Sunday, August 19, 2018

Biking Nations: In Porto, Portugal with the Urban Sketchers




I haven't been to Portugal since my biking adventure in Lisbon in 2011. It was a rented bike. I didn't have much experience riding in foreign countries. I didn't have a lot of wrenching skills. I had little sense of direction. How had I evolved since?

Let me back up a second.

The 2011 trip to Portugal was made for the same reason as the 2018 trip: the Urban Sketchers were having their annual symposium and they chose Porto. Last year they had chosen Chicago, Illinois and I didn't have a language barrier to contend with as I explored famous movie sights and rode to Gary, Indiana and back. 

Returning to Portugal did put me in a place where I wondered about how I had changed as a cyclist. 2018 Portugal Me had changed careers a total of three times since 2011 Portugal Me. I had moved from Connecticut to California. I had approached, hit, and passed my 40th birthday. 

What I hadn't done was change my equipment much. The first time in Lisbon was the only time of all of the eight Symposiums I've been a part of (see the #WhileYouWereSketching hashtag) where I rented a bike. The last seven in a row I've brought my 1998 Bike Friday New World Tourist.



Bike Friday's are made in Eugene, Oregon and in about fifteen minutes you can pack it into a Samsonite suitcase to avoid paying excess baggage fees - in about the same amount of time you can unpack it and set it up. Mine has been to the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, France, Singapore, Brazil, Japan, the Dominican Republic and several states in the U.S. - even lesser known ones like Florida. It's rugged, reliable and easy to fix since it takes standard components. 

The rugged part is especially important. Not only does any travel bike have to put up with the bruising ride from the bag drop area at the airport to the baggage claim section, but harsh terrain like...cobblestones.



The cobblestone factor was why I headed far from the city center of Porto on every trip. Along the Douro River to the Portuguese coast is a shared path of sorts. At the beaches be sure to yield to students crossing the path to take surfing lessons.



I can say that for the novice travel cyclist, Portugal is a good place to go since cars drive on the right and all of the cars are left-hand drive like they are in the U.S. So unlike, say, London, you don't have to relearn how to instinctively look for danger.

Portugul also has some inspiring food and patient restaurant workers. Being unable to speak Portuguese and riding far from the tourist centers where few speak English, going someplace to eat for lunch everyday proved to be just another part of the adventure.



That first day I biked across the Douro River using the Ponte De Arrabida bridge (which is just for pedestrians and the lovely light rail) so I could look down on the city. Then I rode aimlessly on this side of the river looking for a place to eat. I scored by finding a Piri Piri chicken place and using my tried and true method of pointing, I was able to order a "half dose" (which I assumed to be a "half order" of chicken.

What happened was the woman behind the counter took an entire chicken off the grill, sliced it up with a big knife, dunked it in the most breathtakingly amazing Piri Piri sauce, and handed it to me in a aluminum tray.

I looked around the take-out counter and not only did I not see utensils or napkins but I also didn't know how to ask for either of those things, so I thanked her and left. 


And it was inside a park I found a couple of blocks away I ate chicken with my fingers and was so hungry I didn't bother to remove my fingerless bike gloves first. The chicken was just remarkable And it was really, really good. I ended up rinsing my fingertips with the enormous bottle of water I bought (holding my hands out in the "I-once-caught-a-fish-THIS-big!" formation and asking for "agua.") and drying my hands on my socks. 

A bit of an inside-joke happened about fifteen minutes later, when I was riding through another residential neighborhood. I bumped into a guy grilling small fish on the sidewalk. He'd step out of a door, flip the fish over, and go back inside. Reminded me of my first lunch in Lisbon seven years ago.



It was a fun 30 mile first day, and the second day I decided to see if I could cross the border into Spain. In order to do that I'd need to take a train from Porto to Braga and follow a complex series of roads up a mountain and into Spain.

The second part of this did not happen. Trains are on what is known in the U.S. as a "schedule" and if you get on a train too late to get to where you want to go, you have to change your ride mid-stream. 



So after riding on a later train than I wanted I also ended up riding for ten minutes in the wrong direction. When I straightened myself out I realized I had no possible chance of crossing the border before nightfall so I decided to work my way east to the coastal town of Apulia and then head south back to Porto. 



I had wisely bought an international cell phone chip so I could use Google Maps to plot my route - but this part of the world has a strange love of traffic circles which led me to make a few wrong turns here and there. I didn't mind so much since it was mostly very pretty and peaceful.




Once again, when I got hungry I stopped at a restaurant. Unlike the Piri Piri chicken place, there was no menu, but here there was a young waitress who nodded at me eagerly and kept motioning for me to sit down, which I eventually did. 

At first she brought me some soup, which I ate reluctantly as Meghan Trainor's "All About the Bass" played on the restaurant's sound system. I could only shake my head and smile. The pop artist's song "No" was playing at the noodle place I found while biking in Japan two years ago - another Biking Nations adventure in a place with a big language barrier.

Before long the waitress brought me...this.


It would have to do. 

After lunch, I left the restaurant - being sure to photograph it first to document my journey.


I continued on - occasionally singing "'bout the bass, 'bout the bass...no treble." until I finally reached Apulia - a nice little beach town. While riding I found someone's functioning FitBit lying in the road, which I took with me. To this day I have no idea what I am supposed to do with it. 


I did two very smart things in Apulia. The first thing I did was I had a cappuccino.


The second smart thing was actually being in Apulia in the first place. The town is about 27 miles north of Porto, and I had already gone 43 miles. And because the wind - that otherworldly force I remember reckoning with on my last trip in Portugal when I rode from Sintra - was violently blowing south I knew I'd be able to have it at my back on my entire return ride. 


It was the N13 most of the way down. That road is a bit busy in places but most of the time had a generous shoulder. And with the wind blowing the way I was headed I broke 20 miles an hour most of the way. 

I did do something really stupid on this leg of the journey. I did not buy this bike seat, which I saw at a bike shop on the outskirts of Porto. I've seen these things in India a couple of times and I don't know why I didn't just pull out my Euros and point to the seat.


So dear bike traveler: if you come to a shop that looks like this, please go right in and succeed where I failed. Buy that springy chrome seat...cause it is kinda awesome.


The next morning my non-buyers remorse had faded to the point I wanted to try another direction to ride in. Knowing it would be my last full day riding (we'd be embarking on a 27 hour extravaganza of travel to get back to San Jose the following day) I wanted a predictable route that did not involve me having to stop every mile to see where I was. 

As luck would have it Porto has the Douro River, which runs east-west. I reasoned I could follow the river 35 miles in one direction, do an about face, and ride in the other direction.

I reasoned right.


The first stretch of the ride isn't too scenic, and parts of the entire trip were quite hilly but still fun. It really is a beautiful river.



On more than a few spots the road would bend and twist away from the river and I'd lose sight of it. At those points I did unfortunately have to pull out my phone to do some light wayfinding, but it was still just nice to stop and check things out - like a tree growing out of the roof of an abandoned house. 


About thirty miles into this ride, I made an amazing discovery. I found it. The pod birthing station. The hatchery. The womb from which the devil children spring forth. Yes, I found where they make cobblestones. I took a quick picture to remember where it was so that, when I come to power, I can close it down and create a decree that all cobblestones must be painted on if used at all. 


Around 35 miles it was lunchtime and I was hungry, so I stopped at another restaurant. This time was a little easier than the others since a gentleman sitting at a table nearby was eating something that looked rather good, so I pointed at it when the waitress came by with a little notepad. 


Fried chicken, rice, salad, and soup. Lunch of champions - or, at least, non-picky cyclists. I also ultimately pointed at a huge bottle of water and asked for it by pointing and refilled my now-empty Camelbak right there at the table.


I headed back the way I came - pausing here and there to admire Douro Valley - which I would have seen even more of if I had the time to continue following the river. 


I know I look strange from behind - or possibly any angle, for that matter - but after riding in 16 countries I've learned to be ready for anything. You can't see in the photo but that green pack on my back has no fewer than three bike pumps, three tubes, two patch kits, and a complete tire. I'm sure that one day I will have a cycling vacation cut short because of a catastrophic equipment failure (or just something I just can't fix on my own) but my pack conveys the "ain't gonna happen!" vibe. 

Oh - and another fun fact on this trip: I have not had a flat tire on this bike in over a year - which is a record I attribute to my decision to start using Mr. Tuffy bike tire liners after the debacle in Manchester. So I offer that nonpaid endorsement. Tire liners are worth it. 


The other thing I did on the ride back was stop at a couple of places for some incredibly strong - and remarkably inexpensive - espressos. This was actually the first coffee I had all day - and there is a method to this madness: I find that drinking coffee on your own "local" time a day or two before you fly back home will help your body clock; as in, if you're used to drinking three cups of coffee before 9:00am, like me, just drink the equivalent wherever you are to match up with that time to get your body used to craving caffeine at the usual schedule. 


Riding back the way I came helped with the wayfinding and I didn't mind covering ground I had covered before since the views were so lovely. Before long I was back in Porto.


Back on Cobblestone-Firma, I ran into The Portland Sketcher as she was leaving her hotel. I had met her in Paraty and we relayed tales of cycling and USK to one another before I returned to inPatio. 

I downed some more water and packed the bike up. After a mandatory shower I walked to the museum to see if I could intercept the rest of the Urban Sketchers.


I ran into my wife outside of the museum and she gave me some interesting news: The Urban Sketchers' 2019 symposium is going to be held in...

...wait for it...

...wait for it...

...Amsterdam.

Hmmm. I wonder if they have good biking there. 

So long, Porto. You're a good city. And it was a good bikecation. I'm older now than I was when I first started these international cycling adventures but feel like I'm getting smarter, so that evens things out. Check out #USKPorto2018 and #WhileYouWereSketching on social media - and take a look at Suma's beautiful sketches. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.


Thursday, August 2, 2018

Dear VTA: Don't Kill the Express Trains



Here's what's going on: right now I am sitting on a VTA light rail train at Santa Teresa Station. It leaves at 7:19. This post is coming from my two year old Chromebook and a free wi-fi connection provided by VTA (thanks, VTA).

This is the train I usually take to get to work at a downtown San Jose nonprofit. It's pretty quick and my folding bike solves the last mile problem. 

But I have a new problem this week: VTA is holding a vote tonight to eliminate express trains from the Santa Teresa/Alum Rock line. 

On paper, this means I and a lot of other passengers (the four-bike rack usually fills up one stop in) will be faced with three realities:

1) fewer trains to choose from
2) more crowded trains to choose from 
3) slower trains to choose from

This is a pretty big deal on several fronts, not the least of which is that California feels more than ever like a hypocrite when it comes to climate change and traffic congestion. The rules are set in opposition to the values. I have never felt more profoundly punished about having a one car/two driver household until I moved to The Golden State.

So the vote is taking place tonight and I can't go to voice my opposition because having only one car eliminates options in my house. So I am hoping this post (I am just past Cottle right now and the friendly guy with the John Bolton moustache just got on) makes it in front of the right people.

VTA, please consider this: there are a whole lot of new apartments coming to a space just opposite the underpass by Santa Teresa station. Wouldn't you like people shopping for a new place to live to see good options to take the train when they are thinking of a place to move?

And just today the Trump administration announced it wants to freeze fuel economy standards and, if that wasn't enough, curb California's ability to set its own climate change goals with regards to fuel efficiency.

Couple that with the greedy, stupid and shortsighted ballot measure to kill the twelve cent per gallon tax increase. 

Oh - and let's stop looking the other way when we talk about the wildfires costing the state a ton of money to fight and our constant use of cars.

VTA, the state needs leadership and I can't speak for everyone but I'd rather not look at my 13 year old SUV and think it is a better option to get to work. I shouldn't start the process of Googling "good podcasts to listen to while stuck in mind-numbing traffic" and giving up on the idea that one can, in fact, own a bike in San Jose and live a normal existence like everyone else. 

I get that you may need a cost saving measure so why not instead sell half of the parking lot in Santa Teresa to an affordable housing developer? Look at it: half of the spaces don't even have oil stains on them!


So please remember: you're not voting to get rid of Express Trains and save your organization money. You're voting to present your own riders with fewer trains/slower trains/more crowded trains - which will do nothing more than make driving all the way to work more attractive.

Right now we just passed Ohlone-Chynoweth. We're speeding along and I have to post this now. Thanks for reading and thanks for not doing anything profoundly shortsighted.




Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Why The Effort to Repeal The Gas Tax Must Die



California Republicans, after years of shrinking numbers, have looked at state demographics and decided to grow their ranks by publicly backing ambitious bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure projects.

(long silence)

I'm just kidding. They want to repeal the gas tax (you know the one that is paying for repairing streets and bringing train infrastructure into the 21st century, and so on) and they managed to put a measure on the November ballot to do just that. 

For the record: when you ask people to pay taxes, they usually say no.  Samantha Bee put it best on her show when she talked about the wretched financial mess that is Colorado. Here's the clip: 



California has actually been down a Colorado-like road before, and it wasn't until I read up on Proposition 13 - the anti-tax initiative of 1978 - that The Golden State made more sense to me in its own backwards way. 

One of the things Proposition 13 did was make it impossible to raise property taxes very much - again. So forty years after Proposition 13, we have boomers and silents living in houses for decades and paying a pittance in property taxes - and the tax bill goes up when they sell the house (which, around here, appreciates in value). 

I took this photo on a bike waiting to make a left turn. Anyone who looks over a sea of automobiles and thinks they need to make driving cheaper has officially run out of ways to move the world forward.

That is a great deal if you are an older homeowner but it stinks if you're a young one. 

Put another way: in 1978 California homeowners put an infrastructure in place that would give them benefits that would last decades and preserve their world at the expense of others. In 2018 California motorists want to put an infrastructure in place to shield them from road maintenance and preserve their ability to drive cheaply and guilt-free. 

If they're successful like they were in 1978 their jubilation (here I am thinking of the smug face of Howard Jarvis on the cover of Time) will mask a horror that awaits every generation that follows theirs - and given the news of Justice Anthony Kennedy retiring from the Supreme Court those horrors are on a lot of people's minds today. 


If you drive a car and don't ride a bike that's okay. But the lack of bike infrastructure and acceptance affects you too by creating more drivers you have to compete with on the roads. Cyclists give you space. Give them some too.

But we can't change Kennedy's retirement, can't (immediately) undo the travel ban or the decision to bleed unions. What we can do - California cyclists, walkers, transit activists, people who understand the significance of switching from Level of Service to Vehicle Miles Traveled and even self-driving efficionados - is make sure the gas tax repeal and any Republican backing it loses this fall.

That's not as easy a sentance to write as you might think. As you may have guessed with my Cycling with Candidates series, I don't want Democrats or Republicans to carry the cycling issue. I have no interest in it being partisan. I want leaders to argue with one another over what kind of bike/ped infrastructure should be built, argue about ways to pay for it, and debate about how best to create laws and infrastructure that work.

This should already be happening. Conservatives should wake up tomorrow and think: "You know, we have tens of millions of young people out there with a paper-thin loyalty to the Democratic Party and no money or desire to own a car, and few places to live. Let's eliminate the burdensome regulations like parking minimums and live within our means by only building bike and pedestrian infrastructure." 

Deep down, liberal cyclists: you want this too. I know I wish Connecticut Republicans would stand up up and say: "The Merritt Parkway Trail is a stupid idea. It costs too much, won't be plowed, goes nowhere, cuts across too many roads to be of interest to professionals and is too hilly for amateurs and it doesn't go anywhere! Instead we'll make a bike boulevard that runs the lenght of Rt. 1 - it'll be cheaper, better, and will benefit the businesses that are clustered on the coast.*"

Because Connecticut Republicans never say the part in italics - at least not yet - Democrats coalesce around a mishmash of priorities and don't get very far on any of them.

But back to the gas tax: Republicans are playing the 1978 playbook that gave them a generational victory but today I think they have chosen the wrong hill to die on. A lot of Gen Xers and even more Millennials don't like driving and don't want to or can't afford a car. They don't feel as strongly about paying a mere twenty cents a day more to do something they know they shouldn't be doing as angry white homeowners felt about rising property taxes in the 1970s. 

Please, cycling brothers and sisters: prove me right. 

California Republicans need to lose the effort to repeal the gas tax. Actually, they need to lose in the most humiliating and one-sided way imaginable. They have to look like a punchline for the joke they insist on telling even though we're saying "we've heard this one before." The gas tax repeal has has to be knocked out with a closed fist, spin around twice like Biff Tannen, and then slump, unconscious, beside Dr. Emmett Brown's Packard.**

We live with the legacy of Proposition 13 every day in California. NIMBYism, a lack of affordable housiing and, as I mentioned a few months back, a knack for denying a change that is coming. Cyclists: do you want to live in a world where motorists get to keep driving around cost-free and stick you and your unborn 1.5 children with the bill in perpetuity? If your answer is yes don't visit my site again. 

If the answer is no, please join me in voting against anything the GOP ever puts in front of you having to do with reducing, eliminating, scaling back, or dumping the gas tax or bridge tolls. Let's put California Republicans into the grave they are intent on digging - and perhaps someday they will rise and we'll have a bike infrastructure arms race between the left and the right. Meaningful debate, forward-thinking plans. Sounds good to me. Thanks for reading and thanks for VOTING. 



*I'm not sorry to write that, People Friendly Stamford: The Merritt Parkway Trail is a dead horse you've been flogging or  too long. Focus on downtown, let young people lead, and stop carrying water for the trail alliance people. The people I know in Stamford don't want to ride from Maine to Florida. They want to ride from their house to the library.

**Did you understand that reference? No? Then you are who I am talking to! And if you did understand it, I am talking to you too.






Thursday, June 7, 2018

Let's All Stop Being Stupid About Scooters (Especially you, San Francisco)

My Spartan Sports FS-101 Electric Scooter (bought Summer 2004)

This is a bike blog but I'm going to deviate from my brand a little bit and talk about scooters. I figure IHOP is changing its name to...IHOB, which can only mean it is branching out from Pancakes to Bed, Bath or Beyond, so I can veer off the cycle path slightly.

Something you may not know about me: I am an urban electric scooter expert. Really. I had an electric scooter and used it frequently in the city of Stamford, Connecticut fourteen years ago.

You heard that right: my expertise in this "new" and "bizarre" form of urban mobility predates Twitter, Tesla, and Bitcoin.

Here's what happened: In June of 2004 I moved from rural New Hampshire to Stamford, Connecticut. It was a big adjustment going from a 800 square foot house 20 miles from the nearest movie theater - and an acre away from the nearest neighbor - to a 400 square foot apartment on the 5th floor of a crowded building on 700 Summer Street.

Part of this adjustment came in the form of me realizing cars were a pain in the butt. In the beginning my job was less than two miles away and the 3,000 pound glass and metal box that had served me so well in New Hampshire felt cumbersome, slow, and unnecessary most of the time.

So in the summer of 2004 I bought an electric scooter: A Spartan Sports FS-101 from Amazon for $199. Two lead acid batteries, small pneumatic tires, and all-steel construction It weighed as much as the Chrysler Building but it folded and was perfect for city life. I'd charge it overnight and scoot to work. Then, as I did most nights back then, I'd scoot to the Metro North station, go to Manhattan, and zip from 42nd' street to my girlfriend's apartment on 32nd between 1st and 2nd. I'd spend the night, then early the next morning I could scoot to Grand Central and, after the 45 minute train trip, could scoot back to my tiny apartment so I could shower and change before returning to work.

The top speed was an advertised 15 miles per hour. Most of the time it felt faster. The range was about ten miles or so - I never really figured it out but discovered one night that running 40 city blocks to get Thai food and bring it back to my girlfriend's apartment killed the battery. 

The scooter beat having to pay cab fare, allowed me to move quickly without dirtying my clothes, and, since it wasn't a bicycle it was permitted on Metro North (which, as you've heard me complain about many times, doesn't allow bikes on trains during peak hours). But when my girlfriend and I finally moved in together in Stamford I didn't need that part of the value-add as much, and about a year later the motor started to fail. Soon it was mothballed and was shoved in my basement for years until I gave it away before driving (with a bike) across the country to California in 2015.

So I am a scooter expert. You'll probably see me one day on CNBC or Bloomberg News talking about something happening in the urban scooter universe and you'll see my name followed by the words "Scooter Expert."

Naturally I was a little amused when, a few months ago in San Jose, electric scooters suddenly began to appear on the sidewalks. I wasn't sure what they were but saw the "$1 to start" signs on them. Then they multiplied. Then they became things that every street has that you almost don't pay attention to like plastic alt weekly newspaper boxes or pay phones that no longer have any phones in them. 

And something happened. People became stupid.  

I am referring to everybody. The scooter users too stupid to not block wheelchair access. The ones too lazy to use the kickstands. The ones who zipped too close to pedestrians for fun. The ones who threw them into San Francisco Bay. 

Lime Bike discarded by some nincompoop in San Francisco
 Not just the customers: the scooter companies who followed the man-this-is-getting-old! Silicon Valley ethos of asking for forgiveness before asking for permission and trading manners for free press. The San Francisco - and other city - government officials who moved quickly to make sure the nightmare of clean, reliable transport would end before anyone had the nerve to question car culture. 


On a dockless Lime scooter in San Francisco. Note the dockless motor vehicles trudging along beside me.
I could hardly log onto Twitter without seeing some stupid person complaining about scooters in some way, shape or form. Yuk-yuk-yuks! of dockless scooters in trees or underwater were frequent. #Scootergate began to trend. What was going on? 


Base of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, May 2018. Note the five empty cars get more safe and secure housing than the guy living in the tent. 

I felt people were losing their minds over the wrong things - as usual (I've talked about the 'disproportionality of fear' all the time). I was finally pushed past my limit last week at the news of a rally in San Francisco where Google's buses were being protested by having several dockless scooters tossed in front of them

I understand the anger and helplessness that comes with being displaced (or having to worry about being displaced) but that was just stupid. What exactly did they want the Google workers in San Francisco to do? Have them all buy cars so they'd have to lobby the city to tear entire city blocks down to build the garages they'd inevitably need to store them all?

I tweeted out the picture above trying to lend sense to the madness - which is something one should never try to do on Twitter.





The reply I got was just something else - and it was delivered by a "group" that seems very common in these parts: NIMBY meanness disguised as compassionate social justice.



My reply to their assertion that density "causes harm" and that "scooters kill" was made several days ago and never returned. And the this I am referring to is the it-would-be-funny-if-it-wasn't-true story of a Tesla crashing into a Starbucks on bike to work day. I reasoned that if that driver had a scooter that day - heck, if more drivers had scooters every day - this kind of crash wouldn't happen. 

You know, car crashes - those filler news stories describing the cars, SUVs and such things that kill over 40,000 of us every year? Those crashes that are a lot less interesting to talk about than a boomer who got scared when a scooter zipped close to him or her while enjoying some free parking.



And as you've probably figured out by now, I have the LimeBike app and have used it a few times (mostly trips in San Francisco where I didn't bring my own bicycle and FordGoBike - for which I have a membership - didn't have a convenient station) but I want to tell you about one trip in particular: that girlfriend I had in New York City that I visited on that Spartan Sports FS-101? She's my wife now and that ridiculous, 14 year-old scooter with a hamster lifespan is part of why we've only owned one car between us for the more than 12 years we've been married. 

A couple of weeks ago I needed to meet her in San Francisco, far from the Caltrain Station, after work one evening. It was an actual, grown-up event that had a start time and everything so I needed to figure out a way to get across the city quickly. 

OH NO! It's a dockless scooter on the move! Hide your children! Warn your neighbors!

So I took a FordGoBike to Diridon, took the Caltrain to San Francisco, unlocked a scooter at 4th and King with the app and hummed the final four miles to my destination. I passed every car on the Embarcadero like it was standing still because most of them were. 



When I got to where I wanted to go I found that my $1 start-up fee and $0.15 per minute was well spent - and it was cheaper, faster and better for the environment than a car would have been. I found a place on the sidewalk that wasn't in anyone's way and deployed the kickstand. SEE HOW HARD THAT WAS?

That's the first antidote to scooter stupidity. Behavior of the end user matters - and this is something that'll be a rude awakening as tech moves further into the Internet of Things. Silicon Valley is long used to federal rules that shield them on the Internet when people who are stupid and mean do things like create mysogynistic chat groups, or a racist Twitter account. But with app-based transportation, you're now in a place where the dolt who leaves a Bird scooter blocking a sidewalk is not protected by free speech. 

The second is to realize that car share - which was the only real alternative for me to get to that part of San Francisco by such-and-such a time - is contributing to car blindness. Ride share services like Lyft and Uber make traffic worse and the same can be said about pollution. Self-driving cars have already killed people and aren't solving the street safety or obesity or suburbia problem either. 

The third antidote to scooter stupidity is to start realizing how much valuable space is given to cars - not just in our cities but in our minds. Start erasing the need for owning your own car - and even the need for riding in others - and nothing but good things can happen in cities. Yes, LimeBike, Bird and others followed the same, tired, Always-Be-Obnoxious playbook when launching these things but if they and we stop being stupid maybe cities will let a few inches of storage space here so scooter users don't have to fight pedestrians on the sidewalk (like cyclists do with pedestrians in Tokyo). If these things were set up to take space away from cars to begin with it would be a much more welcome disruption.

Also please consider parking docks - on the street that take space away from cars! - with solar panels and windmills to give the 'gig workforce' angle a rest and to annoy the Prius Worshippers in San Francisco even further. Hey, I predicted Barnes & Noble would regret trying to split Nook from the rest of the company (correctly) and four years ago I said bike share would eventually create incentives to self-balance fleets (correctly) so maybe I'll be ahead of the curve once again. I may be. I'm a scooter expert. 

So everyone, please: stop being stupid about scooters. Blame on the rollout and aftermath is everywhere but that is no reason we shouldn't figure out a way to work this into transportation and take more space away from cars. If you're in San Jose go to the DOT meeting on June 21st and provide input (read: drown out the voices of any 'Footloose' town elders who want to use cities as car storage facilities. 

That's all I've got.  I'm going back to writing about bikes. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.  


The summary of all of the arguments I've ever hears against electric scooters.







Sunday, June 3, 2018

Why San Jose Cyclists Must Vote No on Measure B


Around this time three years ago I moved to California from Connecticut. Every warning I got from friends about how problematic the housing situation was true or was too limiting in its scope in describing the madness. There are too many jobs being created here and too few homes to fit all the workers, so people move two hours away or further or crammed with a ton of roommates.

Oh, sorry: I forgot I'm in Silicon Valley. Instead of "crammed with a ton of roommates" I meant to say "co-living."

Worse than that: the tight demand for apartments is raising rents faster than incomes, so teachers, restaurant workers and even small business owners have to move farther from the homes they grew up in. 

The need for affordable housing is severe but we have to break down the words "affordable" and "housing" to understand what's really going on here. The median sale price for a home in San Jose is around $1 million and the median rent is north of $2,500 a month. If you add a thousand - two thousand or event five thousand units it won't add to the supply enough to bring the rents down. 

So if you add, say, 900 homes, it's not enough to bring the rent or sale prices down. 

So the proposed addition of 900 homes in the Evergreen neighborhood in San Jose - which the Measure B San Jose ballot initiative wants to do - won't bring prices down. In order for housing to be affordable, homes that are for sale or rent have to only be available to those who make below a certain income level. 

These 900 homes will not be - and even if they were it does not speak to a bigger problem.



San Jose had a bunch of annexations in the 1960s that made it not grow up, but out. This city is huge, and with suburban homes everywhere cars were (and still are) the preferred way to get around. Frequently, my wife and I - who have successfully gotten away with owning only one car between us for the nearly thirteen years we've been married - feel environmentally coerced into getting another one. It's the same old story: there aren't enough trains, not enough buses, where-I-need-to-go-isn't-walkable-or-bikeable. Using a car is almost always easier and cheaper even though their wear on the environment is harder and more expensive than most drivers know. 

That brings me to my next beef with Measure B. Look at Evergreen on a map. Then look at downtown San Jose. 

More of the same environmental coercion. 

In other words, building 900 homes far from transit with a garage and a Tesla flanked by a GMC Suburban in every driveway is a bad idea on multiple fronts: as I've said before if you enable cars, you get traffic, you get pollution, you get road deaths, you get local governments going insolvent trying to pay for all the infrastructure. 

So when some rich goofballs want to build a new suburban land mass on the outer edge of a city we have to say no. Not only is none of this "affordable" but we have to get used to the idea of not calling the suburbs housing. Suburbia is something San Jose experimented with and is failing at - just like any other city. 



San Jose's own housing plan isn't perfect as it is (why I'm also recommending Yes on Measure C) but giving a green light to developers to build a replica of "The Real Housewives of Orange County" neighborhood isn't the way out of a housing crisis. Homes that are part of multifamily structures that do not require the need for the occupant to own a car is the only way this city can move forward. 


And it isn't just me who's saying this: The Bay Area Council (I know, I know: I gave them some heat last year for talking about housing and traffic as though they were separate issues) recommends building dense housing near transit. Since we do have to "build our way out of" the housing crisis let's not force tens of thousands of dollars a millennial can't afford anyway into car-related infrastructure they'd rather not use.


The Bay Area Council has also found, again in their survey, that the number of people who want to leave the Bay Area has gone up once again this year. Not only that, but outgoing governor Jerry Brown is starting to put permanent water conservation rules in place - hardly the time to build places that involve the water-suck and time-suck of a lawn.

And the final reason to give Measure B a big thumbs down: as much as the backers yammer on about "senior" housing and "preference for seniors" we have to recognize the long-term dangers of that. Sure, a home out in the suburbs might be nice for someone in his or her sixties, but what happens when they push up against their eighties and can't drive anymore? The organization Strong Towns probably put it best in a piece they wrote last year: car-based living isolates the seniors living in car-based places - and worse than that: the streets themselves become scary, pedestrian and wheelchair-user unfriendly places that can't be navigated easily even if they could. 

So this is what you need to do by or on June 5: Vote no on Measure B - not because it is for billionaires (it is) and not because the backers are cynically using the need for affordable housing in the most irresponsible way imaginable: but because it wants to keep San Jose in a backwards place: with a car wash next to every train station, a boatload of car loan debt on every adult, and a two-hour car commute for everyone who commits the sin of earning less than six figures a year. 

To hell with that and to hell with them. Vote for our future. Vote no on Measure B and Yes on Measure C. 

P.S. - Also vote yes on Regional Measure 3.

Thanks for reading and thanks for riding - especially if you're in San Jose.