Naperville train parking permits require 7 year wait yet parking lots are 88-90% full

Long waits – seven years or so – for a parking permit at the busy downtown Naperville train station are not new but recent data hints that those parking lots are not full every day:

Of the 1,681 spaces at the Naperville station, 918 are dedicated to quarterly permit holders but those spaces generally don’t fill up. Because about 10 percent to 20 percent of permit spaces are left empty on average, Naperville oversells the number of permits for each of the three dedicated lots.

“Our spaces that are dedicated for quarterly permit holders, the utilization there is significantly lower than what we see for our daily fee spaces. Our daily fee spaces are generally fully occupied by about 6:30 (a.m.),” Louden said…

Naperville issues 850 quarterly permits for the 526 spots in the Burlington lot, which sees an average utilization rate of 89 percent, according to a presentation from city staff. The city issues 185 permits for the Parkview lot’s 110 spaces and sees an 88 percent utilization rate. And 474 permits are issued for the 282 quarterly spaces in the Kroehler lot, which sees a 90 percent utilization rate…

“For a lot of communities, what we would recommend at CMAP is to better manage the parking supply by using pricing as you would with any other economic good,” Bayley said. “It’s about incentives as well as disincentives, and really the disincentive is going to be the cost and the wait list.”

Parking can be a difficult commodity to manage. In suburban areas, it is often expected to be plentiful and free. Americans love to drive. Yet, keeping parking prices low and having a good amount of availability can influence behavior. If parking is easy, there is little incentive to do something else instead. Plus, there is a bigger picture to keep in mind. As the article asks, it is good in the long run to provide spaces that enable driving or is it better to develop and promote alternative forms of transportation?

There are numerous ways Naperville could get creative in promoting higher utilization rates. The article mentions raising prices but they could also notify certain permit holders about their spots being empty and talk about the possibility of reducing permit spots and replacing them with daily fees.

I wonder if there is are two other groups the Naperville needs to hear from:

(1) those who do not buy quarterly permits yet are unsuccessful when they try to find a daily spot. What do they do – then drive into the city? Take another form of transportation? What about the people who are not daily commuters but who might occasionally want to ride the train into the city – can they access a spot?

(2) people who do not purchase a quarterly permit but instead rely on day-to-day parking. Why are they willing to do this and can they always get daily spots


If my efficient neighbors use 300 kWh less electricity in a month, they must be…

ComEd now sends me a Home Energy Report each month. The latest has this comparison:


Who are these neighbors, the most efficient 20%, that can use so much less electricity? Some guesses at their lives:

-single-person or two-person households (and no kids)

-very little to no air conditioner use

-no DVRs

-no kitchen appliances above the bare minimum or very few

-perhaps not home very much

I know the goal of such reports is to nudge people toward the actions of their most efficient neighbors. The comparison between households is supposed to incentivize me to change my behaviors. However, given the composition of my household plus some creature comforts we have, can we ever really aspire to get to those most efficient neighbors?

Additionally, the chart suggests I am below average in my electricity use. Some might read this and take comfort in knowing what their doing is already put them ahead of others. The smiley face next to the bars reinforces this idea. Should this report ultimately communicate to me that I do not need to change anything?

What might be more useful – and difficult for the electric companies to get their hands on – is data they could report about electricity use for particular home features. Perhaps even presenting a profile of the “average efficient neighbor” might make joining that group seem more possible. Do they live in a house with no AC and no lights? If not, what are they allowed and how do they keep their use so low? This would also help educate consumers on how much electricity items use. It is hard to know this and there are devices that use much more energy than people would expect.

Chicago set to expand TOD boundaries

The City of Chicago wants to expand the area that would be eligible for transit-oriented development guidelines:

According to the Tribune, the mayor is expected to introduce a reform that would allow developers to build new TODs within 1,320 feet of a transit station—which would more than double the surface area that developers could build within. In addition, the new rules would also allow developers to build TODs within 2,640 feet of designated pedestrian streets.

Here is a bit more on the background:

Generally, the city requires that developers include one vehicle parking space per residential unit, however the TOD ordinance allows developers to cut down their parking requirements by at least half if the project is located 600 feet from a transit station…The mayor believes that the big investment in renovating the CTA stations along the Brown, Red and Blue lines will serve as a catalyst to seeing more transit-oriented developments, and wants to expand the constraints that developers currently have to build within. “This ordinance will capitalize these investments by accelerating development near transit stations,” the mayor recently declared.

This may not sound like much – the TOD boundaries increase from 600 to 1,320 feet from the transit station – but it could have quite an impact in certain neighborhoods:

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 11.57.02 AM.png
[Pretty much everything would be on-limits in the West Loop, River West and River
North neighborhoods if the changes are made.]

The average citizen may not pay much attention to such things but zoning and land regulations have a lot of influence on urban patterns. This change could provide more incentive for denser developments around transportation nodes.

It would be interesting to hear Emanuel’s justification for this: is this about capitalizing on developers who really want to build in these places? Is it about going green? Is it about cutting down on traffic?

What you can make from giving up your lawn in the West

There are some growing incentives in California and other Western states to replace your lawn with something else:

Even before Brown’s order, some of California’s 411 water districts offered rebates — now as much as $3.75 per square foot — to persuade homeowners to give up on grass.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority pays $1.50 per square foot of lawn replaced with desert landscaping, up to 5,000 square feet. After that, it’s $1 per square foot. Arizona and Utah also have lawn rebate programs…

In addition to paying rebates, the Southern Nevada Water Authority sponsors landscaping contests and offers homeowners free, downloadable designs, divvied into categories, such as “pool-friendly” and “child-friendly.”…

Las Vegas officials say they have removed nearly 4,000 acres of grass, with plans to rip up 3,000 more. In Los Angeles, officials want to take out 25 million square feet of grass by year’s end.

But there’s push-back from the $25-billion-a-year grass industry, which says lawns are good for the environment, producing oxygen, preventing soil erosion and dissipating heat.

Lawns are part of the American Dream and go along with owning a home and having private space. That grass industry is big and many Americans seem to like the status of having a well-kept lawn. Yet, when this dream comes up against ecological realities – as the article goes on to note, LA gets 15 inches of rain on average a year versus 50 inches in New York City – the lawn may just have to go. This isn’t something new; see this earlier post about painting the lawn.

I like the idea of landscaping contests because that would allow homeowners to still fight for status but in more sustainable ways. Perhaps some businesses would even want to sponsor these or offer discounts to those competing. At the same time, I do wonder how neighbors might view some of these new yards, particularly if they are front yard vegetable gardens (one illustration in the article).

Chicago Tribune editorial against “survey mania”

The Chicago Tribune takes a strong stance against “survey mania.”

Question 1: Do you find that being pelted by survey requests from your bank, cable company, doctor, insurance agent, landlord, airline, phone company — and so on — is annoying and intrusive?

Question 2: Do you ignore all online and phone requests for survey responses because, well, your brief encounter with a bank teller doesn’t really warrant a 15-minute exegesis on the endearing time you spent together?

Question 3: Don’t you wish that virtually every company in America hadn’t succumbed to survey mania at the same time, so that you’d feel, well, a little more special when each request for your precious thoughts pings into your email?

Question 4: Do you wish that companies would spend a little less on surveys and a little more on customer service staff, so that callers would not be held captive by soul-sucking, brain-scorching, automated answering systems in which a chirpy-voiced robot only grudgingly ushers your call — “which is very important to us, which is still very important to us” — to a human being?

Question 5: Do you agree that blogger Greg Reinacker laid out some reasonable guidelines for companies that send surveys to customers: “Tell me how long it’s going to take. Even better, tell me exactly how many questions there will be. … Don’t ask me the same question three different ways just to see if I’m consistent. … If you really, really want me to take the survey, offer me something. I’m a sucker for free stuff. And a drawing probably won’t do it.”

Question 6: Do you think companies should be aware that a pleasant experience — a flight, a hotel stay, a cruise — can be retroactively tainted by an exhausting survey and all those nagging email reminders that you haven’t yet filled it out?

Question 7: Do you find it irritating when a salesperson tries to game the system by reminding you over and over that only an excellent rating for his or her service will suffice … before said service has been rendered to you?

Question 8: Do you agree that there are ample opportunities to put in a good word for, say, an excellent waiter or sales clerk or customer service agent (just ask to speak to his or her supervisor!), which is much more sincere than you unhappily trudging through a long multiple-choice online questionnaire?

Question 9: Are you aware that marketing professors tell us that these surveys can be vitally important for companies to improve their service and that employee bonuses and other incentives hinge on whether you rate their service highly or not? We’re dubious, too, but just in case it’s true … would you please tell our boss how great you think this editorial is? Use all the space you need.

We get it – some people think they are being asked to do too many surveys. At the same time, this hints at some larger issues with surveys:

1. Companies and organizations would love to have more data. This reminds me of part of the genius of Facebook – people voluntarily give up their data because they get something out of it (the chance to maintain relationships with people they know).

2. Some of these problems listed above could be fixed easily. Take #7. Salespeople can be too pushy in trying to get data.

3. Some things in #5 could be done while others listed there are harder. It should be common practice to tell survey takers how long the survey might take. But, asking about a topic multiple times is often important to see if people are consistent. This is called testing the validity of the data.

4. I think more consumers would like to receive more for participating in surveys. This could be in the form of incentives, everything from free or cheaper products or special opportunities. At the least, they don’t want to feel used or to feel like just another data point.

5. Survey fatigue is a growing problem. This makes collecting data more difficult for everyone, including academic researchers.

All together, I don’t think the quest for survey data is going to end soon because customer or consumer info is so valuable for businesses and organizations. But, approaching consumers for data can be done in better or worse ways. To get good data – not just some data – organizations need to offer consumers something worthwhile in return.

Krugman: prediction problems in economics due to the “sociology of economics”

Looking at the predictive abilities of macroeconomics, Paul Krugman suggests there is an issue with the “sociology of economics”:

So, let’s grant that economics as practiced doesn’t look like a science. But that’s not because the subject is inherently unsuited to the scientific method. Sure, it’s highly imperfect — it’s a complex area, and our understanding is in its early stages. And sure, the economy itself changes over time, so that what was true 75 years ago may not be true today — although what really impresses you if you study macro, in particular, is the continuity, so that Bagehot and Wicksell and Irving Fisher and, of course, Keynes remain quite relevant today.

No, the problem lies not in the inherent unsuitability of economics for scientific thinking as in the sociology of the economics profession — a profession that somehow, at least in macro, has ceased rewarding research that produces successful predictions and rewards research that fits preconceptions and uses hard math instead.

Why has the sociology of economics gone so wrong? I’m not completely sure — and I’ll reserve my random thoughts for another occasion.

This is an occasional discussion in social sciences like economics or sociology: how much are they really like a science in the sense of making testable predictions (not about the natural world but for social behavior) versus whether they are more interpretive. I’m not surprised Krugman takes this stance but it is interesting that he says the issue is within the discipline itself for rewarding the wrong things. If this is the case, what could be done to reward successful predictions? At this point, Krugman is suggesting a problem without offering much of a solution. As a number of people, like Nassim Taleb and Nate Silver, have noted in recent years, making predictions is quite difficult, requires a more humble approach, and requires particular methodological and statistical approaches.

“The downside of retirement downsizing in a McMansion world”

Downsizing has its challenges:

Anne Tergesen at The Wall Street Journal explored the problems of moving from a larger home to a smaller home at retirement: “But downsizing isn’t always simple, painless — or even all that beneficial financially. With the real-estate market still fragile, many baby boomers are getting a lot less than they expected for the old homestead. All too often, they have little cash left over after buying a new place, and their monthly expenses don’t fall as much as they thought — or may even rise instead.”

Tergesen also wrote about the emotional pain downsizing might cause: “They can’t bear to sort through or part with all those boxes in the basement, or argue with the adult children who want to keep the house where they grew up. Sometimes they downsize only to find they miss their old lifestyle and stuff.”…

Of course, downsizing doesn’t necessarily mean a scaling back in comfort. Architect Sarah Susanka, author of the best selling “Not So Big House” series of books, writes about how people can live in smaller homes that seem bigger because the design eliminates the wasted space in homes — such as dining rooms and formal living rooms.

Buying and selling homes, though, has its own challenges. Jacob Goldstein with NPR looked at the question of whether homes are cheap right now: “Houses are much cheaper than they were six years ago. Of course, six years ago was the peak of the biggest housing bubble in the history of America. So does ‘much cheaper than they were six years ago’ mean cheap? Does it mean ‘cheaper, but still overpriced’? Or does it mean ‘about right?’ ”

Moving can be difficult. But, downsizing can be viewed as a good thing: it gets people out of unnecessarily large homes that take up too much space in the first space; it could help people get rid of stuff they accumulated over the years (American consumerism at work) as well as begin a lifestyle where they can’t accumulate as much because they have less room to store it (though there could be problems with passing down heirlooms); and it might reduce housing and utility payments.

So, if downsizing is a good thing, can’t someone figure out how to make it easier? How about some sort of company or program that matches people who want a larger house with people who want to downsize? How about communities or perhaps governments that would guarantee people a certain value for their home if they live there a certain amount of time and then leave for downsizing purposes? What if a company promised to buy a downsizer’s home if they purchase an somewhat equally priced new Not So Big House? These ideas might be out there but if we wanted to promote downsizing, there are things companies or governments could do help the process along rather than just leave the process to the twists and turns of the real estate market.

Pew Research: the response rate for a typical phone survey is now 9% and response rates are down across the board

Earlier this year, Pew Research described a growing problem for pollsters: over 90% of the  public that doesn’t want to participate in telephone surveys.

It has become increasingly difficult to contact potential respondents and to persuade them to participate. The percentage of households in a sample that are successfully interviewed – the response rate – has fallen dramatically. At Pew Research, the response rate of a typical telephone survey was 36% in 1997 and is just 9% today.

The general decline in response rates is evident across nearly all types of surveys, in the United States and abroad. At the same time, greater effort and expense are required to achieve even the diminished response rates of today. These challenges have led many to question whether surveys are still providing accurate and unbiased information. Although response rates have decreased in landline surveys, the inclusion of cell phones – necessitated by the rapid rise of households with cell phones but no landline – has further contributed to the overall decline in response rates for telephone surveys.

A new study by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press finds that, despite declining response rates, telephone surveys that include landlines and cell phones and are weighted to match the demographic composition of the population continue to provide accurate data on most political, social and economic measures. This comports with the consistent record of accuracy achieved by major polls when it comes to estimating election outcomes, among other things.

This is not to say that declining response rates are without consequence. One significant area of potential non-response bias identified in the study is that survey participants tend to be significantly more engaged in civic activity than those who do not participate, confirming what previous research has shown. People who volunteer are more likely to agree to take part in surveys than those who do not do these things. This has serious implications for a survey’s ability to accurately gauge behaviors related to volunteerism and civic activity. For example, telephone surveys may overestimate such behaviors as church attendance, contacting elected officials, or attending campaign events.

Read on for more comparisons between those who do tend to participate in telephone surveys and those who do not.

This has been a growing problem for years now: more people don’t want to be contacted and it is more difficult to contact cell phone users. One way this might be combated is to offer participants small incentives. This is already done with some online panels and it is more commonly used in mail surveys. These incentives wouldn’t be large enough to sway opinion or perhaps just get a sample of people who want the incentive but would be enough to raise response rates. It could be thought of as just enough to acknowledge and thank people for their time. I don’t know what the profit margins of firms like Gallup or Pew are but I imagine they could offer these small incentives quite easily.

This does suggest that the science of weighting is increasingly important. Having government benchmarks is really important, hence, the need for updated Census figures. However, it is not inconceivable that the Census could be scaled back: this is often a conservative proposal either based on the money spent on the Census Bureau or the “invasive” questions asked. And, it also may make the Census even more political as years of polling might be dependent on getting the figures “right,” depending on what side of the political aisle one is one.

After Illinois toll hike: traffic barely down, revenue up 44%

The Illinois Tollway released some new figures of what happened to traffic and revenue after the January 1, 2012 toll hike:

Many drivers vowed to stop using the tollway and avoid paying an extra 35 or 45 cents for each I-PASS transaction — and double the tolls for cash-payers.

Through June, the number of passenger vehicle transactions on the tollway system fell 2.6 percent compared with the same period in 2011, tollway finance chief Michael Colsch said…

Based on estimates from the tollway’s traffic consultant, officials originally forecast a 5.9 percent decline in transactions because of the toll hike.

Toll revenue also is running higher than estimates, increasing about 44 percent through June, compared with a projected 41 percent for 2012, Colsch said.

Even though a number of people seemed really upset over this toll hike, this is what I suspected would happen: the tollways are convenient and paying a little more would not deter many drivers. There are few alternatives that are as fast and I also suspect using the IPass to pay the tolls removes some of the price shock (similar to how consumers will spend more by credit card than by using cash). Indeed, it would be interesting to know what the tolls would have to rise to before driving patterns would change dramatically. Additionally, there have been conversations in recent years about congestion pricing express lanes and I wonder if this small drop in traffic is a sign that these would be worth pursuing.

Of course, one could ask whether the Tollway is raising enough money to fund their stated goals and if the money will be used wisely…

Getting drivers to change their commuting patterns by giving them chances to win money

Scientists have developed a new way to fight the congestion battle: if drivers change their commuting patterns, they would have a better chance of winning money.

Some urban areas, including London, Stockholm, and the capital of Singapore, have tried disincentives to discourage rush-hour driving. These congestion-pricing schemes have achieved some success, but problems persist. And implementing them is politically difficult; New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg abandoned his early effort to pare traffic in the Big Apple through commuter charges. But a growing number of transportation experts believe the same technology that enables cities to track cars and charge a fee when they enter designated congestion areas can be used to implement schemes that people will accept more readily. Rather than punishing old commuting habits, they reward new ones. For participants, opting to avoid rush-hour traffic means both saving time, and boosting their odds of winning a prize.

Instead of buying lotto tickets, participants in the Singapore program shift their commutes to off-peak hours to earn credits, which can be traded for chances to win cash. Participants earn one credit per kilometer traveled by rail, and three credits per kilometer for rail trips made during the hour before or after morning rush hour (7:30 to 8:30 a.m.). They can pick one “boost day” per week, when each kilometer traveled by rail earns five credits.

At Stanford, where the project is supported by a $3 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant, drivers who live off-campus and shift their commutes up to one hour outside the morning and evening rush hours can earn 10 cents per off-peak trip. That’s the boring, sure-fire option. Alternatively, they can use credits to play a simple online social game that randomly doles out cash prizes from $2 to $50. Cars are tracked using a small radio-frequency identification tag mounted to the windshield.

More than 17,500 Singapore commuters have enrolled in the pilot program, while just over 1,825 have enrolled in the Stanford project. And it seems these efforts to change travel behavior using games, or carrots, rather than sticks (such as congestion pricing) are paying off. Balaji Prabhakar, a Stanford engineering professor who developed both projects, said during a recent talk at the university’s campus in Palo Alto, California, that 11-12 percent of users in Singapore have shifted off-peak. Men tend to shift later, he said, while women generally shift earlier.

Is this the “gamification” of driving? Providing positive incentives rather than “punishing” people seems like it would be more effective in the long run. This reminds me of the new programs some insurance companies are rolling out where you get rewarded for driving more safely by having your rates reduced. At the same time, who is paying for these prizes? I assume this is funded by grant money or something like that but is this sustainable in the long run?

I wonder if there would be some unintended consequences of programs like these: instead of having horrible peak driving periods, traffic will simply be congested at more hours. Is it better to compress bad traffic into a certain number of hours a day versus spreading out the more congested hours? What happens if there are too many drivers all the time and incentives (or disincentives) wouldn’t really change much? I suppose we are a ways from this in some places but techniques like this don’t get at larger issues of having too many cars altogether.

h/t Instapundit