Pattye Benson

Community Matters

The 422 Tolling Debate Continues . . . Area Planners vs Anti-Tax Politicians

There is an interesting article in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer which gives some of the planned details of the 422 tolling plan. For instance, I did not realize that if the 422 project moves forward, it will become the first locally managed toll system of its type in Pennsylvania.

The politics of the 422 tolling issue continues to remain in the news. On one side are the planners. These ‘visionaries’ not only look at the specific problems of today but also have the job of forecasting the future and try to plan accordingly. The congestion and major traffic problems of Route 422 are not going to magically disappear so than we have the question as to how to pay for the planner’s recommendations.

Many politicians recently won their local elections in Pennsylvania on anti-tax platforms. So now those elected officials in the Rt. 422 corridor are faced with the problem of not supporting the tolling of 422, and struggling with designing a plan to pay for the needed infrastructure improvements. Current funding trends nationwide indicate communities will have to be more self-reliant in the future.

How does the elected official balance what is right for the tax payer vs the funding issue to improve 422’s infrastructure issue?

Planners put positive spin on tolls for stretch of 422
By Jeremy Roebuck
Philadelphia Inquirer – Sun, Nov. 28, 2010

There might be no more frustrating, dashboard-banging, horn-worthy commute in the Philadelphia suburbs than Route 422’s 25-mile stretch. But are local drivers willing to pay to ease that daily backup? It depends on how you ask the question, regional planners say. The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and a host of local governments have launched a public-relations campaign extolling the benefits of adding tolls to the congested highway.

“If you ask people, ‘Do you support tolling 422?’ they will likely say no,” said Leo Bagley, Montgomery County’s chief traffic planner. “But if you ask them, ‘Would you support tolling 422 to fund all these improvements?’ they’re more likely to consider it.”

The DVRPC launched its 422plus website last month to promote the proposal – the result of a $625,000 study funded by the U.S. and Pennsylvania Departments of Transportation and Montgomery, Chester, and Berks Counties.

While it lays out a plan to relieve traffic congestion, many of its details remain undetermined – and whatever is finally proposed would require approval of county and state governments. But the January report is expected to propose a toll of 11 cents a mile. For vehicles with E-ZPass, the fees would be recorded by overhead transponders at four locations. Drivers without E-ZPass would be billed through photos of their license plates.

Traveling the length of the state highway, which runs from King of Prussia past Pottstown to Reading, could cost up to $2.75 one way, according to planners. All of the revenue would be devoted to 422-corridor projects. If granted legislative approval, the project would become the first locally managed highway toll system of its kind in Pennsylvania. And it could mean the difference between completing proposed improvements in 10 years versus the 30 expected should planners wait on state funding.

The 422plus planning group began looking toward locally funded improvements well before this year’s $475 million shortfall in the state’s transportation budget, Fray said. That gap, caused by U.S. rejection of a plan to install tolls on I-80, only drove home the point that waiting for state highway money could take decades. “If we want improvements on 422, we have to control our own destiny,” Bagley said. “If we raise the money, we keep it here.”

Before any of these plans can be enacted, they will need support from local officials. Four county governments would have to vote to create a regional tolling authority. State legislators would have to give it power to toll the road.

And that might be a tough sell given the antitax mood among the electorate. Warren Kampf, a Republican from Tredyffrin, was elected to the state House this month on a platform that in part opposed the tolling plan. His district includes the most heavily used stretch of 422, between Audubon and King of Prussia, where 110,000 vehicles a day pass. “To toll people that are going to work in these difficult economic times doesn’t seem right,” Kampf said in a campaign interview. “The gas taxes, the income taxes, the emission fees, the registration fees, and the turnpike tolls are all largely collected in this area. I believe there’s money within our current revenue.”

Some municipal officials gearing up for elections next year have already taken strong stands on the issue. “I don’t think the situation is going to improve. It’s only going to get worse as more businesses locate out here and more homes are built,” says Sue Padilla, an Oaks business owner, in one of the videos. “If we wait for traditional revenue sources it’s going to be way far down the road.”

Richard Dix, 59, an unemployed machinist from Royersford, said he was willing to do whatever it took to fix what has essentially become a parking lot during the peak of rush hour. He routinely avoids 422 by cutting through side roads. “Make them pay something, and maybe I’ll reconsider,” he said. “That highway’s a nightmare.”

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  1. When it comes to 422 tolling, we see where political courage got Drucker in the election. Now let’s see some specific solutions from Kampf as to how to fix the 422 traffic mess. I work in Oaks and sit in traffic Monday – Friday in the morning and then again at night. I want 422 fixed and if it means that I have to pay a toll to save 30+ min. commute time each way, than I agree. Can we just fix it, please.

  2. I predict that within a year W. Kampf will state that the “economic times” have improved sufficiently for him to support the tolls. There really is no other viable solution to fund the improvements needed.

  3. Pattye —

    I respect the “planners” but think maybe you place too much stock in their abilities.

    422 was built by planners looking to the future and they were only about 40 years off. The Blue Route was over-crowded on day one. The Route 202-422-76 interchange was supposed to solve traffic merging issues — it hasn’t.

    I am not saying we don’t face challenges. And I am not saying that professional planners should not be involved. I would caution, however, taking their plans above common sense and other ideas.

  4. I am having a hard time connecting tolling and taxing as the same as is being alluded to. In reality, if you don’t toll, you raise state taxes over time for the state to pay to fix/improve the roadway.

    If you use the road, pay for it. I don’t use the road more then 2-3 times a year. So I don’t want to pay higher state taxes for something I don’t use. When I do use it, I’ll pay for it. Same as the PA turnpike. I don’t complain, I just get on the road, pay the toll. Over time, people will accept it as how it is.

    PS – Warren, your government budget is MILLIONS in the hole buddy. Money for this just isn’t there now and won’t be in the future. No matter how you slice it, and what you say it is for, it will continue to cost more and more money to fix over time.

  5. According to Kampf — “I believe there is money in our current revenue” Oh yea? with a 3.5 billion deficit in the transportation budget, and a 5 billion deficit in the general budget, just WHERE is this money? Particularly if we are going to solve our problems by shrinking government and reducing taxes?

  6. I live in Phoenixville and work in Philly. 422 is a mess, but Leo Bagley’s plans to toll 422 and build a passenger train to Reading won’t solve a thing with our traffic issues.

    DVRPC has traffic counts at the 422/202 merge into I-76 in KOP, and at the height of rush hour, 202 contributes far more cars to I-76 than 422 does. According to DVRPC, between 6 and 9am, only 2,700 cars exit 422 and go on to I-76 while 4,500 cars come from 202. If Bagley builds his train, normal transit use is about 3% of your overall population to a given destination. So let’s play devil’s advocate and say 10% switch to the train. That’s 270 riders, or 3 rail cars.

    We are once again being scammed by the Montgomery County Planning Commission. Its time to look at the real causes of the 422 nightmare, such as choke points, and fix them. Not develop a tax and spend scheme.

  7. T.T.

    Anyone who reads CM knows your great enmity toward unions. You are chomping at the bit to see all unions – and in this case, state worker and teacher unions – take a substantial hit to balance the state budget.

    First of all, acknowledge that Republican Party hero Tom Ridge is largely responsible for the mess in which Pa finds itself. His decision to raise pensions (including his own) and simultaneously lower state and local school districts’ annual pension obligations has brought us to where we are now – given a predictable downturn in the economy. ( I’m not suggesting Ridge could have known how bad it would be..)

    He was not alone in his lack of vision. The same problem afflicts many state budgets and threatens the financial survival of school districts all over the country.

    But just as U.S. taxpayers were on the hook for huge bank and financial service company bailouts and are now being told they have to take the hit with reduced government services and entitlements, PA’s state workers – who did nothing to deserve pension cuts, are being singled out for punishment. now.

    A la big,fat bully Chris Grasso Christie, whose vendetta against the teachers’ unions in NJ, is disgraceful. And I hear Mr. Corbett admires Christie’s moxie……

    You are just diehard anti-union, buddy, and a poster boy for why unions need to stand strong. Going forward, new state workers will have a less attractive deal. They’ll know it coming into the job. That’s unfortunate but fair.

    As for where the money is, I’m sure a line-by-line review of the state’s budget would turn up hundreds of millions dollars being misspent annually. This would be true no matter who controls Harrisburg.

    Until term limits and real campaign finance reform are enacted, our state reps and senators will be doing the bidding of their big donors. Appropriating money to please the powerful and the big check writers is a matter of political survival.

    In short, the whole system stinks to high heaven. Warren won’t stick his neck out because he has to think about his party’s continuing support and his future electability.

    But UNIONS are not the devil. They’re made up of hard-working people who had the good sense to band together to get a better deal. You’re just p—ed that their deal is better than yours these days. And if you can’t get it, neither should they.

    1. Wow Kate, your laundry list of union talking points is quite impressive!

      Yet, even with all your informative dribble above, you still have failed to answer my question – Have you ever been personally targeted by a union, for the sole purpose of putting you out of business?

      1. Okay, you allude to a personal “assault” by a union that possibly ran you out of business? I am sorry for your loss and can understand your hard feelings.

        But anti-union behemoths like Walmart have run plenty of small businesses out of their communities too by stealing their price-conscious customers away. I’d have to understand more about your experience to believe a union specifically targeted your business. Did they approach your workers to unionize and you fought it? What actually happened?

        Re my dribbly talking points, I have none. I am not and have never been a union member. No member of my family belongs to a union. But I believe unions serve a valuable purpose in protecting workers’ interests and safety. I support them on that basis.

        The huge and widening gap between the compensation and power of corporate executives and the sliver that remains for non-managerial workers should concern any fair-minded person. There is a place for unions at the table given this unbalanced reality.

        That corruption infects some unions is no different from the corruption that plagues government and its no-bid contractors, the financial services industry., the gas and oil conglomerates etc.

        Can we agree that corruption , wherever it taints business/ government dealings, is wrong and should be exposed?

    2. Today Pres. Obama announced a wage freeze for all government employees….the 1.4% increase will now be wiped from the books (unless of course the government employees have a change in job status or pay grade). NO negotiations required.
      SO — they are part of a union that has no power?? If all Unions were like the federal government, I guess we could all control costs? Obama supporters have any explanation here?

  8. Kate
    I agree with you to the extent that unions are made up of hardworking people. I disagree with it being universal, as perhaps there is no group as likely to be corrupted as union leadership. Everything that is wrong with politics is also wrong with union leaders. They preserve their own power and do so with hyperbole and threats. They carry very heavy purses and keep the legislators at their beck and call. I agree with you clearly on the comments about Warren Kampf, and believe they were equally true about Paul Drucker. Government is screwed up, and union pensions are part of the problem because they are the payback for the campaign support.
    How to fix it? Term limits? Not sure I agree with that. Term limits means the government lifers are the only ones who know what’s going on — and in that group I include lobbyists. Campaign finance – yes — but no one has figured out how to do that yet, and the Supremes kind of made that concept obsolete (though watching a story about Justice Stevens highlighted that legislators are the ones that need to make those decisions, not courts).

  9. JP
    I do not understand your continued reference to “eating up” reserves. They are not reserves — they are excess revenue that accumulated because of good times and transfer taxes. A certain amount must be maintained to preserve a bond rating, but it’s not Tredyffrin’s money. It’s the taxpayers money. Are you suggesting that the BOS should raise taxes to cover expenses that can be absorbed by the money they have in their “reserves?” I think the essence is that the taxpayers are entitled to have their own reserves….and if and when the township needs to raise taxes 15% because they have run out of our “extra money’ — then we can debate the programs that might be in need of cuts…or remind taxpayers that they have had a rather comfortable ride for quite awhile.

    What is missing from the debate that I can tell is that we are a township that has low taxes and few services…and that increases in services costs more taxes. I don’t see any push to add programs — just to maintain them. And the funding for police and fire is about costs, but it’s also about compensation, and we all know that is not just negotiable, but relates to the power of those in the negotiations. (Clearly less so for the Fire which has such a major component of volunteer labor). You objected to arbitration with the police — but even that was an effort at controlling costs. It was not an effort at reducing services.

    Bottom line is that election politics are a major cause of the intellectual dissonance that takes place. You overreach by calling the electroate idiots. They simply want to control their own pocketbooks. If that is short-sighted, so be it. But the only way to control your own financial life in politics is to control how much money the government takes from you. It’s not rhetoric — it’s reality. The greater good has very little meaning when individuals are struggling to stay afloat.

    As to 422 — Pennsylvania’s turnpike is known as the first and the worst….problem with much of the rhetoric about mass transit is that majority of the people in PA have largely only ever lived in PA. The only toll road is the turnpike…and it’s a horrible road. It took 30 years to build 476 — so of course it was completely inadequate. Anyone who lived in this area during the piecemeal acqusition of property knows that PA is woefully inept at legislating goals. Other states make plans and do it….tolls or not. 501 school districts ….how many townships….how many counties….even your reference to Willistown and Tredyffrin — organized locally but not overlapping at the state level ….

    It’s not BS. It’s grid lock.

  10. I am a council member in Spring City, Chester County.
    As a local elected official, I fully support tolls on Rt. 422. This is a necessary user fee to pay for future improvements and passenger rail.
    Commissioner Joe Hoeffel has the political courage to support this ….
    I called a dozen elected officials in my area. A handful were willing to sign a petition in support of tolls.
    The problem Drucker ran into is that he had the courage initially, but then floundered when people like Kampf came after him.

    Spring City Borough was not mentioned in the Inquirer story. We supported the 422 Master Plan without “neutering” it like Pottstown and LImerick by boycotting the toll option (which was actually not part of the final plan).

    I also agree with CJ on the Main Line.

    1. Michael,

      I have not decided one way or another on this. Here is where I am stuck:

      If the toll is a user fee to support the road improvements, shouldn’t the money all be spent on the roadway? Why should the user fee on the roadway be used to build the passenger rail?

      1. Thanks for responding.

        Number one, the counties must authorize an “authority” to collect the toll and legally insure that no other entity – in Harrisburg or otherwise – can touch the funds collected.
        Number two, the rail is a significant piece, in my opinion, in alleviating traffic congestion. Therefore, the extension of SEPTA service on the existing Norfolk line should receive funding from these tolls.

        Mr. Roboto,

        Quite the opposite – working families would benefit from rail service in the short and long term. It would give them greater access to jobs in the Philadelphia area, especially for those who don’t own cars. The tolls are a small price to pay – I know times are tough. But I don’t think we’re punishing anyone. It’s for the good of the entire community.
        The other day I overheard a young woman in a Spring City diner say she would attend art college in Philadelphia, if she had a way to get into the city.
        Our suburbs have grown too much to ignore this vital transit alternative.

    2. Gee Mike. . .Tolls are regressive and only hurt working families. Why punish the workers in Spring City and Phoenxiville who have to travel on Route 422 to get to work?

  11. Got it John. . .because of the fiscal prudence displayed by Supersivsors Warren Kampf, Bob Lamina, Paul Olson and the others (as well as their fiscal restriant and cost cutting) Tredyffrin Township was able to build up a reserve while keeping expenditures down. As a result, Tredyffrin Township appears to be the only local government that was able to pass a budget this year that did not call for a tax increase.

    I join you in praising Warren Kampf and his fellow Supervisors for displaying such extraordinary financial finesse.

    1. Praise for Kampf, Olson, Lamina? You’re kidding right. For me, I’d trade in a small tax increase for honest, ethical elected officials in a heartbeat. Some of us don’t forget so easily their past behavior. Praise, never.

    2. Not buying what you are trying to peddle John Petersen. Your claim that Paul Drucker was responsible for Tredyffrin’s excellent financial health is certainly a stretch. Warren Kampf and most of the current Supervisors were the ones who cut the Town’s budget by 15% this past year.

      Paul Drucker was voted off the Board back in 2007, and, therefore, had nothing to do with passing the 2010 budget.

    3. So the debate on who is the architect can continue (does anyone really care?) Is it a “revenue smoothing mechanism” or “eating up the reserves?” Depends on whose talking and who wants/takes credit/blame.

      Geez. Wonder if anyone wants to make a point about policy rather than just to insure that people keep arguing?

    4. That’s twice you used the term Alpha Eta in response to one of my Posts John Petersen. Just what exactly do you mean by that? Does it mean “Anonymous Entry”? Sort of like when you use the handle Anon?

      I Googled the term and came up with a plethora of societies, sororities and fraternities, but no reference that would seem to make sense to someone with even your feverish manic mindset. Please do open the window to your skewered thought processes and enlighten us as to what you mean.

      By the way: I can understand why you called the Voters “idiots” in one of your previous Posts. You just can’t come to terms with the fact that they voted against you in two separate elections in a single year. Ouch!

    5. I think it is interesting to read the entries from current elected officials vis a vis MR Petersen. Is it any wonder why we idiots don’t seem to vote for Mr Petersen? Hystrionics and bad manners make for a toxic mixture.. Interesting.

      Learning alot here!

  12. I too am a locally elected official, the current Democratic Commiteeperson for Limerick 4. I would like to go on the record as stating that I am not for the tolling of 422. I see no reason why people that use 422 should be treated any differently then other people in the state that use other roads.

    Should we now expect to see tolls on Route 202? Route 30? Route 113? Route 29? How about I-80? Of course the people that use some services should pay for them. Drivers pay a tax on each gallon of gas they buy. This should fund road repairs.

    Tolling 422 to subsidize a commuter rail service does the exact opposite. The 422 driver pays two taxes, while the train rider pays neither. Sure some drivers would take the train to commute. That would lessen the cars on 422. Wouldn’t that also lessen the cars on 202 and 76? Why not toll those roads as well as they are seeing a benefit?

    Even as a Democrat, I can not understand why this is even an option. We have a Democratic Gov who was the DNC leader, we have Specter who switched parties to secure the Dem majority in the Senate, we have PA’s 3rd Senator as the VP and we have Obama as the President who visits PA seemingly weekly and we can not toll I-80 which is so heavily used by truckers who drive it the whole length. But we can allow a few local politicians to toll 422 to accomodate their “vision” of the area.

    I say we build things there is a demand for. If people want a commuter train, then they can get one. If it means they have to pay more to ride it, then that is the way to go. Don’t require others to pay for it though. The same in reverse. I do not expect train riders to pay a surcharge to fund 422 improvements, but why not. Wouldn’t they seem more people leave the train and drive 422? This would free up more seats for them to sit on their train.

  13. Good luck finding ‘revenue’ with a $4B budget shortfall. Both parties have a lot of work to do this upcoming legislative session.

  14. The toll, once imposed, will be around forever. It will harm working people by increasing their cost to drive to work. And I’m worried that this is a slippery slope. If we impose a toll on 422, why not toll 76 between King of Prussia and Philadelphia? Will this start a trend?

    And won’t the politicians keep the tolls even after the improvements are completed? Remember the Johnstown Flood Recovery Tax? Passed in 1936…it never ever went away. More than $200 million is still collected every year to pay for recovery. But the money is no longer needed for flood recovery and just goes into the general fund. This is the kind of thing that will happen with 422. The money will become a piggybank for the county/state, and we’ll never ever get rid of the toll which effectively raises taxes on everyone unfortunate enough to drive 422.

    Here’s a good explanation for why toll roads are bad:

    1. Oppose,

      The article you cite provides several good reasons why tolling – especially on a regional road – isn’t fair.

      But if you’re suggesting that PA fuel taxes should be raised instead to pay for regional road improvements, that strikes me as more unfair.. A fuel tax is regressive and it affects all Pennsylvanians, especially the working poor for whom any marginal increase in gas prices is painful. Interstate travellers will only make a more concerted effort to fuel up in neighboring states with lower fuel costs. And what’s fair about asking those who will never use Rte 422 to contribute to it through a higher gas tax?

      I understand the taxpayers’ mistrust of government agencies to properly manage any dedicated toll fund. Misuse of funds and corruption seem to be inevitable, as we’ve seen with the PTC and DVRPA. Read the letter to the editor in today’s Inquirer.

      There is no palatable solution. If, as state Rep -elect Kampf suggests, funding can be found from exisiting sources to make road improvements to 422, then great. But that leaves regional rail funding hanging out there. Can it be done separately? Is there any chance of a public-private partnership for regional rail? Or will we be the same status-quo, vision-free thinking prevail?

      If funding for 422 can be “found” from existing revenue sources, then something else will lose funding. And I’d like to know what that will be. Like you, I don’t trust politicians to keep the state’s priorities straight. Lobbyists and special interest groups are about to have even more sway over the all -Republican state government. come January.

      Under Corbett, the poor will be poorer, the sick sicker, and fewer children will be covered by CHIP. Let’s watch as education funding takes a hit given Corbett’s choice of charter school supporters for his transition team on education.. And be told how “everyone” has to feel the pain – but not equally, of course.

      There will be blood, and it will not come at the expense of the well-connected.

  15. While living in suburban Dallas for 15 years, I saw incredible REGIONAL development of light rail and limited access roads….it will take a similar initiative in this area. Dallas has “cities” much like the main line –but has toll roads in the city, light rail etc. Not sure this proprietary NIMBY region will ever get that done.

    1. John
      I was with you until your final paragraph…wish you could have stopped there too. Hyperbole reduces the value of the comment. The fact is that this is a very settled community of long-term residents. You resent the BOS, but part of their success is that they understand the mindset of these long-time residents and live within that general frame of reference.

      Change takes bold effort, but it also takes a majority vote. As someone who chaired facilities for the school district and had to FIGHT to air condition the high school — with an incredibly obsolete system I might add (two pipes instead of four, which for 2000 was ridiculous), I can tell you that it’s not only not easy — sometimes it’s just not possible. I had to work hard to get the votes to put SCREENS in the elementary schools (air conditioned the new “large group rooms”)…and I still cringe at the steps therenovation/ expansion of the two middle schools (which did not include a/c — “why do that when they are off in the summer?” )
      Anyway — if it was easy, it would be done. It is ludicrous to suggest that any body of elected officials lacks the access to the expertise to make these decisions. Getting the VOTES to accomplish the tasks is the next hard step.

  16. It would be interesting to analyze the financial health of Dallas and its suburbs, and the state of Texas compared to that in Pa. Maybe there is a reason, notwithstanding NIMBY for the success there compared to here.

    1. Not to sugar coat Dallas — there is a very strong powerbase that isn’t quite as caught up with keeping people happy there….and the tax base is sufficiently large (commercial and residential under one giant umbrella in many cases) as to dilute the effects of change on the individual. The light rail system required neighboring “cities” (it would be townships here — sort of) to sign onto a 1% sales tax dedicated to the light rail. If you didn’t sign on, you didn’t get the light rail. Some cities hesitated and were incorporated in the plan later.
      But not to fool ourselves about economies. Dallas sufferened dreadfully in the 70s with the oil and gas issues, and again in the 80s for the same reason . Not that oil and gas are there — but the investors are. The largest banks in Dallas were taken over by other systems — and the Savings and Loan debacle sort of was born there.

      One plus I saw in the region was the fact that Texas is a right to work state. When doing major construction, you hire who you want to do the job. If that’s a union contractor, so be it. I oversaw construction budgets for a large divison of Federated (Macys etc.) and we built new stores and malls using a single general contractor who had a union division and a non union division…and we put together our “team” without regard to whether the subs were union or non-union.. Separate entrances were the only consequence — and we were the largest union carpenter employer in the north Texas area . (Note that we – TESD- did something similar in the Conestoga renovation — petitioned for and won the right to use a single contractor with multiple prime subcontracts. Absent that particular one-time event, in PA, a public is bid by four separate primes in this union heavy state….and the finger pointing for cost-overruns and delays and change-orders is unending.

      Anyway — the health of the Dallas economy is fueled by the process of growth — and vice-versa. While I lived there, countless companies relocated to the region from other (read: northeastern) parts of the country. But likewise, when the real estate crashed in the 80s, people lost everything. Less long-time money — less “status quo” makes rebounding (perhaps?) easier — more resilient population.

      I could share a paper on the financial health of Dallas and its suburbs from the 1980s — I received an MS with SMU in Real Estate and Regional Analysis in the late 80s there, focused on regional planning for land development and transportation. Out of date by now, but very useful to me as I worked with TESD in the “olden days” to renovate schools.

      Several intersting website on mass transit and light rail planning. If John will be okay with the use of the verb Google….you could look it up. Or you could just ask BING the question and you’ll get answers to that too. (My Microson would probably prefer the BING option)

  17. keep in mind the concept of lost wages by being late to work.

    15 minutes late to work? Perhaps the value of the toll? Not to mention that income is taxed by the state, so loss for the state as well as the worker whenever they are late.

    If the toll can ensure timely travel, perhaps it’s a net positive. This is pure speculation on the $ value, but I think it would add up.

  18. JP Says >So? Whether you are with all, some or none of a post is of no concern to me. They are not here for you to agree/disagree with or to approve/disapprove of. If it gives you some kind of relief…great.<

    For someone I have never met, your need to slash at any response astonishes me.

    I will agree that when you have something useful to offer, it is often lost because of your need to get nasty or personal. Your obsessivel need to research the anonymous posters to try to identify who they are and then your code to warn them you know is clearly pathological.

    But why am I saying this? For others to read obviously, because John only has things to say — with no interest in feedback, therefore responsive debate is clearly not part of his agenda.

    I apologize to the blog host for this comment — because I realize that absent a decision to censor, you are obliged to pass JP's need to censure along to the rest of us. Thanks for your effort and for the free exchange you offer.

    1. Another Anon,

      You seem to have been on this post for a while. Can you tell me what John Petersen’s reference to Alpha Eta means? Apparently I am the King of this group and Flyersfan is a member of that group.

      Is that a term common to the Board or is it just a John PeterISM; the meaning of which is only known to him?

  19. Another anon,

    You are right, and it is old news. Some of us have stopped responding to him altogether. Doesn’t do much for discussion but who really cares, at this point, what he has to say.

    Pattye has admonished me in the past for going at it with him and I honor her request to be civil. So I ignore him. Try it too.

  20. Alpha eta are two greek letters. But in the context they are used here, they are used by an alien from the deep recesses of the solar system or beyond. So… who the heck knows or cares… But it is humorous.

    now, back to discussion and learning…I am reformed!

  21. You guys surprise me!

    Re Alpha Eta, I believe the Greek eta corresponds with the letter H. So anyone who is king of the alpha etas is king on the AH’s or A– Holes.

    Well, at least you’re king, Mr. Roboto!

    Really, John, I am a fan, but as others have suggested, your name calling detracts from the substance of your contributions on this blog.

    There’s such a lack of civility in public life that it would be most welcome here. I say that as someone whose passion on certain subjects sometimes gets the better of me too.

    BTW, flyer’s fan, aren’t you the anonymous pot calling the self-identified kettle black? Please consider reading the following opinion piece in the NY Times:
    November 29, 2010

    Where Anonymity Breeds Contempt
    Palo Alto, Calif.

    THERE you are, peacefully reading an article or watching a video on the Internet. You finish, find it thought-provoking, and scroll down to the comments section to see what other people thought. And there, lurking among dozens of well-intentioned opinions, is a troll.

    “How much longer is the media going to milk this beyond tired story?” “These guys are frauds.” “Your idiocy is disturbing.” “We’re just trying to make the world a better place one brainwashed, ignorant idiot at a time.” These are the trollish comments, all from anonymous sources, that you could have found after reading a CNN article on the rescue of the Chilean miners.

    Trolling, defined as the act of posting inflammatory, derogatory or provocative messages in public forums, is a problem as old as the Internet itself, although its roots go much farther back. Even in the fourth century B.C., Plato touched upon the subject of anonymity and morality in his parable of the ring of Gyges.

    That mythical ring gave its owner the power of invisibility, and Plato observed that even a habitually just man who possessed such a ring would become a thief, knowing that he couldn’t be caught. Morality, Plato argues, comes from full disclosure; without accountability for our actions we would all behave unjustly.

    This certainly seems to be true for the anonymous trolls today. After Alexis Pilkington, a 17-year-old Long Island girl, committed suicide earlier this year, trolls descended on her online tribute page to post pictures of nooses, references to hangings and other hateful comments. A better-known example involves Nicole Catsouras, an 18-year-old who died in a car crash in California in 2006. Photographs of her badly disfigured body were posted on the Internet, where anonymous trolls set up fake tribute pages and in some cases e-mailed the photos to her parents with subject lines like “Hey, Daddy, I’m still alive.”

    Psychological research has proven again and again that anonymity increases unethical behavior. Road rage bubbles up in the relative anonymity of one’s car. And in the online world, which can offer total anonymity, the effect is even more pronounced. People — even ordinary, good people — often change their behavior in radical ways. There’s even a term for it: the online disinhibition effect.

    Many forums and online communities are looking for ways to strike back. Back in February, Engadget, a popular technology review blog, shut down its commenting system for a few days after it received a barrage of trollish comments on its iPad coverage.

    Many victims are turning to legislation. All 50 states now have stalking, bullying or harassment laws that explicitly include electronic forms of communication. Last year, Liskula Cohen, a former model, persuaded a New York judge to require Google to reveal the identity of an anonymous blogger who she felt had defamed her, and she has now filed a suit against the blogger. Last month, another former model, Carla Franklin, persuaded a judge to force YouTube to reveal the identity of a troll who made a disparaging comment about her on the video-sharing site.

    But the law by itself cannot do enough to disarm the Internet’s trolls. Content providers, social networking platforms and community sites must also do their part by rethinking the systems they have in place for user commentary so as to discourage — or disallow — anonymity. Reuters, for example, announced that it would start to block anonymous comments and require users to register with their names and e-mail addresses in an effort to curb “uncivil behavior.”

    Some may argue that denying Internet users the ability to post anonymously is a breach of their privacy and freedom of expression. But until the age of the Internet, anonymity was a rare thing. When someone spoke in public, his audience would naturally be able to see who was talking.

    Others point out that there’s no way to truly rid the Internet of anonymity. After all, names and e-mail addresses can be faked. And in any case many commenters write things that are rude or inflammatory under their real names.

    But raising barriers to posting bad comments is still a smart first step. Well-designed commenting systems should also aim to highlight thoughtful and valuable opinions while letting trollish ones sink into oblivion.

    The technology blog Gizmodo is trying an audition system for new commenters, under which their first few comments would be approved by a moderator or a trusted commenter to ensure quality before anybody else could see them. After a successful audition, commenters can freely post. If over time they impress other trusted commenters with their contributions, they’d be promoted to trusted commenters, too, and their comments would henceforth be featured.

    Disqus, a comments platform for bloggers, has experimented with allowing users to rate one another’s comments and feed those ratings into a global reputation system called Clout. Moderators can use a commenter’s Clout score to “help separate top commenters from trolls.”

    At Facebook, where I’ve worked on the design of the public commenting widget, the approach is to try to replicate real-world social norms by emphasizing the human qualities of conversation. People’s faces, real names and brief biographies (“John Doe from Lexington”) are placed next to their public comments, to establish a baseline of responsibility.

    Facebook also encourages you to share your comments with your friends. Though you’re free to opt out, the knowledge that what you say may be seen by the people you know is a big deterrent to trollish behavior.

    This kind of social pressure works because, at the end of the day, most trolls wouldn’t have the gall to say to another person’s face half the things they anonymously post on the Internet.

    Instead of waiting around for human nature to change, let’s start to rein in bad behavior by promoting accountability. Content providers, stop allowing anonymous comments. Moderate your comments and forums. Look into using comment services to improve the quality of engagement on your site. Ask your users to report trolls and call them out for polluting the conversation.

    In slowly lifting the veil of anonymity, perhaps we can see the troll not as the frightening monster of lore, but as what we all really are: human.

    Julie Zhuo is a product design manager at Facebook.

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