Folks in the heart of a major metro typically don't have the “last-mile" transit problem—those times when the bus takes you most of the way but there's that last stretch where you have to walk. In some cases it's a few blocks, but in suburbs or exurbs it could actually be a mile or two.
Attracting more transit riders and growing the network is much easier when more people feel like the network reaches where they are and where they’re going. Generally, people will use transit only if they think it’s better (on cost or convenience) than how they get around currently. That's why it's important we continue working the last-mile issue.
Making it easier to use foot power for the journey's unmet leg is an important step for travelers. Around the cities, bike-share programs like the Twin Cities’ NiceRide are poised to make spontaneous transit trips easier, but two-wheeled travel will be a lot safer and more appealing with some infrastructure upgrades. Including more physically separate, curb-protected bikeways around the cities would be a real boon to transit---and the same goes for the suburbs too.
A few infrastructure alterations can really go a long way, even in less dense communities. Better connecting the south metro's Red Line and upcoming Orange Line BRT stations, by bike, with the areas around them is a particularly good investment in making transit more convenient to people who might not yet be considering it. Towns should be looking at the small but potent alterations they can make to cul-de-sac communities and surface-lot-intensive business areas, such as more direct walking and biking paths leading to transit stops.
Smaller-scale transit that can actually work in tandem with longer-distance lines like new light rail or BRT can also be a real help for less dense communities, especially when “reverse” commuters are taking those longer-distance lines to work—one way that the Southwest LRT is meant to operate. Emeryville, California lies just off the Bay Area’s longer-distance BART train system, but in the 1990s it was starting to get passed by economically. A far-sighted collaboration between local government and businesses created a shuttle between Emeryville workplaces and the BART, to cover that pesky last leg of the commute. The businesses saw the clear benefit in being more accessible to employees, and they funded the shuttle through business improvement districts, which has kept it free to riders.
The bottom line is that there’s a solid array of options for working the last-mile problem, and by taking strong steps to deal with that problem, we will multiply the effectiveness of the transit network we already have. Park-and-rides are important, but the ideal transit system eliminates more and more of the need to even get in a car.
The passing of Nelson Mandela is a chance to reflect both on his life, a great and admirable one, but also on how we as a nation have interpreted his loss. Repeatedly, Mandela was referred to in the United States as the first democratically elected president of South Africa. This is, of course, correct. Before Mandela’s election in 1994, white South Africans had been electing Prime Ministers since 1931. The problem was that the majority of South Africans, who were not white, were denied political power and faced savage levels of racial discrimination. So on one level, South Africa was a democracy in 1931, in the same way that the United States was in 1919, a democracy in name only.
Strangely, we in the United Sates would never say that Warren Harding was the first democratically elected president, even though it was only in 1920, when the passage of the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote that a majority of Americans could participate in elections for the first time. Nor would we think to say that Richard Nixon was chosen in first democratic elections held in the United States even though he was the first president elected after the passage of the 1965 voting rights act that enfranchised millions of African Americans in the southern United States.
How nations remember their history is important. In South Africa, Nelson Mandela is rightly understood as representing the long struggle to bring democracy to his nation. This is true even though voting and party systems in South Africa preceded his election by some three generations. In the United States, we attribute democracy to “the Founders,” all of whom were white men and many of whom owned enslaved Africans.
How different we would be as a nation if we adopted South Africa’s understanding of democracy. If that were the case, we would honor Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, Frederick Douglass, and Fannie Lou Hamer as representatives of the movements that created American democracy.
In 2012, Minnesota reaffirmed its commitment to democracy by rejecting a restrictive voting rights law and turning back a proposed constitutional amendment that would have permanently made GLBT Minnesotans second class citizens. Like the South African long walk to freedom, the "NO" campaigns of 2012 were grassroots efforts committed to democratic principles. In Minnesota and the United States, real democracy was created by the people who were left out by the founders but who still felt inspired by their vision and were possessed with a spirit of activism. Only if we tell the story of American democracy this way can we truly honor the legacy of Nelson Mandela.
Posted in News & Notes
Raising Minnesota's minimum wage to $9.50 by 2015 would boost wages for an estimated 357,000 workers, helping increase purchasing power in the state by an estimated $470 million. Minnesota 2020 took these figures a step further to show what impact a $9.50 minimum wage would have in certain parts of the state.
Based on the number of low-wage workers in each senate district, we created the interactive map below. Click on your area to find the estimated number of people who would receive a raise and the estimated purchasing power boost.
Click on the map to view district numbers. Use + and - to zoom. View map in a new window.
Estimated Economic Impact of Minimum Wage Increase by Senate District:
Let’s take a trip to Huntsville, Alabama. In the hope of increasing students’ ACT scores, the district is offering students up to $300 for doing well on the popular college admissions test. The money is split up into $50 blocks for hitting targets in each of four sections, plus a $100 bonus for a composite score of 22 or higher (on a scale up to 36).
This plan neatly illustrates two major, well-documented limitations of incentives. The first is that incentives only work for behavior that people know how to control. This makes intuitive sense. If you offer me $500 to read your car manual, I know how to do that. If you offer me $500 to build a replica of your car, you probably shouldn’t drive what I put together. In education, you can pay kids to read specific books, and they’ll usually do it. Paying them to increase their test scores doesn’t work, except for the small group of kids who can do well but haven’t bothered.
This lets us make two predictions. First, Huntsville will probably see an increase in the percentage of students taking the ACT. Only about 15% do right now, and many know (or will be shown) how to sign up for the test. Second, Huntsville probably won’t see a substantial increase in the scores of students on the ACT. If I don’t know the math, I still won’t hit the target, no matter how much I want the fifty bucks.
The second concern about incentives is what happens when they go away. Let’s say Huntsville gives this experiment a try for two or three years, doesn’t see the scores they want, and decides to stop wasting money on the project. After they cancel it, students who were expecting a shot at money from the test are now being asked to do it for free. We could expect motivation and test participation to drop. Eventually, a new wave of kids will come in without the expectation of an incentive, but it’s a lot of time and money to spend for not much by way of gain.
It’s good that Huntsville is worried about its students’ performance. They shouldn’t be chastised for caring. However, it’s important to resist the “throw everything at the wall to see what sticks” impulse, because it sets us up for ineffective waste at best, and actual damage at worst.
Legislative leaders of both political parties stepped before the microphones last Thursday to give their spin on the newly released November forecast. House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt made one remark that both progressives and conservatives should agree upon: “Minnesota families are making less money than they did prior to the recession, so now isn’t the time for a victory lap.”
Recent Minnesota 2020 articles and reports from other groups have emphasized growing income and wage inequality and declining median incomes in Minnesota. Adjusted for inflation, Minnesota median household income declined by 4.6 percent over the last decade.*
So what can be done to reverse the trend that doubt cites and improve the income and quality of life for Minnesota families?
- An increase in the minimum wage to $9.50 would be a good first step. A recent Raise the Wage Coalition report shows that over three-quarters of the people are over twenty years of age and over 100,000 statewide are married or parents. However, conservatives have generally opposed this simple and direct approach for increasing the wages of working Minnesotans.
- Investments in education are the best long-term approach to increasing the earning power of working Minnesotans. In 2013, state policymakers increased funding for early childhood education, a move endorsed by non-partisan experts and of particular benefit to low-income families. They also reversed a decade of real per pupil cuts in state funding for K-12 education and froze tuition at state colleges and universities, thereby making higher education more affordable for more Minnesotans. Conservatives staunchly resisted the income tax increases which made these investments possible.
- All families need affordable healthcare. In 2013, progressive state policymakers made major progress in this direction by enacting MNsure, which will enable nearly one million Minnesotans to obtain affordable, quality health insurance. Minnesota conservatives also opposed this.
It is encouraging that Minnesota conservatives are recognizing the reality of shrinking family income. It would be even more encouraging if that had the foggiest notion as to what should be done about it.
*Based on American Community Survey one-year estimates for 2002 and 2012.
The U.S. is doing terribly! China is beating us! It’s all the other guy’s fault!
It must be PISA time again. The once-every-three-years international standardized test has released its 2012 scores and rankings. Scores in the US are down, and our ranking remains middle of the pack, trailing much of the rest of the developed world. This has prompted a wave of consternation, much of which isn’t helpful. We’ll take a look at some of the common themes.
The U.S. is flailing.
Scores in the U.S. were down in 2012 (after having increased between 2006 and 2009). We can be embarrassed to have been bested by the likes of Estonia, Slovenia, and Latvia, and we share statistically equivalent company with Norway, Sweden, Russia, Italy, Spain, and Hungary, among others. Leading the charts are Asian jurisdictions -- Shanghai, Singapore, South Korea, Japan -- with some small European countries like Switzerland and Liechtenstein for flavor.
Then again, the U.S. has always had mediocre test scores. Yes, we live in an increasingly globalized world, so there is some reason for concern that this will matter more than it has in the past. Still, our internal equity problems should probably be a bigger deal to us than persistent worries about our global competitiveness.
China’s much smarter than we are.
There’s a regular bit of sleight-of-hand that happens when we discuss PISA scores, in which the stellar scores from Shanghai are generalized to all of China. This, it turns out, is like generalizing the scores from 2012 Manhattan to the United States in the early twentieth century. Roughly two-thirds of China remains rural, and the top of the education reform to-do list is increasing attendance and access. These are issues we grappled with for much of the last century, but which we have since largely transcended.
Shanghai specifically is a city of college-going elites which excludes low-income migrant families from the schools assessed by PISA. It is in no way representative of China as a whole.
If only we did This Thing I Like, we’d be at the top of the charts, too!
All of the top-scoring and gain-making countries have national curricula, and we don’t! We should adopt one as soon as possible! Oh, hold on a second... pretty much all of the low-scoring and declining countries have national curricula, too. Hmm.
Say it with me: “Correlation is not causation.” Figuring out what thing, or two things, or five dozen things a country has done that impacted their PISA scores is much more complicated [PDF] than seeing what the folks on top are doing.
There are probably some useful lessons we can draw from a careful analysis of PISA data and the contexts and policies that shape those scores. We probably can’t do it in the two or three days after the scores have come out. Breathe, think, and be careful not to read too much into the early punditry.
Budget cuts since 2010 and the subsequent across-the-board cut called “sequestration” that went into effect earlier this year are razing havoc with Minnesota communities’ public housing programs, a new study by Minnesota housing experts reveals.
The Minnesota Housing Partnership and the Minnesota chapter of the National Association of Housing a Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO) released Out in the Cold: Sequestration and Federal Housing Programs this week.
Surveys of local housing officials found that homeless people and others in need of affordable housing are experiencing greater waits before they can access public housing assistance (Section 8 vouchers), and that the $300 million needed to make public housing improvements is being diverted to operating funds.
The Metro Housing and Redevelopment Authority in the Twin Cities has asked 650 families, including 1,300 children, to move from existing apartments due to cutbacks in public support. Nationally, federal funding for the Housing Choice Voucher program has been cut eight percent since 2010, adjusted for inflation, and support for public housing has been cut by 25 percent.
The two groups cited Center on Budget and Policy Priorities research showing from 2,500 and 3,200 vouchers to help pay for housing will be lost to budget cuts by the end of 2014. “Unless sequestration is reversed, cuts to our largest safety net housing programs will force more vulnerable families, seniors, and people with disabilities into unacceptably high housing payments or housing instability,” the report noted. “Some will become homeless.”
In releasing the study, MHP executive director Chip Halbach called the cuts to these proven housing programs tragic. “It is essential that we find policy alternatives,” he said.
MHP said action will be needed at both the state and federal levels to counteract these swelling problems. It called for an end to sequestration and support for a housing bill in Congress (H.R. 1213), called the Common Sense Housing Investment Act. And in Minnesota, MHP repeated its support for $100 million in state bonding for affordable housing.
Why is a commuter train accident that claims 1 percent of Minnesota's annual highway death toll front-page news 1,200 miles away? Multiple-fatality auto crashes right here seldom crack a Star Tribune cover.
The answer starts with the relative rarity of each of these sad events. Deadly car collisions occur with such drumbeat regularity that editors and readers hardly consider them newsworthy. It's the unusual that merits the headlines. Thus, Sunday's derailment of the 5:54 from Poughkeepsie in the Bronx that killed four and injured dozens more gets the big play in print and on the air.
Strangely, though, this overblown coverage tends to give the erroneous impression that public rail transportation is terribly dangerous. In fact, it's car travel that kills tens of thousands in the United States each year and more than a million worldwide, while rail casualties make up a tiny fraction of those body counts.
But because many more Americans regularly drive than ride transit, the majority can even gain comfort from news of mayhem on public transportation, confident that piloting their own vehicles will keep them safe and sound. Of course, that's true except when it isn't, over and over again.
This is a great example of how might, or ubiquity, makes right. Still, it wasn't so until autocentrism gripped our culture in recent decades. As Brandon Keim pointed out in a Nautilus post, in the first half of the 20th century "the idea of a city oriented around transportation in cars ... would have been incomprehensible."
Eventually, however, the common view of motor vehicles as dangerous intruders on public streets -- required by the city of Cincinnati to be modified for a top speed of 25 miles per hour just 90 years ago -- gave way to the invention of jaywalking as an offense by pedestrians against cars.
These days, the longed-for technological answer to motor vehicle crashes, and congestion too, is the driverless car, seen as a big improvement over those "other guys" behind the wheel who cause all the trouble. Google and U.S. car companies are in hot research pursuit of this latest holy grail of automobility. Volvo just announced a big rollout in its home city of Gothenburg, Sweden.
But, as Burkhard Bilger reported in a fascinating (and lengthy) New Yorker article, getting driverless technology to prime time is a lot trickier than practically anyone imagined. We may yet see lots of robot cars on the street in our lifetimes, but think of the news it will make when one of them inevitably runs amok and kills somebody.
Workers at fast food restaurants rallied all over the nation for a living wage. Many of these workers put in 80-hour weeks just to pay for basic living expenses. They say it's time the major fast food chains start paying workers what's fair in their fight for $15 an hour.
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Last week, we asked our staff, "What's making you happy this week?" and posted a round-up of links for your reading enjoyment. It went over well -- both with the staff and our readers -- so we're going to make it a weekly feature. Our staff have had a busy week: watch for a new education report from Michael to be released on Tuesday, and Jeff has some great Minnesota vs. Wisconsin analysis for Monday. But! We're not the only ones writing great stuff, so without further ado, here are your Friday morning links:
More nonsense from opponents of filibuster reform. (MinnPost) I've long enjoyed the insightful analysis of Eric Black at MinnPost. In this article, Eric debunks some of the myths regarding the U.S. Senate's filibuster rule.
Punch Pizza sets its own minimum wage at $10 per hour. (Business Journal) Even before legislators have a chance to revisit the minimum wage next session, organizers can see the results of their hard work in the shifting public narrative about fair wages. The best example this week: locally owned Punch Pizza announced an across-the-board wage increase to a self-imposed minimum wage of $10/hour.
How Google Earth is busting Persian Gulf nations for overfishing. (Quartz) Easily available satellite images reveal so much environmental information that used to be hard to gauge, but this story also reveals that Googling stuff really can be just as much of a scholarly enterprise as it seems like in college!
American Clean Skies Foundation -- a website with nifty little energy infographics, which is arguing that natural gas can be a bridge-fuel, with lower CO2 emissions and generation plants that are more compatible with renewable energy.
Push for minimum wage hike led by localities, Democrats. (Washington Post) Mike DeBonis and Reid Wilson took a good look at local efforts around the nation to raise the minimum wage to lift people out of poverty. The details revealed should strengthen Minnesotans' resolve that we can't wait for Washington; justice and economic equality can be led from the ground up.
Planet Money Makes a T-shirt (NPR) -- The folks over at Planet Money have just wrapped up an awesome series, "From Seed to Shirt" in which they followed the making of a t-shirt from the cotton field to our closets. Here, they have presented the whole story through text and video. It's beautifully presented and well worth a look.
The University of Minnesota's Family Medicine and Community Health program archives physician training presentations, aimed at broadening physician education while also serving as an important community public health resources. Last month, Dr. Kola Okuyemi presented on e-cigarettes, unregulated drug delivery devices that skirt anti-smoking laws. Short version: there's no good data around e-cigarettes use and many reasons for immediate public action.
Jane McGonigal: Massively multi-player… thumb-wrestling? (TED)
Massively multiplayer thumbwrestling! Mostly I enjoy seeing the often self-serious TED crowd acting a little silly, but the lesssons on the emotional power of games are also worth it.
Posted in News & Notes