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Showing posts from April, 2011

Fuel Prices

The other day I was having a conversation with someone about the recent rise in gasoline prices. At some point, they made a comment to me that went something like... "you probably don't even know or care about how much gasoline costs since you bike everywhere." The statement is untrue for a number of reasons.

(from chego101 on Flickr)

Believe it or not, I do drive, occasionally. Surely my Zipcar rates will go up if the price of fueling the cars keeps going up. But I also care for other reasons that don't have to do with driving cars. I fly on airplanes quite regularly, which operate on jet fuel. And the truck that docks at my local supermarket runs on expensive diesel fuel. When I order things online, it doesn't just magically appear on my doorstep. I could go on, but the point is, just because I don't drive a car every day doesn't mean energy inflation has no impact on my life.

Every time I see a story about gasoline prices on local news, it always offers s…

What's Up With Tourists?

Fedward Potz thinks that DC locals ought to be nicer to summer tourists. There's a number of reasons why these visitors are good for the city, including the fact that they spend money, earned elsewhere, and generate a lot of business because of it. But Potz says it's not just about business, being nice is just the right thing to do.

(from thetejon on Flickr)

The bigger question is, why do people even have such sour feelings toward visitors? Sure, it's annoying that some people stand on the wrong side of the escalators and others hog the sidewalks, but I think it runs deeper than these little annoyances.

Big cities often have two economies - the local economy and the tourist economy. Tourists are a captive audience, they're in an unfamiliar place with wallets open, so businesses understandably charge them a lot of money for goods and services. I once heard that there are dirty-water dog vendors in New York that charge different prices for the same exact same hot dogs, depe…

Writing in Public

Conor Friedersdorf has a few ideas about why working from coffee shops is so appealing. I've been thinking about this lately because I haven't really found a coffee shop near my home where I feel comfortable going and working on a regular basis.

(from Tricia Wang 王圣捷 on Flickr)

A friend of the blog recently told me that he thought the quality of my posts has plateaued. I was disappointed because I think he's right. Of course, working full time means I have a lot less time and resources to devote to writing than I used to, but another problem is that this blog, which used to be authored exclusively from coffee shops, no longer isn't.

The reason I like writing at coffee shops is because I walk in the door with a purpose. When I go to a coffee shop, I have a goal - writing a blog post or two, sending some emails I've been meaning to send... whatever the case, I sit down and set out to accomplish it. The coffee is like a hourglass. When the coffee gets cold, or the cup…

Asian Chipotle

The folks who brought you Chipotle are opening an Asian restaurant concept in DC this summer. It's being described as a fusion of foods from Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam and served in a style reminiscent of Chipotle. It sounds a little weird to me, to be honest, but I think it can work, if for no other reason that the same people made it work so well with food from Mexico.

(from M.V. Jantzen on Flickr)

This also gives me the opportunity to point out that what makes Chipotle my favorite chain restaurant isn't the concept - it's the food. There are plenty of places that have knocked off the burrito concept - Qdoba, Baha Fresh, California Tortilla, and others, albeit the concept isn't always an exact copy. These places are OK. A few people even like them a little more than Chipotle; but to me, they don't even come close.

You can serve any kind of food in assembly line fashion, but as it's often said in business, "garbage in, garbage out". The concept isn&…

Zipcar Culture

Zipcar's recent Initial Public Offering didn't just put $175 million into the company's bank account - it gave a lot of people confidence that car-sharing has finally gone mainstream. I personally think Zipcar is about the greatest thing in the world, and one of the ultimate urban amenities.

(from Andrew Currie on Flickr)

When I lived in Dallas, I used to sit around my apartment thinking about how hard it was to live in a top-ten American city without access to a car. It's not just that I didn't own a car, it's that I had no ability to drive anywhere, unless a friend was willing to lend me their wheels. And unfortunately, the city was designed in such a way that you "had" to drive everywhere (or at least that's what everyone told me).

The truth is that Zipcar isn't a solution for car-dependent cities, and it's not surprising that Zipcar doesn't have a presence in cities like Dallas or Houston. Car sharing is one piece of a diverse transpo…

From Urban to Not So Urban

When I visited Williamsburg last year, one thing that I thought made the neighborhood an awesome place was the existence of unique, reasonably affordable and fun attractions. To me, Barcade was the epitome of Williamsburg. So I was a little taken aback when I read that a second Barcade is opening - in New Jersey.

(from Bernt Rostad on Flickr)

A friend of the blog asked if the presence of Barcade might make me warm up to the Garden State a bit. I feel the same way about Northern New Jersey as I feel about Northern Virginia - no doubt there are interesting neighborhoods and fun things to do, but these places will always be overshadowed by the great urban playgrounds right across their respective rivers.

In a sense, I feel a little disappointed when cool urban places move out to the suburbs. Melt Bar and Grilled is one of my favorite restaurants in Cleveland, both because the food is good and the beer list is extensive, but also because the restaurant seemed committed to being urban. I felt…

Lessons From Dollar Lunch Day

Whether Living Social's "Dollar Lunch" promotion last Friday was a success depends on who you ask. Some people got lunch at a great restaurant for practically nothing. Others found themselves stuck in insanely long lines, waiting an hour or more for their food to get brought out from the kitchen, or getting turned away all together. Dollar Lunch day went about exactly as anyone could have predicted.

(from oncetherewasagirl on Flickr)

A co-worker and I purchased one of the instant vouchers to a restaurant across the street from our office. We knew it was a gamble, but figured it was worth a dollar. When we walked in the door, the host asked if we had a reservation. We didn't. He responded, "sorry, I can't accommodate you." We left, walked a block down the street, past lines stretching down the sidewalk, and ate at Chipotle instead.

It's not entirely clear who subsidized this promotion. There's talk that Living Social helped foot the bill, but whethe…

Reverse Commuting

I've never really "reverse commuted", but I know a number of people who do. On one hand, it's a major sign of urban strength and desirability. I think it really says something that there are people who to live it cities, even though it means a commute out into the suburbs. On the other hand, it demonstrates the unfortunate reality that so many white-collar jobs are now located outside of the urban core, even as people flock to it.

(from stevelyon on Flickr)

A lot of people who reverse commute will justify it by saying that reverse commuting is easier than regular commuting. Traffic isn't quite as heavy when you're going against the flow, and I don't doubt that to be true. But it misses the point that commuting would be really easy for the same people if their jobs were also in the city.

I was having a conversation with a friend of the blog recently, and he said the "greenest" commute that a white-collar worker can have is no commute at all - in oth…

Working Out

I've never liked gyms. I've never been perceptive to the idea that if I want to be healthy, the best place to accomplish that goal is in a room with a bunch of cardio and weight machines. After all, I've got a bike, and I've got sidewalks near my house. I could make up excuses for why these aren't good enough for a cardio workout, but it would be a pretty bad excuse. And I'll admit, gyms do typically have free weights that would be helpful in many regards, but for the price gyms charge per month, I might as well buy a set of my own.

(from GaryPaulson on Flickr)

I think Daniel Duane's piece in Men's Journal does a good job helping me understand why I have such lukewarm feelings toward gyms. Ultimately, the problem is that the incentives for gym owners and gym customers aren't aligned. Getting people into shape isn't the way for gym owners can maximize their profits. Duane writes...
Commercial health clubs need about 10 times as many members as their…

Taxation Without Representation

A friend of the blog sent over a link to H.R. 1014 - a piece of legislation introduced a few years and known on the Hill as the ‘No Taxation Without Representation Act’. The bill would treat the District of Columbia as a United States Possession, exempting its citizens from federal income taxes. Even though such legislation would probably never pass in a million years, it leads to an interesting thought experiment about what DC might look like today if it had.

(from Poldavo (Alex) on Flickr)

Washington is already an incredibly desirable city, with some of the highest costs in America, both for living and for doing business. A city except from federal taxes would have been even more attractive, particularly for the rich. The more money you make, the greater the potential savings you can reap by hiding your income from the IRS.

Yesterday, Vincent Gray and members of the DC City Council were arrested while rallying for DC's rights, and they were taken into custody with a giant "Tax…

Photography and Place

Greg Ruffing has some intelligent thoughts about how photography can shape the perception we develop about cities. Whatever we want to believe about cities, we can use high quality photographs to confirm our predetermined beliefs.

He says that you can take pictures of the same city, and offer wildly varying perspective on what that city is like. If you want to write a narrative on urban decay, photos of boarded up buildings and graffiti seem to be a popular bet.

(from Scallop Holden on Flickr)

On the other side, colorful photos of a vibrant streetscape can depict hopeful signs of urban renewal. A good photographer can portray a city however they want. We just need to be careful not to read too much into imagery. Seeing a city with your own eyes is the only true way to understand what type of place it is.


If you don't believe that congestion exists on bicycle and pedestrian trails, check out the Mount Vernon Trail in Virginia on a nice day. Now that it's spring, I've seen a surge in bicyclists out in the city, and some bike routes are starting to feel a little crowded.

(from M.V. Jantzen on Flickr)

Most people have experienced auto congestion - there aren't many major cities that don't have the problem with too many cars on valuable road space. It's often believed that bicyclists and pedestrians don't have to deal with serious congestion - maybe it's even a way to avoid it. And that's true, except when it's not. Sidewalks and multi-use trails can get crowded and congested, and when they do, it can be almost as frustrating as being caught in a bad traffic jam.

On the other hand, bicyclists do tend to benefit from safety in numbers. So while it might feel a little slower to get where you're going, and least it's safer. As long as people have …

Film Festival

Last weekend I had the chance to see a few good films at the Cleveland International Film Festival. I've been going to this annual event for years, and it remains the best film festival that I've been able to attend. Granted, I haven't been to any of the 'premier' festivals, like Sundance, Toronto or Tribecca. Cleveland, though, has a lot of unique things going for it that makes it a great event that I'm not sure could exist in a lot of other places.

(from thegilmanator on Flickr)

Tower City Cinemas is the perfect location for the festival. It's a decent downtown theater with eight screens. And since the cinema itself is rarely busy, it's not unreasonable for the event to take over the entire complex for its 10 day run. The centralized location creates an atmosphere, as it allows movie lovers to spend an entire day seeing films in one place and interact with other film buffs. The sheer mass of people creates an environment that couldn't exist if the f…

Political Game Playing

I feel embarrassed by my congress. I'm not angry, I'm seriously embarrassed. Like, this is the best we can do? These are the best people to put in charge of running the legislature? The recent round of government shutdown talks is especially sad. It's clear that both sides are maneuvering so that they can blame each other for the mess. Whoever the Gallup Poll finds that Americans place blame on will be the official loser in this contest.

(from TalkMediaNews on Flickr)

The debate over spending cuts is especially egregious. Of course it's a noble goal for a country with a deficit problem to talk about solving it. Except the discussion isn't really about solving it - it's about slashing and burning government programs that are politically motivated.

Republicans want to de-fund NPR, but they don't want to withdraw any military operations. They want to strip money away from Planned Parenthood, but they're fine with tax cuts for the rich. They want to fight over…

Bad Sandwich

When I was a kid, I used to get Subway sandwiches once every week. Maybe my memory is clouded because I was so young, but I remember Subway being so much better back then... back when the only bread options were white, wheat or rye; back when there were no toasted subs or salads and you could choose between mustard or mayo, not a half-dozen combinations of each.

(from JaBB on Flickr)

These days, I usually pack my lunch, because leaving the office to go buy lunch everyday gets really expensive really fast. But occasionally I'm not able to pack, for one reason or another; and if I want a lunch that's less than $6, my options tend to be limited.

Often, I opt for Subway, and I always walk in thinking it will be OK, then feel disappointed when I finish my sub. Even when I order it loaded with peppers and mustard and pickles, it still tastes incredibly bland. Half the time the bread seems stale, which amazes me, since they supposedly bake the bread right in the store.

Maybe I'm just…

Are There Group Drives?

I'm a fan of participating in an occasional group bike ride (not critical mass) - though I tend to favor those that cater to casual riders, rather than the ones that race through town at break-neck speeds. Group rides are fun. Riding a bike alone can get lonely sometimes, especially if you're going to be out for a while. Riding with other people means you can hang out, have a conversation, and enjoy being outside.

(from saumacus on Flickr)

A friend of the blog recently asked what's so special about these rides. He likes to ride a bike, but sees little point to riding around with other people. Bikes are transportation, cars are transportation, but there aren't motorists getting together and driving around in packs on Sunday mornings, are there?

Even if the primary purpose of both bikes and cars is transportation, the reality is that they both serve other, secondary purposes. People ride bikes for a lot of reasons, and obvious recreation and socialization are one of them. B…