The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Mini-Spring

The official score won't be in until past midnight, but it looks like the temperature at O'Hare today topped 13°C—about 33°C warmer than Thursday morning's -20°C. It's quite a relief. And almost all the snow is gone.

In celebration, Parker and I will now take our second long walk of the day.

Better driving through variable tolling

Now that Illinois has started the long process of removing our ex-governor's name from tollway signs, this essay from the New York Times' Freakonomics blog extolling the virtues of congestion tolling is worth a read:

[I]t can be hard to convey this because the theory behind tolling is somewhat complex and counterintuitive. This is too bad, because variable tolling is an excellent public policy. Here's why: the basic economic theory is that when you give out something valuable — in this case, road space — for less than its true value, shortages result.

Ultimately, there’s no free lunch; instead of paying with money, you pay with the effort and time needed to acquire the good. Think of Soviet shoppers spending their lives in endless queues to purchase artificially low-priced but exceedingly scarce goods. Then think of Americans who can fulfill nearly any consumerist fantasy quickly but at a monetary cost. Free but congested roads have left us shivering on the streets of Moscow.

(In an odd bit of timing, the concepts of "shortage" and "free goods" will be on my Intro to Microeconomics exam next Thursday.)

Now, living as I do only a 20-minute bus ride from the Chicago Loop, and dreading any time I have to use one of our area's expressways, I think congestion pricing makes perfect sense. Especially when you see, for example, the traffic loads on the Kennedy Expressway during the week. Check this out:

This shows the average travel times from the Circle (downtown Chicago) to O'Hare, a distance of about 27 km. The blue line shows inbound traffic, the red line, outbound. At 40 minutes, the average speed is 40 km/h; normal expressway speeds (90 km/h) get you to O'Hare in under 20 minutes.

Ah, but see this week's chart:

Yes. This week, on average, the trip from O'Hare to downtown took almost an hour during the morning rush period. (For the record, the El takes 35 minutes, you can spend the time reading, the odds of dying are much lower, and it only costs $2.25, as opposed to typical Loop parking lots which cast $28.00.)

Now imagine you had the option of paying $5 to use the reversible lanes, knowing the trip would take 20 minutes. Is 40 minutes worth $5 to you? Forty extra minutes of sleep, 40 minutes with the kids, 40 minutes doing something other than stop-and-go traffic moving slower than a bicycle?

A new breeze blowing

After 31 days of snow cover, 40 days without a temperature above 10°C, 67 days without four consecutive days above 5°C, and not one night above freezing since December 29th, Chicago is finally, finally getting warmer weather:

Warming in coming days—a slow process at first—leads to a 50-degree [Fahrenheit] temperature increase by Saturday afternoon. The day may produce the first 50-degree high here since late December.

(Skilling wrote that around 11pm CST yesterday when the temperature was heading down to its overnight low of -19°C.)

Here's the National Weather Service temperature plot for the next 48 hours, predicting a rise from -9°C up to 7°C by noon Saturday:

I really can't wait. Really. I'm wearing long johns under my suit right now, which is just plain wrong.

Update, 3:25pm CST: Ahhh. The temperature has already risen 15°C in the past 12 hours.

Announcing the Original Meaning Society

While I am, with the rest of Chicago, holding my breath to learn how extensively fire damaged the 130-year-old Holy Name Cathedral this morning, I actually hit my head on my shower wall when a reporter at WBEZ described the fire as "tragic."

I am almost certain it wasn't a tragic fire, but I'm willing to bend on that one if it turns out (a) a person who (b) through his own character flaws (c) accidentally set it (d) killing himself in the process. There are other scenarios that would be tragic, too. But none at all is likely.

I have gotten so tired of lazy writers calling things tragic when the things in question don't involve human beings failing because of their own character flaws. Enough.

An example may help (yes, I'm poking Alanis Morrisette): If it rains on a couple's wedding day, that's unfortunate. If the bride and groom are both meteorologists, that's ironic. If one of them dies—say while trying to kill the other because of the botched weather forecast—that's tragic. If, however, they finally get married at the end, that's comic.

The tragedy and the irony of all this, of course, is that I believe languages evolve and generally (but not in this specific case) like that, and this post will probably get me written off as a crank.

So who is this Quinn character, anyway?

The Chicago Tribune has an introduction:

[T]he prospect of Gov. Quinn is shocking to many Illinois politicians who thought of him as a gadfly, a master of holding Sunday news conferences to gain media attention on traditionally slow news days. There he would pitch plans such as electing taxpayer and insurance watchdogs or non-binding referendum questions that looked good on a ballot but had no real effect, such as a ban on naming rights for Soldier Field.

His two biggest achievements, the result of tapping into voter anger, occurred more than a quarter-century ago: cutting the size of the Illinois House by one-third and creating the consumer advocacy Citizens Utility Board.

The piece touches on, but doesn't dig too deeply into, Quinn's financial interests and flirtations with good old Chicago-style corrup—er, politics. It'll be interesting to see what he does, and how his relationship with House Speaker Mike Madigan goes as well.

Et tu, Brute?

Via Crain's Chicago Business, Roland Burris releases a statement about the recent unpleasantness:

"Impeachment is about whether our state's best interests are being served having the governor remain in office," the statement says. "Today's conviction speaks loud and clear that there are serious issues preventing him from fulfilling those reponsibilities."

Of course, appointing Mr. Burris wasn't one of those "serious issues." At least in the opinion of Mr. Burris.

... "It is my hope that today will be remembered as a new beginning, more than an end," says Mr. Burris. The state now can focus on "more pressing issues."

In unrelated news, new Illinois Governor Pat Quinn this morning announced renewed support for a recall amendment to the Illinois constitution. Also, U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) on Sunday announced plans to introduce a U.S. constitutional amendment removing U.S. Senate appointment powers from governors.