Sunday, December 19, 2010

Driving in DC #6

One of the things I have not talked about enough on this blog is the insane highway intersections common throughout DC.

Washington, DC doesn't believe in merge lanes.  They also don't believe in giving adequate warning when an existing lane is going away.  The 14th Street Bridge is a prime example of that:

I think with that picture alone, a lot of people are groaning collectively.  We've all been bitten by this, and probably more than once.

For those who may not know, the 14th street bridge is a major artery into DC:

There are only a few bridges across the Potomac into DC, and the 14th street gets you into central DC pretty quickly.  The problem is, the right-most lane of the 14th Street Bridge peels off to L'Enfant Plaza and 12th street, and hardly anybody ever takes that exit.  It may have been a nice idea during the planning stages of the city -- to have this beautiful Promenade with shops and offices and a pretty view of the Washington Channel.  But it didn't work out that way, and we're left with this enormous 2-lane exit to Nowheresville.

Neophytes to DC get nailed all the time.  In the above picture, the right-most lane forces you off the highway (with no "EXIT ONLY" warning or anything) and the second-to-right lane gives you the option of taking the exit or not.  It's way, way more capacity than that exit needs.  Or deserves.

Every morning, you can count on 1 in 3 cars making a crazy, desperate maneuver to not get unceremoniously dumped onto L'Enfant Plaza and the promenade.  And, perhaps once per week, you get a traffic-snarling accident here when someone's daring maneuver fails to account for the car in their blind spot.

Oh, the joys.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Kollej keeps gettin' expensiver

A while ago, I posted about the insane rise of tuition over the years -- it's been about twice the rate of inflation since 1995.

While it's not "new" news, this post is an update to point out college tuition is still rapidly on the rise.  Public schools went up 7.9% (to $7,605), and private nonprofit schools showed remarkable restraint in only raising tuition by 4.5% -- leaving their annual tuition at a healthy $27,000.

This, at a time when the average family income has been flat over the past ten years:

I admit the above chart only goes until 2007, but as I've blogged before, the median household income in 2009 was still only $52,029.

Here's my rant: how on earth do the colleges and universities get away with charging such exorbitant rates for college?  The unfortunate answer is that it's being (largely) funded by Uncle Sam.  The dollar amount of Pell Grants alone have gone up by about 50% over the past 3 years, in addition to other federal aid.  

A vicious (or victorious, if you're of the college employed ilk) cycle is set up: the federal government (and other generous institutions) make efforts to provide grants and aid.  This makes more money available in the system.  The universities see this, and ratchet up tuition accordingly.  And banks, which loan a lot of money for efforts like this, get a windfall from the process.

Way back in April of 2009, President Obama called out universities and colleges, asking them to curb the rising costs of tuition.  If I were him, I would have called out a few prominent bankers and university presidents and publicly excoriated them for their largess.  

"The banks and lenders who have reaped a windfall from these subsidies have mobilized an army of lobbyists to try to keep things the way they are," Mr. Obama said.  "They are gearing up for battle.  So am I."

Sadly, I never heard the outcome of this.  At least, I didn't hear of a positive outcome, and the recent news that kicked off this post makes me think it wasn't successful.

Here's what really gets my goat: 

Harvard currently charges $50,724 for a year of tuition.  By this calculation, tuition should be free at Harvard.

This is freaking ridiculous.