TagNew York Times

When did everyone start caring about bicyclists dying?

A Plague of Cyclists appear to run cars off the road on The Weekly Standard’s cover.

A couple weeks ago a bunch of journalists from major international news outlets were having drinks somewhere (maybe The Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago’s basement) and wrote the same story.

Actually, they didn’t, but it’s surprisingly weird how close they were.

On Sunday the New York Times published “Is It O.K. To Kill Cyclists?”. Next, on Monday, Crain’s Chicago Business published “Why everyone hates bicyclists—and why they hate everyone back”.

Daniel Duane’s op-ed in NYT garnered a lot of response (7 of them are linked here, which doesn’t include Crain’s or The Weekly Standard). The Economist responded to the NYT article with “Cycling v cars: The American right-of-way” saying we should adopt laws like the Netherlands and gave several examples there of who’s liable for a crash between a car and bike (nearly always the driver). Bike Snob wrote the response I most agree with. Karen Altes of Tiny Fix Bike Gang got pissedTwin City Sidewalks (in Minneapolis/St. Paul) wrote that “bicyclists need to stop blaming themselves for dangerous roads”, referring to the bicyclist in question, Daniel Duane, the NYT op-ed contributor.

Tanya Snyder, writing for one of my employer’s sister blogs Streetsblog Capitol Hill, headlined her own roundup post, “The Times Blows a Chance to Tackle America’s Broken Traffic Justice System”. Andrew Smith at Seattle Transit Blog said that he gave up cycling to work in the first week he tried it. Brian McEntee wrote on his blog Tales from the Sharrows about two scenarios to consider about “following laws” (which isn’t what cyclists or drivers should be aiming for).

David Alpert, who runs a Streetsblog-like blog called Greater Greater Washington, said that it’s not okay to kill cyclists, “but if a spate of other op-eds are any indication, it’s sure okay to hate them and the facilities they ask for in a quest for safety”. BikeBlogNYC later published myriad examples of how streets continue killing everyone who’s not driving a car.

Then The Weekly Standard published something very similar to Duane’s piece. I don’t know when – it’s in the issue marked for November 18, but I believe it went up Monday, with a sweet cover. It went by two names. On the cover, “A Plague of Bicyclists” (by Christopher Caldwell) and on the site, “Drivers Get Rolled: Bicyclists are making unreasonable claims to the road—and winning”.

Most of the proceeding discussions revolve around “who’s right”. And the Economist skirts discussing the answer and instead just gives the answer: the bicyclist, because they’re the ones who die.

When you are driving in the Netherlands, you have to be more careful than you would when driving in America. Does this result in rampant injustice to drivers when accidents occur? No. It results in far fewer accidents. As the ANWB [Royal Dutch Touring Club, like the AAA] says, some drivers may think the liability treatment gives cyclists “a blank check to ignore the rules. But a cyclist is not going to deliberately ride through a red light thinking: ‘I won’t have to pay the damages anyway.’ He is more likely to be influenced by the risk that he will land in the hospital.”

I like what Evan Jenkins, a sometimes urbanist blogger studying mathematics at University of Chicago, wrote on his Twitter timeline:

That’s encouraging. He linked to several of his past articles about cyclist murder.

 

What’s also funny about this weekend’s bike-journo-fest is that Whet Moser, writing for Chicago Magazine, interviewed me two weeks ago about bike infrastructure and penned this uncomplicated, unruffled but comprehensive article saying “drivers and cyclists don’t have to be angry and fearful…with smart planning, a city can design safe roads for all.”

Chicago has started on that path. You know what might influence more change than any bike lane built? Speed cameras. And no, I won’t let them be removed.

Updated multiple times to add more responses to Duane’s op-ed. 

Tell it, Sue Baker! Car crashes are not accidents

“It was an accident!”, said the driver. Photo by Katherine Hodges. 

Because of Hurricane Sandy, the New York Times paywall is down so I’m reading every article I can, starting with “Safety Lessons from the Morgue“:

As she explains it, “To say that a car crash is an accident is to say it’s a matter of chance, a surprise, but car crashes happen all the time, and the injuries that people sustain in those crashes are usually predictable and preventable.”

Another car crash-related excerpt from the article about Sue Baker, injury prevention researcher extraordinaire:

In one of her recent projects, Baker looked at another aspect of highway deaths. The study, which Baker prepared with David Swedler, a doctoral candidate, examined more than 14,000 fatal crashes involving teenage drivers. They found that male drivers were almost twice as likely as female drivers to have had high levels of alcohol in their blood and were also more likely to have been speeding and driving recklessly. Significantly, 38 percent of 15-year-old drivers, both male and female, were found to have been speeding, but by age 19, female speeders dropped to 22 percent, while male speeders remained steady at 38 percent.

Those differences, Baker says, suggest that boys and girls should not automatically receive the same driver training — and that boys should perhaps receive their license at an older age than girls. “Males might scream foul,” Baker acknowledges, “but let them.”

Yes, let them. It’s too easy to get a driver’s license in this country.  I love her style:

In 1979, at a Department of Transportation public hearing about the dangers faced by truck drivers, Baker angrily explained, “Isn’t it time we did some crash testing with trucks and dummies, rather than with drivers themselves?” Later, according to Baker, the trucking industry hired a researcher to try to discredit her driver-safety studies. Unable to uncover problems with her work, he eventually gave up and called to tell her about his assignment. [emphasis added]

Not everything is perfect with injury prevention studies, though.

In the mid-1970s, [Sam] Peltzman did research on highway fatalities that suggested that mandatory safety features like seat belts and padded dashboards actually encouraged people to drive less cautiously.

Tom Vanderbilt talked about that in “Traffic“, which is basically my favorite transportation book, even mentioning Mr. Peltzman. Flip to page 181 to read it. Vanderbilt lists all of the different labels for that behavior:

  • the Peltzman effect
  • risk homeostasis
  • risk compensation
  • offset hypothesis

He summarizes: “What they are saying, to crudely lump all of them together, is that we change our behavior in response to perceived risk, without even being aware that we are doing so”. But Sue has a response:

Baker acknowledges that there may be some individuals in cars with anti-lock brakes, for example, who may not apply the brakes as soon as they did with the old brakes. But she insists there is no evidence that better brakes or air bags have encouraged recklessness — that they have in fact saved many thousands of lives. “What concerns me,” she says, “is that these spurious arguments are used by companies to bolster their opposition to beneficial safety regulation.

I think it’s safe to say now that she’s a personal hero of mine. But way, there’s just one more thing!

As she talked about what still needed to be done, her voice was tinged with anger: “Buildings need to be designed so it’s not so easy to fall down stairs. All new homes should have sprinklers. Traffic lights should be timed for pedestrians, not to move as many cars as possible through an intersection.

Yep. Exactly what we don’t do. We make ‘em wait. And wait. Without even telling people the traffic signal’s even acknowledged their presence.

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Chicago is the First City when it comes to permeable paving

The New York Times wrote on Sunday about the Pilsen pollution fighting bike lanes I’m really gung-ho about. They didn’t provide any new information, failing to even mention their location. But they did publish an excellent 3D graphic showing how it works! (The article’s main focus is how Chicago is predicted to become hotter and wetter, “more like Baton Rouge”, and how city planners, geniuses all, are working on this problem.)

First, here’s a photo of what the bike and parking lanes look like now, both made with a topper created by Italcementi that removes nitrous oxides from the air:

Then take a look at this diagram showing the streetscape design on Blue Island between Wood and Ashland (still under construction).

Hat tip to The Car Whisperer – “Chicago may stop paving streets altogether in ten years”.

Electric cars on their way

The New York Times is reporting that several California cities and companies are preparing for the coming rise in electric car ownership:

  • San Francisco is updating its building code.
  • Silicon Valley companies are ordering equipment for their employees.
  • Local electric utilities are trying to manage demand, either by predicting where ownership will be highest, in order to prepare for increased electricity use, or by asking customers to use “smart meters.”

The Tesla Motors store on Grand Avenue has since opened.

I hope bicycle advocates, cities, and the electric car manufacturers consider the bicycle rider’s point of view: The noise a car makes is helpful for urban riders to evaluate the street and their surroundings. While nothing trumps the utility of being able to see and having facilities that help make bicycling safer, a bicycle rider uses all of their senses to navigate the urban environment.

More from the article:

Tesla Motors, a Silicon Valley company that makes electric cars, says it has already sold 150 of its $109,000 Roadsters in the Bay Area. One customer bought the sleek sports car on the spot after a test drive.

Chicago’s been ready for the “onslaught”

Tesla recently opened a store in Chicago, Illinois, but I haven’t seen one yet. Chicago’s not a stranger to electric car charging ports. The City uses them for its own fleet of electric cars. There are publicly-accessible stations scattered around downtown. A parking garage in River North has plug-in charging ports.

Photo of Greenway Self Park at 60 W Kinzie, featuring a wind-turbine that powers a portion of the night lighting. By Eric Rogers.

A LEED-related homework assignment and my response

The assignment: Write a mock letter to the editor responding to this New York Times article: Some Buildings Not Living Up to Green Label (published August 31, 2009).

The class: Sustainable Development Techniques

How the class works: The professors invite working professionals to speak to the class each week. After the lecture from these guests, a short discussion ensues. The guests design the homework questions. The following week, the class discusses their responses with each other and the professors.

Dear Editor,

Buildings, as a category, consume more energy than any other category in the United States. The USGBC: U.S. Green Building Council (GBC) took the right steps by mandating an energy efficiency minimum to receive LEED certification. As it increases the standard building designers and owners need to reach to achieve the image of “green” or environmental responsibility, we should look for ways to make green building design cheaper and easier.

I have a few suggestions for how we can make that happen, but first I want to encourage your newspaper and its readers to send a message to their Congresspersons: They should pay attention to the fact that buildings consume the most energy of any category of energy use and include a section in climate change legislation that reduces buildings’ impact on the environment and their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change legislation will not be effective unless it mandates and encourages changes in buildings and how they use energy.

So how can we make LEED certification (or other similar certification programs) easier to achieve? First of all, do not reduce the ease of certification. This will have an ill effect on climate change and reverse the positive advances LEED and its certified buildings make.

  1. Certify buildings who meet the minimum energy efficiency requirements with a new label. Some building owners or developers may not care to receive full certification or medal, or create green roofs or offer alternative transportation to building workers, but would rather be recognized for making bona fide improvements to their energy systems and use. Hold the buildings to the same reporting standards as all other certification levels.
  2. Support and fund research that will be used to continually refine the certification process and identify the best and worst energy system changes and upgrades. The Center for Neighborhood Technology and the New Buildings Institute have researched LEED-certified buildings to gauge their energy use and determine how effective the buildings are in reducing energy use (not all buildings were able to reduce energy use).
  3. Offer short-term rewards when people make long-term changes that provide long-term benefits. Provide instant or near-instant tax rebates when residents who live in or own “energy poor” buildings and make upgrades that are proven to increase the building’s energy efficiency by a minimum amount. When people can see immediate benefits, they may be more likely to make the changes. Make the rebate requirements easy to understand – consult with retailers like CVS and Walgreens who provide some rebates immediately to their customers after a purchase is made. However, consult the best universities and researchers to ensure the program managing this system will not allow rebates for window installation when home insulation negates any positive effect the new windows would provide.
  4. Continue to provide support and funding for “green jobs” that will further these legislated programs. Jobs like researchers, product development, engineering; also, new jobs like “energy efficiency inspector” and consultant.
  5. Mandate programs that reduce the Top 10 energy wasters in offices so that individual workers must play a part in their building’s energy reduction. This might mean automatic computer suspension overnight and on the weekends, or eliminating paper intensive processes, or installing automatic hand dryers and lights. These programs should apply to every building with at least 10 workers. Be imaginative, though, to work around corporate resistance; perhaps a cap & trade element would satisfy some building lessees.

Please continue writing about this issue. I want all workers to be aware of how they use energy and contribute to their building’s energy use and how it relates to carbon emissions.

-Steven Vance

I believe that most letters to the editor are written in mind for the newspaper’s other readers. Many letters to the editor are indeed directed at the editor, the article author, or the newspaper as a company. I chose to write my letter in the former style because if I was going to be published where 800,000 people might read what I wrote, I want it to be something they will find interesting and can have a personal response.

Why did I write what I did? Two LEED experts at Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago, Illinois, came to speak to my class about their research project that analyzes energy and water usage for 27 LEED-certified buildings in Illinois (find buildings on the USGBC’s website). The twofold purpose is to provide a report back to the study participants about their consumption, but also point out exactly what the NYT article mentioned: there’s a disparity between LEED certification and energy efficiency. Should LEED standards be more stringent about energy reduction (for existing buildings) or efficiency (for new buildings compared to other buildings in its class)?

It turns out that U.S. Green Buildings Council will soon require that new buildings must meet a certain minimum number of points in the Energy Efficiency category. I agree with this change, and my suggestions in my letter to the editor complement that change and encourage making energy efficiency easier and something that individual homeowners and workers will take part in.

Urban planning the stuff of dreams, says David Brooks

David Brooks’s article at the New York Times today is making the “urban planning rounds.”

I think the most important idea to take away from this article, and one I picked up on in the second sentence, is this:

Don’t plan for dreams!

Also, I think the writer has failed us – urban planners – simply by mentioning that urban planners dream about the day that Americans will “repent.” This is definitely not the way to attract readers to “our side.”

Or my side. And my side is just, rational, grounded, objective planning, for the existing and possible future needs of those for whom a plan is being created.

Right now, I’m working on a plan to serve bicyclists with better parking at transit stations. It took me a long time to develop the criteria to help me choose 40 stations, which I will eventually whittle to 10. After I chose the 40 stations, I will use different methods to find the “top 10.”

I would really like to “disrecommend” this article because it paints the picture of urban planners as holier than thou, and not in need of repentance like everyone else – this picture is created in the first two paragraphs and it really turns me off to the whole article. Unfortunately, though, thousands of people have already read the article: it’s in the Top 10 for emailed and blogged. 

Even though if you disregard this section, his points are unclear. In the tainted section I’ve already discussed, he introduces the article by saying that urban planners want American cities to be like those in Amsterdam, but in the remainder of the article Brooks talks about a Pew survey that says Americans are basically optimistic, want to move, and lists some places they’re moving. 

Brooks gives no direction to the urban planners who’re reading this (except perhaps not to try to Amsterdamize our cities), and no motivation for Americans to pay attention to urban planners.

I will not be forwarding this…

I’m not alone in my criticism of this article: Read Streetsblog’s take. I continue to hold that the New York Times is one of the best news and opinion source for armchair planners.

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