Physical Infrastructure


Debunking the Narrative of Silicon Valley’s Innovation Myth
Forbes | Bruce Upbin 
“The real innovation engine in the global economy is not the entrepreneurial class blazing capitalist trails through the thicket of government red tape and taxation. No. The real engine of innovation is government.” Sussex University economist Mariana Mazzucato’s “case study for myth-debunking is the iPhone, that icon of American corporate innovation. Each of its core technologies–capacitive sensors, solid-state memory, the click wheel, GPS, internet, cellular communications, Siri, microchips, touchscreen—came from research efforts and funding support of the U.S. government and military. Did the public see an iPhone dividend? Not really.””

The High Return on Investment for Publicly Funded Research
Center for American Progress | Sean Pool and Jennifer Erickson
In order for the U.S. to maintain its role as an innovation-driven economy, “government must provide three key public-good inputs that allow innovation to blossom: investments in human capital, infrastructure, and research.” The authors cite and summarize the contributions of influential research funded by the U.S. Government through the Dept. of Energy Labs, The National Science Foundation, The Human Genome Project, The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Apollo Space Program.

Innovation: let the good risk-takers get their reward
The Guardian | Mariana Mazzucato and William Lazonick 
Mazzucato and Lazonick write that, “the advanced economies of the west are in deep trouble. Growth is slow or non-existent, income distribution is highly unequal … [and] the crucial question is how to reform policy so that the relationship between risk and reward is one that supports long-run growth rather than undermining it.” They point out that taxpayers are the real venture capitalists; taxpayers fund the riskiest investments in the “knowledge economy,” but it is shareholders who receive recognition and profit for reputedly bearing the risk.

The Seeds That Federal Money Can Plant
The New York Times | Steve Lohr
“Government support plays a vital role in incubating new ideas that are harvested by the private sector, sometimes many years later, creating companies and jobs.” The author cites a report from the National Research Council that finds nearly $500 billion a year of revenue at “30 well-known corporations … [can] be traced back to the seed research backed by government agencies.”

Imagine spending a day without the Internet and GPS
National Research Council
The internet and GPS (a U.S.-owned utility) are among many innovations that have been funded by the U.S. Government.  The authors of Continuing Innovation in Information Technology write, “fundamental research in IT, conducted in industry and universities, has led to the introduction of entirely new producer categories that ultimately became billion-dollar industries.” Underscoring the impact of government’s outsized role in creating the dominant technologies of the 21st century, the authors of this report ask readers to imagine a day without information technology. “This would be a day without the Internet and all that it enables … A day without digital media … A day during which aircraft could not fly, travelers had to navigate without benefit of the Global Positioning System (GPS), weather forecasters had no models, [and] banks and merchants could not transfer funds electronically”

Top 50 Bike-Friendly Cities
Bicycling Magazine | August 29, 2014
#1: New York City 
“Over the last few years across the United States, numerous cities have made cycling improvements, but none has done as much as quickly as New York. In 2008, powerful and moneyed naysayers scoffed when former Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled an ambitious plan to transform New York’s mean streets and reclaim them for people instead of cars. Gallons of green paint were spilled to create a citywide welcome zone for cyclists. There are now more than 350 miles of new bike lanes, … encouraging even casual cyclists to ride up Broadway and through a car-free Times Square.”

The 20 Most Bike-Friendly Cities on the Planet
Wired | June 2, 2015
#18: Minneapolis 
“The city boasts 120 miles of what it calls “on-street bikeways” and 90 miles of off-street lanes. The latter is less interesting for urban cycling, but Minneapolis is quickly becoming the go-to city in America for building infrastructure. An impressive (for America) modal share helped push it onto the index, and we like the political will coming out of City Hall. A respectable bike-share system is helping cement the bicycle in the transportation foundation of the city. Seeds have been planted and a garden is growing. American cities—often content with baby steps—are in desperate need of leadership, and Minneapolis has emerged as a contender.”

When Adding Bike Lanes Actually Reduces Traffic Delays
CityLab | September 5, 2014
“To see what we mean, let’s take a look at the bike lanes installed on Columbus Avenue from 96th to 77th streets in 2010-2011. As the diagram below shows, the avenue originally had five lanes—three for traffic, one for parking, and one parking-morning rush hybrid. By narrowing the lane widths, the city was able to maintain all five lanes while still squeezing in a protected bike lane and a buffer area.

Rather than increase delay for cars, the protected bike lanes on Columbus actually improved travel times in the corridor. According to city figures, the average car took about four-and-a-half minutes to go from 96th to 77th before the bike lanes were installed, and three minutes afterward—a 35 percent decrease in travel time. This was true even as total vehicle volume on the road remained pretty consistent. In simpler terms, everybody wins.”

Metro puts half-cent sales tax increase for transportation projects on Nov. ballot 
Los Angeles Times | June 23, 2016
“Metro’s proposal, one of the most ambitious in modern U.S. history, could transform a traffic-choked region that began building a modern rail system decades after other major cities. The expenditure plan calls for several north-south links in a rail network that runs largely east to west. 

The tax, which has no end date, would increase the county’s base sales tax rate to 9.5% and push the rate to 10% in some cities, including Santa Monica and Commerce. If the tax were approved, two cents for every dollar spent in the county would fund transportation improvements. It would require a two-thirds’ vote to pass.”

$50B Sound Transit proposal: big taxes, big spending, big plan
The Seattle Times | March 24, 2016
“The plan, released at an agency board meeting Thursday, calls for $50 billion in new projects and services, funded by $27 billion in new tax collections through 2041, along with existing taxes, long-term debt and federal grants.

The debate over light rail is over. We are building a system north, south, east and west,” declared CEO Peter Rogoff. The full network would provide 108 miles of light rail, comparable to Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) or the Washington, D.C., Metro system, he said.”

“If approved by voters, Sound Transit 3 would boost an average household’s taxes by $400 per year.”

Joseph J. Mueller Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
Service to America Medals
“Prevented the collapse of a major dam that threatened the lives and property of thousands of residents and business owners downstream, and could have disrupted New York City’s water supply.”

Background: Water Recedes and Anxiety Rises After Hole Opens Near Upstate New York Dam | NY Times

Kathleen B. Hogan | Department of Energy
Service to America Medals
“Developed and expanded a series of pivotal national energy efficiency initiatives that have greatly reduced greenhouse gas emissions and saved American consumers and businesses billions of dollars.”

Background: Better Buildings Challenge Energy Savings Exceed $1.3B | Facility Executive

ATC privatization: a solution in search of a problem?
The Hill | September 30, 2016 
“A key question should be, what improvements would U.S. ATC privatization set out to achieve? Surprisingly, proponents have not articulated any metrics on what would be achieved through privatization. Perhaps that is because there is no proof that privatization would either save operators money (one of Delta’s arguments) or reduce flight time and delays (which place a drag on the U.S. economy).”

Don’t Privatize Air Traffic Control 
The New York Times – Editorial Board | February 15, 2016
“… there is no credible evidence that a privately operated system would be better than the current one, which is the busiest and safest in the world. And there is plenty of reason to believe it would be worse.”

“The privatization bill also gives short shrift to passengers’ interests. The new air traffic operator is to have a 13-member board of directors, with four of them representing airlines, three representing the owners and operators of private planes and one for aerospace manufacturers. Just two people would be appointed by the secretary of transportation to stand up for the public, with the other seats going to the chief executive and unions.”

“… Even more galling, the new company would not have to pay anything to acquire the towers, equipment and other assets of the existing system. The government has spent an estimated $53.5 billion on that system in just the last 20 years, with the money coming from passenger fees and tax revenue.”

Trump could privatize nation’s air traffic controllers
Reuters | December 8, 2016
“The chances that the federal government could hand off the U.S. air traffic control system to private management are increasing, say advocates who report they are getting supportive feedback from President-elect Donald Trump and his team.”

The Quiet Revolution and a Submerged Para-state
Public Goods Post 
Under normal circumstance, it would be safe to assume that “public goods” are delivered by public agencies.  But current circumstances are far from normal.  Over the last several decades, more and more public goods have been delivered by a para-state, a privatized government virtually hidden from view. We taxpayers still pay, but our money goes to a growing army of corporations on the public payroll.

Private corporations operate programs, deliver services and even manage other contractors. Some citizens receiving public services encounter only private contract workers, so are unaware that they are receiving a government service. While some forms of contract procurement have been in place since the nation’s birth, the very nature of contracting has changed as it has grown in scope. Basic governmental functions are now outsourced to for-profit corporations. Read more…

Broadband for All?
Public Goods Post 
In December 2017 the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal net neutrality rules which had ensured that the Internet belonged to the public and not to internet providers. While the regulatory news is bad, there is a way that people can take back the Internet. In a Guest Post, Donald Cohen tells us how local communities are moving to make Internet access a public good – providing accessible broadband for all. Read more …