Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab, covering transportation, infrastructure, and the environment. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps that reveal and shape urban spaces (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles, GOOD, L.A. Review of Books, and beyond.
A biweekly tour of the ever-expanding cartographic landscape.
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Compass points: Gratitude for data, dude
Last week, Google Maps released its annual travel forecasts for the long Thanksgiving weekend, featuring an interactive tool that spits out optimal travel times, and a display of the most hellacious times to travel to dinner and back for 25 U.S. cities, compared to their normal congestion levels. That chart (shown below) looks like a series of sound waves: Behold the steady drumroll throughout Wednesday as families hit the road, crescendoing late that evening, with a subtle reprise on Thursday night.
Google also mapped the most unique location searches during Thanksgiving week, for all 50 states. Apparently, Mainers stand out in their yearning for a “bar” during the holiday. Don’t we all?
They’re fun and handy, but these tools are also a reminder of my uneasy dependence on Google for all kinds of information—and vice versa, since the company’s traffic stats are largely generated by me and millions of other Maps users. Google sometimes behaves like a public utility, but where do you draw the line between useful and intrusive? The company sells location data to advertisers, and it “follows” some Android users even when they’re led to think otherwise. Thanksgiving is like a firehose for data-lovers, but much like the food on your plate, it’s good to ponder where it comes from.
What do you think about Google’s holiday maps? Drop me a note.
Orient yourself: Tax plan
April 15 will be even further from a holiday than it already is for many Americans, if the Republican tax package up for a vote in the Senate this week comes to pass. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows how, with its interactive maps of the state-level effects of both the House and Senate plans. Corporations and high earners would write smaller checks to Uncle Sam under both versions of the bill, but most low- and many middle-income residents of the priciest and most populous states would suffer.
In fact, thanks largely to Republicans’ efforts to dramatically cut back deductions for state and local tax payments, residents of California, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland would see such large increases that overall personal income tax payments in those places would rise by about $17 billion, according to one estimate. What’s more, those jacked-up returns would effectively subsidize hefty tax cuts on their way to other states. The same calculation shows that the House bill, which passed earlier this month, would cut federal personal income tax collections by roughly $85 billion in 2027. More than one third of those savings would flow to just two states: Florida and Texas.
But middle-class families in Texas and Florida aren’t in for nearly as significant a savings as the president might like them to believe, partly because those states have some of the highest rates of medically uninsured residents. The House bill would eliminate the deduction for high, out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. President Trump has promised a tax cut for “everyone,” but as with so much in life, geography is destiny.