Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Once there was a transit vision

DNJ asks an interesting question in the PG today: Will our "T" ever grow up?   The specific question is why does light rail only go to the South Hills?  Because the trolley once went that way? Begs the bigger question since there was not long ago trolley service throughout the region.  The South Hills' trolleys survived just a little bit longer.

So what is the answer?  Why does the T only service the South Hills? Take this as the Chris Briem answer you are free to disagree with, but it all is pretty clear to me.  There is a question that has to come first.  Where was rapid transit supposed to go? See below for the vision of the 92-mile rapid transit system envisioned by the 1967 Allegheny County Rapid Transit Study. Even the East Busway as we know it was built with a foundation to hold Light Rail until even that limited vision was abandoned just a few months ago.  Why was the vision curtailed? The short answer is the imbroglio called Skybus.  Like so many things in this region we fight, we confuse, and the 2nd best solution devolves to no solution before all is said and done.  By the time Skybus was officially declared kaput the energy for transit in the region was drained completely and the powers that be Downtown basically gave up on rapid transit.  There would be handwaving along the way, but it has never been anything more than that for decades.  What we see in the T is merely what inertia wrought from literally decades of effort for something grander.  Even the obvious extension of rapid transit to Oakland in the form of the Spine Line would be twisted into the runners up prize now known as the North Shore connector. If there was not for a momentary vision of Riverboat gambling in the city (remember?), not coincidentially right at the site where the Rivers Casino sits today, I personally doubt the North Shore Connector would have made it much further than the Spine Line ever did.  I do not joke on that; such is the logic of reactionary planning lacking any strategic vision.  The region's motif is how we so convolute paths that when all is said and done, nobody can understand how we arrived where we did so disconnected it all becomes from where anything begins.

and to think I typed that all up in a five minute fit and did not once mention...  no.. I can't do it.  We will leave the unmentionable unmentioned.


Lies, damn lies, and context

First off,though  it has nothing to do with what I started writing except that it talkd about Bradford County and the international attention Pennsylvania shale gas development is getting.  BBC looks at the whole Marcellus thing:  How fracking affects a community in Pennsylvania

What really got me going was a far less read piece that also looked at some Marcellus impacts.  A publication called Area Development has this:  Natural Gas Boom Boosting Regional Economies.  Iin passing they have a neat little factoid also about Bradford County.  It says with clear implication that it is all Marcellus related

"In Bradford County, Pa., the 2009 unemployment rate of 10 percent has been halved because of Marcellus Shale gas development. "

Half?  I was like.. really?  I had to go check.  So here is the unemployment rate in Bradford County back a few years:

So it is true that Bradford county had one month, one, where the local unemployment rate hit 9.9%.   Problem is that the current unemployment rate is 6.4%, so half is quite a stretch.  Skipping that the 9.9% was just one month and that the average unemployment rate in 2009 was 8.3% you really are getting further away from justifying that half claim.  The  kindest I could is that there was one month in April of 2011 that the county's unemployment rate was 5.1%.  So really cherry picking two specific months I've highlighted there with the two recent extremes in the unemployment rate might get you to justifying that half comment.  But it raises a bigger question then does it not?  Bradford County, the heart of Marcellus, has seen its unemployment rate go up a lot this year?  Further, what is the best baseline to really judge the impact on the local labor force up there?  One month in 2009, or all of 2009, or some earlier year. The average unemployment rate for 2008 was 5.3%.   So yes, the current unemployment rate in Bradford county is up from what was the end of the recession technically. How about 2007? 4.7%.   So now go back and think about that half claim.  Methinks it all may be a bit more complicated than that. 


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Daily Ranking extra - Mercer Quality of Living

Mercer just updated its worldwide ranking of cities according to their metric of quality of living.  Remember this was the ranking that last year we were the almost the top US city to make the list coming in behind only Honolulu (who says weather matters!).  So we made their top 50 this year, albeit at a tie for 49th, but somehow dropped to the 8th US city on the list. Was it that bad a year?

See:  2011 Quality of Living worldwide city rankings – Mercer survey


Neverending Transit Trend

So the news says there will be ever more cuts to public transit locally.   I tried to get someone to ask the candidates for county executive during the election runup whether or not there would even be public transit in Allegheny County a decade from now.  It was not intended to be a rhetorical question, but given the interest it had during the race it might as well have been. 

One of those things I wish I had more time to do a bit more thoroughly, but looking through past Fact Book's of the American Public Transit Association I came up with the graph below of how the Port Authority of Allegheny County ranks among the top transit agencies in the nation by the number of passenger trips.  I would bet that the 2009 rank there probably does not even capture recent cuts, let alone what is in the news today. 

The missing years are just not reported in any annual fact book they have online, at least as far as my quick look found. Given time one could generate the missing rankings from the data directly. Maybe later.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Where Pennsylvania fears to tread

Looking east to New Jersey in Bond Buyer today: A marriage made in New Jersey

Go Tigers!


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Reconsidering Hell Again

PBT mentions how the transportation plan for Pittsburgh's Hill District may be considering a new incline as that will connect the uppper parts of the Hill with the Strip District.

My inner civil engineer doubts a new incline will ever be built.  Even in parts of the world with funicular's, they often are not replaced when needed.  They just costs too much to build, let alone maintain. Go ask the Port Authority whether the inclines we have now make money or not.  More typically, and more cost effective, in most circumstances will be built some form of aerial tram.  So maybe that will wind up being the plan.  It is not as if nobody has considered new aerial cable cars in Pittsburgh before.  A recurring plan remarkably. From 2005: Gondola plan swings back into action.

(ed note: yeah, I see the Trib archives are not working.. At least they have not been for me of late. That and all archived links I have are not working either. What is up with that?)

Why would you build an incline or aerial cable car from the Strip District to the upper Hill?  You can make the case and history tells you why.  Just consider the quote all think is such a pejorative for Pittsburgh.   James Parton's 19th century description of Pittsburgh as "Hell with the lid off".  We've covered the misuse of that phrase many times here. Parton was not offering a critique, but was more in awe of the activity and industry he saw looking down upon Pittsburgh from the best view he could find.   It was a commenter here who pointed out to me that the view Parton was looking down upon Pittsburgh from was not Mount Washington as I think myself and many others presumed.  It was from Cliff Street in what is now the Hill District.  There are more than a few blocks with some of the best views of the city right up in parts of the Hill District and improving access might actually make them attractive to new investment. 

It all follows actually from the idea put forward that the Hill District needs better access to the rivers. It was an idea highlighted by Mindy Fullilove in her book Root Shock. Which brings up a bit of a non-sequitur, but Dr. Fullilove has a neat blog documenting her observations of 100 Main Streets in and near New York and beyond. See: Countdown to Main Street.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Proto Black Friday in the Burgh

When did the commercialism begin? Not anytime recently. A full page ad from November 25, 1925:


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cleveburgh renamed

A new book out on the megapolitan watch: Megapolitan America

I have not read it, at least not yet,  but presume it follows from the authors' Planning article a few years ago with the same theme.  In it, the Pittsburgh/Cleveland megapolitan region is named the "Steel Corridor".  OK, I guess.  I am sure others would prefer DNA-pike or something like that.  That and Cincinnati/Columbus is the region called the Ohio Valley.  Maybe we should just refer to ourselves as the Greater Upper Ohio Valley Agglomeration (or GUOVA?  it almost works). I will stick with Cleveburgh as the megapolitan region that has the most operational reality to it today. 


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Blame Game: Braddock

National Journal online has a focus on the failure that is Braddock. See: The Left-Behinds, subtitled: How three decades of flawed economic thinking have helped to create record numbers of long-term unemployed and undermine America’s middle class.

The whole meme of the piece comes down to this quote:

Braddock’s plight came from the structural decline of a major manufacturing industry
So again, this rosy vision that all was working in Braddock before steel decided to pick up and move away or shut down. 

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.  It just isn't true.  We've been through this before. The demographic and economic declines in  Braddock, as with those in neighboring Duquesne, or Rankin, or Homestead all started long before the decline in local manufacturing employment or wages, nor did that decline accelerate in the last 3 decades that the National Journal article focuses on.  Can't even say it is a confusion of causation vs. causality; look at most any time series on economic conditions in Braddock and there isn't even any spurious decline that started in the early 1980's. It's all weird revisionism. Paleo beer goggles of a happier past that really existed long long before anyone really remembers.

I wonder how many current residents of Braddock today are the "long term unemployed" that are vestiges of an industrial past?  Those workers left Braddock long ago, and took with them their families most all before the bulk of the jobs went away. The article says Braddock is filled with "their children and grandchildren. These are the second and third generations of a lost tribe.".  Really?  Even the mayor is not the 2nd or 3rd generation of a local steelworker; few of the very few remaining working age residents are either.

Then there is this quote:

U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Steel Works chugs on, as it has since 1875, but it’s a sprawling corrugated-metal relic of its former self. Its parking lot is almost empty at midday, and it employs several hundred workers rather than the more than 10,000 who labored here at its peak.

You know..  Edgar Thompson has been pretty busy even during the depth of the recession.  In fact US Steel brought work to Edgar Thompson from other plants because I have to believe it was the best business choice for them to do that.  They even got in trouble with the Canadian government for first choosing to shut down it's Hamilton, Ontario plant and not take work away from E.T..  Here is the big point though.. those several hundred workers at Edgar Thompson probably make as much steel as did thousands of their predecessors.  That is called the increasing productivity which is pretty much a necessary condition for manufacturing competitiveness in the world.  Yet, somehow that is bad?  It has nothing to do with the current conditions of the residents of Braddock mind you, but still.

Now of course maybe I am being harsh and the story isn't really about Braddock more than the metaphor it shows for the apocryphal Rust Belt or maybe the Pittsburgh region collectively.  Of course there is the post earlier today where I pointed out that employment in the Pittsburgh region is pretty much at an all time high as of last month. All time.  Not mentioned anywhere.

All that being said. Make no mistake we have failed Braddock.  We failed it decades ago. Continue to fail it, and there really seems to be no reason to think we will not continue to fail it for a long time to come.  But as long as we believe the mythos of what went wrong, it is pretty much impossible to ever hope anything will ever get any better.


Ignore this

Ignore this. No big deal.  Not that there is a recession or anything.  Well.. the recession has been over for some time technically I suppose, but it's not like job growth is getting anyone excited.  Anyway for us:

Total nonfarm jobs in the Pittsburgh region for October 2011 come in at the highest level for an October ever.


Glide path or crash landing? Pennsylvania Manufacturing.

Trib covers the Governor's new panel charged with doing something to improve on manufacturing trends in Pennsylvania.

One of those things that needs a little historical perspective to even begin thinking about.  Here is Pennsylvania's manufacturing employment since 1969.  Not exactly much change in trend which is remarkable in itself.  Through significant booms and busts, not much deviation from trend.

For Pittsburgh it is not such a smooth glidepath. First there was the crash landing, and later in the 1990's I suspect the trend would look more like the state's if you took out the growth and decline of employment at the former Sony Plant in Westmoreland County which expanded a lot in late 1990's only to go away completely.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Daily Ranking - Transit Savings

Trib mentioned the annual cost savings benchmarking put out by the folks at the American Public Transit Association.  While this is the type of thing it might be useful to normalize to the local cost of living in some form, it still is worth noting that we actually rank low in terms of how much transit saves the average commuter. Might explain a lot of things.  This is just a graphic of their table of the top 20 cities with the highest transit ridership ranked in order of their annual transit savings by their calculation:

So I'm not going to deconstruct it more, but the relatively low savings I suspect is reflective at least in part from a combination of relatively high fares and low parking costs. I suspect no methodology fully takes into account the greater depreciation on nearly everyone's suspension here.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pollution vs. Income

Just what I am pondering.  From more recent work out of the Cleveland Fed: Manufacturing and Pollution: Trends in Old and New Industrial Centers is this graphic:


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Yinz and yang

In Japan they are debuting the train which will have regular 200mph service.  We will be lucky if we get to 20mph with what is opening up here soon. 

Alluding to the North Shore Connector seems to have sparked a rare comment from the usually quiescent art and architecture desk here at Null Space.  Is there some metaphor in the über-differences between the old Gateway Center Station, and the one that is replacing it?  The former seemed to have used the Fort Pitt Block House as a model, yet what is almost open sure seems to be channeling I. M. Pei.  Quite a contrast. What it means???


Friday, November 18, 2011

Daily Ranking - The Foreign Born With Science and Engineering Degrees

The Census folks have a report just out: The Foreign Born With Science and Engineering Degrees: 2010

Of all the regions they look at, the one with the highest percentage of the foreign born population with a bachelor's degree and higher, and the highest percentage with a science or engineering degree is.........   well, see table 4.

The thing here is...  it isn't even close.

The report did not technically do the ranking, but if you take their table directly I come up with this:


Friday afternoon reading

Here is your required reading for the day.  The headline is:

Pittsburgh ranks low in money it spends on municipal services

Every story on that page is amazing.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Loopholes R Us

So it at least rates a news story that the sale of the Steel Building downtown is somehow going to be exempt from the real estate transfer tax that most folks have to pay. 

The Philadelphia Business Journal had a remarkable piece in the spring on the lack of interest in Pennsylvania in even thinking about changing this "89-11" loophole.  Basically the state dropped interest in reforming the loophole based on public input, which I can only speculate means the input was all from real estate owners and investors and I bet none from anyone else.  No outrage, no change, no revenue.

So in this particular case, it seems that even if the sale had happened in Philadelphia, it would have been exempt from the transfer tax.  Nonetheless, what I have pointed out before and before, is that Philadelphia captures a lot more of the transfer taxes than we do because of more stringent requirements on what is exempt.  That could be fixed if the powers that be so chose.  Unfortunately it is not a local issue, but like so much of city finances dependent on state legislation. Still if there is no political will for a change then it will never happen anyway.

So this one transaction lost the city of Pittsburgh more than the entire Library tax will bring in for more than a year. Maybe a year and a half or more, and that is without counting the additional revenue it would bring the school district and the state even.  One transaction!  Compare the amount of public effort focused on the library tax referendum and how much anyone will even notice that one article in the paper today.. to be forgotten about tomorrow.  I am so confused by what generates public interest, let alone news coverage. 

Makes you wonder what the cumulative loss to the city has been over the last decade in lost transfer tax revenues?


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Steeler Nation - Houston

The Bernie Kosar reference is classic, as is the obligatory Styx mention.  No joke.


The Anti-Cleveburgh metric: Foreclosures

Awfully similar to the graphic I pointed out years ago in The Atlantic magazine... here is recent work by the Cleveland Fed with a map of foreclosure incidence by county (source).   Still a remarkable graphic in that you rarely see such state level geography show up so starkly.

If you really parse it. it is even more remarkable in that in good times and bad there is some level of foreclosure that happens no matter. Sort of like 'frictional unemployment'. No foreclosures are good, but when it comes to looking at the impact of the national foreclosure crisis and/or recession impacts, you need to think about what the change has been from that baseline. For SW PA... there has not been much of even a blip overall from what the trend was before. Where there are impacts, they really are localized in very specific neighborhoods and communties and in many cases are patterns that were problems before.


Education über alles?

Folks have been sending me links to this column in Pop City on a contest across regions to increase college degrees being obtained

The thing is, is it even possible for Pittsburgh (city, region, or pick your definition) to really increase educational attainment in percentage terms more than how much other cities and regions could improve in the future?

Remember that once you adjust for age, we really are off the charts in terms of educational attainment here as it is. I'll keep this short since we have been through this so many times before. This all becomes a very specific issue for this contest though.  So for us to successfully increase in percentage terms (that seems to be the contest criteria) the number of college graduates would seem to me to be  an uphill battle because we are starting out so far ahead of the average. It would essentially require making everyone get a college degree.. or at least get awfully close.  There are regions that are far far below us in terms of educational attainment at the bachelors degree or graduate degree level and thus probably have a lot farther to improve in the near term.  It was not always the case which is the big point here.  If you ever see a factoid that makes it appear Pittsburgh has an average level of educational attainment, it is most likely conflating the patterns of educational attainment for younger and older generations.  For Pittsburgh like almost no other place in the nation the shift in the educational needs of the labor force decades ago vs. now has created a unique shift.  Put simply, if you look at folks graduating in the most recent decades, we are pretty much among the most educated places in the nation.

Still the most remarkable chart that in itself describes the transformation of Pittsburgh in so many ways is this.  Same as posted before and an update on previous work:


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Harrisburg or Bust

Remember this is all about the capital of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The latest on the financial soap opera otherwise known as Harrisburg.

The real endgame playing out as Moody's withdraws its rating on certain Harrisburg water bonds.

Yet money or not, money has to be spent on Harrisburg's water infrastructure.

Harrisburg may get what it asked for in the end.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Tea Leaves and Transcripts

Now I fully realize I am prone to a bit of overinterpretation on rare occassion.  Still.......

I want to know why in a court order dated November 10th, 2011, and put online November 14th, 2011, Judge Wettick is ordering the production of a transcript of a hearing dated March 16th, 2011.

March 16th?  March 16th?

Maybe he was just distracted at the time.  It seems to be right around when he was immersed in Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority litigation.  Hey, what is up with that case? Nobody seems to care much any longer.  Still a lot of loose ends there.

Still...  what would cause the judge to all of a sudden be interested in an 8 month old status conference.. one of many such conferences by that time one might ponder.  I know I have some esoteric reading most would find interminable...  It might be worth reading if it is half as winding as the <s>August 18th </s> December 2009 transcript.  Could it really be the judge is just filling in blanks in his files?


The Plan

The state redistricting plan was released a couple weeks ago.  The hard to read summary maps are online at the state's redistricting site.  Those are not very useful to some of us, so I've recreated their map from the text.   Below what the state house version looks like within Allegheny County in Google maps form and here is the KMZ file itself.

The headlines have already covered the basics.  District 22 is moving out of Allegheny County altogether. There will have to be one last election for the remainder of the term there as incumbent Chelsea Wagner takes office as Allegheny County controller.   The bigger surprise were all the incumbent Democrats being pushed into new districts.   Current state house incumbents Adam Ravenstahl and Dom Costa appear to both be residents of a reformed District 21.  Nick Kotik and Jesse White, districts 45 and 46 respectively, will have to run against each other if they choose to stay in the state house.  Also Dan Deasy and Matt Smith appear to be residents of same district.  Though talk is that Deasy being drawn a few blocks from his district, and Ravenstahl winding up a resident of 21 were actually something of administrative oversights and will be modified in the final plan. This all is technically just the preliminary plan.
For GIS wonks...  The files used to create the maps below come from these files: SHP, DBF, PRJ, SBN, SBX.  I'll get to the state senate geography when I can.  Or if someone can make public the shapefiles used by the PLRC, that would certainly be more efficient. 

View Larger Map


Sunday, November 13, 2011

At least they are not blasting Styx from the thumper trucks

So now I know (let's more call it confirmation) why any mention of "Marcellus Shale" brings a nearly instantaneous spike in hits here. Never takes more than minutes, often less. Day or night, 7 days a week, it really is a 24/7 operation. As the manual says it should be of course. In the PG today:

Drillers using counterinsurgency experts; Marcellus industry taking a page from the military to deal with media, resident opposition
At least they are sticking to the modern doctrine.  If they were looking at history, we might really be in trouble.  The select list of music used to entice Noriega out of the embassy once included: Styx! which at the frequencies of a thumper truck would potentially be subliminal across a wide area. Of course, what is torture for some......

It's not just the public that should worry though.  Are those dosimeters every one of those well workers are wearing?    or something else?

A bit more seriously though... The real counterinsurgency folks have to deal with far more effective opponents than any forces amassed to thwart shale development.  Has there ever been a resource development less inhibited than the development of Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania? Look at Pennsylvania's immediate neighbors?  New York still has an omnibus ban.  New Jersey and Maryland have delayed any shale development pending studies.   There is even infinitely less tax on shale gas development than in West Virginia (and that is via the energy experts at Platts). I suppose Delaware could be more enabling than we are, I'll have to check.  Any Pennsylvania 'insurgency' reminds me of the alleged stories of the CIA trying to get Casto decades ago.  Fidel's health is a matter of some speculation of late, but considering that he is age 85 it might be time to conclude any such attempts to knock him off were ineffective.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pittsburgh Rental Dreaming

WSJ gets into the practicalities of investing in real estate and becoming a landlord: Are You Ready to Be a Landlord?

Note the mention of Pittsburgh as one of the very few places where rents are rising.

Reminds me though.  One of the most...  words escape me a bit..  most something, I have ever read. Written right here in Pittsburgh:   Rent-o-vation.

Every line in it is amazing.  On our current topics though on page 53 is this ultimate explanation (not that it was the intent) for why Allegheny County needs to do a much better job now and in the future of keeping property assessments current.  Thus was the state of assessments and the local real estate market in general not long ago when property reassessments were not done regularly:
When you purchase a house there is a "REAL ESTA TE ASSESSMENT" done on that property. The tax assessment is 25% of the fair market value of the property, or one fourth the fair maket value. On the last 10 houses I purchased, the fair market value (according to the county tax assessment) was higher than tbe purchase price. But, when I purchased the property, I knew that after the first of the next year, I could go to the county tax office to appeal my taxes. Which means that you are asking the county to lower your property taxes because the assessed value of the property is higher than what you paid for the property.

Honestly, it all provides me with more than a certain motivation.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Are PA Beer distributors going the way of buggy whips?

More supermarkets to sell beer in central PA. Patriot-News: No opposition to Giant Food Stores request to sell beer in Susquehanna Township

Could it really be that long before this is ubiquitous?

I've brought up the hyper-local (for me) and curious situation of the convenience stores in Pittsburgh that have rare "E" licenses to sell beer.   There is development there as well with my friend Nick R., who owns the real estate and the license there,is taking the place upscale.  So the infamous Brian and Cooper's is heading out.  I am sure at least 5 readers here care.

.....and when is someone going to take back all those wine kiosk thingys that never worked and the state shut down a couple months ago?  They are still in place from what I see. They are huge and take up a lot of space.  You have to wonder what the stores that house them are thinking.  Must be some lost revenue in all of that. No complementary benefit any longer of bringing in folks looking to buy wine.

update... and I swear it was there the other day, but it looks like the wine kiosks are indeed gone.  If I had only posted this last week I would take credit.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thou shall work overtime!

Judge Wettick to County:  Thou shall work overtime!

I'm not joking.  Page 9 per the PDF numbering.


Muniland News Tsunami



The number of living veterans in the Pittsburgh region has been declining on average by more than 7,000 a year over the last decade.  A rate that is now up to roughly 3% of the total veteran population annually. By the end of the decade the total number of living veterans in the region will be barely more than half what it was in 2000.  It means that close to 20 veterans a day are passing away across the region.

Here is what I add up for the number of living veterans from the statistics at the Department of Veterans Affairs for the 7 counties of the Pittsburgh MSA.
2000 275,369
2001 267,711
2002 260,014
2003 252,432
2004 245,014
2005 237,782
2006 231,763
2007 224,934
2008 218,135
2009 211,479
2010 204,647
2011 197,811

and some colleagues of mine have recently studied more extensively the impacts of veterans returning to the Pittsburgh region.


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Ralph Nader Redux

I wonder if any are readers here, but I would love to hear from any of the 4 straight ticket voters who selected the Green Party. Especially since I am not sure a registered Green Party candidate was on any local ballot anywhere, though I am not sure of that. Were these folks making a statement?  Fat fingers?  It's like the dead letter office of politics.


Who came to the party?

PG notes the semi-historic low turnout for the election yesterday. Remember the weather was great for a November election.  Just imagine if the weather was bad, or really bad?  I still think they ran that blurb just as an excuse to use that stock image. 

For the curious....  of the 1300+ individual voting districts in Allegheny County, here are the voting districts with the highest and lowest turnouts yesterday.  The two of the very lowest turnouts are the jail and the Pitt dorms.

District Turnout %
District Turnout %


Lies, Damn Lies and Pre-Election Polling

First off, the post title was not meant to be as pejorative as it comes across.  The reference and apologies are to a great recent paper by Walsh, Dolfin and DiNardo(2009).

Remember it was a very short time ago that polls were saying Raja was making this a race with 'polls' saying it was barely a 10 point gap between the two candidates (41% to 31% with 28% undecided). If you looked at it from an angle it might have been a 9 point gap. Single digits! A race!

Just 5 days ago the same said polls had at least said it had widened to 18 points

The final results.. 62-38 or a 24 point gap.

I have a simple observation. There were not even enough people paying enough attention to this race to explain any shift in the polls over the last few days, or certainly over the last few weeks. People voted today as they would have if they had been asked to vote last month. It is not that there really were 28% undecided last month.  Just consider if that were true. The core votes for Raja certainly remained core Raja voters and that early poll matched his results at just about 31% exactly. It means that virtually 100% of the 'undecided' voters all decided en masse for Fitz in just the last couple weeks. No, of course they didn't.  Or if that is really true most need to rethink the interpretation of what 'undecided' means.  

So as the next mayoral race officially kicks off today, maybe the mayor does not have as much to worry about as one might have inferred.

There were just a shade under 230K votes cast for Allegheny County Executive.  229,419 to be precise in the preliminary count.  I predicted 240K votes for that race which isn't bad given other numbers that were being floated. Turnout overall was just barely under 27%.  I am a bit unclear why the county really predicted between 30-35% which would have meant between 10% and  30% more people at the polls than actually showed up. You can't even say weather kept people away since it was pretty amazing weather for a fall election.  Imagine if there has been some more typical weather what that turnout would have been.

Yeah, yeah.  Maps.  There will be maps.  But I think you know what they look like. 


Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Million Dollar Baby

What does a $million (or 2?) buy you?   Raja at the moment coming in 0.03% behind what one Robert Howard is polling against Chelsea Wagner for County Controller.   and I can't begin to tell you who Robert Howard is.  I would have guessed he of Happy Days.

Is it really that hard for Republicans in this town to ever again mount a credible county-wide campaign of any kind? I mean, even Larry Dunn once pulled off a victory.

update:  Yeah, curiosity got the best of me.  Robert "Bob" Howard is a real guy, or at least has a campaign web site.  Problem is that large parts of it are still under construction. There's always tomorrow.


Existential Election Enumerations

For the poll watchers and sundry political junkies out there, here are some maps of straight party ticket voting from the 2007 general election, which was the last time we voted for Allegheny County Executive(ACE).  The main thing to keep in mind is that race was uncontested with no Republican on the ballot at all for ACE.  Whether that pushed up or pushed down the straight ticket Democratic votes I am not sure.  What happened to the straight party Republican votes when there was no Republican on the ballot for ACE is one of those existential questions.

Note the colors and legend are consistent across the two maps, but on the Republican side I don't think there is a single voting district with 25% or higher straight ticket voting. So the two darkest colors are not there anywhere. These are both percentages among ballots cast that cycle.


Downtown Retail Then and Now

I just note the small story on Downtown retail.  PG: Mayor's roundtable to beef up Downtown retail district

From the archives and my friend Jim D are the 161 pages of: Who Shops Downtown and Why? August 3, 1989 by Jim DeAngelis.

Though as I noted yesterday with some stats, I bet at least some of the great retail collapse, and the thousand fewer Mom and Pops in the region over the last decade,  is coming from Downtown shops.  I mean..  Honus Wagner closed!

Oh yeah...  VOTE!


Monday, November 07, 2011

crossing the t's

Judge Wettick's complementary order on the assessment of commerical properties within the City of Pittsburgh.

Just so nobody is left out of the party I guess.


Holiday Blues

PG has a gloomy picture of seasonal hiring; based mostly it seems on some national punditry.  Never fear, regional seasonal trends in retail employment look awfully metronomic (see below).  Seasonal spikes of between 6 and 9K jobs spikes from September to December are pretty consistent, even during the worst of the recession here a couple years ago.

The more interesting and more important trend is not the seasonal cycle, but the unabated decline of retail employment overall.  Since we really are consuming as much as we used to if not more, the trend looks like the continued evisceration of main street retail.  Generally there are more of the largest retail establishments and for sure a lot fewer of the smallest retail establishments than just a decade ago. The exception being the one 1000+ retail establishment that was showing up in 1998, but not there in 2009.  I should know what that was, but can't quite place it?  I think it must be the Macy's regional HQ jobs that were the vestige of Kaufmanns.  I would have coded them as the industry Management of Companies and Enterprises, but if they were still coded as retail that would be a thousand or so jobs lost at one location.

At the smaller end of the spectrum, in just over a decade over a thousand retail establishments with fewer than 10 employees went away across the region.

Retail Establishments in the Pittsburgh MSA by Establishment Size
Number of Employees
Total Establishments 1-4 5-9 10-19 20-49 50-99 100-249 250-499 500-999 1000 or more
2009 8,447 3,276 2,284 1,577 812 262 198 31 7 0
1998 9,493 3,949 2,657 1,620 750 301 172 38 5 1


Sunday, November 06, 2011

As the Judge Rules

So if you want to read Judge Wettick's order on Allegheny County assessment issued last week.
I do also keep a "Wettick Watch" link over there on the right.
You know.. we're going to have a contest.  What residential property has gone up by the biggest percentage since the 2002 reassessment?  What property has declined by the biggest percentage since 2002? I am a bit curious how this $2 million condo fares.  We don't know yet, but we will see soon.

We need a name for the prize.  Can't use Tony, Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, or Razzie.  Suggestions?


Saturday, November 05, 2011

The Boom Town of Appalachia

Just saw someone use this map at a conference. What stands out?

Appalachian Regional Commission
County Economic Status in Appalachia, FY 2012


Friday, November 04, 2011

What the 'Long Tail' used to refer to

More back to the future in a way.  Income, poverty and general distribution issues used to be bigger topics in both academic research as well as the media and public discourse.  I once had a whole class just in how to measure poverty.  Seems to be a resurgence in the whole topic. 

American Community Survey income distribution for households in the Pittsburgh MSA looks like this:

Universe: Households 
2010 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates
Pittsburgh, PA Metro Area
Estimate Margin of Error
Total: 978,959 +/-8,063
Less than $10,000 75,445 +/-4,207
$10,000 to $14,999 60,079 +/-3,254
$15,000 to $19,999 62,736 +/-3,285
$20,000 to $24,999 65,678 +/-3,660
$25,000 to $29,999 55,960 +/-3,892
$30,000 to $34,999 58,099 +/-3,570
$35,000 to $39,999 47,868 +/-2,885
$40,000 to $44,999 48,436 +/-2,846
$45,000 to $49,999 41,672 +/-3,031
$50,000 to $59,999 83,244 +/-4,605
$60,000 to $74,999 100,043 +/-4,547
$75,000 to $99,999 115,755 +/-5,690
$100,000 to $124,999 67,399 +/-3,740
$125,000 to $149,999 33,898 +/-2,113
$150,000 to $199,999 32,787 +/-2,388
$200,000 or more 29,860 +/-2,590