Sunday, May 10, 2015

Catching Up With a Slew of HBO Movie Releases

Probably the reason my blog has been on a bit of a sabbatical lately is because I now have HBO for the first time in my life. I've been catching up on movies, including:

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck: The former Nirvana leader's life is told for the first time with the blessing of his family. Having access to the notebooks and audio and video recordings contained within supply a portrait that further humanizes Kurt and makes us more fully understand the hurt within his chronically pained stomach and from the betrayals he felt from family members and Courtney Love throughout his life. The animated cuts from his notebooks and from Charlotte's Web-like cartoon vignettes are powerful. An essential rock doc.
***** out of ***** stars

We're the Millers and The Interview: Two totally dumb comedies that shouldn't work but somehow do, quite enjoyably.
Both *** out of ***** stars

Nightcrawler: I really liked this creepy L.A. noir starring a scrawny Jake Gyllenhaal as a nowhere man who gets the sudden idea to become a paparazzi. His jerky ways cause all kinds of unnecessary pain.
****1/2 out of ***** stars

Birdman: Not nearly as good as Boyhood (which should have won bets picture instead of this), but still a tale of an actor once known for playing a superhero (the always-great Michael Keaton) who is losing his mind in a bit of a pretentious take on the power and aura of celebrity. Good in a way that it will probably be worth revisiting as a potential classic a few years after its release, ala films like Fight Club or The Big Lebowski.
**** out of ***** stars

Neighbors: Not as good as the other Seth Rogen comedy on this list, but still pretty funny as a latter day Animal House knockoff.
*** out of ***** stars

A Million Ways to Die in the West: This modern-day take on Blazing Saddles tries a little too hard for laughs. While its silliness works a lot of the time, it's vulgarity actually makes it a little less endearing. Charlize Theron is likable but Seth MacFarlane is a very poor man's Billy Crystal, or perhaps Donnie Osmond. By the time the big gunfight scene arrives at the end, it's tough to have much invested, especially during Neil Patrick Harris' poop scene.
*** out of ***** stars

Friday, May 1, 2015

I Was Interviewed on NPR About Transportation Technology

You can hear my interview this week with WAMU 88.5 FM, the NPR station in Washington D.C. And read the accompanying article below.

New Commuter App Takes Holistic View: Money, Time, Health, Environment

Play associated audio
A screenshot of the Web version of the CarFreeAtoZ app.
A screenshot of the Web version of the CarFreeAtoZ app.
Commuters’ options are multiplying. For those who can leave their cars at home, there’s Metrorail, the bus, taxicabs, or Capital Bikeshare. Or they can use their smartphones to order rides with Uber, Lyft, or Sidecar. A new on-demand bus system called Bridj is launching in D.C. There’s also ZipCar and Car2Go. And some apps, like RideScout, help you pick the best choice depending on where you are at the moment.
These options help commuters figure out the fastest way to get from A to B. But a new app is trying to get traffic-weary travelers to think more holistically about their trips.
It’s called, the creation of Arlington County Commuter Services, Mobility Lab, and the transit-tech firm Conveyal. The idea behind the website is that saving time and money are only two pieces of a successful commute. What about the effect on your health? On the environment?
“Say you want to think about what would be the best thing to do on Monday through Friday every day for your commute. You can sit down on Sunday and look at CarFreeAtoZ and put in your home address and your work address and it will tell you a list of options,” said Mobility Lab’s Paul Mackie.
“The best options won’t necessarily be the fastest ones. It will be the one that also factors how it will affect your health, how it will affect the environment, how much time will you save and how much money will you save,” Mackie said.
Expected to be available on smartphones by the fall, the program can be used in a Web browser now.
The first question you are asked at is how do you usually get around? The options are I drive alone; I carpool; I bike; I take public transit; I walk.
After making your choice a map of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region appears. You then enter a starting point and your destination. Then click "Find my best option."
Each transit, biking, or driving option will list how much money you might save, weight you can lose from exercise, the percentage of CO2 emissions that can be reduced, and hours of productive time gained – all compared to making the same trip driving alone.
The website also helps commuters locate Bikeshare stations near Metro to finish the last legs of their trips on a bike.
“There are a lot of apps out there that show you how many bikes are at a station in the Bikeshare system. But with this you can take Bikeshare to bus or Bikeshare to train,” Mackie said.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

How Capital Bikeshare Members Use System is Becoming Clearer

Here is my article published by Mobility Lab, and subsequently covered by CityLab, DCist, WTOP, and others.
Bikeshare survey 2014
Since Capital Bikeshare’s previous surveys in 2011 and 2012, members of the Washington D.C. region’s bikeshare program have grown a little older, become more widespread throughout the region (rather than simply being from the urban core), and become more prominently affluent white males.

This latest survey (see the full survey and executive summary here) – issued to Capital Bikeshare’s nearly 28,000 members, completed by 16 percent (4,314) in November 2014, and released publicly today – shows a lot of other interesting trends related to things like:

  • significantly contributing to the region’s economy and business
  • encouraging changes in commuting and general traveling behaviors, and
  • considerably increasing economic savings for members.

Who uses Capital Bikeshare?
In 2011, 14 percent of members were 45 years or older, but in the new survey, 20 percent fill that age range. Seventeen percent lived outside of D.C. in 2011, but now 25 percent do, perhaps not surprising, with recent expansions in Virginia and Maryland.

The most striking increase in the average member profile is that 39 percent claimed $100,000 or more in household income in 2011, while now a full 50 percent state that as their current household income.

Two other intriguing findings are that members increasingly have their own bicycle and are members of carshare programs. In 2011, only 29 percent of members had their own bicycle, but 52 percent have one now. And only 9 percent had car2go or Zipcar memberships. That number has increased to 39 percent.

Who CaBi
How are people joining Capital Bikeshare?
“Growth in membership numbers has been steady since the program launched in August 2010,” said Lori Diggins, owner of LDA Consulting, who performed these surveys and conducts transportation research for Commuter ConnectionsgoDCgoCapital Bikeshare, Mobility Lab and others.

Simply having all the stations throughout the region has been the number-one marketing tool for attracting new members – 30 percent said that’s how they became aware of the multi-jurisdictional public program. Word-of-mouth referrals (26 percent) also play a key role.

Social media and news articles about Capital Bikeshare have played a decreasing role in raising awareness about the system. However, that is likely due to the sheer increase in stations and riders around the region that are doing the “heavy lifting” on promoting the benefits of bikeshare.

Why are people joining Capital Bikeshare?
This reasoning hasn’t really changed much for members over the years. Ninety-four percent were motivated to join because it’s important that they be able to get around “easily and faster,” 84 percent say it’s important they have a “new and one-way travel option,” and 77 percent say it’s important they have a “fun way to travel.”

It also is generally clear that younger members are motivated by the ease of getting around and saving money while older members tend to be more interested in exercise, health and helping the environment.

How are members using Capital Bikeshare?
On average, members take 13 rides per month on the system. Fifty-nine percent make six or more trips and 24 percent take Capital Bikeshare 20 or more times monthly.

Seventy-four percent of members use Capital Bikeshare to get to or from work at least once a month. However, the biggest use is for entertainment purposes or socializing with friends (85 percent).

“The longer people are Capital Bikeshare members, the more uses they are finding for it,” Diggins said.
It’s clear that bikeshare has entrenched itself as a key cog in the D.C. transportation network. Sixty-four percent of members use it at least once a month to access Metrorail as a first-mile, last-mile option. However, far fewer are finding it useful in linking to buses or commuter rail.

How CaBi
How is Capital Bikeshare impacting the local economy?
For starters, 49 percent of members said they made trips on Capital Bikeshare during the month prior to taking the survey that they would not have made otherwise – a phenomenon called “induced trips.”

Further, businesses are simply more attractive to Capital Bikeshare members when they are near bikeshare stations. A whopping 82 percent said they are either “somewhat more likely” or “much more likely” to patronize a business, restaurant, or shop if they are accessible by bikeshare.

“Some even said they would not go to these places – period – if there is no Capital Bikeshare station nearby,” Diggins added.
CaBi Economy
How is Capital Bikeshare impacting traffic in the region?
Eighty-four percent of members said they increased their bicycle use since joining the program. Eight percent sold a household vehicle and didn’t replace it, with 76 percent of those people saying Capital Bikeshare played an important role in the decision. More than half of the respondents who reduced their household vehicles now live in “car-free” households, having eliminated their only vehicle.

On average, members reduced 158 driving miles per year. That equates to 4.4 million miles of driving eliminated annually from the region’s roads.

Even when Capital Bikeshare members aren’t using the system to get to and from work, only 11 percent said their primary mode was driving alone. That’s pretty astounding compared to the regional average of 68 percent who primarily drive alone to work.

How much money do Capital Bikeshare members save by using the system?
On average, members save $13.65 per week on transportation costs. That equates to $710 per member per year. For members who make 11 or more trips per month, the average monthly savings ramps up to $1,002.
Collectively, members save $19.6 million per year on personal travel costs.

So, what’s next?
Ninety-one percent of members are interested in a single-card system that would allow them to check out bikes and ride public transit.

And a high percentage of members would like more docks at existing stations, more stations in residential neighborhoods, and expansion in areas where Capital Bikeshare is already operating.

To sum it up: yes, you are seeing more big red bikes these days. The expanding Capital Bikeshare system is helping people take notice that bikeshare is rapidly becoming a key element in building the transportation network of the future.

See more about the survey in Mobility Lab’s Research Catalog. Photo by Elvert Barnes. Charts courtesy of LDA Consulting.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

42 Tells Jackie Robinson's Rookie Story Very Well

Sixty-eight years ago today.

One of the most monumental days not just in baseball history, but in all of American history. Jackie Robinson made his Major League debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

And so I finally watched 42, the 2013 film that brings his rookie season to life. Unknown actor Chadwick Boseman gets his big break and plays the star who not only became the first black man in the league but also went on to play in six World Series - winning one, in 1955. Boseman is likable and was the right choice. Harrison Ford is also exceptional as Branch Rickey, the Dodgers' owner who was determined to do the right thing for society and baseball.

Some of the most powerful scenes include when Philadelphia Phillies manger Ben Chapman yells terrible obscenities from the dugout as Robinson stands in the batters box, teammate Pee Wee Reese's transition to being on Jackie's side, and some of the behind-the-scenes dealing of Rickey and others to make Robinson happen at that time.

There are several inaccuracies to make 42 a little more dramatic. But overall, this look at one slice (the biggest slice) of Robinson's career is depicted very well. It's a crucial story to be told and retold and 42 serves it well.

**** out of ***** stars

Friday, April 10, 2015

How the Science of Bicycle Ridership Needs to Be Improved

I was quoted extensively in this very-good article by a news service I've never heard of but nevertheless now respect because, I mean, you've got to be good with a name like Cronkite News.


Bike commuting slipped slightly in Valley, but advocates are hopeful

WASHINGTON – When the Census Bureau looked at commuting patterns in the nation’s 50 largest cities, only two showed a decline in the share of people commuting by bicycle – Phoenix and Mesa.
The bureau’s 2014 special report said that over a roughly 10-year period beginning in 2000, bicycle commuters fell from 0.9 percent to 0.7 percent of all commuters in Phoenix and from 1.2 percent to 0.9 percent in Mesa.
Tucson, the only other Arizona city in the top-50 list, saw its share of bike commuters rise from 2.2 to 2.4 percent during the same period, putting it in the top 10 of cities.
The report compared data from the 2000 census with an average of the five-year commuting estimate from the 2008-2012 American Community Survey.
Biking advocates were not overly concerned with the declines in Mesa and Phoenix, noting the small sample size of the survey and pointing out that the Census stopped counting before the launch last year of a bike-sharing system in Phoenix.
That system, Grid Bike Share, has said it plans to expand soon to Mesa and Tempe.
“The bottom line for Phoenix and Mesa is not to take these findings too hard,” Paul Mackie, a spokesman for the Mobility Lab, said in an email.
He noted drawbacks in the data that could have led to an underestimate of the number of people biking to work.
“We simply need better biking and walking data throughout the country to take these kinds of findings more seriously,” he wrote.
The League of American Bicyclists posted its own findings using Census numbers, but it looked at 70 cities instead of 50 and expanded the time frame back to 1990 and one year later, to 2013. Mesa and Phoenix also dropped in the league’s report, but they were among a handful of other cities – most in the South and Southwest – that posted declines.
Ken McLeod, the census data specialist at the League of American Bicyclists, said that could be a factor of suburban sprawl in those regions of the country.
“Most places in the top 70 cities probably have some version of it,” McLeod said of sprawl. “But it’s possible that in Phoenix and Mesa it just happened to create the conditions where they didn’t have a growth (in bike commuting) like all these other cities have seen.”
A report released last week by the Brookings Institution on the “growing distance between people and jobs” in metro areas said that job proximity in the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale area dropped by 16.5 percent from 2000 to 2012.
Mackie cautioned against putting too much stock in the Census numbers, saying the survey wording can pose problems.
“There is one question the Census asks about commuting by bike or foot. It asks, ‘How did this person get to work last week?’ and includes biking and walking as potential answers,” he wrote. “Because work commutes only represent a small portion of all trips, the ACS tells us about a very small fraction of all of the transporting that Americans do.”
Another drawback with the data is that respondents can only chose one form of transportation that they used over the past week, even if they regularly combine biking with transit – as many do with the light rail.
“If a respondent walked to a bus stop in the last week, she’ll be counted as a transit-taker but not a walker. If she bicycled on two days and drove on the other three days, she’ll be counted as a driver but not a biker,” Mackie said.
A Census Bureau official conceded that there are shortcomings with the survey.
Brian McKenzie, a sociologist at the bureau, said that while commutes may involve several different types of transportation modes, people taking the survey “are restricted to indicating the single mode used for the longest distance.”
Because bicycling and walking often serve as secondary travel modes that supplement modes such as transit or driving, some commutes that involve bicycling and walking are not reflected as such in the American Community Survey because another mode is used for a longer distance,” McKenzie said through a spokeswoman at the bureau.
McLeod said another factor might be that initial surveys on bicycle commuting may have made the numbers “look better than they are” back when surveys were being taken less frequently.
“There’s often a lot of noise year to year in these estimates because you’re dealing with very relatively small numbers, small sample sizes,” he said.
Mackie looked to the future, noting Grid Bike Share and its plans for expansion.
“What tends to follow when these systems are introduced to cities is better bicycling infrastructure and more people walking as infrastructure becomes designed for people rather than cars,” he wrote. “Bike-share systems themselves become great advertisements for biking.”

Saturday, April 4, 2015

A Tennis and Swimming Spring Break in Scottsdale

It's so nice to be visiting Rachel's grandmother (one of PCLB's biggest fans!) in Scottsdale, Arizona for spring break this week. The temperatures are 90 in the day and 55 at night, which is refreshing after an awful D.C. winter.

We arrived yesterday and are staying with Rachel's sister's family and her parents in a rented house with a pool and orange and grapefruit trees. I've already squeezed about 20 fresh fruits for juice.

The last time I was in Arizona was in January 2000, when my St. Louis Rams won their only Super Bowl. I remember watching them take down the Tennessee Titans at the last minute 23-16.

Rachel's grandmother lives in a place called The Racquet Club, which is perfect since I love playing tennis. I played pickleball this morning (a cross of tennis and ping pong played on a tennis court) with Rachel's dad and have already found several people to play pickup tennis with for the week. Then came back for a swim.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Handful of Old Movies Get a Look in My Queue

I've been catching up on some old movies lately. Some classic, some a little less than classic.

Funny Farm: This is a relatively terrible Chevy Chase flick from 1988, the downside of a time when he was arguably the funniest movie-comedian in America. Gene Siskel once called it Chase's funniest film, a serious stretch for one that has a few laughs but is pretty badly dated by now. I had never seen it. Must have been going to too many Boston and AC/DC concerts that year.
**1/2 out of ***** stars

Dazed and Confused: After my favorite movie of 2014, Boyhood, I had to go back and watch Richard Linklater's other great Texas epic. This one was named Quentin Tarantino's 10th favorite film of all time for good reason. Beyond star-cameos galore, this view of high-school life in Austin captures the ethos of an entire generation of kids growing up in the 1970s and 1980s.
***** out of ***** stars

Pee-Wee's Big Adventure: I somehow never saw this, although I recognized the numerous catchphrases that still hold strong today ("I know you are but what am I?"). It's pretty funny and even educational stuff, and, as my 7-year-old said, "Pee-Wee makes funny faces."
**** out of ***** stars

The Man With Two Brains: Steve Martin comes nowhere close to The Jerk or Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid in this completely wacky script. Playing a neurosurgeon with an unpronounceable name (in the grand tradition of Chase's Fletch), Martin is nevertheless still funny and this one is still worth watching.
***1/2 out of ***** stars

An Affair to Remember: Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr star in this exceedingly romantic film, which suffers just a bit because Grant's typical comedic touches are largely missing. Instead, he is very George Clooney, meaning suave and very handsome, as he becomes friends on a passenger ship with Kerr between Europe and New York before slowly falling in love even amidst some traumatic setbacks.
***1/2 out of ***** stars

The Object of My Affection: The acting talents of Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd are pretty raw in this 1998 film. But it's entertaining enough and is pretty important in bringing societal acceptability of gay relationships to a more mass audience.
*** out of ***** stars