Thursday, April 24, 2008

Color by Numbers: Site Maps Affordability of Areas by Transportation + Housing Costs

By Karl Vilacoba

A new interactive website constructed by the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) estimates the cost of living in 52 metro areas by considering housing and transportation costs. Neighborhood by neighborhood, these areas are mapped out and color coded according to their affordability.

Visitors can view the areas with one of three maps:

  • Housing: Neighborhoods where housing costs more than 30 percent of median household income are blue, yellow where it’s less

  • Housing + Transportation: Areas where the combined cost of housing and transportation are estimated as more than 48 percent of household income are blue, yellow where it’s less

  • A Goal for Affordability: Areas where housing and transportation costs are more than 45 percent are blue, yellow where it’s less

Census data was used to determine housing costs. Variables like residential density, transit availability and location of jobs and amenities were used to predict car ownership, car usage, transit usage and ultimately total transportation costs. The site can be used as a tool for home seekers, urban planners, policy-makers and transportation and housing advocates looking for information on housing costs, according to CNT.

The website is part of the Housing + Transportation Affordability Index research project being completed by CNT in partnership with the Brookings Institution and the Center for Transit Oriented Development. InTransition carried a piece in 2007 about the development of the index and map.

The overall conclusion of the research, according to the CNT and its research partners on the project, is that living in the burbs is not the great deal it’s cracked up to be.

“The real estate pages may list 2- and 3-bedroom homes for under $175,000 in suburban communities. That sounds affordable, right? But once you factor in transportation costs, the bargain goes away,” CNT President Scott Bernstein said. “Transportation costs can be as much or more than housing costs. The index protects consumers by divulging those costs and helps planners and decision-makers work toward providing truly affordable housing.”

Naturally, when I checked the site out for myself, the first place I looked was my home area. With the easy rail, bus and major highway access we have, my neighborhood was safely in the yellow for each map.

It was interesting switching from map to map and seeing which areas changed colors once you factored in transportation. I imagine we’d be seeing plenty more blue neighborhoods if/when gas hits that feared $4 mark this summer.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Snakes (Almost) on a Plane

The madness just ended for hoops diehards, but at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), it’s apparently a year-round deal.

While doing some research yesterday, I stumbled across a rare outward display of humor by a government agency. The TSA maintains a website it calls “Terminal Madness,” a board with links to news of the weird-style stories that have taken place in airports around the country.

Here you can read about the guy who tried to sneak a baby alligator on board in his sock (while he was wearing it!), someone who got nabbed with dead snakes and bird parts in their luggage and the strange places people attempt to hide contraband. There’s not much content there yet – it looks like they only started the board late last summer – but it could be entertaining if they keep it up.

Friday, April 4, 2008

All Roads Lead to Russia for U.N. Conference

By Karl Vilacoba

Question: What’s the number one killer of people ages 10-24 worldwide?

If guessed “road deaths,” you knew something I didn’t.

Earlier this week, a co-worker brought to my attention an interesting nonprofit called the Make Roads Safe Campaign, which promotes public awareness of dangerous road conditions in developing countries and advocates worldwide investments to help combat the problems. According to the group, traffic injuries account for 3,000 deaths per day worldwide, and 1.2 million per year.

Make Roads Safe took out an ad in The New York Times Monday to publish an open letter to the United Nations calling on the body to hold a first-ever global conference on road safety. Later that day, the U.N. passed a resolution deciding it would go ahead with the conference in Russia sometime in 2009. Supporters of the cause claimed a victory, but vowed to press on for concrete results to come out of the conference.

“I am delighted that the U.N. has today recognized the scale of human suffering and economic loss caused by road traffic deaths and injuries,” Lord George Robertson, chairman of the Commission for Global Road Safety, said in a Make Roads Safe press release. “Now we must ensure that the U.N. Conference is not just another talking shop, but secures real commitments and takes real action to reverse the tide of global road deaths.”

The campaign would like to see a few specific items placed on the conference’s agenda. Among them are: a commitment from the international community to fund no less than a 10-year, $300 million action plan to increase road safety in low- and medium-income countries; and assurances that 10 percent of road infrastructure budgets funded by international donors be earmarked for safety.

For more on the Make Roads Safe Campaign, visit