The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The low-down on Robert Moses and the Southern State

Robert Moses was well known as a bigot during his lifetime. But there has always been some question about a story Robert Caro told in his 1974 biography of Moses, The Power Broker. In his book, Caro said that Moses deliberately designed the bridges along Long Island's Southern State Parkway too low for buses to keep "those people" out of Jones Beach.

Well, Cornell historian Thomas J. Campanella has analyzed data from the era and concluded...Caro was probably right:

There is little question that Moses held patently bigoted views. But to what extent were those prejudices embedded in his public works? Very much so, according to Caro, who described Moses as “the most racist human being I had ever really encountered.” The evidence is legion: minority neighborhoods bulldozed for urban renewal projects; simian-themed details in a Harlem playground; elaborate attempts to discourage non-whites from certain parks and pools. He complained of his works sullied by “that scum floating up from Puerto Rico.”

But Moses was complex. He gave Harlem a glorious pool and play center—now Jackie Robinson Park—one of the best public works of the New Deal era anywhere in the United States.

And contrary to a claim in The Power Broker, Moses clearly meant buses to serve his “little Jones Beach” in the Rockaways—Jacob Riis Park. While oriented mainly toward motorists (the parking lot was once the largest in the world), it is simply not true that New Yorkers without cars were excluded. The original site plan included bus drop-off zones, and photographs from the era plainly show buses loading and unloading passengers.

Limiting my search to only those arched stone or brick-clad structures in place or under construction when Moses began work on the Southern State, I recorded clearances for a total of 20 bridges, viaducts and overpasses: 7 on the Bronx River Parkway (completed in 1925); 6 on the initial portion of the Saw Mill River Parkway (1926) and 7 on the Hutchinson River Parkway (begun in 1924 and opened in 1927). I then took measure of the 20 original bridges and overpasses on the Southern State Parkway, from its start at the city line in Queens to the Wantagh Parkway, the first section to open (on November 7, 1927) and the portion used to reach Jones Beach. The verdict? It appears that Sid Shapiro was right.

Overall, clearances are substantially lower on the Moses parkway, averaging just 2.73 m (eastbound), against 3.08 m on the Hutchinson and 3.13 m on the Saw Mill. Even on the Bronx River Parkway—a road championed by an infamous racist, Madison Grant, author of the 1916 best seller The Passing of the Great Race—clearances averaged 2.94 m.

It's a very pretty road. But clearly, Moses didn't intend it for the masses.

The cost of climate change (and France's contribution)

Citylab has two complementary stories today. First, the bad news. A new study in Science shows that climate change will cost the southeast U.S. a lot more than the northeast:

Overall, the paper finds that climate change will cost the United States 1.2 percent of its GDP for every additional degree Celsius of warming, though that figure is somewhat uncertain. If global temperatures rise by four degrees Celsius by 2100—which is very roughly where the current terms of the Paris Agreement would put the planet—U.S. GDP could shrink anywhere between 1.6 and 5.6 percent.

Across the country’s southern half—and especially in states that border the Gulf of Mexico—climate change could impose the equivalent of a 20-percent tax on county-level income, according to the study. Harvests will dwindle, summer energy costs will soar, rising seas will erase real-estate holdings, and heatwaves will set off epidemics of cardiac and pulmonary disease.

The loss of human life dwarfs all the other economic costs of climate change. Almost every county between El Paso, Texas, and Charlotte, North Carolina, could see their mortality rate rise by more than 20 people out of every 100,000. By comparison, car accidents killed about 11 Americans out of every 100,000 in 2015.

But in the South and Southwest, other damages stack up. Some counties in eastern Texas could see agricultural yields fall by more than 50 percent. West Texas and Arizona may see energy costs rise by 20 percent.  

And now the good news. France has banned the manufacture and sales of cars with internal-combustion engines by 2040:

The Thursday announcement justifiably sent ripples through the automotive and environment world, as it would greatly aid new President Emmanuel Macron’s drive to make France carbon neutral by 2050. This isn’t the first plan of its kind—Norway already plans to phase out petrol and diesel car sales by 2025—but given France’s status as a major car manufacturer and a state with over 66 million citizens, it’s by far the most drastic announcement to date. Achieving this goal—calling it “ambitious” is an understatement—will require not just a slight change of lifestyle, but a massive cultural shift.

But if any city is laying the groundwork for this new world, it’s Paris, where a slew of car-calming, anti-diesel policies is already forcing people to rethink their relationship to cars. This radically different future for cars is surely unsettling for some, but Paris might just know how to ease people into it.

Nous esperons bien.

How the Windy City got its name

By boasting, it turns out. And writing in the New York Times, Mayor Rahm Emanuel carries on the tradition of thumbing New York's eye:

On Thursday, in the wake of a subway derailment and an epidemic of train delays, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York declared a state of emergency for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the busiest mass transit system in America. That same day, the nation’s third-busiest system — the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority — handed out coupons for free coffee to riders stuck in the second year of slowdowns caused by repairs to prevent chronic fires.

Meanwhile, in Chicago, a recent survey found that 85 percent of passengers are satisfied with service on our transit system, the nation’s second most used.

The L, Chicago’s system, turned 125 this year. The elevated railway began as four wooden cars powered by coal and steam. Last year, more than 238 million rides were taken on the system, which, unlike the ones in New York and Washington, has not been troubled by systemic failures, breakdowns and delays. Even during a 28-day stretch of arctic temperatures in 2014, the L was never interrupted.

I mean, hey, it's the one bit of infrastructure Chicago has going for it. Of course, New York City's roads aren't great either.

Where most of us live

McMansionHell.com suffered a really bad week that had an awesomely good outcome thanks to the EFF. It's worth reading about. But last week, she published a great essay on the architectural styles (or lacks thereof) of the modern wealthy and how we should look at middle-class architecture as well (emphasis hers):

Architecture as a field has always been captivated by the houses of the elite - those who can hire architects, build large and high quality homes, and set trends for the next generations. While it is always enjoyable to look at street after street of high-profile houses and marvel at their fine execution and intricate architectural details, we must keep in mind that these houses are not where most of us live. 

Architectural history and preservation have always preferred buildings left virtually untouched and in pristine condition. For most of us, our houses are not museums - they are places we live - places that grow as we grow. We build additions, decks, and other secondary structures; we enclose our porches in order to add a dining room; we redecorate to our tastes and the styles of today.

McMansions are so disappointing to us because they are the homes of the upper and upper-middle classes who used to build houses that were interesting, that set the stylistic trends later codified by architectural history. While they are now included in guides like A Field Guide to American Houses, the usual objectivity is put aside, replaced with an air of disdain, as if to say “this is the best you could come up with?”

As to the matter this week, I wonder which genius at Zillow decided to sue a young architect for making fun of the houses on Zillow without actually harming the company itself? I mean, doesn't Zillow itself exist thanks to freely-available data?

Lunchtime link list

Among the browser windows I have open are these:

Now, back to coding. In Ruby, yet.

Monday evening reading

Stuff I didn't get to because I was doing my job today:

Time for a martini, clearly.

Regressive taxation in Illinois

The Chicago Tribune today published the first in a three-part series showing how Illinois property tax assessments contribute to rising inequality while failing to fund schools:

The valuations are a crucial factor when it comes to determining property tax bills, a burden that for many determines whether they can afford to stay in their homes. Done well, these estimates should be fair, transparent and stand up to scrutiny.

But that’s not how it works in Cook County, where Assessor Joseph Berrios has resisted reforms and ignored industry standards while his office churned out inaccurate values. The result is a staggering pattern of inequality.

 

The assessor’s office says it does not check its own work for fairness and accuracy, as is standard practice for assessors around the world.

So the Tribune stepped in, compiling and analyzing more than 100 million property tax records from the years 2003 through 2015, along with thousands of pages of documents, then vetting the findings with top experts in the field. The process took more than a year.

The conclusion: Residential assessments have been so far off the mark for so many years that the credibility of the entire property tax system is in doubt.

I've advocated for my entire adult life in favor of progressive income taxes and against regressive property and value-added taxes. I hope the Tribune gets some traction on this.

The 606: Two years in

Chicago Tribune "Cityscapes" reporter Blair Kamin discusses the 606 Trail, which opened two years ago today:

When The 606, which is named for Chicago's ZIP Code prefix, opened on the carefully selected day of June 6, 2015, it was almost embarrassingly bare. Trees and wooded plants had yet to grow. Sedges and prairie grasses hadn't been planted. Some spots had more pavement than plantings. "The 606: Is that all there is?" asked Crain's Chicago Business.

The picture looks very different today. Trees and shrubs are growing. Grasses are spreading. A pleasing variety of textures and colors combines with a consistent palette of soothing green. The amount of enclosure is increasing, courtesy of trembling aspens, thin oaks and smoke trees that pop up from the planter boxes on the trail's expansive Humboldt Boulevard overlook.

As good as these moments are, The 606 still lacks the overall magic we expect from the Van Valkenburgh firm, which designed Maggie Daley Park and is the landscape architect for the forthcoming Obama Presidential Center.

Some areas along the trail didn't get mesh fencing, allowing people and dogs to trample fragile grasses. Dirt patches blight the sides of the spiraling Exelon Observatory on the trail's west end. It clearly will take time for The 606 to fulfill its promise as a kind of plant gallery — a botanical array that unfolds as bikers, skateboarders, joggers and others pass by.

Nonetheless, it is already clear that The 606 is popular. It drew 1.3 million visitors last year, according to Vivian Garcia, the Chicago Park District's 606 manager. Cyclists and people on foot have managed to coexist on The 606, whose trail is just 14 feet wide. Walkers and joggers tend to stick to the blue rubberized paths on the trail's flanks.

It's also 200 meters from my office, which is fantastic.

 

Chicago's taxi fleet is dying

USA Today is reporting that Uber and Lyft are destroying the taxi industry here:

About 42% of Chicago’s taxi fleet was not operating in the month of March, and cabbies have seen their revenue slide for their long-beleaguered industry by nearly 40% over the last three years as riders are increasingly ditching cabs for ride-hailing apps Uber, Lyft and Via, according to a study released Monday by the Chicago cab drivers union.

More than 2,900 of Chicago’s nearly 7,000 licensed taxis were inactive in March 2017 — meaning they had not picked up a fare in a month, according to the Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Local 2500 report. The average monthly income per active medallion — the permit that gives cabbies the exclusive right to pick up passengers who hail them on the street — has dipped from $5,276 in January 2014 to $3,206 this year.

The number of riders in Chicago hailing cabs has also plummeted during that same period from 2.3 million monthly riders to about 1.1 million.

The Illinois Transportation Trade Association of Illinois unsuccessfully sued the city of Chicago, arguing that Chicago had unconstitutionally enforced two sets of rules for taxi and ride-sharing industries and made it impossible for cabbies to compete with Uber and Lyft.

But the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately rejected the taxi industry’s argument. Cabs and ride-hailing, the court ruled last October, are distinct services and could thus be regulated differently. In April, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case and the 7th Circuit’s finding stood.

As a consumer of these services, I have switched almost entirely to Lyft. (I hate, hate, hate Uber's business practices and refuse to patronize them.) So though I'm part of the problem, I believe the taxi industry did a lot of this to themselves. How difficult would it have been for the taxi fleet to solve the predictability problem? I mean, if there were an app that would summon a taxi to a specific place and tell you what the fare is to your destination ahead of time, how would Lyft have become so successful?

Happy birthday, El

Chicago opened its first elevated train 125 years ago tomorrow, on 6 June 1892:

On June 6, 1892, 125 years ago this week, the first elevated line called the "Alley L" opened for business, running from Congress Parkway and State Street to 39th Street, along the alley, behind and around buildings and through backyards, said Graham Garfield, CTA general manager of customer information and unofficial agency historian.

It was a novel way to travel — above the streets and eye-level to people's second- and third-floor windows. Garfield said some residents along the path may have forgotten that the train was coming that first day and had to quickly draw the curtains to protect their privacy, while others gathered on back porches to watch the smoky, steam-powered "L" go by.

The wooden train, run by the private Chicago and South Side Rapid Transit Railroad Co. along what is now the Green Line, was popular and crowded from the start. And along with other north, south and west sections of the "L" built over the next 10 years, it helped to both expand the city and create its character... The combined subway and elevated system now has 224.1 miles of track and sees more than a million riders daily.

The first elevated train anywhere—which still exists, to some extent—ran from London Bridge to Greenwich and opened in 1836.