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.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Decide now about 2050 road work

Returning from a day trip to Ohio last night, driving through Pittsburgh at 4 a.m., I blew through the Fort Pitt Tunnel at 60 mph (itself a strange thing), and once again experienced "The Pittsburgh Effect" [of seeing ALL of downtown, kablamallatonce in front of you, coming out of the tunnel]. Then, of course, to get home, I proceeded up I-279.

To get from the Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne Bridges to the I-279 Parkway North mainline, you traverse about a mile of elevated bridges and pass under about 10 other elevated bridge decks. We've probably sunk most of a billion dollars into all those ramps and streets and bridges over the last 40, 50 years, and in 40, 50 years they are all going to have to undergo major rehab, again at the cost of today's most of a billion dollars.  It all got built between about 1970 and 1995, and is already 20 to 40 years old. Keeping roads and bridges in good repair costs money. Big money.

So what if we don't. How about, in about 2045, we just tear down the whole damned thing, and not rebuild a single bit of it? The whole of the 28-279-65 fustercluck, just level it. Make it damn near impossible to get a car through there at all. You want to get downtown, leave your car two miles away and use whatever transit system we've put in place. I understand you need your car to get out of your neighborhood, but we don't want it downtown, or anywhere near downtown. Cities are for people, not your cars.

Sure, we'll need to drop another two billion into expanding a subway various directions from where it goes now, but fine, say we do that. Money isn't important; we're going to drop billions into maintenance, repair, and rebuilding something anyway. But decide in 2016 that by 2050, the whole damned thing is doomed and we aren't going to replace it *then*. I'm not talking about dropping a bomb on it now. Time and salt and 20 billion wheels crossing them will accomplish the same thing while we stand there defending and cheering for the process.

Yeah but how will we get to the airport? You take the subway we extended up through Bellevue and Sewickley in 2025, that's how. Yeah but how will we get to the stadiums? Same way you get downtown. Park two miles away and transit or walk or bike. For something a tad short of $100 million over the next 25 years, we can probably make cycling easier to do.

This is exactly what's happening in Buffalo, Rochester (NY), Syracuse, Cleveland, and a bunch of other Rust Belt cities. Huge projects built in the 1950s and 1960s are falling apart, and instead of fixing them, they're tearing them down. Pittsburgh just got a late start on this and only finished them in the 1990s. Apply the same timeline, though -- 60 and change years, maybe 75, 80 -- and we'll have to make some decisions. 

All I'm saying is, right now, decide not to replace all that stuff then, and spend the next couple of decades figuring out how to live without it when that time comes.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Icycle Bicycle 2016

Friday 1 January 2016

Every New Year's Day, the Western Pennsylvania Wheelmen organizes a bike ride around the city. No matter what the weather, be it pouring rain or snow so deep we have to get off and push the bikes, we ride. Today we lucked out. It was cold enough to snow but only a couple rare flakes were seen. Easily 100 of us left from REI in South Side Works to head down East Carson Street. No unicycles, but at least two tandems and two recumbents.

My ride there was pleasant enough, though I had not been on the bike at all for 10 days, due to a combination of a troublesome series of flats, the Christmas holidays, and working from home. But you never forget how to ride a bike, right? Not that 10 days is much of a lapse. But back to the trip. My route was Perry Highway to Perrysville Avenue to Federal Street, across the Allegheny River on the 7th Street Bridge, 6th Avenue, Grant Street, and out the Jail Trail. I made the trip in just over an hour, which I thought was making pretty good time, but just as I arrived, someone asked "Did I just see you on Perry Highway?" We crossed paths at Rochester Road, but she went via Rochester, Babcock, and through Millvale. So that can't be any slower. The only stop I made was to rescue a broken bus stop sign from the middle of the street and lean it against a tree.

To me, the main point of riding Icycle Bicycle this time is to make sure I am ready for winter. Winter has not really arrived in Pittsburgh yet this year; more it's an extended autumn, with temperatures in the 50s and 60s. Until today, that is.  29 and a stiff breeze out of the west. I donned the longjohns and double gloves and socks, which served me well. One pesky finger turned white, but otherwise my body core and extremities were fine. If anything, I got too warm.

After signing in and looking for a few familiar faces to trade stories of how we were faring so far this year, all 11 hours of it to that point, we lined up in the street, a gaggle of lycra and jackets and wheels. Someone counted down from 10, we yelled Happy New Year! and we were off. By South 10th Street, the strong, fast cyclists had sped out ahead. I was at the rear of this front section, but opted to drift back after the Smithfield Street Bridge. Sarah Quesen was riding her recumbent trike without a flag, so was hard to see. I rode behind her, taking the lane assertively. Normally I ride at about the "40 line", 40% of the way between the left and right lane lines, or where a line would be if they'd painted one. I was a bit more aggressive here, riding at about the 25 line. Any more to the left and I would be getting too close to passing cars in the adjacent lane, but by being here, that gave her some wiggle room. Her slower pace on the hill under the Fort Pitt Bridge also allowed the next group of cyclists to catch up and pass. I controlled traffic coming off the bridge so she could get by. There was none, but I was ready to run interference if there was. This continued onto the West End Bridge, a very busy, high speed highway bridge. Once off the bridge, she could get up to cruising speed, but as she explained, since she cannot stand out of the seat to gain an advantage in torque, the only oomph she has is what's in her legs, and in that she is limited by both vehicle weight and her own, once in a low gear.

I made a restroom stop at the Carnegie Science Center, only to find myself in the middle of its annual Mess Fest: dozens of 7 to 15 year-olds decorated in chocolate pudding (and other flavors). So it wasn't enough to walk through a crowded room, I had to do so with half the people present coated in goop from nose to knees -- not totally, but common.

Once back on the road, I rode with another group back to REI, mainly friends from the cycling community.

As on many rides, I took notice of race, gender, and age distribution. Nobody teenage; everyone appeared to be an adult. Maybe 1 in 5 female, 1 in 15 non-white. At least half over 40. Why is cycling so Caucasian? Or do black riders simply not join group rides? And why so few women? This was not a difficult ride, and the weather was not a major factor -- a tad chilly and breezy, but not distressingly so. If there was going to be a ride for newbies, this was it. I don't know how to get more people to bike all year. It can't be that only middle-aged white guys are stupid enough to bike all through the winter, but that's sure what it looked like.

Post-ride, I retired to a coffee shop where I penned the first draft of this, plus scratched down a few other ideas of what I'd like to do this year. That accomplished, I biked the rest of the way home, too. All told, it was about 30 miles. Not bad for the first day.