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Tuesday, August 30, 2005
They Can't Be Serious
One of the worst hurricanes to hit the United States in recorded history has slammed straight into the middle of the Gulf of Mexico's prime energy production zone, halting 95% of oil production and 88% of natural gas production. Refineries, shipping terminals, drilling rigs and even parts of the national strategic petroleum reserve have all gone offline. The governor of Florida has urged people to not use gasoline, and the state of Hawaii has instituted gasoline price caps. Oh yeah, the storm also made one of the country's most unique and historic cities uninhabitable, making refugees out of more than 600,000 people. It would seem that this is a tough time for our country, particularly those who buy gasoline, which is to say, most everyone.

Gasoline prices were at all-time nominal highs even before the storm, and they are poised to skyrocket and stay high for the foreseeable future. Everyone who thinks about our geopolitical vulnerabilities for more than a minute and 30 seconds realizes that we cannot continue to throw our national wealth at Saudi Arabia indefinitely. Imagine if General Motors took this precarious moment in our nation's history to announce a new strategy toward building fuel efficient hybrid cars. "Our nation is facing troubling times these days because of rising energy prices, and what's good for America is good for General Motors," Rick Wagoner could say in a reversal of a predecessor's famous phrase.

Actually, what GM did today was breathtaking:
General Motors Corp. (GM) plans to continue to build its U.S. market strategy on the large truck segment, despite high gasoline prices and what appears to be softening demand for large SUVs.

"The category for us has been essential to our success in the late 1990s and the early part of this decade," Paul Ballew, executive director global market and industry analysis, said Tuesday during a meeting with investors and industry analysts.
This move is bad for the country because it will increase consumer debt and make our precarious consumer debt bubble closer to bursting; it will also add to the already high level of greenhouse gas emissions and will funnel more money to the middle east. So it's bad for the country for a number of reasons, but it even seems bad for the company. I suppose GM knows its business better than I do, but who'd buy an SUV when it costs $100 to fill up the tank? (I'm not the only one who wants to know.) SUV resale values are low and sinking and new SUV sales are weakening because of expensive gasoline (expensive, that is, in part because of high demand from all the existing SUV owners). How is this even a good business decision? I've been baffled by GM's moves before, but this one is just beyond belief. I wonder if GM junk-bondholders feel they are any more likely to be repaid because of GM's new strategy.

- Hurricane Katrina's Impact on the U.S. Oil and Natural Gas Markets [U.S. Energy Information Administration]
- GM Betting Future on Big Trucks [Dow Jones via SmartMoney.com]
- SUV Sales and Expensive Gasoline [S&F]
- A Lose-Lose Proposition for the Automakers [S&F]
- Posted at 11:20 PM | Permalink | Comments: 1 | Post a Comment |  

Saturday, August 27, 2005
Thank You Very Much

A few days after I wrote about how bollards at Third Avenue and 24th Street had been knocked over, the DOT had them repaired. This is kind of like the time that I wrote that Hamilton Place should be narrowed, and then a few weeks later noticed that that apparently was happening, if at least temporarily. Eerie. Maybe Someone is reading this website. Or, maybe I just happen to notice really obvious stuff that's about to get fixed.

- That Elusive Straight Line [S&F]
- How to Fix an Overly Wide Street [S&F]
- Hamilton Place Revisited [S&F]
- Posted at 10:18 PM | Permalink | Comments: 1 | Post a Comment |  

Wednesday, August 24, 2005
That Elusive Straight Line

At East 24th Street in Manhattan, not far from Gramercy Park, the traffic on Third Avenue switches from being two-way to the south to one-way-uptown to the north. In order to prevent motorists from becoming confused at this and to keep them in their appropriate lane, the DOT has put up a row of plastic bollards that bend at the base. Despite their flexibility, about half of them have been run down and obliterated by careless drivers. Wow. Please, people: You gotta stay focused on the road.

In other news, here's a guy who gives SUV drivers everywhere a bad name, as if they didn't have one already.

- Whoops! [S&F]
- SUV drags cop thru Times Sq.; Pedestrians flee in panic; 6 are injured [Daily News]
- Posted at 9:08 PM | Permalink | Comments: 3 | Post a Comment |  

Sunday, August 21, 2005
Liberty View

I had a wonderful weekend excursion this afternoon in Brooklyn, enjoying the Fifth Avenue bike path that Aaron Naparstek and others fought for. It was a wonderful stretch with many cyclists using the path in both directions. Three of us stopped off and had sushi at a place at about 7th Street or so. No doubt all the increased bicycle traffic and the calmer streets, encouraging pedestrians, have made these businesses much more profitable since the lane was installed.

The only incident that marred the ride was a complete nut driving an enormous pickup truck. This unfortunate individual was careening through the streets way over the speed limit when the lights were green, sending a heavy wake of air past us. When the lights were red, he swerved into the bike lane at every intersection to avoid hitting the lawful motorists who had stopped. He would then floor the truck through the intersection to make it 200 feet to the next red light. We watched the guy run six red lights before coming to a stop at a heavily trafficked street. Too bad none of us caught this guy's plate number, or we could have MV-15'ed his ass.

We talked to a man who reminisced about the good old days of growing up in Brooklyn, playing stickball on the streets. He remembered the open streets without too many parked cars. Sometimes, only one car would be parked on a block. "We'd ask Tony the Butcher to go move his car, he'd say 'sure kids'," our acquaintance recalled. "Today it'd be: 'Move my car???' — they'd look at you like you had four heads!"

The purpose of our bike ride was to head over to Battle Hill, the highest (natural) point in Brooklyn at 220 feet above sea level. From that peaceful vantage point in Green-Wood Cemetery, one can listen to the cicadas and sit on a bench at the Altar to Liberty, where Minerva waves to the Statue of Liberty. Next to the Altar stands one of the earliest monuments to the 168,000 New Yorkers who fought in the Civil War, the downcast soldiers remembering the fallen.

This site was the subject of a controversy that got some coverage back in April. (See these filings from the Daily News, Channel 7, Brownstoner and Curbed.) You've heard this story a million times before. A developer wanted to build a tall building and neighbors are upset that the views will be hurt. In this case, the views are accessible to the public, and come to a very special spot. At the top of this post is a picture of the view. It's far more majestic than it seems because it comes across so poorly in this photo. Here is an aerial photo (thanks Google maps) with an arrow that points to the Altar, and a square box showing the controversial site.

I'm not sure whether the developer or the activists won in the end or whether the issue has even been resolved. What should take priority, the public's view or the need for the city to build its tax base by providing housing for reasonably wealthy residents?

The view at Battle Hill was marvelous and the setting divine. But don't expect to get there on a bike. The cemetery occupies a great green space as vast as Prospect Park with beautiful winding roads, hills and ponds, and ornate tombstones, but it prohibits bicycling. It's perfectly fine to drive a hugely disruptive S.U.V. through this sacred space, but a quiet bicyclist is forbidden.

- Bike Fags & Elitists Win 5th Ave. Bike Lane [Naparstek.com]
- MV-15: Even the Score [Naparstek.com]
- Battle Hill, Green-Wood Cemetery Brooklyn's Highest Point 220 Feet [America's Roof]
- Saluting statues see view threat shrink in distance [Daily News]
- Fight Over The View--From A Cemetery? [WABC]
- Follow-up: View May Not Be Killed [Brownstoner]
- Green-Wood Views Live to Die Another Day [Curbed]
- Posted at 12:17 AM | Permalink | Comments: 2 | Post a Comment |  

Tuesday, August 16, 2005
$0 for Amtrak, Billions for Oil Dependency
- Posted at 10:45 PM | Permalink | Comments: 1 | Post a Comment |  

Friday, August 12, 2005
SUV Sales and Expensive Gasoline
How could someone be foolish enough to buy a gas-guzzling SUV at a time when gasoline prices are soaring and expected to continue to stay high for the next several years? Is it a good idea for the automakers to be giving these vehicles the hard sell right about now? For an interesting discussion on the matter by a bunch of people who are wondering the same questions, see this forum.

- SUVs flying out of showrooms: MADNESS [PeakOil.com]
- Posted at 7:34 PM | Permalink | Comments: 3 | Post a Comment |  

Saturday, August 06, 2005
More Rental Cars. More Leased Cars. Great.
The pork-laden transportation bill that recently passed Congress eliminates New York State's "vicarious liability" car insurance law that has discouraged rental car companies from doing business in the state. Henry J. Stern described the law in a recent post:
New York State law has provided since 1924 that if a driver of a leased or rented car is involved in an accident and is sued for damages, not only is the driver liable, which is appropriate, but the company that leased or rented the car to him is also liable, even if they had nothing to do with the accident and had no reason to know that the renter was not a good driver.
Nearly every commentator has applauded the end of vicarious liability and has characterized it as an unseemly gift from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to his fellow trial lawyers. New York is the only state in the union to have vicarious liability on its books, but that does not mean it is a bad policy.

What will be the outcome on our streets? It will soon be easier to rent a car in New York State. I think this could be a good or a bad thing, depending on who starts renting the flood of newly rentable cars. Significant numbers of car owners could weigh easier rentals against ownership and decide that ownership is too expensive. They would sell their cars. This would lessen demand for parking spaces and decrease profits for garage owners, making other land uses relatively more attractive and perhaps encouraging some of them to covert garages and parking lots to better uses. All that would lead to an improved built environment.

But I fear that something quite different could happen. Plentiful car rentals could encourage New York City's many non-drivers to use a car for trips that in which they would haved used mass transit. This would increase traffic congestion, and the noise and air pollution that congestion generates. It would also increase gasoline consumption, raising the price of gasoline and other oil derivatives and increase our already enormous dependency on the middle east.

Taxis require fewer parking spaces than rental cars, so if an increase car rentals cuts into taxi ridership, the city would actually need more parking spaces. No matter what happens, easier car rentals would enhance the mobility of people who don't own cars, making that lifestyle seem relatively more attractive.

If the end of vicarious liability cuts into car ownership and parking demand, it is a good thing. But if it cuts into transit ridership and increases auto dependency, oil consumption and congestion, it will be extremely harmful. I suppose it will probably do some of both. Perhaps a few parking garages will be converted to car rental counters, leading to little change in land use but also meaning that spaces that had been reserved for a few car owners would now be opened up to anyone who wants to rent a car. But by making access to vehicles easier for more people, it will further entrench our car culture, possibly at the expense of mass transit.

There you have an analysis of the impact on the rental market. But this law impacted leasing as well. When the new law is signed, people will pay less to lease a car. From The Times' article about this: The vicarious liability law
was intended to hold rich owners responsible for the damage caused when their livery drivers were involved in crashes. But in recent years, after juries granted large judgments against several car leasing companies, many major carmakers and some banks decided to stop leasing cars in New York because of the law. That decision left many New Yorkers who wanted to lease cars forced to enter into more expensive loan programs, which often required them to pay the full sales tax on the cars, adding to the cost. Others, who opted to lease cars from the companies that still lease here, found themselves paying fees of $500 or more to offset potential lawsuits.
These are sad days in Washington. At a time when we should be looking to reduce our auto dependence, the Republicans in Congress, who undermined vicarious liability under the guise of "tort reform," are increasing it.

The Republicans are also forgetting the damage that drivers do every day and that justice demands the need to repay their victims. More from The Times:
Shoshana T. Bookson, a past president of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, said that without the state's vicarious liability law, some New Yorkers who were injured in auto accidents would find themselves able to recover only a fraction of the costs of their accidents.
- Congress Adopts $287B Transportation Bill. Incidentally, It Abolishes Vicarious Liability For Those Who Lease and Rent Automobiles, Something New York State Had Failed to Do. [New York Civic]
- Congress Passes Bill Nullifying a State Law, and Making It Easier to Lease Cars in New York [NYT]
- Posted at 11:30 PM | Permalink | Comments: 0 | Post a Comment |  


About S&F

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