An Appreciation of Popularity

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The correlation between popularity and quality is tenuous at best. How often have excellent products died in the marketplace, while competing products of lesser quality have succeeded (I’m thinking BetamaxKodak, and TiVo, to name a few)? How often, too, have movie stars achieved enormous popular success despite possessing little in the way of acting ability (my apologies to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone)?

Popularity isn’t just a poor analog for quality, but as a goal it is notoriously difficult to achieve. Striving for it is a fool’s errand, as the public’s approval has as much to do with luck as any other factor. Better to strive for excellence, and let The Universe figure the rest out.

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It’s a Feature, Not a Bug: Inequality in Liberal Cities

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Republican Presidential DebatersAt the November 10, 2015 Republican presidential debate, candidate Rand Paul said that inequality in cities — the gap between the rich and poor — “seems to be worst in cities run by Democrats.” His comment received rousing applause from the audience, and much media attention.

To be fair, Paul got the data right (for the most part). Liberal cities do have worse inequality than the national average, and the largest, most dynamic cities are the most unequal. But not for the reasons Paul thinks.

Inequality is a feature of liberal cities, not a bug, Emily Badger explains for the Washington Post’s Wonk Blog. Big cities, those most often run by Democrats, simultaneously welcome the poor and attract the wealthy, leading to inequality. Badger writes that, on the other hand, “Exclusionary suburbs that keep out the poor and working class appear, on paper, awfully egalitarian (everyone makes $100,000!).”

Simply Put, Paul’s implication — that Republican policies are better suited to address inequality or bring people out of poverty than Democratic ones — are hogwash. Thankfully, his comment is receiving the attention it deserves, and a myth about cities that Paul sought to perpetuate is being dispelled instead.

Walkability and Transit Mean Independence in Golden Years

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Transit-accessible Dupont CircleMost adults want to age in place; that is, grow older without the need to move from their home or community. As driving becomes a challenge, though, seniors can feel dependent upon others, or isolated and cut off from their friends or public services. Communities that have strong public transit systems and walkable amenities are increasingly attractive to seniors for the independence they instill. These places — like Washington D.C.’s Dupont Circle, shown above — are also associated with high housing costs, however, illuminating the pressing need in the U.S. for more transit, and more connected communities, as the Boomer generation ages.

American Cities’ Biggest Transportation Innovation is Decidedly Low-Tech

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[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab]

Long Island Bike Lane

American cities are adding bus and bike lanes, implementing bikeshare systems, and creating public plazas and miniature parks at a rapid pace.

Urban streets, long the domain of automobiles, are increasingly being reclaimed by and for the people, a change that amounts to the biggest transportation innovation in recent years, according to a new report by TransitCenter.

“A People’s History of Recent Transportation Innovation” details how strong alignment among local civic organizations, city leadership, and transportation agencies has yielded enduring changes in regional transportation systems.

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Transit’s Surprising Advantage is Sitting Right in Your Pocket

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[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab. Edited for this site.]

Metra Commuters

With public-transit use riding a 58-year high of 10.8 billion trips last year, it only makes sense to ask: why? Technology may be partially responsible for public transit’s record ridership, but probably not in the way you think.

As smartphones and other electronic devices have skyrocketed in popularity, more people are becoming dependent on them (much to the chagrin of some psychologists). These technology-dependent commuters want to to remain engaged with their devices at all times, and more of them are choosing public transit for the ease at which they can do so while riding the bus or train.

A new study by DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development finds that the most avid users of mobile devices may be boosting Chicago’s transit ridership numbers, and there is reason to believe this trend is occurring in other metropolitan areas. Apple, Google, and Amazon aren’t just changing the way we work, communicate, and socialize, but are also influencing our transportation choices as well.

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What Would Make Your Commute Better?

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Vice-President Biden at the event 'Fix My Commute'Jeff Bezos‘ $250 million purchase of The Washington Post in 2014 changed the direction of the newspaper in some fairly significant ways. Among them: The Posts’s focus became less local and more global, it began expanding digital access dramatically (promoted by the Kindle, of course), and started spending some serious cash on events.

One of these events is the America Answers series. Begun in 2014, it is intended to showcase the ways people are solving some of America’s biggest problems, such as commuting. To that end, America Answers’ Fix My Commute event will take place for the second time this October.  Last year the forum took place in Washington D.C.’s Studio Theatre, and it was apparent from the catered lunch and generous swag bag that the Post had committed some serious money to it. Vice-President Joe Biden was the keynote speaker, and I was lucky enough to literally be within spitting-distance of him (see above).

The Post wants your participation before this year’s October 21 Fix My Commute forum. It is soliciting comments via the Dr. Gridlock column, or you can tweet comments or questions before-hand using the #americaanswers hashtag. Last year’s event resulted in a ton of new content for the Washington Post web site, as well as useful data for geeks like me. It was also live broadcast over the Web, and should be this year as well.

Photo by the author