?
Here are a couple of great sites that take a photographic/literary approach to explaining the freeway's construction and impacts:
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
it's funny that climate economics always highlights the high costs of mitigation, but then when it comes to pricing out the technology, nothing is off the table.
e.g., scott barrett (beginning p. 104) suggests that international cooperation is needed on technology. the example he gives is the ITER, "the next step in nuclear fusion research" (p. 108).
how expensive is this undertaking? how expensive would it be to deploy fusion reactors? is it less or more expensive than reducing end-user inefficiency?
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
In short, [sustainable development] is a "metafix" that will unite everybody from the profit-minded industrialist and risk-minimizing subsistence farmer to the equity-seeking social worker, the pollution-concerned or wildlifeloving First Worlder, the growth-maximizing policy maker, the goal-oriented bureaucrat, and therefore, the vote-counting politician.if you try to please everyone, you please no one.
here's an image from the article depicting the complex relationships between consumption and environmental harm considering explicit north-south disparities:
Lele, Shanarchchandra M. 1991. ”Sustainable Development: A Critical Review.” World Development 19(6):607-21.