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America’s Absurd Fascination With Cars

Written by Boston Biker on Apr 14

I was having a discussion with someone this morning and we realized that at every stage in the development of automobile infrastructure in America, other, consistently better, choices for infrastructure were available, but we continued to choose the car every time.

trafficatl

We could have built high speed rail, but we built highways.  We could have built rapid transit bus lines, but we built a snarl of traffic filled streets.  We could have built a bike and pedestrian path networks, instead we cut up neighborhoods with massive highway projects.  At every stage we took a look at all the options, and choose the worst one.

Which has lead to our current situation, where transportation spending is dominated by the needs of the automobile, and not the humans using that automobile.

Seems I am not the only one who has come to this conclusion, there is an excellent article in The Atlantic that really goes step by step in showing just how destructive American’s fascination with cars has become.

It starts off laying down some real talk:

Simply this: In almost every way imaginable, the car, as it is deployed and used today, is insane.

Then the author Edward Humes goes on to lay our in depressing and methodical detail just how horrible the car has been for America.

On efficiency:

What are the failings of cars? First and foremost, they are profligate wasters of money and fuel: More than 80 cents of every dollar spent on gasoline is squandered by the inherent inefficiencies of the modern internal combustion engine. No part of daily life wastes more energy and, by extension, more money than the modern automobile.

Would you burn 8 our of every 10 dollars you made for the freedom to get in a box and get stuck in traffic?  Because you are literally burning 80% of the money you put into that car.

boston-drag-racing-crash

 

On health:

While burning through all that fuel, cars and trucks spew toxins and particulate waste into the atmosphere that induce cancer, lung disease, and asthma. These emissions measurably decrease longevity—not by a matter of days, but years. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology calculates that 53,000 Americans die prematurely every year from vehicle pollution, losing 10 years of life on average compared to their lifespans in the absence of tailpipe emissions.

TEN YEARS!  Are we really so addicted to the “freedom” the car provides us that we would sacrifice ten years of our lives for them?!  Let alone the 50,000+ people who straight up die early every year.

06/12/15-Boston,MA. A car is seen flipped on its roof shortly after sunrise Friday on Causeway St. in the North End. The car hit a parked car and flipped. Unconfirmed media reports state 2 are dead.. Staff photo by Mark Garfinkel

On economy and global security:

There are also the indirect environmental, health, and economic costs of extracting, transporting, and refining oil for vehicle fuels, and the immense national-security costs and risks of being dependent on oil imports for significant amounts of that fuel. As an investment, the car is a massive waste of opportunity—“the world’s most underutilized asset,” the investment firm Morgan Stanley calls it. That’s because the average car sits idle 92 percent of the time. Accounting for all costs, from fuel to insurance to depreciation, the average car owner in the U.S. pays $12,544 a year for a car that puts in a mere 14-hour workweek. Drive an SUV? Tack on another $1,908.14

Sheesh…another way to look at it, is that if you ride a bicycle instead of driving you will be saving at least that much money.  Also if your bike sits around unused for 92 % of the time you will not be wasting nearly as much money, as your bike probably cost you a couple hundred dollars and doesn’t constantly need new oil filters and gasoline.  Not to mention you don’t need bicycle insurance.

beaconsmash2

 

On the Environment:

Then there is the matter of climate. Transportation is a principal cause of the global climate crisis, exacerbated by a stubborn attachment to archaic, wasteful, and inefficient transportation modes and machines. But are cars the true culprit? Airplanes, for instance, are often singled out as the most carbon-intensive form of travel in terms of emissions per passenger-mile (or per ton of cargo), but that’s not the whole story: Total passenger miles by air are miniscule compared to cars. In any given year, 60 percent of American adults never set foot on an airplane, and the vast majority who do fly take only one round trip a year. Unfortunately, air travel is not the primary problem, contributing only 8 percent of U.S. transportation-related greenhouse gases. Cars and trucks, by contrast, pump out a combined 83 percent of transportation carbon.

There is simply no doubt, our addiction to driving our cars is going to destroy the environment we need to live.  There is little point in having the “freedom to travel” if the territory you are traveling over resembles a nightmare hell-scape.  Mad Max is not an instruction manual, its a cautionary tale.

 

beaconsmash2

The unacceptable cost in lives:

Annual U.S. highway fatalities outnumber the yearly war dead during each Vietnam, Iraq, the War of 1812, and the American Revolution.

And that’s not even counting cars’ most dramatic cost: They waste lives. They are one of America’s leading causes of avoidable injury and death, especially among the young.

Jim McNamara, a sergeant with the California Highway Patrol, where officers spend 80 percent of their time responding to car wrecks, believes such public inattention and apathy arise whenever a problem is “massive but diffuse.” Whether it’s climate change or car crashes, he says, if the problem doesn’t show itself all at once—as when an airliner goes down with dozens or hundreds of people on board—it’s hard to get anyone’s attention. Very few people see what he and his colleagues witness daily and up close: what hurtling tons of metal slamming into concrete and brick and trees and one another does to the human body strapped (or, all too often, not strapped) within.

Every time you see war casualties, or terrorist attacks on the news, realize that what the news is not talking about is the thousands of deaths that month from car crashes.

If we were in a war with cars, it would be the longest and deadliest war we have ever been in. Roughly 40-50 THOUSAND people a year. Or to put it another way this is more deaths than a 9-11 scale terror attacks every month year in and year out for the last 50 years. One wonders why this isn’t the number one news story every day.

Boghosian_crash5_MET-8368

 

The article itself makes the same conclusion I have:

This disparity in attention between plane crashes and car crashes cannot be justified by their relative death tolls. Quite the contrary: In the 14 years following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, there were eight crashes on American soil of passenger planes operated by regional, national, or international carriers. The death toll in those crashes totaled 442. That averages out to fewer than three fatalities a month.

The death toll on America’s streets and highways during that same period since 9/11 was more than 400,000 men, women, and children. The traffic death toll in 2015 exceeded 3,000 a month. When it comes to the number of people who die in car wrecks, America experiences the equivalent of four airliner crashes every week.

A normal day on the road, then, is a “quiet catastrophe,” as Ken Kolosh, the statistics chief for the National Safety Council, calls it.

 

eisen_crash9_061215

Car crashes take our young people from us:

Car crashes are the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 1 and 39. They rank in the top five killers for Americans 65 and under (behind cancer, heart disease, accidental poisoning, and suicide).

And when cars don’t outright kill us they cost us a lot of money and suffering, even if you don’t drive:

And the direct economic costs alone—the medical bills and emergency-response costs reflected in taxes and insurance payments—represent a tax of $784 on every man, woman, and child living in the U.S.

And yet we have people who will fight long and hard to keep on-street parking, and keep speed limits high, and lobby for more highways, and complain that bike lanes will make it harder to drive.

WHY?!

What has lead Americans to fight so hard for something that is so bad for them?

 

160309-cody-ferari-accident-scene-jpo-625a_9d9ee4518911da2477caa4f072d0a2f5.nbcnews-ux-2880-1000

Is it the non-stop barrage of car commercials showing rich white people cruising empty streets while encased in luxury leather and listening to the latest hit song?

Could it be the massive amounts of money spent by auto industry lobbyists to promote cars over public transit?  Could it be the large oil companies spending millions to lower emission standards?

Could it be the joy that is the daily commute? Or the joy of traffic filled highways? The asthma, the obesity, the oil wars, the oil spills, the global warming, the road rage, the plowing under of nature for highways and roads, the constant bills, repairs, tickets, tolls, and insurance?

I simply don’t understand why the vast majority of city dwelling Americans own and operate their own car, especially when you consider there are a host of better, cheaper, healthier options available to them.


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Hey Look The Metro Misquoted Me!

Written by Boston Biker on Jan 28

Don’t you love it when someone manages to read all the way down a several hundred word article you have written and then for some reason chooses to miss the entire point of the article, while at the same time cherry picking quotes from your post so it seems to convey the opposite message of that article? Me too!

Not only was I lucky enough to merit the main pull quote in this rather poorly written piece of drivel parading as news, but I was used in the sensational title as well! The Metro creatively titled it’s anti-cycling flavored article “Boston winter biking ‘a hellish nightmare.”

Nate Homan the guy who wrote it also talked to some other folks I know and they say he misrepresented them as well. Well it’s good to know that he has consistency.

Nate Homan "Reporter"

Nate Homan “Reporter”

Here is the quote he used from me (by the way he never bothered to contact me):

“In the winter the sidewalks and bike paths become a hellish nightmare of ice and snow. It’s really not worth it to even think about riding on them.”

Sounds like I am really down on winter riding…too bad the article this is from is called “Winter Riding In Boston: Riding In The Snow” which is part of my “how to ride in the winter” series, which is linked on the right. (or here here and here)  The series is all about riding your bike safely in the winter and the very first part of the article he cherry picked this quote from is:

You might have noticed, it snowed. Just a smidge here and there, but it is a perfect opportunity to discuss the ins and outs of snow riding.

First off we should discuss the most important part of winter riding. It is freaking fun! Nothing is more fun than sloshing around in some newly fallen snow, and if you are properly dressed, and your bicycle is well maintained (see the links above), snow cycling is not only possible, but very enjoyable.

See how “hellish nightmare” and “freaking fun” don’t really go together at all. The article then goes on and on for several hundred words about how fun riding in the snow is, how its not that hard, how it can be done safely, and how the whole experience is really rather fun. Don’t believe me go read for yourself.

The quote he used to click bait his article is waaaaay down at the bottom in the section about what happens when the sidewalks and bike lanes are not plowed, where I suggest that the best way to avoid these problems is to take the lane:

Ride in the road
In the winter the sidewalks and bike paths become a hellish nightmare of ice and snow. It’s really not even worth it to even think about riding on them (even the Minute Man is poorly plowed). Get out into the road where the large salt filled trucks have cleared you a path. This can sometimes mean riding in that little gap plowed out by the car wheels in front of you, or it might mean riding several feet further into the road because the snow plows have filled up the bike lane. Either way, be visible (lights, reflectors etc), and be confident.

If there is a bunch of snow and ice in front of you and you need to take the lane to avoid it, DO IT. Look over your shoulder, make sure no one is going to run you over, and take the lane. Be confident, get right out to where you need to be and stay there. If you halfheartedly take a lane, cars will try to pass you, and you don’t want them doing that when you are trying to avoid a bunch of slippery ice and snow. If they honk that is just their friendly holiday way of saying “I see you and approve of your full legal right to take that lane, good show!” Once you can SAFELY get back over to the right, do so and allow the other cars to pass.
These simple tips should help make your snow/slush/ice riding a bit more pleasurable. Have fun out there and be safe.

Homan DRAMATICALLY misrepresented both the message and the content of my piece by selective quoting, so I am going to do the same to him, here is a quote from his most recent article about winter riding in the snow:

Nate Homan “reporter” for the metro had this to say about winter riding, “…Other small details, like checking [facts]…don’t…concern…me…I…have…cobbled…this…pothole-riddled, slush-covered…[article]…[together]…from…nothing. Luckily it’s really not worth…[reading] it.”

The above quote I think sums up his article nicely.

I have written an email to Nate asking him why he felt the need to so purposefully misrepresent what I wrote, I will let you know if he writes back.


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New User Registration Turned Off For A Bit

Written by Boston Biker on Jan 05

Suffering a huge influx of spam users, if you really really want a new account/blog use the contact form and I will make you one.

 

Also I updated the code base, so let me know if anything is strange with the sites.


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Hey Had You Noticed, It’s Dark At 5pm Now…

Written by Boston Biker on Nov 05

GET A LIGHT FOR YOUR BIKE!  A bright WHITE one for the front and a bright RED one for the back.  Turn them on when its dark.  This is not rocket surgery.

This goes for joggers in the street as well, you are completely invisible, I don’t have head lights in my eyes, your reflective vests do nothing unless there is a car about to run you over to illuminate you.  Also don’t run in the bike lanes, you don’t want me riding on the sidewalks, you don’t run in the streets…it seems like a fair trade.

This also applies to car drivers, you have to turn your damn lights on…its dark, there is a little knob, use it.

 

That is all.


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My Morning Commute

Written by Boston Biker on Oct 08

boston-skyline-from-water-sunshine

As I open my door the pleasant whirrrrrr of an old internal three speed coasting down the hill greets my ears.

Looking left I see an elegantly dressed woman swishing past in the crisp morning air.

As I mount my bike I see my neighbor carrying his bicycle down the front porch stairs of his home.

We exchanged slight head nods, I have never spoken to this person, but because we both ride bikes we make contact.

The sun shines peacefully as I join the tiny tributary of cyclists in Union Square.  First one, then two, collect at the red light, then start together, forward.

Three, then four, then many.  The tiny tributary becomes a running stream of cyclists heading towards Cambridge.

By the time I reach Hampshire street the cyclists outnumber the cars, heading in groups of ten or more towards downtown.  The bike counter already reads over 300.

We move as a large mass towards Boston, moving in groups bunched up by the rhythm of the red lights.

Our swift movement a sharp contrast to the relatively few cars that have none the less managed to clog the streets.

The incline of the Longfellow does its work thinning and spreading out the group of cyclists into a long line. Each cyclist propelling themselves over its gentle hill.

The view from the top the best in town, the Red line rumbles past with its hermetically sealed occupants pressed against the windows.

Boston is such a contrast, the many cyclists much dart and weave around opening doors, parked cars, walking pedestrians.  The bicycle lanes are gone.

This morning however the cyclists have carved out their own passage, taking street space, even though none was set aside for them.

The car drivers conceded them their lane, perhaps bowing to their superior numbers.  Perhaps in a concession to their superior speed.

Downtown, a heady rush, impotent stuck cars and distracted pedestrians.  Car horns and high rises.

Pillars of finance moving busily, money on their minds, do they know that only a bicycle is economical enough to profitably ply these streets?

Then work, with its fluorescent dead air pallor, can never match the glory of the commute.

The pain is tempered knowing that you get to do it all again on the way home!

 

 


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Surprise Gridlock!

Written by Boston Biker on Sep 09

Screen-Shot-2015-02-03-at-4.36.11-PM1

Surprise!

It always strange to me how one day can have a completely different traffic situation than the day before or after it.  Something must have been in the air yesterday (all the students returning?), but it was total gridlock traffic in the morning and afternoon commute.  And then this morning, almost no traffic, but crazy amounts of cyclists on the road.  Coincidence, I think not!  (perhaps)

Bikes, good for traffic, good for you.


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What A Moron

Written by Boston Biker on Sep 02

dunce1

In what can only be described as click bait written by a person who seems to have suffered a head injury (perhaps a helmet would help?) Jeff Jacoby continues the Globes tradition of publishing foolish OpEd’s about cycling (see here here and here).

The death last month of cyclist Anita Kurmann, who was fatally struck by a tractor-trailer turning from Mass. Ave. onto Beacon Street, was a terrible tragedy. The 38-year-old medical researcher was at least the 13th cyclist killed in collisions with motor vehicles on city streets since 2010. That number is sure to rise if Boston keeps encouraging people to ride bicycles where bicycles don’t belong.

Busy thoroughfares aren’t meant for cyclists. They are meant for the cars, trucks, and buses that transport the vast majority of people moving through the nation’s cities. Those vehicles weigh thousands of pounds, operate at 300-plus horsepower, and are indispensable to the economic and social well-being of virtually every American community. Bicycles can be an enjoyable, even exhilarating, way to get around. So can horses, skis, and roller skates. Adding any of them to the flow of motorized traffic on roads that already tend to be too clogged, however, is irresponsible and dangerous.

I can’t imagine a less tactful way to talk about the very real problem of  cyclist road safety.  Not only is he being incredibly crass about a recently killed person, he is missing the point that cycling as a mode of road share has been growing rapidly over the last 5 years.  With surging numbers of cyclists on the road, you would expect much higher number of fatalities in a city so poorly designed for cyclists (like Boston).  Indicating that cycling is a much safer mode of transportation than he lets on.

He goes on to assert that because someone died we shouldn’t use that method of transportation anymore?  Did anyone tell him that in the same 5 year period (2010 to 2015) over 1000 people have died in Massachusetts due to fatal car crashes. (source) many of them in Boston, including pedestrians.  Are we to assume no one should walk or drive either?

He also seems to forget that it was cars that were added to pedestrian and cycling traffic, not the other way around.  Cars were late comers to the road mix, and have done nothing but kill and maim since they were introduced.

He also fails to address that Boston is only several feet above sea level, and continued use of oil (cars still run on oil) puts the very city itself in danger of destruction.  Business as usual use of oil will not only clog city streets with traffic, it will submerge those streets under water.  Also you know cars make people fat, angry and clog our air with pollution.  Cycling, solves many if not all of those problems, and causes very few new ones.

He continues to confuse his imagination with reality to such an extent that it seems to be pointless to even type out a response to the whole mess.

Seriously this guy…I think this comment summed it up best:

The distinction between a newspaper columnist and an internet troll gets more subtle every day.


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More Bikes Than Cars!

Written by Boston Biker on Aug 03

For the last 7 or so work days I have noticed that on my morning commute, there are significantly more cyclists than their are motorists.  The insane part of it is, the cars still take up vastly more room.

You will pull up to a red light and see 10 cyclists crammed into the tiniest little area, and next to them 3 people in cars taking up the entire road.  The light changes green and all the cyclists cram into a narrow bike lane (happily I might add), while the 3 or 4 cars struggle to find room on roads clogged with on street parking and construction.

There are two lessons I have learned form this.

1.  WE ARE WINNING!  Cycling is clearing a preferable form of transportation, this is due to many peoples hard work promoting cycling infrastructure and education.

2. Driving a car is about the dumbest way to get to work.  If you don’t have a really good reason, leave the 4 wheel vehicle at work, dust off that bicycle, and join the crowd!

Have you seen an uptick in the number of cyclists on your commute?  Have you noticed that you are outnumbering cars?  Let me know in the comments.


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The Word On The Street

  • RSS Here is what people are saying

    • Dot Bike May Events! May 2, 2016
      TweetFrom Dot Bike: ————- Bikes are in bloom! With the celebration of Bay State Bike Week, Boston Bike to Work Festival and thereturn of the Hubway fleets May can feel like a burst of new energy for bicycling in Boston. Maybe you can … Continue reading →
      Boston Biker
    • The 5th Annual Christina Clarke Genco Mother’s Day Memorial Ride May 2, 2016
      TweetOne of the saddest parts of running this website is reporting about cyclist deaths, way back in 2012 we reported about that Christina Clarke Genco was struck and killed while making the world a better place.   But that tragic … Continue reading →
      Boston Biker
    • Council Unanimously Approves Lower Speed Limit, Now Goes To Mayor For Approval April 27, 2016
      TweetThe city council Unanimously approved the 20 mph speed limit, it now goes to the mayor, and then (strangely) to the state…stay tuned.
      Boston Biker
    • Report From The Lowering The Speed Limit Public Hearing April 25, 2016
      TweetLynn gave this great report on how the hearing to lower the speed limit to 20 mph in Boston went (the report was from 4 days ago, I am just now getting around to reading it).  Looks like things are … Continue reading →
      Boston Biker
    • Rozzie Bikes Repair Day May 14th April 25, 2016
      TweetGot this in the email, looks like it could be a lot of fun. Are you good with kids? Can you pump up a tire or oil a chain? If so, please support Rozzie Bikes by coming to one (or … Continue reading →
      Boston Biker
    • April Ghouls Day Ride April 30th! April 25, 2016
      TweetUnbeknownst to me there is another holiday at the end of April called April Ghouls day…or at least that is what the good folks at Dot Bike would have us believe. From the email: You heard it here first! — … Continue reading →
      Boston Biker
    • America’s Absurd Fascination With Cars April 14, 2016
      TweetI was having a discussion with someone this morning and we realized that at every stage in the development of automobile infrastructure in America, other, consistently better, choices for infrastructure were available, but we continued to choose the car every … Continue reading →
      Boston Biker
    • Boston City Council Hearing On Lower Speed Limits In Boston April 8, 2016
      TweetGot this in the email.  Very interesting proposal!  If we really could make speeding enforcement and lowering speeds a priority we would be much better off.   ————————– On April 20th there will be a hearing on Councilor Frank Baker’s … Continue reading →
      Boston Biker
    • Shop Soap! April 5, 2016
      I have been making my own soap for a couple of years now, mostly as gifts for friends and family.  We have made all sorts of nice smelling, very good soaps, but something was missing.  I wanted a soap that was strong enough to blast off the various shop related gunk from my hands, but […]
      Boston Biker
    • After School at Open Shop! April 3, 2016
      Recently at a Wednesday Open Shop, a boy came up to me and introduced himself as Philip, a fifth grader from up the street. He said his gym teacher told him about CommonWheels and that he could learn about bikes and he was just wondering if he could fi... Continue reading →
      commonwheels