Monday, March 31, 2014

When did we start blaming pedestrians for being hit by cars?

A colleague in Montana circulated this article that explains the history of how we view pedestrian fatalities.

It used to be that motorists that hit or killed pedestrians were viewed in the same way as someone who drive a motorcycle down a crowded hallway: That's just not acceptable. You shouldn't operate a large, fast, heavy machine in a place where there are a lot of people.

A typical busy street scene on Sixth Avenue in New York City shows how pedestrians ruled the roadways before automobiles arrived, circa 1903. Via Shorpy.

Now we just expect that pedestrians will stay out of the way of cars.

There are so many good quotes in the article, I won't even start to pick them out. But the old news stories, cartoons, and ads are also well worth the click. It follows the change in our society from drivers needing to watch for pedestrians, through changes in attitudes brought about in part by the auto industry; how traffic controls developed; and the history of traffic safety, including ad campaigns that target unsafe behavior.

In the Netherlands - which arguably has the highest bicycle mode split in the world - there is strict liability on the driver's part if s/he hits a bicyclist or pedestrian. That is, a collision is assumed to be the fault of the driver, and the circumstances when the driver is not considered 100 percent at fault are very narrow.

Strict liability is the law in all but five European Union countries, and there is a campaign to change the law in the UK. In the U.S., we struggle to pass Vulnerable User Laws.

Just after reading that article, I saw two items on our local TV news website about kids being hit by cars. One was a child that rode his bike out into the street from a driveway. And the driver didn't even stop! The other was a child killed when he ran out from between two parked cars. Both happened on residential streets.

Sure, these days, we think, "Well, those parents should watch their kids. The kids should learn that they have to be careful and stay out of the street."

But as the article about the history of pedestrians and motor vehicles in public roadways points out, streets are public spaces, and it used to be that drivers were expected to watch out for other road users, including people walking on the public right of way. We used to realize that kids are to be expected in residential areas.

We even allow drivers to break the law with impunity, as long as it's just a little bit breaking the law. Everyone assumes that "5 over" is OK for speeding, and the police generally won't write a ticket if you are not more than "10 over." If a driver is going below the speed limit, s/he is considered a menace and a freak.

What difference does 5 mph make? Well, a pedestrian hit at 20 mph has a 95 percent chance of surviving. A pedestrian hit at 40 mph has an 15 percent chance of surviving.

30,000 people are killed by motor vehicles every year in the U.S.: drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, passengers, etc. Any other product with that kind of safety record would be pulled from the store shelves within a day. Yet we let the carnage continue year after year. When is will we say, "Enough!"?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

From the "less waste" files

A short blog to get back in the habit of writing. [edit: It started as a short blog, but obviously, I am not capable of "short." No jokes about my stature, please.] I've been busy with my work, which also involves quite a bit of writing and social media content, so I've neglected my own writing. But I'm going to try to post shorter pieces just for the sake of getting the thoughts out of my head and on to the page. After all, that's why I write this: To clean out the thoughts rattling around screaming, "Write me down!"

On to a few short items about putting sending less stuff to the landfill. It's sort of a personal challenge to me to see how little stuff I can put in the garbage. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

1. Why is it so difficult for even smart, well-educated, Madisonians - i.e. people who should know how to recycle and why it's important - to figure out how to out a bottle or can in the recycling bin? I work at the UW, and pretty much every hallway has blue bins prominently labeled as "bottles and cans" or ""paper and newspapers" at each end of the hall. There are also recycling bins in many offices and break rooms. Yet I consistently find cans and bottles in the trash.

I'm not going through the trash looking for these things. I'm walking down the hall to the bus, and there outside an office is a small bin to be emptied by the cleaning crew: Plastic shrink wrap from a shipment, take-out container, coffee cup, a few napkins or paper towels, an apple core, and a soda can or bottle. Why? Why is it so tough to put that can or bottle in the container just steps away?

2. On a more positive note, I recently was reminded of Terracycle, a service that will take a lot of items that might either be cluttering up your house or going in the trash. They will turn your trash and clutter into either new items or rehabilitate what you send: Pens that don't work, old shoes, wrappers from energy bars, cereal and cracker bags, Britta filters, toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes, and lots more. It has eased my conscience to be able to bring those things in to work and have a place to recycle them instead of tossing them in the trash, or worse, hanging on to them out of guilt. ("Yeah, that pen doesn't really work very well, but it works sometimes, I shouldn't just throw it out. And that old toothbrush could be used to clean my bike or for other cleaning jobs. I should hang on to that.)

Someone in our office collects all the stuff and sends it in once a month. Terracycle will even send you the shipping label. If you have enough of certain items, you can designate a charity to receive a small donation. I'm sorting through all the old pens that don't work, the worn our shoes, and saving my wrappers to send in.

3. As I was brushing my teeth yesterday, (Why do great ideas always come to us when we can't write them down?) I started thinking about the beer bottle caps I'd been saving for a friend. He had told me that someone he knew was collecting as many types of bottle caps as he could. My friend knows that I like to try out different beers, so I might have a wide variety of breweries I could contribute. So I have a small bar of caps to give to him.

But then I started thinking about all the other bottle caps I'm throwing away. They are metal, so why can't they be recycled? So, being a good researcher, I Googled it. The first page I found was very useful - with photos! It said that metal bottle caps are steel, and can be recycled, but not just thrown into the bin as is. The problem is that they are very small, so they fall through the screens at the sorting center [video of how they sort materials with machines - actually pretty cool] and the caps never make it to the magnet that picks up steel. Recycling Week confirmed the problem and the solution.

But these two pages suggested a solution, which City of Madison Recycling Guru George Dreckmann confirmed is the way to go. (I was sort of proud of the fact that I actually provided him with this solution, which he had not thought of.) Put the caps into a steel can - like the ones that hold soup, tomato sauce, canned veggies, etc. Crimp the top so that the caps don't fall out, and then put that whole thing into the recycling. It's all steel, and that whole can will be picked up by the magnets. Do NOT use an aluminum (soda) can, because that would be mixing different kinds of metal, which is a no-no.

4. Finally, I am constantly amazed by people that stop composting in the winter. I understand not wanting to hike to the back yard in deep snow and bitter cold - both of which I did this morning to reach the compost bin with my just-about-full kitchen container. But on the coldest days, you could just dump it into a bucket outside the back door until the snow melts or the temps get more reasonable. That's what I did every year until I forgot to empty said bucket of ready-to-use compost before winter descended.

And besides, I like being outside, and emptying the compost is a chance to follow the bunny tracks to the back of the yard to where I know they are hiding in the brush pile.

But most people seem to think that they can't compost because everything will freeze. And yes, most of the pile will freeze, but not all of it. You'd be surprised how much of the pile is actually not frozen, sitting there creating heat for whatever critter has crawled in. Besides, it will all thaw out eventually, and then all those coffee grounds, bits of veggies, and stale bread will be ready to start over.

Oh, and one more thing I've started throwing in the compost: Kleenex. I usually get one bad cold a year, usually in winter, and go through almost a whole box of tissues in a short period of time. And then there is the normal nose blowing from dry air and cold outdoor temperatures. Instead of throwing it in the trash, I pile it into the kitchen bins and then the backyard pile.

It all just disappears into the compost. I have yet to find any paper left when I'm ready to throw it into the garden. Corncobs will still be there, along with bits of tough stems and other plant material that takes longer to degrade. But that can just go back into the bin for another round.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The best reply ever to a webinar confirmation

This absolutely has to be the best reply to a webinar confirmation I have ever gotten, even if it wasn't really meant for me.

Last night I was checking my work email, and saw that two messages had popped up. As many people do, I read them in reverse order (latest first). 

The first one had the subject line, "Ignore that last email from me!"

The text was,


My blushing apologies! I meant to hit Forward 
on the email I just mistakenly sent you, not 
Reply. Sorry about that.

Hmmm. Curious to see what had been sent by mistake, I saw that the same guy had sent an email a minute before. 

The subject line was, "Oh, yeah, or..."

On opening it, I saw that it was a confirmation from GoToWebinar  - the one that goes out automatically with log-on info when you sign up for a webinar. Since it's a webinar I set up, my name appears in the "From" field.

Just above the standard webinar information was a personal message:

You can sit on my lap in your living room while 
we check this out on your laptop. Vamos a ver. 


Wow. I never knew people were so excited about our webinars!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Business owner freaks out over bike lanes

Yes, it's been awhile since I posted. But I have a whole folder of thoughts marked "Save for Blog," so maybe I'll get some of them out.

Today's topic is the freak out that the Northside Business Association had about the redesign and re-striping of North Sherman Ave. Commonly called "putting bike lanes on Sherman Ave," even though the safety improvements are going to improve the safety for all users, including drivers.

The vote and the whole debate is now old news, but today one business owner - not even located on Sherman Ave - managed to revive it and piss off the biking community as well.

The owner of New Orleans Take-out, on Fordem Ave banned Alder Marsha Rummel for supporting the project. Reaction was swift on the Bikies list.

I called the west side NOTO, which is pretty close to my house, and asked if I was banned as well, since I sit on two city committees that voted in favor of the project, and I testified in favor. The owner - turns out it's a different owner, despite what the article said - told me no one was banned from his restaurant. He hadn't even read the article, but I think people had already started calling him.

Others called and expressed their displeasure. One wrote:

After his initial diatribe we actually talked.
Among other things, he said his business has been down ever since bike lanes were put on Fordem.  I questioned that since Fordem was always two-lane.  I said perhaps the fact that the mural on the side of the building has deteriorated badly in the last two years and his sign needs work, it looks like he is not open or barely open at best.  He actually said I had a point.
John said he will have something in the Isthmus next week - let's wait and see.

Another person wrote an email to the owner and got this reply:

You are wrong, Bill.  But, the city council running rough-shod overthe city has to stop.  There was no investigation into how this wouldaffect the city.Public safety wasn't an issue. No other solutions were investigatedor discussed.  Their rational was fabricated and there was noeconomic impact statement done.  It will affect property values.  Itwould nice to know how and how much.  I used this incident to wake upthe city to what's going on.  It's time for civic involvement to curbcity council excesses.   I knew that I would take a lot of heat butsomeone has to, "Stop, enough."  The council can't close off one ofonly two ways to get to the north side and not think that it isn'tgoing to affect life on the north side.

I simply couldn't let this response go without an answer. Although I didn't email the owner directly, I posted back on the list - which is widely read by even non-bicyclists because of the number of people and level of public involvement on the list:

I'm not going to argue with this guy, since he obviously has some issues beyond not thinking bike lanes are a good idea. But, he is very wrong on so many points.
  1. The city - specifically Traffic Engineering (not the most radical bunch) did investigate other solutions to documented safety issues on Sherman Ave. They tried other solutions for 20 years. 
  2. There are documented safety problems - for motorists, pedestrians, transit users, and bicyclists. 
  3. The City Council was following the recommendations of Traffic Engineering.[pdf] Again, and I say this with affection, "Not the most radical bunch, or known car-haters, IMHO."
  4. Every study of this type of roadway redesign has been shown to either have no effect or a positive affect on economic activity along the corridor.
  5. This project is not closing off any routes. Traffic Engineering estimates that the same volume of traffic will be able to use Sherman Ave after the re-striping. When you have a four-lane road with no left-turn pockets, the center two lanes become de-facto left-turn lanes, so only the outer lanes can be used for through traffic. Local users - drivers - have said that they worried about being hit from behind when stopped in the left lane to make a turn. This means some people might not even make that left turn into a business. The center turn lane removes this problem and reduces conflict points for left-turning vehicles from seven to two. 
  6. Yes, this redesign was put forward twenty years ago by Traffic Engineering to make the road safer for DRIVERS.
  7. Civic involvement is how this project got approved. Just because you disagree with the vote doesn't mean that no one listened to you. It just happens that there are others - perhaps even a large majority that disagree with you. 

Whenever I hear doomsday predictions from people that haven't even researched the subject, I always want to ask for a retraction after the horrible results fail to materialize:
  • Smoking ban will kill all the bars in Madison! (And before that, "All the restaurants will close if smoking is banned!")
  • Big building will lead to massive traffic jams every morning and night!
  • Everyone will sell their house or property values will drop if this building gets built!
  • Roundabouts will lead to terrible crashes because people don't understand them!
  • No one will move into those apartments, and they will all become run down when the project fails economically!
  • etc.
[And someone reminded me of one of my favorite, which somehow slipped my mind: "If that bike path is built, crime will soar and housing prices will plummet!" Of course, exactly the opposite is true. Studies have shown that housing prices near paths are almost always higher than comparable houses farther away from paths.]
Every one of the above I have heard in the last ten years, and not one of the dreaded outcomes has happened.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Thanks for clearing your sidewalk!

First, thanks to all who promptly cleared their sidewalks. I know how hard it can be, as my back will attest after going through 3 rounds of manual snow/ice removal in the last 24 hours, including removing the ice wall in front of my driveway this morning. (Not only do I not own a snow-blower, but without a garage, I'm not sure where I'd put one.)

One of the local business
that didn't clear their walk,

even though they managed
to fully clear their parking lot.
I am frankly stunned that some of the commercial properties - in front of apartment buildings and stores - are so poorly cleared. Since the stores are open for business and people are coming and going from the apartments, I know it's not a case of no one being able to physically get to the location.

City ordinance requires that sidewalks be cleared within 24 hours of the end of the storm. If you can't get all the ice off, the city expects that salt/sand be applied. 

I am very happy that we have this ordinance, because not everyone is physically capable of navigating snow banks, icy sidewalks, or narrow paths stamped down only by others' feet. A few years ago there was a news story about a student at the UW who was trying to get to classes but couldn't because he was in w wheelchair, and the sidewalk between his apartment and the corner had not been cleared. Not only that, he couldn't even get to a bus stop because the curb cuts at the corners had not been cleared. Even people with poor balance or less sure footing in general often can't navigate an uncleared sidewalk or blocked curb cut.

My neighbors shoveled.
Walking is not just an enjoyable activity, it is an integral part of our transportation system. Every trip begins and ends with walking, and walking is certainly safer than driving when the roads are still not completely cleared. And when the buses are up and running again, we will all need to walk to get to and from the bus. (And again, riding the bus is both safer for the individual, but also keeps lots of cars off the roads, thereby making icy roads safer for others as well.)

One of the other nice features of living in Madison is that there are locations around the city with sand piles (mixed with salt, which both keeps the salt from freezing into a solid mass and helps melt snow/ice.) This is free of the taking for use on your sidewalk, stairs, or driveway. I have used perhaps one bag of salt in 20 years of home ownership. I use the sand from the city instead. The darker color of the sand also helps the sun take care of the final melting.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Convention cities worried about traffic. Umm.. transit?

Here's an article about worried people are about the traffic snarls and delays getting to work that will be caused by the Democratic and Republican conventions in Charlotte, NC and Tampa, FL. They do mention working from home, but really, not one mention in three pages of transit?

I know there's a transit system in Tampa. At least there is a regional system And look, they even have information about the GOP convention. However, when I clicked on the link for the System Map (local) link I get a Page Not Found message. Not really helpful.

Charlotte has transit too. They even put out a press release about service during the DNC. I'm not overwhelmed by their website, but at least you know it exists.

Maybe they should tell the folks at the paper that this would be a great time for locals to try it out instead of focusing on how bad the traffic is.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Transportation articles roundup - not just bikes

More articles with a few comments, OK, sometimes quite a bit of commentary.

The Atlantic Cities ran an article titled, Why Cyclists Run Red Lights. I'm not entirely sure the research conclusions for Australia are valid here in the U.S., but at least someone is doing the research.

And the above article also refers to the NY Times article, If Kant Were a New York Cyclist. This article ponders the ethics - not the legality - of running red lights. A nice quote sums up the feelings of many bicyclists with regard to traffic laws:
Laws work best when they are voluntarily heeded by people who regard them as reasonable. There aren’t enough cops to coerce everyone into obeying every law all the time. If cycling laws were a wise response to actual cycling rather than a clumsy misapplication of motor vehicle laws, I suspect that compliance, even by me, would rise.

The Guardian (UK) suggests that demonstrating cycling proficiency be a requirement to get a driver's licence. In general, I think that getting a driver's licence in the U.S. us far too easy. In many countries it is hard and expensive to get a driver's licence and easy to lose it. People take it seriously. It's more like getting a professional certification. Unfortunately, many people in the U.S. consider driving a right instead of a privilege. We require a licence because operating a motor vehicle is dangerous to yourself and others. Maybe if we made it harder to drive we could cut down on the 33,000 people every year that die in motor vehicle crashes.

A New York Times transportation reporter writes about learning to ride a bike for the first time - as an adult. He talks about how he felt he needed to learn for professional reasons. Bicycling has become a controversial and popular topic over the last few years, and he thought he needed to know first-hand how it felt to ride through the streets.

From the other side, a couple years ago I taught an adult (OK an 18-year-old) how to ride a bike for the first time. I didn't write about it at the time because I didn't want to embarrass her, but it was thrilling for both of us when she started pedaling around the streets for the first time.

And make sure to read the comments on the NY Times article. Over 200 so far. Although some complain about rude bicyclists on city streets, a great many talk about the joys of learning to ride as an adult. To many of us who ride, a bicycle gives a certain type of freedom of movement and a feeling close to flying. Seeing someone experience this, or hearing them describe that joy and freedom almost brings tears to my eyes.

Frustrations of air travel push passengers to Amtrak. The NY Times article title says it all. And it makes me want to weep, or maybe throw something, that we also had the chance to have rail service to Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Chicago, and is was all thrown away due to short-sighted thinking and allegiance to the road builders.

The article is about the NE Corridor, the most popular and only profitable service for Amtrak, but I've been seeing enough other articles about pending rail service - run as for-profit companies no less - to make me think rail travel is on the verge of a resurgence. After all, you can work on the train without being told to turn off your phone, computer, or music.

More articles about rail service coming back, and it's sometimes a bit surprising where people have redeveloped an interest in trains: