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Archive for July, 2011

Up Next for Bike Sharing: Boston

July 25, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Yes! Another major-ish US city, another bike-sharing program. Boston’s Hubway bike-sharing program starts up tomorrow.

Boston is slightly bigger than Washington, DC, which is currently home to the signature bike-sharing program in the US.

Like DC, Boston has tons of students who will be eager early adopters of the bike-sharing program. Boston’s bike infrastructure lags that of DC, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out.

A Boston-area article gives some early good hope  — having seen the success of bike-sharing in DC (and Montreal and Toronto), the car folks will not be able to act all hysterical — they’d be laughed off the page:

Now that the Hubway bike-sharing program is here, some Bostonians seem to believe an alien is landing, and that utter chaos — or at least massive inconvenience and injury — will ensue when kiosks open Tuesday.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

And, as we noted/hoped, many cities may start to feel a twinge of ‘lameness’ for not getting into the bike-sharing game sooner:

As it is in many other ways, Boston is late to the game in bike-sharing.

And, finally — what a pleasant way to think about the ‘unloosing’ of a fleet of bikes over the city (and at the same time, an almost-admonition directed at drivers instead of cyclists and pedestrians):

So let the pedestrian cross in the unsignaled crosswalk, look in your rear view mirror before you open the car door, and go ahead and let yourself celebrate all those slightly clunk-looking silver and black bikes that will soon be unloosed on the metropolis, like a flock of doves.


Your Local News Channel

July 05, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

I was walking down The Alameda (wiki) the other day when I was accosted by a local news reporter trying to do a story about gas prices and the upcoming July 4 holiday — it was right in front of that ugly Shell gas station.

He put the camera in my face — like, 12 inches away, it seemed — and said something about ‘gas prices’ and ‘The Grand Canyon’ and then he started pointing at the gas prices sign — which looked a bit like the picture shown.

My first thought, and what I actually said to him, was, “We need to make this street bikeable — we need to make it safe and comfortable for people to bike on — we need to allow people to bike on this street.” (It’s an awesome street — or, has the potential to be.)

Reporter-guy-with-camera was amused, gave a smirky-smile and guffaw, and then presumably mumbled the same leading question he did before — this time gesturing more wildly towards the gas prices sign — and again, I had no idea what he said. I turned around to get a good look at the sign, and most prices seemed to be right around the $4/gallon mark, so of course my first thought was, “Wow — one gallon of gas could buy me a Pliny the Elder at Wine Affairs.” In other words, I was not thinking, “Wow — gas is cheap now.” I was thinking, “Why would you spend your $4 on a gallon of gas instead of a pint of really good beer??”

So I said, “Well I’m more of a train guy so I don’t tend to do a lot of driving — the train is awesome.”

Now he was really getting frustrated. At this point I started to figure out what he was getting at — I think he was suggesting that gas prices were down and so therefore wouldn’t that make me more likely to drive to The Grand Canyon this 4th of July holiday weekend?

After he mumbled his leading question one more time, I said, “Yes, more likely.” And then I smiled and split, and he was happy to be rid of me, I’m sure.

I was amused by the whole thing. Imagine you’re a local video reporter and you’re sent out to get some footage for a 4th of July-type driving and gas prices story and you just happen to try to interview someone who thinks that cars are humanity’s best example of pure-evil-on-earth. It’s tough being a local news reporter! :-D

Bill Ford: Future traffic gridlock a bigger problem than global warming

July 05, 2011 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

I had a little time to burn on this past Saturday afternoon, so I tore through the Streetsblog Network RSS feed and stumbled upon a post titled “Finding Sanity in the July 4th Gridlock: Bill Ford’s TED Talk“. Bill Ford is the great-grandson of Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company. Bill Ford is a car guy. He claims to care about the environment. Fine.

In his TED Talk, he suggests that we, as a society/global community, have a lot of work left to do, but that we’re well on our way to solving the global warming issue. Confident guy. The real problem we face going forward, he suggests, is traffic gridlock.

Here’s the TED Talk — it’s clownish and amateurish, and is just PR for Ford and the automobile industry, but at least it’s boring:

There are a couple of points I’d like to make:

  1. ‘Intelligent roadways’ won’t work: This ‘intelligent roadways’ stuff has been given attention and some credibility because honorable, decent, smart people like Robin Chase, co-founder of Zipcar, have touted the idea — Chase has referred to the ‘mesh network’ (presumably of roadways and cars and intelligent road pricing, and ancillary ideas/technologies). But ‘intelligent roadways (for cars)’ is a horrible idea if only because it seeks to delay the point in time at which humanity finally gives up on automobile transport, with its myriad lethal effects, locally and globally. But practically-speaking about today, we know that any tool/technology/policy that decreases auto congestion will only work to induce/increase demand — simply put, more people will want to drive because traffic is not quite as bad as it used to be. With cars and car technology — including ‘intelligent roadways’ and ‘mesh networks’ — even when you ‘win’ with cars, you lose — the only possible way to win, then, is not to play the game. Cars are a failed endeavor and now are threatening the survival of the human species. Biking and walking work pretty well — we should allow people to do them. You know those expensive and maddening freeway on-ramp meters? They decrease congestion by 10-15%. For some period of time — 3 months? 6 months? Until more people are driving and fill up the extra road capacity. You know, induced demand and all that. Everything about cars is just one giant FAIL. We need to let cars go the way of the dodo. The imaginary ‘hypercar’ will not save us. We know people who drive ‘clean(ish) energy cars’ drive more than people who drive regular cars — as we’ve said, even when you ‘win’ with cars, you still lose. Cars suck. They are inherently a sucky solution to the problem of mobility/transport — it’s difficult-to-impossible to fix ‘inherently sucky’. We shouldn’t work so hard to try to keep cars a viable transport option. And I’m not saying cars can’t be useful in some capacity — for instance, it’s fun to go watch a demolition derby — watching cars destroy each other is my idea of a good time — so cars can address ‘the boredom problem’ pretty well, but ‘the boredom problem’ is not ‘the mobility problem’.
  2. Have we hit peak car travel? Folks are talking peak car use and peak travel and peak (motor) vehicle miles traveled and whatever else, but I’m not buying it. I don’t think it’s overly important for everyone to focus on whether or not this number is growing, holding steady, or shrinking — I think we should all do our best to concentrate on giving people the option to walk and bike to their destinations. If we take care of that, the car problem with take care of itself. In the TED Talk above, Bill Ford suggests that his company believes the world will be inhabited by 2 to 4 billion cars by 2050. There are ‘only’ 0.8 billion cars today. That represents up to a four-fold increase in the number of operational cars on the planet. Most of that growth will come from the developing world — China, India, and large and rising middle classes in countries around the globe. Some other folks think it is possible to sustain billions of cars on earth if we figure out how to make them…burn pixie dust or something — I have no idea. Sounds deranged to me. Global warming and its crazy effects are happening right now, with less than a billion cars in the world — someone thinks it’s wise to keep and even grow the number of cars we already have on this planet? Are we supposed to wait until San Francisco and Manhattan are underwater before we get serious about allowing people to get around on bikes?

The auto industry already invests billions in advertising and public relations — including the funding of high-profile operations like Streetsblog member TheCityFix — not sure why the TED conference felt the need to let a Ford executive jump on stage and read from a teleprompter for 17 minutes. C’est la vie.