Monday, September 20, 2010

what really is dangerous.

In the New York Times "Week in Review", Lisa Belkin writes in "Keeping Kids Safe from the Wrong Dangers" about how parents assess the dangers that seem present in our lives, and that yet with all that knowledge (or maybe because of all that knowledge) we are unable to assess risk. We overreact to hypothetical risks, but don't even blink at every day very real risks.In her article she highlights the real risk of cars in many places. Some things to mull about:

There is an inherent hypocrisy in our attempts to control our odds — putting the organic veggies (there is no actual data proving that organic foods increase longevity) in the trunk of our car (researchers tell us there is “evidence” but not “proof” that car emissions accelerate heart disease), then checking our e-mail on our cellphone at the next red light (2,600 traffic deaths a year are caused by drivers using cellphones, according to a Harvard study).

If that doesn't seem to be enough, think about the leading causes of injury to children to age 18 according to the CDC:

  1. Car Accidents
  2. homicide (usually at the hands of someone they know --> this was quite surprising)
  3. child abuse
  4. suicide
  5. drowning

The top five things parents fear, I'll let you read the article but it seems that we spend too much time watching television.

The other quote about cars that stuck out was:

“The least safe thing you can do with your child, statistically, is drive them somewhere,” said Lenore Skenazy, author of “Free-Range Kids,” a manifesto preaching a return to the day when children were allowed to roam on their own. “Yet every time we put them in the car we don’t think, ‘Oh God, maybe I should take public transportation instead, because if something happened to my kid on the way to the orthodontist I could never forgive myself.’ ”

So this goes back to a basic question, are we rational or social rational? When I look back at history, the things we use to consider normal seem appalling. This is part of the job of "Mad Men" since there is a smugness in watching the show. The only question to ask is 50 years from now, who's going to be the smug one?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Changing the world one bike at a time...

Kristof has a honest and poignant column in the New York Times about World Bicycle Relief that is an organization dedicated to disseminating bicycles to regions where access to easy, affordable transportation can open new doors in the lives of people residing there. I am really impressed by the thoroughness of the organization in thinking about how to make sustainable bicycles that will survive the elements. In our highly optimized and specialized lives we create societies that function only on the "happy path". They also think not only about distributing bicycles, but creating infrastructure to service the bikes as well. This is truly about building to last.

It's great that some of the supporters of this project are SRAM, and American manufacturer of bicycle components. I'll be honest, I'm mostly a Shimano guy because that's what came with my bike, but it's good to see that we are still trying to build in this country.

What can we do in our own country to build things and systems that are built to last. How do we build systems that not only live on the happy path. As I clean up my place, I have a hard time throwing things away because I know they have utility. I curse myself for picking it up in the first place, but in many cases I salvaged it from the garbage. I have a very good Just In case kind of life, but it's overwhelming. What is the sum waste of our lives that we leave behind. How much to make a buck. I have an air freshener system from two years ago that I got in my goodie bag at the Rock 'N Roll Half, it's still sealed. It didn't make my happy path, and they probably knew it. But the utility of the air freshener was not in the dispenser, but in the refills. Without the refills, it's just junk. It's a terrible dependency.

But I digress but not really, with bicycles the means of locomotion are there if the machine is working, no gas required. It's a truly humanitarian ideal. In the movie Mad Max, the fight was for gasoline, in a bicycle world it would just be Max. Max happiness.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Great Pic

Check out this flickr page of a Peter Drew stencil. Here is a preview:

Other Pro-Bike images too!


Huffington Post has a story about Joyride a book on how Portland became bicycle friendly. That combined with its light rail network shows that foresight can lead to integrative transportation solutions. Portland is good, but I do think it is oversold. The techburbs are too far from the city center. But I keep muttering under my breath "best is the enemy of better, progress is what matters"

HT to Richard for posting on his Facebook.

Reflections on Three Months Car Free

It's been three months today that I've lived without a car. The funny thing is that my friends and family have been more concerned about my state of affairs than I have. That said rainy season is coming and I am close to capitulating for similar reasons as I did last time. I thought I would take a few minutes to reflect on what has changed since my last car free spell, what works well and what the future holds.

1. The first reflection I have is that being car free ironically is more dangerous than ever. If you are a cyclist, you really need to be extremely conscious of your surroundings. The deadly combination use to be cars and alcohol, observations suggest that this has been replaced by cars and mobile devices or mobile distractions. There is so much economic motivation to upsell users all the time, every moment, every place. So our mobile phones are becoming much more aggressive in that motivation. People feel that ic they are not connected they will miss something. I will tell you that if you are too connected, you will miss something. That car, person or bicyclist in front of you! If you have not seen this synopsis of Neil Postman's "Amusing ourselves to Death" you should.

2. The magic number is 15 minutes. If you able to get somewhere by bicycle within 15 minutes. It is likely that a bike and a car are neutral in transportation time door to door. Parking a bike in most cases is faster. The car may win, but it is usually 2 - 3 minutes faster in the wash. What is different is that a car exchanges human energy for gasoline power. This may not be socially acceptable to human and sweat. We'll have to see. Electric powered alternatives may be viable. I am not sure the Segway is the answer, but it is something to consider. I actually think electric scooters may be more viable. The state goal of the Paris Metro is a metro stop within 10 minutes walking.

3. Mass transit works if it is designed to either be extensive or service major corridors. Extensive systems like Paris, London, New York work well because they are extensive. The Chicago El is surprisingly workable as well. Caltrain serving up and down the Peninsula here works, because it goes through major business zones. You are usually able to get a ride or ride your bike from there. VTA the Light Rail system doesn't work. It does not hit the densest sections so basically it's nominally better than a bridge to nowhere.

4. Don't make people plan. The main appeal of a transportation system is that it does not require forethought. The car wins in people's minds since they don't have to look at schedules (they do think of rush hour, but they don't have to worry about missing something). Mass transit works where it does since you don't think about when to go, you just think about where to go. That is no different than a car. This implies that frequency matters more than anything else in a transportation system. If you plan for peak hours only it will fail. The reality of our modern society is that we no longer live by rigid schedules. If anything this has probably been facilitated by the automobile. Other modes of transportation have to catch up.

5. Cost transparency matters. When I look at when people think about using mass transit in the bay area, they think it's expensive. This is because each transaction is very transparent on a per trip basis. With cars, costs are forward loaded. You gripe for 10 minutes when you buy gas, but the next trip in your car. You don't think about the cost. In NYC, you buy week passes or monthly passes and you are done. This is how most local residents do it. People don't think in terms of total cost of the car because they never do the analysis. With mass transit as it stands in the suburbs you are always doing the analysis. The other thing bulk buying either in gas or a monthly pass is that it mitigates transaction times. My suggestion: A city concerned about traffic should consider working with VTA and Caltrain and get Go Passes or equivalents for all their residents for one year to see what the effect is.

6. The value of signaling of a car is highly overrated. Oddly, it's a necessity in most people's minds. A nice car indicates a little oh wow initially, but it dissipates real fast.

Not having a car is doable, but it requires a degree of rigidity in your life that is counter to our current structure of life. If you live within 15 minutes of your life tasks by walking or biking you are set. The car has transformed the radius, but the time factor is the same. I'm fortunate that my life generally meets this criteria. But if we are to make a car free life a viable alternative, we need to think about investing in systems that capture the flexibility and price bundling that cars do.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

What's the real cost of where you live....

One of my favorite books is Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin's Your Money or Your Life which asks you to figure out your relationship with money. One of nine steps in the book is to calculate your true hourly wage by counting all the money you spend to work, and the time you spend to work. This includes commuting time and costs. Well in a recent Bucks blog post there's an article about a site Abogo that calculates the average expenditures for transportation for people who live in your area. They describe themselves this way:

Abogo is a tool that lets you discover how transportation impacts the affordability and sustainability of where you live.

I punched in my neighborhood and the mix of residential and commercial leads to an odd map. But it does highlight for most places that the suburban zoning model of live in one place and work in another and shop in a completely different place adds up. So if you buy a nice house in the 'burbs thinking it's a good value. Once you add in how much it costs to get from your MacMansion to life, maybe it's not such a great deal after all.

Why am I not surprised...

Today I went to the DMV to pick up my drivers license since my old one was just about to expire. It's one of those things that you need when you go on a business trip, and it's nice to have an alternative ID besides one's passport. Thankfully the branch of the DMV that was closest to me was close to the train station so I rolled up on my bike to find out that there weren't any bike racks. (Or at least I did not see any, and another bike was locked up to a sign as well). I guess they don't call it the Division of MOTOR Vehicles for nothing. I am not surprised...

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Buy or Lease: The electric question...

I am in the market for a new car (shudders) and probably going used for various reasons. But GigaOm has a nice breakdown on an electric car for buy vs lease. Something to think about it if you are in the market.

The best thing about this article that has got me thinking, $7500 tax credit if I get a Tesla Roadster. hmmmm.. tempting.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

And on the subject of efficiency...

In the last blog post, the article on improving efficiency had this great quote:

Efficiency is often confused, detrimentally, with conservation. Conservation connotes making do with less — turning down the heat or driving a smaller car. Efficiency means getting more bang per buck.

Another way to think about this is how do you use the most of what you have. Rachel Botsman is quoted in this article on Collaborative Consumption that "80 percent of the items people own are used less than once a month." This is pretty amazing and it rings true. We buy a lot and we throw away a lot. Many of these items can be used by others with imperceivable wear and tear on the borrowed objects. Yet we don't. So of course here in Silicon Valley we have a simple solution....

...the internet

So basically there are these sites that enable people to log what they have and share things. Think Delicious Library 2 on the web and with software to keep track of things and who has what. And that's the model, right now libraries are government owned entities, but what happens when everyone become a library?

The clear way is to figure out a way to take advantage of one's buying history to create a library automatically for everyone. The best source for this in the U.S. might be Amazon. Imagine downloading you Amazon purchase history and annotating those things that you will share. Imagine buying with sharing in mind?

Any takers in the internet land out there? Amazon has the interfaces, who has the sweat equity?

$100 bills lying around, why's nobody picking them up?

The New York Times has an article on the glut of energy efficient opportunities around us and it makes a pretty convincing case. So the question with so much free money available, why don't people take advantage of it. Says a lot about inertia is my guess. If a light bulb is working, why replace it. And you pay your electricity bill because you have to, it hurts but when you write the check. You forget the pain and move on.

So the goal is to make sure that people don't have to think about taking advantage of efficiency. They just do it since all choices available are efficient.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Quickie: Shoup vs O'Toole

This is a case of a fish being asked "how's the water?" and the fish going "what is water?" The permanence and ubiquity of cars is the new normal. A response by Shoup to Cato's O'Toole

I hope to blog some more about recent experiences with dealing with the heat.