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Are NYC passengers more generous tipping their cabbies in Thanksgiving Day?

Introduction

How much should we pay a cabbie? Actually, this is not a random question. Many travelers have this question when they visit a new place, and even the residents also wonder after the fare was increased. One guy asked the NYC residents about how their thought of tip on Quora.

In general cases, passengers would like to pay 15% – 20% for their tip. But what about during a festival,  will it be changing passengers’ mind about the tip amount? Here we examine the tip situation in 2015 Thanksgiving Day. Thanksgiving Day is an important festival in America, not only for families to get together to celebrate, but to show charity to the poor and give thanks to the community. As a cab driver who is still busy taking passengers on the way to the destination on that day, how this festival affects their income? Will passengers become more generous and would like to pay more tips than normal days? Where could they pick up more passengers during that day? When is the busiest hour during that day? In this article, we use yellow cab trip record data from NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission as a clue to detect some interesting information to answer the questions above.

New York City is the most populous city in the United States. It consists of five boroughs, Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, The Bronx, and Staten Island, each of which is a separate county of New York State. With a census-estimated 2015 population of 8,550,405 distributed over a land area of just 305 square miles (790 km2), New York is the most densely populated major city in the United States. Efficient transportations play a significant role in this city. Taxi as an important transport mode in the New York City carries 11% percent of all travel annually.  All New York City taxis are regulated by the Taxi and Limousine Commission. It licenses and regulates over 50,000 vehicles and approximately 100,000 drivers.

TIP DESCRIPTION

According to the records data of  NYC Yellow cab, there are four payment types, credit card, cash, no charge and even dispute. For the total yellow cab trip records in 2015, 53.6% is paid using the credit card, while 45.8% is paid in cash. Other two payment types are consist of 0.6%. No adequate records showed how the tip of cash payment, so just the credit card payment is taken into consideration. Though every taxi has the credit card payment system, which provides the default tip percent 15%, 20%, 25% for passengers, there are still around 5% passengers who use credit card pay 0 tips for their trip.

In the graph showed below, we can see the distribution of tip range. In Thanksgiving Day, the most generous guy pay 165.1 for 17.4 miles. The average tip amount of 2015 Thanksgiving Day is 22%. And the average tip amount falls into 0 to 20 dollars. It is a nice thing for cabbies to hear that an increasing amount of tip could be earned on that day. They worth to be paid more for hard working even during the festival day.

SPATIAL DISTRIBUTION

From the overview image, midtown Manhattan, and downtown Manhattan seems the densest pickup location. If we divide a day into four parts, after midnight(0 am – 5 am), moring(6am – 11am), afternoon(12pm – 17 pm), evening(18pm – 23pm), a variation will present here. Different from a work day, cabbie could find fewer passengers in the morning time, and the number of pick up records increases after 5 am, get it peak on 15 pm. What an interesting phenomenon here is that a decreasing happened during 15 pm to 18 pm in the late afternoon. Some records show that 4 to 5 p.m. is the traditional hour for cabs to change shifts, the number of the active taxi on the streets falls by nearly 20 percent compared with an hour before. Another low point is at 23 pm, cabs take high pickup amount an hour earlier and an hour later.

Also, we divide the tip percent to five ranks, to explore the number of different tip percent and the distribution of different tip percent. First, we examine the tip percent higher than 100%. Though the total pickup number in after midnight period is lower than other three periods, the number of tip percent higher than 100% shows no significant difference for these four time periods. Passengers who give extra high tips keep their activities constantly during the Thanksgiving Day. And for these high tip records, just seven are found near the Airport location. Others are found in the Manhattan midtown and downtown area.

In 2015 Thanksgiving Day, the average high tip percent is during 4 am, and 5 are in the early morning, though the number of travel records is the lowest during that day. Passengers may be generous to give more tips in the cold, dark morning.

Average Trip Distance Map

From another aspect, if we consider the trip distance by census tract in NYC 2015 Thanksgiving Day, it shows that the average travel distance of Manhattan area is around 2.83. Most passengers just take a short trip by taxi when they are in Manhattan. Besides the John F. Kennedy International Airport, and LaGuardia Airport, a large area in Queen also present a long travel distance.

LOCATION ANALYSIS

Here we take a close look at the pickup density in the neighborhood scope. For Newark Liberty International Airport, we suppose that the taxi pickup records could reflect how busy flights were arriving on Thanksgiving Day. As it shows on the map, the busiest pickup time is during morning and afternoon, then is the after midnight period. It is a surprise that in the evening, the pickup records are the fewest. And taking a look at the tip amount, passengers who arrive in the early time flight would like to give tips more than 15% percent than those who arrive in afternoon and evening. Since they may more understand cabbies’ hard work in the early morning.

Another phenomenon is that in the Thanksgiving Day, the area around Time Square is more crowd in afternoon and evening. We can detect a small hollow in the pickup density map in after midnight and morning while a solid points map in afternoon and evening.

CONCLUSION

A cabbie may get a little more paid on a festival day. However their earnings are still not that much for the market has broken in by Uber. Some cabbies said they see the tips equals to survival, and it is kind of robbing them for tip under 15%. If the service is not bad, it may be an excellent choice to round the tip up to the next dollar considering what little we can do to help them have a beautiful Thanksgiving Day.

Colombia: Land and Peace

Enlarge

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Children's drawing of restituted land in formerly displaced community, Cauca

Photo credits - Cover: Indigenous children displaced in Colombia, UN; Displaced people, UN. Children's drawing in Cauca, photo Bouvier

 

Land is the seed of peace - Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos

Land and Peace in Colombia

Colombia, South America’s fastest growing economy, is ready to turn the page on its violent past. After a violent half century, there is growing confidence in the completion of a historic Peace Accord between the government and rebel groups. This process hinges on addressing the underlying causes of the conflict, such as land and income inequality, as well as its consequences, including as many as 6 million people displaced from their lands (Internal Displacement Monitoring Center).

 

More than 10% of Colombians have been displaced during the violent conflict, the second highest number of internally displaced people (IDP) among all countries in conflict.

Land Displacements

Land dispossession has been at the core of the violent conflict. Colombia has one of the highest rates of inequality in access to rural land in the world, which is considered one of the main drivers of the armed conflict.  According to government records, an estimated 60% of land area registered as rural farm land is owned by a mere 3% of all owners with registered parcels. This land inequality is believed to be in part the result of land dispossession and forced depopulation with the objective to acquire land for palm oil, pasture, and illicit crops, and to control resources and territories. Although fewer people have been displaced in recent years, displacements continue. Ethnic minorities, such as Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities,  are at highest risk of being displaced.

Land has been contested between armed groups, who regularly displaced rural communities and placed mines to control territories. Efforts to remove land mines are considered central to the peace process, as Colombia has the second-highest land mine fatality rate in the world.

Drivers of Land Displacements

Large displacements in Colombia have been linked to armed groups, palm oil plantations and illicit crop cultivation. In Southwestern Colombia’s Pacifico region, the establishment of large palm oil plantations led to the displacement of numerous Afro-Colombian communities. In 2014-2015, Pacifico Region had the highest density of coca cultivation in Colombia – UNODC (United Nations Office on Drug and Crime).

Displaced Communities

Displaced people in Colombia often migrate to urban areas, living in informal settlements. Some displaced people illegally occupy other land, complicating land restitution activities.

The majority of newly displaced People are Afro-Colombians and Indigenous People, who represent less than 15% of the total population.

The Law of Victims and Land Restitution led to the creation of the Land Restitution Unit (LRU), which works with displaced ethnic minorities to gather evidence, survey land and submit restitution claims.

The Peace Process: A New Colombia?

Considered almost a failed state just fifteen years ago, Colombia is now firmly on a path to restore security and expand its middle class. For the first time, rebels and government forces are working together to clear the country of landmines. The country is Latin America’s success story.

As private investments continue to grow in post-conflict Colombia, there are concerns that new land-based investments fueled by economic growth could add to oil and mining developments to further threaten Indigenous and Afro-colombian communities. These communities are increasingly under pressure to secure their lands amid growing demand for new tourism infrastructure along the Carribean and Pacific coast and for agriculture investments in Eastern Colombia’s new “agriculture frontier”.

Involving ethnic communities in a transparent dialogue regarding the nexus between land resources and post-conflict development will contribute to a lasting peace process.

Gun Laws, Legislators, and Lobbying: The Precarious Relationship With Gun Violence in the United States

Introduction

In 2014, guns resulted in the death of 33,599 or approximately 92 deaths per day. [1]

According to a 2013 poll, 91 percent of American voters support universal background checks. But what’s the link between gun laws and gun violence? Do tougher laws actually result in fewer deaths and injuries? This story looks at available data that suggests there is a relationship between gun laws, legislators, special interests, and gun violence. Should lawmakers change their stance on gun laws, or will the human cost shift opinion? Using widely available data, we examine these relationships in one of the most contentious issues in the United States.

From early interpretations of the Constitution to recent changes due to heavy lobbying; gun laws are often in flux due to voter and organizational support. The last several decades are notable for the rise of strong interest groups such as the National Rifle Association and Americans For Responsible Solutions. Mass shootings also raise the issue frequently, however, few significant gun law changes have been made as a result.

Data suggests that gun laws do correlate with less gun violence, however, more data is needed. Unfortunately, the amount of data available for victims of gun violence has been suppressed for the past two decades by congress. The topics explored in this story warrant further research and show the importance of taking advantage of recent executive orders by President Obama for further gun violence data collection.[2]

Please help us to gather more data by answering several questions presented at the end.

The Constitution Shifting Opinions

Gun ownership advocates justify their position with the 2nd amendment of the US constitution; however, gun laws and guns themselves have evolved significantly since 1789 when the constitution was passed. In fact, the interpretation of the Constitution in defense of individual gun ownership mostly evolved since the 1970’s when the number of law review articles in favor of individual rights increased.[3]

During debate over the 1934 National Firearms Act, the first attempt at federal gun-control legislation, and a subsequent supreme court case, the president of the National Rifle Association wrote that “the right to personal firearms could not be found in the Constitution.” [3]

Militia members using simple rifles during the American Revolution no longer represents the average gun owner. Semiautomatic rifles and handguns are now popular alternatives to hunting rifles. Gun ownership is higher than ever.[4]

The Supreme Court ultimately has authority to interpret the 2nd amendment which states: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” With the ideological balance of the court in question, the next court may significantly change the interpretation of the Constitution. This timely decision makes a review of the impact of gun laws on gun violence critical.

Gun Violence State by State

To understand the implications of 33,000+ deaths per year, we look at several contributors. First, the geographic distribution normalized by population to look for any patterns was examined. Initially, the Southern states and Mountain West states stand out for their unusually high number of gun deaths. The top five states impacted by gun violence per capita are:

1. Alaska
2. Louisiana
3. Mississippi
4. Alabama
5. Wyoming

Deaths Per 100k in the United States

Among the top five states only Louisiana has a large urban population in New Orleans. Perhaps more surprising, the states with the worst gun violence average either an A or B on the National Rifle Association rankings of their senators-the most senior lawmakers. Wouldn’t a state with higher gun violence per capita want to reduce it? In many cases they do. The conventional wisdom is making gun laws stricter will help reduce gun violence.

Gun Laws What Impact Do They Have?

Gun laws range from background check requirements to ammunition regulations. To aggregate the impact of several categories of legislation, gunlawscorecard.org has a system that examines the strength of legislation state by state. They evaluate gun laws with respect to consumer and child safety, gun dealer sales and transfers, classes of weapons and ammunition, background checks and access to firearms, gun owner responsibilities, gun crime investigations, firearms in public places, and several other laws. Combining the scores on each peace of legislation provides for a grading structure based from A to F shown in the following map.

Among all gun laws, universal background checks remain the most popular legislation. Even in households with gun owners, a staggering 88% of voters support universal background checks. However, many voters are skeptical that background checks will lead to confiscation of legally owned guns- a major concern for many gun owners.[5]

Background Checks And Gun Law Grade [6]

Geographically, higher gun law grades are closely correlated with a lower gun death rank.

Versus Gun Death Rank [6]

Tougher gun laws do correlate with less gun violence.

The remainder of the industrial world has shown us there’s an alternative. European countries with moderate gun laws have much less gun violence than the United States. Australia provides the best example where strong gun reforms were made two decades ago and the rate of gun deaths has declined dramatically.[10]

gun-deaths_5113379a44657

If the evidence for stricter gun laws is obvious why hasn’t anything changed? In recent years, no event has shifted public opinion on gun laws more than the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. In 2012, 20 year old Adam Lanza killed 20 children between 6 and 7 years old using a semiautomatic rifle. In a January 2013 poll, the majority of respondents were more likely to support gun control laws.

GunPolling_fig1

Unfortunately, child deaths continue since the tragic event in Newtown. So why hasn’t public opinion shifted the balance and resulted in the adoption of more gun control legislation? Lawmakers are deeply entrenched due to special interests that prevent them from making meaningful gun law changes.

Children Killed from Gun Violence Since 2013 [12]

NRA Shifts Support to Individual Gun Rights What's the Impact on Gun Violence?

NRA Mission Statement: To protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, especially with reference to the inalienable right of the individual American citizen guaranteed by such Constitution to acquire, possess, collect, exhibit, transport, carry, transfer ownership of, and enjoy the right to use arms. [7]

The shift during the 1970’s toward support and promotion of individual gun rights means an increased level of gun ownership.

Picturegunowners

Gun ownership strongly correlates with gun violence.

gun-ownership-vs-gun-deaths_2

As the NRA has strengthened it’s political lobbying all national law makers are now graded on their support of gun control legislation. Again, we see a correlation between the average grade of the State’s Senators and the amount of gun violence in each state. The better the NRA grade, generally the higher the gun violence per 100k.

The NRA uses direct political candidate contributions, lobbying, and outside spending as a three pronged approach to influence lawmakers. In the 2014 election cycle, they were in the top 10 of hundreds of outside spenders with approximately $28 million spent on election influence. [8]

When lawmakers are heavily reliant on special interests and lobbying, they have little political will to vote against those supporters on gun control legislation. Similar to the way the NRA lobbies for less restrictive gun law candidates, the Super PAC that Rep. Gabby Gifford started, Americans for Responsible Solutions, and Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety financially influence elections by supporting candidates in favor of more restrictive gun laws.

Next, we examine the cost of gun violence, another reason to overcome these special interests if the increased gun violence isn’t motivation enough.

The Cost of Gun Violence Why Should we Care?

There’s a human cost associated with gun violence. While the gun and ammunition manufacturing industry bring in 16 billion of revenue, others have tried to estimate the cost of gun violence both direct and indirect costs. [9] According to an investigative report by Mother Jones, the total cost of gun violence is approximately $229 Billion annually. See how they estimated that amount:

If correct, the total direct and indirect costs on gun violence including locking criminals up, court cases, and loss of productivity nearly matches the annual spending on Medicaid by the federal government.

What Do You Think? What is the relationship in your state?

Based on analysis of gun laws, lawmakers, and lobbying there is a clear correlation with gun violence. The stricter the gun laws the less gun violence states face. Lawmakers and lobbying compound the problem by resisting to enact meaningful changes to existing gun legislation despite clear evidence that states suffering the worst gun violence could use the reform most. Much of the cost of gun violence, both direct and indirect, are shared by American taxpayers. Congress has gone as far as to prevent government sponsored research on gun violence. [11] Therefore, we wish to know your opinion on gun laws based on the data presented.

Resources

[1] CDC http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/injury.htm

[2] http://www.npr.org/2014/09/28/352036040/to-counter-gun-violence-researchers-seek-deeper-data

[3] http://www.armedwithreason.com/gun-control-and-the-evolving-second-amendment/

[4] ATF https://www.atf.gov/file/89561/download

[5] Quinnipiac University Poll https://www.qu.edu/news-and-events/quinnipiac-university-poll/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=1877

[6] http://gunlawscorecard.org/

[7] NRA bylaws http://www.newsmax.com/t/newsmax/article/600067

[8] https://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/summary.php?id=d000000082

[9] http://www.ibisworld.com/industry/default.aspx?indid=662

[10] http://www.businessinsider.com/australia-gun-control-shootings-2015-10

[11] http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/01/gun-control-laws-research/424956/

[12] http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/reports

Photo Credits

Constitution Photo http://www.history.com/topics/american-revolution/american-revolution-history/pictures/american-revolution-events-and-battles/print-of-british-troops-shooting-at-crowd-in-boston-massacre-by-paul-revere

Gun Violence – http://patriotstatesman.com/2013/01/let-no-tragedy-go-to-waste-the-lefts-view-of-gun-violence/

Gun Law http://www.nationofchange.org/2015/11/19/reframing-and-preventing-american-gun-violence/

Washington Post/ABC Poll https://cdn.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/GunPolling_fig1.png

Gun Ownership http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/06/gun-owners-study-one-in-three

Congressional Budget Research https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/10/05/guns-in-the-united-states-one-for-every-man-woman-and-child-and-then-some/

Mother Jones – Gun Ownership and Gun Violence and Gun Cost Graphic – http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/01/pro-gun-myths-fact-check

World Wide Gun Deaths – http://i1.wp.com/mediam1.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/gun-deaths_5113379a44657.jpg

Heston – https://saylordotorg.github.io/text_american-government-and-politics-in-the-information-age/s13-interest-groups.html

Money – http://picz.in/img254.htm

Handguns – https://fstoppers.com/composite/shooting-point-blank-high-resolution-gun-photography-2966

Why Care about Boko Haram?

Does Anyone Care?

Many of us heard about Boko Haram when the terrorist group attacked a girls’ school in Chibok, Borno on April 15, 2014 , abducting between 250 -300 school girls. This led to an international outcry, with an internationally trending hashtag on Twitter: #BringBackOurGirls shared by likes of the First Lady Michelle Obama. However, Boko Haram has been around since 2002 and has committed deadly incidents since the mass abduction at Chibok. Concern of Boko Haram has been partly eclipsed by concerns of ISIS. Their attacks and outreach have been more geographically varied, more social media savvy, and publicly more brutal. One way of comparing the coverage of one topic versus another is to examine the number of times each topic is mentioned in the news. Using the online, freely available tool, Media Meter from Media Cloud, I was able to quantitatively compare the number of sentences mentioning ISIS/ISIL versus Boko Haram over a time period I defined.


Overall, one sees that the Media cares more about ISIS than Boko Haram. To see how much the average citizen is concerned about both groups, I have used Google Trends to compare worldwide search interest for both organizations over time.

Unfortunately, like online news sources, Google search interest is comparatively sparse for Boko Haram. Perhaps, by learning about the devastation caused by Boko Haram, the average person like myself will take more of an interest in one of the world’s deadliest terrorist groups

Who Are Boko Haram?

Before learning of the havoc wreaked by Boko Haram, it is necessary to know who they are. Boko Haram is a violent Sunni jihadist group founded by cleric Mohammed Yusuf, a trained Salafist who adhered to the school of thought most often associated with Jihad. The group was relatively quiet up until 2009.

Mohammed Yusuf

Mohammed Yusuf

In July 2009, Nigerian police cracked down on Yusuf’s group after its members refused to follow a new motorbike helmet law. A series of violent clashes between the group and security forces erupted in Bauchi, Borno, Yobe, and Kano states, killing upwards of 700 people. Yusuf was captured during a battle with security forces in Borno. He was later executed while in police custody.

The group was inactive for the next year until July 2010 when the former second-in-command of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, released a video assuming leadership as well as promising attacks. The threat was acted upon when Boko Haram conducted several suicide bombings and assassinations around the country as well as carrying out a prison break in Bauchi, which freed close to 700 inmates.

Abubakar Shekau

Abubakar Shekau

The sect calls itself, Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad, or “people committed to the propagation of the Prophet’s teachings and jihad”. It is more widely known as Boko Haram, which is colloquially translated as “Western education is sin,” for the group’s rejection of Western concepts such as evolution. By most accounts, Boko Haram is not a monolithic organization. Except for a few core militants ascribing to a violent Sunni extremist ideology, the group appears to draw support from a broad group of followers, predominantly young men from northeast Nigeria and the border areas of southeast Niger and northern Cameroon. The goals of the group are to expel the political community of the north, which they believe has been seized by corrupt, false Muslims and seek to establish a fundamentalist interpretation of Sharia law across all of Nigeria.

The Havoc Wreaked by Boko Haram

Using data from the Global Terrorism Database (GTD), one can see that Boko Haram’s attacks have primarily consisted of armed assaults and bombings/explosions.



In addition, the primary targets of Boko Haram have been private citizens and their property.

The havoc wreaked by Boko Haram is made even more evident when looking at fatalities. Using Armed Conflict Location & Event Dataset (ACLED), which produces real-time data for disaggregated conflict analysis and mapping in Africa, the map shows that most deaths have happened in the northeast.

In addition, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of deaths since 2013. Specifically, there has been a  322% increase in fatalities from 2013 to 2014 and a 61% increase in fatalities from 2014 to 2015.

Why Has Nigeria Not Yet Defeated Boko Haram?

There are many issues at play for why Boko Haram has increasingly become deadly and why Nigeria has not yet defeated them.

The North-South Divide

One larger issue that has fed into Boko Haram’s genesis and rise is the North-South Divide. Nigeria has long struggled with how to govern its diverse nation, split between a Muslim-dominated north and Christian South. The northern portion of the country is not only divided along religious lines, but economic lines as well. While Nigeria has the biggest economy in Africa, the wealth is concentrated in the South. Overlaying GDP per capita rates (2010) with the total number of deaths from Boko Haram, shows that Borno state, where Boko Haram is based out of, has a low GDP per Capita rate.

Corruption

Another major issue is corruption and rising criminality.

Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) ranks countries by how corrupt their public sectors are seen to be on a scale of 1 to 10. As the chart shows, Nigeria has consistently ranked low.

Corruption has also marred former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, with many former senior officials being arrested on corruption charges, including the former National Security Advisor, who has been charged with fraud over a $2 billion arms deal that was reportedly never delivered. Such high-level corruption has been addressed in a much better way by new President Muhammadu Buhari, whose arrests of corrupt high-level officials has improved morality within the Nigerian army. Though Buhari has been accused by critics of selectively fighting corruption by targeting politicians linked to the former government. 

So What?

While Boko Haram’s attacks have been predominantly contained to Nigeria, since early 2014, the group has expanded its operations into neighboring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.

Also on March 7, 2015, Abubakar Shekau pledged loyalty to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. This might not be too alarming since Boko Haram’s base of operations is geographically removed from ISIS’s. What actually is of more concern are reported links between Boko Haram and Islamic militants in North Africa. Indeed, prior to its pledge to ISIS, Boko Haram was allegedly cooperating with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a regional criminal and terrorist network operating in the Sahel and North Africa. There has also been speculation for a long time that Boko Haram has acquired weapons from former Libyan stockpiles through AQIM ties.

The cause for concern is reflective in the growing U.S. security assistance provided to the four Lake Chad Basin countries. Since 2014, all four countries are benefiting from a $40 million Global Security Contingency Fund (GSCF) and is set to receive more security assistance. Besides fiscal assistance, since 2016, about 250 US troops have been deployed.

Hopefully by dynamically reviewing the destruction and rise of Boko Haram, this article can convince those who come across it to be more engaged with news of this deadly terrorist group. Because as the growing attacks on nearby countries have shown, the deadly organization is growing.

To have a more in-depth understanding of Boko Haram, check out the resources below:

Crime in California’s Most Prestigious Schools

Introduction.

Choosing the right college is an extremely difficult decision for a teenager to make. Sometime during high school, teens are expected to make decisions about what career path they want to peruse, what they want to do and where they want to live. When selecting a college, students usually consider the majors offered at the school, the extracurricular activities, and the location of the school. One factor that is often overlooked when selecting a college is the safety of the campus.

On almost every college campus across the nation, crime is an unfortunate reality. Some campuses, however, have much more crime on them than others. California is home to some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the country, but it is also home to some of the most dangerous. People travel from across the world to attend school in California, but many do not know the risks they may be taking just by going to school.

Of the four-year universities in California with more than 5,000 students, there is a great deal of variation in the rate of crime and in the types of crime that occur. Many people look to more prestigious, higher ranked schools and assume that these schools are the safest. If a school has a high ranking, it must mean that it is safe right? Because people do not want to go to a dangerous school, right? It is easy to make this assumption but in many circumstances, especially in California, this is not the case. Some of the most prestigious schools in the state, in fact, are considered to be the most dangerous. Should the added danger affect the ranking of the school? Should people attend schools even if they know that the campus may be dangerous? These are just a few questions that students and parents across the country need to be asking themselves before they make the life-changing, and possibly life-threatening decisions about going to college.

The Case of California

So why look at just schools in California? There are universities and colleges across the world and they all have differing crime rates, what makes California schools so special to study? California is by many accounts, the most well-known state in the country. People from all over the world have heard of California because of its booming film industry in Hollywood and its countless opportunities. Not only is California a major hub for the tech industries of the world, it is also a very important state in terms of agriculture, oil, aerospace, and environmental studies. It is home to nine national parks and over one hundred state parks, and it is the state with the highest revenue from tourism in the entire country. California has schools that specialize in almost everything. There are metropolitan cities, small towns, forest, deserts, and everything in between. Because of the enormous amount of diversity in the state, California is a perfect place to make observations that could potentially apply to the rest of the country. The state is full of different environments whereas smaller states have less diversity. By making connections between school rank and crime rate in California, one can better understand connections in the whole country.

University Ranking and Crime Rate

When selecting a college, many parents and students look at a college’s ranking to see if the school is worth applying to. There are a number of different ways that colleges can be ranked, such as by academics, by student opinion, by professor credentials, etc. In order to properly compare a college’s ranking to the crime rate on campus, we had to make sure to use a ranking method that was fair and unbiased. After much research, we determined that the organization 4 International Colleges and Universities had the most comprehensive and unbiased strategy for ranking colleges. The organization is a non-paid directory that compares recognized, licensed and accredited national universities that are officially entitled to grant four-year undergraduate degrees and/or post graduate degrees. The algorithm to determine rank uses data from Google Page Rank, Alexa Global Rank, and Majestic Referring Subsets and Trust Flow in order to minimize fluctuations in data and maximize accuracy. Essentially, it compiles data on the ranking of colleges from many different sources and puts them all together to rank schools based on many different and important factors. Spending the time to find the most accurate ranking system possible was extremely important to see the true correlation between school ranking and crime rate.

Many schools like Stanford, Berkeley and UCLA at the top of the list for highest ranked school and become convinced that those schools are the right choice. Parents and students would be alarmed to find, however, that these prestigious schools have some of the highest crime rates in the state. The United States Department of Education records all crimes that occur on college campuses throughout the year, and then is required by law to make this information publicly available. The Campus Crime Statistics Act and Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy were both put in place to provide an accurate picture of crime on college campuses. They record incidents of arrests on campus, disciplinary action taken by the school, fires, hate crimes, and crimes that fall under the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 such as domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking. In order to get the most comprehensive picture of crime on college campuses, we looked at criminal offence data that includes records for aggravated assault, arson, burglary, forcible assault, murder, negligent manslaughter, non-forcible sex offences, robbery and vehicular theft. Data from 2012-2014 was examined and analyzed to find the relationship between crime rates and high ranking colleges in California.

The above image shows the crime rate at colleges with over 5,000 students across California, with the large bubbles having high crime rates. Quickly, one can see that many of the colleges that are ranked at the top in California have higher crime rates. Further analysis shows that the top ten highest ranked colleges in California are all featured on the top 15 schools with the highest crime rates. The top three schools, Stanford University, University of California Berkeley, and University of California Los Angeles respectively, are also the top thee schools with the highest crime rate, except UCLA has a crime rate higher than UCB by a mere 0.02%.

Although many of the colleges in California with higher crime rates are ranked higher when compared to other schools, there is no overall statistical correlation between the two variables. There are some schools with high crime rates that are ranked poorly, and some schools with low crime rates that are ranked highly. Below is a chart that compares the top five highest crime rates to the bottom five lowest crime rates in California colleges with more than 5,000 students.

Top 5 and Bottom 5 in the chart below:

The University of California Merced was found to have the lowest crime rate among these schools with a rate of 0.96 crimes per 1,000 students, but it is ranked as the 35th best school in California. Biola University has the second lowest crime rate with 1.73 crimes per 1,000 students, but it is ranked as the 38th best school in the state. This shows that even though many of the top schools have high crime rates, schools do not have high crime rates because they are high in rank.

Even without a statistical correlation, the trend of high ranking schools having high crime rates in undeniable. In this chart, the larger the circle, the higher the crime rate. The chart puts schools in order of rank and shows the different crime rates of schools, separated by calendar year. The graph has very little variation from year to year, which shows that the crime rate of schools in California is relatively consistent. Schools that rank between 30th and 45th have relatively small crime rates when compared to schools that rank in the top twenty.

Types of Crimes

There are a number of diverse factors that influence how often crime occurs at a school and what types of crimes occur. From campus to campus, there are many different types of crimes that are present. The rates of crime vary from one school to another and some schools are more likely to see certain types of crime than others.

The distribution of crimes from one campus to another can be seen in the bar graph below. As one can see, some crimes that are frequent on some campuses have not happened at all during the compared time that this data was recorded (2012-2014). For example there was a rate of ten aggravated assault per 1,000 students at Stanford University and the same rate at the University of California San Diego campus. Both of these schools fall in the top five schools in California according to rank. The Academy of Art University had a rate of six aggravated assaults per 1,000 students, and it is ranked as 43rd when compared to other universities in California.

Thankfully, there are many crimes that do not occur frequently on any the campuses in California that were examined. From 2012-2014, there were no recorded murders or negligible homicides on any California campus with over 5,000 students. Of all of the potential crimes that students may worry about, these are very unlikely to occur at California schools. Some crimes, like arson for example, follow no discernable pattern in terms of school ranking.

Chapman University has the highest reported rate of arson with 1.59 incidents per 1,000 students, and University of California at Santa Cruz has he second highest rate with 0.84 incidents per 1,000 students. Chapman University is ranked as the 36th best school in the state and University of California at Santa Cruz is ranked as the 12th in the state. Crimes like fondling and statutory rape also seem to follow no discernable pattern.

Burglary is one type of crime that is consistently higher in higher ranking schools. The rate of burglaries that occur per 1,000 students is highest at Stanford University, followed by University of California Los Angeles and University of California Berkeley respectively. No lower ranked schools have burglary rates even half as high as the ones that can be found at these extremely prestigious schools. That means that despite the fact that students are getting a world renowned education on these campuses, they still attend a school where a least seven of every hundred people are burglarized. It is likely that every student on campus knows at least one student that has been affected by burglary at these top ranked schools. The rate of vehicular thefts follows the same pattern, as does the more troubling crime of forcible sex offenses. These crimes all have rates that are significantly higher in the top ten ranked schools than they do at schools with lower rankings.

Campus Profile: Stanford University

Not only is Stanford University the top ranked school in California, it is also the fourth highest ranking school in the country. Stanford is located on the San Pablo Bay between San Francisco and San Jose, California. It is a private college with a little over 17,000 students, and it is world renowned for its programs in Education, Engineering, Medicine and Business. Despite its prestige, Stanford is plagued with higher crime rates than any other college in California.

During 2012, Stanford topped the state with the highest rate of burglary, at 102 incidents per 1,000 students. It has the highest rate of forcible assault, with 26 incidents per 1,000 students and is tied with California State University Fullerton Campus for the third highest rate of vehicular theft. It is tied with the University of California San Diego for the highest rate of aggravated assaults, with ten incidents occurring per 1,000 students. That year there was one robbery, no arsons, no murders, no negligent manslaughters, and no non-forcible sex offenses. Although the school has some of the highest rates for some crimes, it has very low rates for others. Other years express similar patterns and show Stanford with the highest overall crime rate, but with low rates for some specific crimes.

Does this mean that students who do not want to get burglarized should not attend Stanford? Not at all. Stanford is one of the most prestigious schools in the country for many reasons, and it is despite its higher-than-average crime rate, the education that the school can provide is invaluable. It does mean, however, that students attending the university should be particularly cautious of themselves and of their belongings.

Brad Hayward, spokesman for Stanford University, explained that at Stanford, many of the crimes that occur can be attributed to the fact that the campus is so large and that there are very large residential areas. Not only are there multiple dorms and apartments for students to lie, there are also apartments for faculty and staff. Almost all undergraduate students and half of the schools graduate students live on campus, and so the rate of on campus burglaries is particularly high. Hayward also explains that the school spends a great deal of effort encouraging the reporting of sexual offenses to the police, and because of this, the reported rate is higher. He alludes to the idea that at other schools, there may be higher rates of unreported sexual crimes that occur. He ensures, however, that the campus has a competent and dedicated police force that provides students and staff with a great deal of safety and security.

Potential Explanations

Brad Hayward gives many points about Stanford’s crime rate that can be applied to other schools as well. Crime rates are affected by a number of potential factors, one of the largest being the housing situations on and off campus. Stanford has a very high number of students who live on campus, especially among undergraduate students. University of California Merced, however, only guarantees housing to a small number of students, and it much more selective with its housing application process. University of California Merced has more limited housing that is harder to get, hand it also has an extremely low rate of on campus burglaries. California State Polytechnic University Pomona Campus has a total of 2.21 per 1,000 rate of car thefts, and it also happens to be a college that has a very high number of commuter students. Because most students commute rather than live on campus, there is also a significantly lower rate of on campus burglaries that occurs. The housing situations of campuses inevitably have a large impact on the crime rates of those schools.

Another potential explanation for the varying rates of crime on campuses in California is the potential for varying rates of reporting crime. As Brad Hayward of Stanford explained, Stanford has programs in place that encourage students to report sexual offenses. These programs exist across the country for all types of different crimes. Because of programs like these and because of the varying composition of student bodies, some students may be more likely to report crimes than others. Studies have shown that people do not report crimes for a number of reasons including but not limited to: a fear of reprisal, lack of faith in the police, belief that the crime was not important enough to report, or because people dealt with the crime outside of the law. Between 2006-2010, approximately 76% of violent crimes that occurred at schools were not reported to the police. In recent years, however, this rate has been declining. At some schools the rate of reporting has went up more than it has at others, which means that many schools may have a higher reported crime rate but lower crime.

A third potential explanation for the disparities in crime rates is the different environments that these college campuses are in. University of California Los Angeles is located in one of the most metropolitan cities in the world, and in high density cities there is often higher crime rates. The campus is right in the center of the city, and it has a significantly higher rate of crime than the University of La Verne, for example. Which is located in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.

By viewing this map, one can clearly see that schools located in large city centers are more likely to have high crime rates than those in smaller cities or outside of cities. On campus crime rates can easily be affected by poverty and crime in areas surrounding the campus. Criminals living near campuses have easier access and could go to campuses with the intention of committing crimes because of the proximity. Students living in areas of high crime could also be motivated to commit more crimes after seeing the higher crime rates around them.

Conclusions

Imagine that you are a parent, soon to be sending your child away to college. You have taken care of them for eighteen years, and it is finally time for them to be on their own. You want to send them to the best school possible so that they have a chance of a good future. Many parents would be shocked and scared to learn that they places that they are sending their children that have such high rankings also have high crime rates. Overall, crime rates in California schools are an important issue to be aware of, especially as a potential student or as a parent. Regardless of the reasons why, there are many very prestigious schools in California that have alarmingly high crime rates. It is important for parents and for future students to be aware of these differing rates and prepare themselves for them in order to be as safe as possible. College is supposed to be a positive experience and is a critical time in the lives of young people. Students will be faced with new and exciting experiences, but they must be aware that with the new opportunities come some new dangers.

Crime is a phenomena that is prevalent all over the country, not just in California. No matter where you decide to go to college, there is always going to be the chance that something bad may happen. The most important thing for future students to remember is that by being smart and being safe, you can do a pretty good job at avoiding any or all of these crimes. Simple steps such as locking doors, keeping belongings close, and always walking with a friend are great ways to stay safe on and off campus. College is about education, and as a student, you can learn in many ways. You learn about academics, and you also learn plenty more about life. Students and parents should not be discouraged by the crime rates in these prestigious California schools, but instead focus on the wonderful education that students receive when they are there.

References:

1. http://www.businessinsider.com/the-most-popular-us-states-for-tourism-2014-10
2. http://www.mercurynews.com/crime-courts/ci_29825040/stanford-ranks-no-1-state-crime-per-student
3. http://www.mercurynews.com/crime-courts/ci_29825040/stanford-ranks-no-1-state-crime-per-student
4. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/vnrp0610.pdf

Virginia Transportation Safety

The Heimdall Project Prolog: Origins of the Bifrost

Introduction: The Heimdall Project – In the mythical days of Odin and Thor, Heimdall was the Aesir Guardian of the Realm who controlled all traffic on the Bifröst — The intergalactic bridge between mortals in Midgard and the Asgardians.

When his extraordinary sensory powers detected signs of impending danger, Heimdall would blow the Gjallarhorn to send a warning signal to alert all of Asgard. As a mythological traffic cop, Heimdall routed the Aesir and Vanir across the Bifröst  (aka, the Rainbow Bridge) to and from regular collaborations under the tree Yggdrasil — Essentially the transportation infrastructure connecting the Nine Realms.

The descriptions of Heimdall and his management of traffic on the Bifröst, within the infrastructure provided by Yggdrasil, originated in the Prose Edda,  believed to have been compiled by Icelandic scholar/historian Snorri Sturluson around the year 1220. Images by Marvel Studios and the producers of the movie Thor.

Admittedly, Heimdall, the Bifröst and Yggdrasil clearly belong to 13th century Norse Mythology, but the Author believes that there are practical applications to 21st century traffic safety as well — After all, couldn’t Heimdall’s Gjallarhorn be considered a predecessor to today’s emergency sirens, car horns and police whistles?

While Heimdall could also be considered an ancient Nordic Command and Control (C2) Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) system,  a modern day version of the legendary guardian might ask the following questions:

What factors are involved in accident fatalities?
– Does alcohol use have a significant effect?
– Do external distractions enhance that effect?

How can we identify threats and mitigate danger?

Who is responsible to do this?

What kinds of systems can help?

Why take the time to think about these things?? — Because commuters in the 21st Century . . . whether via car, van pool, bus, subway, light rail or train . . .  need to formulate their own answers to these questions and take ownership in solving many of the problems that dominate the safety of today’s transportation  systems. Pedestrian, motorcycle and bicycle safety are also impacted by other traffic, and these must be considered in the overall transportation safety picture as well.

The Author, who is a native Virginian with Norse heritage, has had plenty of time to think about Transportation Safety over the last five years. From 2011 to 2016, his ~ 2.5 hour daily  100 mile round-trip commute by car between the bottom of the DC Beltway to the bottom of the Baltimore Beltway, has totaled approximately 125,000 miles during about 3,125 hours commuting — that’s nearly 80 business weeks behind the wheel — so he does have some personal experience enduring long commutes and traffic jams on the transportation systems in Virginia! The interactive map below is a live feed from Google traffic maps and shows the shortest commute options to the author’s office if one were to leave right now.

There are three primary routes from Virginia to Maryland, and all 3 choices include travel on the Virginia and Maryland portions of the DC Beltway (I-495/I-95) as well as making Virginia-Maryland river crossings at either the Woodrow Wilson Bridge or the American Legion Bridge at Cabin John. When going up through DC on  I-395 , one must first cross the Potomac River on the 14th Street Bridge & then the Anacostia River on the Pennsylvania Avenue Bridge to get to the Baltimore-Washington (BW) Parkway.

The map above is an interactive map built in CartoDB, which simply shows the choice of river crossings that the Author would have to make on a daily basis to determine the least stressful route to work. There have been many major river crossings over the course of daily commutes between VA and MD, to include the Potomac, Anacostia, and Patuxent. Approaching each bridge, there is usually a decrease in speed, resulting in a traffic choke point.  These effects become worse when there is maintenance or construction on the bridge — A frequent occurrence in this area.

An interesting twist to note here is that  the BW Parkway falls under the exclusive jurisdiction of the U.S. National Park Service (NPS), just as does the George Washington Parkway and Arlington Memorial Bridge. This NPS jurisdiction presents its own slate of challenges with respect to law enforcement (i.e., Park Police), Operations and Maintenance (O&M).

Since the Arlington Memorial Bridge, the BW Parkway and GW Parkway are exclusively supported by NPS O&M Funding (and not state transportation funds), proper maintenance of these transportation systems regularly falls victim to the perennial Federal Budget battles.

All of us who travel in the VA-MD-DC region are aware of both (A) the challenges that are faced in navigating a metropolitan area, and (B) the options that an urban infrastructure offers to commuters.  None of this  sustainable transportation infrastructure is free, and all of it requires periodic O&M repairs and upgrades.

What is the most efficient way to ensure that these transportation systems are safely operated and maintained? Who determines what is safe enough?

Do we place the burden of fixing these problems on the Public Sector, the Private Sector,  or some combination of the two — Such as the High Occupancy Vehicle/ Toll (HOV/HOT) Lanes projects?

How do we move citizens to not only take  action on these solutions but to agree to pay for them as well  (through increased taxes or User Fees such as tolls conveniently paid through the use of Flex Passes)?

Can Virginia safely afford to not have gasoline or car taxes to help pay for expected infrastructure maintenances?

Many point to increased deployment of law enforcement or the greater use of  Mass-Transit . . . in the form of subways, trolleys, commuter trains, buses, van pools, etc . . . as ways to take dangerous drivers off of the roads.

While these measures indeed help to somewhat reduce fatalities, additional highway patrols come with increased taxes and public transportation arguably has its own host of not-entirely-unique challenges: Weather, poor maintenance, aging infrastructure, fatigued/distracted operators and even terrorism can all impact mass-transit  as badly as these external factors impact the operation of Privately Owned Vehicles (POV)s.

The project is divided into the following sections:

  1. Prolog: Origins of the Bifrost
  2. Driver Fatalities
  3. Pedestrian Fatalities
  4. Public Transportation
  5. Innovative Technologies
  6. The Bridge to Safety
  7. Rail Side-Track
  8. Epilog: Motivation for the Heimdall Project

Visiting the Well of Knowledge at the base of Yggdrasil (depicted above), Heimdall might suggest that mortals could use some of the self-service Big Data tools and applications that we have developed here in Midgard to understand the problems and agree on solutions.  Below is a high-level representation of the total number of accidents per year from 2010-2015.  As you can see by glancing at the data, while the numbers over the last six years have been fairly consistent, there were more than 125,000 accidents recorded in the Commonwealth last year alone!

In the next chapter on car accidents, we’ll talk about drilling into that deep well of data available in one of these Big Data tools from the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) Crash Analysis Tool (CAT)-Version 8_2.

Driver Fatalities Hazards Posed by Traffic and Alcohol

Let’s take advantage of the excellent online data analysis tool that VDOT has made available to the public at no additional charge beyond the funding already in the Commonwealth’s Annual Budget. Note that the summary table below is a very high-level visualization produced by Tableau (described later) directly from six years of accident data that has been entered into VDOT’s CAT V8_2. This data will be broken-down into more easily digested pieces, so this is simply a massive top-down data visualization for reference only.

This detailed chart illustrates the summary data for the 728,074 recorded traffic accidents over six years, and breaks them out by month and year. Given that there are 164 individual data columns per accident report, that equates to about 119,404,136 separate data elements.

By breaking the data analysis cases into more manageable subsets, the results should be readily obvious. To make visualization of the data more easily digestible, the following analyses deal only with accidents where a fatality resulted.

The ten deadliest monthsover the last six years are shown here. It is interesting to note that, while one might reasonably hypothesize that the deadliest months to drive would be when there is a higher likelihood of snow and ice on the road, this misconception is not supported at all by the data in CAT8_2!

The data provided by VDOT clearly reveals that six of the ten deadliest months in the Commonwealth are found when freezing temperatures are practically non-existent in this area — That was an unexpected result for the Author — Furthermore, eight of the top ten months experience freezing temperatures only on extremely rare occasions, and that was true even before Virginians ever heard the term Global Warming!

Heimdall would point-out that even the Bifrost is not greatly affected by weather, so he wouldn’t find these results surprising. However, he might caution that Driving Under the Influence (DUI) might be good area to investigate. Throughout the ages, humans have over-indulged and exhibited impaired judgement.

First, we will establish the total fatality baseline and present it interactively through Tableau so that each of the accident reports can be viewed by clicking on the plotted locations on the map below.

All Reported  2010-2015  Fatal Accidents Plotted on a Map of the Commonwealth (4,156 deaths)

At the onset of this research project, the Author had indeed believed that he would find data to support the hypothesis that adverse weather has a significantly negative impact on accident rates in Virginia. The Exploratory Phase of this investigation did not yield data to support this hypothesis. Hence, the Author began to look at other attributes in the CAT8_2 dataset which might provide tools to investigate and identify significant trends which have relevance to transportation safety (see a capture of the CAT_2 menu below).

Enlarge

CAT-Menu

VDOT CAT8_2

In exploring the dataset and experimenting with combinations of attributes, the Author discovered that by manipulating both the “Alcohol” and “Pedestrian” attributes yielded interesting results worth investigating and explaining (Readers can access the CAT8_2 menu at https://public.tableau.com/profile/publish/Crashtools8_2/Main#!/publish-confirm to explore for themselves) The Explanatory Phase of this research begins with the display below.

Here is the summary data in a tabular format which is also searchable so that the reader can explore the displayed data at will.

Fatal  Motor Vehicle Accidents where Alcohol was Involved (1,103 Deaths = 26% of All Fatal Traffic Accidents)

Below is a simple graphical representation of the data described above.

This data plot clearly illustrates that fatalities where alcohol was involved equate to about 26% of the total. Again, the result is a little surprising given the attention that drunk driving has been given in the media for some time.  One explanation might be that public awareness campaigns such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) have been very successful over the last few decades.

Similar Public Service Announcement (PSA) campaigns which have been very effectively supported by the National Advertising Council, continue to be critical in raising awareness about Automobiles and Pedestrian Safety. 

Pedestrian Fatalities Fatal Accidents

In the previous section, we explored how many total accidents occurred in the Commonwealth over the six year period from 2010 – 2015, with a special emphasis on fatal accidents. That number was 728,074 recorded traffic accidents total, with 4,155 of those accidents causing a fatality.

Again, with 164 individual data columns per accident report, that equates to about 119,404,136 separate data elements for total accidents and 681,420 data elements for just ones resulting in a fatality. In this section we’ll scope in even tighter and look at fatal accidents where a pedestrian was involved.

Total Fatal Motor Vehicle vs. Pedestrian Accidents (499 Deaths)

PSAs such as “Be Street Smart” have been particularly effective at raising public awareness among drivers regarding Pedestrian Safety.

Some Urban areas such as Washington, DC have taken a slightly different track by issuing warnings that police will ticket pedestrians who do not use crosswalks when crossing the street (i.e., jaywalking). While this may help to reduce incidents, few would dispute that drivers of motor vehicles bear the primary responsibility for avoiding all obstacles on the road (to include pedestrians and animals).

Be Steet Smart!

Fatal Accidents Involving a Pedestrian and Alcohol  (227 Deaths out of 499 Total Fatal Pedestrian Accidents) are shown below — quite a significant result that deserves further analysis!

Heimdall would point out that while the number of pedestrian fatalities was fairly small when compared to the number of total fatalities, in nearly half (45%) of fatal accidents involving a pedestrian, alcohol was indeed a factor!

Caution on the part of both drivers and pedestrians should help reduce pedestrian accidents, but the impact of alcohol is inescapable! A number of drinkers choose to walk home (when possible) rather than drive drunk. While on the surface, this approach might sound safer, there are anecdotal observations that seem to indicate that is safer to drive rather than walk under the influence. While this alleged phenomenon could be interesting for researchers to explore in the future, there is the neither time nor space to investigate this claim here. In either case, it is clear that the best practice is to have a designated driver, drink responsibly, or not at all!

Public Transportation

Public transportation/mass transit has serious safety and sustainability challenges of their own — Not the least of which is inadequate funding and crumbling infrastructure!

In the picture introducing this chapter (above) one of the more devastating subway accidents to have occurred on the in the Greater Washington Metropolitan Area (which includes Northern Virginia, Washington, DC and border areas of Maryland) is depicted.  On June 22nd, 2009,  WTOP News (Channel 9) reported: at  5:02 pm EDT two Red Line trains on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) Metrorail subway system collided despite an integrated safety system specifically designed to prevent such an incident — It certainly was not as effective as Heimdall.

A southbound train  was stopped on the track just short of the Fort Totten station when another southbound train collided with the rear of the stopped train. Several surviving and deceased passengers were trapped for hours during the rescue operation. Nine people died and more than 70 passengers were injured (some quite seriously).

Inadequate maintenance and performance of the track safety sensors systems were found to have contributed to the fatal accident, as shown and described by federal investigators in the simulation below.

WMATA Metro Metrorail Fort Totten Crash Collision Animation

Fast-forward nearly seven years later: the Washington Post reported that approximately 712,000 subway passenger trips were not possible on March 16th, 2016 due to the Emergency 24 Hour closure by the WMATA Metrorail subway system.

While many commuters who couldn’t telework adapted by taking the bus, Uber, light-rail, bicycles, or personal leave; the highway systems that POV drivers use on a daily basis to access the Greater Washington Metropolitan Area simply cannot efficiently handle that much additional traffic on a regular basis!

Less than two weeks later, WMATA also announced that the March Emergency 24 Hour System-Wide Closure for maintenance inspections and emergency repairs may not be an isolated event — Individual subway line shut-downs may be necessary in the future to make further progress toward a safer and more reliable subway system.

Innovative Technologies Future of Car Safety

It cannot be over-emphasized that Safety is a process, not a destination — System Safety doesn’t happen by accident.

Heimdall’s purpose is to prevent accidents by being ever vigilant in identifying risks before they become hazards and mitigating them before they become incidents! This could be considered  one definition of  a philosophy of safety and this  methodology applies to all forms of transportation and the systems that support them.

NBC News 4 Washington reported on April 12th, 2016 that A proposed drunken driving law (“Noah’s Law) passed in the Maryland Senate and House late Monday night (April 11th). The bill goes to the desk of Gov. Larry Hogan, who has indicated he will sign it into law.

The bill, which requires ignition interlock devices for convicted drunken drivers, is named after Montgomery County Police Officer Noah Leotta, who was struck and killed by a suspected drunken driver. Hopefully, interlock safety devices will prevent further incidents such as this in the future.

Innovative safety devices are developed and deployed each year, and while they have varying levels of impact, few can dispute the benefits provided by technology such as: back-up sensors/cameras, air bags, improved headlights, ignition lock-out breathalyzers, all-wheel drive, tire pressure sensors, run-flat tires, lane-drift detection, collision-avoidance,  anti-lock and automatic braking systems. The National Transportation Safety Administration (NTSA) and the Institute for Traffic Safety nurture research into innovative tools such as these.

The Bridge to Safety Which Lane do we Take?

There are many differing views on how to address transportation safety both now and in the future, but it Is inescapable that all infrastructures must be maintained, and some must be periodically replaced entirely!  Structural decay is a function of: volume, load, frequency/density of use, movement, gravity, foundational support,  exposure to environmental conditions (e.g., moisture, heat, fire, solar radiation, pollution, cold, dust, wind, lightning, hail, snow, earthquake,  etc.).

An illustrative example of structural decay discussed above is the Arlington Memorial Bridge that provides a direct commuter connection between GW Parkway and Arlington Cemetery in Virginia to the roads surrounding the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.

Although damage to roads from flooding, ice, snow (and snow plows) are often apparent, infrastructure decay of bridges, ramps, tunnels and rails often may not be obvious until there has been a fracture, collapse, cave-in or derailment.  Electrical infrastructure may be even harder to see with a  physical inspection, but at least the remote electrical monitoring of these systems can often be straight-forward and easily monitored from a central location.  In Norse Mythology, that central location is Asgard, where Heimdall is always on-watch!

It’s on Twitter, we see it on the network morning news shows, we listen to it on Traffic Radio, and everyone from the U.S. Secretary of Transportation down through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and out to the individual state Departments of Transportation freely admit it — Our great national network of highways and ramps and bridges are deteriorating and we aren’t keeping-up with their repair!

The Arlington Memorial Bridge is only one example, and it isn’t even very long.  The Virginia – Maryland Beltway found a way to completely replace the original Woodrow Wilson Bridge a few years ago, and while there were plenty of grumbling during the construction of the new bridge, there is little complaining now.  Do bridges have to completely collapse to get people to act?

Decaying Infrastructure of the historic Arlington Memorial Bridge

Rail Side-Track Epilog: True Motivation for Project Heimdall

Passenger trains and light-rail also suffer from the same kinds of infrastructure decay that surface roads and subway lines experience, but human error and inadequate safety practices on the part of train operators and those who maintain the tracks and rail beds have contributed to several fatal accidents in the last few years alone.

April 2016 Train Crash – 1 killed when Amtrak train hits vehicle at Illinois crossing.

wusa9.com reported on April 3rd, 2016  that two people were killed and others were injured when an Amtrak train bound for Washington, D.C., slammed into a backhoe south of Philadelphia on Sunday morning.  While this recent fatal accident didn’t happen within the confines of Virginia or DC, the train was indeed headed to the Greater Washington Metropolitan Area and would have stopped in Alexandria, Lorton, Fredericksburg, and Richmond in Virginia. The shutdown of this AMTRAK rail line adversely affected rail travel along the East Coast, and travelers who were planning on embarking on the train from several AMTRAK stations throughout Virginia had to make alternate travel plans using transport other than rail.

Train wrecks can be due to a wide variety of reasons, but a couple of the most common are motor vehicles speeding to unsuccessfully try to beat engines to railroad crossings or improperly attempting to cross tracks in an unsafe manner.  Contributing factors include failure to pay full time and attention/distracted driving (on the part of the train operator and/or the motor vehicle operator), fatigue, medical emergency, poor railway maintenance, crumbling infrastructure or driving while under the influence (DUI).  Examples of some of these are shown in the accompanying video below.

Motor Vehicle vs. Train - The Train Always Wins

Epilog - True Motivation for Heimdall Project

 The motivation for this research arose from the fact that the Author was a “Teen-Aged Crash Dummy.” Back in the late 1970’s, the Author experienced his first car accident on a freshly paved residential street just South-East of Fairfax Hospital. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon, but it had rained earlier in the day, and the pavement was wet and steaming in places.  Going down a gentle hill in the Camelot neighborhood, his 1976 Toyota 4-Door Corolla Hatchback began to skid toward parked cars on the right-side of the street.  Believing that he could avoid hitting the cars by turning his steering wheel sharply to the left, the Corolla began skidding sideways down the street.

 Milliseconds after the car went into the skid, the sidewalls of his Toyoglide tires began to collapse and the wheel rims on the passenger side of the car dug into the fresh and soft asphalt.  The momentum of the vehicle caused the Toyota to roll onto its passenger side first, then onto the roof the roof, and finally coming to rest on the driver’s side.  The car was totaled, and three of the four passengers were injured and transported by ambulance to the ER at Fairfax Hospital — The Author still experiences neck pain as a result of whiplash that he received that day. 

The cause of the accident was attributed to road surface conditions (wet/soft asphalt), high vehicular Center of Gravity (CG), substandard under-inflated tires and driver inexperience.

A couple of years later, the Author’s 1978 Toyota Corolla 2-Door Coupe with 5-Speed stick-shift was broadsided at an intersection on Route 1 near Mount Vernon after the engine stalled while waiting for turning traffic to clear the intersection. The Author restarted the engine (car was in too-high a gear to start from a dead stop) and proceeded three-quarters of the way through the intersection only to be hit by a speeding Lincoln Continental in the far right lane – The Lincoln driver was distracted by talking with passengers in his car as darkness was falling on a dry Spring evening. Fortunately there were no significant injuries, and the author was found to not be at fault.

The 1978 Corolla was repaired only to be wrecked again in the Fall of 1980 when the author was cut-off by a Buick driver — who had been drinking, but was not deemed to be impaired — on Beulah Road near Fort Belvoir. It was a cloudy weekday afternoon with leaves on the road, and the Toyota slid and rear-ended the Buick whose driver had been startled by pedestrians along the road and unexpectedly slammed on the brakes, leaving the Toyota too little space to come to a safe stop in time. Fortunately, the pedestrians only stepped off the curb and were never really in danger of being hit — It is not known if alcohol impaired the pedestrians’ judgement as they were not questioned by the police.

In an attempt to explain the accident, the Author pointed-out to the responding police officer that the Buick’s brake lights weren’t functioning — The police officer discounted this observation, saying only “That could be the result of the accident.” While the Corolla sustained significant damage to its front-end, luckily (again) there were no serious injuries or charges. The accident was caused by the Buick driver’s reaction to pedestrians stepping off of a curb and the Toyota’s wheels locking-up when the tires skidded due to leaves on the road surface and insufficient space to stop in time. — Unfortunately, anti-lock brakes and collision avoidance systems weren’t options available on basic Toyota Corollas at that time.

Largely as a result of his Teen-aged Crash Dummy experience, the Author went on to become a Human Factors and System Safety Engineer with a concern for traffic safety.  He has a particular interest in safety devices, road surface conditions, and the effects of weather, light conditions, and driving while distracted or intoxicated.

In Asgard, Heimdall is a safety professional who is forever vigilant in protecting the Nine Realms — in Midgard it is up to us as good citizens of this world to watch for and warn of danger as we protect against hazards whenever and wherever we see them!