Category Archives: CarNage

Until further notice, please feel free to ridicule the Bay Area Air “Inequality” Management District

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This memo was sent out in August to employees of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the government agency in charge of improving air quality in the San Francisco Bay Area, and revealed to the public on Jon’s Bikescape blog. Following is my response. Please feel free to write to the human resources officer at the address below, and post your letter in the comments section.

To: mrich@baaqmd.gov

Saturday, December 1st, 2007

Dear Michael Rich, BAAQMD “Human” Resources:

I understand you are the author of a memo (dated August 9th) that has gone out to BAAQMD employees telling them they won’t be allowed to cycle during work hours. By the grace of God, tell me this was a prank. A sick joke perhaps? A late April Fool’s Joke?

Now I’m beginning to fear this memo was actually for real. If this is true, do you realize how ridiculous this makes you look?

There are thousands of kids throughout the Bay Area who are suffering day and night from asthma because of motor vehicle traffic, and you are chastising the very employees who are living the kind of lifestyles that would begin to reduce this shame? Perhaps BAAQMD needs a fleet of Hummers to protect their employees when they go about the very important business of improving air quality in the Bay Area. Why not tanks?

Your memo is currently making the rounds on the internet and you have become a laughing stock. Congratulations. Can you even begin to see the absurdity of your words or are you and your agency simply too wedded to personal automobility at any cost? Perhaps you are suffering from carbon monoxide inhalation, and need a long bike ride down the coast to detox?  Oh but that would violate your policy wouldn’t it?

I know now why you call it the Bay Area Air Quality MANAGEMENT District- you don’t sincerely want to IMPROVE air quality- you just want to MANAGE it. Manage the toxic soup we are all forced to breathe at a level of toxicity where the federal government won’t take away our precious highway funding. Manage it at a level that will allow rich people to continue driving their 4×4′s through poor neighbourhoods and causing cancer, asthma, and premature death without mothers and fathers sisters and brothers picking up sticks and stones and confronting the blindly habitual motorists slowly killing their children and leading us into climate chaos for which we will be judged without mercy by perpetuity.

Perhaps instead of worrying about liability for collisions, you could provide cycle training to reduce the risk. And as you would know if you did any actual research on the topic, cycling is much safer than driving when cyclists ride safely and predictably. But I imagine that in your closed minded little world, cyclists are just in the way of your Lincoln Navigator.

Navigate this:

Your policy is shortsighted, uninformed, and counterproductive to the stated policy and aims of your organization, as well as your moral duty to protect our air quality. You are failing the taxpayers of the Bay Area who pay your salary. You should be fired. Better yet, the social norms that allow a memo like this to go unquestioned in an agency like yours should be systematically dismantled for good.

It is 2007, not 1955. Wake up.

Sincerely,

Joshua Hart
Bay Area resident currently living in Bristol UK

(currently forwarding your memo to all my European friends. Do you hear that sound? It’s their chins dropping in disbelief, because they didn’t believe me when I told them that Americans could be this far in denial about cars and their impact on the environment.)

Stop at Red? The Ethics and Politics of Cyclist Red Light Running

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A new campaign has been launched in the UK called Stop at Red encouraging cyclists to sign up to ‘pledge’ their obedience to traffic signals. This campaign raises a whole host of issues for me.  I think it is well intentioned but unfortunately wholly misguided.  I guess I should start out by saying that I run red lights all the time, routinely, and I’m not ashamed of it and I won’t apologize for it.  Of course I never take anyone else’s right of way, and I only run the light if there’s no one coming.   There are a hell of a lot of lights in Bristol that seem to stay red for no particular reason.  Everyone just sits and waits.  We’re very well trained.

The sponsors of this campaign are confusing safe behaviour with law-abiding behaviour.   You can follow every law and still put yourself in a terribly dangerous position (i.e. in the door zone).   By the same token, you can slow and look around carefully at red lights and stop signs and proceed when no one is coming and you’ll likely never get into trouble.   Blindly following the law is a recipe for getting hurt on your bike.  Better to trust your own hearing, sight, and instincts than the government’s rigid idea of ‘health and safety’ which is quickly spiraling out of control, as evidenced by the recent replacement of a Guy Fawkes Bonfire with a video of a bonfire in Devon.

Cyclist red light running to me falls into the category of a victimless crime.  If a cyclist runs a light and no one’s coming, who is harmed?   The moral sensibilities of the people sitting in their cars at the light?  Please.  Where’s the habeus corpus here, people?

I think it is a noble goal to have every road user obey the law and get along great, but unfortunately we live in a society where the needs of one class of road user are prioritised at the expense of more vulnerable road users.   Cyclists are consistently hit, threatened, maimed, their air polluted, environment degraded, and then we say, oh you must EARN the respect of the car driving classes and they may offer you a few more crumbs off the table.  This is a little like saying to oppressed minorities, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” or “if you only acted in x, y, z ways you’d be equal, and all the -isms would vanish”

You know what- look at crosswalks- pedestrians running red lights is rampant.   Why isn’t anyone running a campaign to “improve the image of pedestrians” or raise the lowly image of the pedestrian as a “social out group”?  Of course this sounds ridiculous, about as ridiculous as this ‘stop at red’ campaign would sound to the Dutch, where cycling is a normal part of life that practically everyone engages in.

How did cyclists gain an equal, even elevated status in the Netherlands?   It wasn’t from some preachy campaign to encourage Dutch cyclists to follow the law.  No, it was because air pollution and gridlock was becoming so bad in the 1970’s that the population, and their politicians said enough is enough.  As car traffic was restricted, cycling and walking were prioritized. Now the Dutch have some of the most accessible, livable city centres in the world.   We can only hope that our pols here in the UK see the same light.

Cyclists in the Netherlands are some of the most law abiding in the world.  Why?  Because the law is reasonable and the government treats cyclists as if they have a right to the road.   In order to level the transport playing field, cyclists and pedestrians must be prioritized on account of the sheer physical weight, speed, and danger of cars– their parasitical effect on the body of urbanity.

Cycling groups such as the CTC have led the fight for cyclists to be treated the same as vehicles on the road.   These rights have been hard fought and won.   But being treated the same as a vehicle is a double edged sword, and the sharp end is hurting cyclists more than ever, I would argue.  Cyclists have de jure access to the entire road network (aside from motorways) yet more and more roads are de facto off limits to cyclists and pedestrians.   This is an extremely serious problem in rural England, where villagers who have walked or cycled along country lanes for years now find themselves excluded because of the rapidly growing traffic.  And of course these people often drive as a result, adding to the problem.  Exclusion of anyone not burning petroleum on our ‘public’ rights-of-way while our Arctic ice caps are melting is a scandal and injustice of epic proportions.

The bicycle is a kind of a hybrid animal– somewhere between a pedestrian and a vehicle, and we need to treat it as such.   Blaming cyclists for driving the wrong way down a one way street or running a stop light is a little like telling pedestrians to walk one-way on pavements.  Let’s stop trying to fit the round peg of cycling into the square hole of overly regimented traffic regulations.

The bottom line is that red lights and other rigid, auto based traffic rules are only necessary to keep the awkward and clumsy movements of cars packed into an urban area from killing and maiming more than they already do.  Why should cyclists, who aren’t the cause of this madness, be caught up in the same wide net as cars?  The solution is not to campaign for cyclists’ obedience to traffic lights, but to change the law to better reflect the reality of our transport systems.   In Idaho, the law allows cyclists to treat stop signs like yield signs and red lights like stop signs.  What a sensible idea.  Let’s focus our energies on the suitability of our laws rather than putting our energy into preachy campaigns that blame the victim.

This long line of cars…..is all because of ME

The traffic is horrific, but this song by Cake is AWESOME!!!  Thank you car culture! Also check out the official video here.

Thanks to Jon Winston and his excellent Bikescape podcast, based in San Francisco, for reminding me about this song.

My Home Is Melting

Climate news just keeps getting worse. First off was the report last week that the rate that we are emitting carbon into the atmosphere has dramatically increased since the start of the 21st century. Now there are reports of the cancellation of world cup ski events in Europe because of abnormally warm temperatures in the Alps. Not really the most inviting time to take a cheap flight to your ski vacation, is it? Is that knot in the pit of your stomach guilty knowledge that your gluttony is responsible for this mess we’re in? Nahhhh must be the out of date mayo on your pre-wrapped in flight sandwich….now sit back, relax, and enjoy despoiling your planet.

 

My roommates Alastair and Lizzy were down on Gloucester Rd. the other day and saw a stuffed polar bear in front of the Poundsavers store. It was plugged in to the wall, and was dancing and singing Christmas Carols. Struck by the irony of a fake polar bear using coal fired electricity to dance around for amused humans while causing its real brothers in the Arctic to drown amidst the melting ice caps was too much for us and we had to take action. As you can see, we made our own addition to the poor bear, and slyly added it while no one was looking. Point being that activism against climate damage doesn’t have to be illegal or spectacular, it can be ordinary everyday actions that remind people that burning ever increasing amounts of fossil fuels are leaving us a very uncertain and undesirable future. From the point of the Stern Report forward, ignorance is no longer an excuse, and we can all be held individually responsible for the carbon we emit. You have been warned…

 

Speaking of activism, you’ve got to check out this example of online teamwork to track down an SUV driver in NYC who was using his vehicle as a weapon. People think they are anonymous in their cars, yet with a license plate and a little ingenuity, these assailants can be publicly embarrassed for their threatening actions behind the wheel. Too bad we can’t put these people in stocks in the public square.

 

It is still totally unbelievable to me how lenient society is with dangerous drivers. What exactly is the difference between a man shooting rounds of ammunition from an AK-47 around a crowded high street, luckily missing everyone, and a man driving recklessly and aggressively down that same high street, apart from the latter also screwing up our air and climate? In this article from the Bristol Evening Post, a man is arrested for driving 90mph in a 40mph zone, driving on the pavement (sidewalk) and clipping a mother and child in their car:

 

“A judge sentenced Dale Kennedy today to 14 months in prison (way more than he would get in the US) and “banned him from driving for a year, told him he would have to take an extended driving test and endorsed his driving licence.”

 

Can you imagine the same scenario, yet with a gun instead of a car as the chosen deadly weapon? “A Judge sentenced Dale Kennedy today to 14 months in prison for firing his AK-47 in a crowded high street, banned him from shooting for a year, and told him he would have to take an extended firearms test, and endorsed his gun license”

 

This man who risked the lives of dozens of people should never be allowed to drive again after an incident like this, yet juries and judges are brainwashed into thinking that to deprive someone of their drivers license is akin to taking away their very lives. Amazing how poor public transport and non-motorized transport facilities allows society to justify letting people who are too reckless, young, old, or disabled to obtain drivers licenses.

 

Whatever the case, our car and oil addicted society is on its way to hitting rock bottom. There is a palpable excitement in communities that provide alternatives to this insanity– bicycle subcultures being a prime example. As one of the participants of the SUV justice team says: “There is something in the air, though, and we bike commuters are at the vanguard of whatever it is.”

 

Like the abolition of slavery, and the civil rights movement, where social norms turned on a dime and what seemed ordinary and acceptable one day was a horrific crime against humanity the next- we are soon to witness a sea change on how we see energy use, transport, and the organization of communities and commerce. It will be a different world, and many people aren’t prepared. Check out this fascinating report about how we’ve lost basic living skills in the last two generations, and how some are retraining themselves in preparation for the end of cheap electricity and fuel.

The Morbid Truth About Transport Planning

 

Some of my classmates at UWE have a hard time accepting the fact that governments knowingly and routinely approve new road projects that result in greater numbers of violent deaths of pedestrians and cyclists. They have a hard time coming to grips with the fact that well meaning politicians and planners who go home every night to their families would be capable of designing a physical world that crushes children under the wheels of “progress” just as it does inattentive pigeons and anything else that gets in its way, leaving families with an empty bedroom and horrific personal grief. .

 

“But they’re just accidents…………….”

 

When the number of children killed or seriously injured reaches about 4,000 a year in the UK, they’re no longer “accidents” but predictable costs of our car addiction problem, and I have a hard time accepting those facts.

 

So, of course, it is assumed that the transport planners who work for our civilized western democracies put safety first, and do everything in their power to prevent unnecessary death. Well……to a point. In my Transport Economics and Appraisal module, we learned that transport economists have decided how much your time is worth, and guess what? The value of cyclists time is among the lowest of the low, at £14/hr, just above that of taxi drivers (£8) and bus drivers (£8). Taxi passengers are considered to have the most valuable time, at £37, and car drivers are estimated to be worth about £22. Interestingly, walkers’ time is valued at £24.

 

In the transport economists world, a human life is worth exactly £800,000. So what this means is that if a proposed road widening project is predicted to kill 8 people over the next decade, yet the new road would save over 300,000 hours of car drivers time, at least in the transport economist’s view, that is an acceptable price to pay. I’m not sure the parents of the victims would agree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Having spent the last ten years fighting dangerous and ill conceived road projects in California, I have direct knowledge of this ugly calculation, and it is unfortunately not limited to the United Kingdom. In the States, traffic planners routinely use the LOS (level of service) measure to justify building new roads, widening existing ones, reducing pedestrian crossing times, or failing to provide safe cycle space, often perversely in the name of environmental protection.

 

It is heartening that the instructors on my course have a poor view of this methodology, that it is balanced with more qualitative measures, and that we are to think critically about its use as part of project appraisal. To me, pricing someone’s time based on their choice of travel method, adding up the seconds that a road scheme will save each commuter, then weighing this in financial terms, against a child’s life, amounts to murder by committee.

Car Choked Bristol

 

There are always two sides to every story, and Bristol has many tragic transport tales to tell. On the first day of my Transport Planning masters course at UWE, I needed to take the bus, as my bike had a broken chain. I waited over 45 minutes at the bus stop, with about a dozen other frustrated students. Then we sat in gridlock for another 45 minutes- a whole hour and a half to get from my St. Andrews home to Frenchay Campus, a distance of only 2 miles which takes about ten minutes on a bike. On top of that, it costs £2 (about $3.75) for a single ticket. Needless to say, I got my trusty “push bike” fixed the next day, and have sustained a bus “bikecott” ever since.

 

The deregulation of the bus industry (in the UK outside of London) has apparently resulted in more expensive and less reliable service. No doubt this state of affairs has led many to the driver’s seat, exacerbating an already bad situation.

 

It is a sad tale of congestion, frustration and woe every rush hour in “Brizzle,” with Chelsea Tractors (SUV’s) and a queue of single occupant vehicles crammed into narrow lanes and oversubscribed ring roads. There is an epidemic of pavement (sidewalk) parking in Bristol, forcing mothers with strollers and everyone else into the path of speeding cars, and choking neighborhood walkways.

 

Added to a proposed south ring road in Bristol, ambitious and destructive plans to expand Bristol International Airport, artificially low parking fees (and ample parking lots) at UWE, the rejection of light rail up the Gloucester Road, a real lack of cycle parking in front of stores, and the highest car ownership rates in the UK, and suddenly the green sheen of Bristol starts to lose its luster.

 

Quite a hefty burden for a transport planner to deal with really. One of my fellow Transport Planning students, Nick, when presented with a series of transport prediction models the other day, asked why these were necessary when we know what we have to do, and that is get cars off the road. “It’s a bloody emergency, how can we sit around fiddling with models when the planet is burning?”

 

We don’t have to be led like lambs to slaughter. We can restore true transport choice, create livable, safe, beautiful communities, and escape the vicious cycle of fossil fuel dependency, all while improving quality of life.

We just need to come together and agree that is what we want– then build the cycle paths, the rapid accessible transit networks, homezones, and wind turbines that will make living carbon neutral lives so much more possible.

Do we really need that new plasma TV or that cheap cardigan made in China? That cheap flight to the continent? That new BMW X5 with onboard navigation? We need it like we need flooded cities, 500 million refugees, and an atmosphere gone haywire, a home in space we can no longer depend on.

To put it bluntly, If the wealthiest people and nations wish to carbonize the atmospheric commons more than the rest of us, they should have to purchase carbon credits from those of us who pollute less. As energy cuts become ever more urgent, a carbon rationing market will have to emerge, bringing the true costs of energy to bear, and perhaps bringing social equity to a world desperately in need of it.

 

Thank god the following organizations are riding a wave of popularity at the moment and promise to bring transport sanity back to Bristol- please give them your full support:

 

The growing campaign to Stop Bristol Airport Expansion –The airport wants to TRIPLE flights by 2030- scientists say we need carbon CUTS of 70% by that year- there is a disconnect here people….

 

An Alliance Against the South Bristol Ring Road is fighting a new road through open space and greenbelt in the South of Bristol

 

Bristol Cycling Campaign reminds local politicians we need more resources and attention to those on two wheels

 

And a colorful group setting the record straight about Bristol’s TRUE history:

Bristol Radical History Week

 

An eerie similarity between addiction to nicotine and gasoline (DON”T MISS!)

Why can’t we give up fossil fuels? Ask a smoker!

George Monbiot, populist climate change leader holding their feet to the fire on climate change: Turn Up the Heat- George Monbiot

UK or Bust: Police Brutality and Resistance: Montreal Critical Mass 25 Aug. 2006

As it was the last friday of the month, I decided to ride down to Philips Square to check out the monthly Montreal Critical Mass ride, which gathers at 5:30 and rides at 6pm. The sun was shining, and attractive Quebecois were going about their day, buying flowers from the kiosk in the square, going home from work and passing by, observing the growing crowd of cyclists. There was a guy in a Bush mask and a suit who riding with us, and two sisters, Fanny and Marion, had made stencils out of old t-shirts, and were handing them out to the assembled massers. I pinned one to my guitar case that said “vive le velorution”. Thought that was appropriate….(my e-mail is velorution@yahoo.com)

 

We pulled out of Philips Square, about 40 cyclists, some with plants draped around their handlebars and some with papier mache palm trees. I think there was some sort of Earth theme going on, as it was Katrina- Climate connection ride, organized by the climate justice group Rising Tide North America.

 

A police car drove close behind us, announcing over his loudspeaker: Envoye En n’avance!! (Get going- get a move on….) (What a great name this would be for a new Montreal based bike direct action campaign along the lines of Times Up in NYC…..vous ecoutez les Montreal velorutionaires??)

 

Everyone was in high spirits, cruising down St. Katherine, exclaiming in French and English: “A qui la rue??? A NOUS la rue!!!!! and “Whose streets? OUR Streets!!”. The mood was light and people were chatting and socializing as we rode along. All of a sudden, word was passed forward that a woman was being arrested by the police. Everyone turned around and weaved back through traffic to see what had happened, and it turned out that the police had picked off a rider who was passing out flyers to passersby at the back of the ride. There was a crowd of shoppers gathered (as this was the main shopping district) and as the ride rallied around the woman being arrested, the police lunged for two more riders (who happened to be non-white) and threw them to the ground, knees in the back, arms wrenched behind them, simply for riding their bikes, and enquiring what had happened to the woman being roughly shoved head first into the police car.

 

In total, I believe that 3 people were arrested. The three were transported to the police station, and the rest of us rode on, sans police company. Many people on the street, and in windows above, waved and cheered, and later one guy in a Humvee yelled at us, “get a job!” We yelled back, “get a bike!” We ended up in a park, where we held a leaderless, mutually facilitated debriefing in a circle, consistent with the tradition of Critical Mass, where everyone shared their observations about the incident, and what was to be done about it.

 

Many thought that it was important to write to the papers about it and let others know this is happening.

 

I shared my experiences riding San Francisco Critical Masses almost monthly since 1997, and suggested ways to deal with police repression, as San Francisco, and most other masses throughout the world, have dealt with violence and intimidation tactics from police forces in the past.

 

A man from Winnipeg, Manitoba shared that the Critical Mass there was badly brutalized a couple months ago, with people being beaten as they were arrested, and then later while being held in jail. The next months ride swelled to 300 riders in protest. You can seen the video of the Winnipeg incident here.

 

And here I was thinking Canada was so progressive and environmentally friendly. Police, even in Montreal, are beating up peaceful cyclists riding lawfully and environmentalists speaking out against climate change.

 

Apparently, Montreal police are known for being aggressive, so watch out if you come to Montreal and want to ride a bike or speak out!

 

Those who witnessed this incident should speak up and protest these heavy handed tactics.

 

Envoye en n’avance!!!!