The difference between trains and buses

Some people feel buses are the answer to all our mass transit needs.  They will, of course, admit that big expensive commuter rail systems are more pleasant than a fleet of buses (anyone who has ridden on both can attest to this), but they will simply point to the price tag as the major issue at hand.  How can we afford such large transit systems?

In fact, if you look at the issue from a certain perspective rail systems seem simply fascist.  Whereas bus networks can be easily adapted to meet the ever changing demands of the customers (we must keep them happy!) , rail systems dictate what the customer behavior should be.  It is very easy to change a bus route to accommodate a new population distribution (for example, the construction of a new subdivision); it is extremely difficult to change a rail system.

A rail system has the remarkable effect of change the area around it.  Transit stops usually become hubs of development; property values go up around them and people try to move as close by as possible.  In the Washington DC area, for example, real estate prices are largely a function of distance to a metro stop; people want to use the metro and thus want to be near a stop.  But it is not clear how we should feel about this trend.  On the one hand, a rail system can have an incredible stabilizing effect on a community.  It supports clear neighborhood centers and a maximization of space (i.e. higher density) around the stops of the metro.  This in turn greatly decreases the dependence of residents on cars and thus decreases energy consumption; if you live near a metro station/neighborhood center, you have all your basic needs met within walking distance and you can take the train to anywhere else you need to go.

However, the flip side of stability is restrictiveness.  The rail will stay where it is for a great while and therefore people are forced to live where that system exists if they want the high quality mass transit that their tax dollars helped build.  People must, in effect, react to what the government has provided and are not as free when choosing where to live.  The government can, in effect, coerce people to live in a specified pattern.   The ethical implications of all this are rather interesting, and when I have time I’ll post about my take on it.  However, for now this is an issue about which I am still starting to form a view.

Cappuccino Review #14 – Escape Java Joint

Escape Java Joint



You really have to search for the part with the coffee.
You really have to search for the part with the coffee.

942 Williamson Street.


For an intro about how and why I am trying the cappuccinos of Madison, go here.

The Willy (for Williamson ) St. area is Madison’s most eclectic.  It is full of students and hippies.  They have their own currency and the towns largest coop.  So, it isn’t all that surprising that the coffee shops in this area are a bit odd.  Mother Fool’s (which I reviewed earlier and has some of the best cappuccinos in town) is also there, but Escape Java Joint certainly takes the cake in the ‘strange’ department.  Trust me, just go there.

I wonder if someone tried to take these awesome chairs....
I wonder if someone tried to take these awesome chairs....

The place consists of several areas that are completely different (a couple separate buildings really).  When we went we sat in the huge outdoor area; they even have their names imprinted on the chairs.  There is no menu, but just have a chat with the guy behind the counter and he’ll try to figure out what you might like.  And he will check up on you several times to make sure your drink is good; it shows that they at least care!

Anyway, the cappuccino was decent.  Their smallest was a 12oz, so I ordered it dry.  It actually reminded me a lot of the cappuccino from Michelangelo’s on

There it is.
There it is.

State st.  Their scores turned out to be the same (in all regards).  I enjoyed the drink, and the strange environment added to the entire experience.  So I’m a happy camper.   Here are the numbers, all copied and pasted (out of 5):

Presentation: 3

Smoothness: 4

Strength: 3

Complexity: 3

Foam: 4

Correctness: 3

Mean: 3.33/5

SD: .52

So….go there.  It is cool and you will have fun.  Oh and they have music there a lot; one of their giant rooms has a stage.

Cappuccino Review # 13 – Froth House

Froth House

The front of Froth House; there is also a nice patio in the back
The front of Froth House; there is also a nice patio in the back.
11 N Allen St.


For an intro about how and why I am trying the cappuccinos of Madison, go here.

Some coffee shops I really want to be great; they have a certain feel that makes you really like them right when you walk in.  Froth House is just that sort of place.  It is the perfect neighborhood hangout where you expect to run into someone you know if you live in the area.  It also helps that it is my neighborhood coffee shop, located by the corner of Allen and Regent next to the Regent street coop, a wine and beer store, a book store, and a number of other small businesses.  Basically it is a little town center on Madison’s near west side, which is pretty cool.

The Froth House also has one of the better patio areas I have seen, and they serve food and drinks directly back there through a back window of the store.   Throw in the frequent musical acts and it makes their implementation of the patio one of the best in town.

But how is the cappuccino?  Sadly not so great.  Because the 12 oz is the

...but the table was cool....
...but the table was cool....

smallest size they serve, I ordered a dry cappuccino.   I got a drink that was filled to the brim of the cup, not a good sign.  The foam was of an ok quality, though there was way too much of it.  However, the drink itself was actually quite bad; on my first sip I tasted some coffee, but soon it degenerated into mostly milk (or rather, bitter milk).  It was essentially a latte, and a weak one at that.  Ok, the numbers: (all out of 5, as usual).

Presentation: 3

Smoothness: 3

Strength: 1

Complexity: 1

Foam: 3

Correctness: 1

Mean 2/5

SD: 1.1

On a more positive note, their Nutella latte is delicious, and their breakfasts are great too.  Just don’t get the cappuccino.