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.