Readings on Winter, Snow, Getting Stuck, and the Importance of Options

Readings on Winter, Snow, Getting Stuck, and the Importance of Options

For those of you who are following the three whole posts I’ve written since November and for those who have commented even when things seem dead on this side of things, thank you! I’m still getting back into the swing of things since the move.

Today I’d like to recommend some links that I’ve enjoyed recently for your reading pleasure or dinner party banter preparation.

Readings on Winter, Snow, Getting Stuck, and the Importance of Options

I really enjoyed Erik Weber’s piece yesterday in Greater Greater Washington about the different realities of a crippling snowstorm when you depend on a car to get to the suburbs (you get stuck, sometimes up to 13 hours as happened to many in the DC area) or you live in the city where you have the options of car, bus, train, bike, walking, and in some cases, even skiing to get around.

This excerpt is long but I think important and fits in quite well with topics I have addressed all over this blog: that dependence on cars — or any one type of transportation — is extremely limiting. What we need here in the U.S. and everywhere is the ability and availability for people to choose how they want to get around and be able to do that safely.

Cars give people mobility. But what’s more important is accessibility. Sometimes these are the same: if I live 10 miles from a grocery, and I own a car, I have access to the grocery.

But if my car breaks down, it snows a foot and a half, or I’m suddenly unable to drive for another reason, I no longer have access to that grocery. Because I’ve relied on a single means of mobility, when it is no longer available, both my mobility and accessibility are severely diminished.

Many people often argue that smart growth proponents (like me) are trying to force people of their cars in favor of biking, walking and transit. But, to me, growing smarter really is just providing more legitimate options. I don’t necessarily want to live in a place where you can’t have a car. Nor do I want to force other people to do so.

I do, though, want to live in a place where you don’t need a car, a place where, when driving is no longer an option, we are not imprisoned by our built environment.

Me too. What about you? Has snow made getting around harder? What’s your experience?

On transit

This is a link that I’ve been meaning to draw attention to for awhile.

This is a post from August that was recommended by a reader from a blog called “A Midwest Story.” It’s an analysis of public transportation perception in the U.S. and abroad, there are three posts before this one that address different facets of public transportation.

The American perspective:

The fact that American riders are poorer indicates that in U.S. public transportation services are focused on people that are unable to drive a car – because they cannot afford one or because they are to young or to poor. Now, if we eliminate the riders under 18, and we consider the  the other market segments – the poor and the disabled – in correlation with American culture , the conclusion is striking. In the U.S. public transit is considered by the public as well as their representatives as an alternative for the society’s destitute no different than public assistance services such as welfare and food stamps.

And the German perspective:

Unlike their American counterparts, Germans are more likely to use public transit indifferent of income or car ownership and, to a much larger extent, as a viable alternative for commuters. The way that politicians and their constituents regard public transportation is also different. At the local level, it is an alternative which lowers congestion in urban area and the  pollution damage to historical buildings. At the state and federal level it is a green, sustainable alternative. And for riders it is, beyond being the  only option for the poor and disabled, a comfortable alternative to spending empty hours commuting by car

What do you think?

On Fear

Check out Elly Blue’s post on Grist on fear and bicycles.

Many people don’t bike out of fear — with the most significant terrifying factor, of course, being cars. As many as 60 percent of people in U.S. cities would like to ride a bicycle if it weren’t for traffic-related concerns.


Bicycling […] is astoundingly, incontrovertibly good for you. A 2009 review of the scientific literature found that the slight increase in risk from bicycle crashes is more than offset by the vast improvements in overall health and lifespan when you ride a bicycle for transportation. In fact, the health benefits of bicycling are nine times greater than the safety gains from driving instead.


The real thing that’s killing us is that we continue to create places that impose barriers to actually being able to move your body. High-speed streets without sidewalks or crossings. Walkable neighborhoods where there is literally nowhere to go. Gyms accessible primarily by car.

Suggested Reading by Bike Pittsburgh

Some things I’m reading at work:

The Post-Gazette continues blaming pedestrians for the increase in pedestrian fatalities, but is this just more of the same “windshield perspective?”

Is bike-sharing a possibility in Pittsburgh?

Want to see some of the steepest streets in the world? Check out Rick Sebak’s video of the annual Pittsburgh bike race, the Dirty Dozen.

Grist goes over the six reasons free parking is the dumbest thing you’re subsidizing and StreetsBlog shows how European parking policies are leaving the US behind.

Sec. of Transportation Ray LaHood touts how bike infrastructure creates more direct jobs, more indirect jobs, and more induced jobs per dollar than either road upgrades or road resurfacing with national bike advocates

New Year, New Plans, New Un-inventions, New Everything

New Year, New Plans, New Un-inventions, New Everything

Part I: The Greeting and Re-introduction!


It’s me, Lolly, your friendly neighborhood bicycle advocate!


Photo taken by the lovely Elly Blue


I’ve been away for quite a long time. I hope you’re well. I am doing quite well myself. Something about November and December makes it absolutely impossible for me to interest myself in writing on my blog. I avoided it in 2009 and mostly in 2010 as well.

I’m back now and there are a number of wonderful things I would like to share with you in the coming weeks and months.

Part II: Direction and Plans: Un-invent and Write Away!

Photo of wasted human effort and mind-wrecking sounds by Flickr user hectorir

There are also some things that are less wonderful I might touch on as well.

Such as the electric leaf-blower.

I hate hate hate these abominations (too strong? NO!) and if I could, I would un-invent the leaf-blower. There are some other things I would like to un-invent in order to enhance the human experience and I will occasionally focus with much vigor (and maybe even some vim) on these topics as they occur to me, when I am by a computer.

What else?

Tiny picture of the issue in which I wrote about Washington, DC back in my youth

This year, I’ll be starting a short column in the spectacular magazine Momentum which is a magazine by and for people who use bikes for almost anything but sport! If you haven’t seen it, you should check it out. It’s one of only two magazines that I wait by the mailbox to receive and then read cover to cover.

I’ll be writing with very very active and eloquent Elly Blue, photographer of above photo, author of the popular “How We Roll” column on Grist, general bicycle activist and entrepreneur, and my “advocacy pen pal.” I’m excited to see what comes of it!

Part III: Questions and Resolutions

How are you doing? Did you have a good new year? Any exciting plans or projects coming up?

I’ve made some rather strange and grueling resolutions which I’ve already told about 1.3 million people about but I’m loathe to say on the internet… lest it make it too hard to give up! But I’m considering it for the social pressure possible in the internet tubes and because I feel so great that I think I can’t keep it a secret.

Stay tuned, next week for the potential resolution-reveal, or at the very least, my review of Capital Bikeshare from Washington, DC. Here’s a sneak peak of me getting ready to ride from Chinatown to Adams Morgan.

Photo taken by Kurt Steiner, an outstanding transportation planner in Boston





New Bike Lanes in Pittsburgh This Week

New Bike Lanes in Pittsburgh This Week

How about it, Mayor Ravenstahl?

Wouldn’t it be lovely to provide safe transportation options for all road users?

Wouldn’t it be nice to have safer bicycle facilities as we rapidly lose public transportation?

Please, sir, could we have some bike lanes?

This is a good time to emulate Washington, DC’s innovations. Photo by James D. Schwartz

According to officials in the city government, Pittsburghers are set to have TWELVE new miles of bike lanes laid on city streets by the end of painting season which is rapidly approaching!

“There are about five miles that are ready to go, with another seven miles that are in design and are expected to be installed by the end of the painting season, according to Stephen Patchan, the City’s Bike/Ped Coordinator.”

“In the current recession, money is tight for both people and cities.  Making it easy and safe for people to transport themselves using the least amount of taxpayer support should be prioritized.  The amount of money it takes to provide infrastructure for bicycles is dirt-cheap compared to providing infrastructure for cars.”

For more information on “How a Bike Lane is Born” in Pittsburgh, check out this excellent post from Bike Pittsburgh.

Hey, Get Off My Road, Free-loader!

If you think bicyclists using the roads are coasting along using the roads that drivers single-handedly pay for … you’re wrong. Check out this through breakdown on the cost comparison between those who only drive, those who drive and bike, and those who only bike.

And next time, thank a bike rider for subsidizing car parking, for paying for the roads, for being “one less car” contributing to the morning or evening rush, for not ruining the air quality we all share, and for reducing their own demands on our fragile health care system.

According to the recently published article by Elly Blue: The average driver travels 10,000 miles in town each year and contributes $324 in taxes and direct fees. The cost to the public, including direct costs and externalities, is a whopping $3,360.

On the opposite pole, someone who exclusively bikes may go 3,000 miles in a year, contribute $300 annually in taxes, and costs the public only $36, making for a profit of $264. To balance the road budget, we need 12 people commuting by bicycle for each person who commutes by car.

Leftist Lady Turns Fiscal Conservative: You Can’t Buy A Stadium If You’re Broke

Leftist Lady Turns Fiscal Conservative: You Can’t Buy A Stadium If You’re Broke

And you can’t cut essential government services to buy something you can’t afford.

And you’re broke if you can’t afford basic services.

And you’re bankrupt if you think that cutting social services for the most vulnerable is acceptable ever, and even more so to buy a stadium for a professional sports team.

But that’s what happened in Washington, DC.

The city bought a home for the billionaire owners of the Nationals (who then refused to pay rent), spending at least $611,000,000 of public money on the stadium. This despite the fact that Theodore Lerner, the managing principal owner of the Washington Nationals has an estimated net worth of $3 billion. (Washington Business Journal/Forbes).

What now? The city’s broke. After buying a stadium for one of the world’s wealthiest men, the residents of Washington, DC are now missing half a billion dollars necessary to operate the city.

The City Council recently refused to raise taxes on those making $350,000 by by less than 1/2% (from 8.5% to 8.9%), electing to keep pulling from those who have little political power to resist.

According to the Examiner, “opponents of the tax increase said it would lead to the 4,000 residents who would be hit with the tax to simply change their primary residences to their second homes in more tax-friendly states.” My former boss Andy Shallal wrote a poignant letter to the Washington Post stating while he wouldn’t be leaving and supports this tax even though he will have to pay it.

This entire article on government funding of stadiums from the Cato Institute is surprisingly worth reading in its entirety:

Stadium advocates have been amazingly successful in taking from the poor and giving to the rich. Raymond Keating, chief economist for the Small Business Survival Committee, estimates that government has poured more than $20 billion (in current dollars) into sports ventures in recent decades.

Yet such facilities once were and continue to be built privately. The only reason more franchise owners decline to construct their own stadiums is because taxpayers so often relieve them of the need to do so.

But there’s no reason to sacrifice the interest of taxpayers to that of sports fans. Stadiums are not a good financial investment. Public finance experts Roger Noll and Andrew Zimbalist concluded: “no recent facility appears to have earned anything approaching a reasonable return on investment and no recent facility has been self-financing in terms of its impact on net tax revenues.”

Don’t let this happen in your city!: Ten Things You Can Do.

  1. Get informed.
  2. Talk to other people: tell friends, family, neighbors, everyone you meet. Tell everyone.
  3. Pay attention to government spending in your city, state, and government, and hold your representatives accountable.
  4. Call the offices of your representatives when important votes are coming.
  5. Meet like-minded people in your town, working together is more effective than working alone.
  6. Write letters to the editor.
  7. Write an article.
  8. Organize a demonstration at City Hall.
  9. Connect the dots: poor funding decisions are not isolated. Public money spent on private projects benefits few at the expense of many.
  10. Make it personal: what happens to the people whose homes and businesses are displaced?
SUV Driver and Kids Attack Bikes in Separate Incidents

SUV Driver and Kids Attack Bikes in Separate Incidents

It’s hot and bike violence is back on.

Last Sunday a friend of mine was assaulted on the East Liberty bike lanes by some young kids. I’ve written about this type of thing before (“Kid on Bike Violence Demands Community Solutions”) and it seems to be the same situation that baffles people every year, around the country. The question is always there:

What do we do? And I want to know: what do you do? Let’s learn from each other. What can we do to eradicate this mob violence?

It’s not just kids taunting and endangering kids. The other day I witnessed a driver in a massive truck-SUV combo blitz through a no-turn on red chasing after a kid on a bike. It became a two-cop response to the confrontation which blocked a major street. The driver of the truck and his wife screamed that they were TRYING TO RUN DOWN the kid on the bike to show him that you can’t blow through stoplights.

And I agree, you shouldn’t blow through lights if you want to be treated as a legitimate road user. I saw the kid on the bicycle blow past me when I was waiting at the light and it annoyed me, too. I’m trying to ride carefully and many people on bikes flagrantly and dangerously disregard the laws which makes all cyclists law-breakers in the eyes of many drivers. But the answer isn’t to run him down to prove that.

The elderly father of the rage-filled driver leaned out of the SUV and rapped the young biker with his cane and continued the verbal barrage. The cops had to restrain the driver to stop him from attacking the kid.
What makes people act like this? What motivates this crazed anger? Certainly much of it stems from other sources and bicycles are simply vulnerable, easy targets to lash out against.

We as bike riders do need to be more responsible, certainly. But how do we reach out to other road users for a useful dialogue?

URGENT: Budget Action Needed NOW!

URGENT: Budget Action Needed NOW!

If you’re a DC resident, please take a few minutes to call your Councilmember before they approve a budget that slashes funding for already meager social service programs! The following is from the Save Our Safety Net Campaign in DC.

The Solution

The city needs more revenue to be able to invest in an economic recovery that includes everyone. Let’s ask City Council to ensure that a fair share is paid by those who suffer least during the recession.

The top tax bracket in DC currently starts at $40,001. (That means everyone making more than that pays the same tax rate.) The city could raise approximately $50 million in revenue by creating additional tax brackets: 9% for DC residents earning more than $200,000 (a .5% increase), and 9.4% for those earning more than $1,000,000 (a .9% increase). Together, these increases would affect less than 5% of our population — but they would enable the city to protect safety net programs that keep our communities safe and strong.


Excerpt from an email from Save Our Safety Net:

Dear friends –

City Council is deliberating on the budget now, and things are not looking good. This is an urgent S.O.S. to all of our supporters: today is the day!
There are still tens of millions of dollars of cuts on the table for programs like disability assistance, homeless shelters, job training and more. We need you to tell City Council to change course.

The best thing is for you to call their office right now. If you can make two calls, reach out to Michael Brown and your Ward Councilmember — tell them to stand up and stay strong in support of progressive tax increases to save our safety net! (Use this tool to figure out which ward you’re in.)
Click below for phone numbers and additional information.
Nine Years as a Car-free Lady!

Nine Years as a Car-free Lady!

Today is my nine year anniversary of living without a car!

When I graduated from college, I just didn’t want to spend my money on a car. I wanted to buy new shoes and eat at a million new restaurants! So I moved to Chicago where I could take the bus or train anywhere I wanted day or night, close to my house.

And when I left Chicago, I moved to Washington, DC. I lived in five different neighborhoods: H Street NE, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, and Brookland.

While I was never more than a few steps away from a bus or train, I could walk to plenty of places as well. Numerous grocery stores, farmers markets, ethnic markets, restaurants, bars, parks were easily walkable for many parts of DC. (And many that have far fewer resources of course).

Owning a car seemed like a waste of money and time. Most of the people I saw in cars were sitting in traffic. Not many looked like they were enjoying themselves.

And they were paying money do to it.

I took the bus and train in DC for several years before I decided to save some dollars, make my own schedule and start riding a bicycle.

I had no idea how much I would love it!

After a few months I found a bicycle that I could afford, I liked, and that fit me. I’m kind of short!

Me and a sunflower I grew at my house in DC last year.

(PS: I didn’t  have a camera for several years so I am lacking in some photographic evidence, but if you’d like to see some more pictures of my garden, go here!)

I would have started riding a bike all the time, every day and night, had I known how much more free I felt!

I bought my first bike for $300 after years of not really riding and within the first week I rode 80 miles. I’ve never raced or competed or considered it. I use my bicycle to get around and I spend almost no money on transportation, PLUS I get in shape!

Everyone does push-ups at their going away party, right?

And though this might be a bit late…

If you’ve ever considered biking for transportation, tomorrow is a great day to start.

It’s National Bike to Work Day! Events, group rides, and free food are happening all over the country. Check your local bike advocacy organization for information!

Pittsburgh’s Bike to Work Day coincides with the first of a series of Carfree Fridays happening around the city for the summer.

Parking in San Francisco, Planning in DC, Walking Everywhere

Parking in San Francisco, Planning in DC, Walking Everywhere

There has been quite a bit of buzz over San Francisco’s parking census and future smart parking plan. I wrote about it here (“Golden Gate Parking Lot: San Francisco Conducts First Ever Parking Census“) a few weeks ago concluding that it’s great to know how much parking is available but the goal and the outcome of making parking easier is misguided and short-sighted.

The other day I wrote about it in greater detail for my column in Next American City. It’s generated an interesting discussion with a little bit of frantic windshield panic thrown in from a resident in DC who seems to think that pro-people measures that make streets safer for pedestrians and bikers are “anti-car” and anti-poor.

I’m not anti-car, but I am against the financial, social, and environmental burden they place on individuals, cities, and the world.

Freeway Jail

I’m for people, not for modes of transportation. I want to make our cities healthier, safer, cleaner, more efficient, and more affordable for all.

I want to create better cities for the person who travels by foot and so becomes a “pedestrian”.

I want to create better cities for the person who travels by bicycle, not for their bicycle.

I want to create better cities for the person who travels by public transportation, not for their bus or train.

And lastly, I want to create better cities for the person who drives a car, not for their car.

I want to make better places for all of these people, not their mode of transportation.  Moving people by foot, bike, and public transportation are the most efficient ways to provide mobility for all in terms of space and cost as well as causing far less pollution and sprawl than creating a world where each person drives an individual car.

That is why I support infrastructure that makes walking safe for everyone from the very young to the very old, infrastructure that makes biking safe for the very young and the very old, and accessible and affordable public transportation for all.

Mobility is a human right, free parking is not.

Pittsburgh Ranked 28th Most Bicycle Friendly City

Pittsburgh Ranked 28th Most Bicycle Friendly City

Bicycling magazine has released their rating of the 50 most bicycle friendly cities (with a population of at least 100,000) in the country.

The magazine considered these factors in the ranking:

  • segregated bike lanes
  • municipal bike racks
  • bike boulevards
  • having the ear of the local government
  • a vibrant and diverse bike culture
  • smart, savvy bike shops

Minneapolis edged out Portland (#2) and won most bicycle friendly city.

Pittsburgh, home to me and the steepest street in America, was ranked number 28.

Washington, DC, where I cut my teeth on a bicycle, was ranked number 13. I wrote about DC biking culture and infrastructure for Momentum magazine last year, but even in a year, a lot of dramatic improvements have been made.

When I was researching the story for Momentum, I organized a happy hour to get the feel of what average riders and advocates wanted to see changed to make the city better. The top four recommendations kept surfacing again and again:

  1. Impose a congestion/commuter tax on those who drive into the city from Virginia and Maryland. Since the population of Washington nearly doubles to a million during the work week, it is logical that those drivers who benefit from our roads ought to pay for them.
  2. Install cycle tracks (bike lanes) on all arterials and on all future construction.
  3. Initiate a widespread education campaign about the rules of the road, sharing, and how to be both a safe driver and rider; delivered through PSAs, driver education programs and public schools
  4. Complete the trails that are unfinished, repair those in disrepair, and begin construction on all others.

What elements do you consider important in your decision to ride, or to not ride, your bike?

Free Public Transportation Discussion on Kojo Nnamadi Show NOW!

Free Public Transportation Discussion on Kojo Nnamadi Show NOW!

Excellent discussion on the Kojo Nnamdi show on WAMU, Washington, DC’s NPR station. Listen now on 88.5 in DC or check it out online.

Guests include my favorite DOT official in the country: Janette Sadik-Khan of NYC.

One caller mentioned the fare free zones in Portland: is this possible elsewhere?

Is it possible to make transportation a public resource?

Can we contribute towards public transportation together, lowering the costs for everyone?