Posts Tagged ‘transportation’

Bike lanes, not sidewalk banishment, will solve traffic woes

December 2, 2010

A letter to the editor this week in The Washington Post was both spot-on and completely off the mark in how it framed both the problems with an increase in bicycling in D.C. and the solutions for those problems. When it comes to enforcement, resident Charles Yulish is right that bicyclists need to follow traffic laws and should be cited by police if seen violating them. But when it comes to where they ride, Yulish’s solution that they “should be banned from all pedestrian sidewalks” is far too simplistic and misses the point of why so many people ride on the sidewalks — because they feel safer there.

This really highlights a lack of biking infrastructure in the city, which is often bustling with traffic and people who drive erraticly — bicyclists are caught in quite a bind because the city is just as driver-heavy as it is pedestrian-heavy. Drivers get frustrated with bicyclists who can’t match the speed of traffic, and pedestrians get frustrated with bicyclists who speed by and weave through them (I’ve even seen people riding their motor scooters on the sidewalks).

What bicyclists need is their own domain on the roads — bike lanes. Until there is space made for bicyclists on the road, they will forever have to choose between possibly getting run over or navigating pedestrian-filled sidewalks. Many people want to bike, but riding with traffic is daunting in a city where stories about pedestrians and bicyclists being hit by cars are common. (This isn’t saying that drivers are responsible for all these accidents — but an SUV packs a much bigger punch than a bicycle or a pedestrian.)

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 43 percent of people don’t have access to bike lanes or bike paths (which often run parallel to but are set off from the road) — add the 24.1 percent of people who only have access to bike paths — not bike lanes — and that means about two-thirds of people don’t have access to bike lanes. Bike paths are great, but they often are set back from the road and are so limited in where they reach that many people don’t find them to be efficient — bike lanes are much more convenient in this sense.

And for cities that do sport bike lanes, their placement is often sporadic and not especially cohesive. In D.C. they are routinely adding bike lanes to streets (I understand this is a time-consuming project if it means expanding the width of the street), but their placement is scattered. And for bicyclists who don’t feel comfortable in the road, it likely leads to them weaving on-and-off the sidewalks, which makes them less predictable and more likely to get into an accident.

Personally, my hometown’s bike lanes are pitiful. A few streets have them, and I think the ones that do run parallel to each other, and the bike lane itself doesn’t go very far distance-wise. So while some cities can claim to have bike lanes and on paper look good, the quality of those bike lanes also might have a lot of room for improvement. As bicycling increases, the infrastructure must increase with it — slapping a bike lane down a main street isn’t going to cut it anymore.

It sounds like Yulish is a pedestrian, so simply banishing the bicyclists from the sidewalk works for him as a pedestrian, but it doesn’t address the problem as it relates to all travelers. Quality bike lane infrastructure positively benefits all these travelers — it would draw more attention to bicyclists’ right to be on the road, leave sidewalks as a space for pedestrians, and overall leave drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists with a better attitude about their own safety when traveling.

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I’ll take ‘Potpourri’ for $1600, Alex

June 3, 2010

1. 10 ways cities and towns can kick the offshore-oil habit, per Grist

Anything that involves transportation and infrastructure improvement is amazing, and Jonathan Hiskes hits the nail on the head when he discusses 10 things cities can do to become less oil dependent and more energy efficient. Some of his suggestions include making streets accessible to all people (not just drivers), building near public transit, demanding more density, and cutting parking.

2. Documents Show Early Warnings About Safety of Rig, per The New York Times

Hindsight is 20/20, and the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon is no different. Now, documents are showing that the oil rig that exploded showed several serious safety problems, all of which serve as clues to its eventual explosion:

On Tuesday Congress released a memorandum with preliminary findings from BP’s internal investigation, which indicated that there were warning signs immediately before the explosion on April 20, including equipment readings suggesting that gas was bubbling into the well, a potential sign of an impending blowout.

The warning signs started almost a year ago and continued up until the oil rig exploded. There seems to be a pattern of well-documented safety concerns in these environmental disasters, which either don’t get resolved because of pressure from the company or because federal regulators are too lax with their rules. Both sides are too concerned with the cost in terms of money and time than in terms of human and other forms of life.

3. Sex and the City 2‘s stunning Muslim clichés, per Salon

I haven’t seen the new Sex and the City, but reading this (spoilers, beware) made me concerned:

After discovering they will visit the Middle East, the ladies whip out hall-of-fame Ali Baba clichés: References to “magic carpet” (a double entendre, naturally), Scheherazade and Jasmine from “Aladdin” come in rapid succession.

I was eager to see the movie, but now I’m not sure I’ll watch it. It was already being panned as a terrible movie, and it sounds like the way they depict Middle Eastern culture is problematic and borderline racist.

4. Science Proves That “Helicopter Parents” Ruin Kids, per Jezebel

A study has shown that overprotective and obsessive parents — aka “Helicopter Parents” (you know, because they hover of the children and everything they do) — often breed neurotic, anxious, dependent children who don’t take as many risks:

Some protection from parents is natural, but too much (like, say, forbidding travel) can convince kids that they’re not equipped to deal with the risks of the world.

I would always prefer that my mom just deal with doctors’ offices, customer service, mechanics, and the like, but I think it’s healthy that she doesn’t give in to my whining and makes me deal with that kind of thing myself. Unless my being young is getting in the way of someone helping me or treating me properly.

‘Bike to Work Day’ also highlights bike-commuting problems

May 21, 2010

Today is Bike to Work Day (although by this time most people are probably home from work) — it’s a great idea, and I love that this year it’s predicted more people than ever will be participating. But for me, it’s a friendly reminder that my commute is so long and complicated that I can’t currently bike to work.

I live in Maryland and work in Virginia, a symptom of originally working in D.C., not being able to afford city living and living in the suburbs, and then getting a new job in Virginia. I live a little more than 20 miles away from my office, if I take the major highway to get there. Just driving that route takes an hour — Google Maps tells me biking would take at least two and a half hours and would be an extra four miles because I’d need to take a bike trail instead of the highway.

Commuting is a problem that many Americans face, especially when they work out in the suburbs. Sure, they can spare one day to try to ride their bikes to work, but some probably can’t even handle one day because their jobs are so far from their homes. In 2005, one survey said the average commuter had a 16-mile trip one way to work.

It’s tough for many people to embrace Bike to Work Day — or to embrace a lifestyle of bike commuting — because many cities and communities simply aren’t bikeable. As Ezra Klein said today when discussing going car-free, it’s all about the infrastructure — if a city doesn’t have an infrastructure that is conducive to people walking, biking, and using public transportation, then people’s only option is to drive.

So, although I love the idea of Bike to Work Day and hope lots of people took part, it simultaneously raises awareness about what we need to do structurally to make biking feasible. Increasing bus routes and bike racks on those buses so people can bus with their bike if they are too tired to ride, adding bike lanes and trails, and simply building cities and renovating cities so they are less car-centric are all good starts.

Maryland — the worst place for carowners

January 27, 2010

Maryland’s ridiculous vehicle safety inspection certificate requirement for new cars, newly purchased used cars, and cars new to Maryland is a perfect example of why the private sector’s greed makes it an awful choice as a regulator for the government.

A safety inspection certificate is not the Maryland version of an Ohio e-check — Maryland has its own separate vehicle emissions program which mimicks Ohio’s e-check. You see, you have to take your car (new/newly used/new to MD) to a registered safety inspection station so it can be deemed roadworthy. Although a good idea in practice, it leaves your car’s inspection most often in the hands of private mechanics.

The problem with trusting private mechanics to take care of a government requirement is that these mechanics hold a lot of power over consumers who must the inspection if their car is new to them or the state. An inspection can cost as little as $50 (if you have a coupon) and more than $75 depending on the station. The private mechanics regulate their own prices (although the Maryland State Police have put maximums on how much they can charge as a labor rate, I believe), which leaves the MD resident searching for the best value and crossing their fingers that the mechanic will be honest.

The finger-crossing is necessary because once the mechanics have your car, they make more money as they charge you more for repairs. My boyfriend’s car needed about $350 work and they (*cough*Rockville Service Center*cough*) wanted to charge him more than $1,000 to fix rotars, brake pads, and replace headlights and a brake light. Luckily we were able to find a local mechanic (*cough* Certified Auto Repair*cough*) who charged the proper price for the repairs (and told me that the claim the front brake pads needed to be replaced were bogus).

The problem was, though, that they already had our $80 inspection fee from the start — this puts the resident in quite a predicament. Do you get a second opinion and spend another $60 or so dollars, hoping to find the first mechanic was scamming but risking that the second mechanic will say the same thing? Do you take your business elsewhere upon reinspection and spend the extra money on a fee, or do you take it back to the original place — where the reinspection might cost close to $50 if they need to put it on a lift to check repairs?

I’ve read so many stories online from frustrated people who got scammed and don’t understand why Maryland follows this system of letting private mechanics go wild when it comes to doling out documents that people need to register their vehicles. I feel the same way — the opportunity for fraud and mechanics to take advantage of customers is high and prevalent, and this greed is the reason why the private sector often can’t be trusted to have honest and proper transactions with its customers.

Sure, business is business. You go to a mechanic to get something fixed, he scams you, you learn your lesson. But this is the state government saying you must go to a private company to get a certificate or else you can’t register your vehicle in the state. You are being forced to go to a mechanic even when nothing seems wrong with your car, and you’re told that you need to fix some things you aren’t even sure need to be fixed in order to get the piece of paper you want.

My other theory, aside from the fact that the Maryland Vehicle Administration is out to bankrupt me and everyone else in this state, is that Maryland secretly implemented these regulations as an environmental initiative to get more people to use public transportation. People will get so frustrated with the overly complicated process of bringing a vehicle into the state that they’ll just leave the car behind and walk, bike, or use public transit.

If only this were true, it would be brilliant, because it is 39234612029 times easier to just buy a Metrocard or a bus pass than to deal with a safety inspection and the true/faux repairs it brings, plus finding some time to get your vehicle registered during their weekday hours of 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. — the most inconvenient hours on the planet. Would it be that hard to be open on a Saturday, even for just a few hours?

Never move to Maryland if you have a car — just sell it and get a really nice electric bicycle. Or get a cheap inspection by a mechanic you trust before you move, use Google to try to find an honest and registered safety inspection station, and/or look for a coupon in the mail.

carfree conversation

January 13, 2010

Sept. 22 was World Carfree day, a day meant to urge people to travel via bike, bus, train or on foot, just so they saw how they could get around without using their cars. Transportation accounts for 28 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, so people can have a big impact on reducing that number if they reduce their driving.

But of course, there are the pro-car-industry types that want to ridicule this day. Competitive Enterprise Institute, a public interest group dedicated to “free enterprise and limited government” thinks that World Carfree day is dumb — one of my co-workers ended up on their mailing list (definitely by accident) and they said this about the day:

Tuesday is World Car-Free Day.  That means you’re supposed to walk, or bicycle, or take a bus, to make some sort of anti-car, anti-prosperity statement.  Good luck getting to and from the grocery store.  Even more fun if it rains (and can you imagine if this day were scheduled in the dead of winter?).  The fact is, the automobile plays a major role in making our lives happen – it empowers all of us to get where we need to go (not to mention respond to emergencies).

At first, I was just incensed because of the sheer ignorance: the claim that you can’t get from point A to point B without a car. And with rain? Sheesh, I always jump in my car when it’s raining and I’ve got to get the mail. But when my friend commented that she felt smug on carfree day because she didn’t have a car and was always carfree, I realized she wasn’t the smug one — CEI was.

About one in 10 people doesn’t have a car, and the mocking tone in CEI’s assessment of people not driving is a slap in the face to people who choose not to or can’t afford a personal car. By associating not having a car with being “anti-prosperity,” CEI is claiming that the path to prosperity lies in the ability to own a car. Although for some this is true — people who don’t own cars are limited in job choice because they must rely on walking, biking, or whatever public transit is in their city — are these people at CEI going to assume that the carless are against bettering themselves?

The CEI e-mail leaves out those people who can’t afford a car — they claim a car is empowering, it gets us where we need to go; well, at least 10 percent of the American population is left to wonder if they should feel bad about themselves and disillusioned because they don’t own a car. Carfree day for some is an attempt to try out life without a car, but the reality is that many people don’t have a car and survive just fine.

Should they feel like they’ll never amount to anything without a car? Of course not. A car is not the devil, but it’s also not the end-all, be-all of transportation. You can go to the grocery store, walk or bike around in *gasp* weather that isn’t 72 degrees and sunny, and be a hard-working individual without a car. For many people, its carfree day every day, and the CEI is quite ignorant to claim that someone who doesn’t drive is someone who doesn’t want to prosper — although many people don’t drive because it’s a political statement, many people don’t drive because they don’t have the economic bandwidth to finance it.

When you mock the “liberals” (it’s obvious to me that an interest group that is limited government probably is assuming carfree day is a liberal event) who attempt to live carfree for one day, you’re mocking the people who live carfree everyday — whether by choice or not.