Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Austin urban rail to cost $1.3B

Austin urban rail to cost $1.3B

Thursday, June 24, 2010  |  Modified: Friday, June 25, 2010
Austin Business Journal - by Jacob Dirr Staff Writer
A 17-mile urban rail system, with track in both directions, would cost about $1.3 billion to start building in 2012, increasing in cost by about 5 percent for every year of delay, the Austin transportation director said Thursday.
Unofficial estimates for the trolley-like system that would go from downtown to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to the new Mueller neighborhood had previously pegged the cost at $600 million, but that does not account for projected inflation costs in the coming years, Director Rob Spillar said.Council is seeking to finalize a 2012 bond package that would help jump start the system. However, many questions remain about the specifics and viability of such a bond package.
As part of the urban rail plan, council awarded a $100,000 financial planning contact Thursday to Austin-based Public Financial Management so it could examine system costs and potential sources of revenue to build, operate and maintain an urban rail system.'
The city could also pursue federal grants, loans, tax increment financing and special tax districts to supplement funding, according to staff.
Spillar also said there is keen interest in infrastructure projects from foreign investors, and the city is keeping all of its options open.
The track will be built in phases, not all at once, said transportation officials, allowing the city to construct sections as funding becomes available. City staff hopes to brief council on its plan for phased construction, including which sections will be built first, by the end of the year, Spillar said.
“We know this size of investment is best phased, to take advantage of federal funding,” he said. “Whether it is two or three phases, I can’t say now.”
Transportation officials said that the cost estimate for the entire system includes a healthy rainy day fund, which would cushion the city against unexpected costs. The high contingency funds are likely a reaction to criticism levied at the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which has been accused of not accounting for possible cost overruns when it pitched the Red Line to the public.
While the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority is a partner on the new urban rail system, it will not be involved with planning or managing construction, instead the process is managed from city hall.
Austin transportation officials are still working to decide who will operate the urban rail once it is constructed. Spillar said the staff plans to give council its recommendation when it develops a plan for the first phase of construction.
The proposed rail system also includes about three miles more of track than initially planned —along Guadalupe and Lavaca streets— as well as 13 additional passenger cars to travel the expanded network.
The annual cost to operate a full system would cost between $22 million and $25 million, staff said.
Officials estimate the system will run about 16 hours a day, seven days a week, carrying 28,000 weekday riders by 2030. The entire travel time from one end of the track to downtown is estimated to take about half an hour.
The next step is to adopt a formal plan and initiate an environmental study contract, which will also examine how the new rail line will gentrify communities.
“I think we will find many chances for council to work on policy issues to mitigate or negate the issues,” Spillar said.
While the urban rail plan has been a key tenant of Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s administration, Spillar said the transportation staff has also steadfastly concluded that it is all but necessary to keep the city’s economic engine growing in the core.
In coming years, the population is expected to skyrocket in Austin, and without rail allowing people to enter the central business district, state capitol complex and the University of Texas from outside the greater downtown area “growth is going to happen outside the core,” Spillar said.
“Austin has grown to a size where if we want to preserve our way of life, we have to find ways for people to get around,” Spillar said.
Read more: Austin urban rail to cost $1.3B - Austin Business Journal

City Council approves $1 million Urban Rail study

By Beth Wade Thursday, 10 December 2009
AUSTIN — The Austin City Council approved hiring Austin Urban Rail Partners to complete a $1 million preliminary engineering study for the city's Urban Rail project at its Dec. 10 meeting. The study will help identify the rail's route through downtown.
Also at the meeting, Transportation Department Director Robert Spillar gave an update on the proposed Urban Rail project, along with a list of the city's remaining questions city leaders want answered and an expected time line for getting those answers. This information will be available to the public at an open house Dec. 14 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at City Hall.
The rail, a 15.3 mile streetcar and light-rail hybrid to stretch from the Mueller development to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, is scheduled to be part of a November 2010 city bond election.
Construction on the line could be up to two years away, but Spillar said the city needs to be planning now.
"We really have a circulation problem here in central Austin, and when I say central Austin, I mean downtown, university district and the Capitol complex," Spillar said. The rail is expected to help improve access to the downtown area.
Spillar is expected to return to council in February with additional information, including where the first segment could be. Preliminary costs of the first segment could be available by the February update, Spillar said. Additional cost details could be available in May 2010. Other answers could come later in the spring and summer.
The council meets Feb. 12 and 26 at 10 a.m. in council chambers, 301 W. Second St.
To see the video of the city council presentation, visit click here.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Cost of Owning and Operating Vehicle in U.S. Increases Nearly Two Percent According to AAA’s 2013 ‘Your Driving Costs’ Study

Article published by AAA.

Cost of Owning and Operating Vehicle in U.S. Increases Nearly Two Percent According to AAA’s 2013 ‘Your Driving Costs’ Study

Ginnie PritchettIncrease in maintenance, insurance and fuel drive up average cost for sedans to $9,122 yearly, 60.8 cents per mile
ORLANDO, Fla., (April 16, 2013) – AAA released the results of its annual ‘Your Driving Costs’ study today, revealing a 1.96 percent increase in the cost to own and operate a sedan in the U.S. The average cost rose 1.17 cents to 60.8 cents per mile, or $9,122 per year, based upon 15,000 miles of annual driving.
“Many factors go into the cost calculation of owning and operating a vehicle,” said John Nielsen, AAA Director of Automotive Engineering and Repair. “This year, changes in maintenance, fuel and insurance costs resulted in the increase to just over 60 cents a mile.”
The findings of the 2013 ‘Your Driving Costs’ study include:
Based on Driving 15,000 miles annually
Medium Sedan
Large Sedan
Sedan Average
Cost Per Mile
46.4 cents
61.0 cents
75.0 cents
60.8 cents
77.3 cents
65.3 cents
Cost Per Year

Additional Resources

In-depth findings of this year’s study, including a breakdown of specific costs by category of vehicle and various annual mileages, are contained in the ‘Your Driving Costs’ brochure which is available at select local AAA branch offices or may be downloaded in the additional resources bar.
Nielsen continued, “Before you make any vehicle purchase, it is important to determine ownership and operational costs and compare them to your current and future financial situation.” To assist consumers in determining their individual driving costs, the AAA ‘Your Driving Costs’ brochure contains a worksheet that can be filled out and personalized for a specific area, driver and vehicle.
Maintenance Costs Up 11.26 Percent
The costs associated with maintaining a vehicle had the single largest percentage increase from 2012 to 2013, growing by 11.26 percent to 4.97 cents per mile on average for sedan owners. AAA’s estimates are based upon the cost to maintain a vehicle and perform needed repairs for five years and 75,000 miles including labor expenses, replacement part prices and the purchase of an extended warranty policy.  Driving the increase in maintenance costs is significant increases in labor and part costs for some models and a major increase in the price of extended warranty policies due to high loss ratios by underwriters.
Fuel Costs Up 1.93 Percent
Gasoline prices were relatively stable compared to the prior year, leading to a minimal fuel cost increase of 1.93 percent to 14.45 cents per mile on average for sedan owners. The average cost of regular grade fuel (used by most of the study vehicles) actually rose 3.84 percent, from $3.357 to $3.486 per gallon. However, several vehicles in the ‘Your Driving Costs’ study had small improvements in their fuel economy ratings which partially offset the fuel cost increase. Fuel costs in the 2013 study were calculated using the national average price for regular, unleaded gasoline during the fourth quarter of 2012.
Tire Costs Remain Unchanged
The cost of tires did not change from 2012 to 2013, remaining at one cent per mile on average for sedan owners. The stable price is attributed to a leveling off of past increased costs for raw materials, energy and transportation from factories to distributors across the country.
Insurance Costs Up 2.76 Percent
Average insurance costs for sedans rose 2.76 percent (or $28) to $1029 annually. Insurance rates vary widely by driver and driving record, issuing company and geographical region. AAA insurance cost estimates are based on a low-risk driver with a clean driving record. Quotes from five AAA clubs and insurance companies representing seven states showed across-the-board modest increases for all sedan sizes, with large cars having less of an increase than small- and medium-size sedans.
Depreciation Costs Rise .78 Percent
After seeing a drop in 2012, depreciation costs were up slightly in 2013, increasing .78 percent to $3,571 a year. This change may be a consequence of recovering new vehicle sales, resulting in more used cars available in the marketplace and thus the softening of the resale value of clean older models.
63rd Year of ‘Your Driving Costs’ Study
AAA has published ‘Your Driving Costs’ since 1950. That year, driving a car 10,000 miles per year cost 9 cents per mile, and gasoline sold for 27 cents per gallon.
The ‘Your Driving Costs’ study employs a proprietary AAA methodology to analyze the cost to own and operate a vehicle in the United States. Variable operating costs considered in the study include fuel, maintenance and repair, and tires. Fixed ownership costs factored into the results include insurance, license and registration fees, taxes, depreciation and finance charges. Ownership costs are calculated based on the purchase of a new vehicle that is driven over five years and 75,000 miles. Your actual operating costs may vary. See AAA’s 2013 ‘Your Driving Costs’ brochure for a list of vehicles and additional information on the underlying criteria used in the study.
As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 53 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited on the Internet at AAA.com.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Austin: Affordable Housing

Article published by the Austin Post.

Advocates Push for Affordable Housing as City Booms

Effort Leaders Plot 2013 Bond
With the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Austin coming in at $963, and the apartment occupancy rate at about 95 percent, it’s no secret that finding affordable housing in the city can be difficult. For those Austinites who make $7.25 an hour, also known as minimum wage, it’s almost impossible – that $963 would eat up 3/4 of a month's take-home pay.
“The affordability crisis in Austin hasn’t gone away. We’re still in the Top 5 hottest housing markets and the Top 10 most expensive rental markets in the United States,” said Elliott McFadden, campaign manager for Keep Austin Affordable. “Lower income folks are really getting squeezed.”
In the 2012 election, Proposition 15, which would have set aside almost $80 million in bond money for affordable housing programs, was voted down by about 2 percent. Proponents, like McFadden, say the money would have helped build more housing units and allowed non-profits to raise hundreds of millions of dollars more in grant and federal funding, so this year, they’re not taking any chances and are educating voters on the subject early.
Keep Austin Affordable is a coalition of business, faith and community leaders pushing for an affordable housing bond package this fall. The group is hoping to continue the success Austin saw with the 2006 housing bond package of $55 million that created more than 3,600 affordable housing units and brought in $200 million in additional outside funding. That money ran out at the end of last year, and then Proposition 15 failed, leaving these programs in the lurch.
M Station is an example of the types of energy-efficient affordable housing complexes being built.
With a mid-fiscal year budget surplus of $14 million, the Austin City Council voted in February to earmark $10 million to keep projects that were funded by the 2006 affordable housing bond going in 2013. With the success of the 2006 bonds and the support of the majority of the City Council, proponents are hopeful that the issue will carry more weight in this year’s election. “All our polling indicates that people believe the City can help end homelessness and that the City should be involved in affordable housing,” said Ann Howard, executive director of ECHO, a non-profit that, among other things, helps transition recently homeless citizens into affordable housing. Prop 15 “failed by less than 2 percent, and the bottom line is, we think people didn’t know what it was for.”
The ballot item proposed to “levy a tax for housing,” rather than stipulating that the money would be earmarked for “low-income families or veterans or senior citizens,” as it did in 2006. For the 2013 election, proponents are looking for a bond of $60 to $70 million, which would continue funding for programs at the same level, adjusting for inflation and higher construction costs, McFadden said.
Local Bonds Bring Private and Federal Cash Too
The bond money serves as local investment needed for eligibility for federal credits – the City puts up an initial investment on development projects or assistance programs, and then those projects and programs can compete for additional private and federal funds. The return on investment for the 2006 bond money was about four to one, McFadden said.
Although the 2006 bond money was earmarked for people making 50 percent or less of Austin’s median income ($73,000) most of it went toward programs for people actually making less than 30 percent of the median income – people who wouldn’t be able to find affordable housing in Austin otherwise, McFadden said. In addition to getting people in housing, bond-supported programs also help homeowners renovate – and stay in – their homes, as well as supporting nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity and Meals on Wheels.
When it comes to new units, developers compete for the money generated by bonds and then agree to serve the population the city required (senior citizens, low-income families, etc.) for a minimum of 30 years or as long as a century. The bond is structured as a loan that’s forgiven after 40 years. So if the housing supports the designated population for that time, the loan is forgiven; if a developer decides to make the units fair-market pricing, they are required to pay back the loan.
Projects, Not "The Projects"
Misperceptions about affordable housing programs are common, the most prevalent of which is the idea that affordable housing is the same as government housing or “the projects.” To the contrary, most of the affordable housing units built under the 2006 bond are spread throughout the city and aren’t easily identifiable.
Affordable housing close to public transportation sources is a goal for Imagine Austin.
“Most of the developments the City funds are mixed income,” said David Potter, housing development manager for the City of Austin. “You can’t tell the affordable units from the market-rate units. The people who live in affordable housing are elderly persons, two-parent working families, single-parent working families, disabled persons, and people who may have experienced unemployment, major illness or divorce and might otherwise be homeless.”
For example, M Station at the MLK Station stop on the MetroRail is one of the most successful affordable housing complexes in Austin – when it was built, the LEED-platinum development was the greenest apartment complex in the nation. A development under construction at 3101 E. 12th St. will add 24 energy-efficient rentals to the East Austin neighborhood for residents earning at or below 50 percent of Austin’s median family income, which equates to $36,000 for a family of four.
The generally accepted guideline on housing affordability says a household shouldn’t pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing – rent or mortgage, property taxes, utilities, etc. A study by the City of Austin found that by those guidelines, almost 40,000 families are in need of affordable housing assistance. A study by the Austin Independent School District last year found that 2,000 of its students were homeless.
“There definitely is a need out there to create more of this kind of housing for those folks,” McFadden said. “We want Austin to be a place where people of all income levels can make a home. Our city is better off when we have places for all income to live.”
Living There, and Getting There
Doing nothing not only homogenizes the population, it also means we run the risk of increased pollution, traffic and sprawl.
“If someone works in Austin but is unable to find a place to live in Austin that they can afford, they may move to one of the outlying communities,” Potter said. “It affects a household’s transportation costs if they are driving to Austin each day. It also increases traffic and the pollution associated with car exhaust.”
As part of the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, which defines affordability as not only rent or mortgage but also utilities, taxes and transportation, the City plans to focus on greater inter-departmental collaboration, Potter said.
“Transportation infrastructure is a significant and intricate piece of the housing affordability puzzle. Transportation is the second largest expense for American households, costing more than food, clothing, and health care, but few consider these costs when choosing a place to live, according to the Center for Neighborhood Technology,” Potter said. “As these costs continue to rise collectively, it is becoming increasingly important that alternatives to reduce the cost of these components be planned for as the city develops and makes future infrastructure investments.”
The Economic Argument
The effects of half a household’s income or more going toward housing are widespread – people have less money to spend in the local economy and may have to make sacrifices elsewhere, like on healthcare, medication and quality food, Potter said, adding that, conversely, there is also a trickle-down effect to ensuring affordable housing is available that affects the whole community, from job growth to discretionary spending.
“Investing in affordable housing creates construction jobs initially, but after the housing is completed and occupied, residents may have more disposable income to purchase goods and services, and local governments will realize greater property tax and sales tax revenues,” he said.
Affordable housing programs may be expensive, but the alternative is even more so. The beneficiaries of ECHO’s programs are on the edge of homelessness or transitioning from homelessness, and for every homeless person, a community spends about $40,000 a year on public services such as EMS, emergency room visits, jail beds and police, Howard said.
“If you can house them at $10,000 to $12,000 per year and spend another $10,000 to $12,000 per year on resources, it’s money you’re already spending [on public services like those listed], but this way, the person has a chance to regain stature in the community,” she said. “I call it smart and right.”

Friday, April 26, 2013

Cuba: Instituto Superior de Arte

Instituto Superior de Arte
Unfinished Spaces, documentary
Revolution of Forms, Cuba's Forgotten Art Schools
Archilovers, Escuela de Ballet
Ricardo Porro web site

Source of text below Wikipedia:

Design of the five schools

The design of the National Art Schools, created by Ricardo Porro, Roberto Gottardi, and Vittorio Garatti, ran counter to the dominant International Style of the time. The three architects saw the International Style as the architecture of capitalism and sought to recreate a new architecture in the image of the Cuban Revolution. These critiques of modernism existed in a broader context of critique and are considered to be notable additions to the spectrum of innovative architecture from the period. Architects such as Hugo Häring, Bruno Zevi, Ernesto Nathan Rogers, and Alvar Aalto, not to mention Frank Lloyd Wright, all practiced on the margins of mainstream modern architecture. For Porro, Gottardi, and Garatti, this international response to modernism mixed with more region-specific expressions of Hispanic and Latin American identity (long after Gaudí but sharing his Catalan influence) in the post-WWII world.[8]
The architects set up their design studio on the site of the former country club. They decided that there would be three guiding principles for the design of the art schools. The first principle was that the architecture for the schools would be integrated with the widely varied, unusual landscape of the golf course. The second and third principles were derived from material necessity. The US embargo against Cuba, begun in 1960, had made the importation of rebar and Portland cement very costly. The architects therefore decided to use locally produced brick and terracotta tile, and for the constructive system they would use the Catalan vault with its potential for organic form. When Fidel Castro viewed the plans for the art schools, he praised their design, saying that the complex would be “the most beautiful academy of arts in the whole world”.[9] There were five art schools within the academy: the School of Modern Dance, the School of Plastic Arts, the School of Dramatic Arts, the School of Music, and the School of Ballet.

School of Modern Dance – Ricardo Porro

School of Modern Dance, Ricardo Porro
Porro conceived the modern dance school’s plan as a sheet of glass that had been violently smashed and fragmented into shifting shards, symbolic of the revolution's violent overthrow of the old order.[10] The fragments gather around an entry plaza - the locus of the "impact" - and develop into an urban scheme of linear, though non-rectilinear, shifting streets and courtyards. The entry arches form a hinge around which the library and administrative bar rotate away from the rest of the school. The south side of the fragmented plaza is defined by rotating dance pavilions, paired around shared dressing rooms. The north edge, facing a sharp drop in terrain, is made by two linear bars, containing classrooms, that form an obtuse angle. At the culmination of the angular procession, farthest from the entry, where the plaza once again compresses is the celebrated form of the performance theater.

School of Plastic Arts – Ricardo Porro

School of Plastic Arts, Ricardo Porro
The concept for this school is intended to evoke an archetypal African village, creating an organic urban complex of streets, buildings and open spaces. The studios, oval in plan, are the basic cell of the complex. Each one was conceived as a small arena theater with a central skylight to serve students working from a live model. The studios are organized along two arcs, both of which are curving colonnaded paths. Lecture rooms and offices are accommodated in a contrasting blocklike plan that is partially wrapped by and engaged with the colonnaded path. Ideas of gender and ethnicity converge in the curvilinear forms and spaces of Plastic Arts. Most notable is how the organic spatial experience of the curvilinear paseo archetectonico delightfully disorients the user not being able to fully see the extent of the magic realist journey being taken.[11]

School of Dramatic Arts – Roberto Gottardi

School of Dramatic Arts, Roberto Gottardi
The School of Dramatic Arts is urban in concept, as are Porro’s two schools. Dramatic Arts is organized as a very compact, axial, cellular plan around a central plaza amphitheater. Its inward-looking nature creates a closed fortress-like exterior. The amphitheater, fronting the unbuilt theater at what now is the entrance, is the focal point of all the subsidiary functions, which are grouped around it. Circulation takes place in the narrow leftover interstices, open to the sky like streets, between the positive volumes of the masonry cells. Winding more or less concentrically through the complex, circulation negates the axiality and generalized symmetry that organize the plan. This presents an interesting contradiction between the formal and the experiential. While quite ordered in plan, the experience of walking through the complex is random and episodic.[12]

School of Music - Vittorio Garatti

The School of Music is constructed as a serpentine ribbon 330 meters long, embedded in and traversing the contours of the landscape approaching the river. The scheme and its paseo arquitectonico begin where a group of curved brick planters step up from the river. This path submerges below ground as the band is joined by another layer containing group practice rooms and another exterior passage, shifted up in section from the original band. Displacements are read in the roofs as a series of stepped, or terraced, planters for flowers. This 15m wide tube, broken into two levels, is covered by undulating, layered Catalan vaults that emerge organically from the landscape, traversing the contours of the ground plane. Garatti's meandering paseo arquitectonico presents an ever-changing contrast of light and shadow, of dark subterranean and brilliant tropical environments.[13]

School of Ballet – Vittorio Garatti

School of Ballet, Vittorio Garatti
From the top of the golf course’s ravine, one looks down upon the ballet school complex, nestled into the descending gorge. The plan of the school is articulated by a cluster of domed volumes, connected by an organic layering of Catalan vaults that follow a winding path. There are at least five ways to enter the complex. The most dramatic entrance starts at the top of the ravine with a simple path bisected by a notch to carry rainwater. As one proceeds, the terra cotta cupolas, articulating the major programmatic spaces, emerge floating over lush growth. The path then descends down into the winding subterranean passage that links the classrooms and showers, three dance pavilions, administration pavilions, library and the Pantheon-like space of the performance theater. The path also leads up onto its roofs which are an integral part of Garatti's paseo arquitectonico. The essence of the design is not found in the plan but in the spatial experience of the school's choreographed volumes that move with the descending ravine.[14]

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Boston 'Bike Czar' Nicole Freedman Talks Bike-Share and Urban Cycling

Article published by Inhabitat

Boston 'Bike Czar' Nicole Freedman Talks Bike-Share and Urban Cycling
by Jill Fehrenbacher, 03/01/13

For years, the city of Boston has been considered one of the WORST cities in the world for biking – with no bike lanes to speak of and crazy drivers. Nicole Freedman, Boston’s new ‘Bike Czar’ is hoping to change this with an ambitious program to overhaul Boston’s streets and make them safe and conducive for biking – even bringing the U.S.’s first urban bike share program to Boston! If you are a regular Inhabitat reader, you may remember that we hosted a live webinar discussion with Nicole on Inhabitat this fall, as part of our Green Talks series of video interviews. Our fascinating discussion with Freedman shed light on how urban bike share programs work, and how one goes about trying to turn the worst biking city in the world to one of the best.
Watch our full videos of the talk below to find out more about Nicole’s achievements making Boston a better place to bike, and her grand plan to try to make commuter cycling safer and more practical for more Americans.

Boston’s ‘Bike Czar’ Returns to City to Help Ramp Up Safety Efforts, Improve Roads for Riders

January 4th, 2013 by Steve Annear Posted in Bikes, Cyclists, Hubway, Nicole Freedman
It was a difficult time to be a cyclist in the city and feel safe while on the road everyday in 2012.
By December, Boston had mourned five people killed in bike-related accidents that involved cars and other vehicles.
The fatal crashes were enough to get officials from departments and organizations all over Boston to come together and discuss ways to ensure rider safety for those traveling on two wheels.
In 2013, leaders have promised to continue to ramp up safety efforts to improve city streets and make Boston a top city for cyclists. For starters, they have brought back famed “Bike Czar” Nicole Freedman, who officials say was partly responsible for transforming the Hub from one of the worst cycling cities in the country to a nationally-recognized biking location.
“In 2007, we set out to make Boston a world-class bicycling city, and Nicole was the clear choice for a leader who both shared that vision and had the passion to make it a reality,” Mayor Tom Menino said. “Since her departure, Boston Bikes has continued to thrive and improve access for all cyclists, and we’re thrilled Nicole has joined us again to keep that momentum going.”
Freedman, a former Olympic cyclist, held the title as director of the Boston Bike program from 2007, until she left in April 2012. Now, upon her return, she will resume that roll.
“I’m so excited to be back in Boston, and grateful for the vision of the Mayor, and the work of Kris Carter and the team of people who have continued to lead Boston Bikes on a successful path,” said Freedman.
During her previous tenure, Freedman oversaw the launch of the New Balance Hubway bike share system, worked to install 50 miles of new bike lane and 850 new bicycle racks, and helped bring the first professional bicycle race to Boston in nearly 20 years.
“Over the past five years, the program has made tremendous strides, but there’s always more work to do. We’re looking forward to another successful year of cycling in Boston,” she said.
With Freedman back, hopefully she will team up with the residents in and around Boston that have been championing bike safety efforts by building better two-wheeled modes of transportation.

 Source: cityofboston.gov
 Nicole Freedman Returns as Director of Boston Bike
For Immediate Release
January 03, 2013
Released By:
Mayor's Office
For More Information Contact:
Mayor's Press Office

Mayor Thomas M. Menino today announced Nicole Freedman is returning to the position of director of the Boston Bikes program. A former Olympic cyclist, Freedman previously held the same title from the launch of the program in 2007, through April 2012. Key priorities for Freedman will include bicycle safety and accident reduction, infrastructure improvements – including cycletracks, and expansion of the Hubway program. Freedman’s first day back at City Hall was Wednesday, January 2.
“In 2007, we set out to make Boston a world-class bicycling city, and Nicole was the clear choice for a leader who both shared that vision and had the passion to make it a reality,” Mayor Menino said. “Since her departure, Boston Bikes has continued to thrive and improve access for all cyclists, and we’re thrilled Nicole has joined us again to keep that momentum going.”
When Freedman started in 2007, Boston was perennially ranked one of the worst cycling cities in the country. Under her leadership, the City became a nationally-recognized biking city, receiving a Silver level award from the League of American Bicyclists. Freedman oversaw the launch of the New Balance Hubway bike share system, making Boston one of only a handful of cities in the United States with full-size bike share systems. She also worked to install 50 miles of new bike lane and 850 new bicycle racks, and helped bring the first professional bicycle race to Boston in nearly 20 years. Boston’s Community Bike Programs also continued to serve as a model for biking equity, resulting in more than 1,000 bikes donated to low-income residents and providing on-the-bike training to nearly 8,000 youth. The program received multiple awards and was featured in Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” newsletter as a best practice.
After completing much of Phase I of the Boston Bikes program, Freedman departed the City for a short time in April 2012 to explore a new opportunity as Executive Director of Maine Huts and Trails in Kingfield, Maine. Kris Carter served as interim director during Freedman’s hiatus, and will now resume his role as Advisor to the Mayor.
“I’m so excited to be back in Boston, and grateful for the vision of the Mayor, and the work of Kris Carter and the team of people who have continued to lead Boston Bikes on a successful path,” Freedman said. “Over the past five years, the program has made tremendous strides, but there’s always more work to do. We’re looking forward to another successful year of cycling in Boston.”

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Article published by BBC.
Neurohacks | 12 February 2013
The psychology of why cyclists enrage car drivers 
by Tom Stafford
It’s not simply because they are annoying, argues Tom Stafford, it’s because they trigger a deep-seated rage within us by breaking the moral order of the road.
Something about cyclists seems to provoke fury in other road users. If you doubt this, try a search for the word "cyclist" on Twitter. As I write this one of the latest tweets is this: "Had enough of cyclists today! Just wanna ram them with my car." This kind of sentiment would get people locked up if directed against an ethic minority or religion, but it seems to be fair game, in many people's minds, when directed against cyclists. Why all the rage?
I've got a theory, of course. It's not because cyclists are annoying. It isn't even because we have a selective memory for that one stand-out annoying cyclist over the hundreds of boring, non-annoying ones (although that probably is a factor). No, my theory is that motorists hate cyclists because they think they offend the moral order.
Driving is a very moral activity – there are rules of the road, both legal and informal, and there are good and bad drivers. The whole intricate dance of the rush-hour junction only works because everybody knows the rules and follows them: keeping in lane; indicating properly; first her turn, now mine, now yours. Then along come cyclists, innocently following what they see are the rules of the road, but doing things that drivers aren't allowed to: overtaking queues of cars, moving at well below the speed limit or undertaking on the inside.
You could argue that driving is like so much of social life, it’s a game of coordination where we have to rely on each other to do the right thing. And like all games, there's an incentive to cheat. If everyone else is taking their turn, you can jump the queue. If everyone else is paying their taxes you can dodge them, and you'll still get all the benefits of roads and police.
In economics and evolution this is known as the "free rider problem"; if you create a common benefit  – like taxes or orderly roads – what's to stop some people reaping the benefit without paying their dues? The free rider problem creates a paradox for those who study evolution, because in a world of selfish genes it appears to make cooperation unlikely. Even if a bunch of selfish individuals (or genes) recognise the benefit of coming together to co-operate with each other, once the collective good has been created it is rational, in a sense, for everyone to start trying to freeload off the collective. This makes any cooperation prone to collapse. In small societies you can rely on cooperating with your friends, or kin, but as a society grows the problem of free-riding looms larger and larger.
Social collapse
Humans seem to have evolved one way of enforcing order onto potentially chaotic social arrangements. This is known as "altruistic punishment", a term used by Ernst Fehr and Simon Gachter in a landmark paper published in 2002. An altruistic punishment is a punishment that costs you as an individual, but doesn't bring any direct benefit. As an example, imagine I'm at a football match and I see someone climb in without buying a ticket. I could sit and enjoy the game (at no cost to myself), or I could try to find security to have the guy thrown out (at the cost of missing some of the game). That would be altruistic punishment.
Altruistic punishment, Fehr and Gachter reasoned, might just be the spark that makes groups of unrelated strangers co-operate. To test this they created a co-operation game played by constantly shifting groups of volunteers, who never meet – they played the game from a computer in a private booth. The volunteers played for real money, which they knew they would take away at the end of the experiment. On each round of the game each player received 20 credits, and could choose to contribute up to this amount to a group project. After everyone had chipped in (or not), everybody (regardless of investment) got 40% of the collective pot.
Under the rules of the game, the best collective outcome would be if everyone put in all their credits, and then each player would get back more than they put in. But the best outcome for each individual was to free ride – to keep their original 20 credits, and also get the 40% of what everybody else put in. Of course, if everybody did this then that would be 40% of nothing.
In this scenario what happened looked like a textbook case of the kind of social collapse the free rider problem warns of. On each successive turn of the game, the average amount contributed by players went down and down. Everybody realised that they could get the benefit of the collective pot without the cost of contributing. Even those who started out contributing a large proportion of their credits soon found out that not everybody else was doing the same. And once you see this it's easy to stop chipping in yourself – nobody wants to be the sucker.
Rage against the machine
A simple addition to the rules reversed this collapse of co-operation, and that was the introduction of altruistic punishment. Fehr and Gachter allowed players to fine other players credits, at a cost to themselves. This is true altruistic punishment because the groups change after each round, and the players are anonymous. There may have been no direct benefit to fining other players, but players fined often and they fined hard – and, as you'd expect, they chose to fine other players who hadn't chipped in on that round. The effect on cooperation was electric. With altruistic punishment, the average amount each player contributed rose and rose, instead of declining. The fine system allowed cooperation between groups of strangers who wouldn't meet again, overcoming the challenge of the free rider problem.
How does this relate to why motorists hate cyclists? The key is in a detail from that classic 2002 paper. Did the players in this game sit there calmly calculating the odds, running game theory scenarios in their heads and reasoning about cost/benefit ratios? No, that wasn't the immediate reason people fined players. They dished out fines because they were mad as hell. Fehr and Gachter, like the good behavioural experimenters they are, made sure to measure exactly how mad that was, by asking players to rate their anger on a scale of one to seven in reaction to various scenarios. When players were confronted with a free-rider, almost everyone put themselves at the upper end of the anger scale. Fehr and Gachter describe these emotions as a “proximate mechanism”. This means that evolution has built into the human mind a hatred of free-riders and cheaters, which activates anger when we confront people acting like this – and it is this anger which prompts altruistic punishment. In this way, the emotion is evolution's way of getting us to overcome our short-term self-interest and encourage collective social life.
So now we can see why there is an evolutionary pressure pushing motorists towards hatred of cyclists. Deep within the human psyche, fostered there because it helps us co-ordinate with strangers and so build the global society that is a hallmark of our species, is an anger at people who break the rules, who take the benefits without contributing to the cost. And cyclists trigger this anger when they use the roads but don't follow the same rules as cars.
Now, cyclists reading this might think "but the rules aren't made for us – we're more vulnerable, discriminated against, we shouldn't have to follow the rules." Perhaps true, but irrelevant when other road-users perceive you as breaking rules they have to keep. Maybe the solution is to educate drivers that cyclists are playing an important role in a wider game of reducing traffic and pollution. Or maybe we should just all take it out on a more important class of free-riders, the tax-dodgers.
13/02 UPDATE: We've changed a sentence in the third paragraph that readers said implied all cyclists break rules. This was not the intended implication of the original line, and we thank the readers who pointed this out.
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Monday, February 11, 2013

Article published by techcrunch.

Online Education Is Replacing Physical Colleges At A Crazy Fast Pace
Gregory Ferenstein
Educators knew the online revolution would eventually envelop the physical classroom, but a torrent of near-revolutionary developments in the past month are proving that change is coming quicker than anyone imagined. In just 30 days, the largest school system in the U.S. began offering credit for online courses, a major university began awarding degrees without any class time required, and scores of public universities are moving their courses online. The point at which online higher education becomes mainstream is no longer in some fuzzy hypothetical future; the next president’s Secretary of Education will need an entire department dedicated to the massive transition.
For over a decade, admissions-selective universities (e.g. not the University of Phoenix) resisted giving credit for their overwhelmingly popular online courses. Established with just 50 free online courses as a proof-of-concept, MIT’s groundbreaking Open CourseWare project quickly expanded to 1,700 courses through a worldwide consortium of universities in just three years [PDF]. To date, MIT’s Open Courseware has a staggering 125 million lifetime visitors. Online education startup Coursera, which added interactive video, homework, and peer learning communities to courses from top-tier universities, has amassed more than 2.5 million users in only nine months since its debut in April 2012.
Then, last month, the California State University System, the financially broken/largest education system in world, swung open the gates, piloting a few online courses for credit, at the super-low cost of $150 per course. Earlier this year, I attempted to predict how California’s partnership with online course provider ,Udacity, would succeed and cascade into a movement that would radically replace most of the physical college experience.
I was wrong about one thing: the otherwise scientifically prudent community of higher education didn’t wait to see if the pilot was successful. Just three weeks after California’s announcement, The American Council on Education, a consortium of roughly 1,800 accredited universities, announced it was also piloting cheap online science courses at three more universities, including Duke and the University of Pennsylvania.
Perhaps most disruptive of all, the University of Wisconsin is offering a fully legitimate college degree without any class time required. So long as students can pass some tests (and pay the associated costs), they can learn from anywhere in the world.
To give readers a sense of how abrupt this change is, online education pioneer and founder of the YouTube-based learning website Khan Academy, Sal Khan, opined about a test-based college degree at Aspen Institute’s big-think Ideas Festival two years ago. No one, even those on the cutting edge of digital education, considered that they were talking about the very near future.
The semi-sad impact is that we’re acting quicker than we’re thinking. It can take years to assess a single course, let alone an entire restructuring of the education system. A review of research by the Department of Education shows pretty definitively that “students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.”
More relevant to the Massively Open Online Community courses (MOOCs) being piloted in higher education, a team of researchers from that replacing a physics teacher with lectures from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist nearly doubled test scores [PDF].
Still, in education it’s well-known that successful pilots tend to fall apart upon scaling. Educational experiments work great with the best teachers and students, but they struggle when pilots move beyond the highly dedicated walls of an experiment. In short, we have almost no idea how this will affect our educational system. What we do know is that the unknown is coming — very, very quickly.