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After nearly getting knocked over by rambunctious children (and a few adults) while ice skating at the Renaissance Depot, I wondered if any skating rinks have considered traffic lanes. Google images didn’t find what I was looking for, but I did stumble across this:



Commute by swimming in the canal in summer, and skating down the frozen lane in winter.

Does anyone actually have a cool enough commute that they could take advantage of this kind of thing?

Starbucks sells $1 reusable plastic cups

Starbucks started selling $1 reusable plastic cups to cut back on waste. (Starbucks / January 3, 2013)

Related photos »

Since switching to decaf a few months ago, I’ve started spending a lot more time at Starbucks. Irony? No, their decaf is just worlds better than anywhere else. They stopped brewing decaf in their brewers after 11am (or ever, if you’re at the one by the Transportation Safety Building on campus), so all decaf coffee is done “pour-over” style, aka, made fresh for you and not burnt to hell and back like their regular coffee.

Anyway, about the reusable cup. A few years ago, Starbucks set a goal to have 25% of their drinks served in reusable cups by 2015. It’s 2013 and they’re still hovering around 2%, so they lowered their goal to 5% – still a 150% increase from where they’re at today. It’s an ambitious goal, and I’d like to respect them for it.

On face value, it looks like the $1 reusable cup is a push to get reusable cups into Starbucks customers’ hands, so that they’ll bring the cup back, enjoy the 10c discount, and stop using paper cups. But this plan only makes reusable cups cheaper to buy; it doesn’t help people remember to bring their cup, just like people have a hard time remembering to bring reusable grocery bags from the their trunk or that their cat may have stolen (ht LULU).

So I can confidently predict that people will remember to bring back their reusable cup about as often as they do whatever stash of tumblers they have floating around on top of their refrigerator or in the back of their tupperware drawer (which is why Starbucks only serves 2% of their drinks in reusable cups today). That said, I can also confidently predict that the $1 reusable cup will go a long way in helping Starbucks achieve their 5% goal.

People to buy and use this cup, but I do not expect them to reuse it more than once or twice, if ever. It’s so cheap that nobody will feel terrible if they lose, accidentally throw away, or otherwise forget to bring it. And at that point, they might as well just buy another one, because it’s a dollar! And reusable! So someone who is inclined to buy one of these cups is likely to end up buying several, and using each one barely more than once.

But here’s the brilliance (for Starbucks): Every drink that Starbucks sells in these cups will count toward their 5% goal. But while the drink is technically served in a reusable cup, there is no guarantee of the cup’s future reuse. Given how cheap and easy it now is to buy a new reusable cup, most of those drinks will probably be served in a brand new $1 reusable cup. 

I don’t know what the life cycle of the new cup is, or how many paper cups it has to replace to break even, but I’m sure those cups are not going to even approach that point.  But just wait and watch what happens – within a year or two Starbucks will proudly announce achieving their 5% goal thanks largely to their innovative new cup.

What do you think? Will people (re)use these cups? Do you remember bring your own cup when you go out for coffee?


I need to build one of these for LULU.


Check out my latest post on Streets.MN about the best trend of 2012!

Jessica Lee from the MN Daily interviewed me last week about our Nice Ride research.  The article is online here and a really interesting read.

One thing that I found difficult to swallow is how many different people quoted in the article think of Nice Riders as non-serious bicyclists.

“They are a much easier way to bike rather than having to worry about the logistics of riding or the stress of possible theft,” Matson said. “I don’t know many hardcore cyclists that use the Nice Rides, but they definitely raise awareness and get people on bikes.”

Accounting senior Charles Kranz, another member of the cycling team, said that Nice Ride bikes “serve their purpose,” but he thinks it’s better to own a bike.

“I see them getting used around campus and throughout the Twin Cities a good amount,” Kranz said. “In my opinion, people who are serious about biking will probably just buy their own bike for getting to class and stuff.”

Geography doctoral candidate Bill Lindeke agreed, saying that Nice Ride bikes are “starter bikes” for people who are uneasy about tackling the city’s busy traffic and complicated routes.

Obviously nobody uses these bikes for racing.  They’re heavy and designed for comfortable, utilitarian riding.  But what I don’t understand is why everyone is so convinced that people using Nice Ride can’t be serious bicyclists.  Our survey found that over 80% of subscribers have one or more bikes at home.  For the shopping, dining, and entertainment destinations we asked about, respondents reported that they would have used their own bikes for about 8% of those trips if they hadn’t used Nice Ride.

Clearly Nice Ride is not just “bikes 101” for beginners.  Some people may use it for that purpose before switching to a personal bike, which is fine.  But the system serves a wide range of transportation needs, and we shouldn’t dismiss Nice Ride users as not serious.  It feeds into this aggressive culture that only accepts one type of bicyclist: the 25-40 year old white male on a road bike, blazing down busy streets and through stop lights.  Bicyclists are so much more diverse than that, as are the tools they use to get from A to B. 

Not exactly GIS or transportation related, but here are two really neat articles exploring data collection, database management, and software execution for Obama’s and Romney’s campaigns.

First, Obama’s system, Narwhal.  As high-tech as Obama’s ’08 campaign seemed from the outside, it sounds like the back-end of their system was the national-scale equivalent of copying and pasting an Excel file or shapefile every time you need to do a new analylsis (and I’m somewhat guilty of that myself).  Obama’s campaign team spent 18 months reconciling all the random files and databases generated in 2008 to produce a singular, consistent database for the 2012 campaign.  As election day approached, they were able to run thousands of simulations nightly to project probabilities of winning any given area in order to microtarget their last minute efforts. 

The new DB integrated fundraising and voter turnout and apparently collected massive amounts of data in order to more effectively target voters and potential donors:

A large portion of the cash raised online came through an intricate, metric-driven e-mail campaign in which dozens of fundraising appeals went out each day. Here again, data collection and analysis were paramount. Many of the e-mails sent to supporters were just tests, with different subject lines, senders and messages. Inside the campaign, there were office pools on which combination would raise the most money, and often the pools got it wrong. Michelle Obama’s e-mails performed best in the spring, and at times, campaign boss Messina performed better than Vice President Joe Biden.

At last I understand why it felt like I’ve received 6 emails a day from various people on the Obama campaign since about May or June (though thankfully only one since last Tuesday)… I really was receiving several a day from various people on the campaign!  Now I don’t feel as bad for deleting most of them unread.  Here I thought I was being apathetic; I was really just giving them useful information about what strategies work best!

As for Romney’s system, “Well, that’s like comparing apples and… some fruit nobody’s ever heard of.”  Apparently the system hadn’t really been tested, so come Election day, Orca (named after the top predator species of Narwhals, apparently) was basically still in Beta release.  Logins and passwords didn’t work, the single webserver couldn’t handle the traffic, and the training was, um, lacking. 

In a final training call on November 3, field volunteers were told to expect “packets” shortly containing the information they needed to use Orca. Those packets, which showed up in some volunteers’ e-mail inboxes as late as November 5, turned out to be PDF files—huge PDF files which contained instructions on how to use the app and voter rolls for the voting precincts each volunteer would be working. After discovering the PDFs in his e-mail inbox at 10:00 PM on Election Eve, Ekdahl said that “I sat down and cursed, as I would have to print 60+ pages of instructions and voter rolls on my home printer. They expected 75 to 80-year old veteran volunteers to print out 60+ pages on their home computers? The night before election day?”

And that, my friends, is why everybody hates PDFs.