Rinkonomics and Traffic Justice


Fewer injuries occur on the rink than on trampolines, skateboards, or baseball fields, despite the seemingly chaotic atmosphere. I was also shocked to see so many kids wearing helmets despite their proven lack of effectiveness in the most common types of ice skating injuries.

I just listened to a fascinating (as always) Freakonomics podcast about a concept developed by Economics Professor Daniel Klein called Rinkonomics.  On an ice skating rink, a few simple rules (everyone skating in the same general direction, no cell phones allowed, etc.) suffice to keep everyone relatively happy and safe.  Given the lack of central control and direction, someone unfamiliar with a rink might think that collisions would be extremely common.  In fact, as I can attest from recent experience, collisions are very rare and the most common type of injury is self-inflicted and involves only one skater.

Klein goes on to make the case for the rink as an analogy for economic life in general, and against central planning.  However, I was most struck by the following quote explaining why the rink functions as it does:

An important quality of collision is mutuality. If I collide with you, then you collide with me. And if I don’t collide with you, you don’t collide with me. In promoting my interest in avoiding collision with you, I also promote your interest in avoiding collision with me.

Therein lies the key to understanding, and potentially solving, one of the biggest public health crises (and undoubtedly the biggest public health crisis facing children) of our era.

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NYC Traffic Violence, Stop de Kindermoord, and Right of Way

It wasn’t until I started cycling that I got interested in popularizing and expanding cycling infrastructure.  It wasn’t until I started following multiple blogs and news sites devoted to cycling that I started learning about the broader “livable streets” agenda, “new urbanism,” and pedestrian/bike advocacy more generally.  And it wasn’t until I moved to the City that these causes became so deeply meaningful and personal.

Photo courtesy of Right of Way

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Bikes and Transit

Janette Sadik-Khan’s announcement heralding the arrival of Citi Bike labeled it the first new transportation system in New York City since buses.  Bloomberg claimed the bike-share system will be an excellent complement to the city’s extensive system of trains and buses.  I hope they are right.  But if my experience yesterday was any indication, there is plenty of work left to be done. Continue reading

La Marina – A Comment

Today’s New York Times covers some recent complaints regarding a new establishment on NYC park land that I pass every day. La Marina is a restaurant/lounge/nightclub in Inwood, right outside the entrance to Inwood Hill Park, and adjacent to the soon-to-be Dyckman Street ramp to the Hudson River Greenway. I don’t usually comment on non-cycling topics, but I feel this one is important to cyclists and all livable streets advocates as well. Continue reading

Are Cyclists Getting Their Fare Share of Road Space in NYC? A Quant’s Calculation

Ever since Dorothy Rabinowitz’s anti-bike rant video in the WSJ lit up the internet on June 1, various bloggers have been trying to rebut her many dubious claims.  Some of them, such as the claim that cyclists are a greater danger to pedestrians than taxi cabs, are flat out ridiculous on their face.  The claim that cyclists have been allocated more than their fair share of space of NYC roads is no less false, but a bit less obviously so.  Some, like Slate, appeal to intuition and call it a day.  I found Better Institution’s Shane Phillips’ attempt at an actual calculation far more satisfying, but I think he made two really big (and unnecessary) simplifications which happen to work in opposite directions.  First, he counted multipurpose vehicle travel lanes as car space, but this space is also used by taxis, buses, and, of course, bicycles.  Second, it doesn’t take into account the fact that parking lanes (and cars themselves) are much wider than typical bike lanes.  Most bike lanes were squeezed into already overly wide travel and/or parking lanes. Continue reading

In Praise of Density

After a long stall, it seems new construction in the greater New York metropolitan region is finally picking up again, although not so much in areas outside the urban core, such as my current neighborhood, Riverdale.  Nevertheless, areas already quite dense, such as Brooklyn Heights, the Upper West and East Sides, and even Jersey City, are finally becoming denser.

Reading about some of this new development, I find far too much opposition by people who logic would dictate should be in favor.  Some of this is extremely personal NIMBYism, such as complaints about blocked views, but unless your new view will have almost no visible sky or natural light, or unless you are losing truly magnificent open views, I think even this is illogical.  Opposing development in areas that are already quite dense and lack sufficient transit is also rational, at least until new transit is completed (such as on the Upper East Side along the Second Avenue Subway). For those who own their apartments, it is quite possible they will lose significant potential capital gains on their purchase, and so opposition, while extremely selfish, is also rational. Continue reading

National Bike to Work Day

Last Friday, May 17, was National Bike to Work Day.  Transportation Alternatives set up “fueling stations” at various commuter entry points to Manhattan’s CBD, so naturally I stopped by on the Greenway at 72nd St.

It seems the biggest topic these days is Citi Bike.  Everyone wants to know how this system will work out.  Personally, I’m very excited for the launch, and quite curious to witness how this changes the city.  I’ve been following all the complaints about the bike share locations, but frankly it all seems like a bunch of typical NIMBYism.  I even had one guy approach me at work while I was changing into my cycling clothes in the locker room to give me his opinion.  Apparently the popular view is to say, “I’m all for bikes, bike lanes, and bike share, but I’m against the way they’re doing the station placement.”  Give me a break!  If there’s gonna be bike share, the stations need to go somewhere, and the public streets are just that, public property.  The city is moving away from driving more and more these days, and to replace a car parking spot with 6-8 bike share stations seems like an excellent trade-off to me. Continue reading