Rhetorical Annihilation in the Social Sciences

[This post is periodically updated as helpful comments roll in.]

Have you ever picked up an academic paper and read, right there in the abstract, that you don't exist?  

We're used to reading rhetoric that defines us as the enemy, which is different.  Rhetoric about the "war on cars" or "war on coal" posits an in-group of good people, including the author and presumed reader, and an out-group that is threatening to them.  This is exclusionary language in its obvious form, and it's hard to justify in academia.  

But academics can slide unconsciously into a more subtle kind of exclusionary rhetoric, especially in the social sciences — what I'll call (melodramatically perhaps) the rhetoric of annihilation.  Instead of defining a group of people as evil or threatening, this rhetoric just ignores their existence.   In this rhetoric, there is no talk of war, because only one side is visible.   The author's presumed expertise becomes a kind of campfire.  Gather around the author's assumptions and you will be warm, safe, and included; if you don't, we can't see you out there in the dark anyway, so you basically don't exist.

This is remarkably easy to do even in an academic paper.  Here are two vivid examples, one classically leftist, the other conservative.

From the left, a paper on "transit deserts".  You can go to the link, but I'm not naming the authors here because I have no desire to embarrass them by attracting searches on their names.  Their work has been peer-reviewed, which means that several arbiters of academic quality view it as an acceptable example of professional thinking today.  My point is about how pervasive and accepted this rhetoric is even as academic thought.

The abstract begins:

The term “transit desert” is a new concept that looks at the gap between level of transit service (supply) and needs of a particular population (demand).  These populations are often referred to as “transit dependent,” people that are too young, too old, or too poor or who are physically unable to drive. “Transit deserts” in this case are defined as areas that lack adequate public transit service given areas containing populations that are deemed transit-dependent. 

In just a few words, the authors have denied the existence of three very large groups of people.  These rhetorically annihilated groups are:

  • Anyone who analyzed the spatial relationship between transit service and needy populations before someone  invented the "new concept" of doing this.  This includes all professional transit planners over the age of 30, including past generations going back a century or more.  (Of course, the rhetorical annihilation of elders is such a routine part of being young — kids, we did it too at your age! — that it's hardly worth being offended by.)  
  • Anyone for whom demand does not mean mere need, but rather the meaning that is already routine in business and economics — something like a "buyer's willingness and ability to pay a price for a specific quantity of a good or service".  The paper's use of the word demand annihilates anyone coming from the perspectives of business or basic economics..  
  • Anyone who uses transit, wants transit to be useful to them, or wants the live in a city where even the rich ride transit, but who does not meet the specified qualifications to be called "transit dependent."  As made clear in the first sentence, these people's desire to use transit, or to build a city around transit, does not count to the authors as demand, because they do not meet the authors' standard for need.

A paper could make arguments against the point of view of these groups, but tbat's not done here.  Rather, the very possibility that such positions might exist is denied.

And of course, conservatives papers do this too.  Let's turn to a conservative-sounding paper, featured in Atlantic Citylab, for which you can also follow the link for the citation.  It's a little more careful but standard forms of annihilation appear soon enough.  The paper opens like this:

This article asks why public transportation’s political support in the United States is so much larger than its ridership.

Upon reading this, I scratched my head trying to imagine what it would be like to find this an interesting problem statement.  I don't mean to rhetorically annihilate the authors; I acknowledge their existence, but it it sounds like they don't talk with transit advocates or riders very much.   Those people would tell you that the answer is too obvious to need studying, as indeed it turns out to be:  

We … show that support for transit spending is correlated more with belief in its collective rather than private benefits—transit supporters are more likely to report broad concerns about traffic congestion and air pollution than to report wanting to use transit themselves.

Well, of course people vote for transit for reasons other than the narrowest kind of self-interest. People vote for transit because (a) it benefits people they care about, if not themselves, (b) it offers some solutions to real problems of urban mobility and (c) it helps foster cities that people want to live in, as demonstrated by the way land values are soaring in such places.  

But why is this a problem?  The authors conclude:

These findings suggest a collective action problem, since without riders transit cannot deliver collective benefits. But most transit spending supporters do not use transit, and demographics suggest they are unlikely to begin doing so; transit voters are wealthier and have more options than transit riders.

A collective action problem is a situation in which everyone would benefit if X were done, but nobody can justify doing X as a selfish cost/benefit calculation.  One fable explaining the problem imagines a group of mice who would all benefit if a marauding cat wore a bell, but none of whom finds it rational to the huge risks of climbing the cat's back to put the bell on.

What does it mean to assert that the transit ridership is a problem of this kind?  It implies …

  • … that transit users who do not vote do not exist.  The most explicit rhetorical annihilation in the paper is the assumption that the set of people who vote in the US (rarely more than 40% of the population and often less in local elections) largely contains the set of potential transit riders.  In reality, non-voters are so dominant in the population that their ridership may be a big contributor to transit's actual success, thus helping solve any "collective action problem".  Nor do they consider that many of these non-voters are friends or relatives or employees of voters, who may then understandably, even in a sense selfishly, vote in the interests of those people. 
  • ... that people who don't think they'll use transit are right about that.  In the biz, what people say they want to do, or would do, is called stated preference data, and it's known to be largely useless.  Humans are terrible at guessing what they'd do, or want to do, in a hypothetical future based on a situation, and set of options, that they can't imagine now.
  • ... that there is no gradual path to collective action, because demographic categories all have hard edges within which people are trapped.  This is the big one.  To posit a "collective action problem" the authors must assume that the level of wealth above which people are unlikely to use transit is rigid, even though it in reality it rises as transit grows more useful, and that it divides a population cleanly.   Everyone who is near the boundaries between demographic categories, or who chooses transit for reasons not predictable by their income, is annihilated here.

No argument appears in the paper for any of the assumptions above.  Limited discussion about ridership is based on what people tell the census about their commuting behavior; this casually annihilates all non-commute users of transit, including people who voted for it and love to use it on weekends, but have to drive to work because it's not useful for that purpose.

Finally, the collective action problem assumes that everyone is a bizarre character from classical economics known as homo economicus: someone who rationally computes and acts on self-interest that is defined only in the narrowest sense.  Among the many absurdities that follow from this are that in exactly the same circumstances, everyone would do the same thing, because we do not have diverse values, attractions, or personalities.

But in the real world, one mouse sometimes does put the bell on the cat.  Some of us will take ridiculous risks for the common good.  Some of us choose to be firefighters or police or soldiers or artists or social workers, all high-risk jobs that require courage but that enrich society if they succeed against all the odds.  Most of us don't take those risks, but we're all better off because some of us do.  Likewise, some fortunate people ride transit because they like it.  Some less fortunate ones prefer to spend their scarce income on a motorcycle.  

Everyone who acts in ways not predictable by their assigned demographic category is being annihilated here.  Human diversity, even human quirkiness is good for the collective, however hard it is for the social sciences to describe. 

What do these two papers have in common?  Between them, they annihilate almost everyone, including each other's in-groups.  

You could say that all this annihilation is an occupational hazard of the social sciences — or indeed that it's an inevitable feature of them.  The social sciences are in the business of talking about gigantic groups of people using reductive categories, and all categorization suppresses diversity.

But the hardness of category boundaries is one of the most fundamental and dangerous of human illusions, because it is coded deeply into common language and underlies all forms of prejudice.   So the social sciences are always playing with fire, always at risk of giving aid and comfort to polarizing, exclusionary styles of thought.  

This rhetoric of annihilation can lead to publication and approval, so long as an adequate ecosystem of reviewers and advisors has reasons (ideological or material) for sharing an assumption or at least not challenging it.  But once past that bar, these assumptions become "the literature," bounced around in the echo chamber of "expert" discourse.  Through the turning of generations, some of these assumptions do get overturned, if only as part of the inevitable process of the young annihilating their elders.  But much harm is done in the meantime.

Great academic work also requires thinking about all of the forces that determine the situation being studied, not just the one's academic discipline or in-group values, and honoring  descriptions of the issue from those points of view.   If they intend to influence policy, they make sure they understand the diverse experience of practitioners in the field, not just academics.  This is especially true if a paper intends to influence policy, rather than just participate in a discipline's private conversation. 

But meanwhile: Do you see a new academic paper, thick with footnotes and citations, as an immediate signifier of authority and wisdom?  Be careful.  To be welcomed around the campfire, you may have to consent to annihilation.

52 Responses to Rhetorical Annihilation in the Social Sciences

  1. EngineerScotty August 8, 2015 at 4:09 pm #

    I think you might be being a little unfair to the authors of at least the first paper. It’s an academic paper, focused on a specific phenomenon; it’s not uncommon for such papers to give short shrift to other phenomena beyond the one under study.
    At any rate, take a look at the three groups you insist are being “annihilated”: Only one of them (the group of transit users often referred to as “choice riders”) is a potential topic of study; and their existence is acknowledged in the body of the paper (summary: Chicago and Portland deliver quality transit service, and have extensive ridership including many “choice” riders; Columbus and Charlotte provide minimal service, mainly serving the destitute, and have the coverage gaps one would expect with a low-budget system).
    The other two groups–are essentially the author’s peers. You might view the tone and tenor of this paper as a bit of an insult (“Hey! We’re looking that impact of transit service on poor people, which the heartless technocrats that came before us never bothered to do”), but sometimes re-framing an old idea is valuable; and the idea of “desert” in the provision of some essential thing (food or transit) is a way of re-introducing social equity into planning discussions after a few decades of right-wing economics seem to have convinced people that such concerns are inappropriate.
    Sometimes, “no comment” is really just “no comment”, and the closed-world assumption does not apply.

  2. Jarrett August 8, 2015 at 4:38 pm #

    Scotty.
    I’ll write more about “transit deserts” but …
    The basic contention of the “transit deserts” argument is that we transit planners don’t already know that there are unserved transit dependent people out there. And that’s false. We know exactly where these people are, although the authors were too incurious to ask us that.
    The reason transit doesn’t serve all of them is that some places are geometrically and physically hostile to transit. Demands for service to these areas are demands for low-ridership “coverage” services, and low ridership means that not many people are benefiting from them.
    This requires an adult conversation about priorities. In that context, “transit desert” is just a melodramatic bit of rhetoric that inflames but does not illuminate. It’s based on the false belief that if people scream more loudly about their needs (or more melodramatically in this case) transit agencies will somehow change the facts of geometry to serve them all.
    That’s not how reality works. Screaming doesn’t answer the need to think about the tradeoff. And it saddens me to see a peer-reviewed paper pushing such a childish view of the matter.
    What’s more the analogy between transit and food is false. An accurate analogy would be between access and food. But there are many kinds of access and the authors never argue why transit in particular should be an entitlement no matter how expensive or inappropriate it is as an access solution.
    I am of course extremely concerned with the plight of people marooned without access. But that’s not a transit problem. It’s a problem with where these people are encouraged to live.
    But it is really harmful to have that kind of ignorance out there in the academic literature, resounding through future work as authoritative citations.

  3. LewisLehe August 8, 2015 at 4:38 pm #

    This is a good post. It is refreshing to see a practitioner critique academic articles. You should do it more frequently although time is scarce.

  4. Ben Smith August 8, 2015 at 7:39 pm #

    Definitely a great critique of the social sciences. While it is easy to explain the data trends which conform to the models, it is important to also try to understand why certain data does not.

  5. Titd_chris August 8, 2015 at 9:48 pm #

    I like your explanation of the “rhetorical annihilation” and the examples used make sense… but man, your comment upthread is a perfect example of that technique in action. In particular, it annihilates the possibility that there exist neighborhoods which are transit-dependent, and which are geometrically and physically amenable to transit, but which are not well (or at all) served because the overall funding level (or the amount of service that can be provided at any particular funding level) is too low.
    For example, there’s the subway desert map which was going around: http://www.citylab.com/commute/2015/08/where-the-new-york-city-subway-doesnt-go/400538/
    It’s not without its issues: the circles are probably drawn too tightly, and the “deserts” tend to have bus service, so it’s not like they are transit-free (though NYC buses provide, even with the best of frequencies and routings, pretty substandard service). But, man, these are still real deserts: millions of people living in areas with gridded streets and off-the-charts density (take a look at Jackson Heights, or East Flatbush, just for starters). These are areas that have all the ingredients for successful rapid transit, but don’t have the infrastructure to match. These are areas, that in your dichotomy between low-ridership “coverage” areas and places well-served by transit, have been rhetorically annihilated by you. And this is just NYC proper, an outlier among outliers. Take a look at NYC’s inner-ring suburbs and you will see towns that are very dense by American standards (often several times as much as central cities in other parts of the country), have good-enough street grids… but very few non-captive riders beyond commuter rail because there is so little funding given to transit.
    Or, to take an example from the paper, look at the Chicago map. Sure, the far-out collar county exurbs are a spurious “transit desert”. But there are also areas within the city itself- areas that are high-density and/or far from El service, which are truly underserved by the current system.
    I mean, you can’t seriously believe that transit providers are able to serve every serve-able neighborhood on the budgets they currently have? Sure, you’re not going to ever get good service on acre-lot cul-de-sac sprawl… but if you were able to secure appropriate funding for transit you *would* get good service on a much larger area. And that’s *also* an adult conversation we need to be having, one which this frame seems meant to advance.

  6. EngineerScotty August 8, 2015 at 11:33 pm #

    I would second Titd_chris. While some “transit deserts” can be explained by difficult-to-serve geography, not all can.
    * If your a metro area has a citywide transit agency, and the poor have been pushed out to the suburbs–they may simply be outside of the service area of the main transit agency. This is especially a problem if municipal boundaries have been drawn to essentially quarantine the poor, so they cannot afford to live anyhere nice, and the taxes of the middle class and wealthy aren’t be used to subsidize the poor.
    * Poor funding, and poor service overall, in places where public transit is seen as a form of social insurance rather than a vital public service.
    * In places where transit is seen as a desirable amenity, it–like other desirable amenities–may be unfairly doled out, with the lion’s share going to upscale neighborhoods. Here in Portland, service west of I-205 is noticeably better than service east of the freeway. (TriMet, fortunately, has noticed and has plans to improve things, albeit currently not funded). East Portland has some issues that may make service a bit less effective (fewer sidewalks, a bit more of a discontinuous grid, and somewhat lower density), but it’s far from cul-de-sac hell; the main streets are mostly continuous, but many of them (particularly N/S) have no service at all.
    * And in a few places I can think of, transit systems may even be designed to limit the mobility of the poor, or to keep them from mingling with the middle class.
    * Certain types of service (express bus, commuter rail), often focus on employment centers and middle-class bedroom communities, often deliberately skipping poorer neighborhoods which might be on the way. (These service also are generally useless for any trip other than Monday-Friday day-shift jobs). Speaking of which..
    * Service span is often detrimental to the poor. No Saturday or Sunday service? Absent staunchly-enforced blue laws, retail workers are screwed, as are anyone looking to use transit for shopping, getting to church, or other non-work activities on weekends. No service during the hours at which swing shift lets out? Likewise.
    As you have pointed out, Jarrett–the decision as to whether or not to fund “coverage” vs “ridership” service is, and ought to be, political. In the same vein, I tend to view the “transit desert” paper as a political argument, not as a technical one (let alone as any sort of attack on the transit planning profession). Some people do need the service more than others (and have a lower elasticity of demand); whether or not these users should be treated more (or less–which often does happen) preferentially than more choice riders is inherently a political decision.

  7. Jarrett August 9, 2015 at 7:33 am #

    Titd_chris and Scotty
    I haven’t claimed that there aren’t areas that could support higher order transit than they have. Many cities could support subway networks in denser and more walkable areas, including parts of New York. Many US medium-density areas could support vastly more bus service than they have, as the experience of comparable Canadian cities proves.
    If you want to argue for more money for transit, then transit agencies are with you, of course. But the “transit desert” argument isn’t about that. It’s implication is that transit agencies, given the money they have, are not serving some people because they don’t know about them and don’t already know how to draw maps of them.
    And that’s just an expression of ignorance and lack of curiosity on the part of researchers and academic reviewers.
    It’s entirely appropriate for transit professionals to be offended by the claim that the reason we don’t serve some people is that we don’t know about them. This is just another example of all the endless Millennial claims about how their generation has invented data and visualization for the first time.
    The reason we have unserved areas around Houston, for example (apart from the geography of agency boundaries) is that the Houston Metro Board chose to devote only 20% of its resources to coverage (closer to 25% in the end) and those resources go only so far in suburban geographies whose physical design makes high-ridership transit impossible. Calling the resulting areas “transit deserts” doesn’t mean that an agency should serve them within its fixed resources and the defined priorities.
    Rather, the effect of transit desert maps is to create a vast feelings of entitlement to low-ridership coverage services, thereby annihilating other markets where actual high ridership is possible and thus annihilating everyone who cares about transit’s environmental and urban redevelopment goals.
    Yes, Staten Island is a “subway desert” for the same reason that North Dakota is. It’s not a bus desert because it has the physical geography for good bus services. Rural North Dakota is a desert for transit of all kinds because cars are the transportation mode that works with its physical geography. And this is critical: people move to North Dakota, or Staten Island, knowing those things.
    Obviously, when you take the large view, “desert” is a silly and ignorant metaphor whose purpose is to blind people to the actual issues involved, and thus render them incapable of the kind of action that would lead to solutions.

  8. Christof Spieler August 9, 2015 at 9:28 am #

    The first paper is actually full of problems. Measuring “demand” by looking at only “transit-dependent” populations means that major employment centers (which have little population) have no transit demand. Measuring “supply” by sidewalks and street connectivity ascribes to tyrant problems that are actually due to urban planning. More fundamentally, their methodology is simply to compare the distribution of “supply” and “demand”; their definition of “desert” is a place where “demand” is more above average for the city than “supply” is above average for the city. That means really dense places could be deemed a “transit desert” even though they have a lot of service. It also means that doubling service (or cutting service in half) across the system would lead to no change in the result, since all that matters is distribution of service, not quantity. In other words, the authors have simply redefined the word “transit desert” to mean something that has no bearing on the actual utility of transit.

  9. Fbfree August 9, 2015 at 9:55 am #

    Jarrett,
    I’m confused about the difference you’re making between rhetorical annihilation and problem definition or focus, especially given the excerpts you’ve posted. Unless it’s a review (which I would consider any CityLab article to be), the format of academic papers rarely allows for a comprehensive evaluation of broad issues, and a defined focus is often required. Is rhetorical annihilation a problem inherent to these papers, or to readers and commentators that generalize their narrow findings?

  10. Jarrett August 9, 2015 at 10:20 am #

    Fbfree
    Good question. There’s no hard line between focus and denial.
    Good writing, in my experience, goes through the act of focusing explicitly. “I’m talking about X and not about Y, but not because Y doesn’t exist. This is a limitation on my paper’s relevance.”
    It matters, too, whether a paper is explicitly intended to be read only by experts within one’s discipline — among whom many assumptions always go unsaid — or is claiming to inform policymakers and other members of an educated public. Social science research that I encounter mostly wants to influence policy, and if it’s going to do that, it has to describe its place in a larger universe of considerations, doesn’t it? Otherwise, it risks transmitting the assumptions of an academic silo into domains where those assumptions are annihilating to some participants.

  11. Titd_chris August 9, 2015 at 10:30 am #

    “I haven’t claimed that there aren’t areas that could support higher order transit than they have. Many cities could support subway networks in denser and more walkable areas, including parts of New York. Many US medium-density areas could support vastly more bus service than they have, as the experience of comparable Canadian cities proves.”
    Well, it’s nice that you belatedly acknowledge the existence of these areas. What would be better would be if you could take that critical eye and train it on your own rhetoric, and see how your first comment here very clearly implied that such areas do not exist. Physician, heal thyself.
    Furthermore, I don’t think your gloss on the transit deserts paper is particularly fair or accurate. The authors don’t really say that “the reason we don’t serve some people is that we don’t know about them”; and they don’t really focus on “low-ridership coverage areas”, either. Rather, they specifically mention transit deserts in “low-income, inner-city areas” (i.e. places that do in fact have the right geography for transit), and cite how ” transit subsidies have been concentrated primarily on serving lower-density, higher income areas and improving transit access only for suburban residents”, which is making a political argument for sure, but one which ought to dovetail neatly with your approach.
    The implication is not that transit agencies “don’t know about them”, that’s a strawman. The implication is more that the agencies may know about these populations but due to political pressure misallocate resources towards wealthier areas instead (c.f. Scotty’s point about express buses and commuter rail). And *some* of these areas do, in fact, have the right geography for transit. The desert metaphor is thus not something we can use as an all-in-one measure, but which in concert with other tactics can shine light on some of the inequities and political issues surrounding transit funding. There are a lot of interlocking issues– geometry is one, an important one, but it’s not the *only* one– and the transit desert frame is only “silly and ignorant” if you misidentify the facet it’s trying to influence.
    As for specific examples: if, say, Houston’s transit funding doubled, would it be possible to expand the areas that receive high-ridership transit? Almost certainly. While some geographies are intrinsically hostile to transit, I don’t for a second believe that geography is *more* of a limiting factor than funding in any agency outside of small-town and rural services. Yes, holding the budget constant forces one to make certain tradeoffs, and you’re very good at working within those constraints… but at a certain point it needs to be explicitly said that maybe we *shouldn’t* resign ourselves to holding the budget constant? And, for Staten Island, sure much of it would not be able to support subway levels of service… but I’m pretty sure the North Shore could- maybe not as much as some other deserts in NYC, but that’s a ludicrously high bar. And, not coincidentally, the North Shore also has the highest proportion of transit-dependent people on the island. Reactivating the North Shore line would be a win for both equity and geography, if there was the funding and will for it. But your preferred frame seems to rhetorically annihilate those possibilities.

  12. Titd_chris August 9, 2015 at 10:58 am #

    One last thing to point out about that transit deserts paper is that their metric does in fact take frequency into account, so it’s not like they’re simply pushing for a naive coverage model- rather, while they don’t use these terms specifically, they seem to be arguing for increasing *ridership-quality* service in transit-dependent areas.

  13. Alon Levy August 9, 2015 at 11:58 am #

    A lot of examples of transit agency indifference to poor people are hard to look at in a large-scale study, because those are usually investment decisions, and these usually come with various sets of excuses. The examples that I keep coming back to are the Boston-area study that sandbagged railstituting the Silver Lie; Providence’s attempt at building a downtown streetcar that completely misses its top bus roues, which serve low-income areas; and New Haven’s somewhat less advanced proposals to build a streetcar shuttle from the train station to downtown, again missing the top bus route.
    In the realm of bus service, the focus on direct peak service is also an example of rhetorical annihilation. I’ve seen far too many people complain that American transit agencies are moving in the direction of frequent grids and not paying enough attention to the needs of peak riders (usually termed “choice riders”). The annihilation here is that the social classes that ride transit in the peak and off-peak are not the same: in cities with poor transit service, e.g. all of the US except New York, off-peak riders are poorer, since middle-class car owners are less likely to ride transit outside of rush hour traffic jams.

  14. EngineerScotty August 9, 2015 at 12:09 pm #

    I went back and re-read the paper, just to make sure I’m not missing anything. Nowhere, that I could see, does the paper ascribe blame to the “transit desert” phenomenon, the closest it comes is this:

    Second, this study approaches a transportation problem with a new paradigm and establishes a method for quantifying and calculating locations with inadequate transit service given a population’s needs. Relatively no literature was found on this
    topic, which makes this study an important stepping stone to refine and evaluate public transportation service. In an era with dwindling budgets for public agencies, efficiency and effectiveness are paramount. Public dollars need to be spent as sensibly as possible. This study allows more sensible solutions to be determined and
    adds to the discourse of transportation planning methods.

    Possibly, the authors are not as aware as they should be of tools and methodologies used in the transit planning profession (one author is a professor, the other a recently-graduated Masters’ candidate), but this does not appear to be a dart aimed at the head of transit planners, consultants, or agency staffs–who, I think we agree, are not the ones who should be held responsible for political decisions concening rationing of service. (And given the level of funding in most US metros, I would submit, in my example of rhetorical slight-of-hand, that “rationing” and not “allocation” is the appropriate verb for choosing how service is distributed).
    At any rate… I’ve noticed a palpable sense of despair and frustration in your post in the past couple months–a frustration that poor beleagured agency staffs are getting blamed, often unfairly, for (allegedly) poor service, when they are simply doing their jobs, best as they can with the resources provided. This post. . Here. And in the comments in several other threads. I certainly see that dynamic in public criticism of TriMet; here in Portland it seems to be an article of faith that TriMet is awash in cash, which it squanders on things like Developer-Oriented Transit :), various other boondoggles, office renovations, excessive salaries for management and support staff (the latter often have their existence questioned), excessive salaries for union operators and mechanics, wild office parties, and whatever else–leaving only pennies for operations. And while TriMet (like TransLink) has made mistakes, it is certainly not anywhere near as corrupt, incompetent, or wasteful as some of its critics (some of whom are actually opposed to its mission, others simply unhappy with their service) allege. And if and when I say so, I occasionally get accused of being an agency shill.
    In this business, you can’t win… but that’s true of a lot of businesses. In may day job, I receive far more defect reports from the field than I do reports of praise–but it comes with the territory.
    Now, one final note–certainly, Rhetorical Annihliation™ may be a classic example of a clever propaganda technique. Indeed, if you watched the GOP “debate” last week, you would have seen the hosts throwing meatballs at the establishment favorites (Jeb, Rubio, and Kasich), throwing at the head of the anti-establishment favorite (Donald Trump), and largely pitching outside to the various also-rans who have low-single-digit support–if you are a fan of Rand Paul or Mike Huckabee or Chris Christie, it’s as though your candidate did not exist.
    But there is another rhetorical technique, which goes by various names: Fill In The Blank. Silence Is Consent. Silence is Death, even. Imputing malign or sinister meanings to the silence of others, and essentially demanding that your position be affirmed by others, or treating them as hostile should they not comply with such demands. (The LA BRU was quite adept at this, at least until they essentially made enemies out of everyone in LA transit circles). And another rhetorical technique is declaring critics (and/or those who point out inconvenient issues) to be enemies. Sometimes they are–for example, I don’t take any criticism of public transit that comes from the CATO Institute seriously; at best it’s concern trolling. I don’t know anything about the ideological leanings of the authors of the paper being questioned (other than Jarrett identifies them as “left”, and they focus a great deal on social equity as opposed to operational efficiency). But they do seem to be genuinely interested in improving the provision of transit service (even if they may have a different vision of what that means), as opposed to undermining it.

  15. EngineerScotty August 9, 2015 at 12:58 pm #

    A lot of examples of transit agency indifference to poor people are hard to look at in a large-scale study, because those are usually investment decisions, and these usually come with various sets of excuses.
    Neglect of the poor has been a longstanding feature of US (and worldwide) politics. The poor often do not vote, and they have little political influence outside their casting of ballots, so it’s not surprising that not only do they get the short end of the stick, but are beaten with it afterwards.
    That said… there is also a bit of danger in exhortations to run transit agencies like businesses. While there is wisdom there as well–there’s much knowledge and practice that can be applied to transit operations–but taking it too far can easily lead to mistreatment of the poor.
    After all–if I’m a transit planner viewing provision of transit service as a business, the service itself as my product, and the rider base as my customers, and I’m singularly focused on the bottom line–maximizing ridership or farebox recovery or some other neutral figure of merit–and I’m unconstrained by equity issues (or other political concerns)–how might I go about doing this?
    The obvious answer: screw the poor.
    After all, if someone has an elasticity of transit demand which is well below unity (ignoring the minus sign), they’re going to be far more tolerant of crappy service. If the bus comes only once an hour, they’ll wait that hour, because they’ve no car, but still have to get to their crappy job at the mall on time. I’ll provide just enough service to the poor to keep the buses from being overcrowded–but even then, if someone has to wait another hour for the next bus because the last one was full, whatever. Sucks to be poor.
    “Choice” riders, on the other hand, will get plied with frequent service, shiny new capital projects, and other amenities. After all, their business must be won, not merely taken for granted, and it’s their political patronage that I need to keep the tax dollars rolling in. (The last thing that I want, as the Rational Transit Manager, is for my agency to be perceived as “welfare”, lest my funding be cut and the poor REALLY get screwed by an indifferent or even hostile electorate).
    That is how a transit manager, running his agency like a business, is likely to behave if one takes a bottom-line focus to its logical conclusion. After all, this is how many actual for-profit businesses, who are utterly nconstrained by equity concerns, behave in practice. There’s a reason that there are food deserts and telecommunications deserts and banking deserts and this deserts and that deserts: many companies would just as soon not deal with the poor, for many perfectly rational reasons, and thus deliberately will not locate in poor neighborhoods. And those that do often provide exploitative service to a captive customer base, whether it’s slumlord housing, convenience stores being the only place to buy groceries, or payday lenders and check-cashing services instead of banks and credit unions. It’s expensive to be poor.
    Fortunately, Jarrett is quite aware of this phenomenon, and has cautioned against it many times. But another rhetorical truism comes into play–while a process may be “neutral” in the sense that it excludes moral or political factors in its workings, there isn’t such a thing as a morally-neutral outcome. Whether or not a thumb is placed on the scale, the end result will have winners and losers, and somebody will come away unhappy. It is a fallacy to proclaim that just because the process was fair in some sense, that the result is thus unimpeachable. Sometimes, a fair and just result requires a thumb on the scale, and it is the role of politics to determine what is fair and just, and whose thumb should be used.
    I’ve seen far too many people complain that American transit agencies are moving in the direction of frequent grids and not paying enough attention to the needs of peak riders (usually termed “choice riders”).
    Recently at PT, we had a user come out and proclaim that she would only take TriMet if provided a direct route to downtown. The second a transfer (to MAX) is involved, she was driving. And that TriMet had better give her what she likes, because she was a Choice Rider™, and it was her cohort that ultimately dictated the agency’s fate.
    And when the Orange Line opens next month, I expect to hear a large amount of caterwauling from riders of the 33 about the abject horrors of now being forced to transfer to MAX in Milwaukie. After all, the wife of the current President of Metro once infamously complained about how she was “forced” to drive to work downtown after Westside MAX opened, and the express buses in Washington County were cancelled and replaced with shorter all-day routes that connect to light rail. Overall, service in WashCo is far better than it was in 1995 (though the population growth here has a lot to do with that as well), but not if you were a downtown worker who worships at the Church of the One-Seat Ride….

  16. Christine Berthet August 9, 2015 at 1:24 pm #

    Excellent. What is the definition of transit ? A thought comes to mind that we should reframe the concept of transit as a shared transportation system and include highways and cars in the lot .
    After all rails transport wagons of people and merchandise , roads transport vehicles with people and merchandise. It is all a matter of technology and Efficiency.
    There would be many benefits to this inclusive definition: first the budgets for highway and rail/ subway would be mingled . This would clarify for all, the costs of each technology per passenger, something that has been carefully hidden . This would also bring down to the municipality level choices in technology and investments based on their topography and plans.
    Second, and not least, the car driving citizens would now become ” transit users”, and equal in every respect to a bus or subway rider, especially in the sense that they are heavily subsidized as well. . A very powerful cultural shift

  17. Christine Berthet August 9, 2015 at 1:24 pm #

    Excellent. What is the definition of transit ? A thought comes to mind that we should reframe the concept of transit as a shared transportation system and include highways and cars in the lot .
    After all rails transport wagons of people and merchandise , roads transport vehicles with people and merchandise. It is all a matter of technology and Efficiency.
    There would be many benefits to this inclusive definition: first the budgets for highway and rail/ subway would be mingled . This would clarify for all, the costs of each technology per passenger, something that has been carefully hidden . This would also bring down to the municipality level choices in technology and investments based on their topography and plans.
    Second, and not least, the car driving citizens would now become ” transit users”, and equal in every respect to a bus or subway rider, especially in the sense that they are heavily subsidized as well. . A very powerful cultural shift

  18. Christine Berthet August 9, 2015 at 1:24 pm #

    Excellent. What is the definition of transit ? A thought comes to mind that we should reframe the concept of transit as a shared transportation system and include highways and cars in the lot .
    After all rails transport wagons of people and merchandise , roads transport vehicles with people and merchandise. It is all a matter of technology and Efficiency.
    There would be many benefits to this inclusive definition: first the budgets for highway and rail/ subway would be mingled . This would clarify for all, the costs of each technology per passenger, something that has been carefully hidden . This would also bring down to the municipality level choices in technology and investments based on their topography and plans.
    Second, and not least, the car driving citizens would now become ” transit users”, and equal in every respect to a bus or subway rider, especially in the sense that they are heavily subsidized as well. . A very powerful cultural shift

  19. Christine Berthet August 9, 2015 at 1:24 pm #

    Excellent. What is the definition of transit ? A thought comes to mind that we should reframe the concept of transit as a shared transportation system and include highways and cars in the lot .
    After all rails transport wagons of people and merchandise , roads transport vehicles with people and merchandise. It is all a matter of technology and Efficiency.
    There would be many benefits to this inclusive definition: first the budgets for highway and rail/ subway would be mingled . This would clarify for all, the costs of each technology per passenger, something that has been carefully hidden . This would also bring down to the municipality level choices in technology and investments based on their topography and plans.
    Second, and not least, the car driving citizens would now become ” transit users”, and equal in every respect to a bus or subway rider, especially in the sense that they are heavily subsidized as well. . A very powerful cultural shift

  20. Christine Berthet August 9, 2015 at 1:24 pm #

    Excellent. What is the definition of transit ? A thought comes to mind that we should reframe the concept of transit as a shared transportation system and include highways and cars in the lot .
    After all rails transport wagons of people and merchandise , roads transport vehicles with people and merchandise. It is all a matter of technology and Efficiency.
    There would be many benefits to this inclusive definition: first the budgets for highway and rail/ subway would be mingled . This would clarify for all, the costs of each technology per passenger, something that has been carefully hidden . This would also bring down to the municipality level choices in technology and investments based on their topography and plans.
    Second, and not least, the car driving citizens would now become ” transit users”, and equal in every respect to a bus or subway rider, especially in the sense that they are heavily subsidized as well. . A very powerful cultural shift

  21. Christine Berthet August 9, 2015 at 1:24 pm #

    Excellent. What is the definition of transit ? A thought comes to mind that we should reframe the concept of transit as a shared transportation system and include highways and cars in the lot .
    After all rails transport wagons of people and merchandise , roads transport vehicles with people and merchandise. It is all a matter of technology and Efficiency.
    There would be many benefits to this inclusive definition: first the budgets for highway and rail/ subway would be mingled . This would clarify for all, the costs of each technology per passenger, something that has been carefully hidden . This would also bring down to the municipality level choices in technology and investments based on their topography and plans.
    Second, and not least, the car driving citizens would now become ” transit users”, and equal in every respect to a bus or subway rider, especially in the sense that they are heavily subsidized as well. . A very powerful cultural shift

  22. Christine Berthet August 9, 2015 at 1:24 pm #

    Excellent. What is the definition of transit ? A thought comes to mind that we should reframe the concept of transit as a shared transportation system and include highways and cars in the lot .
    After all rails transport wagons of people and merchandise , roads transport vehicles with people and merchandise. It is all a matter of technology and Efficiency.
    There would be many benefits to this inclusive definition: first the budgets for highway and rail/ subway would be mingled . This would clarify for all, the costs of each technology per passenger, something that has been carefully hidden . This would also bring down to the municipality level choices in technology and investments based on their topography and plans.
    Second, and not least, the car driving citizens would now become ” transit users”, and equal in every respect to a bus or subway rider, especially in the sense that they are heavily subsidized as well. . A very powerful cultural shift

  23. Christine Berthet August 9, 2015 at 1:24 pm #

    Excellent. What is the definition of transit ? A thought comes to mind that we should reframe the concept of transit as a shared transportation system and include highways and cars in the lot .
    After all rails transport wagons of people and merchandise , roads transport vehicles with people and merchandise. It is all a matter of technology and Efficiency.
    There would be many benefits to this inclusive definition: first the budgets for highway and rail/ subway would be mingled . This would clarify for all, the costs of each technology per passenger, something that has been carefully hidden . This would also bring down to the municipality level choices in technology and investments based on their topography and plans.
    Second, and not least, the car driving citizens would now become ” transit users”, and equal in every respect to a bus or subway rider, especially in the sense that they are heavily subsidized as well. . A very powerful cultural shift

  24. Christine Berthet August 9, 2015 at 1:24 pm #

    Excellent. What is the definition of transit ? A thought comes to mind that we should reframe the concept of transit as a shared transportation system and include highways and cars in the lot .
    After all rails transport wagons of people and merchandise , roads transport vehicles with people and merchandise. It is all a matter of technology and Efficiency.
    There would be many benefits to this inclusive definition: first the budgets for highway and rail/ subway would be mingled . This would clarify for all, the costs of each technology per passenger, something that has been carefully hidden . This would also bring down to the municipality level choices in technology and investments based on their topography and plans.
    Second, and not least, the car driving citizens would now become ” transit users”, and equal in every respect to a bus or subway rider, especially in the sense that they are heavily subsidized as well. . A very powerful cultural shift

  25. Christine Berthet August 9, 2015 at 1:24 pm #

    Excellent. What is the definition of transit ? A thought comes to mind that we should reframe the concept of transit as a shared transportation system and include highways and cars in the lot .
    After all rails transport wagons of people and merchandise , roads transport vehicles with people and merchandise. It is all a matter of technology and Efficiency.
    There would be many benefits to this inclusive definition: first the budgets for highway and rail/ subway would be mingled . This would clarify for all, the costs of each technology per passenger, something that has been carefully hidden . This would also bring down to the municipality level choices in technology and investments based on their topography and plans.
    Second, and not least, the car driving citizens would now become ” transit users”, and equal in every respect to a bus or subway rider, especially in the sense that they are heavily subsidized as well. . A very powerful cultural shift

  26. Marc August 9, 2015 at 2:47 pm #

    I wonder if “rhetorical annihilation” is just a symptom of our tendency to overspecialize and to reduce complex multivariable problems into easy-to-analyze single-variable problems? In some fields this is often the only way professionals are taught and trained to solve problems, so you of course end up with infamous examples like CIAM urban planning, and 20th century DOTs making everything about traffic management. This overspecialization-leading-to-oversimplification phenomenon is now reappearing in intersection modeling for driverless cars…
    http://www.citylab.com/tech/2015/06/these-futuristic-driverless-car-intersections-forgot-about-pedestrians-and-cyclists/394847/
    …in which design professionals create exquisite computer models to solve a narrowly-defined problem – getting driverless cars through urban intersections – and end up “solving” this problem by making the urban context so simple and abstract that pedestrians, transit, cyclists, and all the other urban street menagerie cease to exist. They end up with a great animation that “works” on the screen, but is utterly irrelevant in the real world.
    So in many technical fields this phenomenon could perhaps be called “technical annihilation” (in the above example, focusing on SOVs to such an extreme you forget that there actually are other moving things in this world), while in the social sciences it appears instead as “rhetorical annihilation.” But both are perhaps just symptoms of the same tendency to overspecialize, in which all concerns outside a single selected (abstracted) discrete concern cease to exist.
    Even in those instances where we *do* try to look at complex multivariable problems “holistically” or “comprehensively,” there is still the tendency to break these problems down into discrete subproblems, “solve” each subproblem separately, and then graft all the separately-solved subproblems back into a “comprehensive” solution. In the transportation and urban design fields, there is perhaps no better example than the “complete street.”

  27. h August 9, 2015 at 2:50 pm #

    Christine Berthet,
    If you do not think that car users are heavily subsidized you are kidding yourself.

  28. Marc August 9, 2015 at 3:03 pm #

    Loved this bit in the post…
    “The hardness of category boundaries is one of the most fundamental and dangerous of human illusions, coded deeply into language and underlying most forms of prejudice.”
    …because it highlights our predicament so well. In some fields we’re perhaps too dependent on categorization and simplification not just as a means for *identifying* problems, but for *solving* them as well.

  29. Fbfree August 9, 2015 at 4:08 pm #

    Marc,
    I strongly disagree that categorization and simplification are inherently bad. Rather, they are powerful tools that require training and critical thought to use properly. There are also very real pressures in corporate and policy environments to apply solutions while skipping the last step of rechecking the assumptions; ergo the 2008 financial crisis.

  30. Jarrett August 9, 2015 at 4:37 pm #

    I agree with you both, Fbfree and Marc. The social sciences ARE playing with fire when they deploy hard-edged demographic categories, especially if they mean their work to be read outside the academy. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do it; it means they should be obsessively careful about marking and checking assumptions, as you say Fbfree. And it never hurts to ask “Who is excluded from my formulation of the problem?”

  31. Marc August 9, 2015 at 4:44 pm #

    Fbtree, I think some fields are perhaps too reliant on *binary* categorization and simplification. The “us vs. them” binary simplification in politics is an obvious example, but I’m thinking more of examples like Euclidean zoning: the (valid IMO) urbanist criticism of zoning is that it functions too simplistically like an on-off switch, when it should perhaps function more like a dimmer switch.
    Speaking of which, I wonder: is the “coverage vs. ridership” binary classification really broad enough to categorize all levels and types of transit service?

  32. Marc August 9, 2015 at 5:11 pm #

    BTW, none of this is to say that binary classification/ simplification or that *all* classification/ simplification is “bad” or unnecessary. Indeed, if the “coverage vs. ridership” classification is sufficiently diverse to categorize at least most North American transit, I suppose that’d be one example where this kind of classification was valid. And certain ancient classifications (“good vs. bad,” “us vs. them”) are perhaps never going to go away.

  33. Jarrett August 9, 2015 at 5:22 pm #

    Marc. Thanks for raising the “coverage” vs “ridership” as an example of a hard edge. The key is that it’s not a categorization of people. It’s a categorization of objectives, and the line is drawn based on how different clusters of objectives lead to different kinds of transit networks, based on the geometric facts of how transit interacts with various kinds of built environment. And of course it is not an either-or choice, but rather the endpoints of a spectrum.

  34. Jarrett August 9, 2015 at 5:25 pm #

    NOTE TO ALL: With gratutide for all the constructive comments expressed to this point, I’ve made some modest revisions to the post, mostly to clarify that there is no categorical critique of the social sciences here, so much as an expression of concern about its dangers and pitfalls — both for academics and their non-academic readers in the worlds of practice, advocacy, and policy

  35. P August 9, 2015 at 5:58 pm #

    A problem with academia is the push to publish. The result is vast quantities of ‘noise’ papers which obsolesces quickly and is geared with gobbledygook, sexed up language or overstatements in order to attract funding. Few papers are going to say ‘Hey! I looked in to X,Y, Z and everything is just fine!’. Much more attractive to have one that says ‘OMG! Crisis! Catastrophe! The Government MUST do something!’
    In fact there is a thing called SCIGEN (http://pdos.csail.mit.edu/scigen/) and similar robots which allows you to input user details and generate gobbledygook science papers which you can then submit to conferences and so-called ‘peer review’ journals. It is a 100% pure online academic garbage generator. Many conferences and journals have accepted these papers as real and published them. Trying to filter out robot generated garbage papers is now a huge problem for professional journals. (See http://www.nature.com/news/publishers-withdraw-more-than-120-gibberish-papers-1.14763)
    On another topic, slightly related, ‘transit deserts’ sounds a bit boring and mundane. Nordahl was on to something at least with his book title Making Transit Fun. Instead of ‘transit deserts’ (boring) why not explore ‘transit desserts’, you know, a rich swirl of indulging transit. Such a book could be called ‘Making Transit DELICIOUS’ how to entice people out of their cars with … coffee, food, ice-cream and social dining experiences.
    Melbourne is already a pioneer in this approach with the restaurant tram (http://www.tramrestaurant.com.au/). You can eat and drink on Melbourne trains (unlike other jurisdictions) and who wouldn’t like fresh morning coffee on the train? Fine inspectors could wear coffee backpacks dispensing drinks.
    So away with transit deserts, and in with transit Desserts!
    (yes, I am being a bit satirical with my last proposal)

  36. Christine Berthet August 9, 2015 at 1:24 pm #

    Excellent. What is the definition of transit ? A thought comes to mind that we should reframe the concept of transit as a shared transportation system and include highways and cars in the lot .
    After all rails transport wagons of people and merchandise , roads transport vehicles with people and merchandise. It is all a matter of technology and Efficiency.
    There would be many benefits to this inclusive definition: first the budgets for highway and rail/ subway would be mingled . This would clarify for all, the costs of each technology per passenger, something that has been carefully hidden . This would also bring down to the municipality level choices in technology and investments based on their topography and plans.
    Second, and not least, the car driving citizens would now become ” transit users”, and equal in every respect to a bus or subway rider, especially in the sense that they are heavily subsidized as well. . A very powerful cultural shift

  37. Nicky Nyon August 9, 2015 at 9:27 pm #

    I grew up in a town that did not have any transit system. Cars and trucks were very important to do anything. I tried but wasn’t able to pass the drivers test. It meant I had to either not go anywhere or drive illegally. (I didn’t that much but many people did.) When I moved to a larger place that had a transit system, I was amazed at it. Here was this incredible thing, that for the price of about five hours of work, I could go anywhere for a month! Amazing! It was mobility for me. How could anyone look at it badly?

  38. Al Dimond August 10, 2015 at 8:22 am #

    I don’t know what traffic is like in your neck of Portland, Jarrett, but as a layman that’s sat around on a lot of buses in heavy traffic, I don’t know how you could look at transit ridership and not see a collective-action problem.
    Almost any time I bring up transit (or biking, for that matter) as a political matter people talk about the personal things that cause them to drive every day. Gradual collective change isn’t hard because people are set in their ways, it’s hard because the advantage they get from driving over taking the bus in heavy traffic is enormous. This could change with different infrastructure and building patterns, but there are similar problems there — accommodating existing driving levels gets in the way of the future we’d like to build.

  39. Willem August 10, 2015 at 3:19 pm #

    Thanks for the post. I think this is one of the many reasons that there is an unfortunate gap in real-world planning and academic research. As a grad student, however, I do have one point to make, especially about modelling.
    I’ve seen a lot of comments about the line between ‘narrowing of scope’ and ‘annihilation’. While Jarrett talked mostly about policy-type papers, I think that the danger is there for every type of transit research, since why would anyone do this research if not to understand and improve the system, and hope that insights can be linked to the real world.
    The entire purpose of mathematically modelling transit is to simplify the situation to gain insights that aren’t possible with all-inclusive detail. Seeing the the forest for the trees is the endeavour with those simplifications. One example that I’ve come across a lot is simplifying a morning commute as a many-to-one scenario, a fact that is most certainly not entirely true, and excludes a potentially important chunk of people. That being said, they are not being ‘annihilated’ because they don’t matter, they are being removed because they are ‘negligible’ in the circumstance. Science has been making simplifications like that for a long time, to great importance.
    This thought process, and the need to be concise and condensed can convert itself into language that can appear exclusionary and problematic. Improving that is all part of bridging the gap between academics and practical planning, something I’ll have to elaborate with my own post.

  40. Dexter Wong August 11, 2015 at 1:36 am #

    Speaking of “the church of the one-seat ride,” I occasionally see letters to the editor that demand more commuter express buses (the kind that make two stops, the outlying residential area and the Central Business District). These letters usually get responses that point out that such buses may not make back their costs, so they end up costing the transit district more than than the service is worth (annoying for those who think transit is a business).

  41. EN57 August 11, 2015 at 5:54 am #

    Sorry to say that Human Transit is itself a kind of campfire. There’s a whole world of transit knowledge and experience that doesn’t get any light here. For example, is it even remotely possible that frequent interchange networks are not the universal solution to all transit problems on planet earth?

  42. P August 11, 2015 at 6:11 am #

    Possibly. But there is nothing to stop anyone setting up a blog and promoting that.

  43. Jarrett August 11, 2015 at 8:15 am #

    EN57.
    Exaggerating the views of your imagined adversaries is one of the most routine strategies for polarization. I have never made the kind of ridiculous claim that you ascribe to me.
    On the other hand, I do rest my work on the foundation of some geometric facts about the kinds of patterns that maximize utility for the greatest number of people. That’s descriptive, not prescriptive. You can decide that this isn’t your objective, and I’ve been adamant for years about a community’s right to do that.
    Yes, everyone is building a campfire. What matters is how hard they try to see into the dark beyond it. If they look hard, they’ll see other campfires out there, and maybe think to exchange emissaries.
    The comments thread is part of how we prevent annihilation here, so pls keep it up.

  44. Jarrett August 11, 2015 at 8:16 am #

    Al Dimond.
    There are plenty of collective action problems affecting transit. I am criticizing only the claim of the paper I discussed.

  45. Jarrett August 11, 2015 at 8:19 am #

    Willem
    I agree. And as a PhD myself I’m very familiar with why academic discourse tends toward narrowness rather than inclusion. Responsible academics are also familar with this, and therefore compensate by emphasizing the limits of assumptions and acknowledging who might be excluded/annilihlated by those assumptions.
    But I’m also trying to give some confidence to critical readers of academic work. Like: If the abstract says you don’t exist, you should probably stop reading.

  46. EngineerScotty August 11, 2015 at 11:56 pm #

    EN57,
    You might read Jarrett’s writings on “The Pulse”, a transit topology that works well in small cities with limited budgets, not much ground to cover (but trips longer than reasonable for walking), and low levels of traffic congestion.
    Just for one example of something that works well, that’s not a high-frequency grid.
    And keep in mind: For a grid to be really effective, it must be a high-frequency grid, as transfers cannot be synchronized at all connection points. A grid that requires a rider to stand on a street corner for a half-hour waiting for the N/S bus to come after being dropped off by the E/W bus, will probably not be regarded as very useful for that particular trip. But if you can bound the wait time, even assuming totally unsynchronized service, then it works quite well.

  47. Chris, Public Transport August 12, 2015 at 9:41 am #

    I also think this is a bit unfair to the first article. Of course planners have always generally known where the underserved areas are, but the comparison with a food desert is relatively new. Just like food deserts, I take transit deserts to refer to a captive audience. I suppose they should acknowledge that other people may want to take transit if it worked well and then state the difficulty of measuring it, but I don’t think their focus on transit dependent “annihilates” a choice rider like myself.
    What is new is the concept of using GIS to really investigate on a deeper level the comparison with supply and transit-dependent demand. Planners may believe there is little demand in an underserved area because the density is low, but what if 100% of the people living in a low density community would or need to take transit? Before GIS it was very difficult to know if there was a beacon of demand in a particular block group in an otherwise sea of little ridership.
    I find it is the second article that really adds little to understanding of transit. I know it has always irked anti-transit conservatives that transit ballot measures do so well, but there comes a time when you have to stop asking the same question over and over again in hopes of getting a different answer.

  48. Willem August 12, 2015 at 11:37 am #

    @Jarrett I agree mostly although let me extend on your “If the abstract says you don’t exist, you should probably stop reading.”
    If the abstract says you don’t exist, you should most certainly keep reading. The most important thing you can do as someone who is being ignored is to stay informed about how you are being kept out of the discussion, and how to insert yourself into it. How better to be critical of an article than to understand it well, and be able to dismiss it on its foundation.
    Dismissing a group of individuals in an academic paper because they are inconvenient is bad discourse and bad science. Acknowledging a group of people and then setting them aside as an understandable (and justified) simplification is just the way a lot of research works.

  49. EN57 August 14, 2015 at 9:13 am #

    Jarrett, I know you don’t make ridiculous claims – I’m aware of how these things work.
    You’ve inferred harms resulting from supposed exclusionary rhetoric in a number of academic papers, and given instruction on what sort of papers to avoid reading. Whoa! What then, must we infer when we perceive the same sort of exclusionary rhetoric operating here within this circle? I’ve seen over the years how commentators expressing different sensibilities or alternative understandings of transit get handled here.
    Good luck huddling closer around that campfire…

  50. Jarrett August 14, 2015 at 1:54 pm #

    EN57. I do not claim perfection, but you will need to cite examples.
    I’m sure that my way of writing reflects a range of assumptions imbedded in my cultural identity and history. I’m sure that it doesn’t reach everyone.
    However, describing objective facts that some people would like to deny does not constitute exclusion. It constitutes an invitation to reality, extended to everyone — and also an invitation to critique, on matters of fact.

  51. John August 14, 2015 at 5:05 pm #

    Nicky Nyon: How could anyone look at [transit for non-drivers] badly?
    Unfortunately, in car-dependent rich-country cities there are not a few comfortable, selfish, unimaginative folks for whom:
    – it never occurs to them that people like you exist, and/or –
    – they dislike the idea that their taxes go to support public services for people that they don’t identify with.
    Right wing memes about how ‘the private car = personal freedom’ support their ignorance.
    Of course in low density, car-dependent cities the private car really is freedom for many, maybe most people – but not all. Understanding the implications of ‘but not all’ seems to be beyond some people’s mental capacity.

Leave a Reply