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Archive for October, 2008

Janette Sadik-Khan For Mayor?

October 24, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Governor? President?

A new meme I’d like to see propagated far and wide is that politicians and other professionals seeking higher office can get to that higher office a lot easier if they pay attention to making streets more livable. More livable streets, more complete streets, where bikers and pedestrians can get from point A to point B in safety - this is what will be a politician’s best chance of success at winning their next race.

StreetFilms has a cool new video featuring New York City’s streets and one of the people making it happen, NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan:

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Soon-to-be-Mayor of Portland, Sam Adams, was a certified bike nut councilperson before achieving his Mayoral position.

As Mayor of Seoul, the President of South Korea tore down a highway, and that helped pave his way to higher office.

Across the US and around the world, those politicians and professionals who pay attention to the needs of their citizens by making streets more livable will find that these folks - and that is most people who live in a city and state - will support that person for higher office or to stay in office.

The Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, wants to run for a third term. It’s very controversial because voters approved a term limit of 2 consecutive terms in office - so Bloomberg is supposed to be out after this term. I don’t know where livable streets fans will come down, but I spoke to at least one person who recently took a trip to New York City and reported back, “I couldn’t believe it - there were bike lanes everywhere.” That is sure to make a lot of people in New York City a lot more open to a third term in office for Mayor.

It looks like Bloomberg has just won the right to run for a third term. Whether you like it or not, I think it’s important to consider the job he’s been helping to do in transforming New York City’s Transit system into something a lot better - especially for bikers and pedestrians. How much easier was his job of winning a chance to run for a third term because of all the streets-changing successes?

Now that Bloomberg will run, what about Janette Sadik-Khan? Should she run for governor?

Maybe Bloomberg will end up running for President in 2012?

What could someone like Janette Sadik-Khan do if she was head of the Federal Department of Transportation, instead of people who only care about protecting the car and road-building lobby?

And why not a person like Janette Sadik-Khan for President of the United States? Who would be more qualified?

You’ll also notice in the StreetFilm that New York City is not building new, gaudy bus rapid transit (BRT) systems - not in the sense that they are being marketed all around the U.S., anyways. Of course, part of that has to do with the Federal Department of Transportation rubber-stamping those systems because they are less expensive, up-front, than light rail systems. But the important part is that New York City is effectively building some of the best parts of a BRT without the incredible disruption (and ugliness) that traditional BRT systems promise. I still think that bicycle access is being crowded out in favor of buses - an obvious mistake - but at least New York City seems to be doing it less incorrectly that most other cities.

StreetFilms has two previous videos on BRTs - one from Bogota, and one from Paris. If you’re a livable-streets/bicycle-type advocate, you’d better educate yourself on these things in a hurry because if you live in any mid-sized+ town in America, you’re about to get run over by a BRT system. What New York is doing seems sensible. What San Francisco and Oakland and many other cities around the U.S. and world want to do - install ‘immersive ugliness’ by building high-speed bus lanes that crowd out bicycles and pedestrians and snuff out city diversity - is not sensible.

The Sustainable Cities Plan that Sadik-Khan mentions at the end of the video can be found here.

For all the livable streets work they’ve done, bravo to Sadik-Khan, Bloomberg, StreetFilms, Streetsblog, Mark Gorton and Clarence Eckerson, and the entire crew of advocates in New York City.

Let's Start Celebrating World Carfree Day (in America and Canada)

October 15, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

World Carfree Day

This post is directed a bit more to Americans than a typical post might be, and that is because America can be fairly isolated from goings on in the world, by accident or choice, or just the reality of our physical separation from much of the rest of the world. But the message goes for everyone in any city or town that does not yet participate.

Let’s start celebrating World Carfree Day! (more).

I wasn’t too surprised to find out that most of America, it seemed, had never even heard of World Carfree Day. That’s September 22nd, every year, no matter what day it falls on. It just passed us by about three weeks ago.

Many of us here in America and Canada know about and participate in Bike-to-Work Day, which typically occurs on the third Friday of each May. That’s fine; it seems to work for raising awareness of the bike as a valuable form of transportation. But doing something on a global scale—participating in solidarity with our brothers and sisters across the globe—can have a larger impact.

And with World Carfree Day, the idea of biking is not tied to just transporting yourself to and from work. It is about imagining a world without cars, without the need for cars. All forms of transport—even walking!—can join in. And it helps us build an awareness of the need for intelligent urban design, the lack of which helped get us to this disastrous point in the first place.

There have been lots of social movements that started as local social movements somewhere else in the world, like Ciclovia (and, I’m happy to report, cities in the U.S. and Canada have jumped all over this movement). By joining forces with people the world over, we can build worldwide momentum for more fairness in transportation. By joining forces with the people of the world, we not only elevate the awareness of the destructive nature of automobiles, but we are better able to sense that this is ultimately an issue of doing what is right—it becomes something larger than just “getting dirty cars off the streets.”

Americans have now been pointing to Bogota, Columbia, as an inspiration in changing our cities and towns into more livable places, and now I want to help return the favor to the rest of the world.

In many parts of India and China, a growing middle class has an appetite for cars. Some people in these places and others (like America) have the idea that driving a car is glamorous or “respectable”—that it makes one special and shows that one is dignified and classy. They got that false image from American television and movies.

By joining in the World Carfree Day Movement, Americans can explicitly reject the notion that cars are anything but an especially toxic form of cancer. The good news is that it is a curable form of cancer, as many cities and towns throughout the world are now starting to demonstrate.

So get in touch with your local bike and/or pedestrian organization and float the idea, and let’s make sure Canada, America, and the rest of the world join forces for World Carfree Day 2009.

What To Do About Older Drivers?

October 12, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

The author of Traffic says this:

An interesting piece from the New York Times on the growing problem of handling older drivers who shouldn’t be behind the wheel. It’s quite striking how people, in the U.S. at least, take driving to be some kind of inalienable right—rather than possessing the ability to operate heavy machinery in a safe manner.

To me, this is a no-brainer. It’s obvious. Who in the world wants their freedom taken away?

I’ll tell ya what: In the future, if any of my kids or grandkids or step-kids or the neighborhood kids or anybody else tries to take away my freedom—my bicycle—I won’t be talking to them for a lot longer than two months. Or, more likely, I’ll just be on my way to pick up another bike later that day.

In all seriousness, though, this is a very real problem.

And I would not want to suggest that we should put seniors on bicycles when it is generally not safe to do so in what can be very challenging road conditions in many parts of the world, but it does give seniors another option. The simple fact of the matter is that right now, in many instances, if you take away a senior’s car keys, you take away their freedom. It’s a brutal reality. It’s just one more reason we need to change things, and change them quickly.

Enter the Portland Office of Transportation (PDOT). They created a program that is giving seniors another option. The official name of the program is called “Older Adult Three-Wheeled Bicycle Program“:

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In the video, Oregon Health and Sciences University is mentioned as being a partner of PDOT’s, doing research on how physical activity affects aging.

BikePortland.org covers the program here. A local Portland paper picked up the story here.

The trikes ideas was something we’d mentioned earlier. With the help of organizers in Portland and New York (StreetFilms), we might be able to see this thing spread.

It would be awesome if we could get the folks in the great state of Miami to get out ahead of this idea and put it into action during their upcoming Ciclovia. Maybe there’d be more support for a public/private partnership of some kind. It seems like the Mayor down there is ready to go. Seeing some older folks out on trikes enjoying themselves during the Ciclovia might be the one aspect we’re still missing from our movement; cycling should be for everyone. And not every town is blessed with an adaptive cycling center, but we should support these folks, too.

Congratulations, Houston!

October 06, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

You’ve had a problem, and now you’ve been formally recognized for it:

HOUSTON — Houston has joined Los Angeles to become the second place in the nation classified as having a severe smog problem, the Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday.

The EPA reclassified the smog problem in the eight-county Houston area from moderate so that the region has an extra nine years to meet federal health standards set in 1997. The state was supposed to meet the requirements in 2010 but now has until 2019.

The EPA no longer considers the 1997 standard safe for public health, but agency spokeswoman Catherine Milbourn said progress toward it will protect the public and bring regions closer to meeting stricter requirements.

I’ve traveled around the U.S., and even made pit-stops in Houston and L.A., our fourth and second largest U.S. cities, respectively. I can say this without any exaggeration that the two places in America which I have heard bad-mouthed the most are Houston and Los Angeles. They are clear favorites for haters, with Houston probably having a small edge, despite it’s smaller size.

When people talk about these cities, their faces get all mashed up and eyebrows furrowed and they sometimes can’t even get the words out of their mouths. And this is over years of just talking to other regular folks - long before I was ever a bicycle nut. During my recent stint in Austin, I talked about heading (back) to Houston because I had a potential job opportunity down there, and folks would say, “No!” and “F**k that.” Or, “Sorry, man. We can not let you go there.”

I’d spent a few days there a few years ago and that was pretty much my initial impression, so I can’t say I was surprised to hear this stuff. It kind of reminded me of Atlanta, but take away all the greenery, and put down strip malls and asphalt for as far as the eye could see.

I rode my bike through parts of L.A. one time, heading north to south, and it reminded me of scenes from Mad Max. Again, even before I was a bike nut, I could tell that something was very wrong with that place. I almost fell off my bike when I noticed big oil rigs off the coast. Unbelievable.

I feel bad for all the good people of Houston who have been trying to do the right thing for years, only to have their attempts thwarted by the Houston oil people and the politicians in the relatively-clean-aired Texas capital of Austin. It’s not fair.

It’s not fair to the bike people. It’s not fair to all the kids and adults suffering miserably from asthma. It’s not fair to all the kids who are getting sick and dying early from unnatural diseases brought about by unhealthy, car-dominated lifestyles. It’s not fair to the children who have yet to be born, who will suffer miserably from toxic air quality for the first twenty years of their lives—probably just long enough to give them cancer that won’t show up until they’re in the prime of their lives. The scale of the tragedy is almost incomprehensible. And Gov. Rick Perry, the EPA, the Houston business community, and plenty of others share the blame.

But it’s not time to give up. Places like Houston and Los Angeles, which are so car-dominated that its residents can barely breathe, need our help. Even if it’s an email or a phone call to the people most responsible for suffocating those cities.

And advocates and activists in those cities need not lose heart—you can bet that if you were not there doing your work, things would be even worse. All you can do is keep fighting.

Shades of 1973

October 03, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Gas shortage!

ATLANTA (AP) — Motorists are rising before dawn so they can be at the filling station when the delivery truck arrives. Some are skipping work or telecommuting. Others are taking the extreme step—for Atlanta—of switching to public transportation.

Across a section of the South, a hurricane-induced gasoline shortage that was expected to last only a few days is dragging into its third week, and experts say it could persist into mid-October. The Atlanta area has been hit particularly hard, along with Nashville and western North Carolina.

Those lucky enough to find gas are paying more than drivers elsewhere around the country.

“I’ve used up gas just looking for gas,” said Larry Jenkins, a construction worker who pulled his red pickup truck into a Citgo station in Charlotte, N.C., on Monday. The sign said $3.99 a gallon, but the pumps were closed. Many filling stations in the area have not had gas for days.

Schools are closing down. Government agencies. People working from home to conserve gas. Some are even riding their bikes. All sorts of crazy stuff.

Not to make light of what seems to be a pretty serious situation in some parts, but it’s pretty odd to think that in Atlanta, Georgia, people are waiting in line for hours at a time to get gas and sometimes still can’t get it. I was only being born in 1973, but that’s all I can think of when I see people waiting in line for gas.

Between the hurricanes and the mystery that is ever-rising gas prices, it’s a perfect storm. There’s no better time for us to push for big changes in policy. During the ’73 oil crisis, Congress passed the 55 MPH speed limit and CAFE standards. Thirty-five years later we haven’t made much progress on CAFE, and as far as I’m concerned, I hope auto-makers continue to get their way. Taxpayers will only put up with so many $25 billion bailouts. The electric car is a pipe dream, and I predict we’ll continue to see more bikes on the road every year as automakers continue to trot out “concept cars” at their yearly events. Keep up the good work, Detroit.

Think those fancy-shmancy electric cars from our high tech friends in Silicon Valley will save us? I got $5 that says they won’t be around in five years. Any takers?

I’m curious if the anti-car sentiment is starting to spread throughout the rest of America. Most Americans were already skeptical of big business, with polls suggesting that super-majorities of us thought that corporations had too much influence over our elections—and that’s on both sides of the aisle. Then we have the $25 billion automaker bailout. Now it looks like we’ll be giving another $700 billion to some folks because they failed, too. Then we have the rising gas prices which nobody seems to be able to explain. Lots of Americans thought invading Iraq, whether they agreed with it or not, would lower gas prices; now that it hasn’t happened, they feel duped. The recession has workers stressing more over all of their bills. People who are losing their jobs and losing their health insurance, which leads to bankruptcy, which leads to foreclosure, and further slowing of the economy and deadening of neighborhoods and towns, and increases in crime. Lots of us are barely making rent, and lots of us are losing our homes. Some people will choose to keep their cars so they can sleep in them. Others will discover the bicycle and say goodbye to their car, gas prices, the DMV, taxes, insurance, parking tickets, oil changes, fender benders, traffic jams, and a stressed-out life.

Now is the time to demand big changes. Nobody’s using that extra car lane, so take it away from cars and give it to bikes. Take away that bridge lane and give it to bikes and pedestrians. Take away that empty parking lot and set up a bike station. Take away the empty train seats and install more “bikes on board” capacity. Demand safe routes to schools for all of our kids. Jump on the bike-sharing bandwagon along with every other big institution in the U.S. Follow the lead of forward-thinking cities around the globe that have served as inspiration for those of us who are not so forward-thinking—does your town have a bike-sharing program yet? What about your workplace? Hospital? University? Church? School?

Thought about quitting your day job and pursuing a healthier lifestyle by selling bicycles? Do it. You’ll be helping yourself, your family, your community.

Now is the time.