Archive for January, 2007

New York Times decries loss of safe places for peds, cyclists

Monday, January 29th, 2007

In a story in today’s New York Times and Car Advertiser, one Robert Sullivan writes:

FOR the past two decades, New York has been an inspiration to other American cities looking to revive themselves. Yes, New York had a lot of crime, but somehow it also still had neighborhoods, and a core that had never been completely abandoned to the car. Lately, though, as far as pedestrian issues go, New York is acting more like the rest of America, and the rest of America is acting more like the once-inspiring New York.

Sullivan goes on to describe the moves being made by cities all across the U.S., from “Albuquerque, where one-way streets have become more pedestrian-friendly two-way streets, and car lanes are replaced by bike lanes, with bike racks everywhere,” to “the nation’s auto-capital, Detroit, where a new pedestrian plaza anchors downtown.”

These changes he contrasts with NYC, where the current mayor recently stated it’s up to cyclists to clear out of the way of cars (he was talking about a cyclist who was killed by a drunk driver speeding along a grade-separated Hudson River bicycle lane): “Even if they’re in the right, they are the lightweights.”

Mayor Bloomberg is wrong, (next he will rewrite the law of the sea, to say “sail better give way to steam”) but can he be blamed for his inability to stand up to the bullies on our roads? Isn’t he just stating a “truth,” more or less? Bloomberg is just spouting the Gospel of the Car Ad.

After all, it was in New York that Henry Bliss was killed in 1899, making him the first pedestrian to be killed by a car (and it was in New York city that Canadian Maher Arar was detained and shipped off for a year’s torture in a Syrian jail).

The “lightweights” in the New York system better not expect any support from the law.

We’re not sure what all this is going to do for tourism. After all, it’s “I (heart) NY,” not “I (car) NY” that’s the celebrated slogan.

On the other hand, it’s good to know that as peak oil ratchets up the cost of owning a car, people who have cars can move happily to New York City where they will have less and less distance to cover in their automobiles.

Also, it’s flat enough that pushing a car in many areas of the city will not be too onerous a burden.

Robbie Burns, car hater

Friday, January 26th, 2007

We had the pleasure of hearing Dr Lawrence Frank, PhD, deliver from the minutiae of his research the other day.

We were thinking of Robbie Burns, perhaps because of the proximity to the noon hour and the thought of an overstuffed haggis [whatever that is –ed.] which had found foothold in our right cerebral cortex.

Among the audience members we recognized Toronto bicycle planner Daniel Egan, furiously scribbling notes. Meanwhile, down in front, U of Toronto Planning professor Paul Hess, whose research into “walking-sheds” deserves its own ALLDERB-LOB, maintained an even disposition even as Larry Frank called his presence to the attention of all in the room.

Larry Frank, after Paul Hess: “pedestrian radius” has meaning only for crows

Dr. Frank is among the many people we at the ALLDERBLOB would emulate. What we particularly admire about him is his contention that good research should not seek to overturn that which one knows intuitively, but the reverse. Thus his latest finding, based on thousands of individual reports in Atlanta, Georgia that people prefer communities that encourage walking even if it means automobile use is discouraged, is refreshing music to our ears.

Car advertisers, are you listening?

Hey! You’re not in China anymore!

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

Fact is, we were in Hong Kong.

The news of our whereabouts was brought to our attention with some force by our friend at the tail end of a severe, accute respiratory um, episode (shall we say) which resulted in a blob (shall we say) of phlegm that sat, like a raw quail egg on a piece of expensive sushi, curled on our tongue. The fact is, we didn’t like the taste (somewhat metalic, and not in the least like the proverbial chicken), and chose not to swallow. Instead, with all the discretion we could muster, we let slip the blob onto the base of a small bush on the terrace of the housing “estate”

where we had come as an invited guest.

“Hey! You’re not in China anymore, buddy!” we were told. “There’s a $5000 fine for spitting you know.”

It’s true, we have to say, that China had proven itself a nation of spitters.

And we were down with that, if you want to know. We did not begrudge the old soldier’s yellow phlegm that splat against the concrete floor of the train station in Beijing, milimeters from our wheeled suitcase as we stood to purchase tickets at the “Foreigner” window. We get the connection between the yellow coal smoke and the yellow blobs of China; indeed we have our own tradition and expertise in spitting related to the yellow air over Toronto.

Grudge? Hardly. We admired the old man’s precision.

After all, it is our studied practice to let fly from the saddle into the passing stream [you’ve lost us –ed.] of traffic as we piddle [hey! –ed.]our bicycle about the smoggy streets of our hometown. In our own way we have perfected an act just as precise as the old Chinese soldier’s. We rationalize our expectoration, when in traffic, as a “lesser of two evils–” after all, we are not spewing that noxious mixture of carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides and the rest of it that sprays from the arse of the gridlocked automobiles we pass.

But now we were in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, no one spits. This is not a joke. No one eats on the subway, or smokes in restaurants and bars. Is Hong Kong part of China? Arguably. The border with China, which we last experienced some 25 years ago as a militarized zone, a long tunnel of armed soldiers (perhapst the old man in Shanghai remembered us from that day?) and barbed-wire-topped walls, is now a “boundary,” not a “border.” The barbed wire is more discrete now. As Canadians we needed visas for China, but not for Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a “Special Administrative Region,” or SAR, within China.

“SAR?” Just a coincidence, we are sure.

We’re no longer in China–or Hong Kong, for that matter. We’re home, back on the grimy streets of Toronto. We have a few things to think about in relation to our trip. The simplicity and ease of carfree connections throughout the city and region. The cleanliness of the streets and strange paucity of bicycles. The close quarters and tight living conditions. The drabness of the housing estates, coupled with the quirkiness of some of the pencil-thin towers. The fresh and delicious food.

We will have something to say about our old [you sure that’s the right word? –ed.] teacher, Essy Baniassad, Essy Baniassad, from the Linear City website who now heads the architecture school at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and directs a project on “linear cities” related to train and rapid transit lines in China and Hong Kong.

We will have something to say about the generous hospitality of all we met.

And we will have something to say about the car and the car advertisers we encountered throughout China (including Hong Kong).

Spitting carries a fine of $HK 5,000, or about $700 CDN. No one spits in Hong Kong.

What fine should car exhaust carry?

They say recovery of jet-lag takes a day for each hour you’re behind. By this count, our two week trip has set us back thirteen days. Was it worth it?

Oh yeah.

“Quickly, quickly!” (welcome to Shanghai)

Thursday, January 4th, 2007

The words that greeted the road-weary Canadians as we sluffed from our sleeper car and pulled our bags with us into the corridor at Shanghai station were urgent: they meant get a move on! and from that point to this it’s been the same.

We notice cabs (invariably VW jettas, by the way, in case anyone feels a Pong coming on) drive through intersections with an elbow on the horn button. Does that help pedestrians and cyclists to get out of the way? We doubt it. They drift along at their own pace regardless. The surprising thing is no one has been hurt–at least not by our drivers.

Advertising is everywhere. What is Communism? The hall where the Chinese Communist Party was formed is now a KFC.

Our colleague and mentor, the well-known urban designer Simon Yue, took us to see the lights, night after night. Thirty floors up is his office, with a night view that would make your Superman comic look outdated. Jar-el, Sit down!

From here we have a 25-hr train ride to Hong Kong. No doubt it will seem like a trip to the country after this place.