Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Los Alamos Submits Application to be Designated a Bicycle-Friendly Community

On Tuesday, Eric Martinez in the Dept. of Public Works submitted the county's application to be designated a Bicycle-Friendly Community. Quite a few of our county staffers from various departments collaborated on the application.  Thanks go to all of them.

Wish us luck!

Monday, July 11, 2016

When police become tax collectors, and other complications

Paradise, comparatively. Now if it would just rain
 This all started, by the way, with BCNM President John Hooker sending me a link.

What My Bike Has Taught Me About White Privilege

One is fortunate to live in Los Alamos, where the most serious problems we confront are whether to put in roundabouts or signalized intersections. Or "do I pull out the road bike or the mountain bike today?" Or complaining that the bridge sidepath isn't wide enough to race across on a bicycle. Whether it is white privilege or class privilege or both, we have it in our little version of Lake Wobegon. Elsewhere, civil discourse has been reduced to shouting and shooting at each other, packing heat, occupying wildlife refuges while carrying "modern sporting rifles" and watching the bridges on interstate highways collapse as government entities declare bankruptcy.

Last week was pretty bad. The dog woke me up in the wee hours of Thursdsay and while checking my email to get back to sleep, I got to watch Philando Castile bleed out after a botched concealed carry/traffic stop (for a discussion of ccw traffic stops, try this link or this). Then Friday I woke up to the Dallas massacre. What's next?

The Dallas carnage gave the lie to the idea that we can be safer or more polite with more good guys with guns. There were dozens of police, i.e., armed good guys present and according to the NY Times, numerous protestors were open carrying.  Still, a well trained shooter lying in ambush had all the cards.  There are so many weapons around; in a nation where a lot of people are harboring grudges, whether it be disgruntled blacks, disgruntled ranchers, disgruntled "Patriots", or just garden variety gang members or drug dealers, it is inevitable that some guns will be misused. Guns have become America's Maslow's Hammer; the solution is a gun, now what was the problem? Until we change that mentality, we are screwed. Do we want Anbar Province or a community where you don't constantly have to be on your guard? I'm pretty far from anti-gun, but I am getting tired of the tone of the conversation.

But disarming or highly regulating guns for the public, even if that could be done with a change in SCOTUS composition or with carefully vetted laws, will not cure the cancer in our communities any more than a shot of morphine cures cancer in a human. It just dulls the pain. It goes after means rather than motive and without some fundamental changes in society, the motives will remain. An example:

"Essentially, these small towns in urban areas have municipal infrastructure that can't be supported by the tax base, and so they ticket everything in sight to keep the town functioning," said William Maurer, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice who has been studying the sudden rise in "nontraffic-related fines."  -- "The dangers of turning police officers into revenue generators.", by Jack Hitt

Someone needs to look beyond the idea of gun control (or its polar opposite) and ask why so many communities are becoming politically and economically toxic. I was forwarded the Mother Jones piece from last fall, excerpted above, via a Strong Towns tweet. MJ talks about the situation in many communities where taxes cannot support the local government, leading to taxation by fines. In these communities, the police are not there primarily to serve and protect but increasingly, to issue nuisance summonses to raise funds. Hence the cops are adversaries. Jack Hitt, in the MJ article argues that this situation leads to a lot of lousy cops doing the kind of work police forces just should not be doing, leading to adversity, shootings and violence. Chuck Marohn at Strong Towns has long argued that many communities have been living beyond their means, leading to these sorts of excesses as communities do some pretty unethical things to keep from admitting the wolf has long gotten through the door.

How American Cities Fine Their Black Citizens To Make Up For Budget Shortfalls

Mother Jones: African-American Gun Ownership Is Up, and So Is Wariness

Black doctor's conflict: Saving officers, distrusting police

Maybe we can put it all together some day, rather than nibbling around the edges.  Here is the MJ piece, in case you have not already read it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Sweat the Small Stuff

Here, I peel back the ends of the rim 
strip, to photograph how the ends 
were directly over a spoke hole. 
I think it was already in the eighties when I headed up Camp May Road on Sunday morning. I was sweating buckets and went through two 24 oz water bottles of gatorade in a 20 mile ride, albeit part of that involved hauling my fat carcass up to a close to 10% grade.

Interesting thing happened on the way down the hill. My rear tire blew out with a loud pop on one of those many steep curves coming down from the ski area. Made for an interesting way to do a controlled stop from +40 mph.

I took things apart by the proverbial side of the road to put in a new tube and was looking to figure out how the thing blew up. First I thought it was a fatigued valve stem, but no, there was a hole in the inner tube on the inside of the tube where it presses against the rim strip.

Turns out whoever put the wheel together put the ends of the rim strip directly over a spoke hole, with no overlap of the rim strip ends. Over the years the ends separated and the inner tube bulged into the sharpened spoke hole. On the way down it finally failed catastrophically.  Little things matter. Especially if you like high speed descents.

I tried to align the strip over the spoke hole as best I could and got back to the house in limp-home mode. Then I replaced the rim strip and overlapped the ends. I also checked the front wheel, which had a rim strip installed correctly. Thankfully. A front wheel blowout on a high speed descent would not be fun. I probably wouldn't be sitting here comfortably writing this today.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Albuquerque Journal Misses Major Point in Discussion of Pedestrian Risk

Editor, The Albuquerque Journal

The Journal, in its 6-15 editorial, somewhat missed the point on pedestrian safety in New Mexico. Like the recent Journal article on the same topic, it omits discussion of the relationship between road and highway design and pedestrian risk.

Substance abuse is certainly part of the problem, but not the entire picture.  Our infrastructure is designed for fast car travel. Albuquerque Councilor Pat Davis said it best:  no one would design streets this way if pedestrian safety were really crucial.

We design major arterials (i.e., Central Avenue) with wide, fast multilane features, even in dense urban areas, to facilitate motor vehicle movement with minimal delays across our ever sprawling cities. Features such as crosswalks are often not built for pedestrian convenience on the scale of walking, but at intervals that minimize loss of vehicular level of service. Speed kills: a 40 mph impact will kill most pedestrians while at 20 mph, most will live. So why are speeds (and design speeds; meant to imply that, Steve) often set at close to 40 mph? To make matters worse, wide road profiles and busy traffic mean small figures like pedestrians are hard to spot.

Vision Zero means redesigning roads so that they are forgiving to mistakes. VZ slows things down such that the inevitable crashes that result from human error are not fatal. How that works with the urge to sprawl our cities is a good question.

Finally, suggesting pedestrians be held as accountable for sobriety as motorists must be further justified. Motorists are licensed as they are driving potentially dangerous vehicles. No such requirement is put on people walking around town. Certainly remaining sober enough to cross the street is a good idea, but the comparison must include the two modes capability to do harm to others.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Negligent Entrustment? Gee, tell that to the Kalamazoo bicyclists

Patrick O'Grady sent me an article about a lawsuit currently wending its way through a Connecticut court, arising from the Newtown mass shooting. Timely, since we have had yet another, yet worse one in Orlando. The idea being pursued is that, according to the quote in the article, it is Negligent Entrustment to sell so called assault rifles to the public. The idea of negligent entrustment in this scenerio is: "...a gun is carelessly given or sold to a person posing a high risk of misusing it....". The plaintiffs want to expand on the idea and substitute the American public for "a person" and say the public as a whole has a high risk of misusing these rifles.

The technical legal question is way outside my expertise as a geologist, but I am skeptical. Besides, this is a bike blog, not a law journal. My skepticism of the Newtown lawsuit as far as the negligent entrustment angle is several-fold. One, the Feds have not banned it, so it is a lawful product sold to the public. Two, Connecticut approved the ownership of these guns and indeed, licensed Nancy Lanza to have it, so the state has some responsibility in authorizing its sale to the public. Three, Nancy was not necessarily negligent. Adam Lanza shot his mother dead and stole it. Four, statistically, there are millions out there and the number misused, in geochemical parliance, is in the low parts per million. Its hard to rationalize from that the idea that the average owner is at high risk of misusing it. Wonder how that compares to motor vehicles?  Finally, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act blocks these suits under most circumstances.

My guess is there are probably more motor vehicles used negligently in part because they are used constantly and not considered by their owners as particularly dangerous devices. Two multiple killings of bicyclists this year point to the dangers of their misuse, one happened in Kalamazoo that killed five and one in Tucson that killed two, including a Santa Fe Seniors on Bikes rider. So if Newtown is the gun manufacturer's fault, why isn't Kalamazoo the auto industry's fault? Where does corporate responsibility end and ours begin?  I go back to the Porsche analogy I used the other day: just because I once bought a car that can do 162 mph, it doesn't mean it is Ferry Porsche's fault if I do 162 mph in a school zone.

 I saw those shitty advertisements used by Bushmaster for "getting your man card", something mentioned in the Times article, but as a board member of the Bicycle Coalition of New Mexico, I once got into a metaphorical firefight with Bicycling Magazine over their running an ad for a Nissan (or might have been Acura) product that said buying that car was a way to express one's aggression on the road. Just what we bicyclists need: more aggressive drivers and more bad ads. Its not clear to me whether lousy advertising trumps individual responsibility, but we sure do see enough of those "closed course, don't try this at home" ads and so far, no one I know has sued a car company using the negligent entrustment idea.

PLCAA, the law that protects gun manufacturers when individuals misuse guns, is Federal law. This case is currently in state court. Not sure what that means, but suspect an appeal would be a no-brainer if this gets much farther.

Black rifles, like Porsches, are a lot of fun, as Adam Winkler said in an NPR piece, but the public assumes the risks as well as any public benefit. Orlando is the risk. That said, any car or gun, even a workhorse pickup truck or revolver, can be misused with devastating results.  As Winkler said in the article, more mass shootings are done with handguns, as is the overwhelming amount of gun crime carried out in the US. Still, as I commented to O'Grady this morning, the AR makes someone a pretty damn effective killing machine, which in the military context, is exactly the idea. Thomas Friedman makes a good case for technological lethality outrunning human social instruments of peaceful existence in today's NY Times. We cannot afford potentially highly efficient killing machines in our midst if they are going to suddenly go off the rails. I've said what I want to say on assault rifles before, in this piece, excerpted here:

"...if lunatics continue to use (assault rifles) to deliver high velocity carnage to schools, theatres, and fire departments, some sort of regulation is inevitable on public safety grounds (and is likely permissible under Heller). Constitutional issues aside, we let just about everyone drive (and some do a bad job of it, leading to more than 30,000 traffic deaths a year). We don't let everybody drive a Freightliner..."

It is wise to carefully craft anti-violence policies rather than push ham-handed/one size fits all solutions, as sociologist Andrew Papachristos points out (and here) and as his academic work suggests. But there are so many guns and cars out there that periodic accidental or purposeful mishaps, even on a grand scale, are inevitable, barring a Vision Zero approach to both. Hence calls to further regulate both of them, and strong pushback from both owner's groups, whether it be background checks and "assault weapons" bans or red light cameras and traffic calming.

I ran into one of my colleagues yesterday as I rode my bike to the chemistry building. She is gay, as was my brother in law and as were several of our geoscience Ph.D. students at the Univ. of Hawaii who I supervised, both as a mentor and for a while as chair of our graduate studies committee. Looked at my colleague and thought about Orlando and got the shakes. Adam Winkler is right--we need to use all the tools at our disposal to stop this shit. We just have to make sure we do it right rather than ham-handedly, which is more often the knee-jerk case.

I just wish we could get the public to hold motorists to the same standard. Seems that right now, the only form of mass butchery that is treated as "just another day in the USA" is killing by automobile. We kill about a hundred people per day on the roads: that is two Orlandos. If this suit succeeds, I think the car industry needs to start thinking about a Protection of Lawful Commerce in Cars Act. Conversely, maybe we all ought to read Friedman's piece and realize that we are inside the bubble, and a lot of people are senselessly dying because of it. Orlando was an obvious atrocity. Our roads are less obvious.

And now, from Streetsblog:

What Gun Violence and Traffic Violence Have in Common