Facing the Music

Ph2008062601525About a year ago I posted a link to an article written by Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post in which he convinced world-famous violinist, Joshua Bell, to play outside a subway stop and watch what happened. He won a Pulitzer Prize for the story.

Well, this Sunday's Washington Post magazine had a short follow-up to that original story, which is quite intriguing--particularly if you remember the original.


Shaping the City

87I regularly read Roger Lewis's column, Shaping the City, that appears about every other week in the Washington Post. I always find it interesting.

This last week the article was titled: Lessons of Arlington's Urban Development Needn't Be Just History. Here are a couple of excerpts to whet your appetite for the whole article:

"The phenomenal metamorphosis of Arlington County's Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, among the region's most dramatic real estate transformations, teaches a timely lesson: Successful urban
revitalization requires long-range planning and long-range public investment that sparks private investment."

"The Rosslyn-Ballston corridor is a work in progress, although millions of square feet of buildings already have been developed, mostly since the 1980s. Its urban design is not flawless, and much of its architecture is less than exemplary. But the corridor functions well. It offers pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, on- and off-street bicycle lanes, plazas and mini-parks. It takes less than 10 minutes to walk between any two adjacent Metro nodes on the corridor -- Rosslyn, Court House, Clarendon, Virginia Square and Ballston. People there can get along without cars."

"Why does visionary planning seem to be a thing of the past? Can America no longer afford to undertake farsighted initiatives. . ."


Rule of Thumb #4 - Ignore Advice

01_blue_bulbs_pileYou've heard the advice about compact-fluorescent (CFL) bulbs: replace your frequently used lights with these, and you'll save money, energy and reduce global warming pollutants.

Well, I'm going to tell you to stop taking this advice. Instead, replace all your lights with CFLs.

In the old days when they cost $15, the original advice was fine. Now that you can purchase them for as little as $2 or $3 apiece, that advice no longer holds. It now makes more sense to replace them all.

“But they woe-on’t last as lo-onng,” you’ll hear people whine. Let’s do the numbers.

Assume that you have a 60-watt light that you switch on five times a day for two minutes each time (ten minutes total per day). You replace it with a 15-watt CFL that costs $3. Because of frequent switching, let’s assume its lifetime is hugely reduced by 75% to 2000 hours instead of 8000.

Your annual return on investment for that bulb is 5%-15% depending on your electricity rates and, dang, it will only last you for 33 years before you have to replace it. It might not be the 50% return you’ll get from some of your other fixtures, but it’s still a no-brainer. For a couple hundred dollars you can probably change out your whole house (a little more if you buy more expensive dimmables and 3-ways; visit www.efi.org for a good selection of bulbs). What are you waiting for? The climate to change?

Bicycle Speed Limits - Follow Up

WabalogowabaAs a follow up to my post the other day, interested persons may want to see the Washington Area Bicyclist Association's response to Montgomery County's proposal to impose a 15 mph speed limit on a 5.5-mile section of the Capital Crescent Trail: WABA Calls for Dialog Over New Trail Speed Limits. It's definitely disturbing to learn that Montgomery County moved forward with this without engaging WABA at all in advance. It would seem natural to get input from the local cycling community first. Am I being too idealistic?

The Washington Post also printed two letters to the editor.

Also some discussion on the DC Triathlon Club blog.

Bicycle Speed Limits

C1218s15This Sunday's Washington Post reported that Montgomery County will be posting speed limit signs along the 5 1/2 mile section of the Capital Crescent Trail between Bethesda and the DC line. 15 mph.

I was a regular commuter along that section of trail for more than a year, and I don't think imposing speed limits is the solution to what may or may not be a problem. (I'm not the only one: DCist agrees)

Evidently there have been some anecdotal reports of conflicts with fast-moving cyclists and other users. The article only mentioned a single reported collision this year, however, and that's with 23,000 weekly users. It also cited "informal" reports of increased collisions, but I don't know what that means. Also, do we know if speed is a factor in these collisions or if there is another problem? I find it difficult to believe that Montgomery County would lower the speed limit on any street before gathering actual statistics of some kind, but seemingly they are determining that speed limits are appropriate here without any research. Better would be to put up signs with a phone number to report accidents, injuries and emergencies. That way they could start to track and determine whether or not there is actually a problem.

If there is a problem with crowding and speeding, it is limited to nice weather weekends and evenings only. My experience is that the trail serves bike commuters and experienced runners and walkers (who rarely if ever have conflicts with the bikes, because they know how to maintain their space on the trail) for the morning hours, and there is no need for limiting
speeds. Likewise for all the colder months. In February, riding home at 7:30 in the evening, I might encounter one or two other human beings along that entire 5-mile stretch--sometimes none at all. So if speed limits are the solution, limit them to those times when the trail is heavily used, which is probably less than 10% of the time. Even when there are a lot of users, I never came close to any conflicts with others, even though I ride fast. It has a lot more to do with paying attention and anticipating what will happen up ahead than with speed.

Also, how was the 15 mph determined? In school zones you can drive a 3000 pound car 20 mph, which most drivers consider so slow they can't even get down to that speed, and it is considered the safe speed for traveling around children near a school. Why would 20 not be a reasonable speed for a 30 pound bike and its rider?533_4

So what's the big deal, slowing down a little on the trail, one might ask? For a commuter like me, the difference would be about 7 minutes additional each way (if the limit were observed): more than an hour a week. Time that adds up. My commute from Arlington to Silver Spring was already almost an hour long, and that section was the quickest part.

So I'm opposed to creating speed limits and fines before any real research or statistics have been gathered and before any information about the magnitude of the problem is determined, if there even is a problem. And there is definitely no need for a speed limit during morning commuting hours and in the colder months.