Bike People

See… that sounded like an admonition, but you add a ‘for’ in there and it’s just a website.

Maybe in the same way that Republicans do things like pay $200 for a ticket to hear Sarah Palin speak not because they like her (yeah sure, even they aren’t that stupid), but because they know it pisses off liberals, maybe people will buy and ride bikes just because they know it will piss of conservatives.

Okay, I guess because we don’t derive joy in that way – or is it that we just get our kicks in other ways? – that won’t work. But you have to admit it is a kind of icing on a kind of cake.

True Stories

The term ‘exclusive,’when employed as anything other than a pejorative, has to double back on itself a time or two just to keep up. The theatrics can be dizzying.

The gated community in Hemet doesn’t seem like the best place for Eddie and Maria Lopez to raise their family anymore.

Vandals knocked out the streetlight in front of the Lopezes’ five-bedroom home and then took advantage of the darkness to try to steal a van. Cars are parked four deep in the driveway next door, where a handful of men rent rooms. And up and down their block of handsome single-family homes are padlocked doors, orange “no trespassing signs” and broken front windows.

It wasn’t what the Lopezes pictured when they agreed to pay $440,000 for their 5,000-square-foot house in 2006.

Okay, set the money aside for a second – I know; it’s difficult. What were these homeowners being promised?

The development promised a Tiffany neighborhood for what was then something closer to a Target price.

It’s mainstreaming the haute bourgeoisie, as if that was a thing we would want to do , or could do without consequences from Mother Universe. Come on, “brochures that coo”? But again, the whole thing is so stupidly incoherent, if I only blamed the gullible buyers it would legitimize the developers/lenders as some kind of Barnums who should be lauded. For the buyers, we have to admit that, circa, 2005, this was what the American dream looked like. The whole thing is a construct to separate you from your money, yes; but what happens when it works? We’ll have to admit: the rubes’R us.

Thanks to overbuilding, demographic changes and shifts in preferences, by 2030 there could be 25 million more suburban homes on large lots than are needed, said Arthur C. Nelson of the University of Utah. Nelson believes that as baby boomers age and as younger generations buy real estate, the population will abandon remote McMansions for smaller homes closer to shops, jobs and the other necessities of life.

Ya think? Now hear this: no where should property values ever be as high as even $200K for a quarter-acre lot (with a house!) if it is more than a ten minute-walk (on foot) to the bar, the post, at minimum ten restaurants, at least a hippie grocery store if not a carniceria and the bank. Does this mean people can only live in big cities? No, it does not.

Elitist happiness misers.

Fancy Train Trips

They should re-do the Ozzy tune with new lyrics and let it become a new bourgeois advertising sensation for the summer. Okay, maybe not. But this sure looks good, even if most of the trips are foreign and everything.


If you’re at all like me (and you probably are in some small ways) you probably don’t read the Book Review as often as you should (you know you don’t). As a corrective for us both, here’s a snip about Conover’s “Routes of Man”,

I especially recommend the book’s horrifying fourth chapter, “A War You Can Commute To,” which deals with the Israeli occupation’s interdiction and interruption of Palestinian travel, the retaliatory menaces to which Israeli checkpoint soldiers are subjected and their retaliations in turn upon Palestinian homes. I wish I had the space to consider Conover’s observations, and his reactions to them, with the complexity they deserve. Instead, I will have to settle for quoting from the caption of his aerial photograph of the 60 Road, which carries settlers between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, shooting straight and very high above the S-curves of the local road for Palestinians passing between its pillars: “In much of the West Bank, separate roads carry Israelis and Palestinians. . . . A series of concrete panels on the highway’s left side, near the top, serves to protect Israeli vehicles from projectiles.”

This is, of course, less to recommend the book than to say that educating yourself about its subject matter will never end. Just as it’s not enough to Green (v.t.) car dealerships, it’s not enough to just say that personal automobiles are an unsustainable blight and are going to go away. There’s actually quite a bit more to it than that, more humanity involved that just stopping or changing the ways we get around from place to place to place. Apparently not without its own shortcomings, this book highlights a few of those.

Plus, the reviewer gets an attaboy for quoting both Rem Koolhas and Eugene P. Odum, the father of modern ecology.

Your Permanent Record

And I’m not talking about News Of the World glued B side up on your turntable. This is more of a …And you’ll know us by the trail of dead kind of thing, only crappier.

Land use. Really good s.f.streetsblog piece on this Transportation Research Board report on Driving and the Built Environment. Among the nuggets:

Finding No. 2 is: “The literature suggests that doubling residential density across a metropolitan area might lower household VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) by about 5 to 12 percent, and perhaps by as much as 25 percent, if coupled with higher employment concentrations, significant public transit improvements, mixed uses, and other supportive demand management measures.”

They note that were you to move the residents of Atlanta to an area built like Boston, you’d lower the Atlantans’ VMT per household by perhaps 25 percent.

Better land use results in reductions in energy use and carbon emissions, the authors report, from both direct and indirect causes. (Direct causes would be a reduction in VMT; indirect include things like longer vehicle lifetimes from reduced use and the greater efficiency of smaller or multi-family housing units.)

Not only that, but were you to move the residents of ATL to a Massachusetts-like locale, you’d have one hell of a lot of pissed off, not to mention cold, white people. Which could do wonders to re-invigorate the hypothetical Boston-like area punk scene. But really, these are the kinds of shake-ups that people (researchers) can actually quantify with models that make sense of the implications of changing things like where we build the new houses, in-fill vs exurbia, that will create the density that will in turn make mass transit a more realistic necessity – rather than the mere wish for better transportation options. There’s also the side benefit of helping us decouple the concepts of person liberty and freedom that have become so defined by isolation, three-car garages and the God-given right to front and back patches of personal lawn of minimum dimensions.

&%$#!… that’s not at all where I was going with this. Oh well.

Taking Different Routes

to the same place(s), when you could have taken the train. Sweet baby Joshua… how our perceptions of liberty have us by the short hairs. Is it just that we think we’re too good to be sitting in a line going in the same direction as other people? Seem too egalitarian or Marxist for you? Come on, people! Train travel is the kind of sexy everybody understands. And… you were going there anyway.

Really good rebuttal of typical, widely-disseminated HSR critiques, here. You know, the ones with casually construed cost-benefit analyses that say they will need so much annual public support they will never work so let’s cut the crap and not waste any of the serious consideration we might instead devote to new fighter jets and switchgrass ethanol. And lo, as turnips mold in the field where they lay, High Speed Rail actually pays for itself over time.

That may even to have been Glaeser’s [NYT Economix blog] intent in writing the series. The problem is that–through a sorry mix of omission, oversimplification, distortion, and deficiency–his calculations bear no relation to the effects he is claiming to consider. So it’s important to show that “the numbers” do not at all undermine the viability of HSR in the US, even outside the northeast and California. In fact, they tend to support it.

By populating his model with a better set of assumptions, we hope to show how badly the economist missed the mark even on his handpicked example of an HSR link between Houston and Dallas. In reality, a well-designed high speed intercity rail project between the two largest cities in Lone Star State would likely produce a net economic benefit–not at all the white elephant Glaeser suggests. In this more comprehensive model that takes into account trivialities like regional population growth and a reality-based route, the annual benefits total $840 million compared with construction and maintenance costs of $810 million. Which is to say, our numbers show that HSR pays for itself rather handily.


So instead of deeply flawed attempts to project ridership based on the Northeast, we should be focusing on high-speed rail’s noted ability to take substantial market share away from the airlines and even from automobile commuters. Evidence from overseas to this effect is plentiful, though Glaeser doesn’t even mention it. In France, for instance, the 200 mph TGV Est line between Paris (metro population 11 million) and Strasbourg (600,000) carried 11 million passengers in its first year of operation. Rail now commands 70% of total travel market share, including automobiles, versus 30% before the line opened. Today, roughly 10 million people a year travel between Dallas and Houston either by plane or by car.

Go read the whole thing. via Yglesias. On a related note, I guess de-regulation of the airline industry is taking the long way around, leading us into the waiting arms of HSR as airports/airlines undermine their business model by inviting us to despise and increasingly avoid them. Neat trick. Maybe in 2024, we re-name the first non-stop intercontinental HSR route connecting Charlotte and Seattle after Ronald Reagan, at a sparkling, Gipper-themed gala at its new connection point in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The 4R’s, indeed.

Reach of the Blind Eye

This is like a sad, parallel history about where we once were that circles back around to the present and how we arrived here. We need not separate the aesthetic from the practical as they once were wed, an example that easy to see at this site showing 11 beautiful train stations that fell to the wrecking ball.

Having just passed through the current iteration of Penn Station, this image brings a shutter. You want to turn away at what we’ve done here, as well as the other stations shown in Then and Now comparisons. It is hard to escape the depths of just how badly we have screwed up our transportation system in the race to make way for the automobile and not see it as a metaphor for the harm we’ve done to our other systems, from agriculture to any other kind of culture. And the whole thing was so short lived! And now we struggle to reconnect or ‘reconnect’, as we have come to refer to ideas which have become puzzling and esoteric.

That the old Penn Station is as glorious as the Gare St. Lazare or any of the other beautiful examples of practical architecture around the world should be a cautionary note about all we have chosen to systematically eliminate. And why.

Two other great links on that page, as well.

Train epilogue

Sometimes in an airport, you can feel like you’re anyplace, or no where in particular. The same can be said of the exits off of any major interstate, with their full compliment of fast-whatever offerings.

So, to spend 15 hours on a train crossing a large swath of the country in few ways resembles the same trip by car or plane. But of course, rail travel diverges from the other two in non-trivial ways right out of the gate, or station, such as they are.

First trains are all about a schedule; you leave at a certain time and arrive elsewhere at a certain time. This certainty is where the airline version can and does go off the rails with great frequency, and its anti-thesis is exactly the point of a car trip. Auto excursions are self-defining; in theory, we travel by car in order to chart our own course, in space and time, to eschew the very idea of a schedule. It’s supposed to be liberating, this idea of freedom and, except for the extraordinary telecommunications tools that become necessary (cell phones, GPS navigation, etc., not to mention the portable DVD players to distract passengers from the monotony) as a result, I guess it is. There is a case to be made that we have created a need for highly complex communications systems exactly because we have fouled up our transportation systems so badly, but I won’t make it here.

But back to those 15 hours… were they lost? This question belies the mythical crux of our ability and desire to move about, and the associated problems our choices have created. With no internet connection or TV, I was out of of touch in modern parlance, except, curiously, with the other people in my sleeper compartment. Laughter, conversation, meals, sleeping – these have their place, though we have dethroned them to a great extent, and we all know it. Sharing a constantly changing view out of the window with your family presents an opportunity we could all get to know better. So if the crux is about defining productivity up or down, you be the judge.

And we got there, on a schedule everyone could follow without a lot of last minute calls. We were picked up, by other family. It was a nice reunion, limited to those present; we were rested and in a different place, a very specific place, along with our luggage and all manner of souvenirs from the city. The energy that often gets sucked up by the stress of these other individual elements of travel, we could instead employ elsewhere.

Away IV

So, if you’re scoring at home, you’ll see that we’ve taken the family up from the south to NYC. And as an airport avoidance system, we arrived by train.

A few things first: a sleeper room runs about the same expense as four plane tickets, plus, as noted above, no airport, which means no parking or driving in, or a cab into the city. Amtrak arrives right into Penn Station.

It’s an overnight trip, and a sleeper includes meals in the dining car – you only pay for wine or beer. Sleeping on our modern US train system in no way resembles sleeping or a modern train system, especially anywhere south of the Northeast corridor; the tracks are rickety and pale in comparison to the pristine state of our roads. This could change in five years with some major investment and high-volume use as the cities along the route are already connected. A high-speed route connecting the same network of towns and cities a la the TGV is easily imagined and only a question of will and prohibitively expensive gasoline.

South of DC, the trains are pulled by diesel engines; in the nation’s capitol they switch to electric, which powers the Acela line and the rest of the commuter lines around the region. One aspect of the new, high efficiency electrical grid that you hear about, the one we desperately need, is that it could be arranged along high-speed rail lines it would need to power. Then it could branch out from there. 

Now off to real bagels, museums and friends, in no particular order.