Tag Archives: infrastructure

Bicycle Thoughts in Deep Winter – 2

One great resource for bicycle reading is Urban Velo magazine out of Pittsburgh. In the great tradition of mags like Tape-Op and Beer Advocate, it is a sharp focus mag with a strong identity and strong opinions. In this case Urban Velo has a fixed-gear focus with a strong undercurrent of Bike Friendly and Bike Awesome development. Check them out, and if you like them get a subscription and support them.

Been There, Haven’t Done That

As much as I like what I see in places where bikes have a place in every day life, it is not lost on me that for every Portland, OR story or Manhattan High Line, there is China. China was bike-dominated until as recently as 15 years ago, and has since given over to the automobile in a huge way. I believe that is an indicator that much of this urge to return to bike-friendly fantasy land could be seen as a First World thing, a luxury item where it is easy to want it when you don’t feel you need it. But the difference, as I see it is about where on the development continuum you are. China is a rapidly growing economy with a huge demand for western conveniences. In time they will want to be less dependent on fossil fuels and want a return to bicycle-scale transport. What “First Worlders” have in spades is the opportunity to become more flexible and less dependent. Bike lanes in places like the US could be like Social Yoga, bringing flexability back to a too-rigid frame.

Aggro Culture

In my small part of the world the bike world is dominated by “racer types”. They are nice folks and all. You know, some of my best friends wear spandex bibs! There is a kind of split in the bicycle world between “racer types” and pretty much everyone else. Everyone else rides for fitness or for enjoyment. Racer types ride in more of a competition mindset, and they typically ride faster (less differential between their speed and the speed of a car). Far from being the spandex mafia (though they are) the racer type is a good fit when you lack bike infrastructure. That physical and mental profile can get you comfortable with sharing roads that lack even the most basic bike facilities, like a shoulder with painted line. In areas with real bicycle infrastructure the rider is able to ride in a more relaxed fashion, in normal clothes, at a more moderate pace. The bicyclists we see in Amsterdam, or Copenhagen, or Montreal for that matter, don’t have to duke it out with inattentive drivers on their commute. The “barrier to entry” is much lower, and in the best cases the barrier is actually higher for automobiles. As opposed to some cases where there is a “chicken or egg” paradox, in transit there is no paradox. The transit follows the path of least resistance. The best infrastructure provides the least resistance. If we had throngs of square-peg dorks on Dutch Bikes clogging up secondary roads it would be obvious, but in the case of suburban New England, the bikes are the effect, not the cause.

Back to the Future

To tie back in with the previous post: In central Connecticut, I think that the pessimism over Fastrak is based on lack of experience with successful transit projects. We have a popular rail-to-trail system that recreational bicyclists love, but it does not act as a commuter route for most users. That is recreation infrastructure (linear park) but it is a bad example for a commuter solution. The target for Fastrak is getting people into Hartford for work or entertainment, and then home safely. As the Capitol of Connecticut, and one of the most commuter-intensive cities I have ever been around, there is hope that demand for a better/cheaper solution to local transportation should be a winner. The on-the-books population of Hartford is roughly 125,000, but the “daytime” work week population gain is anywhere from 70,000 and up depending on your data source. A city that bloats from 125,000 to 200,000 in the morning and then deflates by 6pm. That is a commuter rich environment, and an option poor environment.

One of the weirdest arguments is that nobody will use infrastructure. Every example seems to point in the opposite direction. We have Metro North rail system linking the shoreline from New Haven to NYC and beyond. It is positively clogged with riders, and any increase in capacity is filled in short order. We have rail-to-trail and greenway projects that are again, filled to the brim with walkers, bikers, strollers, birders, and if you want to observe the Yeti-like rollerblade, that’s where you go. The same for State Park infrastructure, rivers with fishing and swimming, and boating opportunities, and infrastructure of their own. So we can assume that if you build it, people use it. Just as in those scenarios we can facilitate that use, just as we have done by connecting hundreds of thousands of rural residents to highways and malls with vast networks of solid two-lane. Nobody is asking for infrastructure at that level, but the scale shows how resources are allocated to support a single mode of transportation.

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Bicycle Thoughts in Deep Winter

The winter of 2012 was a wonderful aberration. In most of New England it was the “winter without a winter”. While some people remember the lack of skiing, skating, ice fishing, or snow plowing, my memories involve bicycles. Not the lack of bicycles, but the amazing gift of a winter bicycling season. Unseasonably warm temps meant that I was taking rides around town in January, and not covering every inch of exposed skin against frostbite-inducing winds.

This winter, not so much. It has been business as usual with heavy snows, cold arctic-born winds, and our favorite form of frosty excitement: Wintry Mix! If it is, say, 37F and raining, and maybe some ice, sleet, snow, or other unknown matter is along for the ride, you’ve got Wintry Mix. Actually it is formal slang for “crappiest of winter weather” and can mean anything from a foot of ice nuggets to rain showers onto frozen ground at 19F… black ice machine weather. As a result there has been less time for riding and more time for thinking about riding.

Bike Curious

On top of that I have been following the progress of CT Fastrak, the project previously known as the New Britain Busway. It has many of the markings of a successful transit diversification project. As a pure transit service concept, this particular project is a loser. It provides one mode, rubber-tire buses on a closed roadway, in an effort to provide a service that nobody asked for. At least not that we know of. I have been around Connecticut long enough, and New Britain specifically, to know that it is possible that *many* people in New Britain are big fans but don’t have a voice or don’t feel comfortable in the current discussion.

There is a silver lining for some of us, tarnished as it may be: the southern half of the Fastrak project includes a 5 mile bike/pedestrian path. That solves a problem for me by eliminating one of the worst sections of my bike-to-work route. As usual, it creates another problem by dumping me in a residential area with zero bike infrastructure. That is where I would have been anyhow, but the idea is that the bike route ends near absolutely nothing. If there is nothing but the chance to ride on the shoulder of the road and battle it out with the texting and driving crowd, it can very easily turn into a kevorkian-esque piece of social machinery.

One thing I would like to find is a commitment to development that leverages the Fastrak project. If you are a struggling city you could do worse than have your own transit corridor to jobs and commerce. Location of residential or commercial development with good access to the Fastrak system would seem to be a given. To me, that is the identifying trait of successful transit development. The city needs to buy in for it to be a success. This could mean residential development in the South End or on the East Side, with solid tie-in to Fastrak.

I need to see more about mayor Tim O’Brien’s planning vision before resolving that question. I think he is doing a solid job as mayor, so maybe I need to look harder. In fact, I will. To hear the anti-busway voices, providing transit from New Britain to Hartford, Connecticut is a masterpiece of unintentional comedy. And of course, if that drives the dialogue, they could be right.

Bike Friendly

I recently had the very good fortune to attend a few events where the new direction of the Connecticut DOT has been touted, and even illustrated. The Bike Walk Connecticut membership dinner was a last minute thing, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. Bike geek stuff is usually a hit with me. On top of that I was able to see Dan Esty, the Commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP, where I am employed), speak on the topic of transit infrastructure and how great bicycles are! I have seen the same thing as part of my job, but seeing it “in the wild” was good for some perspective. Dan Esty was an infotational and positive as always. That is a compliment.

As well, there is a 600lb gorilla in most of the high-level communication about bike transit. I appreciate the enthusiasm, no doubt, but most of these presentations miss the fact that those bicycles are ridden on roads with zero bike-safety structure. You might get some painted lines, maybe even a “sharrow” or two. Might. probably not.

Bike Agnostic

Being bike-friendly at the destination is about showers and bike storage. We have had that at DEEP headquarters for a while now thanks to a few people who saw opportunity and bingo! Bike Racks! I had the good fortune to attend an awards event where a Deputy Connecticut DOT Commissioner awarded a Bronze Bicycle Friendly Business award to DEEP because of the agency’s bike-friendly policies and basic infrastructure (Bike Racks!). The DOT showed up with a great slide show on the bicycle infrastructure improvements in Connecticut. I am looking for a link to that content. It is a good example of how priorities at the top effect the actions of the agency.

One of the projects he brought up was Fastrak. I took the opportunity to ask, after the meeting broke up, “why didn’t we get the last 5 miles of bike trail on Fastrak?” Apparently the right of way was too narrow to accommodate more bike lane. I nodded and all, but I have a hard time believing it. I believe the answer, but I wonder what the prospect for the entire project is with the half measures and lack of continuity. As another attendee said “If they needed the space for cars, they would get it”.

I am happy to have a 5 mile section of bike path, so it is a net positive for me [less likely to be run down by a driver hitting 65mph on Cedar Street]. But, it would be many times more useful if Fastrak extended into Hartford. The right of way issues should be a spur in the replacement infrastructure department, but it seems to be off the radar. The challenge now will be to upgrade the roadways that extend from the ends of the bike path, giving them wider shoulders and better sightlines, and allowing more of the surrounding population to reach the trail by bike, and end up in bikeable distance to their destination. That is how you link a community to a job source, and consumers to stores, without tying them to the car as a solution..

The “cliff” matters, but for other reasons

Really great post by Robert Reich on FB today:

I can think of at least three cliffs that pose larger dangers to America than the fiscal one:

(1) The child poverty cliff. Between 2007 and 2011, the percentage of American school-age children living in poor households grew from 17 to 21%. Unless we focus on better schools, better health, and improved conditions for these poor kids and their families, we’ll have a significant population of undereducated and desperate adults.

(2) The baby-boomer healthcare cliff. Healthcare costs are already 18% of GDP, and between now and 2030, when 76 million boomers join the ranks of the elderly, those costs will soar unless we adopt a single-payer system that focuses on healthy outcomes rather than fee-for-services.

(3) The environmental cliff. Carbon levels in the atmosphere are increasing at a rate of 3 percent this year. Unless we adopt a carbon tax and/or cap and trade system (and get China and India to join us) we’ll be very soon at the point of no-return when ice caps irretrievably melt, sea-levels rise, and amount of available cropland in the world becomes dangerously small.

I think we should stop obsessing about the fiscal cliff and get working on these others. Do you agree?

I agree, and it also frames my distaste for the current brand of “cliffonomics” that plagues the major media coverage we are inundated with.  The biggest problem I see with the “fiscal cliff” drama is that the failure of Congress to find a solution to this issue is a bad omen for actually fixing anything of significance over the next four years. It seems that the GOP has figured that they can kick the can for another four years if they have to. That would include everything from health care and immigration to infrastructure and manufacturing.

There are much bigger issues in play than revenue and spending.  Basically the current argument is a marginal debate over which revenue and spending measures each party finds acceptable.  The debate takes place over the status-quo chessboard (maybe checkers is more apt… yep… checkers), whereas the real game should be played is in fixing the system to eliminate the source of the problem.  Massive public costs of healthcare due to a broken system are the number one savings vector, and they are being discussed in terms of weakening the already shaky net of healthcare options.  That is, to be blunt, insane.

Both sides in this dreadfully boring and childish “cliff” exercise are playing a game based on vote grubbing and base-preservation, which in the end will succeed at neither.  It is arguable that both conservative and liberal leadership have marginalized the center, and I believe it is because the center in America is rapidly asking “why can’t we have a better system, not just a rule change?” and neither party is willing to take that gamble.  What you have in Medicare and Medicaid is a proven revenue stream and a broken service delivery system.  The appropriations don’t need more than a tweak, but the delivery need a major upgrade.  That could involve means-testing, sliding scale reimbursement, cost controls, and possibly a subsidy/education system where you could get a break on say med school if you agreed to a commitment to serve.  That is tried and true policy strategy that has worked in the military for ages.  My fear is that a simple and rational pkan like that would be laughed off the table on day one because it doesn’t offer a clear political advantage.  The public benefit will never get to the discussion phase, because here in America, the public is well and truly fucked.

To close, a short list of major undertakings that have the potential to deliver jobs, GDP growth, straightline economic growth, and economic benefit:

  • Transportation infrastructure improvement project – WPA scale, bridges, roads, rail, and multi-user
  • Carbon Reduction Act with a jobs-based mechanism in addition or lieu of penalties/tax
  • Outright disincentives for offshoring capital and jobs.  Currently there is none, and we are paying the price on a national basis.
  • Dip toes into consumption-based tax, gaining a lever on the imbalance between profit and pure profit-taking that is ripping fuel out of our economy at an alarming rate.
  • STFU about immigration half-measures and put a true “move the line” system whereby immigrants can attain citizenship through normal means of work, paying taxes, lack of criminal activity, etc…

And so on.  Those issues have bigger up-front paybacks and yield larger benefits over the long haul than making seniors gap-fill for even more years before getting access to Medicaid or some other scenario where the least-able are punished for the inability of the wealthy to act responsibly.

In the words of the great Bootsy Collins: “Kirk Out”

Shocked?

I can’t be shocked that Mitt Romney got his clock cleaned in the electoral college.  If there is a bright side for the GOP is could be that they ran a Mormon with a severely moderate track record, who had to contort himself into a right-wing zealot, while still trying to appeal to moderates, but not be a moderate.  Romney’s Mormonism wouldn’t come into play here, except that it was less than a month before the election when Billy Graham agreed to remove Mormonism from his church’s list of cults.  For a party that considers the religious right to be its wholly-owned property, that is kind of a big deal.

See Ya.  Wouldn't Want to Be Ya.

Thank you, America. You just made my wife Ann the happiest woman in Massachusetts, I mean, after Elizabeth Warren… obviously.

There was the issue of “who is Romney”, or maybe “which Romney are they asking me to vote for, again?” Romney couldn’t be the Romney that ran for and won the Massachusetts Governor’s seat.  That much was immediately apparent.  His “moderation” was moderate in the way that Rachel Maddow is “moderately lesbian”.  He also couldn’t be a conventional moderate Republican, because the GOP is running out of ice floes to push their moderates out to sea on.  And he couldn’t be a blatant right-wing champion because it would mean having to explain every one of the massive slate of whiplash-inducing position reversals as a whole, instead of being able to dismiss them piecemeal.

He did, however, do everyone a favor by explaining the official GOP position on the “47 percenters” for us.  You don’t make that kind of statement to $50k per plate Republican high-roller donors without a little help.  You do it with your campaign team at your right hand.  If he did make this long statement “off the cuff”, it makes any of Sarah Palin’s “going rogue” moments look like a Judy Blume book.  So if you see him on the street, thank him for clearing that up.  If you don’t want to click the link and see Limbaugh’s bloated mug peering back at you, I’ll save you the click:

“Romney, he [Limbaugh] said, had promoted “traditional” values of hard work, which had been rejected: “In a country of children where the option is Santa Claus or work, what wins?” 

Ah yes, the old “those people don’t want to work for a living” rouse.  Really?  I don’t know for sure because I live in Connecticut, and maybe we are so punch drunk from high taxes we don’t notice, but nowhere on my IRS forms does it ask my party affiliation and give me fabulous prizes if I check “Demon-Crat”.  We all pay the same fucking taxes.  Adherents of neither party are more or less likely to need or avail themselves of Local, State, or Federal aid if they need it.  Republicans are not graciously throwing in an extra $2000 with their tax bill and telling the IRS to “keep the change”.  The ass-backwards-ness of Limbaugh railing against this shadow demographic while he demands first world accommodations without the tax bill to show for it, well, that’s just Rush.

If there is a bias (and the bias is nowhere near as large as it is made out to be in the popular media) it is that Democrats and Independents seem more likely to acknowledge that giving tax breaks to corporations and the super-wealthy does not create jobs and does not get magically balanced out by… well, you never get an answer to where that money is supposed to come from.  The top 1%, and as far as I can tell, the top 10%, haven’t payed lower tax rates in over 100 years.  Ditto for corporations.  The fabled “job creators”, aka mid-sized and small businesses, are justifiably pissed off that they have not gotten in on as much of this fabulous tax cut action as the mega-wealthy.  And since the mega-wealthy would rather not level the playing field by paying their share, you have an outcry for lower taxes on midsized operations and the less-than-tycoon class.  And if those guys are getting breaks, why are Joe-Twelvepack and Joe-E-Microbrew and Giuseppe-Chianti paying 35% to Uncle Sucker?  In a mystifying coincidence, Local, State, and Federal tax receipts are at an all-time low, creating record shortfalls, and forcing cuts in non-essentials and luxury items like health care, services to the children and the elderly, arts education, parks, transit options, etc…

If you just noticed that the drastic cuts in the tax rates for high-earners and corporations are coincidental with decreased tax receipts, and that the people who cut the taxes now want to cut services depended on by individuals that didn’t get the tax break, all while telling the people who’s taxes they actually did cut that they won’t cut services that high-earners and corporations need… well, an angel just drank a Red Bull.  You also just figured out which way the class-war billiard table actually slopes.  Have a cookie.

If you are really out in la-la land, you might be concerned that much of American Infrastructure is showing its age, and there is no money to do anything about it.  Each year things like bridge repair, railway upgrades, electrical grid modernization, next-generation transit infrastructure, and a host of other things we totally take for granted, get ignored and put into the “luxury” bin.  As long as Americans are sold on the idea that they deserve ultra-low taxes, and only communists build high-speed rail networks and bike lanes, nothing will ever happen about this.  You don’t have to squint too hard to see what kind of mess you get into if you wait until an interstate highway bridge fails before you recognize the need to build a new one. Or you could scroll up, look at the picture of Romney, and thank your deity of choice that Halliburton isn’t the new FEMA or Fed-DOT.

So no. I’m not shocked by the outcome of the 2012 Presidential Election.  I was too busy being shocked by how many pressing issues were taken completely out of the election year dialogue.  I was shocked that the two-party system is so entrenched that the candidates are not required to debate each other, or even answer the questions posed to them in the fake debates.  I am always shocked that nobody seems to notice or care in any kind of measurable number.  I was shocked that the so-called Fiscal Cliff* was put in dry-dock until immediately after the election was decided.  I could have been shocked that the only place you could see an interview with presidential candidate Gary Johnson, who was a Republican Governor that chose his own Libertarian** ice floe, was OUTSIDE Magazine… I was too busy laughing at the irony.

For my own part, this is the last time I will vote for a member of either major party in a voting booth.  I chose a candidate who might make a few decisions I agree with, over one who would have immediately made many decisions I find morally abhorrent.  That’s no way to participate in a democracy.

*Fiscal Cliff: where each of the two major partys get what they want but has to give the other party what they want in order to get it.  also see: Congressional Circle Jerk

**Libertarian: American slang for “willfully ignorant, in a wonky way”