congestion and the misallocation of space

An Example of Congestion in the National Capital Region

Let’s look at the 4-lane stretch of Rue Laurier running from Alexandra to Sacre-Coeur in Gatineau.  Running beside Parc Jacques-Cartier.  Running between people’s houses on the east and the park along the river on the west.

In the morning during rush hour it is jammed bumper-to-bumper southbound only.  In the evening during rush hour it is jammed bumper-to-bumper northbound only.

The rest of the time it is basically empty, with the few cars speeding as fast as they can.

So how have we allocated this space?  Basically we’ve spent millions of dollars on construction and maintenance of 4 lanes, of which two are jammed for an hour in the morning and two are jammed for an hour in the evening.  10 hours of (half) capacity use per week.  Millions of dollars, for two lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic.  And be mindful that this is not thousands of people.  Cars are ridiculously big.  There is usually only one person in the car.  This means a giant line of bumper-to-bumper traffic has only dozens, maybe on the order of a hundred actual people being moved.  A kilometre of traffic jam has fewer people than in a first year undergrad seminar room.

(As a side note, people say “the road is jammed but the bike lane is empty” because the road fillled with single passenger cars is incredibly space inefficient.  The bike lane isn’t underused, it’s just massively more efficient than the car lanes.)

Allocating space to cars in this way would be great if it had huge benefits for all.

But actually you’ve spent millions of dollars for ten hours a week, and

  • the few hundred people who get to sit in the traffic jam are mostly non-local
  • you’ve put four lanes between people’s houses and a park, with zero crossings directly between people’s houses and the park
  • you’ve reduced the value of those houses because they front on four lanes of road
  • you’ve made a dangerous road with no separated bike lanes
  • during the non-rush hours, the cars speed as fast as they can
  • you’ve made an unpleasant pedestrian experience with cars, splashing, slush, snow and ice (as a bonus, the sidewalks are particularly poorly maintained in winter because hey, who would walk there)

So for ten hours a week for a few hundred non-residents (who are in a traffic jam), you’ve got four lanes of empty space that make things worse, in terms of experience and in terms of money for residents and the city, in terms of reduced cycling and walking, and in reducing the use of a park, for the other 8240 hours a year.  10 hours of mediocre travel for a few, resulting in 8240 hours of mediocre experience for everyone else.

It’s lose lose lose.

When you look at that rush hour congestion, you should see an opportunity to save money and make money.  For a triumph of capitalism.  Narrow the road to two lanes, put in wider sidewalks and two protected bike lanes, and put in a mid-way crossing.  Way more efficient use of road space.  Way lower maintenance costs.  Way lower risk of injuries.  Way higher values for the houses.  Increased use of the park.

But no.  We’d rather make ourselves poorer for 10 hours a week of bumper-to-bumper traffic.

It’s insane.

My Conclusion About Congestion

UPDATE: I would distinguish between the kind of rush hour congestion I describe above, and congestion that represents a busy city with complete streets functioning normally.  Congestion that’s a result of popular spaces is very different from congestion resulting from bad system design.  ENDUPDATE

What congestion pricing is actually about is

  • spacing the cars out in time so that the road space can be more efficiently used
  • encouraging people to share a car so that the road space can be more efficiently used
  • shifting people to other modes so that the road space can be more efficiently used

Congestion solutions are about saving everyone money and time, while increasing the value of the urban landscape, benefiting both the city through taxes and the residents through housing value and quality of life.

Opposing addressing this kind of congestion is basically declaring yourself in favour of a mediocre experience for a tiny number of people for a tiny number of hours a year, rather than benefiting everyone all year.  But that’s what passes for “common sense” after decades of car-centric planning.  Roads must be free and wide and all must suffer because that’s the way it’s always been.

Ottawa Council’s Conclusion About Congestion

Council vote on a congestion study, April 13, 2016

congestion vote

Who are The Time Team?

There are actually several eras of Time Team.  If one was being too-clever-by-half one could say Paleo-Team, Meso-Team, and Neo-Team.

But it’s probably better to say Team 1, Team 2, and Team Everyone Gets Fired.

There are really four different groups that contribute.  In early series, there literally is The Time Team listed in the credits, along with Presenter Tony Robinson, The Geophys Team, and… well, Stewart Ainsworth, who never seems makes it into The Time Team, but is eventually grouped with the rest of the archeologists.

From Episode 1×01 you have the start of Team 1, which shows up more-or-less the same  in the credits from series 1 through series 5 and retains the same people from series 1 to series 12 with the exception of Robin Bush who is gone from the core team after series 4.

Tony Robinson

The Time Team
Mick Aston
Carenza Lewis
Phil Harding
Robin Bush
Victor Ambrus

Geophysics Team
John Gater

Royal Commission for Historical Monuments
Stewart Ainsworth

It’s important to understand the Mick Aston is the lead of the show.  He’s actually the very first person from the team you see and hear speaking after Tony Robinson in Episode 1×01.  They do work as a team to make decisions, but Mick is the lead.

You might think there is a kind of pre-success era of Time Team, before the computers and helicopters, but they actually have everything from Episode 1×01 – helicopter, liveried Time Team vehicles, and computer support.

Some of the themes we see later on, such as geophys being set up in opposition with the excavating archaeologists, are not present in early series.  In fact in early series starting with episode 1×01 the excavating archaeologists are quite delighted to see what might lie beneath the ground without having to dig it up.  Victor Ambrus shows up on screen a lot more in early series, but rarely says much, the illustrations usually speaking for him.  And the illustrations are actually a mix of computer and paper from the very beginning – the very first time we see him he’s drawing on a computer screen using a tablet.  His work drives a lot of object reconstruction in early series.

The dynamic of the show also evolves.  From the beginning we see them as a team working and talking and often eating together, but the “time to go to the pub for a drink” tradition at the end of every day doesn’t show up until quite later series.  And of course we see them all age and adapt to changing styles, from big glasses and big beards early on, to the inevitable greying.

Starting in series 6 there is no more “The Time Team” in the credits, but it is still the same people: Mick Aston, Phil Harding, Carenza Lewis.  Stewart Ainsworth (finally) moves above the Geophys Team of John Gater et al. into a grouping with the rest of the archaeologists. Starting in series 5 Victor Ambrus is moved into a separate Illustrations section.

Geophys Jimmy (James Adcock) arrives in series 11.  Carenza Lewis is gone after series 12.  Helen Geake arrives in series 14.  Francis Pryor shows up in series 18.

My apologies to those who show up in the credits from the beginning but I haven’t mentioned – I’m going by screen time as I observe it, not contributions.  Also note this sample is only from the first episode of each series, so it’s not comprehensive.

It’s a bit harder to outline exactly when Team 2 comes together.  There isn’t really a clear dividing line between Team 1 and Team 2.  Gradually over time and usually without fanfare new team members were added as the show got bigger and more complex, drawing more frequently on more experts and more excavators.  Sometimes they show up in the background for a while before getting much screen time.  Two of the main additions in terms of field archaeologists are Matt Williams and Raksha Dave.  The credits however remain pretty much unchanged all the way through the series, until series 19.

Team Everyone Gets Fired happens in series 19 and 20, when core team members Mick Aston, Helen Geake, Stewart Ainsworth and Victor Ambrus disappear from the credits, amongst others.  As I explained in How to watch Time Team, it really isn’t the same show after series 18.

How to watch Time Team

The key to understand with Time Team is that Mick Aston is actually the lead, not Tony Robinson, despite how it may appear.

Up through and including series 18, the show has a fairly standard approach, with Mick planning the dig and Phil Harding gruffly digging things up, while Tony Robinson tries to bring together what is going on for a lay audience.

One of my favourites from series 18 is 18×02 which TVO calls Saxon Death (available until July 30, 2017), but which is actually titled Saxon Death, Saxon Gold.  At the time of this writing TVO’s Time Team pages have a bit of series 17, all of 18 and 19, and series 20 is in the process of rolling out.

Starting with series 19 the show was revamped quite dramatically and made a lot more like the [Era] Farm shows, including Farm presenter Alex Langlands and the introduction of lead-in spoilers (“teaser video”) showing some of the major finds and events that are to come.  There is also a reduced focus on archeologists and analysis and a greater emphasis on re-creation, with different major contributors.

Mick Aston opposed this change, and after hanging on for series 19, in 2012 left the show he had basically originated.  He passed away the year after.

Western Daily PressProfessor Mick Aston: Why I quit Time Team, and the danger of losing touch with our history – February 13, 2012

UPDATE 2016-04-11: Current Archaeology wrote an appreciation of Time Team in December 2012 that provides some history about the show and details about the series 19 changes.  Time Team: the rise and fall of a television phenomenon  ENDUPDATE

So if you want to watch the core of the show as originally imagined, watch series 1-18 and stop.  The show ended after series 20 (March 2013) anyway.  Mick was born in 1946 and Phil was born in 1950, so in any case it was pretty much time for them to retire on top of their game.

It’s a shame they couldn’t have done 20 years with Mick Aston and then wrapped up the show.

Ancient Rome and Greece on TVO

Videos about ancient Rome or Roman archaeology available to watch online from TVO

There isn’t as much for ancient Greece

Museum opening days in Paris

As of 2016-Feb-21.

Closed Mondays: Petit Palais, Orsay, Marmottan, Crypte archéologique du parvis Notre-Dame, Musée Carnavalet, Musée de Minéralogie, Musée du quai Branly, Palais de la découverte, Cité des sciences et de l’industrie, Musée Rodin

Closed Tuesdays: Orangerie, Louvre, Musée de l’Homme, all museums & buildings in the Jardin des Plantes (Les Grandes Serres, Grande Galerie de l’Évolution, Galerie de Minéralogie et de Géologie, Le Cabinet d’Histoire du Jardin des Plantes)

Closed Sundays: Musée de Minéralogie

Not listed in any particular order.

Not a museum but anyway

  • La Grande Roue de la Concorde à Paris – SortirAParisParisInfo
    • Du 18 novembre 2015 au 15 septembre 2016
    • De 10h30 à minuit en semaine
      De 10h00 à minuit le dimanche
      De 10h à 1h00, vendredi, samedi et vacances scolaires

Minecraft City of Ottawa

Ottawa has released a Minecraft map as open data

I knew the city had building heights, but I didn’t realise how much building shape information it has.

Use the teleport command to move around.

Thanks to Roger Pilkey for posting the Parliament Hill coordinates on the Minecraft data file showcase page.  Otherwise I don’t think I would have ever found my way from the spawn point, which is out in the woods near the Rideau River, Old Ottawa South (Glengarry & Onslow).

Here are some landmark buildings in Centretown…

/tp -2912 130 -1501

LAC - Minecraft 1.8.9 2016-02-06 122704

Supreme Court
/tp -2707 132 -1722

Supreme Court - Minecraft 1.8.9 2016-02-06 122851

Parliament (Centre Block)
/tp -2266 139 -2061

Minecraft Parliament crop

/tp -1892 133 -1931

NAC - Minecraft 1.8.9 2016-02-06 123253

City Hall
/tp -1585 131 -1710

City Hall - Minecraft 1.8.9 2016-02-06 123421

Convention Centre
/tp -1690 130 -1995

Convention Centre - Minecraft 1.8.9 2016-02-06 123624

Union Station
/tp -1872 133 -2107

Union Station - Minecraft 1.8.9 2016-02-06 123712

And here is The End of the World (East End) – Montreal Road, past Lafontaine
/tp 1204 127 -3653

East End - Minecraft 1.8.9 2016-02-06 125120

A few more coordinates as you head east from Centretown:

  • Rideau Street and Rideau River /tp -134 125 -3075
  • Montreal Road and Vanier Parkway /tp 329 125 -3183
  • Montreal Road and Olmstead /tp 609 128 -3337
  • Montreal Road and Lafontaine /tp 1104 126 -3594

There are lots of cool projects possible:

  • make the train run to Union Station again (using powered rails and minecarts)
  • restore the streetcar network
  • build the new Stage 1 and Stage 2 LRT network
  • put in details of building exteriors and interiors
  • put in street signs
  • change all the arterials to rivers to represent how they feel to pedestrians
  • build houses on the residential lots
  • put street numbers on the residential lots

For the last one, most small buildings like detached single-family houses don’t have detail in the map, you’ll just see grass for the lot with a line on either side wherever there are driveways.

Unfortunately if you live far in the east end you won’t find your lot, and it’s not possible to do the LRT out to Blair (unless you want to do a lot of additional building), as the world ends just past Montreal Road and Lafontaine.  I haven’t done the north, south, or west boundaries.

Have fun exploring!

Be aware this map is quite resource intensive and will be slow (and may even crash) on a computer without a lot of CPU and RAM.

Community seasons 5 and 6 – not recommended


I liked Community seasons 1-3 a lot.  See previous posting How to watch Community.

Season 5

Dan Harmon returned as showrunner to Community in season 5 and was able to, sort of, put it back together, but Pierce is gone and then Troy.  This latter will become critical in season 6.  As a reboot the show is ok, but it just isn’t quite Community.  The show has gone beyond its natural arc.

Not recommended.

Season 6

Season 6 is interesting in a television analysis way, but not in an entertainment way.  Do not watch it.

A show has a certain structural integrity, certain key components that hold it together.  For a show that is explicitly about a group of people, the members of that group are key.  Community could have withstood the loss of one minor group member, as it did with the loss of Pierce.  But in season 6, Pierce, Shirley and Troy are gone and the show simply doesn’t work.  It turns out that Troy is a load-bearing member of the group.  His subtle, fun dynamic with Abed is in many ways the core of the joy of the show.  While Jeff is in theory the main character, Troy-Abed bring a key dynamic that balances the show.

Dan Harmon represents this quite literally in 6×01.  In a profile of Harmon in Wired, we learn

The circles are everywhere, if you know to look for them. They’re on the whiteboards around Dan Harmon’s office, on sheets tacked to his walls, on a notepad on the floor of his car. Each one is hand-drawn and divided into quadrants with scribbled notes and numbers sprouting along the edges. They look like little targets. …

the circle, an algorithm that distills a narrative into eight steps

The circles, in season 6, are frisbees.  When the roof collapses in 6×01, it’s Harmon saying that the show has collapsed without Troy, exacerbated by the loss of Shirley.  Leonard’s crumbling frisbee is the crumbling arc of his life in the show, and the crumbling of the show as a whole.

Without Troy, Harmon is basically in an impossible situation.  Imagery that came to my mind is that it’s like watching someone trying to put together a vase with missing pieces, when both you and they know it’s impossible, or trying to bring back an extinct animal when you have too few fragments of DNA.  The whole season is very angry and self-aware.  It’s like watching Harmon have a mental breakdown.  It’s a sad conclusion to a brilliant beginning.  You can see him speaking through Abed (who is essentially his avatar) in 6×08, and see him speaking through Jeff in the aptly-named finale, 6×13 Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television.  Jeff (who is Harmon’s secondary avatar) is basically phoning in his job (within the show), and throughout the season but particularly in the finale expressing how trapped he feels.  Everyone will leave and there he will be, eternally condemned to live a year at Greendale over and over.  How can you even make it work when the story has gone beyond its arc?  Do you make everyone teachers?  Do you bring back old characters and keep the new ones?  Do you cycle endlessly through variations of the same tropes and character quirks?  …  It’s a kind of showrunner hell that is depicted.  I feel really sorry for Harmon, trying to breathe life into the broken doll of his beloved show.

In any case, for the above reasons, season 6 is very much not recommended.

I imagine it may show up in future university curricula about television writing though.