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Showing posts from August, 2011

What Sprawl Isn't

Last week I saw a number of people tweeting this post on Archinect, which shows an image of Los Angeles, and the cities that you could "fit" inside of its boundaries. The author opens with this:
Los Angeles has infamously been known for its urban sprawl. A recently released map makes it look like LA could easily swallow several major US cities inside its bloated city limits belly.What gets under my skin is the suggestion that a city is sprawly because it covers a lot of land area. There are a lot of ways to measure sprawl. Municipal boundaries are not one of them.

(from Kaizer Rangwala on Flickr)

I've been using the example of Dallas and Houston for a while now. Here are major cities in two of the five biggest metro areas in America. They are culturally similar, geographically connected and economically interdependent. The city of Houston has roughly twice the population as the city of Dallas. It also covers about twice as many square miles. Does that make Houston twic…

Why So Few Last Minute Airline Deals?

I travel semi-regularly. I probably fly about about ten round-trips per year. Fortunately, it's reasonably affordable, because I'm always able to get great fares. When someone asks me for advice on finding good fares, I say three things. 1) don't travel on peak days (Friday and Sunday) 2) don't travel during peak seasons (Thanksgiving, Spring Break, etc.), and 3) book early.

(from mikecogh on Flickr)

Booking early is so much more important than a lot of people realize. It's almost never better to wait until the last minute, and there's good reason for it. Now, a lot of people would say, "isn't it in the airline's best interest to sell a seat at any price rather than to let it go empty during the flight?" The answer is no; and here's why:
Imagine two customers. Casual traveler will only fly if he get get a really incredibly low fare. The most he's willing to pay is $100. If he can't get that fare, he'll just stay home. Business t…

Bad Coffee

It's been a hot summer, and I've been drinking iced coffee exclusively for the past few months. I've also been buying very little from coffee shops lately, because most of them don't do iced coffee the right way.

What is the right way? Cold brewed.

It's the method that produces delicious iced coffee with very little acidity and bitterness and strong coffee flavors. It's a shame that very few coffee shops in DC adhere to this method.

(from life serial on Flickr)

I can't speak for every coffee shop, but a friend of the blog who used to work as a local barista told me that baristas had direct orders from the shop owner not to cold brew iced coffee. Even though it's the superior method, it's the most time intensive (it can take 24 hours to brew a large batch of the stuff and usually requires advanced planning). Plus, enough customers have probably never had cold-brewed iced coffee, and they don't know what they're missing anyway.

You could chalk…

Walkable Suburbanism

Last weekend I traveled south to Virginia Beach for a quick weekend vacation. I'd never been to the area, and aside from the oceanfront, I was curious to see what the city itself had to offer. The Hampton Roads metro area is surprisingly big. It's the 36th largest in the U.S. and roughly the size of the Austin, TX and Indianapolis, IN metro areas.

The beach itself was about exactly what I expected - miles of sand and boardwalk with more than enough hotels and tourist attractions dotted along the way.

(from Michael Buck on Flickr)

The boardwalk and parallel bike path made the area quite pleasant. For the most part, I've found that tourist destinations are walkable and pedestrian-friendly. The oceanfront would be a completely different place if the boardwalk were instead an 8-lane highway. Fortunately enough, it isn't.

Virginia Beach's "downtown" is another story. Technically in the central business district, the Virginia Beach Town Center feels nothing lik…

Cost Effective Transportation

Alex Baca has a great article in this week's City Paper about what bicycling really means to people, versus how the activity is frequently perceived and described by those who don't like it. She covers a lot of the themes I've written about at this blog, all rolled together nicely into one piece. Definitely click through and give the article a read.

(from carfreedays on Flickr)

It's worth reiterating that there's really no such thing as a "bicyclist" in the same way that there's no such thing a a "motorist" or a "pedestrian". People get around in different ways for different reasons, and they don't all behave the same as each other.

The idea that all people bike all do it because they think they're doing something for the environment is silly and unrealistic. First and foremost, bikes are inexpensive and convenient ways of getting around. Are they more environmentally friendly than a motorized vehicle? Yes. Are they more he…

Insurance for the Auto Uninsured

I've got a new post over at Greater Greater Washington exploring the ins-and-outs of rental car insurance for people who don't have auto insurance. It's a shame that the options available are so limited, and I hope that they improve as insurance companies figure out that this is an untapped market.

(from Roger Penguino on Flickr)

I rented a car last weekend, and made sure to keep mental notes about how the conversation about rental insurance went down.

We filled out all the paperwork inside, the Enterprise rep decided which car to give me, then he grabbed the clipboard and we walked outside. In fact, the conversation about the insurance didn't begin until I was nearly ready to drive away. The rep casually asked if I wanted to opt for the "full coverage". I asked him to explain, at which point he gave a confusing explanation that hardly told me what I'd be getting.

It wasn't until I took a look at the paperwork to see that he wanted me to buy three pro…

Risk Assessment

Does wearing a helmet make a bicyclist safer? Yes. And no. This story has been getting a bit of attention this week. British doctors are arguing that helmets shouldn't be mandatory by law, because such a law might discourage some people from bicycling, which would stop them from benefiting from exercise. It's a classic cost/benefit analysis where the costs exceed the benefits.

(from Rennett Stowe on Flickr)

Taking that point and asserting that helmets make bicyclists less safe is a stretch; but I saw that claim tweeted many times earlier in the week.

Helmets aren't required in DC, and other American cities, but bicyclists should still use them. Why? Because helmets are like an insurance policy that covers you from the risk of being perceived as irresponsible. Even if you don't believe that they're all the great at protecting your skull, you'll never be worse off in a situation if something happens. And if nothing ever happens? What have you lost?

Unfortunately, we …