Friday, May 20, 2016

A ‘good question’ that deserves an answer

It started out as a relatively simple idea: Let’s put together a list of the locations of shelters along the highways and interstates so our readers will know where to go if they find themselves caught in the path of a twister in “Tornado Alley.” It is storm season, after all.

But my colleague Tyson Fisher and I quickly found out the project wasn’t going to be nearly as simple as that. Sure, Texas and Kansas – the two states that recorded the most tornadoes in 2015 – have shelters available, but none of the other states we talked to had any sort of hardened storm shelter for travelers who might need refuge.

The common refrain we heard when interviewing state DOT officials or emergency management workers was “That’s a good question.” And the lack of safe spaces raises a pertinent follow-up. What can we do about it?

Consider this: There are more than 3,200 miles of interstate in Texas alone, or roughly 170 miles of interstate for every shelter. That doesn’t include U.S. or state highways either. Kansas has 30 shelters along the 236-mile Kansas Turnpike, an average of one shelter about every 8 miles. But the Kansas Highway System totals more than 10,299 miles (not including the Turnpike), and the total number of storm shelters for motorists on those roads is a big, fat zero.

Now it’s true that the likelihood of having a monster tornado cross directly in front of your path may be relatively small. But it certainly makes sense to have shelters available, particularly as in Kansas where state employees at toll plazas may need a safe space to go to when severe weather strikes. It seems reasonable to think that states could add some shelters to scale houses or other places where employees would surely want to have them. Keeping them open for motorists would be an added bonus.  

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Who are the least popular drivers in America?

You’re on the highway and see a car ahead of you driving like an idiot. As you roll up next to the car, you notice the driver is texting on a cellphone. If you think “That guy/gal is the worst,” you’re not alone. has released its annual Road Rage Report, and for the third consecutive year “The Texter” ranked as the least popular American driver. It is worth noting this is the third year of the report, so The Texter is undefeated.

Here are the complete results of the Road Rage Report:

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Why is everyone talking about Steve Viscelli?

Steve Viscelli thinks he knows what’s ailing the American trucking industry. A sociologist, and for a brief time a trucker himself, Viscelli’s research digs into how working conditions in the trucking industry have degraded since what most would consider trucking’s heyday in the 1970s. The work is the subject of his new book The Big Rig: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream, and a recent article on the same subject over at The Atlantic.

Viscelli’s contention will probably sound familiar to those who’ve been in the industry long enough to have had some experience on both sides. He says that deregulation in the late 1970s led to a massive degradation in both the quality of work and the working conditions truckers faced.

“Under regulation, competition was limited and common rates were set, and all but agricultural products required federal authority to haul,” Viscelli writes in The Atlantic piece. “Deregulation, then, created intense competition and plummeting rates for truckers. By the early ’80s, the industry was in turmoil, with employers slashing wages and busting the Teamsters union to cut costs. At the same time, bigger and more sophisticated shippers were demanding that freight move farther and faster, further degrading trucking jobs.”

Viscelli said those changes led to high levels of turnover and low pay, which have characterized the industry for decades, and that “the solution has been to settle on a system that shifts risks and costs to more-experienced workers and delays their exit to better paying segments of the industry, or from the industry altogether.”

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Weed, Calif., is high on trucks

About two weeks ago, we reported on truck parking in Elmira, N.Y. It was a nice palate cleanser since the truck parking beat is typically full of bad news, much like the situation in North Bend, Wash. Since then, we have received more good news from the other side of the country in Weed, Calif.
Photo by Dave Della Maggiore
Recently, we saw posts on Facebook with the image shown on the right. Another truck-friendly city? I called City Administrator Ronald Stock to get details. To call Weed, Calif., “trucker-friendly” may be an understatement.

Approximately 50 miles south of the Oregon border, Weed is a small community of just under 3,000 people, less than half the population of North Bend, Wash., and nearly the same size in square miles. Yet, Weed’s response to truck parking is antithetical to North Bend’s.

Off of Interstate 5 on Vista Drive sits a Pilot Travel Center. The truck plaza was a good start for parking, but not enough. As City Administrator Ronald Stock pointed out, truckers have three choices for rest when traveling in Northern California/Southern Oregon: Redding, Calif., Medford, Ore., and Weed, Calif. When temperatures in Redding and Medford reach triple digits, Weed stays somewhere in the 80s.