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Showing posts from June, 2010

BRT and Bikes

I've writtencritically about Cleveland's BRT, the Healthline, severaltimes in the past. My criticism still stands - there are things about BRT that simply make it worse than rail transit. However, there is one thing about the Healthline corridor that I'd been taking advantage my last year in Cleveland that deserves to be recognized.

(from Flickr user jeffschuler)

Even though my bike commute to work was 8 miles, it was a very easy 8 miles. The first half of the trip was through Cleveland Heights, were I was able to ride on secondary residential streets where there was very little traffic. The second half of the trip was down Euclid Avenue, where I took advantage of the vastly underutilized bicycle lanes.

During this 8 mile commute, I never had to maneuver around a bus.

This is the result of several factors. The first is that I was able to use secondary residential streets in Cleveland Heights. Unfortunately, such streets don't exist in many suburbs, because they are often o…

Elevated Green Space

New York Magazine has a preview of the second phase of the High Line set to open in about a year. As an urbanist, the idea behind the High Line perplexes me. I walked the linear park when I was in New York in April and felt entirely underwhelmed.

(from Flickr user wallyg)

Perhaps the number one thing that I love about Manhattan is how completely walkable the city is. I'm yet to visit a city where a pedestrian can walk for mile-long stretches and feel safe, comfortable and among interesting surroundings. The concept of climbing a set of stairs, walking next to fake railroad tracks and shrubs, and then climbing down somewhere along the stretch is not particularly appealing to me.

Yes, this is a green space that exists in a city that is so dense that green space has become a hot commodity; but my experience is nothing like that of Central Park or even a small neighborhood park. High Line is a linear park, so there are no ball fields or basketball courts, you can't ride a bike up the…

Thoughts on Silverdocs

I love film festivals, so when I heard about Silverdocs, the documentary exclusive film festival in Silver Spring, Maryland, I got pretty excited. I made the trek from Virginia to Maryland last Friday night, and even though only had the opportunity to see two films, both were very good.

(from Flickr user Kevin H.)

This puts my experience from the Cleveland International Film Festival into perspective.

There was really a lot of excitement and buzz surrounding CIFF that I simply didn’t feel with Silverdocs. Maybe it’s because Silverdocs was out in Maryland rather than in the city; maybe it’s because it played at a theater with only three screens; maybe it’s because there’s so much stuff going on in DC that a film festival doesn’t dominate the local culture for its entire duration – I honestly do not know.

Both films I attended were on standby when I checked on Friday morning, but both screenings had empty seats. I seriously question if it makes sense for film festivals to hold so many ticke…

Crime and Punishment

This distributing article appeared a few days ago and Streetsblog highlighted it last week. I copy and pasted the article here, making a few minor changes. My changes appear in red.
An 18-year-old Chicago man pleaded guilty today to aggravated battery with a deadly weapon for intentionally stabbing a random man in Brookfield in 2009 while drunk shortly after his friend allegedly stabbed another random man. Cook County Judge Carol Kipperman sentenced Armando Reza to 10 days in the county jail followed by two years of intensive probation that will require treatment for alcohol abuse and a strict curfew.Assistant State's Attorney Mike Pattarozzi said had the case gone to trial, the evidence would have shown that about 6:30 a.m. on May 31, 2009, Reza and a friend, Erik Fabian, 20, of Chicago, were in Brookfield wielding a large butcher knife.
Fabian was allegedly wielding first and purposely stabbed one man before they stopped and exchanged the knife so Reza could take a turn. A…

On Being Cheap

There's a a great episode in Seinfeld where Elaine describes George as "very careful with money" as a polite way of calling him cheap. This greatly offends George. There's still a social stigma to being cheap, but there shouldn't be.

(from Flickr user zingersb)

It ultimately boils down to this dilemma: you should typically spend no more money than what you have, but if you don't earn a lot of money, what do you do?

If you don't earn a lot of money, there are more-or-less two roads you can follow.

Road #1: be careful how you spend money, scope out deals, buy everything on sale, use coupons, buy stuff used, don't buy things you don't need, etc. In other word: be cheap.
Road #2: run up debt.

The other day someone told me that cheap people aren't any fun. The reason: sometimes people want to go out on a Saturday night and have a fancy dinner or throw a credit card at the bartender and not worry about it. Cheap people aren't likely to go for somethin…

Distracted Driving is not Hilarious

Straight Outta Suburbia has a great post about how backward the thinking has gotten toward parking and traffic violations in America: Remember applying for jobs? There's often a question about criminal history that will read something like "have you ever been convicted of a crime except for a minor traffic violation?" I've decided I really hate the premise of this question. What is a "minor" traffic violation? I've got a new premise. If you're in traffic, there are no minor violations. Motor vehicles have the power to maim and kill. Accordingly, we should have a humorless attitude about the safety laws that apply to them.On the topic of safety and humor. It's been an interesting week regarding traffic safety. First we got this Pew report which shows that adults text while driving at a rate higher than you'd expect. Then on Monday the front page of USA Today published a chart (no permalink available) that shows 'activities people have do…

Broken Products, Broken Brands

I've read two interesting pieces lately about coffee, beer, and the struggling brands behind them. The first is this post from Doc Searls on Starbucks' announcement to offer free wifi at all of its stores (in case, like me, you haven't been in a Starbucks recently, apparently they still do not offer free wifi). The second is Eric Felten's article in the Wall Street Journal about how light beer sales have been sluggish lately, even despite the recession, which theoretically should boost sales of such products.

(from Flickr user Man in a bowler hat (Epzibah)...)

What both of these situations have in common is that the products are broken. Starbucks coffee is not good; light beer is not good. Yes, many people do and will continue to buy both of these things, but just enough people have stopped buying them that the balance is being tipped in the opposite direction. So even if you write these people off as snobs who are being haughty, losing them as customers is really hurtin…

On the Oil Spill

I haven't really commented on the oil spill yet. I have a few thoughts, so I'll try to keep this post to-the-point.

(from Flickr user iampeas)

First, I keep hearing and reading statistics about how much oil is floating out in the Gulf. One of the more interesting numbers is that amount of oil in the Gulf is so great that it could power the entire U.S. for a few hours. A few hours? To me that says more about the insane amount of energy we consume on a daily basis than it does about the amount of oil that's been spilled.

Second, the fact that the oil spill has not really been reflected in the world market price for the commodity shows just how insignificant the spilled oil is having on global supply levels. This is important because it suggests how fragile the whole system is. Only a tiny fraction of the overall amount of consumed oil can have devastating economic and environmental consequences if something goes wrong.

Third, I've been hearing about people boycotting BP gaso…

Obsessed with Speed

I love how walkable and bikable my new home is; but I've got to admit that I'm still not entirely used to seeing so many other cyclists and pedestrians on my trips around town.

As I’ve noted before, I’m still pretty much an amateur when it comes to bicycling. I ride the used bike I bought five years ago (though I have replaced most of the components), I don’t own a single piece of spandex, a jersey, and I don’t ride particularly fast. Occasionally I’ll pass another rider who is poking along, but usually I’m the one being left in the dust.

(from Flickr user Vincent J. Brown)

I don’t ride outrageously slow – I usually average 12-14 mph on flat terrain. My ride to work is at an average speed of about 10 mph, but that’s including a slew of red lights that I stop for.

When I bike to work in the morning, I’m not trying to get a rigorous workout. I don’t feel like I need to go 25 mph and race to the office as fast as possible. I’m not entirely sure why other riders feel the need to.

The w…

Saturday Satire

This video has already gone viral, but if you haven't yet seen it - please take 3 minutes out of your day to do so. The folks at UCB Comedy have made a fantastic satire depicting a coffee spill at BP headquarters.

For what it's worth, I think UCB is one of the best comedy groups around. Seeing a live improv performance during my recent trip to New York City was one of the highlights of the weekend. If I lived in the city, I would seriously go to their shows all the time.

Oh, and more on the oil spill soon...

Identity Crisis

One of the best things I learned during college (or at least during the internships I did during college) was not to become a generalist. A much better strategy is to find something you can do best and specialize in it. If it works for people, it ought to work for businesses.. and yet, since moving to Arlington, I've found more places than I expected that apparently act as "jack of all trades, master of none".

There are coffee shops that also want to be gourmet restaurants and upscale bars. There are restaurants that try to be brunch-mecas on Saturday morning and the hottest dance club by Saturday night. There are bars that come across as laid-back places to watch sports during happy hour and attempt to transition into upscale lounges after sundown.

I feel like many of these places are mediocre at the few things they do and great at none of them.

(from Flickr user wallyg)

If I ever own a coffee shop or a restaurant or a bar, I want my business to be known as the best place i…

Lock Up Your Bike

This is from last year, but it's still a great video worth watching (similar videos can be seen here and here).

It's good to know these things, but it's also sad to realize how easily someone can take something that doesn't belong to them. Ultimately, bike locking is a question of deterrence. Any lock can be cut with enough time and effort, but a rational thief is going to target the easiest bikes to steal. Using a good locking technique doesn't mean a bike can't be stolen - it just reduces the probability it will be the one that gets taken.

What we really need is a lo-jack type system for bikes.

My New Car

I just got a new car. Well, it's not really mine per se... last week I signed up for ZipCar here in DC.

(from Flickr user Rakka)

I haven't actually driven any of the ZipCars yet, so I can't speak to what I like and dislike about the service. Honestly, I have a hard time imaging ever really needing to use it. I've got my bike available for most trips and so far it's been working just fine for me.

I think of the membership as a sort of insurance for those theoretical emergency situations that people talk about - when life absolutely cannot go on without a car... Based on my calculations, even if I drove a ZipCar for ten hours a month (which I certainly don't imagine doing) it would still cost less than owning my own car that sat in the garage and was never driven. That doesn't sound like a bad deal at all...

Parking Meter Technology

This is a parking meter outside my new office. It accepts coins of all value; and it takes credit and debit cards. I haven't really played around with one yet, so I'm not entirely sure what their capabilities and limitations are.

I love seeing this technology in place, especially after recently expressing my frustrations with technologically non-advanced parking meters.

I think this technology has a lot of promise. For instance, one thing that people hate about parking at meters is that you never know exactly how long you're going to need to stay parked. If you're feeding coins into the meter, inevitably you wind up either overpaying for time you don't use or not putting in enough change and getting a ticket. Even though getting a ticket is the worst case scenario, neither is particularly ideal. With the credit card technology, we could potentially charge motorists for exactly the number of minutes they spend parked in a particular space.

There are potentially other i…

Clusters of College Degrees

It's been almost three weeks since I posted my analysis of college degree density. And to say that the post has gone viral would not be untrue. That said, the way the data analysis has been reported has not always been entirely accurate or fair. Interpretations are being drawn that I never intended to be made.

This is a ranking list, but it's not the type of best/worst of list that I've criticized heavily in the past. Instead, this is merely a sorting of data, with few subjective interpretations.

Thus, to call San Francisco the "smartest" city in America or Jacksonville the "2nd dumbest" city is an extrapolation of my analysis -not my conclusion. If these headlines offended anyone, please understand that media, particularly local media, wants sensationalist headlines, and this seems to have been an easy way for some of them to get them. Nowhere in my original post do I ever call or imply that any of these cities are 'dumb'.

There are college grads …

The eReader Cost/Benefit Analysis

Last year I wrote about my tepid enthusiasm for ebook readers like the Kindle. Now that the iPad is on shelves, people seem to be trying to convince me more than ever that I need to get with the times and stop reading paper books.

I do not own one of these devices, nor do I plan to buy one in the near future. But a lot of people are buying them, I won't deny that. They are buying these devices because they are doing a cost/benefit analysis that I believe is oftentimes incorrect.

(from Flickr user atmtx)

Consider this... if a hardcover book costs $20 and the ebook version costs $10, buying the ebook would result in a $10 savings per title. If the iPad costs $500, then after 500/10 = 50 book purchases, the iPad will be paid for, right? Not quite.

Books are an asset. When you buy a new book, you can do several things with it. You can read it. You can stick it on a shelf. You can rent it out. You can loan it out. You can give it away. You can sell it. The book may depreciate in value, but…

Why Airlines Charge to Check Bags

I have a lot of pet peeves, but one thing that drives me absolutely nuts is the approach many people take to travel. Expectations have spiraled out-of-whack, to the point where an entire secondary industry has popped up so that people can nickel and dime and squeeze every penny out of their air fare.

There's really no reason to be surprised that airlines are charging extra for everything. People shop for fares by comparing the base fare and then buying the cheapest one. Airlines know this. They have to exploit it to get business.

(from Flickr user GHAVA)

In theory, there should be a lot more brand loyalty in the airline industry than there is. Flying is a pretty intimate experience for many people. It can make or break a trip. It can make for a great weekend away or it can ruin a vacation. The airline experience is crucial to many trips. I've written before about the reason why many airlines have poor customer service. It's a rational response to the knowledge that enough cus…

Road Rage

I've got to admit that I'm not really accustomed to aggressive drivers. Aside from my brief stint in Dallas, Texas, most of the motorists in the places I've lived have been generally calm. Now I'm back in a place where where aggressive motoring is part of the culture.

(from Flickr user WSDOT)

Why do people behave this way? I'm pretty sure one driving factor has to do with illusions of control. There are many people who believe that one of the great things about driving is the ability to feel "in control" of a huge two-thousand pound machine. To make it go faster than a human could ever possibly go on their own. To steer it in exactly the way that they want to go.

The problem is that drivers in many cities have virtually no control. Traffic lights get in the way. Construction gets in the way. Pedestrians get in the way. Police get in the way. Other cars get in the way. And this makes people angry, because automobile advertising has done its best to convince …

The Center of Ohio

Last weekend I visited Columbus. Much like my experience with Pittsburgh, I'd never visited before, despite living relatively nearby. This trip was a little different than most of my city-tour trips. Since I was staying with a friend of the blog, I was out in the suburbs, rather than downtown, where I typically prefer to set-up base. Some of my comments on Columbus may reflect that reality.

Don't Walk
Columbus is special in the sense that many of the neighborhoods in the city-limits would be suburban municipalities in other metropolitan areas. I stayed in Hilliard, which is technically in the city of Columbus, but certainly not an urban area. There are serious walkability problems. While the subdivisions do have sidewalks, many of the arterial roads that connect them to commercial activity do not. So while you can walk around the residential subdivision, you can forget about walking to anywhere you need to go. To rub salt on the wound, the subdivision where I stayed didn't e…

An Open Letter to Cleveland

Dear Cleveland,

By the time you read this I will have already left for my new home in Arlington, Virginia. A few weeks ago I wrote about a few of the many things I'm going to miss about the Forest City; and because this will probably be my last Cleveland-focused post on this blog, I want to make one final plea... and I want to make it clear why people like me aren't sticking around.

(from Flickr user laszlo-photo)

Check the Attitude
Yes, there are many people with an awful self-loathing attitude. But it's more than that... I've often felt like there is an attitude that things are the way they and there's nothing we can do about it. I wroteabout how frustrating it was last winter to ride my bike places and deal with the people who didn't understand how I could possibly do it or enjoy it. I wrote about how frustrating it is to watch so many people driving to my campus in their cars on the most beautiful spring day of the year. It's frustrating to feel the intense…

On Poverty, Obesity & Bicycling

Jamelle, a friend of the blog, writes about the link between obesity and the differences in grocery habits between low-income and high-income people. It's not surprising to me that rich people shop and Whole Foods and poor people shop where stuff is super cheap. It's also not surprising that the 'typical basket' at a Whole Foods has much healthier foods than the 'typical basket' at a Kroger.

(from Flickr user kalebdf)

Jamelle says one problem is that we overlook the challenge of food preparation.
...if there’s anything I’ve learned from watching my friends attempt to navigate the kitchen, it’s that cooking isn’t obvious. Unless you’re familiar with the basics of preparation and cooking, the act of taking a few ingredients — some cornmeal, a bushel of greens, an egg — and making a meal is mystifying. Poor people are simply less likely to have access to that kind of knowledge.This basically describes me. If more than two or three ingredients are involved, I can'…

Bar Economics

After a months of delays and an incredible level of hype, the new Melt Bar and Grilled opened last week two blocks from the house I just moved out of. For as long as I remember I've always wanted to live "right across the street" from some wicked cool place, like Melt. For a week and a half, I did.

But I digress... I was able to visit twice before I moved. While most people obsess over the place because of the sandwiches, I think the bar, with 70 seats and 30 beers on tap, is the best of Melt's features. Actually, it's not just the variety and the diversity, it's the prices. Beer prices at Melt are some of the cheapest in Cleveland Heights, even for many of the microbrews. I'd guess that about half of the beers on the menu are priced at $3.50.

So my question is: why so cheap? I've heard a few competing theories on this question, which I'll discuss below. If the owner of Melt wants to set the record straight, I welcome his comment. Until then, it'…