Shorts: movements

Striding

1. Susan Silberberg et al (via Angie at Streetsblog write that placemaking’s true value stems less from physical transformation than social transformation: “The act of advocating for change, questioning regulations, finding funding, and mobilizing others to contribute their voices engages communities.”

In short, it’s not about the bike, or the parklet: it’s about creating social space for a social movement to free now-privatized but publicly-controlled spaces, returning them to public use.

Years ago, this was a key (and under-appreciated) accomplishment of early Critical Mass rides. The event is just a means to an end, a safe space through which a social movement organized; to this day*, many confuse those ends and means.

* it’s arguably lost its urgency now that there are many other organizing venues.

not a maglev

2. There have been a few proposals to build maglev trains in the USA before, including this cross-Maryland proposal ten years ago. So what’s different about the latest version?

In a meeting with President Obama last winter, Mr. Abe offered to provide the maglev guideway and propulsion system free for the first portion of the line, linking Washington and Baltimore via Baltimore-Washington International Airport, a distance of about 40 miles. – Eric Pfanner, NYT

Those previous plans, however, did not feature Abenomics and its tidal wave of printed yen. As much as I’m skeptical of proprietary technologies, a fast and efficient connection between the two cities would certainly be momentous.

3. Thad Hall from the University of Utah (via Washington Monthly & Mischiefs of Faction) graphically shows how the House GOP has marched rightward, using DW-NOMINATE data:

The 50th-percentile average Republican in 1995 (104th Congress) — the red bar — was as conservative as today’s “RINO” moderate. Meanwhile, 1995’s firebrand 90th-percentile revolutionaries (the blue bar) then are *below* average now. The entire bell curve has shifted.

July shorts: aimless bicyclists, green roofs

Pearl St.
Do the French have a term for aimlessly bicycling around towns?

Cleaning out the fridge, so to speak, with several links & quotes:

1. Flaneur, randonneur: just wandering about, whether on foot in the city or on bike in the countryside, is a long-established practice in French but just doesn’t translate to English.

There’s no direct translation for randonnée (pronounced ran-don-NAY) — it can mean a long outing or trip, or a ramble in the countryside. For its practitioners, called randonneurs, it’s easier to define the event by what it isn’t: a race. There are time limits, which means riders can’t go too slowly — but they also can’t go too quickly.

2. Mayor Bloomberg speaking about the myth of the scofflaw cyclist at Citibike’s launch:

I’m sure there will be people who will, just like they are today, take their bicycles and do things that break the law. This will shock you but there are even people in automobiles who do the same thing. When you take a look at the number of people killed in automobiles, it sort of dwarfs everything put together on the road.

3. The world is filled with ironic NIMBYs, but this story still takes the cake: a retired Concorde pilot complaining about the noise from a playground.

4. Nate Berg sounded an appropriate note of skepticism over green roof cheerleading. It always really irked me that Mayor Daley would take credit for putting green roofs on big box stores in Chicago, even though the ratio of blacktop parking lot to green roof built by said stores is easily 3:1. A garden built on the ground, within a depaved parking lot, can offer more environmental benefits than a monocultural, thin green roof, and at a much lower cost. Oh, sure, someone might lose their parking space, but discouraging driving is yet another environmental benefit!

5. During the years I bike commuted through the South Side, it always fascinated me that Chicago’s ghettos were often bereft of any commerce whatsoever: for the most part, there weren’t even fast-food joints along the way, even though plenty of people lived nearby. Other U.S. cities (much less thriving Canadian inner cities) didn’t seem quite as derelict: witness the busy, if run-down, retail streets of Spike Lee’s Brooklyn. Whet Moser uncovers research by Marco Luis Small that quantifies this: “In some cases, the difference is stark. Chicago has 82% fewer small restaurants, 95% fewer small banks, and 72% fewer small convenience stores than a black poor ghetto in the average city.”

Baltimore to Philadelphia via transit/bike

Border crossing closed

For last week’s holiday multimodal adventure, I decided to try and replicate Josh Kucera’s account of getting from D.C. to NYC solely via local public transit. The Pennsy’s Northeast Corridor is the only corridor in the USA which features local (commuter), rapid (Northeast Regional), and express (Acela) services. It’s not Japan, where some lines feature five service levels, but it’s better than zero.

In particular, I hadn’t yet traversed local routes on Baltimore-to-Philadelphia leg; it’s the most thinly settled part of the corridor, one of the two rail service holes in the corridor (the other is from New London, Conn. to Providence, R.I.), a leg currently served only by Amtrak, Megabus, and Greyhound, since Philly’s Chinatown buses were recently shuttered. Long ago, mostly in the pre-Chiantown bus era, I’d done the local route via SEPTA and NJT from Philadelphia to NYC, which is common enough that the transfer at Trenton is timed and noted on the respective schedules.

My planned route took WMATA’s Red Line to WAS Union, MARC to Perryville, Cecil Transit to Elkton, DART First State bus 65 to Newark, and then SEPTA Regional Rail to 30th Street. The first few legs went off without a hitch; I feared for the tight connection at Perryville, but MARC was a bit early and Cecil Transit probably would have held the bus anyways, as we were the only customers on board.

Where things went awry was near Elkton: DART’s bus map indicates that a transfer is available in downtown Elkton, but the Cecil bus doesn’t actually go into Elkton, sticking instead to the US 40 highway strip. Its last stop is at the Maryland DMV office, just shy of the Delaware border. You’ll have to walk 1.4 miles — there’s a sidewalk most of the way — across the border (pictured above) to the first DART bus stop, in front of a Kohl’s. Once I got there (crusty with sweat), I turned around to see the last DART 55 bus roaring past, several minutes ahead of schedule. With an hour to meet SEPTA, I called in a cab from Newark for the 5-mile, $30 trip to the Newark train station. Had I brought my folding bike aboard MARC, I probably would have been fine skipping Cecil, DART, or both: US 40 seems pretty okay for bicycling, with ample shoulders and even side path signage on the sidewalk in Delaware.

I also pondered routes for biking between Baltimore and Philadelphia, where the most substantial natural obstacle involves crossing the broad Susquehanna River. The Northeast Corridor (no bikes, unless folded or Amtrak-checked), I-95, and the East Coast Greenway all do this just inland from its mouth at Havre de Grace & Perryville. That route has four downsides: MARC would be simplest but doesn’t (yet) run on weekends and doesn’t accept bikes, the Greenway relies on a shuttle service operated by a bike shop in HdG (closed on holidays), MTA’s local buses to Baltimore’s northeast operate only as far as White Marsh Mall, and heavy traffic follows US-40 and I-95. The only other crossing in Maryland, US 1 across the Conowingo Dam, allows bikes but is very narrow, with high-speed traffic. On last year’s Climate Ride, I found the Susquehanna crossing at Holtwood, Penna. to be only slightly frightening.

Since I feel lost when I’m outside the reach of transit, I thus plotted a bikes-and-transit route that heads 40 miles north through Baltimore County (thanks to the UGB set up in the Plan for the Valleys, the light rail terminus at Hunt Valley is at the edge of suburbia) via the Torrey Brown Rail-Trail and York County Heritage Trail to York, Penna., then east through Lancaster to SEPTA’s Main Line terminus at Thorndale. The rail-trail has an accessible grade, and once in Pennsylvania the route runs parallel to the east-west ridges. The transit backup plan exists on Saturdays, when city buses ply much of the east-west mileage from York: across the Susquehanna at Columbia, through Lancaster, east to Cains or Kinzer in Amish country, leaving just 20 miles to Thorndale. On Sundays, Lancaster’s buses still run, but York’s don’t, and SEPTA cuts the Main Line back to Malvern.

Combine that route with a ride back via Holtwood, a trip back via Amtrak or Greyhound (alas, bike-friendlier Chinatown buses and Bolt don’t serve the route), or a tag-on ride to NYC (where you can catch a Bolt back to DC) for a nice weekend adventure.

Dewpoints in DC over the year

Is it really that much more miserable outside in July? Why yes, it is. Here’s a graph of the monthly average, high, and low dew points at DCA.*

Dewpoint range & average at DCA in 2012

Ask people who don’t like hot, humid weather, and they’ll tell you that the weather measurement they rely on most is dew point.

Not temperature. Not relative humidity. Dew point.

“I think it’s catching on,” said meteorologist Paul Douglas. “It a superior way to, at a glance, determine what it really feels like out there.” Bill McAuliffe, Star-Tribune

I’m among those dew point fans. It, not the temperature or the heat index, best describes how it feels to be bicycling here. A hot and somewhat humid day may have a dew point of 70, identical to a cooler and off/on rainy day (of the sort we’ve had a lot of lately), but the net result is still getting drenched in sweat. My guideline for how I’ll feel when stopped (at lights, after riding):
<50 = no sweat, wear regular clothing
60 = nice, maybe change clothes at work
65 = acceptable but pushing it, go slow or get damp
70 = gross with sweat, definitely change shirt frequently
75 = I’d rather it rain, because either way I’m drenched
80 = instant dripping upon setting foot outside, can’t breathe
85 = kill me now, for surely Hades must be cooler than this

The article gives a good analogy: the dew point is the lowest temperature that it’s possible for sweat to cool your skin down to. I get uncomfortable at 70 and cranky at 80, and that corresponds nicely with the dewpoint guidance above.

The world’s highest dew points are around the Persian Gulf; high temps evaporate a lot of seawater into the air. The Plains and the South get high humidity mostly from plant transpiration.

I haven’t found the perfect weather app yet, so in the meantime I’ll dream of a 1×1 Android widget that displays what I really care about: dew point, wind speed/direction, and % chance of precipitation. Oh, and maybe temperature: at least one article (Jillian Strauss & Luis Miranda-Moreno, “Spatial modeling of bicycle activity at signalized intersections“) finds that humidity, then precipitation, then temperature determine cycling levels, even in cool Montreal.

Oh, and incidentally, this is one reason why I find European criticisms of how Americans dress while cycling to be so annoying. The average August dew point in Amsterdam? 58F (average monthly temperature is 64F). Their most humid August ever had a dew point of 72F, just above the *normal* dew point here. Of course they dress normally: they can. I spent several days biking around Paris during the catastrophic August 2003 heat wave; it was hot, with temperatures around 100F, but dew points were around 60F. That’s actually kinda nice weather by D.C. standards.

Which brings me to another pet peeve: the outdoors/activewear industry is overwhelmingly clustered in the West, which has much more courteous weather than the East or the South. Thus, “soft shell” outerwear appropriate for Cascadian drizzle leaves me drenched within minutes of venturing out into a thundershower, messenger bags pool up back sweat whereas back-saving panniers are hard to find, and everything’s much too casual for a city filled with dark suits. Most of humanity lives in the tropics, not in balmy Mediterranean or chilly North Sea climates, and it’s about time that fashion recognized that fact.

* Bear in mind that these are for entire months, days and nights, and that the high/low numbers are still averaged out over the course of an entire month, so individual days will certainly differ substantially. Also, to the extent that the region has microclimates, DCA probably has the highest dewpoints of the local airports with its low elevation, river frontage, and relatively high urban heat island exposure. Upland areas might be slightly more bearable.

War on cars continues: bike lane takes 0.2% of parking!

L Street Protected Bike Lane Ribbon Cutting

Per Downtown DC BID, “In 2006 the Washington Parking Association (WPA) estimated that there were 199 parking garage locations in the Downtown and Golden Triangle BID areas providing 45,721 spaces.” That does not include the 17,000 street parking spaces that even AAA acknowledges still exist. Therefore, the 150 parking spaces removed to build the “controversial” L Street bike lane pictured above = 0.2% of downtown parking supply. In other words, 417 out of every 418 downtown parking spaces remain even after AAA whines that “The bike lanes have taken up all the parking spaces.” [posted to TheWashCycle]

Also, calendar note: the JITI Urban Transportation Seminar on February 6 will feature speakers from Tokyo Metro and Tokyu Corporation. Tokyu is notable for being one of the more profitable commuter rail + real estate + retail conglomerates in metro Tokyo.

Take a tour, any tour

A few months ago, I started working on a few bike tour routes reaching into D.C.’s suburbs, towards points of interest in urban planning history or just boozy destinations (and, even better, places with both). I’ll try to continue updating this map, but here are the completed and under-construction routes (the latter marked with POIs, but not connected yet):

  • Wine, spirits, and beer in Alexandria & Mount Vernon
  • Route 1 in Maryland: streetcar suburbs (Brookland, Hyattsville, Riverdale Park, College Park) and Greenbelt
  • Montgomery County Agricultural Preserve to Purcellville distillery (back on W&OD)
  • National Capital Streetcar Museum via Rock Creek trails
  • Falls Church, Merrifield, old & new Reston via W&OD
  • South Arlington redevelopment sites
  • Columbia & Ellicott City
  • Rockville & Gaithersburg

I’m aiming to present a few of these as guided tours, depending on whether I can find good tour guides at the POIs. Let me know if you can help.

Help bring CaBi to DCA!




CaBi missing Originally uploaded by Payton Chung

Want to bring Capital Bikeshare to National Airport? “Like” one of the suggested Capital Bikeshare station locations at DCA on the Capital Bikeshare Crowdsourcing Map. (Hint: you’ll have to zoom into the airport to see the pins.) The map is maintained by Arlington County, which is in charge of adding new locations within Arlington. I hear that they’ve already met with MWAA about siting CaBi on airport grounds, and a whole bunch of votes could be what it takes to make sure that DCA is included in the next station expansion round.

Bike sharing at DCA would be:
– quick: just 10 minutes to Crystal City & Pentagon City, or 30 minutes to DC, and unlike shuttles is available on demand
– convenient: bike sharing is available 24 hours a day, unlike other transit services; the bikes can hold small carry-ons, which suffices for many business travelers, airline employees, and airport employees
– safe: DCA already has a completely grade-separated connection to a popular Class 1 trail, eliminating traffic conflicts; providing bike sharing could eliminate dangerous jaywalking behavior; over 3 million riders have enjoyed CaBi with an excellent safety record
– healthful: promotes a happy, healthful choice for stressed travelers and employees
– cost-effective: adds mobility at a low cost, unlike expensive remote parking options
– enjoyable: a great way for the region to show travelers the beautiful Mount Vernon Trail and the convenience of East Arlington’s neighborhoods
– economical (for MWAA): airport concessions are the only F&B outlet directly along 7.5 miles of the Mount Vernon Trail (between Rosslyn and Old Town Alexandria)

(BTW, I suggested the locations north of the terminal and west of the parking garage. These are near bike parking locations 1 and 6 on MWAA’s bike access map, and even though they’re not next to the terminal, they’re next to the trail and would keep bikes off the high-speed access roads.)