Friday News Digest - Baby It's Cold Outside


Chuck is on his way back from sunny Austin this morning, so I’ll be bringing you the FND. It's also my first one, so be gentle, will ya?

As the country grapples with record cold temps and harsh storms, we’re once again reminded the fragile “everything auto” design style.

  • Over the course of the last storm six people died on Minnesota highways. Showing us the very real, very terrible consequences of designing our cities to be drive only.

  • Madison, WI is also dealing with a major spike in water main breaks due to the cold snap that blasting the region.  Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean that your infrastructure is degrading.

  • As much as we love Uber for flipping the market on it’s head and giving people the freedom of mobility at a fraction of the cost, it seems that, well, they’re kind of acting like Jerks about user privacy.

"Users really are entrusting the company with a lot of personal information about their comings and goings. If Uber wants to play a broader role in customers' lives, the volume of data available to the company will grow even further. Privacy concerns are nothing new in the digital economy. But serious players try to take them seriously. If executives from Google even suggested for a minute that the company might use its trove of data to blackmail enemies, the whole enterprise would be at risk of regulatory vaporization — and rightly so."

  • I stumbled across this great video about the Braess Paradox. This principle shows us that by closing roads, we might actually speed up traffic. I can’t say that I understand it fully, but it’s an interesting listen nonetheless and probably a major threat/savior to DOTs everywhere.
  • Transit Center and the Frontier Group put out a report this week outlining how we are heavily subsidizing the congestion that everyone hates.

"Ultimately, the effect of the tax benefit for commuter parking is to subsidize traffic congestion by putting roughly 820,000 more cars on America’s most congested roads in its most congested cities at the most congested times of day. It delivers the greatest benefits to those who need them least, typically upper-income Americans, and costs $7.3 billion in reduced tax revenue that must be made up through cuts in government programs, a higher deficit, or increases in taxes on other Americans."

  •  I don’t know if this has made the rounds yet this week, but earlier this month The University of Kansas released a report linking walkable cities to reduction in cognitive decline. It’s important to remember that, as a large section of our populace ages, auto-dependent designs will be dangerous in more than one way.
  • The Guardian published this nice piece underpinning the idea that cities are complex, evolving systems that can’t be subjected to arbitrary rules like “no gentrifying.” There are natural processes that a city goes through and it’s not always easy to predict or control the outcome.  

  • And finally, again out of the UK, BBC reports that obesity now costs the UK more than war and terrorism. Oofda. If it’s that bad in the UK, how much are we losing out here in the states?

This week our thoughts are with all our friends in Buffalo, NY after they got pummeled with snow. I don’t think any city, no matter how strong, could deal with a freak event like this. More importantly though, I have Fred Jackson on my fantasy football team and I really need him this week. So stay safe Buffalo. 

(ED's Note: We are sending warm thoughts to all our Strong Towns Members in Western New York. If anyone outside the region is looking for free future Buffalo Bills tickets - Ralph Wilson Stadium needs some cleaning. They are offering $10 an hour plus tickets to clear the 4+ feet of snow out. From previous experience, it takes about three days of shoveling to clear ONE foot. That means it will be December before they are even close to retaking the field there. )

And as a personal aside, I have to drive to the literally-middle-of-nowhere Kansas after work today. It's making me think of the scale of the interstate highway system. The fact that I can hop in my car, drive for 8 hours and be at my destination without paying an real user fee is just mind-blowing. How in the heck are we going to continue to pay for that?

Alright Strong Towners, stay strong.