NATO Transportation issues? Get a bike!

Friday 18 May 2012

In case you’ve been living under a rock (or don’t live in Chicago and don’t follow world events), NATO weekend is here! Thousands of people—be they dignitaries, VIPs, security, press, protestors, and tourists who didn’t do their homework—will be descending on Chicago this weekend for the big event, and many Chicago residents are scared shitless.

It will certainly not be “business as usual” for the city, but who says that’s a bad thing? Many of the people I know who work downtown have told me their offices are closed on Monday (some were even closed Friday) or that they’re choosing to work remotely so they won’t have to “deal with the hassle.” There were some pop-up protests and marches downtown during the week and may be some Saturday and Monday, but the big protest march is scheduled for Sunday afternoon, so I’m not sure exactly what “hassle” people are talking about.

Actually, I do know what they’re talking about. They’re talking about the transportation nightmares that everyone is dreaming about. People trying to get around by car on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday will certainly be challenged, especially near downtown and the south side. All Metra riders (though in particular those traveling under McCormick place) have some big issues to deal with, as Metra decided to severely restrict what you can and cannot have with you these next three days (liquids, bikes, briefcases), not only on trains passing under McCormick Place but across the whole system. And there’s also the Lakefront Trail being closed in certain areas and buses scheduled to be rerouted all or a portion of the “three-day weekend.”

As I write this blog post, I should be at a meeting, but I’m not because it was cancelled—cancelled on account of the perceived traffic problems brought about by NATO. I figured  Friday night, before any of the big closures were even scheduled to take effect, cancelling our event was overkill. The e-mail told me to treat NATO “as a major weather storm—it’s advisable for everyone to stay home.”

No thank you.

This is the kind of hysteria that happens because we live in a car-centric culture. As someone who gets around mostly by bike (and when not bike via bus, train, and foot), I don’t see what the big deal is. I don’t care about rolling closures on the expressway because of motorcades shutting down some traffic. When thoughts of NATO challenges came up in Monday e-mail, I responded to the group, suggesting people think about taking public transportation, with responses basically proclaiming, “I never thought of that!” or “What a novel idea!”

I’ve been warned to stay away from the Lakefront Trail for a few days, and CTA trains are going to be running as usual, though with possible random delays likely (though, it must be said, this is also business as usual). One bit of advice from a Chicago Tribune article was simply that “people should be extremely flexible about their travel plans.” But shouldn’t that always be the case? However, I think the problem is that car users don’t see their transportation that way, while that those of us who rely on bikes, buses, and trains for our transportation needs recognize the need to be flexible on a regular basis.

So my advice to anyone worried about the transportation issues brought about by the NATO summit: pull your bike out of the garage or jump on the bus and train and join those of us who always leave the car behind; maybe you’ll realize that it’s not so bad after all.

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.

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)

Nothing like a productive day job

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Hey everyone!

So, were you unaware that for 8 straight weekends I was in Chicago, taking part in a performance workshop/class with the wonderful Neo-Futurists?  The class was an intro to their famous show, Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind, and it culminated with a class performance on 28 February 2010, attended by family, friends, and possibly enemies of class members and instructors.  I know a few of my blog readers were able to attend, but in case you weren’t (and didn’t get a preview performance), one of the plays I wrote and performed, and you can check it out on YouTube!  It’s entitled “Nothing like a productive day job,” and it’s about my thoughts and struggles with unemployment and the job search.

Watch Nothing like a productive day job on YouTube
(I’m giving you the link to click instead of putting it here so you can leave comments on the page.)  Please share this with everyone you think might enjoy it, especially those who are out there like me, looking for work.  We are not alone!

As a class, we performed 20 plays in 40 minutes, using the TMLMTBGB model (the normal show is 30 in 60), and there are 4 other plays you can view on YouTube:
How I Remember the Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy
Priority Lapse
21st Century Love Story

The other play I got in the show was titled “1984. 2010. Whenever.”  I plan on posting that script in an upcoming blog post.

And in case my play makes you depressed, just know that my job search continues in earnest, and I remain positive about it all.  I had an interview Tuesday that seeminly went well, though I won’t know for a couple weeks, and I continue to write and send out cover letters as much as I can motivate myself to.  Good Luck to me!

OK, so if you’re too lazy to click on the link, you can watch it here (though I’m not sure it gets counted on YouTube, another reason to click here instead).

You can leave your comments below, too!

unemployment and bad places to live

Friday 19 February 2010

Continuing the website/article suggestions, a few quick ones about the economy.

First, a great, short multimedia presentation simply showing a county by county visual picture of unemployment numbers growing since the start of 2007.  It’s pretty eerie how the country gets darker and darker (representing higher unemployment) as the recession begins and continues.  And we’re supposed to have at least two more years of these high unemployment numbers?  Good luck!  The Decline: The Geography of a Recession

Second, Forbes magazine does a lot of “lists,” and I came across this one detailing America’s 20 Most Miserable Cities.  Of note, 5 of the top 20 are Northern Ohio cities (Cleveland, Canton, Akron, Toledo, and Youngstown), with another 5 coming along the same line in northern Illinois and Indiana (Chicago, Rockford, and Gary) and southern Michigan (Detroit and Flint).  Apparently the area between Iowa’s Quad Cities and Pittsburgh, PA is not a good place to live (even if I’ve enjoyed the approximately 23 of my 28 years living there)!