Sunday, September 19, 2010

Majority of world now educated

The WorldWatch Institute reports that educational attainment is steadily rising worldwide. In 2010, worldwide, over 61 percent of adults (15 and older) finished at least some secondary school (high school) during their lifetimes. This had been 36 percent back in 1970 and 50 percent as recently as 1990 (see chart I made.) This leaves now only about 1 in 10 adult males and 1 in 5 adult females worldwide who have had no schooling whatsoever.

Besides the fact that education should be considered an a priori good in and of itself, rising levels of education help push forward so many other secret peace trends. As I mentioned in a recent post, I believe a major force pushing peace forward is the spread of information to a wider base of people. With more information in the world, and more people able to access it and understand it, those people are also now able to process it and generate their own new knowledge, contributing to the virtuous cycle.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Wear your seat belt!

I never thought I'd be writing this, because I am decidedly not a car person. I moved to NYC and got rid of my car seven years ago because I hate to drive. And a few months ago my wife had her foot run over by a van! Nevertheless, I just got around to reading Superfreakonomics (which was a great read, and, not surprisingly, is being flagged by spellcheck here), and it has some nuggets of positive news about driving.

Nearly 40,000 people died in U.S. traffic accidents in 1950, it says. That's roughly the same number as today, but that masks the good news, which is that we drive a lot more today and there are a lot more cars on the road. So the rate has dropped: the rate of death per mile driven was five times higher in 1950 than it is today.

Seat belts are a huge part of that, and the book describes how Robert McNamara (yes, that Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense one) was the person at Ford who pushed for them originally. Prior to that, they were used in airplanes, but no one had thought to put them in cars. However, turns out it's much easier to install seat belts than it is to get people to wear them, and for decades, they didn't. But the rate of people wearing their seat belts in the U.S. has risen from 11% in the 1970s to 21% in the mid-1980s, 61% in the mid 1990s, and over 80% today. It's estimated that seat belts reduce the risk of death in an accident by as much as 70%; since 1975 they have saved about 250,000 lives. Each seat belt costs about $25 to put in a car, making them one of the most cost-effective lifesaving devices ever invented.

PS> Btw, if we go back even farther in time, transportation was even more dangerous. In 1900, for example, horse accidents killed 200 New Yorkers, 1 in every 17,000 residents. And that's not taking into consideration diseases spread by widespread horse dung (200,000 horses in NYC meant 5 million pounds of horse manure a day.) In 2007, 274 New Yorkers died in car accidents, but with more people that works out to only 1 in every 30,000 residents.

Monday, September 6, 2010

New buses revolutionize my street

We live in Manhattan between 1st and 2nd Avenues. Over the last two months or so, the city has repaved and repainted those two streets, and it's all part of a big experiment to revolutionize the city's bus system. I read about it in this New York Magazine article.

See, it's simply too expensive and time-consuming to work on the subways now, unfortunately, but the buses are super cheap by comparison, offering great return on transit investment. Recently, cities around the world, such as London and Bogotá, have had a lot of success revamping their bus systems. So New York is trying it out in a few places, including these two avenues now. "These, along with the Bx12 line in the Bronx, are being promoted as trial programs for what [MTA head Jay Walder] hopes will be, by the end of his tenure, a reconfiguration of the city’s streets. 'When the city adopts a world-class ‘Bus Rapid Transit’ system, people are going to have a tough time, efficiency-wise, telling a bus apart from a subway—it’s going to be like a subway with a view,' predicts Kyle Wiswall, general counsel for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign." Here are some of the great ideas they're implementing:

  1. The buses have their own dedicated lanes, reserved exclusively for them, which really improves the overall speed.

  2. New buses are built lower to the ground, making them easier to board and thus speeding up boarding times. They also have two entrances.

  3. You pay before you board, from a vending machine that gives you a receipt.

  4. Bus shelters are larger and hold more people.

  5. Soon, buses will be equipped with signal priority, meaning they can keep traffic lights green as they approach.

  6. There are new exclusive bike lanes, too, and parking has been moved to the other side of them (meaning, curb, bike lane, parking, car driving lanes, bus lane.) So, parked cars form a buffer between the bike lane and the rest of the traffic, which is much safer.

I'm anxious to see how this works and hope it's successful enough to be implemented elsewhere in the city soon. My alternative is waiting for the Second Avenue Subway, which was first proposed in 1929 and still not due to open (in part) till 2016. Until then, I'll happily take the bus.

Photo: You can see the new First Avenue includes speed boosts!