Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Can we please not build the MFSoB?

Again there is a big push to spend billions of dollars to build another piece of the Mon-Fayette/Southern Beltway project, or MFSoB, for short. [Insert a long string of deleted profanities here in which I offer my opinion on the project. But that's not the point of this post.] I want to talk about why nobody is offering a viable alternative. I have to go back 25 years to explain myself.

From 1990 to 1994, I reverse-commuted to Monroeville from Robinson and later McCandless, almost every day, by bus. This is why and when I developed an interest in promoting public transit.

During this period, I had plenty of opportunity to compare travel times between downtown and Monroeville, going both directions, at all different times of day and days of the week. I would compare the difference in travel times between driving there and busing there. I would also compare relative comfort of travel between car and bus.

Physically, nothing is different between an August 1990 trip and an almost-August 2016 trip via the two modes. Same roads, same bus routes, same travel times and conditions, same brick streets in Wilkinsburg. True, there are a couple more miles of East Busway now vs then, but that extension is not used by the Monroeville express bus.

I mention all this because the primary difficulty in getting people to use transit instead of driving is the level of difficulty and lack of comfort in traveling between the Parkway East and the East Busway. Inbound morning riders still have to sit on a bus stuck on the Parkway East tunnel traffic from the Penn Hills exit to the Wilkinsburg off-ramp, then get tossed about for almost 15 minutes on brick or unevenly paved Wilkinsburg back streets, when you’re moving at all. Yes they bypass the rest of the tunnel backup, but it isn’t much faster. Outbound, much the same — the Busway bypasses the daily tunnel backup, but it takes almost 15 minutes to get from the Busway ramp to the outbound Parkway, and it isn’t pretty.

All in all, when including the time necessary to transfer downtown and wait for the Holiday Park bus to show up, travel by car is still 20 minutes faster than by bus, even with the tunnel backup. That’s a doorknob-to-desk comparison — my house to my desk at the Westinghouse Energy Center (or whatever it is now). Absent all other reasons, the only figure that matters to anyone is elapsed travel time. Nobody ever asked me how much it cost me to travel from A to B — about one-fourth what the car was — or that I could get plenty of work-work done on the way home, or pleasure reading done on the way in. Irrelevant. No, the only thing that mattered was 45 minutes by car, 85 by bus, each way.

BUT THE FIX IS WITH TRANSIT, NOT HIGHWAYS. The solution to the problem is not to spend one or two or five billion for a new major expressway, tolled or not, but to improve the means of transfer from Busway to Parkway. Look at the connection from the West Busway to the Parkway West. That’s a direct hookup which takes only a minute or so. That is what’s needed east of town. One minute, not 15; a short, smooth ramp, not two miles of warbly brick streets.

THE PROBLEM IS EDGEWOOD. Edgewood Boro has always been a pain in the ass about transit. The whole East Busway could have been built to McKeesport and Murrysville in 1982 if Edgewood had played nicely. They didn’t then, so the Busway ended at Wilkinsburg until 2003. They didn’t again in 1997 when the extension to Rankin was being laid out. The extension got built despite Edgewood’s stupidity — which, by the way, was based almost exclusively on racism and fear. But no station, no park & ride, no linear park like exists along the entire rest of that extension.

THE SOLUTION IS TO BULLDOZE A PIECE OF THE TOWN. And nobody wants to do that. Somewhat justifiably. To make a connection, they’d have to either take a large chunk out of the back of Edgewood Towne Center, or eliminate a street bridge, Elm/Chestnut Street, cutting a neighborhood in half.

So, the boo-fucking-hoo part of this is that in order to fix a transit problem, they’d have to cut a wealthy, lily-white boro in half RATHER THAN a down-and-out, black/brown/mixed bit of the county — Duquesne, Rankin, Braddock. Again, flat-out racism.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Think of the children

As a 9-year-old, I discovered the word "unconstitutional". Knowing me, I probably read it in a newspaper. Little 4th or 5th grade me found it neat that I could say, and spell, a six-syllable, 16-letter word. I didn't quite know what it meant, but neither did I have to use it very often, so it didn't matter. I could continue being a kid.

As I grew up, I started to understand more about how government works, how laws are made, and how all that related to not just the U.S. Constitution, but various state constitutions. The concept of being able to pass constitutional muster was a bit tougher to wrap my mind around than spelling big words in elementary school. Now, it mattered.

Well into adulthood, I can clearly see how bad rules are made, and why they are bad -- or to be clearer, that they are unconstitutional. As Anne Feeney sings, "Laws are made by people, and people can be wrong." Later in the same song, she sings, "A rotten law stays on the books till folks like us defy it." We'll get to that later.

Which brings us to the matter of a bare-chested woman in a park. The PA Constitution says the sexes are to be treated equally. The indecent exposure law says genitalia must be covered. All well and good, so far, and we have established that a bare-chested woman can toss a frisbee in a city park. The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police legal department agrees with this and told us so in writing.

However, Point State Park is not a city park but a state park, and state parks have their own set of rules. Among these rules is the explicit wording that a female may not bare any part of a breast below the top of the areola. To me, this is clearly unconstitutional. It is a rule that only applies to females. The areola and lower half of a man's breast area are perfectly OK to show. Note that a good many men have mammary tissue the same size or larger than an A-cup woman. Doesn't matter. Men OK, women not OK.

One of the first and fiercest objections to a woman bare-chested is "Think of the children!" OK, let's ask that question. A child does not need to be able to spell 16-letter words to be able to understand fairness. Even a five-year-old understands fairness. Having laws means that everyone plays by the same rules. Having a constitution means that all the laws themselves have to play by the same rules. It would not be fair if one law said you can do something but another law said you cannot.

Well, guess what? Here we have two parks, directly across the river from one another. You can see one from the other. Riverfront Park is a city park, which adheres to state law, which adheres to the PA Constitution. Point State Park has its own rules which overrule state law, but do not adhere to the Constitution. In the space of five minutes, a woman riding her bike with a man, neither wearing a shirt, can cross the Fort Duquesne Bridge southbound, and go from law abiding to law breaking, because of an unconstitutional state park rule. The man is not breaking the law in either place.

So think of the children, indeed. Try explaining to your kids how that's fair.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Miles Per Dollar

I tweeted this a few days ago:
"Gas for motorcycle: 2.855 gal, 245.9/gal, $7.02, 230.4 miles."

I later tweeted:
"Crunching the numbers, that's 80.7 mpg on the motorcycle, or 32.8 miles per dollar. How many mp$ does your car get?"

We don't think about miles per dollar much, though I'm sure any car owner can proudly recite their vehicle's miles per gallon statistic. But that contains a level of indirection that makes the number less comprehensible. Who cares about mpg? Nor does it matter that prior to May 16, my last motorcycle fill-up was April 23.

What really matters is how much it actually costs to drive the car. You don't spend gallons, you spend dollars. Even saying it only cost me 60¢ to drive downtown and back, as I tweeted back in April, is lost on most people, as they have no basis for comparison. Let's instead make that figure more explicit: Miles per dollar.

As a real-life figure, let me go back to February 28, the last day I myself filled the car's tank.
"Gas for the car: 10.53 gal, 189.9, 87 octane, $20.00, did not fill but came close."

I did not tweet the miles traveled on that tankful, but do have the information, as I know we get 20 miles per gallon with that car. So, do the math. 10.53 gallons times 20 mpg equals 210.6 miles, divided by 20 dollars, conveniently becomes 10.53 miles per dollar.

That then becomes a number you can wrap your mind around. Every 10 or so miles I drive the car costs me a dollar, at least in the figures from February 28.

Of course, every situation is different. Every car is different, and the price of gas changes daily. Today, for example, gas is 249.9¢/gallon. Same car, same amount of gas purchased, but this time that purchase is $26.31. Do the numbers this time, 210.6 miles divided by $26.31, we get 7.98 miles per dollar. Now, every eight miles costs me a dollar. A four-mile drive to the store costs a buck in gasoline.

Think about this in terms of a daily commute. If I drove to work, 12 miles each way, hardly unusual for anyone in my neighborhood who works in the city, that's a 24-mile round trip, or $4 in fuel. $20 a week. About $90/month, ad infinitum, if you did nothing differently. It's also pretty close the the current cost of a monthly zone 1 bus pass.

Think also what a return to the $4 gas we were paying just a couple short years ago. 10.53 gallons would cost about $42; 210 miles of that works out to five miles per dollar.

All of this becomes irrelevant when you stop driving voluntarily. Figure out how to get around without consuming gasoline.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Ride of Injustice to Cyclists

This Wednesday is the international Ride of Silence, in memory of those cyclists killed by motorists. I think we also need another ride, to honor the cyclists who have gotten screwed over by our police and justice systems. These would include:
  • being ticketed or arrested for traffic infractions where they were innocent
  • for having a judgment decided against them when they were in the right
  • for allowing motorists clearly at fault in such incidents to face trivial to non-existent penalties
  • for having a police report filed in an incident not corroborated by the facts.
  • police reports of crashes and other incidents worded to assume the cyclist was in the wrong.
  • for losing hundreds or thousands of dollars in legal fees, fines, and lost work time, while fighting cases in which they were innocent.
  • for spending time behind bars because the system decided they were guilty even where the facts of the case said they were not.

This is not an exhaustive list of such situations, merely general categories.

I began a mental list of people just in my own network, and rapidly ran out of fingers to count on. With a little digging, I'm pretty sure I'd run out of toes, too. The point is, this is rampant. Whether or not blood and bone are involved, and all too often it is, cyclists are getting screwed by the police and justice systems. It does not matter if they have video evidence to support their side of the story. They still lose.

This is wrong and it needs to stop.

I thought about having a bike ride to protest the injustice that cyclists must face. Certainly it should not be part of the Ride of Silence, whose solemnity must be respected. But what to do instead?

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

This is probably what 1891 looked like

It's fascinating to see Smithfield Street from Fourth to Forbes to Fifth Avenues in downtown Pittsburgh right now. A major street reconstruction project has it partially shut down except for bus traffic, with only a piece of it open to car traffic with a forced right turn onto Forbes to access a nearby parking garage. The bus lane itself is narrowed considerably. What motorized traffic exists is moving very slowly.

The net effect of this is greatly increased jaywalking, and indeed pedestrians walking lengthwise in the travel lanes. Bus traffic is continuous but sporadic, with minutes between trips at mid-day service levels, and long sight lines so that you have a full minute, maybe more, to see a bus coming. You can walk nearly a block in the bus lane before having to step out of the way. Of course, bikes are everywhere, headed both directions, even in the one-way section that only buses can use. Similarly, people cross Smithfield on long diagonals, whatever suits their need.

Back in the 1890s, this was normal. This is what streets did. It was easy enough to pause for the occasional passing horse and wagon, or a trolley car if the street was so equipped, but in general, whatever way you wanted to walk, or bike, you did. Bikes and pedestrians co-existing in the street got along just fine. We did not get cars in any number until the late 1910s, and jaywalking rules only emerged in the 1920s.

I captured a couple of photos, but to appreciate this properly, you have to stand on a sidewalk along this section and watch the movement of people for a few minutes. It would be even better if someone could capture video, then speed it up by 2x or 3x.

Shutting down auto traffic brings 1891 back so quickly!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

When two meetings don't conflict but they may as well

The evening of Thursday, May 26, I have two evening activities that don't conflict, but are far enough apart that getting to both will be difficult. The first runs until 8:30 in Ross Township, while the second starts at 9:00 in Lawrenceville and requires a bicycle. How to do both? I can't bicycle from the first to the second in time, and if I travel from one to the other by motorcycle, I would not have the bicycle to ride. The car is not an option, and neither is the bus system.

It can be done, but it takes some planning. This blog post is that planning.

The day before, I will bike to work, then bike to Lawrenceville afterward, tying up somewhere near the 40th Street Bridge. I then walk to Millvale, a distance of about a mile and a half, and catch the 2 Mt Royal bus to within walking distance of the house.

Thursday morning, I motorcycle to work, then m/c to Ross for the meeting after work. Once the meeting is done (and I may duck out a few minutes early), I motorcycle to where the bicycle is parked. Legally park the motorcycle, as it may be there overnight, hop on the bicycle, and pedal off to the 9:00 function. Getting there early would be wise, late inexcusable.

After that, I may bicycle home, or bike back to the m/c and ride that home. Probably depends on weather and how I am feeling. The next morning, I will walk to the 2 Mt Royal stop, ride that bus to Millvale, walk back across the 40th St Bridge, hop on whichever two-wheeled vehicle I left there overnight, and continue the rest of the way to work. At day's end, I ride that home.

This, folks, is how you make it through life without a car. At no point do I need to use a car, or beg a ride off anyone. The only real unknown is where I would leave the motorcycle legally. It does not need to be in the exact spot as the bicycle, though they should be close, as I won't have much transfer time between 8:30 and 9. I have a couple weeks to figure that out, though.

Sunday, March 27, 2016


In Sweden in late 2007, a group of women decided to challenge authority, and won the ability to go for a swim in a community swimming pool, minus their bikini tops. A video of the event shows about 10 women and about half as many men taking turns diving off the board, and throwing a polo ball around, all innocently having a good time. The story included a reference to a blog called T.E.R.A., the Topfree Equal Rights Association, based in Canada.

This, I thought, was the start of true equality for women. Sure, women got the vote 90-some years ago, they can now own property, they can sign their own name to things (instead of Mrs. [insert husband's name]), they can wear pants to work (only 30 to 40 years ago), all that stuff. But while men got the ability to remove their tops in public -- and only relatively recently, in the mid-1930s -- women still could not. I regularly began checking the website for updates, and looked for people near and far who thought this was a good idea. There were not many. In seven years of honest looking, only a couple of related stories made the news, and all of those were negative.

Here in Pittsburgh, virtually 100% of women think it is illegal to walk around without a top on, and would be arrested for indecent exposure if they tried. They are possibly right on the second part of that sentence, but actually, the first part is false. No, it is not illegal to go around bare from the waist up. Nor is it in a lot of other places. New York's indecent exposure law was overturned in 1992. Washington, D.C., cleared the way in 1986. Ontario, Canada, similarly overturned its law over 20 years ago when one woman defied the law, got arrested, then fought it successfully in a series of court decisions. There are actually too many places to list where it is legal, though few women are willing to try it.

But there is another way to do it, the way that has been started in Pittsburgh, and earlier, Philadelphia. Pennsylvania state law, which applies in both places, defines indecent exposure as exposing genitalia.

18§3127. Indecent exposure. (a) Offense defined.-- A person commits indecent exposure if that person exposes his or her genitals in any public place or in any place where there are present other persons under circumstances in which he or she knows or should know that this conduct is likely to offend, affront or alarm.

Breasts are not genitalia.

This goes hand in hand with the state Constitution guaranteeing equal treatment of the sexes.

§28.  Prohibition against denial or abridgment of equality of rights because of sex.
Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania because of the sex of the individual.

And there you have it. Men, for decades, have been able to go around shirtless, and nobody has said boo about it. Sure, put a shirt on to go into a store, ride a bus, whatever. Plenty of reasons to wear a shirt, and few men contest that they have to do so. All that women are asking for is equal treatment. If a man can ride a bike shirtless, so should a woman. If a man can lie on a blanket in the grass in a public park, or throw a frisbee around, without a shirt on, so should a woman.

Under the law, equal means equal, all the time, without exception. If it's already OK for a man to go shirtless someplace, exactly the same freedom will be provided without regard to gender. It is not even a matter of "women can, too", it is more a "does not matter what the gender of the person is" situation. Please understand, it is not that first men got to, then women got to do it, too, it's that women and men are recognized as equals under the law, then we go from there, whatever it is.

Of course, what the law says does not equate to what is socially acceptable. That is the matter at hand here, and since virtually 100% of people think the law means something else, it is at the level of the police that the first chink in the armor must be made. In order not to be arrested for supposed indecent exposure, you have to start with the police, and you do not start with the street-level cop. You start at the top. You get as high up in the organization as you can, ideally the chief of police, and get agreement what the law is, and have them agree that females' bare chests are not genitalia, and thus exempt from discussion of indecent exposure.

Then you indicate you will be at a certain place and time, and you go there, and you act in a peaceful manner, with the women in attendance bare-chested. Invariably, someone will call the police, and the police will make an appearance, because they have to when called. But a couple of quick phone calls -- preceded by discussion with their superiors -- and the females are free to go on their way, whether walking down the street or continuing their frisbee game or sunning themselves on their blanket.

That is the method. Once we have the police no longer harassing women for something that is legal, we can establish women's ability to practice that. Once that is done in enough places, enough times, it will seem to become normal. You can only be shocked by something unusual once. Eventually, it does become normal, just as interracial couples did a couple decades ago, just as same-gender couples are doing now. In short, educating the general public. But back to Pittsburgh, here and now.

We started this process in Pittsburgh in a very real way on Saturday, March 26, 2016.

Back in December, the woman behind the blog Breasts Are Healthy (, who calls herself Ginger Bread (she's a natural redhead) contacted upper-level police in Pittsburgh, and met with them face to face. All she asked for was agreement that a bare-chested female was not in violation of 18§3127. It took them over three months to get back to her, but eventually they did, and agreed that that was so.

And that's where I came in. We had been in contact several times, but this time, direct action was going to happen. She and her fiancé made a trip to Pittsburgh, and stayed with another woman I know through bike circles. I had, in fact, put the two in touch with one another after friending the one on Facebook following a bike ride.

They made arrangements for another visit. (Ginger Bread lives along the ocean coast of Maryland, about a seven-hour drive from Pittsburgh.) In the interim, we tossed around a few ideas of where to make an appearance, and took into account that while it would be sunny and no wind, it would be a bit chilly, 55-60F/12-15C. To do this on a day when it would be any colder would send a message of protest more than comfort, and she did not want to arouse too much scrutiny. That it would be on a religious holiday weekend (Easter) further increased our feeling of the need to be careful.

We chose a quiet spot in Frick Park, along a trail, away from crowds. Fully clothed, the four of us biked through a busy play area, and locked the bikes near the tennis courts, then hiked to the trail in a valley. Some other people were already bouncing a volleyball over a net in a level green spot, so we went well off to the side. There was foot traffic, a constant stream of walkers and joggers, the occasional bike rider. Lots of dogs. We had an ideal balance of busy but secluded.

We set up a couple of video cameras to capture any activity, and set out a blanket for the women to stretch out on. The first few minutes, they still were fully clothed, and as expected, nobody paid any attention to us, while the two men tossed around a frisbee. But 10 minutes in, off came the shirts.

Guess what: Nobody paid any attention to us, still. I think half the people walking by didn't even notice the women's attire. The other half, as Ginger Bread often points out, were either neutral or positive. Even after the women stood up to join the frisbee game, still hardly anybody paid much attention. One couple stopped to talk, and were rather surprised when we could quote the relevant statute, chapter and verse, and explain its meaning.

Someone, though, called the cops. We knew they would arrive sometime, as she had actually spoken face to face at the Zone 4 station beforehand. What we (at least I) did not expect is that the cops did not even talk to us. One cruiser rolled past slowly, not stopping, and a couple minutes later, two on foot came up the path. They paused maybe 100 feet away, and we could see them talking on their phones. We could lip-read, and almost hear the conversation. "Really? That's OK? All right then." And they turned around and walked away. The look on their faces was precious.

And that, folks, is how you effect social change. One chink in the armor.

Of course, there is much, much work to be done yet. This is just one shift at one zone command. There are several hundred police, and many levels of authority. Official training will be necessary for the entire force. And that's just the city; we have dozens of suburban police departments, too, as well as squads on college campuses and other jurisdictions. Someone at some point is likely to back-pedal. Eventually the media will pick up on it, and then, of course, the proverbial brown stuff will hit the spinny thing. All that is yet to come.

In short, it's probably not a good idea yet for women to take to the streets en masse, sans shirts. Not, anyway, without proper understanding of Ginger Bread's approach, and knowing how to talk to cops. (Please read her blog!) It's still early, still a delicate subject. As I said, almost 100% of people don't know what the law actually means, and we haven't even gotten close to matters of misogyny and willful ignorance.

We have, however, made history. The police were called, showed up, looked at us, and walked away without incident. And that's all we're asking.

Edit, Monday, 28 March: Here are two videos showing the first half hour of our outing. In the first, the two women are quietly sunning themselves on a blanket. In the second, they get up to join the frisbee game with the men. Note that hardly anyone pays attention to us. In all of her other videos, this is pretty much standard fare.