Cutting off the end of the ham

Reading about the feud (described in this opinion piece by a former GM exec) between Elon Musk of Tesla Motors and traditional car dealers reminds me of the old story about cooking a ham.

As three generations of women gathered in the kitchen to make the holiday ham and other traditional favorites, the mother told her teenaged daughter to make sure she cut the end off the ham before putting it in the roasting pan. cartoon picture of ham

“Why do I need to do that?” asked the daughter.

“I don’t know.  That’s how I was taught.”  replied the mom.

“But why?” insisted the daughter.

“Ask your grandmother.  She’s the one who taught me.”

“Grandma, why do I need to cut the end off the ham?”

“Well,” explained the matriarch, “when I was first married, our roasting pan was too small to hold a full-sized ham, so I had to cut the end off to make it fit.  It never occurred to me to ask your mother why she still does it.”

Just because it has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean you shouldn’t examine the reasons for it now and then.  Some of our most successful innovations are based on questioning assumptions.

We can choose a different future

If you saw my last post, Did WALL-E have it right?, then you might think that the following supports the idea that we are headed in that direction:

Rattling off several morose U.S. statistics—like the doubled rate of diabetes in the last 15 years—Jackson describes a “profound decline in the fitness of Americans,” and blames, in large part, the environments we’ve created. “In many ways, it’s because we’ve taken people’s legs away from them,” he says. “Most people can’t buy a carton of milk without getting in the car.”

Well, don’t lose hope. The article, Can ‘New Urbanism’ Bring Health to Your Neighborhood? , continues on a more positive note:

Of course, walkability is just one part of the recipe for a healthy community—which requires green space, safe streets and buildings, and access to fresh food and public transportation.

The good news: These places are coming. The last 30 years have seen walkable urban neighborhoods go from some of the least-valued real estate in America to among the nation’s most desirable places to live, says Christopher Leinberger, visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, where he recently coauthored a study showing a direct relationship between a neighborhood’s walkability and the value of its commercial and residential properties.

The article goes on to provide five tips for enhancing your own community and making it a more desirable place to live.

Conflicting Values

Children are encouraged to walk to school, to give them an opportunity for more exercise and to create less congestion and pollution around schools, but there are barriers to overcome, as outlined in this Slate article:

In South Jordan, Utah, a woman was cited with child neglect for allowing her son to walk to school. Why was he walking? Because the school had eliminated its “hazardous bus routes.” What’s a hazardous bus route? A bus route meant to pick up kids who live in areas without sidewalks. There is child neglect going on here, for sure, but it’s the neglect of a system in which children within walking distance of school cannot actually do so.

It is easy to hold conflicting values without realizing it.  Of course we want parents to look after the welfare of their children, but what does that mean in practice?  Is there a way to look after both their safety and their health?  What about a walking school bus?

Dangerous by Design

Are you, like me, hesitant to walk or bike along the edges of our roadways?  Turns out we’re not alone.  Transportation for America has issued a report called Dangerous by Design.

Public health officials encourage Americans of all ages to walk and bike more to stem the costly and deadly obesity epidemic – yet many of our streets are simply not safe. Americans get to pick their poison: less exercise and poor health, or walking on roads where more than 47,000 people have died in the last ten years.

It turns out that pedestrian deaths have increased in 15 metropolitan areas even as overall traffic deaths have fallen.  The probability of a collision between a vehicle and a pedestrian resulting in the death of the pedestrian has increased by more than one-third in just ten years.

How serious are we about addressing the obesity epidemic?  This report says it will bankrupt the nation if left unchecked.

The report’s goal is to draw attention to the role obesity plays in the nation’s mounting healthcare spending, which is expected to reach $4.6 trillion dollars annually and consume 19.8 percent of the GDP by 2020, said Glickman.

Here in New Hampshire, the 2006 estimated cost of diabetes was $635,700,000, according to The American Diabetes Association.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, the current diabetes rate of 1 in 10 Americans is set to double or triple by 2050, with as many as 1 in 3 having the disease.  At this rate, one or more members of your immediate family are likely to have diabetes by 2050.  Imagine how that will affect their physical and financial welfare.  That puts a whole new level of meaning on Dangerous by Design.

What does it cost to sit in traffic?

As a fellow math geek and spreadsheet worshipper, I can relate to the hero of this article in Wired Magazine entitled The Man Who Could Unsnarl Manhattan Traffic:

When he finally gets back to his office, Komanoff will use this interview to inform his magnum opus, the Balanced Transportation Analyzer, an enormous Excel spreadsheet that he’s been building for the past three years. Over the course of about 50 worksheets, the BTA breaks down every aspect of New York City transportation—subway revenues, traffic jams, noise pollution—in an attempt to discover which mix of tolls and surcharges would create the greatest benefit for the largest number of people.

. . .

Komanoff’s masterpiece has impressed municipal traffic planners from New York to Paris to Guangzhou, China. “Charlie has created the first believable model of the impact of pricing on transportation choices,” says Sam Schwartz, a former New York City traffic commissioner who actually coined the word gridlock.

It’s also the most ambitious effort yet to impose mathematical rigor and predictability on an inherently chaotic phenomenon. Despite decades of attempts to curb delays—adding lanes to highways, synchronizing traffic lights—planners haven’t had much success at unsnarling gridlock. A study by the Texas Transportation Institute found that in 2007, metropolitan-area drivers in the US spent an average of 36 hours stuck in traffic—up from 14 hours in 1982.

. . .

But Komanoff’s followers can’t help but root for him. “This really could happen,” insists conservative analyst Reihan Salam, a longtime advocate of congestion pricing. Salam points out that Bloomberg’s plan was seen as pure punishment. Komanoff’s proposal would balance the fees with real benefits for New York’s subway and bus riders. “This makes New York more livable,” Salam says.

Public Transportation Increases Real Estate Values and Development

I recently came across a brochure from the American Public Transportation Association and was fascinated to read the following:

Residents and community leaders across the nation are recognizing that high-capacity, regional public transportation services are essential to grow America’s communities in a way that enhances and promotes real estate development. In addition, communities that invest in public transportation attract more visitors and shoppers, public events, commercial businesses, and employers, realizing enhanced development and high economic returns. Continue reading