Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Old People Like Me

Subtitle: The futility of anything changing while people my age are still alive.

I've been hanging out at this 'entertainment' complex recently serving my performing habit, (which is why I still have a car.)

Masonic Auditorium


Turn on the satellite view and notice the shitload of parking lots in the area.

This neighborhood is sparsely populated due to years of car-centric abandonment, but does have several condos and remaining mansions to the south and Cleveland's tiny 'Asiatown' to the north, which is seeing some recent promotion and bustle.

This neighborhood, known as "Mid Town" is about halfway between downtown and the University Circle area, (which is booming,) and also right on an excellent Public Transit route on Euclid Ave.

It is also close to Cleveland State University with, *sigh, 'easy freeway access.'

Really an excellent position geographically.

I suggested to the 50-something desk clerk that the old restaurant across the street be reopened, to provide a walkable destination for attendees at the increasing number of shows at the Masonic complex, as well as for residents of the previously mentioned proximate neighborhoods.

After agreeing with me a bit, he suddenly stated that he wishes the owner would tear it down for a parking lot.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Freeways are Killers, Stupid

Sure, 'stupid.'

It's stupid to stop your car on a freeway.

It's even more stupid to even enter a freeway, but how can you not enter the freeways given our level of sprawl and the knowledge and induced expectation that we can traverse an entire city in 15 minutes?

This woman stopped her car on a freeway, (in the left lane!) to prevent killing stupid ducks and to help them across the road. The world is outraged at the deaths of two speeding motorcyclists who crashed into her car:

Motocyclists killed

I've stopped to avoid killing geese though not on a 'freeway.' I've also slaughtered a few cats and other critters on freeways and off.

Around 200 people are killed themselves by bigger critters every year on the killing fields known as our automobile roadways every year:

Stupid Deer

The motorcyclists were traveling 75 in a 55 MPH zone. Little mention has been made of this.

No word has been made of how close they were following. I was just tailgated last night the entire time I was on the freeway. I was doing 55 MPH in the right lane. My friend told me to 'tap the brakes,' a common 'remedy' for stupid behavior.

Our freeways have become the haven of such incredible projected 'road rage' anger, impatience, and frustration, coupled with an amazingly powerful means of crushing and ripping apart human and other living bodies.

Vehicular death is still the leading (non-chronic disease) killer in the US, and we love to single out stupid 'girls' for doing something not uncommon in the world of stupid things in our stupid auto culture.

Much of this destructive power is being transmitted to our local 'arterials' as they serve as 'pre-freeways:' ramps to the freeways. We are in the service of sprawlers in a sprawling culture of un-limited space who need to get home to their hobbies and responsibilities many of which require getting back in the car.

When the Freeway System was conceived and plotted in the 1940s, the number of vehicles was around 27 million.

As we began construction in the 1950s we had increased to 40 million.

As construction continues and re-construction with maintenance has begun faltering we now have exploded to around 240 Million vehicles on our roads including small cars, humvees, SUVs, pick-up trucks like tanks, motorcycles, semi-tractor trailers, etc.

The image you see sometimes in old AAA travel brochures of a happy family traveling down a freeway, apparently all to themselves is no more.

Now, any given trip to Columbus from Cleveland, at any time down I-71 you are never out of sight of another vehicle and commonly, as on all freeways, there are several automobiles around you, all hurtling forward at max speed.

It's always Rush Hour in America, and around the world. Total madness.

You assume a considerable risk to yourself and your family on the freeway, not only from stupid people stopping cars for ducks, deer, moose, humans, stalled cars, accidents, even humans and human parts from accidents, but also from stupid cars with their wheels badly balanced and falling off, worn out brakes and other mechanical issues.

You must be crazy.

High Speed transportation should be left to Professionals and infrastructure designed for professionals.

The slaughter will continue.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Poor Need Healthy Local Economies

This article from Washington Post and Emily Badger, (formerly of Atlantic Cities) back in April touched on a seeming weak spot in the war against vehicular violence:

The feeling that reducing the number of automobiles on our streets hurts the poor the most isn't a baseless claim, but the need for automobiles among all socio-economic classes is indicative of a larger intractable problem.

While the Wonkblog piece admits the overlying reasons for this need, to suggest in the short term that there be subsidized automobiles over subsidizing urban environmental health is rash and wrong-headed.

Car dependence is not only a hugely disproportional problem for the poor, it is also a tool used, (if only passively,) by our suburbs to keep them poor and keep them OUT of those suburbs, save for a small number of interchangeable service jobs.

This entry in the article's responses from "ChuckusDaRuckus" is on the mark:

"Everyone knows that to get around in suburban U.S., you have to own a car. That does not mean car ownership is the answer to ending poverty. It means we have a sprawl problem, and the poor are forced to own a car to get to their jobs or the grocery store. There are very few places one can live in the US today and get by without a car. 
Unlike older countries, this one was built around the automobile. After WWII, with vets coming home, wanting to start families, middle-class white America started to move out to the suburbs. When they moved, they took their money with them. With money, comes more spending, which attracts more jobs. Also, municipalities can tax that money to improve social services, like schools. In sum, white America took their money and prospertity to the suburbs. And there they remain to this day.  
Cars are expensive to buy and maintain. They are an unnecessry expense. They do not house, clothe or feed you. They just get you from point A to B. Let your feet do that. Cars cause smog and global warming. Cars are deadly. Car accidents are the number one killer of teens in the US. Cars make us lazy, and subsequently fat. Now we have an obesity epidemic. Cars suck. 
Instead of giving the poor vouchers for cars, here are some radical public policy ideas. We invest in schools in poor urban areas. We promote mixed-use communities that offer walkability and local jobs. We make transit more accessible for these communities so that poor residents do not have to own a car. It costs between $7,000 and $11,000 a year, on average, to own a car. Some families make less than that a year.  
There are many causes of poverty. One way to address this issue is by lowering the cost of living for the poor. One does not have to make more money to have a better quality of life. We could continue to force everyone to own a car by continuing to sprawl out. We could also build cities in space and require everyone to own a spaceship to get to work. But neither makes since."

When I was riding the bus from the inner city to the suburbs everyday a few winters ago, most of my neighbors were traveling to minimum wage service jobs in the fast food and chain restaurant industries.
What proportion of that mediocre income would be necessary to maintain a, (most likely,) poor quality automobile instead of a bus pass I can only wonder.

My urban neighborhood is now annoyingly, (for me) gentrified. Among the several benefits I do acknowledge is witnessing a couple of those same neighbors working in the restaurants or other shops that have popped up.
Still not a great job, but perhaps now that it's within walking distance they will have added time to care for their children or perhaps obtain some education, or even 'make connections' that may not be possible in nameless suburban fast food Hell. they will save some money on daily transportation.

Working closer to home can close identity gaps between socio-economic groups both socially and economically, instilling a sense of shared place for all.

Yes Chuckus, the poor need healthy local economies: as do we all.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Mea Culpas and the Incorrigibles

I was being 'trolled' at work by a co-worker the other day about my trifling concerns over automobile culture. Others 'troll' me too.

I proudly tell people I drive at or under the speed limit. They get angry at me. They remind me there are laws against it for the passing lane.

I express my muted support for the current emphasis on bike lanes and Cleveland's new bike share program, mentioning how I see more people riding on sidewalks and other crazy shit (because our streets are dangerous for seasoned cyclists let alone amateurs.)

This is taken as an opening by my conversation partner about "how those fucking cyclists almost made them kill someone."

That's ok, I do some goading myself. This is a constant hazard of having concerns and opinions.

As it sometimes proceeds to a more heated, (but still well controlled) exchange of views, the fact that I still own a car and other personal hypocrisies such as accepting the occasional ride, or taking a driving trip for vacation are used against me.
These contradictions merely confirm that we all are overly dependent on automobile culture, including me. I'm fortunate though. Many simply cannot live without an automobile.

This dependency is by design. What once was a privilege for rich people quickly became a dependency for all as the rich knew that promoting automobile ownership as personalized freedom via mechanical speed and power would mitigate the charges of privilege leveled against them.

Slow, underpowered electric vehicles should serve anyone's needs. Think of all the airbag technology and anti-pollution controls we could stop wasting money on if we had small slow electric vehicles carrying things for us. We already do.

I bought my last, fuel efficient car new in 2006. It now has 45K miles nine years later. I believe I have put on less than 10K since I re-arranged my personal geography, (80% of my life is within 5 miles,) and found the pedestrian and cyclist religion full-time. Now the car suffers from problems of dis-use. I had cobwebs in my brake drums which were causing issues.

Still, it isn't easy, and I'm a median-income suburban-raised white guy. I'm up against a formidable, entrenched culture; one filled with corporate-lobbied defensiveness , aggression, and protectionism. Yes, I do wish I could get rid of it. I probably could if I gave up my hobbies. My hobbies are social and involve other people, all with their own schedules, geographies and car dependency.
Mass transit gets worse and worse, suffering under funding for personal vehicle infrastructure and outright corporate aggression. I'm 50 years old. I walk to work everyday in winter, half the time I ride by bicycle the rest of the year. My left knee is fucked up. My overcompensating right foot has plantar fasciitis. It always hurts.

People born between 1930 and 1980 are the "Incorrigibles." They will never give up their living room on wheels. I am solidly in this demographic, hence the slings and arrows.

It's expensive. AAA themselves estimate a car owner spends an average of $9-10,000 per year to own an automobile.
I have NEVER seen sticker prices or any other costs decrease. They never will, regardless of the fuel system of your personal, mechanical vehicle. Bicycle costs don't decrease either, but they're vastly less.

We serve the culture. My charges of automobile slavery are not hyperbole.

Consider this report by Morgan Stanley:

The Incredible Wastefulness of Car Ownership

Mobility as a service is coming slowly: Mass Transit, Car and Bicycle Sharing, Renting, Chauffeur Service, Etc:

Transportation as Service

The era of internal combustion assholery is coming to an end by hook or by crook. A combination of personal cost, liability, and failing infrastructure will do it. Electric powered, Tesla-car assholery will take its place for a while: a partial victory for the environment, until we run out of space for battery disposal.

My peers say I 'hate cars.' No. The culture of environmental and social destruction, violence as entertainment, and legalized 'manslaughter-as-accidents' is what I hate.

Why Progressives are Doomed: The Automobile

The New York Time's "Upshot" wrote an excellent piece of hopelessness for Progressives in the USA on September 6th:

Why Democrats Will Be (at best) Obstructed for the Foreseeable Future

The use of geography is a sorely lacking and needed analytical tool. Gerrymandering has a Republican Party bias.

The future of the US, if there is a future, will be defined as a struggle between a progressive and dynamic metro-urban culture; and a frightened, selfish, anti-social, regressive, materialistic periphery, both 'rural' and 'exurban.'

What is missing from Mr. Cohn's excellent piece is the role of automobile culture in this battle.
It simply wouldn't happen without it.

Massively funded freeways, cheap gas, ever increasing (ignored) speed 'limits,' node-less, sprawling development including 'white' collar office space with sterile 'lifestyle' centers preserve a culture of TV watching after driving a car all day. Opinions, experience and knowledge are gained behind a full frontal garage door or in a zoned (shopping center) by pop media and pop news media, sports bars, and factory food based on interstate corn products. Walking is for losers, (often killed for it) and cycling is done on the weekends, only for sport on park trails. Suburbs and exurbs battle each other for tax money and dump lawn fertilizer waste and auto/petrol runoff 'downstream.'

This system of material achievement and valuation, celebrated in movies and gaming, cannot exist without the automobile.

It Won't End Pretty

"But the schools..." Oh yeah. I forgot about the schools!

Outside of perpetuating the values I listed above, I learned nothing in these schools.

If there's any hope to be had, we must work to at least make our cities, or small towns, (if you prefer it) livable again, promoting walkable, socially healthy, commercially viable mixed use neighborhoods.

Bike Lanes' Stellar Week

Bike Lanes got a big thumbs up from City Lab this week:

City Lab

And Then Vox glommed on with this:

Vox Loves Bike Lanes Too

The upshot of these articles is recent data suggesting that automobile traffic has actually 'sped up' in NYC after bike lanes are installed.

It's important to point out that these studies indicate elapsed time from point A to point B for automobiles has decreased, a cumulative measure. The idea of automobiles actually traveling at a higher speed is not indicated and if evident, would serve to be an argument against bike lane theory that I maintain.

It's stated in the articles as difficult to pin point the exact reasons for the findings, but bike lane enthusiasts welcome the data as an argument against Motordom's claim that bike lanes increase congestion.

Motordom's claim can be laid to rest.

But how are bike lanes affecting this situation? Are they alone the cause of better traffic flow, or have they merely increased the awareness of efficient driving techniques by reducing the space allowable for automobiles?

I have carefully supported bikes lanes as one of the methods available to calm motorists. If designed to take a portion of the space stolen from people and given to the automobile industry over the last 100 years, they can help remind drivers that they must settle down and cooperate to get anywhere efficiently.
It appears to me that the increased presence of cyclists, emboldened by special infrastructure has indeed contributed to the true factor:

Motorists are calming down. At least in NYC.

Other studies done before the bike craze have shown the importance of patience in driving, such as "Traffic Waves" and how they affect flow:

Flowing Data


Driver aggression, selfishness, and impatience remain the chief factors in poor traffic flow and more importantly, are the primary safety threat to other street users.

Let's not forget the great majority of streets will never have delineated, segregated space for bikes.

Nor should we forget that as certain streets are redesigned for segregated use, those vast majority of streets without it will be made more of a challenge for cyclists and pedestrians, and skateboards, roller skates, horse carriages, etc., as your average motorist will not accept them on plain old streets.

Directly confronting driver misbehavior through law enforcement is proving too difficult. "Separate but equal" seems to be the prevailing strategy.

We'll be watching.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Cleveland's New Bicycle Showpiece

Cleveland has unveiled a new center median bike path plan:

No doubt this is a major step for the 'cradle of car culture' and is being championed as a progressive magnet attraction.

I walk or ride to work everyday. Often, I'm a very lonely soul in the depths of winter, though that is slowly changing. Doing both, I have come to primarily support walking access and/or public and private mass and shared transit, over any further vehicle infrastructure accommodation. I also support and use non-motorized vehicles, (bikes, trikes, skates, skateboards, scooters, etc) as a partial solution to the environmental, social, and funding model destruction that is automobile culture. I also retain a proudly underused automobile.

Cycling culture has presented the first serious and worthy challenge to motorized vehicle hegemony. All reasonable means should be employed to encourage its continued growth.

However, as an active walker and cyclist, I directly witness some of the same attitudes of automobile culture creeping into my fellow cycle drivers: namely desire for speed, and an assumption of segregated use rights, both major psychological components of automobile arrogance.

Every segregated lane built reinforces this belief among both user groups.

"Bicycle Expressway." Think about that.

Also, let's consider that there are innovations such as the "Copenhagen Wheel" that add motorized power to a bicycle, improvements over the old "Whizzers" you still see occasionally. Where do these fit in this new infrastructure? How will it serve wider and slower three and four wheeled, pedaled vehicles such as the "ELF," (also motor assisted) or trikes and electric scooters for the elderly? Will younger faster cyclists be 'rear-ending' slower pedaled vehicles from behind as they pass? It's almost happened to me.

How might expanded bicycle "Expressway" infrastructure interfere with mass transit? Some of my fellow bike lane enthusiasts also complain about the reductions in bus stops.

I support bike lanes as a temporary measure to reduce and slow automobiles as long as pedestrians are not any more burdened than they already are. Cleveland's proposal makes some bold claims about pedestrian accommodation. I find them lacking. One of the accepted facts cited by opponents of cars and bike lanes is the increased complication of crossing zones and signaling.

Bike Lanes Not Safer

And aren't we tired of this attitude?:

When bike lanes are designed properly, they should reduce the amount of available space in a public right of way that was systematically and deliberately stolen from humans and given to automobiles by their manufacturers, sellers, and driving clubs over the last 100 years. That space should be granted back to pedestrians and various static street use, (such as dining and innovative retail,) first, other vehicles second.

Yes, while nothing compares to the conditioned arrogance of your average automobile driver, a narrow, (pun intended) POV is now becoming evident in the cycling community.

Aside from further marginalizing walkers and slower cyclists, when such expensive transformations of a street are pursued, what is often left out is the ongoing dedication to, and costs of maintenance. Concerns regarding winter conditions are valid. Already, the existing dedicated cycling  infrastructure, (shared with pedestrians,) on bridges over the Cuyahoga river are infrequently cleared of snow and ice, usually only after appeals are made to the city. The remainder of bridge sidewalks in the city, which the city has a duty to clear, are either untouched or worse, serve as receptacles for snow from the automobile lane. I also expect this path to collect much of the same detritus as the outside edge.

While street redesign is necessary, rather than introduce more design and maintenance costs, it is "revenue positive" to simply reduce 6 lanes to 5, 4 lanes to 3, widen pedestrian access and other static use, reduce speed limits to 25 MPH in urban settings, consider whether curbside parking is really necessary, (Cleveland insists on preserving it everywhere, along the entire extent of a street,) and aggressively pursue traffic law violators. 
This can be done mostly with paint and pen.

For stepped up enforcement, we can expand and continue to use camera technology, and/or better yet, a proposed "traffic enforcer corp" in the police department as a way to train new officers in their people management skills. In Cleveland there exists a "Traffic Controller" department to ticket parking meters. This should be expanded to mobile traffic violations as well. They carry cameras already.

Along with design and law enforcement, existing traffic laws that make all forms of transportation secondary to the  "maximum speed and flow" of automobile drivers, such as ORC 4511.55....

...should be repealed and rewritten to provide equitable rights to those without the $10,000 a year for your average private automobile.

Also a system of "Strict Liability" for motorized vehicle drivers should be introduced into the civil code as it has been in the Netherlands.

Read this excellent piece in the Guardian regarding Britain's approach to bike infrastructure, taking Holland and Germany's years of experience and differing approaches into account:

The concluding point of the article is the absolute necessity of additional legal and behavioral principles beyond bike lanes in both Holland and Germany to create a truly effective system:

Speed and Behavioral control and enforcement
A system of assumed liability for the more powerful road users

Without dedication to these more fundamental components, any urban special infrastructure will fail in its core mission. While NYC is a special case, and bike tracks are doing well, complete transformation of attitude is the ongoing, hard, lasting work that needs to be done for the 95% of urban roads which will not be redesigned.

Can these same principles  be achieved in the US without segregated infrastructure? Can special infrastructure help?

This is a proper bike intra-urban expressway: