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Wednesday, September 28, 2005
A Silver Lining to High Gas Prices
The American Public Transportation Association is reporting great news from across the country. Urban mass transit systems in 33 cities, including the Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North and "the Port Authority," which I guess means the PATH train, are reporting increasing ridership in tandem with rising gasoline prices. This is great news, even if it's for an unfortunate reason. Here's snippet:
With the spike in gas prices in recent months, more and more Americans are getting out of their cars and turning to public transportation to commute, get to school, visit friends and family, and go shopping, and transit is taking prominent role in the dialogue about reducing the nation's energy consumption. According to research, if Americans used public transportation the same rate as Europeans, for roughly 10 percent of their daily travel needs, the U.S. would reduce its dependence on imported oil by more than 40 percent, or nearly the amount of oil the U.S. imports from Saudi Arabia each year.
Rising gas prices may be bad for the economy overall, but they're great for sensible transportation. An increase in the gas tax would have the same effect as an increase in gas prices, but would sent our hard-earned money to Washington instead of Riyadh. Ditto for a decrease in highway spending, which would also help decrease "conservative" George W. Bush's enormous budget deficit. We haven't taken the intelligent, pre-emptive action to cut automobile use through policy actions. Paradoxically, decreasing automobile use has been curbed by expensive gasoline, caused in part by … overuse of the automobile.

The Times had a preview of the press release in last Sunday's Week in Review section that makes the connection between short-sighted land use practices and transportation woes:
[T]he average American household used its cars and trucks for 496 shopping trips in 2001, according to an exhaustive survey of 160,000 Americans conducted by the Transportation Department. Trips were 7.02 miles in length, on average, for a total of 3,482 miles per household per year. That much driving could almost get you from New York to Juneau, Alaska, give or take a few hundred miles.

That's a lot farther than in 1990, when the average household's shopping trips could only get you from New York to Denver. Part of the difference stems from the fact that the length of an average shopping trip was 5.1 miles in 1990. Blame greater suburban sprawl for longer trips these days.
Those of us who are lucky enough to live in places served by mass transit are lucky to have an alternative to driving.

- High Gas Prices, Emerging Technologies Spur Transit Ridership Increases [APTA]
- Go Ahead and Drive Less, if You Can [NYT]
- Posted at 11:16 PM | Permalink | Comments: 0 | Post a Comment |  

Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Authenticity vs. the Coney Island Strategic Plan
Image © 2002 Laure A. Leber

A while ago, I posted an item linking to Juan Rivero's urban planning master's thesis about the City's recent efforts to revitalize Coney Island. When I wrote that item back in June, I was so fixated on Keyspan Park, which Mr. Rivero partially lamented, that I forgot to mention the ideas for Coney Island that are still up for discussion. Mr. Rivero writes in to note that the ballpark is for better or worse a permanent component of Coney Island's amusement district, and he redirects our attention to more timely concerns regarding the City's plans for the future of Coney Island:

Keyspan is over and done with. I'm much more concerned about the CIDC, which as you know is finalizing their plan [for the future of Coney Island]. In many ways, the CIDC has done a tremendous job thus far. But from day one, the City has operated under the assumption that one of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of the redevelopment of Coney Island was its seasonality. The CIDC has chosen to address this problem by introducing in the Amusement District residential uses and year-round commercial uses. These have been sold to the local community in terms of the jobs and street vitality that they would generate. Understandably, the underserved local community has welcomed this proposal with open arms. However, resident-oriented year-round retail does nothing to generate tourist demand; and it is tourists and visitors who sustain the amusement district. Not only do residential uses not enhance the district, they have historically come into conflict with its designated uses on account of the noise that some of these generate.

The CIDC, though, hopes to shoot two birds with one stone — to redevelop the amusement district, and to do so in a way that mitigates problems in the surrounding residential neighborhood — problems such as high levels of unemployment and crime. These problems, however, would be best addressed directly rather than through indirect means that risk eroding the Amusement District's capacity to operate as a city-wide recreational venue. Already, residents have been clamoring in community meetings for 6 to 8 story residential along Surf Avenue; some are clamoring for a Costco and a New Roc City. Such development may certainly be better than nothing, but that, much more than the stadium, would represent a squandered opportunity, because there is value associated with the history of coney island, and corporate retail is not in a position to promote that history in an interesting way. The best that the CIDC can and should do is simply pave the way for synergies between entrepreneurs and creative talent to happen. THAT, unlike residential and ancillary uses, does stand a chance of yielding unique development and uses that build on the Coney Island brand substantively.

To illustrate my point, look at the example of two current Coney Island entrepreneurs, Lola Staar and Coney Island USA. The former has started a line of Coney Island-inspired clothing that is sold in stores throughout the City and beyond. The latter has launched a burlesque revival [pictured above -ed.] that has spread throughout the City, sparking a renewed interest in a form of performance indigenous to, and closely associated with, Coney Island. Both ventures have, in their respective ways, built on the legacy of Coney Island, promoted its uniqueness, and drawn attention to it in a way that corporate retail could never do. An influx of corporate retail would homogenize this most distinctive of neighborhoods. In that respect, far from representing an optimal cure for the problems of Coney Island, such development would undermine the area's potential tourism appeal as well as its value as a national landmark. I find it ironic that the most generic little town does its best to set itself apart from other towns by highlighting its history. But New York, which actually does have a rich heritage to draw from, often spends its time and money in efforts to look like Nowhere, USA.
Hear hear! We're lucky to have inherited a unique city. We should try to keep it that way.

- An Opportunity Foregone at Coney Island [S&F]
- Coney Island: Planning Nostalgic Space
- Coney Island Going Vegas, Baby [Curbed]
- Coney Island Strategic Development Plan [Coney Island Development Corp.]
- The Incredibly Bold, Audaciously Cheesy, Jaw-Droppingly Vegasified, Billion-Dollar Glam-Rock Makeover of Coney Island: A first look at its not-preposterous future. [New York Magazine]
- Posted at 10:18 PM | Permalink | Comments: 3 | Post a Comment |  

Sunday, September 18, 2005
Retrofitting Bridges for Inefficiency

Every night, through a gap between the towers across the street, I see a red flow of tail lights streaming away across the Brooklyn Bridge. I think about all the gasoline those cars are burning, and the plume of fumes coming up off the bridge, tendrils caught in the wind, fouling the air above the river. Despite the disruption caused by all that traffic, the bridge carries far fewer people these days than it was designed to. A friend pointed out a paper (pdf warning) that describes the engineering challenges of maintaining the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg and Queensboro Bridges. This paper includes an important graphic (on p. 4) that shows changing transportation modes side by side with the number of trips made over the bridges each day. Here's a detail for the Brooklyn Bridge:

Despite a wondrous century of technological marvels, the Brooklyn Bridge has declined substantially in efficiency. In 1907, 426,000 trips were made each day across the bridge via two tracks of streetcar lines, two tracks of elevated subway trains, on foot, and on two lanes for vehicular traffic — in those days horses, carriages and horseless carriages. By 1989, only 178,000 trips were made across the bridge, a 42 percent decline in usefulness since 1907, even though there were now six modern lanes carrying speedy, powerful cars. The statistics and layout diagrams for the other bridges tell similar stories. The Williamsburg Bridge, which once had six tracks for trolleys and subways and four lanes for vehicles, carried 505,000 daily trips in 1924. By 1989, with only two tracks remaining for the J, M and Z trains, the bridge's space devoted to cars had doubled but its usefulness had fallen by half to just 240,000 trips per day.

Even though vehicular traffic has increased, people moving across the bridges has decreased. How did this happen? After World War II people began anew with the thought that the automobile would be the ultimate form of human transportation, the be-all and end-all of personal, private mobility. The trolleys and elevated subways were destroyed and every square inch that could be was put into service for the movement and storage of the automobile. The city paved over the streetcar lines and demolished as many elevated subway tracks as it could. Only a fraction of the many elevated lines remain as part of today's subway system. Here is a partial map of the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation's system in 1924.

Note the elevated lines over lower Myrtle, Lexington, Fifth and Third Avenues. These are all gone, as is rail service over the Brooklyn Bridge. It was once possible to hop on a train at Park Row and travel to the middle of Bedford-Stuyvesant without a transfer. That's impossible now, but there are still many neighborhoods where elevated subways travel. The demolition of the trolleys was total. Nothing remains of the dense grid of streetcar lines that fed the Brooklyn Bridge for decades.

When the streetcar lines and the elevated subways were demolished, the people were decanted out into the green spaces surrounding the city, and the suburbs of the modern sprawling metropolis were born. Meanwhile, the city had to deal with a host of urban ills, including abandonment, crime, poverty, arson and urban decay. Thankfully, this has been changing recently.

The East River Briges have stood through all of it, but today serve at half capacity, like gifts handed down to us from prior generations that we're not really sure how to use. Some people call the years after World War II the start of the Cheap Oil Bonanza, and believe that the end of this bonanza may now be beginning. If cheap oil becomes a thing of the past, there may be decades that lie ahead when things like trolleys or elevated subways return to the Brooklyn Bridge.

- Managing the East River Bridges in New York City [PDF] [Federal Highway Administration]
- Hubbert peak theory [Wikipedia]
- Posted at 2:39 AM | Permalink | Comments: 3 | Post a Comment |  

Sunday, September 11, 2005
Democratic Primary Endorsements
The New York City primaries are on Tuesday. Taking a look at various candidates' proposals on land use and transportation, I'll take this opportunity to make a few endorsements.

Mayor
Whomever wins this primary will have an uphill battle against the incumbent, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg — not just for the election, but for the endorsement of this website. Since I'm probably going to vote to re-elect the mayor in November, I'm going sit out on this one and avoid an official endorsement.

The other reason for this is that there are three more or less equally strong contenders: Fernando Ferrer, the frontrunner, served as Bronx Borough President and would have the political and administrative skills needed to run the city. Congressman Anthony Weiner is a feisty, hard-charging and ambitious politician, the epitome of the city's ethos. I think he's the Democrat most capable of beating Mayor Bloomberg, if you're into that. But Congressman Weiner's vision on transportation is overly focused on bus rapid transit, little more than a cheap version of the trolleys that Mayor La Guardia sacked in the 1940s, and ferries. Gifford Miller, the speaker of the City Coucil, has put forth the best policy to secure, maintain and expand the subways. In particular, he has strongly supported the Second Avenue Subway and the No. 7 line extension to the far West Side. Like Ferrer, he has also gone on record supporting a car ban on Central Park's loop drive, and has signed the petition that asks for that. Ferrer and Weiner are impressive, but because of his clear plans for sensible transportation, I'm going to vote for Miller.

For Public Advocate, Norman Siegel
Two opinions of Norman Siegel have been expressed in the mainstream media. Juan Gonzalez of the Daily News said the job is tailor made for Mr. Siegel, the prominent civil rights attorney and former head of the New York Civil Liberties Union. It's either that, or he's too "combative," as The Times wrote in its endorsement of the nearly invisible incumbent. Too combative? The job is meant for somone who raises his or her voice about important issues! That is exactly what Mr. Siegel has been doing even without holding public office. The incumbent, on the other hand, has been on the defensive for not having done enough. After her four years in office, few people even know what the Public Advocate's job is, and this is probably not a coincidence.

Mr. Siegel's ideas on responsible development are perhaps a bit too constraining on devlopers for this website's taste, and his transportation ideas are, like Congressman Weiner's, too focused on bus rapid transit. But these are not areas where the public advocate would hold much sway. The potentially tremendous benefit that Mr. Siegel would have on the city is evident in his much publicized legal defense of the Critical Mass cyclists, a group of people trying to raise awareness of the ills of our automobile-centric transportation mindset by getting together to ride bicycles around the city. If Siegel wins, one hopes that the resources that the NYPD wastes on the Critical Mass ride would be redirected to productive use, like preventing crime.

For Manhattan Borough President, Eva Moskowitz
This is a crowded field of 11 candidates vying to succeed C. Virginia Fields. Of all the candidates, Assemblyman Scott Stringer has shown the most awareness of the land use component of the job, and he has made a sensible proposal that would preserve manufacturing zoning amid the residential construction boom going on now. New York needs a diverse economy, so preserving manufacturing jobs is an important goal, as long as it does not prevent growth of the housing supply, which itself is extremely tight. Assemblyman Stringer's proposal to encourage tourism into Harlem and Washington Heights seems like a good one, but one imagines that three other candidates, Councilman Bill Perkins, Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright, both from Harlem, and Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat from Washington Heights, would be better suited to accomplish this goal or ascertain how much of a priority the residents of those neighborhoods think it should be.

Brian Ellner has made a big splash recently with a television ad that attacks George W. Bush by showing a nude male torso topped by the president's head, photoshopped in place. Mr. Ellner concludes the ad by introducing his partner, showing that Mr. Ellner is as loud about advertising his sexual preference as he is at his opposition to President Bush. Time will tell how successful this bold political gambit will be at the polls. The ad would have gotten far less attention if Fox's local affiliate, WNYW/Channel 5, hadn't refused to run it. Flamboyant criticism of the president is rousing politics for New York City Democrats, but the connection between the borough presidency and anything to do with the United States presidency is tenuous, outside of rhetoric. The criticism of the president is extremely gratifying, but one would rather see a local candidate focused on issues over which he or she has some purview.

The best candidate by that measure is Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz. Like Ms. Fields, Ms. Moskowitz has been a vocal proponent of the most important mass transit project in the country, the Second Avenue Subway. This project will not happen without unified support at every level of government, so it is critical that our elected officials support it. In addition, Councilwoman Moskovitz has also strongly supported the No. 7 line extension, a key project for the city. Besides her advocacy for subway expansion, she was a leader in the movement to ban car alarms in the city — ridiculous devices that do almost nothing to stop car theft but annoy all within earshot. She's worked to encourage cycling and rides herself.

For Manhattan District Attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau
One can't help but be impressed with the careers of both candidates for this race, the 31-year incumbent, Robert M. Morgenthau and the challenger, Leslie Crocker Snyder. Besides beying a lawyer and former justice and prosector, Ms. Snyder serves as a legal consultant to the enormously popular TV show Law & Order, but Mr. Morgenthau has been the real life D.A. Adam Schiff for decades. Mr. Morgenthau is 86 years old, but he is mentally as sharp as ever, and he has the experience that makes him the best candidate for this tough job. His high profile prosecution of white collar criminals, as well as his decades of putting away typical street thugs could not easily be replicated by a novice. Crime has dropped meteorically since the years before Mr. Morgenthau took office and the whole tenor of the city has changed. This is probably due more to demographic trends and law enforcement strategies than to prosecutorial ones, but if even a small percentage in crime reduction is the result of Mr. Morgenthau's ideas and efforts, then we owe him all a debt of gratitude, and another term in office.

For City Council District 9, Yasmin Cornelius
District 9 is gerrymandered a bit, but it is centered in Harlem, where Yasmin Cornelius is the highly respected district manager for Community Board 10. If her able performance as district manager is any indication, Ms. Cornelius would be an eloquent and powerful advocate for her community. The Times, in endorsing her, called her "the candidate who could best bridge the divide between Harlem and Morningside Heights." Having lived in both neighborhoods, I can heartily second that thought.
- Posted at 11:39 AM | Permalink | Comments: 2 | Post a Comment |  

Friday, September 09, 2005
Hybrid Cars and Jevons' Paradox
John Tierney had a column at the end of last month that blasted the California for allowing single-occupancy hybrids use HOV lanes. He wrote:
In Virginia, where they've been allowed for years in the car pool lanes, the lanes have become so clogged that an advisory committee has repeatedly recommended their banishment. The same problem will occur in California, where some of the car pool lanes were congested even without hybrids.

As traffic slows down, there will be more idling cars burning more gas and emitting more pollution, but politicians will be reluctant to offend hybrid owners by revoking their privilege. So it will be harder than ever to make the one change proven to speed up traffic and help the environment: convert the car pool lanes into what engineers call high-occupancy toll lanes.
I wrote a letter to the editor, but sadly it wasn't published. So, I will take this opportunity to publish it here and present it as my general thought on hybrid cars: Good for an individual driver (presuming that the gasoline savings can overcome the greater expense for the car and for maintenance), but bad for society overall:
To the Editor:

John Tierney ("The Road to Hell Is Clogged With Righteous Hybrids," Aug. 30), is right that hybrid vehicles will increase traffic congestion and gasoline consumption, but wrong about why. It is not that people buying hybrids are putting more cars on the road; they're simply replacing the existing vehicle fleet with more efficient models. More traffic in hybrid/HOV lanes would be offset by less traffic in the regular lanes.

Traffic will increase because hybrids use less gasoline per trip. As the per-trip cost of travel decreases, people will be encouraged to drive more. This is the strange beast called Jevons' Paradox — increasing efficiency leads to greater consumption.

To truly reduce our foreign oil dependency, we need to build cities and towns where people can have real mobility without a car. Officials in Washington could fully support all of Amtrak's needs with a tiny fraction of the amount they spend on highways. Here in New York, public officials should encourage development near commuter rail stations, finance the first phase of the Second Avenue Subway and improve the dialog with "Critical Mass" bicycle riders.

Aaron Donovan
New York, Aug. 30
- The Road to Hell Is Clogged With Righteous Hybrids [NYT - expired]
- Jevons Paradox [Wikipedia]
- Posted at 1:07 AM | Permalink | Comments: 1 | Post a Comment |  

Saturday, September 03, 2005
What Kind of Mileage You Get on That?

A bus driver asked me that question this afternoon as I was riding my bike through the Union Square area. After we laughed about the question, he wished me well and said it was the most sensible way to get around.

Because of Hurricane Katrina, the nation is awakening to the fact that gasoline costs money. Not since 1980 has it consumed as big a part of the average household budget. Though they'd be willing to pay more if it came to it, people are up in arms over the record nominal high prices, and complaining to an anti-price-gouging hotline set up by the federal government. In Georgia, rather than encouraging people to drive less, the governor has decided that people ought to consume more gasoline right now. He has urged the state legislature to make gas cheaper by eliminating the state's gas tax, which pays for road construction. That means that some amount of future road construction will have to be funded by general tax revenues, paid for by drivers and non-drivers alike.

One reason that people are so interested in gasoline prices is that they're posted on huge signs outside of every filling station. You can't help but notice the price of gas because it's everywhere. Other prices for car owners are not so obvious: Depreciation, maintenance and insurance are as or more expensive on an annual basis, but we don't obsess over those costs. It's possible that all of those costs will go up because of the hurricane, but those increases would be far less as percentages, and wouldn't receive the same attention in any case.

At the age of 29, I've never purchased or leased a vehicle, so I don't worry about depreciation, maintenance, insurance or gasoline costs. For my entire adult life, all of the day-to-day mobility I've ever needed has come from an unending series of unlimited monthly MetroCards (good for travel on any New York City subway, bus or tram, 24/7), and that bicycle pictured above. I'm not trying to imply that I'm somehow morally superior to automobile owners. Indeed, drivers should be happy there are people like me who remove auto traffic from the roads and reduce gasoline demand, lowering its price.

I've had my bike a lot longer than my entire adult life. It's a 1985 Fuji Tahoe 21-speed mountain bike, state of the art at that time but now woefully simple. It cost $495, which my father paid because I was 10 years old. In terms of dollars-for-utility, that purchase was far-and-away the best investment I have ever encountered.

The bike's first heavy use came when I was in middle school. Each day during the summers of 1986, 1987 and 1988, I'd ride the bike to my day camp, a sailing school that Google maps reports is 1.2 miles from my boyhood house in suburban Fairfield County, Conn. This freed my mom up from chauffering duties so she could do other stuff. In the years just before I reached that magical moment in suburbia when I was old enough to drive a car, I rode around town with my friends as a means of transportation. When I was a freshman in high school, my friend and I were riding on the sidewalk, against traffic on a two-way street. A driver who was making a right-hand turn out of a driveway forgot to look both ways, and pulled her car into my path before I was able to swerve out of the way. I flipped over the hood of the car and landed on the pavement on the other side. The front wheel of my bike was all twisted up! The wheel was replaced, and other than scrapes on both elbows, I was not injured. But I learned always to ride in the direction of traffic.

More intense drama came, though, when my father convinced me and two friends of mine and my uncle to join him on the Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, more commonly known by its acronym, RAGBRAI. This is an annual seven-day tour that attracts 10,000 bicyclists who ride some 50 to 70 miles a day across the corn and soybean fields of Iowa, and through its picturesque small towns. At the age of 14 and 15, I was not in shape at all for these rides, nor of the mindset to get myself there. On Wednesday, July 25, 1990, in the midst of my first tour, RAGBRAI XVIII, I came into the nightly campground, a shaded park down by the river in Oelwein, Iowa, and propped my bike up with a bunch of other ones next to a tree. Apparently, I was so beaten down by the experience of riding so much that I forgot to lock the bike. It was stolen. The next morning, when I failed to find it, I was absolutely thrilled. Buying a new bike could come later. In the immediate short term future, the loss of the bike meant I'd have a free pass to ride the sag wagon to Cedar Rapids and on for the next two days. As, such sweet relief! We reported the bike stolen as a matter of course, and when my uncle tried to convince me to buy a new one for the remainder of the trip, I tearfully told him that no other bike could ever replace the one that had just been stolen.

Six months later, in the cold nights of January or February of 1991, we received a call at 4 a.m. from an officer in the Oelwein Police Department. My parents woke me up and patched me through to the officer. Had I reported a bicycle stolen? Yes. Could I describe it to him? Yes. After ascertaining in minute detail the bike's idiosyncracies, he agreed to ship it to us. The punk who had stolen it had been riding around town and gone and gotten himself arrested, whereupon the origin of the bike came into question. In the years that have followed, to ensure that I never have to depend on remembering that there are two faint red strips on the right hand handlebar, I've registered the bike with the Washington, D.C., police, the NYPD, and with my college's security department. In July 2002, when I went on a third RAGBRAI that also passed through Oelwein, I stopped by the police headquarters and officially thanked them for finding and returning my bicycle. The thief had made some minor alterations to the bike that remain to this day: In particular, the gear shifters no longer match one another.

On Leap Day, 1992, I received my driver's license and the bike got a break for three years. From 1992 to 1994, it gathered dust in our garage. I probably never rode it once during that time. I thought I'd really never need it again for that matter. Bicycles in the part of suburbia I lived in are either pleasure craft or the second-class transportation for those too young to drive. I could kiss that thing goodbye!

But in 1994 I graduated from high school and moved to Washington, D.C., to begin attending Georgetown University. After one semester, I realized that I needed some form of transportation between campus and the bustling commercial strip down on M Street in Georgetown. So I brought the bike to campus, and stored it at the overfilled bike racks outside our dormitory. That was to be a pivotal moment. For the next three years, that bike carried me all over our nation's capital. In all the years since, I've never parted ways with it. During college I learned to navigate city traffic, and I learned that the bicycle is one of the most pleasurable and exhilirating ways to travel through a city. I also learned that it looks much more scary and dangerous from behind a car window that it actually is when you're riding.

I first brought my bike to New York City in the summer of 1996, when I had an internship on West 57th Street and a bed in Columbia University campus housing. In those crazy days I rode down West End Avenue to work and up Amsterdam Avenue to return home, rain or shine. I recall in particular a few very memorable downpours when I wished I'd taken the subway. I moved here for good on January 1, 1999, into a room I rented from a couple that lived in Murray Hill. For the following six years I worked in Times Square and lived in a succession of seven apartments in Hell's Kitchen, the Upper West Side, Chinatown, Sugar Hill, Morningside Heights and Harlem. Thankfully, the office where I worked had a little room set aside for bicycle parking. All throughout that period, I biked to work on days when I didn't feel like riding the subway, or when the feeling of spending too much time cooped up in a small apartment encouraged me to get out-of-doors for some exercize. These days, I work in Harlem and live in the canyons of Wall Street. The trip to work is a bit too long for my taste, so the bike is doing light duty as an evening and weekend diversion.

Here in New York there have been a few mishaps along the way. When I lived in Chinatown, a truck backed into the bike as it was attached overnight to a street sign. This caused the handlebars to be bent out of shape and in need of replacement. Also the kickstand was stolen, so now I don't have a kickstand. A few years ago, I bought a fancy, sleek new seat. It and one (but not both!) of the pedals were stolen two days later as I had the bike locked up outside. Resigned to reality, put the old scruffy original seat back on. It's a little worse for the wear now, as you can tell by the duct tape, but comfy. So now the bike has new handlebars, mismatching gear shift knobs and mismatching pedals. Paradoxically, the worse the bike looks, the move valuable I find it because it's less likely to be stolen. Beside these changes to the bike, I've also received a traffic ticket for running a red light at 41st Street and the Avenue of the Americas, and had a stern talking-to from two other officers for running a slew of red lights on upper Central Park West.

So for 20 years now, less a three-year motoring gap, I've ridden this bike around leafy Connecticut, the rolling cornfields of Iowa, our nation's capital city and up and down through the canyons of Manhattan. The rewards are far greater than gasoline savings, though that's what people focus on. I've never had to pay any money to park the bike, for example, but the most savings have been from vehicular capital not purchased. Many people who can afford it like to buy a new car every five years. Over the course of these 20 years, such a person would have bought four cars. Excluding interest in car loans, what does a new car cost? $25,000? So they would have spent $100,000 in the time that I've been riding a $495 bike. Then there's the exercize. That $495 is equivalent to, what?, six months of membership at a gym or health club? Many people spend a good deal of money riding stationary bikes or taking spin classes. I am not one of them.

But despite the enormous financial savings, the most tangible benefit to riding has been my vantage point on the city. When I was younger and single, riding a bicycle put me face-to-face with many of the most beautiful women in New York City — and that's a considerable number of people. I was usually too shy to say anything to people I didn't know, but while other men have been forced to peer through a glass windshield, honk and shout, I've been able to say "hello." Beyond that, I've seen the characters and the buildings and the intricate sidewalk ballet that makes up life in New York City up close and personal. I've seen the city in its most real, immediate and full view, not dulled down by tinted windows or narrowed by the scope of a windshield. I've heard the sounds of people living their lives, unmuffled by glass and metal. I've felt the city air, heavy with hot moisture or chilled in a windswept gray winter morning, unmediated by heating and air conditioning. On a bicycle, I've not experienced the city whizzing by at a blurred pace. I've experienced the city as it is. Here's hoping that I can manage another two decades on this $495 bike.

- Thousands complain to feds on gas gouging [MSNBC]
- New Yorkers, the Best Patriots [S&F]
- Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa
- RAGBRAI XVIII Map [GeoBike]
- RAGBRAI XXX Map [GeoBike]
- Oelwein, Iowa, Police Department
- New York City Subway Map [MTA]
- New York City Transit Bus Homepage [MTA]
- Roosevelt Island Tram [Wired New York]
- Posted at 8:56 PM | Permalink | Comments: 7 | Post a Comment |  

Friday, September 02, 2005
Beyond Road Rage — Pump Rage
As I rode the M60 bus eastbound along 125th Street yesterday evening, I came across a BP station at Second Avenue where the price of regular unleaded gasoline was $2.999 a gallon. Several pumps were cordoned off by yellow police tape, and there was a police car there and one of those three-wheeled police vehicles as well. A radio station promotional van was parked at an odd angle inside the tape, and some guy in a mammoth white SUV was squeezing between the van and the three-wheeled police vehicle to get out of the taped-off area. The real reason for the police presence seemed to be a car accident at one of the pumps. An SUV driver, probably enraged at the price of his fill-up, had slammed nose first at a 90-degree angle into the driver's door of a taxi as the two vehicles competed for one pump. Both vehicles looked pretty wrecked, and I hope the cab driver wasn't injured. I saw the SUV driver speaking with a policeman.

As gasoline becomes scarce, we are seeing people complain about high posted prices but willing to even more at the hint that they might not be able to get any. All across the country, shortages are being reported amid record nominal prices. The accident I saw yesterday is probably not uncommon, given the crisis mentality enveloping our nation's drivers. The best coverage of Hurricane Katrina's impacts on the oil, natural gas and gasoline supply are over at The Oil Drum. Hopefully this supply crunch will cause people to rethink the sustainability of our oil-addicted suburban lifestyle and turn people on to the concept of "Peak Oil."

Update: 11:53 p.m.: It turns out that a girl being pushed in a stroller by her mother was killed by an SUV at that gas station, and I saw the aftermath. The Times has the story. It turns out that I misinterpreted the scenario, but it was worse than I thought.

- Gas shortages are already happening [The Oil Drum]
- Girl Crushed by S.U.V. at Harlem Gas Station [N.Y. Times]
- Posted at 11:07 AM | Permalink | Comments: 0 | Post a Comment |  


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