Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Marshall Rosenberg, on Driving

Some time ago I reflected on how I might apply the principles of nonviolent communication in order to communicate with motorists who frightened me. I wrote a blog post after reading a portion of his most well-known text, "Nonviolent Communication." Tonight, I was pleasantly surprised and delighted to find a short discussion of driving in one of the later chapters of the book. (He discusses driving in the excerpt, but the experience described herein has much to teach all of us who travel, whether we choose to use cars, bikes, transit services, or our feet. I know I relate strongly to it, and find its lesson hopeful). Those of us who plan and design transportation systems could provide a much better experience for everybody, I think, if we considered outsider views like this. (Tom Vanderbilt, you're my original inspiration for saying this, and I think your work is exemplary in this regard! Further, the observations below remind me of the early chapters of your book Traffic, where you describe the sociological space of the street as one in which it is often very difficult to communicate, and where we're alienated from understanding other drivers as people.) More importantly, all of us who bike and drive and walk the streets can feel much more peaceful if we take Mr. Rosenberg's advice. Without further ado, here's what Marshall has to say:

For years my work involved traveling by car across the country, and I was worn and frazzled by the violence-provoking messages racing through my brain. Everybody who wasn't driving by my standards was an archenemy, a villain. Thoughts spewed through y head: "What the hell is the matter with that guy!? Doesn't he even watch where he's driving?" In this state of mind, all I wanted was to punish the other driver, and since I couldn't do that, the anger lodged in my body and exacted its toll.

Eventually I learned to translate my judgments into feelings and needs and to give myself empathy, "Boy, I am petrified when people drive like that; I really wish they would see the danger in what they are doing!" Whew! I was amazed how less stressful a situation I could create for myself by simply becoming aware of what I was feeling and needing rather than blaming others.

Later I decided to practice empathy toward other drivers and was rewarded with a gratifying first experience. I was stuck behind a car going far below the speed limit that was slowing down at every intersection. Fuming and grumbling, "That's no way to drive, " I noticed the stress I was causing myself and shifted my thinking instead to what the driver might be feeling and needing. I sensed that the person was lost, feeling confused, and wishing for some patience from those of us following. When the road widened enough for me to pass, I saw that the driver was a woman who looked to be in her 80's who wore an expression of terror on her face. I was pleased that my attempt at empathy had kept me from honking the horn or engaging in my customary tactics of displaying displeasure toward people whose driving bothered me.
(p.174-175)
(but read the whole book!)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

a poem I wrote in 2007

which is grief?

empty the emptiest room.
room enough for what began as a line and a thought
and is now forgot.

what breathed? and in breathing moved, and in moving championed?

something pre-motor forgot, and something intentional failed.

we want to say what this is about, we want to say it's about time
and take the pot off the fire.

that which we negate, we affirm, which
which?
which?
which?

this poem is about an iranian lynching.
mentioned offhand on public radio.
two boys hung from nooses let their necks release

their first love affair a public hanging
noises continued, but none were heard.

this poem is about your ex-lover
and how the emptiest room
is still filled with aromatic shards of furniture




Friday, April 22, 2011

I just endorsed this!

And you should too. Let's get SCAG to beef up its funding for bicycles and pedestrians.

From the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, a disturbing statistic about the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) for Southern California:

"In the last adopted RTP in 2008, an over $530 billion dollar plan, less than 0.5 percent of funding was dedicated towards bicycle and pedestrian projects, yet 12 percent of all trips in the region are already made walking and bicycling."

Join me in endorsing this platform which seeks to rectify the weak funding levels for biking and walking.






Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wilshire BRT Scorecard

The past week has seen a flurry of activity around the Wilshire BRT. LA Streetsblog has done a great job of covering it all as it has unfolded. The Condo Canyon private traffic study rapidly upgraded, with the help of some key political players, from a shady contract study to a directive that Metro staff rethink that section of Wilshire. Richard Katz, Zev Yaroslavsky, and Paul Koretz all made statements to the press that the Condo Canyon section should come out. Almost immediately, Metro asked the FTA to approve a project revision, and within days the FTA said yes. I personally found this very disheartening; I had scrambled to put together a letter to the FTA which was signed by a practically unprecedented range of transportation activists. Before we could even send the letter, the FTA had granted Metro's request to change the project. You can still read the letter, which is in .pdf form at this Streetsblog article, which is a pretty good overview of the whole drama.

Things were looking down for the BRT, when Bruins for Transit took to the streets and collected 135 petitions supporting the original BRT project. They got signatures, email addresses, and zip codes from bus riders living in every single one of the five county supervisorial districts. Via twitter, facebook, this blog, and the LA Subway Blog, at least 47 emails have been sent to Metro Board members in support of the original project. The Bus Rider's Union got moving; theywill be coming out in force on Thursday to keep the bus-only lanes intact.

Today started with some bad news: the Brentwood "Community Council" saw that loud rich neighborhoods can get out of bus-only lanes and went ahead and made their own request to be excluded from the project. Hmm, see where this is going?

The Brentwood Community Council should check their math, though. Or maybe just their notion of fairness. They complain that the BRT will "take away 1/3 of the roadway from cars." Well, they should remember that 80,000 motorists use Wilshire everyday, and so do over 80,000 bus riders. So if we're going to divvy up the roadway fairly, buses should really get half. This project gives buses less than that, at only 1/3 through this section. And just to be nice, it still lets turning cars use the bus only lanes. Oh, and the bus-only lanes only last for peak hours, 7-9 AM and 4-7 PM. So we're actually only dedicating (1/3)*(5/24) = 7% of the space to buses. On a corridor where bus riders are half of the travelers.

On the other hand, today ended with some good news: the Bicycle Advisory Committee of the City of LA moved to support the original project.

To summarize, the scorecard on the Wilshire BRT is now:

Team Keep the BRT Whole: 47 emails, 135 street petitions, and one Citizen's Advisory Committee

Team Destroy the BRT One Rich Neighborhood at a Time:
2 Neighborhood Councils, 1 Rabbi, 1 County Supervisor (Yaroslavsky), 1 City Councilmember (Koretz) 1 Other Metro Board Member (Richard Katz), 1 FTA Regional Rep Leslie Rogers

Team Undecided: 1 Mayor, 4 County Supervisors,  1 Metro CEO, 4 Metro Board Representatives from Duarte, Glendale, Santa Monica, and Lakewood, 14 City Council Members

We only have until Thursday morning so the time to start your pro-BRT engine is now. Send a letter if you haven't yet. If you already sent a letter, call your county supervisor and pressure them to take a stand on this. (Let us know how your phone calls go in the comments :)

Ready, set gooooo!

Letter writing tools:
http://www.lasubwayblog.com/2010/12/email-metro-board-of-directors-to.html (QUICK AND EASY)
http://meekadjustments.blogspot.com/2010/12/write-mayor-v-and-your-county.html

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Write Mayor V and your County Supervisor to Protect the Wilshire BRT Project!

Ahh, bus-only lanes. In a city where the vast majority of the public transportation network runs on buses, they are one of the easiest and cheapest ways to improve public transit. With bus-only lanes, transit doesn't have to compete with peak-hour congestion. Time tables are actually reliable, and travel times are a lot shorter. This all seems downright fair, considering that during rush hour, buses are packed with upwards of 50 people, while cars usually contain... one person.  Our streets should move people, not just cars, is my view, and bus-only lanes get us closer to that. Oh, and bus-only lanes may not be as sexy as subways, but they sure are cost-effective: a bus-only lane can achieve rail-like speeds for about 1/300th of the cost. In this era of budget crises, that sounds like a win to me.

Lucky for us. Bus-only lanes are coming to Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles! And are set to open by 2013! But there's one catch. If your neighborhood is rich and noisy enough, it can throw a wrench in the whole bus-only lane idea. Back when the bus-only lane project was being developed, Beverly Hills refused to participate. So Metro wrote up a proposal that excluded their city. This proposal was successful and won a whole bunch of federal money. Now, the wealthy neighborhood just West of the Country Club, an area known as Condo Canyon because of its many high-rise buildings, is refusing to do its part to move buses faster. This might jeopardize said federal money, and it will definitely slow down the buses. What's saddest about this whole scenario is that Supervisor Yaroslavsky is actually siding with this small group of noisy NIMBYs, instead of protecting the project for the rest of his constituents. It's clumsy politics at best, and clientelism at worst. Who knows if we'll ever be able to build out a true network of bus-only lanes in Los Angeles if our politicians continue to cave like this.

Lucky for us. A coalition of transportation activists is roaring back to oppose this exemption. LACBC posted this earlier today, and Bruins for Transit was on the streets tonight talking to 720 riders. As a co-founder of the UCLA Bicycle Coalition and a car-free commuter, I'm posting here to ask you to do your part to protect this important demonstration project. If you can, attend the Metro Board meeting on Dec. 9.

Whether or not you can attend the meeting, definitely send an email to your representative asking them to insist on a complete project and reject Yaroslavsky's NIMBY handout. Here are the steps to doing so:

1. Open a new email with a hard-hitting subject: Preserve the Wilshire Bus-Only Lanes! Protect Regional Car-Free Mobility!
2. If you live in the City of LA, put Mayor V in the to: mayor@lacity.org.
3. Go to this website and figure out what County Supervisorial District you live in (unless you're some kind of political savant / activist who already knows). http://www.lavote.net/onlinedistrictmapapp/
4. Paste the appropriate supervisor email

District 1, Gloria Molina, molina@bos.lacounty.gov
District 2, Mark Ridley-Thomas, markridley-thomas@bos.lacounty.gov
District 3, Zev Yaroslavsky, zev@bos.lacounty.gov
District 4, Don Knabe - he doesn't have an email posted on his website, which is strange and opaque, but umm, you can email his chief of staff at cpedersen@lacbos.org, or make your case here http://knabe.com/ask-don/ . That link also has a number you can call.
District 5, Michael Antonovich, fifthdistrict@lacbos.org

4. Copy the text below into the body, adding your name and zip code and any personalized comments you want to make.
5. cc: WilshireBRT@gmail.com so that we can let you know how your politician voted.
6. Tweet it, blog it, facebook it, pass it on to someone at your office or someone in the street. Let's rally.


Dear Mayor Villaraigosa (if applicable) and [your supervisor here],

As a resident of County Supervisorial District [x] [and a citizen of the city of Los Angeles], I write to urge you to approve the Wilshire Bus Rapid Transit Lane (BRT) on Dec. 9th. Creating a bus-only lane between Centinela Ave. and MacArthur Park during peak hours can save up to 17 minutes one-way, or over half an hour round-trip.

The Wilshire BRT project will provide LA residents with a travel alternative more comparable with the car and attract more riders, improving air quality for the region. On weekdays, approximately 80,000 people board the bus along Wilshire, whereas an average of 80,000 cars drive along Wilshire. As the region grows, we need to find solutions like the Wilshire BRT that move people, not cars.

While we look forward to the Westside Subway Extension, we hope to see near-term projects like the Wilshire BRT that will open in 2 years, as we await the subway opening in 25 years. Improving bus service and reliability will also be important for future subway riders who also need to make bus transfers to reach their destinations.

More specifically, I am writing to ask you to protect your constituents and reject the recent proposal by Supervisor Yaroslavsky to exclude a select neighborhood in his district from participating in the project. Removing the bus-only lanes between Comstock Ave. and Veteran Ave in Westwood not only risks federal funding, it threatens the integrity of the project altogether. Buses will not achieve the fast times that have been promised if this exemption is allowed to go forward. We must not compromise the success of the project simply because a wealthy neighborhood dislikes it. Help us move toward a future where Los Angeles's streets move people, not just cars. Do not allow any more holes to be poked in this crucial demonstration project.

The Wilshire BRT will not only bring tremendous benefits to the commutes of the thousands of people that ride the 720 [with me - if applicable] every day, it will also improve the air quality of the region by providing an alternative transportation choice. It will also improve riding conditions for bicyclists, who will be allowed to share the repaved and widened curb lane.

Please approve the Wilshire BRT, and adopt Alternative A, Truncated Project Without Jut-Out Removal as the Preferred Alternative, which includes the Westwood portion of Comstock to Veteran Ave.
The vote on Dec. 9 is about more than just the Wilshire bus-only lanes. It's about fairness, and it's about priorities. Should a wealthy neighborhood that benefits from the regional economy not have to contribute to regional mobility? Should our streets prioritize cars at the expense of public transportation's speed and quality? I'll be watching this vote closely, and I hope you take the stance that moves us forward into a cleaner, greener, and more mobile future.

[your name here]
[your address or zip code]

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Google Biking Directions is Very Responsive

With this kind of rapid response to user suggestions I bet Google's "Bike There" routes end up being pretty good in most cities. Google impresses me. I sent them a suggestion and they got back to me within the week saying they would check it out. They then updated Google Maps the next week and sent me the following email. (This was in June 2010, by the way).

Hi Herbie,

Google Maps has been updated to correct the problem you reported. You can see the update here, and if you still see a problem, please tell us more about the issue:  Link to view and/or reopen issue


Report history
Problem ID: A1CC-89C3-E0EF-7B06

Your report:
The directions suggest a route that is much more unsuitable for biking than an alternative route just near the one google suggests. I am not sure if this is out of the scope of your capabilities, but average daily traffic on Olympic (the road suggested) is much, much more than ADT on 9th, which is just North of Olympic. If I were giving bicycling directions I would suggest 9th.
--
Thanks for your help,
The Google Maps team 

Do folks out there know of other crowdsourced bike route databases? I'm intrigued by the idea, since lots of bicyclists I know choose their routes based on word-of-mouth. The complexity of the route data seems to resist an internet platform: for example, I'll get word that a certain street is good to ride on, except during rush hour; or vice versa - some streets aren't bad to ride on during rush hour because they are so congested; or I'll get word that I should avoid a street at night, etc. Nonetheless, I think crowdsourcing has been both effective and self-reinforcing in Google's case. I've noticed an uptick on Carmelita Ave. (near UCLA, parallel to the much crappier Santa Monica Blvd through Beverly Hills) in particular, and at least one rider told me she learned about the street through Google biking directions. But Google's routes are not openly crowdsourced, they're controlled internally. When I have time I want to learn more about true and open crowdsourced bike route programs and how they perform. Thoughts?

Also, how do folks out there think Google's "Bike There" option is performing in LA? What are places where Google really gets it right? Or wrong?

Hmm... and: Can we tell what Google's routing criteria are based on the routes it suggests? If they have some magic routing algorithm for bicycling I most definitely want to see it. My guess is that it (1) routes on city-designated bike lanes, paths, and routes, whenever possible, and has some tolerance for routing out-of-the-way (i.e. away from the shortest distance path) to get on them. It has some trade off between hilliness and directness built in. It knows major boulevards and avoids them. What else?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

LA Bike Plan: Pretty Unambitious Compared to Tacoma, WA and Des Moines, Iowa

Oh, the rewards of reading all the way to the end of reports without disregarding their appendices and addendums. I just found this fascinating figure in Alta Planning+Design's "Seamless Travel" study. (If you're wondering, the study concerns extensive bike survey and count data collected in San Diego County, and efforts to model bicycling and walking demand based on the data). Anyway, the figure:


(You have to click to enlarge because I couldn't get a large version to display properly with the way the blog is formatted. Source is here, final report, p. AD-1).

It's painful to hear the depressing story this figure tells about where Los Angeles is and where it is going. First of all we are second to Des Moines, Iowa (?) in our ratio of bikeways to roads. And - wow - our ratio is three times smaller than San Diego's, and San Diego is not what I would consider a bike-topia.  Worst of all, of the six cities in the figure, Los Angeles has the lowest aspirations of any of them. Our planned bikeway mileage is only 9% of our total roadway mileage.

I'm not sure where the 655 mile number comes from, though I'm sure Joe Linton could answer that question immediately. As most people know, Alta Planning+Design wrote the first drafts of the LA Bike Plan, so it's possible the researchers who wrote this study just called up the Alta staff in the LA Office and asked them for a number.

In any case, the LA Planning Department has now taken over the Bike Plan and they are now touting a new number: 1,633. This number is HUGE on the cover of the Bike Plan, and the implicit message is that 1,633 is a great aspiration, one that sums up the plan's commitment to making Los Angeles a more bikeable city. Now even if we put aside the many ways in which this number inflates the Bike Plan's actual commitments, i.e. the long story regarding how many of the miles are "proposed/infeasible/whatever" and may or may not require an EIR, even if we put all that aside, this six-city comparison illustrates that the 1,633 isn't all that ambitious. If we were to update this figure to replace 655 with 1,633, we'd get a 23% roadway coverage goal, which is still lower than Portland's. But that would be inaccurate and misleading since the 1,633 includes bike paths and routes, and those aren't included in this comparison. The true coverage calculation should only include bike lanes and bike boulevards. I'll exclude the "potential/infeasible/future study" bike lanes since the plan offers up excuse after excuse not to do them. This gives 66 miles of planned bike lanes and 642 miles of bike boulevards (specious! but I'll go with it). This total 708 miles of planned on-street bikeway network corresponds to a proposed completion factor of just under 10%. Even if we include the "speculative" bike lanes we only get a coverage of 16.8%.

Let me say that plainly. Even if the new Bike Plan is passed and we consider all the Bike Boulevards and Bike Lanes as legitimate planned mileage (which no one who has been watching the planning process closely would ever do), LA has set lower bikeway mileage goals than Des Moines, Iowa or Tacoma, Washington.

Now, to be fair, I have no idea what the Bike Plans in any of these other cities look like. For all I know their Bike Plans are also filled with speculative and "infeasible" mileage. We also don't know how LA would compare in a longer list of cities.

Anyway, I think this is a thought provoking figure. I would like to see a more extensive version of this figure, comparing roadway coverage in lots of cities. How do San Francisco, Boulder, New York, or Chicago measure up in terms of proposed completion factor? This is a nice metric.

I hypothesize that the year in which the city's Bike Plan was updated would be a significant factor determining the size of a city's ratio of proposed bikeways to roads. Bike Plans seem to have gotten more and more ambitious in recent history.

Still, perhaps all the back-and-forth over the categories of bike lane mileage has obscured the larger point that relative to other cities, this plan designates a very low percentage of the roads in Los Angeles as planned bikeways.