Cell phone ban* has huge loophole

As if its outrageous property values aren’t already tax-tastic enough, Highland Park may soon enhance its traffic ticket profits by giving its cops another reason to hassle motorists: a proposed ordinance will ban cell phone use* within active school zones.

Why the asterisk? *Not applicable when hands-free mode used.

It’s a two-faced ordinance: you can’t talk on a cell phone but you can talk on a cell phone if you use your hands free unit.

But wait, you say, isn’t this about safety? Don’t you need your hands on the wheel?

The “inattention blindness” is equivalent for any cell phone user, so hand placement has minimal bearing on cell phone-related motorist safety. Several studies affirm this equal risk:

  • “Driving impairment was just as bad regardless of whether participants used hands-free or hand-held cell phones.” (source)
  • “…using a cell phone while driving is a major cause of traffic accidents, and that hands-free devices have little safety benefit.” (source)
  • “…banning hand-held phone use won’t necessarily enhance safety if drivers simply switch to hands-free phones. Injury crash risk didn’t differ from one type of reported phone use to the other.” (source)
  • “…motorists who talk on both handheld and hands-free cell phones are as impaired as drunken drivers.” (source)
  • “…headsets and other hands-free devices are just as unsafe as any other type of cell phone.” (source)
  • Etc.

By only banning “handed” cell phone use, Highland Park would tacitly endorse an unsafe activity.

Additionally, the law would concentrate profit enhancement punishment on those too poor or technologically unsophisticated to have hands free units, even though these groups may be equally unsafe as hands-free users.

I’ll close with an analogy: suppose a city has a river with too-low, flood-prone levees on each side. Banning only “handed” cell phone use is like only fortifying one levee. The net effect is minimal because whatever water would have flooded over the fortified levee will instead spill over the other, unfortified levee.

Highland Park should either leave the levees alone or fortify both levees. Only fortifying one levee–banning one unsafe activity while encouraging another unsafe activity–makes no sense, except as an anti-motorist profit ploy.

Google Maps and Far East Dallas Neighborhood Associations

A few weeks ago, I used a spiffy Google feature for the first time: a map you can annotate and share. Click on the picture at right to see an annotated map of east Dallas and all its known neighborhood associations.

Using this feature is simple: go to Google Maps, sign in with your Google account, click on My Maps, and start annotating. The annotation buttons appear near the zoom slider. Be sure to save it!

I created this map to help me understand what areas of far east Dallas are represented by neighborhood associations.

I had an ulterior motive. The area just north of mine, called Lake Highlands (not to be confused with the Old Lake Highlands neighborhood, which is also north of me but not part of Lake Highlands), has an organization called Lake Highlands Area Improvement Association. This association supplements homeowners’ and neighborhood associations by coordinating communications and actions on issues that broadly affect the area. This association has reasonable success getting its message out to the public and government per Dallas Morning News’s search feature.

I envision a similar organization for far east Dallas, possibly called the Garden and Lakes District Council of Neighborhoods. This association would serve the area by providing the same badly-needed coordination of action and communications. I also envision it helping start up and sustain neighborhood associations in areas currently lacking one. An active neighborhood association can make a long-term difference in a neighborhood’s vitality.

Lake Highlands has pockets of dilapidated housing interspersed through its area, but its single family detached neighborhoods are pretty stable. Far east Dallas is different: several neighborhoods are turning into rental communities or ultra-cheap housing. Some of them are fighting this, and doing a good job at it, but it’s tough. Several neighborhoods have no active neighborhood associations, nobody to fight against creeping decline.

I want to change that.

I have emailed this idea to all area neighborhood association presidents, and the response was very positive. The next step is come up with a coherent plan and have a working meeting to put the plan into action. Today I met with a fellow neighborhood association president and an area business owner to discuss ideas on putting a plan into action.

It will be interesting to see how this works out. Sometimes I fear I’m getting in a little over my head, but at the same time, if you never challenge yourself, you’ll never learn new things.

The Trinity Toll Road won’t flood

Today I saw a Trinity Vote (the “yes” crowd) brochure featuring a flooded Trinity River from 2007. Clearly they haven’t backed off the spirit of ignorant predictions of flooded roadways by former councilmen John Loza and Sandy Greyson.

Here’s the truth.

To inundate the toll road, a flood would have to crest at least 415.64 feet above sea level, and probably a few feet more due to a mini-levee on the toll road’s river side. That is at least per the designs. Click on the picture at right to see a higher resolution version.

The USGS’s Trinity Gage 08057000, (yes, it’s spelled “gage“) located near the Commerce St. bridge, has the river’s bottom at 368.02 feet above sea level. Simple mathematics says the river has to be at least 47.62 high, a whopping 17.62 feet above flood stage, to get on the toll road.

This gage has taken daily readings since 1987. I put the readings in a spreadsheet, ordered them by height, and found that the highest reading in these 20 years was 45.77 feet from May 3, 1990. This even includes readings not formally approved for publishing. Only 15 readings out of 11,814 (some days have more than one reading), or 0.1%, are even above 40 feet.

What does this mean? In the prior 20 years, the river never rose high enough to flood the road.

What’s clear is that if this road even floods, it’s going to be incredibly rare, possibly counted on one hand during a person’s lifetime.

Pants size

Between high school and Thanksgiving 2006, I wore the same jeans size.

At that Thanksgiving, I realized those jeans literally fell off me without a belt. I quickly switched to jeans with two inch smaller waist, and they fit well.

Today, I tried on jeans that were an additional inch smaller, and they fit great!

What’s my secret? I’m doing better avoiding junk foods (stuff made with white flour, stuff with partially hydrogenated oils, fruit juices, etc.), I’m further reducing eating when not hungry (you wouldn’t believe how much eating is done not out of hunger), and I exercise 3-5 times a week. That’s really it.

Vote NO on proposition 1

On November 6, Dallas voters will decide proposition 1, concerning a proposed toll road:

…to prohibit the construction, maintenance, or improvement of, or the expenditure of funds or, any roadways within the Trinity River levees unless certain restrictions relating to use, location, number of travel lanes, and speed limits are met…

A yes vote cancels the toll road, requiring a low capacity road instead.

A NO vote allows the massive Trinity River Corridor Project to proceed, with the toll road being built.

To be clear, I am uncomfortable with much of the Corridor Project. The new park being built by downtown is a joke.

However, the toll road opposition (the “vote yes crowd”) are advocating a huge blunder using arguments that range between flaky and crazy:

  • Exaggerate the park’s value. The park section that shares space with the toll road should be called Drainage Ditch Park. It’s currently a long, barren plain between 30 foot levees. Sure, the redeveloped land will be better than it was, but it will never be a White Rock Lake Park or a San Antonio River Walk. You can’t even see Drainage Ditch Park unless you’re in a tall building or on a bridge (or on the toll road), very few people will ever live within walking distance, and the levees and flood risk prevent significant structures or trees from being anywhere near the park. This artificial lake will almost certainly have no services–or it will at least have nothing we don’t mind being ruined in the next flood. The above photo shows how far away amenities will probably be, and this 1908 Trinity River photo shows why the park cannot have any services:
    1908 Trinity River flood
    Even if a toll road was to seriously disrupt this park, it would have a minimal impact on Drainage Ditch Park.
  • Petty selfishness. Some allege the road only benefits suburbanites. It’s false (see next), but even if true, so what? Is Dallas now like selfish Highland Park, which is intentionally reducing capacity of a grossly congested arterial road?
  • Misconstrue the traffic benefit. Opponents say the road only benefits people who want to bypass downtown. In fact, by relieving traffic on the notoriously congested I-35E, the toll road eases downtown access.
  • Misconstrue the traffic benefit II. Some opponents allege that more roads will increase congestion by making transportation easier. Heaven forbid we make it easier for people to transport themselves! We don’t know if we can built our way out of congestion because we haven’t even tried!
  • Authoritarianism. The prior three points show how the opponents endorse European-style, interventionist government, where government exists to tell you what to do, not to serve you.
  • Anti-motorist. Scuttling the toll road will make Dallas look awfully close to Portland, OR, where transportation funds are intentionally diverted to expensive public transportation projects mainly to defund road projects.
  • Mischaracterize the value. Some opponents say that Dallas has very little on the line, under $100 million bond dollars that can be returned. In fact, this toll road’s net value may well exceed a billion dollars, the vast majority of which will be paid for by other agencies and jurisdictions. If Dallas scuttles the toll road, we lose its entire direct value plus value adds like reduced congestion, reduced pollution, and easier access to downtown.
  • Mischaracterize the cost of alternatives. The only realistic alternative to building the toll road in Drainage Ditch Park appears to be a route up Industrial Blvd. In addition to disrupting a vibrant commercial area and a chunk of Dallas’s property tax base, this would require at least $300 million more. (Eminent domain isn’t cheap, and that’s not all.) Furthermore, if no toll road is built inside Drainage Ditch Park, the park’s cost may increase.
  • Mischaracterize the loss. Some opponents allege that funds will still be available for a (more expensive) alternative if we ditch this plan. Actually, history suggests that fierce competition for scarce dollars prohibits this money from magically sticking around for us to use later. Recall DART’s fight with the FTA concerning Love Field rail tunnels, where DART came close to losing $700 million.
  • Bickering over petty issues. Just look at the silly arguments over exit ramps to Drainage Ditch Park. WHO CARES? If you can’t get to Drainage Ditch Park from the toll road, several bridges will take you to the other side.
  • Unreasonable standard of certainty. Uncertainty and flux is a natural part of complex projects, especially ones that aren’t even finalized. Instead of recognizing that this is still a work in progress, the opposition makes hay over minor unresolved details (e.g., can trees be put around the road?), acting as if they represent a gaping hole. If absolute certainty is the only to govern, we can’t have representative democracy!
  • Conspiracy theories. The opposition repeatedly alleges that the public has been duped into voting for a toll road and that the Dallas Morning News is complicit. In fact, a high speed road was clearly mentioned in the 1998 bond program that authorized this public works project, and its opposition even mentioned an “eight-lane tollway” (which in reality will be 4 lanes to begin, later maybe 6 as capacity is needed).
  • High Five intechange constructionFlat out dumb arguments. Some whine that this toll road will take a few years to plan and build. Hello, when was the last time a complicated road project didn’t take a while to build?
  • Armchair quarterbacking. Some of the roll road’s technical issues are Byzantinely complicated. Regardless, many members of the opposition with zero experience appointed themselves hydrologists and traffic engineers and made insanely false pronouncements, like suggesting (incorrectly) that this summer’s rains would have flooded the toll road. In fact, no flood for the past 20 years would have reached the toll road! Some also suggest that additional roadway capacity won’t make a difference. Oh, really? Put Central Expressway back at 2 lanes each direction and let’s see what happens!
  • Cut off your nose to spite your face. Some argue that this whole public works project has gotten out of hand. I agree. I think most of the non-transportation improvements, including designer bridges and Drainage Ditch Park, are at best a questionable use of taxpayer money. However, this anti-toll road crusade is “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” We are “sticking it to the man” by surgically discarding the only economically useful part of the Corridor Project! How much sense does that make?

The NO vote has broad support. Elected politicians of all stripes, business leaders, major community groups, and professional organizations are virtually unanimous: VOTE NO ON PROPOSITION 1!

If you’re not convinced, review the Dallas Morning News’s Trinity toll road articles and Vote No! Save the Trinity.

I’ll be voting NO on November 6. The economic and environmental benefits of a badly needed highway far outweigh a sliver of land from Drainage Ditch Park.