- Being in the Cast of Listen To Your Mother
- Helping your Child Walk or Bike to School
- Cycling Success Stories Mainly About Women
- Introducing the Durable Human Manifesto
- Meet the DC Cast of Listen To Your Mother
- Replant Native Trees that Turbocharge Nature
- A Prospective Author’s Perspective 2013
- How Free Content Can Boost Book Sales
- Tips for Effective Email Marketing
- Give Some Guidance with that Gadget
Connect With Me on Twitter
In today’s Washington Post I paint a picture of how an edge city near Washington, D.C. can be wired with a system connecting smart phones with self-driving cars, buses and trucks. We hear from robotics expert Robert Finkelstein and consultant Richard Bishop who say we’ll gain productive time if we aren’t driving or caught in traffic. We’ll be safer, too. Smart vehicles have onboard sensors which are being shown to dramatically reduce crashes. Plus they never get tired or distracted. more »
At least one Washington-area commuter is making her Try Transit week permanent. When a person cancels the contract on a parking spot in her own office building, you know she has to be serious.
My cousin loves her car – a 2009 Infiniti G37 coupe. Color: liquid platinum. But her enthusiasm for driving was significantly curbed in June when she was involved in an accident in heavy rush-hour traffic for the second time in two months. Not only did it give her jitters behind the wheel – her insurance payment doubled.
Knowing what I do about how taking transit saves money, burns calories and frees up time, I gingerly made The Ask. Since I was commuting downtown for the summer, I suggested we take the bus to the Metro from the stop right outside her development in central Tysons Corner. Before the accidents, she may have laughed it off, but instead she said yes.
Here’s how it went that first day in mid-August (the other voice you hear is mine):
Now that my cousin’s been riding a while, I e-mailed her a few questions.
Has switching to Metro saved you money?
The cost of using Metro per month is $196 (bus + train). Parking at the office is $270/month (which I pay for) plus $210/month in gas. So turns out my total monthly savings is $284. Additional pluses are less mileage on the car as well as wear and tear on the tires. Also there is less chance of getting in an accident (my personal favorite).
Cons: I don’t love being stuck at the mercy of the Metro bus and train schedules. Also, driving can take less time. The 11-mile commute by car ranges from 30 minutes on the best day to 90+ on bad days. Plus – I like to have the option to stop on my way home which you cannot do on public transportation.
Pros: It’s less stressful. I used to arrive at work all stressed out from the traffic delays, constant construction and really poor driving going on around me. I can work on my way in as I get service for the BlackBerry on the bus and train.
Buses are really clean with great air conditioning. Bus timetables are pretty accurate. I have two different bus routes 1 block from my home.
The bus dropoff at West Falls Church is covered so you don’t get wet. The bus area has a dedicated, separate entrance to trains. 95% of the time I get a seat both ways. Metro commute is 50 minutes door-to-door coming from my area behind Tysons II.
Using SmartCard, I have a pre-tax benefit through my firm’s WMATA SmartBenefits program.
Was it easier or harder than driving on the earthquake, hurricane and flood days?
In general, easier. While there were time delays, the traffic seemed way worse. On Earthquake day, it took almost twice as long due to lower speed limit on tracks to allow for checking to make sure no structural damage to tracks. On the Thursday Tropical Storm Lee blew through, I waited an hour for the bus – which I expected. But I equated traffic around Tysons to Christmas Eve: gridlock. I was very glad to be on the bus.
What are your words of wisdom to anyone considering a bus/Metro commute?
Hmm, I would say had you not suggested I give this a try and at the same time accompanied me for the first few days, I would not have even considered it. I absolutely love my car and, let’s face it, I am fairly lazy where walking is concerned from growing up in the suburbs where you drove everywhere from the first day you get your license. It’s a way of life/frame of mind. I like to have the option to stop on my way home which you cannot do on public transportation.
Having said that, my advice would be to try it for a week, take the time to do the math and calculate the savings – and have an open mind.
I begrudgingly (still) have to admit I am a public transportation convert. Check back with me in November when the cold and snow has settled in.
And so I will.
Crossposted at Greater Greater Washington
Bike share gives you another way to travel short distances, such as from a Metro station to a nearby restaurant. 110 of the solar-powered bike share stations have sprung up in the busier areas of Washington and Arlington.
Rolling away from the station outside the entrance to the Crystal City Metro, I immediately felt comfortable on my CaBi bike. The weight of the sturdy frame and the three gears kept my progress slow and under control as we negotiated stop-and-go car traffic.
Since I was used to seeing Crystal City from a car window, I thought it wasn’t much more than a drab concrete jungle. But gliding slowly along, I got a closeup view of how much had changed since I moved from the area thirty years ago. Now, beautiful potted plants dot street corners. Graceful shade trees sway in the breeze. Sidewalk cafes beckon.
And bike share stations are located every couple of blocks. That close proximity is what makes the system a viable form of transportation. Our tourguide tells us that lots of people now grab a bike instead of a taxi or bus. They predict that as Metrorail gets more crowded, bike share will become a desired alternative for more people and actually free up spaces on trains.
I liked my bike in D.C. better than the one I rode last summer in Milan. For one thing, a bungy cord secures your stuff in the cargo rack. We were bummed in Italy when our new DSLR camera slid out of the open metal basket and crashed on the sidewalk. Capital Bikeshare maintenance folks report their bikes are much more reliable then the finicky fleet in Paris.
I wore business clothes for the ride and soon realized one’s outfit should rarely be an impediment. Truth be told, if you’re wearing high heels and have to go any distance at all, it’s a lot more comfortable to ride a bike than it is to walk.
Capital Bikeshare is remarkably safe. More than 700,000 rides have been taken on the system since CaBi opened last fall, but there have been very few accidents. In fact, medical assistance has only been necessary in only about a dozen instances. CaBi adds an additional measure of safety by teaming up with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association to offer free classes in negotiating city traffic.
Bike share is a great deal. You’ll need to pay to get into the system. A year-long membership costs $75. It’s $30 for a month and $5 for a day. But having done that, any time you use a bike, the first half hour is free. If you time it right, you could take as many short hops as you want and never pay another dime.
As for tech support, clear instructions and a bike locator map are on the CaBi website. A free smart phone app, www.SpotCycle.net, is an easy way to check as you’re riding whether there is an open spot to return your bike at your destination.
Scores of new bike share stations are planned for new places, including Montgomery County and Alexandria. But there’s no need to wait for a full build-out. If, for instance, you want to go from Capitol Hill to a meeting on K Street, it may be faster and cheaper to check out a CaBi than to wait for a cab and risk getting caught in traffic.
Technology can come to the rescue at D.C. events such as the October 30 Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert Sanity rally – where huge crowds fueled by social media come together in a real place.
That’s according to Curt Westerphal of Digital Design & Imaging Service Inc., also known as AirPhotosLIVE.com. The Falls Church, Virginia firm was hired by CBS News to count heads at both the Comedy Central and Glenn Beck rallies. Curt got in touch after reading my Sanity rally followup in the Washington Post.
From a balloon tethered high above the Air and Space Museum, AirPhotosLIVE took pictures with an array of high-resolution cameras, combining the images with photos taken from atop the Washington Monument and a GeoEye satellite. In the same way a person looks down on a busy ant hill, these sophisticated eyes in the sky watch how people swarm and surge. Stunning photography and 3-D views of the Sanity rally can be seen on the Photosynth website.
“We are looking at patterns of movement and demand,” Curt wrote. “The crowd movement patterns we see from the air are valuable since they help transportation, security, first-responders and even Porta-Potty planners locate and track the flow of the crowd.” For instance, if the National Park Service used AirPhotosLIVE imaging, officials could see in nearly real time which subway stations were being overrun and let Metro know where to direct riders to less-crowded stations.
Soon, information could go directly to the crowd via their smart phones. We’re one inch away from having everyone there see the info,” Curt told me. “We already have a wireless downlink to our trailer. The issue is getting it out to social media. We could post it to a website right now. The limitations are really less technical and more political.”
That would be great if the cell phones actually worked, which they didn’t inside the Sanity rally. But, with enough planning, that problem can be solved, too. That is, if COWs roam the Mall. Cells On Wheels are mobile cell phone towers which temporarily stretch available bandwidth allowing phones to keep working. COWs were used successfully at the Obama inauguration.
Curt’s balloon also serves as a relay for walkie-talkie and 911 communications between emergency responders, even if they are on different frequencies. “The aerostat at 800 feet could allow a person at a distant station, say Greenbelt Metro, to talk to someone at the Reston Metro.”
But what happens if weather or something else grounds the amazing inflatable? “I joke about ‘one if by land, two if by sea’,” Westergard said in an email. “But two simple flag colors can tell a lot. Think hurricane warning flags or smoke signals. A flag at 500 feet can be seen from Tysons with binoculars. This city unfortunately may need that level of mass communication one day.”
Chalk it up to Reddit, Facebook and Fark for packing them in at the Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert Rally on October 30. That so many people heeded the digital drumbeat so quickly is a loud wakeup call for D.C. event planners, as I pointed out in The Washington Post.
It paid that day to be a local. Heading out two hours before the rally, my cousin and I planned to take the subway, but when we saw the line, kept driving - to a parking space at her office eight blocks from the Mall. Our luck held when, walking toward the entrance, we spied people stepping through a break in the fence and slipped in behind them.
We were one jumbotron back from the stage. The crowd was blissful, but standing up and packed in like sardines. It was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life, but looking around, I couldn’t help but worry: what if something spooked the crowd? The city was not prepared.
When Comedy Central filed for a permit September 8, the network estimated 25,000 people would attend. “It had to do with actual space they [the National Park Service] were prepared to allot to the event,” network spokesman Tony Fox told The Durable Human. “We had no idea how many people were going to show up.”
After seven weeks of negotiations - which included the network’s decision not to pay for extra Metro service - 60,000 was the number approved in the final permit just three days before the event.
But even before the network’s eleventh-hour decision to commit, the electronic outreach started. “Reddit[.com] did a donation push to encourage us to do the rally,” Stephen Colbert acknowledged at the post-event press conference. (Fark.com was ticked off he didn’t give social media enough credit for making the rally happen).
Two weeks into the permit process, 100,000 people had RSVPd on Facebook. Then, on October 20, Andres Glusman of Meetup.com told the Christian Science Monitor, “This is growing faster than any online Meetup we’ve seen.” According to Yahoo News, self-organized satellite gatherings were being planned in 801 cities in 67 nations.
All the while, the coolest guys on TV invited viewers across the flat world to a free party in America’s capital.
Comedy Central kept an eye on the online numbers and made some adjustments. On October 25, the Wall Street Journal said the network ordered extra port-a-potties “suggesting organizers expect a crowd of 150,000 people.”
Metro put some extra trains and personnel on standby, but D.C. authorities were reluctant to go much further. “We did see that there was a large number of people RSVPing on Facebook,” said Park Service spokesman Bill Line. “But we have also found that for prior events, that’s not always an accurate gauge either. People will say they are coming and then don’t.”
In the end, precise aerial images paid for by CBS News showed that 215,000 people attended the rally. That’s not counting the thousands who tried but failed to ride the overloaded public transportation system to get downtown. “It’s kind of fascinating to us,” said the Comedy Central spokesman, “Facebook on the Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert web sites came out to be 300,000.”
Looking back, it’s clear that DC event planners must re-think the way they do business. Besides reacting more quickly to Internet input, they need to better leverage the permit approval process to compel event sponsors to help pay for support services of all kinds – from extra Metro trains to bike valets.
For their part, private sponsors should get a better handle on attendance, perhaps by asking rally-goers to register in advance and charging a nominal entry fee to cover externalities.
Another problem to reckon with is that during big events on The Mall – like the rally and President Obama’s inaugural festivities - cell phone service is overwhelmed so no one can make or receive calls and texts.
To be able to do its job properly, the National Park Service must be fully informed. Congress banned the agency from making crowd estimates following a political dustup after the Million Man March in 1995. But in the new millennium, computer-analyzed imaging eliminates the shades of grey which might have prompted politically-motivated lawsuits.
The Washington Post Ombudsman suggested that a media consortium should share the cost of using such technology to make estimates. But since federal authorities already rely on the same imaging techniques for other purposes, Congress should end the ban and allow the Park Service to again be the crowd-estimating agency of record. (See Comment about capabilities of aerial imaging from AirphotosLIVE.com below)
With enough time and publicity, an event called by a charismatic worldwide figure could end up larger than any one country’s presidential swearing-in.
But Washington certainly isn’t the only place which must cope with increasingly massive crowds. Last summer, Shanghai was hobbled (shanghaied?) by sheer numbers at its World Expo. Waits at exhibits spanned up to nine hours.
Because of the burgeoning world population, designers and engineers from Rochester, Massachusetts and any other Institute of Technology must work to find better ways to fit lots of people into defined spaces. Maybe by going to a modular design, an exhibit could have multiple entrances and a five-hour wait could be cut to one.
Like it or not, the headaches of managing huge communities which come together in real-life spaces are here to stay.
For weeks I dreaded World Carfree Day, held this year on September 22, when we’re all supposed to find other ways to get around. I live near Tysons Corner, a traffic-clogged suburb of Washington, D.C., in one of America’s most congested regions. Trying to walk the walk for a whole day would not be easy.
The closest bus stop to my house is about two miles as the crow flies, and I’d need to be a crow to get there without driving. I don’t have the guts to walk or bike because the short stretches of sidewalk don’t connect and most of the streets don’t have shoulders. So, Step One was to rationalize I wasn’t cheating if I drove my son the short hop to his high school carpool. Returning to my home office would keep me off the roads a while, but only until his afternoon football game.
The idea of parking and taking transit the four miles over to school seemed fine until the Metro website told me the bus went in only one direction. Service on the 15M line stopped in the middle of the fourth quarter.
Then, in a desperate and underhanded move, I called and asked my cousin if she’d like to come to the game, never disclosing my ploy to get a ride back to my car. Luckily, I went undetected because she had allergies and didn’t want to go outside.
My last chance to go carless was to an evening meeting, three miles from home. But, after more investigation, I found that by the time I dropped off my son, drove to catch the first of two buses and walked the rest of the way, the meeting would be over.
Finally, the Day dawned and it was clear the message hadn’t penetrated the public consciousness as the radio reporter chirped, “Crazy traffic day! We’ll begin in the District – listen up!”
Feeling rather dejected later that night, I wandered over to worldcarfree.net. Turns out Carfree Day is actually a year-round effort to “remind the world that we don’t have to accept our car-dominated society” and “to put it on city planners and politicians to give priority to cycling, walking and public transport, instead of to the automobile.”
Then it hit me. The meeting I had driven to earlier was held by the non-profit Fairfax Trails and Streams. There, a person from the Fairfax County Park Authority talked of plans to make trail connections between communities, parks and transportation. Afterward, an attendee informed the group about a public meeting to dicuss the new Tysons Corner bicycle master plan. And tomorrow, a blurb I wrote about the public buses which serve my son’s school would appear in the parent newsletter.
It was good to realize that even those who have to drive can be part of Carfree Day.
This blog is dedicated to my sister multi-modal maven, Fionnuala Quinn, who lives in the North Virginia car haven known as Fair Oaks.
Bike share programs are springing up all over the world. For an idea of how they work, a system in the bustling, northern Italian city of Milan provides a good example.
There’s no confusing a colorful bike share bike, which is clearly marked with municipality and conspicuous I.D. number (an effective theft-deterrent).
Bike stations are conveniently located around the city.
Kiosks contain a screen and keypad where you enter a password created when booking online. Sliding your credit card, your bike space number appears on the screen.
Automatically unlocked, the bike easily lifts off the rack.
Bikes are tough and sturdy, yet easy to steer. The ride is remarkably comfortable, even over bumps. Having only three to choose from takes the guesswork out of shifting gears.
No need for special cycling clothes. People in this fashion capital wear just about anything when they ride, including business suits and high heels. You can’t exert yourself too much or go too fast amid the traffic lights and other forms of transportation. Helmets don’t come with the rental and aren’t typically worn.
Best of all – the cost is only a few euros for a two-hour period – and the first half hour is free!
I give the Milan system an A-, due to some very minor quibbles. The heavy bikes develop so much momentum they’re somewhat tough to brake. While having a bungee is helpful, the metal bike basket is slippery and heavy objects are hard to secure. My husband’s new SLR camera slipped out and broke at our first sight-seeing stop. We’ll stow our stuff in a bag next time. Booking the bike was somewhat cumbersome because the system did not allow multiple bookings at one time, nor did it retain information from prior bookings.
But, all in all, bike share is a cheap and enjoyable alternative to taxis, a good bridge between different types of transport, and a great way to burn off the fantastic pasta and frequent gelato stops.
Take it from Wolftrap Elementary in Vienna, Virginia, which issued a “BikeWalk Challenge” to see how many families would give their kids a chance to walk and roll.
Jeff Anderson, bike aficionado and Wolftrap parent, turned pied piper on wheels by leading a “bike bus” through the neighborhoods.
Besides being fun, walking and biking boost mental and physical fitness, self-esteem and self-reliance, as Jeff explains in a YouTube video.
Jeff’s efforts paid off. “We had over 230 kids walk and over 50 bike today….which we figured out was more than 50% of the school enrollment,” he is happy to report. Car drop-offs over the week were cut nearly in half.
Of course, kids need to be safe when they bike and walk. A federal program called “Safe Routes to School” has funding for schools which need sidewalks, crosswalks and other infrastructure improvements. As long as someone is willing to do the paperwork (and often that’s a parent), the money is free for the asking.
For cash-strapped schools, providing safe routes has another advantage. Sometimes, simply adding some stripes of paint and a few yards of concrete can clear the way for significant numbers of walkers and completely eliminate the need for costly bus service.
There were lessons to be learned from Wolftrap’s BikeWalk Challenge. Many families in outlying areas of the school district were unable to take part because there are no sidewalks and it is far too dangerous to dodge cars in the road. But, on the bright side, a Safe Routes project has been discovered.
Adults who once walked or biked to school remember the freedom of getting around on their own. Despite today’s fear-laden society, kids need to spread their wings and get outside whenever they can.
Storied environmental steward Rachel Carson’s words serve as a reminder:
“If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life.
Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”
The simple act of taking the bus can make a big difference. Last year, because Americans took 10.7 million trips on public transit, 4 billion gallons of gasoline were not used. Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in this country – and cars are the biggest contributor. But somehow, as much as we hate traffic, we tend to forget the mighty job a bus can do to get cars off the road. We also overlook that, to a kid, a bus can be a ticket to personal freedom. Knowing how to take transit teaches children to be durable humans.
For Blog Action Day, 2009, I offer the story of how my fifteen year old son and his friend learned the transit lesson. I won’t reprint the whole story which appears in the Washington Post, but suffice it to say the kids and their moms got an education—thanks to technology—on how to research and ride the bus. The families saved both time and money. But for the kids, there was more. As I wrote, “For one thing, they got exercise. Walking that mile to and from the bus happens to be the daily dose of activity recommended for teens by the American Heart Association. Plus, getting outside in the fresh air is an antidote for what author Richard Louv terms “nature deficit disorder.” Louv, in his book “Last Child in the Woods”, also argues that the leash we have on our kids is way too tight. When we allow them to be more self-reliant and self-propelled, they gain pride and satisfaction.”
I am proud there are two more people on the planet who know a viable way to get around without a car.
So, next time you don’t think you can stand another minute behind the wheel, think about whether you—or someone you have to drive—could possibly take the bus.