Thursday, October 6, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

You've probably heard by now, there are thousands of people protesting Wall Street, and they have issued their list of grievances. I'd like to take a look at these and either agree or disagree.

"Proesters want jobs and the financial security that comes with them." Agree! That sounds pretty reasonable. How it is that Wall Street is going to provide those jobs has yet to be seen. Most of the wealth traded there is from companies from around the country and even around the world. But I guess you can't occupy every business campus across the country, right?

"As in countries like Greece, Spain, Ireland and Egypt, more than 25% of the youth in this country are unemployed - and that number is growing" Agree! Of course, I think this phenomenon is linked to a particular government policy on wages that artificially distorts the supply and demand of low skilled or inexperienced workers (read: young people). This is, of course, the minimum wage, and whether we agree or not, it just doesn't make sense to pay people who won't deliver much value at a higher salary until their skills and knowledge support the salary.

"Students want affordable education. Due to our current monetary policy of near zero-rate money, banks receive exceedingly cheap financing terms, which they have not bestowed upon their degree-seeking customers" Hmmmm, so are we surprised that banks don't want to make riskier loans to people who may not find jobs after graduating while offering a low interest rate generally reserved for the most trustworthy and reliable of borrowers? Just when is the last time one of these customers stepped into a bank for a loan? Or a credit card for that matter? Higher risk borrowers require a higher interest rate to offset the risk to the bank. It's a bit like a game at the casino, the payout has to match the odds for the game to make sense.

"Homeowners want to keep their homes." Man, that sounds really reasonable, but it just defies the very basics of business. If we take out a loan, we make a promise to repay that loan at a given interest rate (which can sometimes be variable). This is important for a number of economic reasons, not the least of which is the stability of the banks who depend on the profit from a loan to stay in business and even make new loans. What we are really asking when we demand a re-negotiation of a loan is for the bank to take a financial loss instead of the homeowner. We are quite literally asking them to wipe wealth off the books. I know what you're thinking, better for them to take a loss than for me to lose my home. Well, tell that to all the other people who want to buy a home that now can't because of the finacial losses from loan modifications.

"Finally, protesters want a fairer distribution of wealth and taxes." Meaning what, exactly? Do you acknowledge that some people should be paid more than others? For example, should a doctor make more money than a ditch digger? And if so, how much? By what standard other than your own do we decide, comparitively, that their wages are 'fair'? Does a waitress who scraps and saves and invests for 40 years deserve the hundreds of thousands of dollars of wealth invested in Wall Street she now enjoys in her retirement account? Should she have more wealth than some smart-ass student who is protesting Wall Street, and if so, how much more? What really surprises me is that they understand that a majority of the wealth is controlled by a minority of the population, but they don't understand that many of the individuals in the protest will eventually become a member of that minority as they age, gain in experience, and are paid more and save more for retirement (and yes, I am an optimist, these people seem reasonably intelligent and will find a job eventually). A lot of this has to do with age. As was previously pointed out, unemployment for young people is higher, and substantially lower for older people. Likewise, the 'poor' (meaning not wealthy, not neccesarily low paid or unemployed) tend to be younger and inexperienced, and the 'wealthy' tend to be older workers who are paid more for their experience and have been saving and investing for decades.

An important distinction should be made, though the same principals apply. There is a difference between wealth and wages. Someone could be paid very well and have no wealth or be drowning in debt, and likewise a person could have a modest income while saving and creating wealth through prudent personal financial decisions.

The question someone should ask is what all of these wealthy individuals do with their wealth. They don't hoard it in cash vaults like Scrooge McDuck, or stuff it under their mattresses. They invest it, providing capital for businesses to grow and potentially create new jobs, which is one of the earlier demands of the protestors. They put their wealth at risk to sustain our economy.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

WWDD

What Would David Cronrath Do? Found these while going through my old architecture notes the other day.

Rule #1
Everything is made of C's, L's and J's

Rule #2
Three Dimensionalize [sic]. As Dave was fond of saying, this is not Mario Brothers

Rule #3
Faceted Forms are crisp, precise & powerful. They lend mass to composition

Rule #4
Pivots change direction of space. Voids can be pivots as can mass.

Rule #5
Space is not gravity bound. Gravity kills.

Rule #6
Difference defines everything...or as I like to say, understanding comes through difference.

Rule #7
Compose, don't vomit.

Rule #8
Void is cheaper than mass.

Rule #9
Layers are made by overlap and void.

Rule #10
Continuity is an arrow through the head (see Steve Martin)

Rule #11
Two volumes of space can collide and still retain their shapes.

Rule #12
Band aids can reinforce continuity through discontinuity (see rule #6)

Thus spoke Dave.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Oracle of Op-Ed

My liberal friends have all recently been oohing and aahhhing over Warren Buffett's latest call for Washington to tax the rich ('Stop Coddling' to use his words). It must feel like the ultimate vindication for the raise taxes argument. For the record, I think that Warren Buffett is a brilliant investor, and he inspired me to read his mentor, Benjamin Graham ('The Intelligent Investor' and 'Security Analysis'), another brilliant investor in his own right. If shares of Berkshire Hathoway (a hollowed out textile business turned investment house in a value purchase) were available in my 401k offering, I would put a sizable amount of my nest egg there. But all that glitters is not gold. I want to address the fallacies of using this Op-Ed as a blunt instrument in a political debate.

Argumentum Ad Crumenam
An appeal to the purse. In simpler terms, it means assuming that someones argument is valid because they have lots of money. The fact that Warren Buffett is rich has nothing to do with his ability to understand or dictate tax policy. In fact, there are some people who I would consider as dangerously insane who have made quite a bit of money and have no business in politics or taxation (Donald Trump comes to mind). Liberals have posted this Op-Ed to say 'look, one of their own advocates the same policies as we do!' Just because Warren Buffett endorses higher taxes doesn't negate the possibility that it could prove economically disastrous. As an aide, I personally feel like Michelle Bachman's assertions that she is qualified to be our president because she has owned a business in the private sector is another form of this argument.

Fallacy of Composition
This is more implied than actually presented in the argument. I think the temptation is to think that Warren Buffett and his super-rich friends all agree that raising taxes is the best course of action. (using quotes: "most [mega-rich friends] wouldn't mind being told to pay more taxes as well...) If some of the rich people are brave enough to come forward and say its a good idea, it's not that hard to imagine that a majority or whole of that category agrees with Mr. Buffett, or perhaps that at least one could argue that. Unfortunately, this is an illogical conclusion. This also transitions nicely into the next fallacy.

Dicto Simpliciter
An easier way of thinking of this is as a sweeping, un-substantiated claim as fact or truth. As a quote from the piece: 'while most Americans struggle to make ends meet...' Perhaps most do, but I have my doubts and you should too. I had one liberal friend suggest that 75% of Americans agree with the piece implying that us doubters should get on board. Do 75% agree? I don't know, but does that matter? Next Fallacy!

Ad Populum
The above 75% argument is a great example of this. Because most people agree, and there is consensus, it must be the best course of action, right? Wrong! I believe that history has proven this time and time again, and because of the brevity of this post, I will offer an example that Liberals can appreciate: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both had wide public support with near unanimous support in Congress (a rare act of bipartisanship), but it was in fact the completely wrong and illogical decision with serious consequences to boot. [another dicto simpliciter]

Post Hoc Ergo Prompter Hoc
This is a fallacy where one event precedes another, and the second event is assumed to be the result of the first. It is extremely popular in politics, and it is a tool Warren Buffett is comfortable wielding. Quote: "And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. [higher tax rates implied] You know what's happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation." This statement seems to suggest that lower tax rates are to blame for our high unemployment but there is nothing to prove that one is the cause of the other. In all fairness it could be true but I have to think that if he could actually prove that then he should be upgraded from Oracle to Omniscient.

None of these fallacies prove Warren Buffett wrong. He could be entirely right and we could be on the cusp of a revolution in economics, market performance, employment and taxation. Furthermore, many bad ideas can be argued on the grounds of logic alone, and in my opinion an appeal to human emotion is not unfair in our politics. However, we should never discount the possibility that Warren Buffet's ideas may be dangerous if implemented or that opposition cannot stand to the shaky logic presented in the Op-Ed piece.

Don't give your politically passionate friends a free pass on bad arguments. After all, no one will extend you the courtesy of allowing you to say whatever you like regardless of how illogical it may seem.



Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Shunning Bicycle Education

It is funny how differently people react to children and 'dangerous' activities. Two of my bosses at work both have young children, and of course they all love to swim. So this summer they are in swim lessons or at swim meets quite a bit. I want to compare this activity and the attitude of parents towards it with that of riding a bicycle.

The CDC declared that in 2007 there were roughly 700 child drownings in the US. Obviously swimming carries with it some risk. So what do parents do? They enroll their children in swim lessons where they learn how be safe in and around bodies of water. They learn to tread water, swim, not run around the pool and when it is and when it is not safe to go into the pool. The CDC said that such education reduces the risk of childhood drowning by a whopping 88%! It really is a no-brainer that lessons save lives. Knowledge is simply a must in this situation.

Now, how does that stack up to cycling? The NHTSA reported in 2009 that there were 74 fatalities for people 14 or younger in the US. Cycling also carries some risk. So what do parents do?...Anybody?...Looking for what parents do?...

Well, if it's anything like my experience, I was taught to ride properly in Boy Scouts, and then promptly corrected by my well-meaning parents into ignoring all of that information. I was told to ride on the sidewalk and if there was no side walk (that would be many streets in Baton Rouge) then I should ride on the left hand side of the road into opposing traffic.

Rather than avail themselves of knowledge and embrace education, they advised against it. Clearly they thought that cycling carried risks just the same as swimming (I was also enrolled in swim classes as a child) or else they would not have countermanded the lessons of a knowledgable cyclist. It always surprises me how parents will choose not to properly educate their children about cycling in order to be safe, but almost wholeheartedly embraces education for swimming.

Thinking that children are safe if they ride on sidewalks or bike lanes and leaving it at that is not enough. There are still numerous intersections between that sidewalk and driveways or roads, and drivers do not have total awareness around their vehicles. It is very easy to miss a small child on a sidewalk while backing up a minivan or SUV. Putting your child on separated bike trails will not prepare them for the moments when those trails intersect with roadways or parking lots.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Honks, Just Part of the Commute

Back on the bike again, riding into downtown from Oak Cliff. I only got one honk today, which is good and that occurred on the Houston St. bridge connecting Zang to Market St. in downtown. I was in the right most lane and had taken the lane, traffic merged on my right with their own lane which was clear ahead for the faster moving vehicles. I don't know if it was force of habit or what, but a couple of cars slowed down to merge behind me aggravating a motorist behind them.

I stayed in my lane until the traffic cleared and then signaled and moved into the far right lane. Other than that the commute was a piece of cake, and riding downtown was a treat as always.

I really should count my blessings like Keri of Commute Orlando. For every rude person I encounter, I have many many more polite and civil interactions with motorists. They appreciate the signaling, lane control, predictability and most of all a 'Thank You' or wave from me when they give me the right of way.

Monday, June 13, 2011

I Hope I Spoke Well

No matter who you are or where you go, in this day and age, somebody has already spoken on your behalf.

It's simple enough to detest bigotry and prejudice, in principle most of us do. But it's impossible to think that somebody would see past his or her own experience and world view simply to evaluate you as a unique individual and person of worth.

The other day, I met a rather rude gentleman on the train riding south from Park Lane. I had asked a simple question, and his response was hostile. As off-putting as the experience was, I had to realize that the sum of his experiences in his life up to that very moment were the determining factors in his response.

He didn't know me or if I had ill intentions toward him, so what did he have to go by? I think only the overt and obvious things: I was riding on public transportation, I was Male, White, my dress (I may have looked like a middle class hipster?). Could one or more of those groups have left him with a bad experience? Maybe, I'll never truly know.

In the end, he was having to make a complex decision on limited input and time, and let's be honest here, it would have been a burden to him to expend the energy to get to know me as an individual, especially in such a short time.

I believe the world is an exceedingly complex place that is so large and diverse in its peoples and experiences that we lack the mental capacity to understand it all. To 'fill the gaps' we tend to embrace world views that simplify and divide and categorize the world around us. Once we have this world view in place, we engage a confirmation bias to confirm that world view. So even if we don't realize it, we are speaking on behalf of a multitude of groups simultaneously. Depending on the chosen world view of the observer, our actions might actually negatively reinforce hateful stereotypes by providing the biased proof that the individual seeks.

[I should note here that hateful stereotypes extend beyond the colloquial racial ones. These take other more socially acceptable forms like political, gender and lifestyle bigotry. Why it is that we clearly oppose one but fully engage the others is a mystery, perhaps we just have a need to be filled]

It is a tremendous burden to see the world as it truly is: a messy, complicated and indistinguishable affair. In the end I cannot ask any person to abandon their way of seeing the world to be a better human being. However we can acknowledge our shortcomings in this way and maybe leave a little room for expanding our horizons and accepting new people.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Adventure Update

Had a great time in Forth Worth at the Flying Saucer! The train ride there was good and enjoyed a few beers and met some interesting people!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Public Transportation Adventure Day Tomorrow

Since my wife has gone to Orlando to attend a wedding expo with her sister, I have decided to have some fun of my own and have a public transportation adventure tomorrow. First, to start out the morning, I'm thinking about making a bike ride over to Oddfellows for bignets and orange juice (not a coffee person), and then take the bus into downtown for work. After work on Friday, I'm going to hop on the TRE to Fort Worth for some beers and bar food at the Flying Saucer and maybe spend a little time in Sundance Square before heading back home.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Frustration

Before I begin, I want to say that this is not a catharsis post. I don't want to vent or complain, but merely point out a reality with public transportation in Dallas.

DART is an amazing, forward thinking entity that laid the foundations for light rail nearly 20 years ago. They have a remarkable ability to plan for the future and to provide Dallas with a world class public transportation system. Compared to where I used to live this system takes the cake. And the platter. And maybe some embroidered napkins. But it is far from perfect.

As I like to joke, my bus in the afternoons is 'Reliably Unreliable' in that it is consistently 10-15 later than the designated pickup time. For the first week, I just assumed that the bus wasn't coming after 10 minutes and I would try to catch a bus elsewhere. Getting home could sometimes be an hour long ordeal. I finally learned to be patient and wait until the bus arrived, and this has made the experience better.

This issue lies at the core of problems for DART. DART is expansive with service to anywhere in the metroplex, but getting from one point to another can involve a lot of moving parts. As we all know, the more complex the machine, the more opportunities exist for failure. For example, if I wanted to get a haircut at my barber shop of choice, and I left from the office, I could take a train directly there that has frequent and consistent service. Now, to get from the barber shop to my house would involve two pieces: The train going to either the West End Station or Hampton Station and a bus bringing me into my neighborhood. Getting a train to either station is a simple matter. Getting a bus at a time that is convenient to train arrival times is not for my neighborhood.

Add to this the fact that almost none of the buses and trains arrive precisely as scheduled, and you leave a traveler with little confidence that he or she can make it from one point to another in a timely fashion. As an anecdote, consider what is required to get from a suburban location without a train station handy to DFW. One must either catch a bus to a train station to get to Union Station, and then take the TRE to Centreport, then catch a shuttle to a remote parking lot, and then jump shuttles to finally get to the intended terminal.

The DART rail is going to make this easier, but not by a lot. When their train is complete, one will need to jump trains from either the red, blue or green lines in downtown onto an orange line train, and bear in mind that one must first get to a train station via bus if they don't live near one.

At the end of it all, this just underscores the incompatibility of a sprawling suburban metroplex with a sophisticated public transportation system. If you look at other systems in areas of high density, they aren't necessarily as amazing or extensive as the one here in Dallas. Rome has a simple 'X' shape. Chicago has a loop and 'L Train.' What these have that Dallas doesn't yet is a population density that can utilize public transportation for travel within a small area. The fact that I need to go to another part of town to get a haircut challenges the system beyond that for which it was primarily intended, as a means of commute to relieve growing pressures on the road system.

The DART is simple for one way commutes, but the destinations of those commutes demand that people move outside their current location to meet any other need. I can't yet do all of my dining, shopping, haircuts and entertainment in the West End, and I may not ever be able to do all of those things here. I'm a firm believer in economics, and people will utilize this system more as it makes sense for people to do so. But right now, I'm not surprised that a staggering majority of people forgo the experience of public transportation in favor of driving themselves. Given that the complexity of the system can increase travel times five-fold depending on the location, it does not surprise me that commuters opt for the frustration of traffic over the frustration of lost time.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Our Neighborhood

Check this out! Our neighborhood, North Oak Cliff, has been identified as one of This Old House's best places to buy in 2011!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Seaside and the Perpetual Motion Machine

The angel who talked to me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width...the city is pure gold, clear as glass...its gates will never be shut by day-and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it...

Revelation 21:15-27


There has been a movement, referred to as the New Urbanist movement, that is starting to take hold throughout our country. The leader of this movement in name and spirit is a man named Andres Duany. His most celebrated work is a community on the gulf shore of Florida named Seaside, but I'll come back to it in a moment.

When I was in highschool, I learned that my grandfather had invested a small amount of money in a man who claimed to have created a perpetual motion machine. More than that, it generated more energy than it required to run and so it allegedly ran in perpetuity generating additional electricity. For years, the creator of this machine had obscured the details of its construction, and would only give the design away if it could be patented. Turns out, it couldn't be patented but plans did eventually leak out and it was discovered that the machine was stripping electrons from a common metal for fuel and that it actually consumed more electricity than it required to run, but simply contained an innovative power source.

What does this have to do with Seaside? Well, just as the perpetual motion machine appeared to defy physics and promise something too good to be true, I believe Seaside does much the same in defying the laws and realities of urban planning.

I have been to Seaside, and it is a wonderful community. Neighbors know each other, and the area is very walkable, even in the summer heat. The beach front properties are just homes, so a wall of massive towers doesn't obstruct access for the citizens of seaside. There is even a 'town square' with some works by the worlds best architects housing local businesses. (For popular reference, the Truman Show was filmed there).

In short, it is the perfect idealized town. It's everything my father used to tell me about old Downtown McComb in Mississippi and more! And unlike Kissimee or some of the developments in and around Orlando, nothing feels fake or contrived about the town. If one didn't know better when driving through, he or she might think that this is a town that was miraculously spared from the urban ills of the 20th century.

The perpetual motion machine could have worked if two simple truths could have been ignored: Moving parts in contact generate friction, robbing energy, and that one cannot generate more matter and energy than is present in the beginning. And so it is that Seaside has attempted to ignore a significant portion of the population, a rule that prevents this kind of thing from spreading to other larger cities and communities. It is this law that keeps our world in balance, and this sort of development in check.

When we look at the property values of Seaside, its plainly clear that a certain demographic dominates the town. Homes range from $400k to over $2 Million and I don't think that affordable housing is on the menu. Part of what makes a city work is the availability of a wide range of skills and talents. This isn't Good Will Hunting where a genius finds virtue in scrubbing the toilets in a public restroom. These tasks are generally performed by low skill, low paid workers.

So it begs the question, who collects the garbage? Who sweeps the streets? Who landscapes the town square? And most importantly, where do they live?

Umm...Not in Seaside...

Even better, I noticed an architect's office in the town square. Is there a secretary? Is he/she a citizen of Seaside, perhaps the bored spouse of a very successful professional or businessman? Or is this person from a neighboring city with a Walmart and sprawling suburbs?

It's probably fair to assume that some of the more menial jobs are taken by the young and innexperienced children of Seaside. But still, this is a question that needs to be answered.

The success of Seaside, and of New Urbanism, is the elimination of the elements of our society that are deemed a failure, and all of the attributes that go along with it. There are no poor or homeless to dirty up the streets. There are no lower class families with poorly maintained yards and junk on their porches. This is not a success on Duany's part but rather an evolved gesture to make your mess further away from your campsite.

So, why should anyone care? Well, new urbanism is beginning to enter the lexicon of our new neighborhood, Oak Cliff. The vision is of people in boutiques and shops sipping on coffee while reading the New York Times. The lesson to be learned is that this is entirely possible but only at somebody else's expense. The first and perhaps most visible of these will be the gentrification of the neighborhoods surrounding this new ideal development.

News recently broke that the area would be receiving a Walmart Neighborhood Store and the outrage has begun. This is of concern because Walmart brings an element that is bitter to new urbanism: lower class families opting for lower prices over boutiques and shops with more expensive goods. These developments are not walkable and don't deliver the experience that Duany champions.

Oak Cliff will be a true test for New Urbanism mostly because it has more real world problems to confront than Seaside, which descended from heaven and keeps the riff-raff out. It is my opinion that the rezoning of Davis street will transform it into something wonderful but not without a price to be paid by lower class families: First by rising property values and taxes, then by gentrification and finally by substantial relocation to areas more remote to the centers of commerce and employment.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Un-carved Block

Sometimes, I digress seriously from the original intent of the blog. So, to paraphrase one of my favorite chapters from the Tao Te Ching, the time has come to regress to the state of the un-carved block. Exploring new ideas and concepts is always welcome to me, but there are times when it makes sense to go back to the beginning to put things in context.

I grew up in Baton Rouge. It is a college town, but it is not yet a truly urban town. Some parts of it are further along in this kind of development, but it has a long way to go. I attended private k-12 school in South Baton Rouge which was quite a ways from where I lived. There was no chance that I could take public transportation or walk and so from an early age I became heavily dependent on the automobile. Sprawling development was springing up around the school neighborhood and outpaced BR's ability to keep up with roads and infrastructure. The result was grueling traffic that might result in a commute taking half an hour when it should have taken 10 minutes.

When I moved out of the dorm on campus at LSU I started living in South Baton Rouge and commuting to school every day. The traffic had gotten worse because of neighborhood developments that went unchecked by city planning or any kind of zoning management.

This is why when I moved to Dallas, one of the most exciting prospects for me was to eliminate the need for a car for most of my daily needs. Dallas is by no means a walkable city, but the prospects here are way better, and getting better all the time. We first lived on the very edge of uptown, right across Woodall Rogers from the Arts District. It was only a mile from my office in the West End, so I began to walk.

What I found was that walking was far more enjoyable even in the pedestrian desert that is the boundary between downtown and uptown. (As an aside, this is rapidly changing. The road that I followed for my commute is currently being converted into a deck park with great planned amenities!) I now realize that I hate being in a car. Perhaps I am crazy to think this, but the car has an effect on me, and I think and behave differently in a car than on foot. I am more relaxed on foot, and most things don't bother me like they do in a car. For example, if someone randomly walks in front of me, I don't freak out and shoot them the bird, its just not a big deal.

If I am accidentally bumped into, no harm no foul. Imagine if at some red light somebody hit your bumper, but no damage was done. Would that stop you from freaking out and possibly calling for a police report?

After a post on Facebook, a former classmate and fellow conservative pointed out that several pedestrians and cyclists demonize cars. This is true. I will not because I own two, and use them for things that Dallas's public transportation system can't yet handle efficiently (it could be a 3 hour ordeal to get to a grocery store vs. 30 mins in the car) But in spite of all of this, I prefer to walk or ride a bike any time I can.

My attitude towards DART has changed somewhat over the nearly 4 years we have been here. Coming in, I saw the DART rail almost as the L in Chicago, getting you awfully close to where you need to go. As I rode and experienced the system, I learned that outside of downtown, this is largely not the case, but is more like a commuter rail for people way outside the city center. What's funny about that is that others apparently had the same expectation that I did, so now livable transit oriented developments are popping up, and the train becomes an urban island hopping vehicle. There is still a long way to go before people can huddle around a train station both at home and at work and still address the needs of everyday living, but we are getting there.

Our new neighborhood, Oak Cliff, is now beginning to embrace this kind of urban density. As the first harbinger of change, the Oak Cliff Transit Authority (with the help of Fort Worth) has obtained a TIGER grant to begin building a street car connecting North Oak Cliff around Methodist Hospital with Union Station in downtown. The consensus seems to be that the line will be extended down Davis to create a more walkable and desirable commercial corridor. This has been recently buttressed by the radical re-zoning of Davis by the city to make the area more appealing to developers, and interestingly enough, this is accomplished by reducing parking requirements. What will take the place of the almighty automobile? Feet, Bicycles and Public Transportation, I think...

It's a dream that many people have of the ideal city. I grew up hearing stories from my father about how kids would ride bicycles everywhere, and people didn't have hour long commutes. This ideal, manifesting itself in new forms, is making a comeback in a major way, and one only needs to look around to see that the seeds have been planted. It won't be long now before the roots take hold, and public transportation and other automobile alternatives will prove to be the preferred method of travel for the citizens of Dallas.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Plea for Education

Yesterday, I rode my bike to work. It was cold in the morning, but I knew that it would be nice that afternoon, and it was! I could not have asked for better weather for riding home: 71 degrees, sunny and clear, with a little breeze.

My commute home is a simple one. I get on San Jacinto through downtown and ride to Ross, so basically I ride in a straight line, in a single lane. This is why I was amazed at what happened to me right after I passed the JP Morgan Chase building.

Before I get into it, I will be honest here. There are some stupid people on bicycles who do stupid things like riding into opposing traffic or darting on and off the sidewalks, running red lights and stop signs or even changing lanes erratically. But I don't do those things, I pick a lane as far to the right as 'practicable' and signal when I am about to do something. Otherwise, I drive like any driver would and should.

Apparently that wasn't good enough for a brown haired lady in a champagne colored, four door sedan with Iowa license plates and an Iowa State University sticker (I remember so I can keep an eye out for this person in the future). As I went under the pedestrian bridge linking the JPMC building and the Plaza of the Americas, she pulled along side me in the next lane, and with her window rolled down, shouted "You are a fucking idiot."

At this point, she must have been riding high because the road was open and the lights ahead were green, so she sped off. What she didn't realize is that in downtown, there are lots and lots of red lights, and the average speed of a vehicle is roughly the same as a bicycle for any given stretch of road.

So naturally, she was stuck in traffic waiting for the light at Ross and the North Central Expressway when I pulled up. I noticed her window was still rolled down, so (in a total lapse of judgement) I pulled up and asked her if she had something she needed to say to me. She ignored me and rolled the window up.

This is, I believe, a syndrome of drivers who feel insulated from the ills of the world while in a car. What possible consequence could befall a person who decides to be a total bitch to someone else? Well, she should thank the Good Lord above that it was me she decided to piss off rather than someone with a violent temper. She didn't know me from Adam. What if I was armed? What if I had reached inside that open window and gotten inside her car?

To be fair, what I did was probably no better. She could have had a gun or a weapon. But still, I think this is a teachable moment.

This woman, for whatever reason, was completely unaware of the fact that I have the right to be where I was. She was completely unaware that it was her responsibility to share the road with me just like any other vehicle. I wouldn't be so quick to consider her a 'fucking idiot' but rather ignorant of the rules of the road.

I can only assume that she had been behind me in the far right lane (there are three total going one way, and I should add that city buses make frequent stops in that lane, so she was likely going more quickly behind me than a DART bus) and became frustrated that she couldn't go faster than 20 mph.

At any rate, I have decided to interpret her commentary as a plea for education. Sadly, it may be too late for someone like her who has no clue. But I think this underscores how critical it is to make drivers aware of the presence of bicycles. There should be more questions on the drivers license exam relating to cycling and study materials that explain how to share the road. School children should be taught at an early age how to operate bicycles safely in the street and eventually in the bike lanes that will appear in Dallas.

We have allowed this critical area of road safety to be forgotten by entire generations and it needs to be restored. Dallas has made a statement with its aggressive new bike plan that we intend to recognize cycling as a legitimate form of transportation, for young and old, rich and poor, for beginners and pros alike. Showing a subtle shift in transportation priority by giving cyclists a portion of the road is a start, but this must be a multi-pronged approach.

If by some miracle we attain the mode share of a city like Portland, where 7% of commutes are by bicycle, then we must ensure that the other 93% understand the rights of cyclists and the rules of the road. If not, then Dallas will be forever doomed to scaring away potential new riders who are not as bold or as ambitious (I believe that Bike Friendly Oak Cliff refers to them as 2%ers). Please, Dallas, begin the education process now, and who knows, maybe a younger generation can show the old folks a better way.