Overblown vehicle projections, the Richard Sherman debate, and the caves of Lake Superior (5×8 – 1/22/14)

1) WHAT WE DON’T KNOW ABOUT CARS
This morning we’ll find out when the Central Corridor light-rail line from St. Paul to Minneapolis will start running, setting off another round of debate over whether public transit is much of an investment. It is. Cars will not be going out of style, but we’re being fed wrong information on its importance in the future. “The nation’s entire transportation forecast system is broken, Clark Williams-Derry at Sightline Daily writes today.

Consider this chart:

Transportation planners have been making the same forecast for vehicle volume for years, Williams-Derry says. One problem: It’s wrong.

In the aggregate, all of those hard working forecasters in all of those state transportation departments are just making up numbers. Worse, it appears that these traffic forecasters have had no incentive to correct their work, incorporate new information, or even ensure that their forecasts pass the laugh test.

It’d be humorous, if the fiscal consequences weren’t so dire. Washington’s transportation debate is a case in point: existing roads are in desperate need of maintenance and transit is hurting for money, but state legislators felt that they needed a transportation package full of highway megaprojects, financed through regressive taxes, to deal with all the “new” traffic we haven’t been getting for about a decade.

So here’s hoping that the the U.S. Department of Transportation — and traffic forecasters nationwide — start producing forecasts that reflect the reality of traffic trends over the past decade. It’s high time that they stop living in the early 1990s, and start getting serious about making realistic traffic forecasts.

Related: Subcompact Cars Fare Poorly in New Crash Tests (ABC News).

Using snow to design safer streets (BBC).

2) RICHARD SHERMAN REDUX
It’s a long way to the Super Bowl, so the Richard Sherman story remains alive for another day. Sherman, the defensive corner for the Seattle Seahawks, exploded in a postgame interview that’s dominated world news — OK, just US news — for a couple of days now.

Seth Stevenson at Slate has noted the social-media-fueled trends of the story, which started with abject horror, shifted with proof of Sherman’s academic achievements at Stanford — the school that’s never turned out a jerk (cough: Tiger Woods) — then shifted again to a discussion about race in America. Stevenson’s conclusion:

I will gladly allow that the sight of middle-aged, white sportswriters evincing disgust at the brash behavior of a young, black athlete is depressingly familiar. I also shudder to align myself with the smarmy snobs who use a loaded term like “classless” in talking about a guy who grew up the son of a garbage man in Compton, Calif. But can I draw a line here?

Since we’ll be dealing with this for the next two weeks, as sports media fills up space during the wait for Sherman’s Seahawks to square off against the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, I’d like to request that we stipulate a few basic notions.

When, after winning the game, Sherman made the choke sign in his losing opponent’s face, then called another losing opponent “sorry” and “mediocre,” he was being a d***.

Even though Sherman grew up underprivileged and beat the odds and now gives back with worthy charitable endeavors, he was still being a d***.

The fact that Sherman is very smart and attended Stanford and approaches his job in a scholarly manner doesn’t mean he wasn’t being a d***.

Whether or not Sherman’s behavior was calculated and self-aware and media-savvy and akin to the monologue of a pro wrestling heel, it was still d***ish.

Many athletes play violent, hard-fought, emotional games and still manage to refrain from taunting their vanquished foes and giving d***ish interviews.

It is possible to be an entertaining, eccentric, and even boastful interviewee without being a d***.

It turns out that Sherman and Crabtree have history — Sherman’s brother alleges that Crabtree tried to fight the Seahawks player at a charity event. Most of Sherman’s defenders haven’t bothered to mention the existing personal feud. But to be clear: While the prior beef adds some context, those two wrongs don’t make what Sherman did right — or, more precisely, not d***ish.

Talking smack in the lead-up to a contest, or in the middle of it, is permissible. It falls into the hallowed tradition of gamesmanship. Dancing on graves after the battle has been won is d***ish.

And this is the most delicate of these notions but needs to be addressed: Whatever archetypes may be conjured by the specter of white people tsk-tsking a black man who loudly brags alongside a blond woman, those uncomfortable overtones don’t change the fact that, in this case, in that moment, the man was being a d***.

3) THE CAVES OF LAKE SUPERIOR
“For the first time since 2009, the coastline of Lake Superior has frozen hard enough that people can venture out onto the ice and into the sea caves that line the shore near Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands,” Boing Boing’s Maggie Koerth-Baker writes.

Can your cherished summer do this? I didn’t think so.

In Minnesota, we like to poke fun at the people of Washington who — our mocking usually says — “freak out” when they get a little snow. The pikers. But they do something else we seem to have difficulty with. They have a blast.

Related: Photos: Pioneer Press Treasure Hunt attracts all sizes.

Iditarod pioneer, Minnesota native shares his tale of the trail (Duluth News Tribune).

4) “DUNKIN’ OUR FUTURE”

Dunkin’ Donuts is probably going to find an investor willing to put down the cash for the stores the iconic chain wants to place in the Twin Cities, filling the dream of fans of its working-class coffee.

But Dunkin’ isn’t looking for entrepreneurs to build a business here. They’re looking for investors, Charles Marohn at the Strong Towns blog, writes.  “That’s a very different person, and a very different impact on the city, than the doughnut shop started by your local go-getter with vision and a dream,” he says.

This brings me to the second point: the entrepreneur. I want to remind you who this person is because we almost all know them. They are the hard-working, honest person who wasn’t cut out for college. Maybe they had a kid too young and actually took responsibility for that. Maybe they went astray before they straightened their life out. Maybe they are just a good, decent person but not one who is going to excel at reading or mathematics.

In the localized version of capitalism, this person starts the doughnut shop. Over decades they slowly and incrementally build their business, creating a modest amount of wealth for themselves and their family in the process. In the national corporate franchise version of capitalism, this person becomes the night manager. They work for someone else. They may have some corporate profit sharing, but it is disconnected from their day-to-day work. They may have a 401(k) plan, but they’re not going to get wealthy from it.

Here’s what breaks my heart: I’ve seen that night manager. I’ve seen the look in their eyes. And I’ve seen that entrepreneur, felt the look in their eyes. One is borderline resignation, an acceptance of fate. The other contains endless optimism. I want an America full of endless optimists.

The comments to the essay are proof — again — that the Internet can be a valuable place to exchange intelligent ideas. Don’t tell the football people.

5) A BROADCASTING BIRTHDAY
On this date in 1967, KSJR in Collegeville went on the air. It signaled the start of Minnesota Public Radio.

Some years later — 2004 — The Current went on the air and has “become the model for cutting-edge radio throughout the country. Not bad for a station built from the ground up in six weeks,” City Pages says in its oral history.

Bonus I: Ricky Rubio is still adorable.

Bonus II: The health hazards of sitting (Washington Post).

Bonus III: Pawlenty says Republicans must broaden party’s appeal (St. Cloud Times).

TODAY’S QUESTION
Do you think childless couples are happier?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Closing the achievement gap.

Second hour: Starting today, National Public Radio is shining a spotlight on “Oil fields in the Great Plains.” The Bakken Oil Patch has brought tremendous prosperity to North Dakota and propelled America to energy independence. But concerns about the environmental effects of extracting the crude and the safety of transporting it has prompted some observers to call for a slowdown to development.

Third hour: Atlantic Editor Scott Stossel is out with a new book – a personal account of the challenges of managing his own almost debilitating anxiety. His sister, Safe Stossel, has also just released a new book. It’s fiction, but the main character in the story shares Stossel’s own anxious behavior. These siblings talk with us about the origins of their anxiety and the ways they manage to lead vibrant creative lives.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm) – A new debate from the Intelligence Squared series: “Is the Affordable Care Act beyond rescue?”

The Takeaway (1-2 p.m.) – TBA

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – More than 40 years after it was hailed as a radical innovation in higher education, Metropolitan State University is at a turning point. State college and university leaders say the nontraditional school isn’t big enough to fill the growing hunger for bachelor’s degrees in the Twin Cities metro area. They’re discussing how to expand it, and how it may need to change to meet the new demands it’s facing. MPR’s Alex Friedrich will have the story.

The Affordable Care Act was supposed to help people afford health care. But in states that are not expanding Medicaid, navigators are finding a paradox. Some working poor don’t make enough money to qualify for assistance. NPR will report on those too poor for health care subsidies.

  • John O.

    Bonus III – Mr. Pawlenty Goes to Washington: If any change is going to occur within the Republican party, it will have to be done with the blessing of the Koch brothers. Good luck with that.

    • jaime

      I find it interesting that the sentiment of (paraphrasing) ‘I knew there was dysfunction, but didn’t realize how much’ is echoed on both sides of the aisle!

  • jaime

    #2: Sherman was just being a d***. As are many of the other players in the league. I’m not sure why anyone who has ever watched a football game is surprised by this.

    #5: I totally drank the Kool-Aid back in ’04 – LOVE LOVE the Current. Glad to see they continue to be successful. Although I do have some hipster friends who would rather tune in to the college radio stations as they feel they are more authentic (whatever that means…)

    Bonus I: A very kind gesture toward that adorable little girl. Maybe he will consider that moment really “fun” and stay with the team…

    • #5 – I enjoy The Current as well (Founding and sustaining member) and am VERY glad they continue to do very well.

      So far as “hipster friends” listening to college stations goes, I listen to RadioK a lot (and have since they came on air – Buy a Watt!) but don’t really consider myself a “hipster” (I’m 50 years old). I’m thinking your “hipster friends” are just trying to impress with “trying” being the operative word..

      “More authentic” – That must mean they like hearing the student DJs stammering and rambling on about things they don’t really know anything about.

      Damn kids, stay off my lawn!

  • jon

    @#1 Charts with out labels on the axises drive me crazy.

    @#2 Good God… Who cares? For some fun google “every sports interview ever”

    @#3 That’s cool! Though you could always do it in a kayak in the summer time (fall if you want the water to be “warm”)

    • jaime

      I have the “every sports interview ever” printed out and hanging on my bulletin board because it’s SO TRUE. 🙂

  • Dave

    I clicked on the link and still have no idea what the y-axis is representing. Point taken though. Vehicle miles traveled is falling. Need to control for lousy economy though.

    Sports interviews…you know, lost in all the hype of Richard Sherman’s purportedly poor behaviour is the fact that sideline reports are the stupidest, most irrelevant part of sports broadcasts.

    “Coach, what’s your strategy for defeating the other team today?”

    “Well, our plan is to score more points.”

    Get rid of sideline reporters.

    • Via the UW link. “Figure 1. U.S. VMT (in trillions) as tracked by FHWA’s Travel Volume
      Trends (“Actual”) and as projected by U.S. DOT’s C&P reports (by
      year reports are dated).”

  • #2 – Sherman’s “rant” and being a “d*ck” –

    My take: I had absolutely NO information on Sherman’s background when I saw his post-game rant and took it at face value – that he was being an egotistical “d*ck”.

    Race, social class, religion, country of origin, or shoe size didn’t even enter my thoughts.

  • MrE85

    TQ: Happier compared to whom?

  • Michael Jordan: Legendary D**k
    Muhammad Ali: King of D**ks
    Yasiel Puig: D**k of the Future
    Kevin Durant: Kevin D**krant
    Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: aka Lew Alcind**k

    This is the classiest comment ever posted to this esteemed blog.

  • andy

    5) The Twin Cities should consider itself very lucky to have The Current. I’ve been in Chicago for nearly 6 years now, and The Current is still my go-to station thanks to online streaming (also the radio stations in Chicago stink). I’m proud to have my name on your Founding Members plaque and I’m also happy to be a sustaining member of MPR. Happy Birthday Current!

    • Coincidentally, my old college radio station in Evanston has the same frequency as The Current. 89.3 WNUR: Chicago’s Sound Experiment!

  • tboom

    #4 Dunkin’ our future.

    I’ve never read any Charles Marohn, but on this point he’s perfectly correct. And it’s not just potential entrepreneurs that suffer its entire communities. Growing up in a medium size town in the 1960’s our civic leaders were business owners, doughnut shop size on up. Owners of bigger business made sure worthwhile civic projects were funded, owners of smaller businesses made sure boards and councils were active and involved. As residents these leaders had a personal interest in the city’s well-being and provided … well, leadership. As big-boxes opened, local leadership and funding began to dry up. Today’s councils and mayors are well meaning, but deriving your income from a single community is a powerful motivator.

    Investors don’t provide local leadership, they provide an investment and take a stream of revenue in return, nothing more. (And often the community is required to participate in the investment).

    Btw imho, Dunkin’ coffee is beyond overrated it’s awful.

    • heathen!

      • tboom

        Hmm, “coffee heathen”, I like that better. Mrs. tboom occasionally uses the phrase “coffee snob”.

      • bri-bri

        At least he’s not praising Tim Horton’s coffee.