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Transit Oases

One of the most fitting aspects of the phrase “transit deserts” – areas drastically underserved by public transit – is the mirage-like effect you get when, straining your eyes toward the suburban horizon, you trick yourself into thinking that the headlights of an approaching car is actually the bus you desperately want to arrive.

Today, however, as transit apps get more accurate, the era of transit mirages may be nearing an end. You can now simply look at your phone, or in some cases at a television screen at your bus stop, to see when the next bus will arrive.

In many cases, transit apps might also put an end to another desert-like quality of public transit: waiting in uncomfortably cold or hot temperatures. Equipped with accurate information about when the next bus is likely to approach, passengers might have the option of waiting for their bus indoors a short walk away from their bus stop.

This might have significant implications for the public or private sector. The public sector could, perhaps, create transit oases: indoor waiting areas that passengers could enter by using their transit passes to pre-pay their bus fare, or outdoor parkette spaces where people could wait with shade, nice surroundings, picnic tables, etc.* Or the private sector could provide a similar service, maybe combining transit waiting areas with laundromats, convenience stores, cafes, etc.

*[Alternatively, they could have car-sharing cars parked near bus stops, which would double as sheltered bus-waiting areas. That way the cars could also be available for use as “first-mile/last-mile” vehicles, in areas where walking to and from bus stops can be difficult]

Because some transit apps have even begun providing information about how crowded each approaching bus is, having a more comfortable waiting area of this sort could also give passengers the option of waiting a bit longer than they need to, in order to wait for a less crowded bus to arrive. This could be very useful: public buses tend to bunch fairly close together, and the front bus in each grouping tends to be much more crowded than the buses further behind it. With transit apps, people could simply wait to get on a less crowded bus, without taking the risk that the bus further behind will be just as crowded or will not arrive any time soon.

Similarly, transit apps can give passengers real-time information about express buses, which could help allow passengers to let a normal bus go by in order to wait for an express bus approaching after it.

Another common challenge in transit deserts, where waiting times are often long and uncertain, and where bus journeys are often long as well, and often require multiple transfers, and often involve seniors or babies, is the lack of bathrooms at bus stops, and the lack of accessible public bathrooms in general. Transit oases could be a godsend, then, for those who cannot hold their water like a camel.

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Should “Openers” Be Used in the NBA Playoffs?  

Last year the bold (and desperate) Tampa Bay Rays shook up the MLB by playing an “opener”: a relief-style pitcher who plays the first inning of the game.

A somewhat similar, even bolder experiment should perhaps be tried in the NBA playoffs.

Instead of teams saving their best players’ heavy-minute performances for games late in a series – Lebron James, for example, played all 48 minutes in Game 7 of the semi-finals last year; it was the 339th time since 1984 that a player had played an entire game — why not instead have them play big minutes early in the series?

It is true, teams employing this strategy would risk their star players running out of gas late in the series (not unlike how the Tampa Bay Rays risk blowing leads late in games because they have already used up one of their best relievers in the first inning).  Yet they would also increase the odds of getting to play in a long series in the first place. Even better, they would increase the odds of their team winning a series quickly, which would actually allow their stars to play far fewer minutes overall than they otherwise would.

An extreme illustration of this: 45 minutes per game in a 4-game sweep = 180 minutes total; 40 minutes per game in 7 games: 280 minutes total (plus two or three more airplanes). As is often the case in life, if you work hard early on you might save yourself work overall.

It’s a simple set of questions: Is it better to concentrate, rather than spread out, your best players’ minutes on the court during a series? The obvious risk to concentrating minutes is that tired players could become less effective or more prone to injury. Nevertheless if it is better to concentrate them, why not do so as early as possible, rather than wait until late in the series to do so?

 

 

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Professional Time Wasters

Usually, the goal of a basketball game is to outscore your opponent. There are certain cases, however, where a second goal is also at play: buying time for your best players to get a much-needed rest on the bench during a playoff game.

Star players tend to play many more minutes per game during the playoffs than they do in the regular season. The games are more important, there are no games played on back-to-back nights, and there are fewer flights between games. In this year’s playoffs, the leaders in minutes per game, Paul George, Damian Lillard, and Nikola Jokic, have been playing 40 minutes per game. (Lillard and Jokic played 58 and 56 minutes in a quadruple overtime game). Lebron James’ career playoff minutes per game is 42. In Lebron’s 21 career playoff elimination games, he averages 45 minutes per game.

It would be ideal if, during those few minutes of game-time when these superstars are resting, their backup players would enter the game and consistently outscore their opponents. But that is not the only way a bench lineup might be effective. They could, perhaps, also be effective by simply slowing down the pace of the game, shooting late in the shot clock, grabbing offensive rebounds to reset the shot clock, or drawing fouls that stop the clock altogether.

Consider two hypothetical bench lineups. One is an above-average bench lineup which usually outscores its opponent, but occasionally gets outscored by its opponents by a lot. The other is a merely average bench lineup which outscores its opponent only fifty percent of the time, but, because it excels at slowing down the game, almost never gets outscored by its opponent by a lot.

On teams which have dominant starting lineups and superstars, the merely average lineup might actually be preferable to the above-average lineup, as it would almost never cough up a big lead created by its dominant starters. There is, moreover, the issue of $$: above-average players are in high demand, so they tend to cost a lot of money. Merely average players who excel only at slowing down the game are not in demand, and so might be purchased on the cheap.

Of course, this is not to say that teams should want their bench lineups to be merely average. But it does mean some teams might benefit from targeting certain skills and strategies for their benches: scoring late in the shot clock, offensive rebounding, drawing fouls, defending in such a way as to make opponents shoot later in the shot clock, and fouling well (for example, by fouling Ben Simmons in transition after your team’s attempt at offensive rebounding has failed, trying to take a charge but fouling instead).

This idea raises some interesting thought-experiment questions. For example:

-how much could you slow the pace of the game without sacrificing too much effectiveness? (The average possession length in the NBA this season ranged from OKC’s 12.9 seconds per possession to Cleveland’s 15.5 seconds per possession. In the playoffs, it has ranged from OKC’s 12.7 seconds to Denver’s 15.5).

-How high could you theoretically get your offensive rebounding percentage? (Denver had the highest offensive rebounding percentage this season, 30.8%. The highest in the playoffs has been Philadelphia, 31.2%).

-How much could you increase your offensive rebounding percentage without giving up too many transition opportunities? (The Clippers and Nuggets tried to grab offensive rebounds on an estimated 70% of their shots in these playoffs; the Raptors only on 46% of shots).

-When and how often is it worthwhile to foul in transition to stop the clock? How often would fighting for offensive rebounds lead to a stopped-clock situation as a result of fouling, being fouled, a jump ball, or an out-of-bounds? (Out-of-bounds stoppages on contested rebounds might be ideal, as they are most likely to lead the refs to waste a lot of time looking at the replay to see which team touched the ball last in a crowd under the net).

Obviously, many of the skills that would allow a lineup to excel at slowing the pace of play would overlap with those that make basketball lineups good in general. But the overlap is far from a perfect one. By focusing not just on creating the best possible bench lineup, but also on creating the bench lineup most capable of wasting time, you might be able to free up roster spending in order to land the big fish superstars you need. All your bench has to do then is waste a handful or two of minutes, to let those superstars catch their breath.

 

 

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The Private Sector

How’s the bathroom business doing, Jim? Well, the profitability ratio stinks, but there’s a lot of liquidity.

Nothing is more common as having to go to the bathroom, yet there are few examples of for-profit bathrooms in our otherwise profit-oriented cities. Even though bathroom access is often bartered indirectly – “customers only” comes to mind – such access is almost never charged for outright.

Outside of sports arenas and shopping malls, bathrooms also tend to be quite small. This is understandable, given the high cost of commercial real estate. Nevertheless it runs somewhat counter to the natural economy of scale that is bathroom installation. Once you have already ripped up the floor and sorted out the plumbing, the cost of each additional toilet or sink may be comparatively low.

There are, perhaps, reasons to think that for-profit bathrooms will become more common soon:

  1. Micropayments

    Transaction costs are the scourge of any high-liquidity, low-margin market, and the bathroom business is no exception. If you are planning to charge a dollar (say) per person, then obviously you are not going to turn a profit if you have to hire somebody to man the till or pay a transaction fee to a payment systems company. Only with an automated, extremely low-cost payment system might for-profit bathrooms actually work.

  2. Bathroom Apps

    By telling you where nearby bathrooms are, apps could allow bathrooms to be findable even if they are in relatively out-of-the-way locations where real estate is not so pricey: in basements, second floors, side streets, etc. Apps could also let people reserve the use of a bathroom immediately ahead of time, or at least check to see if there is a bathroom available.

  3. Transit Tech

    As transit systems introduce features like, for example, two-hour transfer passes, their passengers will be able to get off a bus or train to use bathroom without being charged a double fare. Transit apps can also help in this regard: passengers can now check to see when the next bus is coming, and so can estimate whether or not they will have time to use the bathroom without missing it. This will also allow passengers to wait indoors for the bus when the weather is bad; and in some cases, perhaps, do so near a for-profit bathroom.

  4. Robots

    It might also be possible to automate much, or at least part of, the process of cleaning a bathroom, which could go a long way towards making a public bathroom profitable. Expensive bathroom cleaning robots might also make public bathrooms more of an economy of scale; the toilet-to-robot ratio would increase the more toilets a bathroom has.

  5. Babies, Boomers, Bloggers

    [Okay, I may be tipping my hand here by including bloggers in this group]. Demographics and technology really are changing where many people do (their) business. The Baby Boomers are getting older. Many of them are approaching partial or full retirement and seeking to work or relax more in public spaces close to their homes, rather than continue making long commutes five days a week. Mothers too (and sometimes fathers), with fewer children and better computers and careers than ever before, are spending more time in public spaces with their babies. They need places where they can breastfeed and change diapers, and bathrooms large enough to fit in strollers.

Of course, a profitable bathroom does not need to be a for-profit bathroom. It could instead be that bathrooms will become more common, cleaner, or less costly for the public sector to provide.

 

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The Car-Sharing Sheltered Bus Stop and Seasonal Bike Lane

In recent years there have been two excellent new technologies, car apps and transit apps, which have nevertheless been unable to successfully solve traffic problems. Transit apps, which tell you when buses or trains are coming and, in some cases, tell you how crowded each bus is*, are useful but are still no antidote to challenges such as getting to and from bus stops or waiting for buses in bad weather. Car apps, which can summon lifts or carpools or make it easy to rent a car, tend to do little or nothing to alleviate traffic jams, and can also be relatively costly or inconvenient, especially in bad weather when there are no vehicles nearby, or when demand for lifts outstrips supply.

*This is very useful because buses tend to bunch fairly close together, and the front bus in each grouping tends to be much more crowded than the buses behind them. With this information, people can simply wait a tiny bit longer to get on a less crowded bus, without taking the risk that the bus further behind will be just as crowded or will not arrive any time soon.

What might be needed, therefore, is a way to use these new technologies to get to and from transit, especially in bad weather, and make it easier to wait for buses in bad weather, and do so without adding to traffic jams that block more efficient modes of transportation such as buses or streetcars or (in good weather) bikes.

Here, then, is a possible solution: have car-sharing cars double as sheltered bus stops in bad weather.

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Such a system could have a number of advantages:

  1. In suburban areas where people do not live near bus stops and where streets are not designed well for pedestrians, the car-sharing cars could be used to help people get to and from bus stops.
  2. In the event of an unexpected delay in the bus or streetcar system (e.g. a subway line is temporarily shut down or a streetcar line is temporarily obstructed, leading buses to become overcrowded) or if there is a sudden change in the weather (e.g. a sudden rainstorm), or if you have a personal emergency (e.g. you really have to go to the bathroom and your bus is late) you could have the option of simply paying to drive a car-sharing car to your destination
  3. the car-sharing car would not necessarily need to be a conventional car, but could instead be a tiny one-seater car, or an electric-assist pedal-car, or even an enclosed bicycle or tricycle. This would work very well on streets where there is a bike lane or a street-parking lane. Indeed, this would be ideal for a street in which a bike lane becomes a parking lane during winter. People in the winter want street parking so that they don’t have to worry about slipping on ice, and want sheltered bus stops where they can stay warm while they wait (often for a long time, since bus delays are more common in winter). When the weather is nice, on the other hand, people do not need street parking or sheltered bus stops, so the parking lane could instead become a bike lane. This bike lane could then be used not just by regular bicycles, but also by the car-share enclosed bicycles and tricycles and pedal-cars and one-seaters.
  4. The cars would not contribute too much to traffic jams or air pollution, as the cars would be used mainly to get to and from buses, and as most of the cars could be very small, lightweight, and possibly electric or pedal-powered or both.
  5. If they are electric, the car-sharing bus stop parking spots could perhaps double as charging stations. A car-sharing sheltered bus stop charging station might be an ideal charging station from both an economic and environmental point of view, because slow-charging batteries is better than fast-charging and as lightweight vehicles are far better than conventional electric cars
  6. The cars could perhaps also be vehicles that would facilitate carpooling. You could, for instance, have a car-sharing van or minibus that would serve as a sheltered bus  stop but could also be driven itself (if the bus or streetcar was running late, etc. etc.), if the passengers were willing to split the cost of driving it and if one of the passengers is willing and registered to drive it and then drop it off at another bus stop

It is not just car-sharing technologies that could make this idea viable, but also transit apps.

By having the cars equipped with these apps, people will able to use them as sheltered bus stops without needing to have a clear view of the horizon to see if a bus is approaching. Even though these cars would ideally be located immediately next to bus stops, the ability to know in advance when a bus is coming means that if necessary they could be located a bit further away from the bus stops, on an adjacent side street, without the risk of people missing their bus.

That might not even be needed though, since the car-sharing bus stops might not need to take up much more space than the current public bicycle-sharing systems often do, particularly if one-seaters or pedal-cars are used. (In Toronto, there are already 360 public bicycle-sharing stations, even though few people use them in the winter or during heat waves). People would then be able to use their transit passes to unlock the car’s door by prepaying their bus fare, so that the cars would not be misused too much.

So, if anyone influential happens to be reading this, please consider it the next time you are shivering or sweating at a bus stop. Oh, you don’t take the bus? The next time your Uber is stuck in traffic then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Spiral of Death – Pulling Your Goalie Earlier Against Exhausted Opponents  

Most of us have heard the crude joke that ends in the punchline “We’ve already established the principle that you are a whore. Now we’re just haggling over the price”. Well, in hockey, I would like to argue for the principle that the best time to pull your goalie is when your opponents are physically exhausted from being stuck on the ice during an especially long shift.  Though obviously it is difficult to know how much earlier than usual a team would be wise to pull its goalie in order to take advantage of facing exhausted opponents, still I believe they should consider doing so at least somewhat earlier than usual. There are three reasons why:

  1. It is harder for them to score and easier for you to score

This sounds like circular reasoning, but really it might just be common sense: you want to pounce on your enemy when your enemy is weakest. When players are exhausted, it is harder for them to get the puck and score a cross-ice empty netter. (And, if they attempt to do so and miss, it will lead to an icing that will allow your team to bring on a fresh line against their exhausted one). Similarly, when they are exhausted it will be easier for your fresh-legged extra attacker to help your team get a high-quality scoring attempt.

  1. It is easier to get the extra attacker into the offensive zone

Coaches generally try to pull their goalies when their teams are already in the offensive zone, but they often fail to do so simply because holding onto the zone is so difficult in hockey that the opposing team is frequently able to clear the puck out before the extra attacker has time to get there himself. As a result, teams with their goalie pulled often waste precious time or give up an empty net goal trying to regain entry and get solidly set up within the offensive zone again. Against an exhausted line, in contrast, it is much easier to hold on to possession, so your extra attacker will more likely have time to join the play while your team is still set up in the offensive zone.

  1. The Spiral of Death

Exhausted players are usually bailed out by their goalie, who freezes the puck to let them get a line change or call a timeout, or else they are bailed out by so-called puck luck: a favourable bounce of one sort or another, which allows the exhausted players to clear the zone and start a line change. But if you bring on your fresh extra attacker, the exhausted opponent will become much less likely to be bailed out by their goalie or by puck luck. Their goalie will have a harder time freezing the puck as he is more likely to be screened during every shot and outmanned in every scramble in front of the net. Puck luck too is less likely to be helpful to the exhausted team because, of course, puck luck is not mostly about actual luck, rather it is about open space – which there will be less of – and about effort and skill – which exhausted players have much less of.

Thus, you may trigger a spiral of death: exhausted players will be much less able to get a line change in, and so will become even more tired, and so will become even less able to get a line change in, and on and on until finally the spiral reaches a point of conclusion: ideally, the game-tying goal.

So: Do you, reader (okay, you got me— do you, Jake), believe this principle I am trying to establish? Good. Then let the haggling begin.

 

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The Intersection of Yonge and Danforth

–  (This is an unpleasant article, sorry) – 

On the anniversary of the Yonge street van attack which killed ten people a year ago, Canadian media has been debating whether or not city streets should put in place more barriers to help keep pedestrians safe in the event of any future van attacks. This seems to be missing the point: Toronto had not one but two terrorist attacks in the past year, the Yonge van attack and the Danforth gun attack. Luckily – in the relative sense only – no more than thirteen people were killed. But one does not need to be a neurotic to consider what might have occurred if, instead of Yonge and Danforth, they had attacked Yonge-and-Danforth: Canada’s most crowded subway station.

If we have learned anything about terror attacks in the 21stcentury, it is that they are simple to imagine ahead of time (9-11, for instance, was neither the first quadruple airplane hijacking nor the first significant attempt to destroy the World Trade towers nor the first attempt to crash a hijacked airplane into a major Western landmark nor even the first major attack carried out by Al Qaeda that week), possible to prevent (hardening cockpit doors, for example), and can have secondary consequences nearly as damaging as, or plausibly even far more damaging than, the terrorist attack itself.

Now think back to Toronto. An attack at Yonge-Bloor station is frighteningly easy to imagine: a gunman, or gunmen, at rush hour, just as a train or trains are pulling into the station, videos of the result circulating online immediately afterwards. Aside from any damage such an attack might cause directly, it would potentially have even graver secondary impacts in the form of copycat attacks, car accidents, air pollution, political consequences, etc., not just in Toronto but also nationwide and beyond.

The point here is not to ask Canadian media to debate how to make areas like Yonge-Bloor safe from gunmen – that is not a discussion we would ideally need or want to carry out publicly. Rather, Canada’s intelligence agencies and governments should perhaps immediately address the problem. Waiting until a decade from now, when a relief subway line will hopefully be built and Yonge-Bloor will be expanded, may be taking a very big risk. Indeed, the station expansion may even increase crowding during construction for several years.

There could, maybe*, be relatively simple ways of reducing this threat. For example:

  1. Create a rush hour bus-only lane on certain streets (Yonge, the DVP, Don Mills, etc.), to reduce crowding on the Yonge subway in the years before a new subway line is built
  2. Do not allow able-bodied people to enter Yonge-Bloor station from the street during rush hour; widen pedestrian space on Yonge to make it easier for these able-bodied people to walk (or, perhaps, take a bus on Yonge) to get to neighbouring subway stations Wellesley, Sherbourne, Rosedale, or Bay. This would reduce crowding in Yonge-Bloor not only by reducing the number of people who use the station, but also because, with no able-bodied people entering the station during rush hour, staircases would be much clearer, and crowds would therefore disperse more quickly following the arrival of every subway train.

*I will admit: despite what I have written above, I know basically nothing about the risk of an attack of this kind, or how that risk should be addressed. [I will even cop to the fact that I may to some degree be using the fear of such an attack manipulatively, as a way to promote transit-friendly or pedestrian-friendly policies that I would want even if no such risk existed…]. I would, therefore, be very interested to learn what people who are actually knowledgeable think about this issue.

In any event, these two suggestions seem unlikely to occur; many would see them as (to quote Doug Ford) “a war on the car”. Yet maybe seeing them as a war on terror would be much more accurate.

 

 

 

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