Why motorists should stop hating bicyclists (and maybe even join us)

Tuesday 26 July 2011

As cities across the U.S. continue to expand their bicycle networks, every new project or bike lane seems to be coupled with an outcry from those choosing four wheels instead of two. Motorists complain about their loss of space and cite bicyclists as the cause of backups and delays.

It’s not our fault.

I left Brooklyn last year before I could experience the new separated bike lanes on Prospect Park West, one of many contentious projects created by the NYC Transportation Department in the past few years.  Here in Chicago, the recent installation of the city’s first protected bike lanes created its own grumblings, with one columnist declaring such bike facilities a persecution of motorists, similar to the ire thrust upon smokers.  (I’ll let you be the one to further connect the acts of smoking and driving a car.)

However, motorists who look to cyclists as the cause of traffic jams and delays should think again.  Recent research from the University of Toronto claims that “If you build it, they will come” rings true not only for baseball fields in Iowa, but for roads and freeways, too. According to economist Matthew Turner, a co-author of the study, “If you had 1 percent more roads, you had 1 percent more driving in those cities.”  Thus, it seems not to matter how many roads there are: there will always be traffic to complain about, even if all the bike lanes went away.

The “build it/use it” idea seems to hold true for bicycles, too.  Recent counts in New York City have shown that the addition of bike lanes led to a significant increase in the number of cyclists on those roadways.  People need to get around, and they will do so in the manner they feel is most efficient.

Drivers may complain about streets being repurposed to accommodate bicycles, but I ask, “What about me?”  As a tax-paying citizen, part of my money is used for the upkeep of city streets, whether I use them or not.  Like a quarter of Chicagoans and half of New York City households, I don’t own a car, so the only way I can get my money’s worth is to ride my bike on the city streets.  Car drivers are often unhappy when I take the lane, cycling along at 15 MPH (something I have every legal right to do, by the way), so bike lanes would seem to be a win-win for us all.

To be sure, there are times when a vehicle is necessary—moving apartments or transporting the lumber necessary to build a rooftop garden, for example—but car-sharing groups, such as ZipCar or the Chicago non-profit I-GO, provide inexpensive ways to make that possible.  For most of us living in most cities, travel by personal vehicle should be the anomaly, with biking, walking, and public transit the norm, not the other way around.

With more than two-thirds of American adults either overweight or obese, it’s obvious the added exercise a ride on a bicycle provides would be greatly beneficial.  The 30 minutes of daily physical activity recommended for adults can easily be obtained on one’s commute to and from work, freeing up time and money that might otherwise be spent at the gym.  Personally, if it weren’t for my time on a bike, I’d get no exercise at all.

Determining travel time on a bicycle is extremely predictable, and travel time is regularly faster than public transportation and for many trips within a city often on-pace with that of motor vehicles.  The number of times I’ve had to deal with a flat tire pale in comparison to the gridlock and unexpected delays many drivers put up with on a regular basis.

There are even some less obvious advantages.  At a birthday party a few months ago, the host received a call that some friends had hoped to attend, but after circling the neighborhood for 30 minutes, looking for parking, they had given up and gone home.  I, having traveled by bike, had no such problems.

Instead of an affront to the “rights” vehicle drivers may claim regarding a city’s asphalt, the expansion of bicycle infrastructure should instead be viewed as providing individuals greater personal freedom to make healthy, inexpensive, and convenient transportation choices and as promoting vibrant, liveable cities across the U.S.

And really, a bike lane beats a traffic jam any day.

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oh, israel, what are you up to now…

Tuesday 12 July 2011

While everyone in Washington continues to deal with this whole debt crisis thing, an interesting thing happened in Israel that could easily slip under the radar. At least for a while, as this is pretty atrocious, so hopefully news will spread and people will start to understand what’s up over there.

The article headline pretty much tells it all: Israel Bans Boycotts Against the State.

See, Palestinians have called for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel and Israeli companies by Palestinians and their international supporters.  However, this legislation makes it illegal for any Israelis or Israeli organizations to join in that movement, which aims to end the occupation and oppression of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Any proponent of peace and justice living in Tel Aviv, Haifa, or anywhere Israel feels it can impose its might.

In the U.S., we value free speech as the foundation of a democratic country, but here we have Israel, the country many claim to be the only “true” democracy we can count on in the Middle East, clearly imposing  limits on speech, in particular speech that criticizes the state, perhaps the most sacred of speech needing protection.

How much longer can the U.S. unconditionally support a country that continues to oppress such a large group of people, now adding to the tally of the oppressed the ranks of those within its borders who also want to push for the equality and freedom Palestinians deserve?  I hope not too long, but the way things are these days, I really have no idea.


fat (and getting fatter)

Monday 11 July 2011

Working for an organization that advocates for health and physical activity (in relation to transportation choices), I continually hear about the obesity epidemic.

Released last week were the latest obesity figures, which you can see (adult and child) here: F as in Fat, 2011. It’s not a pretty site, with every state having an adult population that is at least 15% obese.  In fact, every state except Colorado has an obesity rate of over 20%!

A nice (or ugly) time lapse of rates for the past 25 years can be seen here:

If this interests you further, you can find more data, including breakdowns by race and connections of obesity to diabetes here: CDC Obesity and Overweight statistics.

It appears that we don’t need to be shipped into outer space because of global warming to turn into the obese creatures found in WALL-E.

Fat People in Wall-E


why I don’t eat (most) meat

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Mark Bittman’s article, “Banned From the Barn,” details his inability to get a tour of what really goes on in factory farms, as well as the movement in some places to actually ban videos and reporters from revealing what happens in such places (luckily there’s been no success in that area… yet…)

Some video of what he or you might see if such a tour were granted:

Or, you can check out the other side of the propaganda machine, the people who don’t want you to feel bad about you next pork chop:

Or, if you prefer chickens, he’s my previous post on that issue: how to kill a chicken

If mass production and factory farm conditions are what’s required to feed the nation’s appetite for meat, perhaps we should all back off on how much meat we’re consuming (or give up altogether the factory farm stuff until they make some changes); there are plenty of other sources of protein that work just as well.


Not letting the fundamentalists win

Tuesday 5 July 2011

fundamentalism (Webster’s dictionary) n. 2: a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles

In case you hadn’t noticed, the “war on terror” is based on the idea that fundamentalism is bad.  There’s this group of people who believe a certain thing about religion or the U.S. or the west, which drives them to choose killing other people as the best way to go.  There is no room for growth or negotiation because they know what they believe and they’re right — everyone else be damned.  If maybe we could just talk to them and have some room for figuring out how we can all get along, things would be OK, but because of an unwavering belief, there’s no room to do anything but “slug it out.”

I believe this is why fundamentalism is bad.  Fundamentalists live in a world where their is no compromise, no ability to see that they might only hold part of the truth, no willingness to bend a little bit to allow for other opinions and ideas.

Isn’t the idea that more ideas are better than one, that solving problems in groups leads to greater success than individually, the reason why teamwork and cooperation are stressed in school and prioritized in job hiring?  And in order to work together, you must bring your ideas to the table but also be willing to listen to the others who are there with you and figure out the BEST option: it may not be one particular idea (in fact, it rarely is) but it is usually a combination of the input of many people that will create the best outcome.

Unfortunately, fundamentalism is at work  in DC these days (and has been for a while now), and it goes by the name “Republican.” I’m not usually into party bashing, as I think the top two we have here in the U.S. are both pretty ruined, but as the U.S. gets closer and closer to defaulting on it’s massive debt obligations (can you count to $14 trillion?), Republicans speak together with one new mantra: no new taxes.  This is not George Bush (the first) circa 1988, which perhaps would be a better state to be in, as he later went on — wait for it — to raise taxes as a way to reduce the national budget deficit. (Deficit creates debt for those playing at home.)

No, unfortunately we have a group of fundamentalist Republicans who will not waver in their belief that any increase of taxes is horrible.  They have dug in their heals and will not budge, and citizens must take notice.  We must all ask “who is being protected by this aversion to taxes?”  People with money and corporations would be the ones paying taxes, certainly not the 9+% unemployed that corporations won’t use their excess cash to employ or the millions more making minimum wage or barely enough to scrape by.  And even if you look an “middle income” (if there still exists such a descriptor) earners, event hey wouldn’t be affected as all/most suggestions of new taxes would be on very high income earners.  Were you aware that since 1960, the tax level for the top 1% of earners has dropped monumentally from about 45% to 30%?  Why not let the rich get and stay richer (I refer you to yesterday’s post).

It’s high time for everyone — everyone – to recognize the ludicrousness of a political party that will not negotiate or compromise.  David Brooks had some good words to say in Tuesday’s NYTimes that I think bear sharing:

“… the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative. The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise …

“The struggles of the next few weeks are about what sort of party the G.O.P. is — a normal conservative party or an odd protest movement that has separated itself from normal governance, the normal rules of evidence and the ancient habits of our nation.

“If the debt ceiling talks fail, independents voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. If responsible Republicans don’t take control, independents will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused this default. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern.”

A group that cannot and will not compromise is not fit to govern in a democracy, plain and simple.  We’ll see if the Republicans ever get the picture.  If not, I sure hope the voters do.


American American

Monday 4 July 2011

It’s July 4, y’all, the day we celebrate the creation of these (wonderful) United States of American in 1776 with the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, and I’m back blogging with a vengeance!

I’m not going to pretend the U.S. doesn’t have some pretty great things going for it; if you check out the kind of overt oppression happening the last few months in Libya, Syria, and Yemen, I think all of us citizens of the U S of A can all be thankful to live where we do.

But, if you know me or have read my blog in the past, you know I like to get critical.  And I figure what better day than this one, a day we think with inflated egos just how great and awesome we are, to look a little deeper at some of the ways I think we’re getting it wrong:

Economic Disparity: If you ask me, this is from where all the problems stem. We’re a country where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and with a system where those with money are in power or paying to get their friends into power (see below), the cycle will continue. A few infographics (Inequality, Stupid; 15 Facts) and this amazing article, “Who Rules America,” tell the story pretty well, but the basic idea is that the top 1% of Americans has as much money and wealth as the bottom 90%, a group that itself is fairly stratified. Thus, the $1 you and I might spend on a meal means Oprah gets to spend $90. Does that seem right to you?

“Free” Speech: In the past few years, the Supreme Court has basically determined that the right to free speech means the right to as much speech as you’re willing and able to pay for. This means that should I run for office, I can choose to forgo getting in bed with corporations and wealthy individuals and stay true to my ideals, but if someone else is well-financed, they can pretty much drown out me and my voice. Basically, free speech doesn’t mean equal amounts of speech, and in this game, if you have money, you win and get to make the rules that help you get more money, though this has been true for awhile, it’s just become even moreso as of late.

Health Care: I’m guessing I don’t have to inform you that we still don’t have universal health care.  Yes, there was a bill passed that requires everyone to purchase health care, I’m aware, but universal health care this is not.  Instead, what this does is create an even a larger pool of participants for private insurance companies to reap more money and profits from the estimated 50+ million without insurance.  And with Medicare and Medicaid on the ropes, those who would lose such benefits would now also be required to “buy” insurance, again putting money in the hands of private companies.  Why is health care not something we feel is a human right, afforded to everyone, like a high school education?

Education: While we’re on the topic of universal rights, can we discuss the horrific state of the education system of this country?  In Chicago, the high school graduation rate in 2010 was only 56% (an improvement from 1999’s 47%, but still a travesty).  Big cities across the country have similar stories.  A lot of this, again, comes back to money.  With all the states of which I’m aware using property taxes to fund education, this means more money is spent on education in wealthy areas than poor areas.  And if you have money and don’t like your school system, you either move or simply send your kids to a private school.  If we truly valued education the way we give it lip service, we’d fund it as such.

Competitive Eating: If anything is representative of the excess that has become this country, it’s the event held on Coney Island each July 4: Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.  This year’s winner, Joey Chestnut, ate 62 hot dogs in 10 minutes (and of course the 20 or so other contestants ate a lot, too).  Yet there are still families heading to soup kitchens and food pantries because they have nothing to eat.  What drives something like this?  Well, this year’s event was (again) broadcast live on ESPN, with Pepto-Bismol as a top sponsor.  I’m going to guess advertising money.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. I don’t have time today to write about issues of housing, transportation, Social Security, unemployment, prisons and criminal (in)justice, war and foreign policy, and many others — I want to enjoy my day off, too!

But as we celebrate today and in days to come, let’s not be complacent with the current ways of our country. We still live in a democracy, which means power to the people if we choose to claim it.

I leave you with a great op-art piece with a humorous look at our nation’s not-always-so-pleasant-looking history: Like It or Unfriend It

(The title of this blog post is meant to be read as an adjective followed by a noun.  The second “American,” the noun, is meant to signify that I, being someone living in the U.S., would colloquially be called an American.  In the first word, the adjective, I am affirming my belief that to act in an American way is to challenge the status quo and to work to make  a better country for everyone — EVERYONE — and that’s what I believe I try to do, and hopefully this blog is just one such example.)

(Oh, and why not a throwback to a post I wrote in September 2007, too: economic oppression)