Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Biking with Ivanka Trump and Barrack Obama on a cold D.C. morning

I'm working at a Transportation Techies event tonight, so I took the opportunity for a rare casual, roundabout bike ride to work in frigid 20-degree weather this morning.

My usual route never takes me to Washington D.C.'s Kalorama neighborhood. And, in fact, not many routes to work of mere commoners goes through Kalorama by design. It's a neighborhood of mansions and embassies nestled between Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, and Georgetown. But none of the streets are all that easy to pass through. So despite being practically smack-dab in the center of D.C.'s action, it has very little traffic.

That might change a little bit soon, as two new neighbors are sure to bring gawkers like me. Barrack Obama and family will soon move in to this lovely red-brick home overlooking Rock Creek Park at 2446 Belmont Road NW. Lots of workers were there getting it ready, as were a few people taking photos like me.

And just a block-and-a-half away, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are moving into this more fortress-like abode at 2449 Tracy Place NW. I imagine the gold-plated interior walls will soon be installed. For now, there was an on-camera interview of some kind happening on the street in front of the house (and just above my thumb's-down sign).

Monday, January 2, 2017

We demonize Muslims because we never got a chance to understand them from the beginning

Strange how so many in the U.S. demonize Muslims and Islam. Then again, it's not surprising that we don't much understand that approach to the world, since we are taught very little beyond Western Civilization in school.

That's precisely why it's so important that we all read Tamim Ansary's Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Academic Eyes

In the book, as noted in past reviews, he tells "the rich story of world history as the Islamic world saw it, from the time of Mohammed to the fall of the Ottoman Empire and beyond. He clarifies why our civilizations grew up oblivious to each other, what happened when they intersected, and how the Islamic world was affected by its slow recognition that Europe - a place it long perceived as primitive and disorganized - had somehow hijacked destiny."

Ansary himself says the book is "like what I’d tell you if we met in a coffeehouse and you said, 'What’s all this about a parallel world history?'"

I'm going to buy this to keep reading, but some snippets from early in the book that show why I love the way Ansary explains things so well include:
  • One key geographical feature sets Mesopotamia apart from some of the other early hotbeds of culture. Its two defining rivers flow through flat, habitable plains and can be approached from any direction.
  • Settled farmers would build irrigation systems supporting prosperous villages and towns. Eventually some tough guy, some well-organized priest, or some alliance of the two would bring a number of these urban centers under the rule of a single power, thereby forging a larger political unit - a confederation, a kingdom, an empire. Then a tribe of hardy nomads would come along, conquer the monarch of the moment, seize all his holdings, and in the process expand their empire. Eventually the hardy nomads would become soft, luxury-loving city dwellers, exactly the sort of people they had conquered, at which point another tribe of hardy nomads would come along, conquer them, and take over their empire.
  • Later, the Persian Empire stands out for several reasons. First, the Persians were the counter-Assyrians. They developed a completely opposite idea of how to rule a vast realm. Instead of uprooting whole nations, they resettled them. They set the Hebrews free from captivity and helped them get back to Canaan. The Persian emperors pursued a multicultural, many-people-under-one-big-tent strategy. They controlled their enormous realm by letting all the different constituent people live their own lives according to their own folkways and mores, under the rule of their own leaders, provided they paid their taxes. The Muslims later picked up on this idea, and it persisted through Ottoman times.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Walking Dead comics are no doubt a rollicking good-time phenomenon

I've been accused occasionally of not having a wide enough spectrum of knowledge about pop culture to be the owner of a pop-culture blog. But you try watching everything on Netflix, Amazon, and HBO, going to the movies, reading all the books on my Kindle list, going to the theater, and listening to all the new music on Spotify with a family and a full-time job.

Ahem. I do what I can. Well, after finally watching The Empire Strikes Back today (yes, it only took me 36 years; I swear I thought I had seen it multiple times already!), I also read book one of The Walking Dead. It captures the first 12 comic books and is a story of cultural significance nearing that of Star Wars.

It does not match Y: The Last Man, which I consider the greatest graphic novel and is also from the apocalyptic genre. The dialogue of Dead can be cliche and lazy and the story is fairly predictable. Or, maybe I've just heard so much about the phenomenon over the years that some of the thrill and suspense has been a bit ... suspended.

Rick stars as a cop who goes into a coma after getting hit in a shootout only to wake up in a world where most humans have been replaced by zombies. He makes his way from the country to Atlanta, where the zombie situation is extra bad. He is helped to a camp outside the city to amazingly reunite with his wife Lori and young son Carl. It's soon revealed that Lori had sex with Rick's ex-partner Shane after they thought Rick had died. This tension boils to a head when little Carl shoots and kills Shane before Shane nearly murders his dad. Turns out, Lori is pregnant, possibly with Shane's baby. Will be interesting to see how that storyline pans out.

The group meets a former NFL player named Tyreese, Carl is shot in the woods, and a man named Hershel helps save him while welcoming the RV-traveling crew to stay on his fenced-in property. This arrangement goes sour after Hershel is forced to re-kill his already-dead three children, who escape from the barn where they had been locked up. The crew leaves and soon finds an abandoned prison, which they are getting prepared to settle as this book comes to a close.

I can't wait to read the rest of the graphic-novel series, but I'm not so smitten that I feel I need to also watch the TV series. Am I wrong?

4.5 out of 5 stars

The Empire Strikes Back is the way to celebrate Carrie Fisher's life

Carrie Fisher's death may just be the biggest of the big 3 celebrity deaths that took place over these holidays (they always die in threes; Watership Down author Richard Adams and Careless Whisperer George Michael were the other two).

Almost as surprising as Fisher's death, which seemed likely after she had a heart attack on a plane from London to L.A., was when we watched The Empire Strikes Back today and I realized I had truly never seen it before! (One benefit of having kids!)

That explains why my recollections of a carbonited Han Solo, Luke's Yoda Jedi training and subsequent losing of his hand by closer-than-he-thought Darth Vader, C3PO's near destruction, and any understanding whatsoever of who Lando Calrissian and Boba Fett have always been completely foggy at best.

Well, most people say Empire is the best Star Wars flick of all, and I might have to agree. The ice battle of Noth in the opening scene isn't my favorite, but the story takes off majestically from there, with the main characters becoming more interesting as they develop further from A New Hope.

The 1980 instant classic was probably made more powerful knowing Fisher is no longer with us. She has always been one of my favorite Star Wars actors, along with Harrison Ford, because of the way she told it like she sees it and was always unedited.

Empire: 5 out of 5 stars

Friday, December 23, 2016

Prince's death may just be the worst thing that happened in 2016

One of the worst things about this year? Of course we could go on forever. But to me, Prince's premature death was probably number-one on the list.

I recorded this while prepping for a recent meeting of my neighborhood music group, Songs From a Hat. We get together every month or so to play music, with each meeting's selections based on a theme that was previously picked out of a hat.

This was from when we met to play songs by "People Who Died in 2016." It's almost criminal to cover "Purple Rain," but I did it anyway. It's a fun one to play on guitar and sing.

I tried to upload the audio clip I made to Blogger, but for some reason it's not working. Oh well. I'm sure the suspense will be rough for you, but just use your imagination.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

12 ways developers can guide tenants to better transportation decisions

Originally published at Mobility Lab.
Real-estate developers and property managers have long been coming around to the simple business decision that, if they want to manage profitable projects and attract tenants, they should build and own near transit and other non-driving options.
Just look at Detroit: A 2.5-mile streetcar system expected to launch in a few months to downtown is attracting a goldmine of $3 billion in development, with about 10,000 new housing units. On the other end, commercial real estate in car-dependent areas is proving to be far less valuable over the past decade than city cores or walkable suburbs.
This makes sense. According to Chris Leinberger and Mariela Alfonzo, in a 2012 Brookings Institution study, 90 percent of increased economic performance can be explained by walkability, job density, and workforce education.
For developers in a competitive market, however, just building in these walkable, transit-rich locations is not enough. They, along with property managers, can further improve the attractiveness of their locations by taking distinct steps to ensure that their tenants make full use of those transportation options. These measures have the added benefit of reducing traffic and the improving the quality of life in the surrounding community.
Here are 12 key tactics developers creating projects near transit should consider in order to make their residents, customers, and visitors as happy as possible. The best thing is that these are no-brainer enhancements that are far less costly than the more infrastructure-focused elements of their properties.
Perform tenant surveys to understand people: Particularly if properties have a high resident-turnover rate or difficulty attracting new residents, perhaps it’s time to evaluate what the buildings are missing. On-site brochures and advertising about transportation amenities won’t make much difference if developers don’t understand how to target customers by first understanding their needs and motivations for why they choose to live near transit. A survey that asks residents questions about their commutes or barriers to trying new transportation modes could provide insight and lead to recommendations on ways to improve these amenities. For example, property management company Dittmar surveyed its Dolley Madison Tower residents in Arlington County, Va., to learn about what factors would attract them to a possible shuttle service, among other options.
Learn from past mistakes: Developers are acknowledging that car-oriented office parks are increasingly empty, which is why, for example, First Potomac Realty Trust got rid of more than two dozen suburban industrial buildings and is purchasing multiple properties along Washington, D.C.’s Metro lines, not to mention its bike-friendly streets. First Potomac’s chief executive Robert Milkovich recently noted the writing on the wall: “I’m just continually amazed at how many people are commuting around downtown by bicycle. I don’t think that was the case even five years ago.”
Gently remind people they can bike and walk: The San Francisco Planning Department has an attractive menu of options for its proposed transportation demand management program. Front and center are active-transportation elements that can open people’s minds to biking and walking, especially in the cases of new residents, the most likely to change a long-time habit. Those options include: improving walking conditions, adding bicycle parking and repair amenities, adding a fleet of bicycles, use of bike-valet parking for large events on site, transit and bikeshare memberships and discounts, and installation of showers and lockers.
Think creatively within site-plan mandates from local government: The San Francisco program works by awarding developers a certain number of points for every element they incorporate into their buildings from the draft menu of options. Two of those options might seem unrelated to transportation, but actually are: providing healthy food options in areas identified as being underserved (no longer need to travel to eat) and affordable housing units (fewer low-income people forced to live away from transit).
Get recognized for your work: Arlington County has a checklist of options for properties wishing to be recognized as a bronze, silver, gold, or platinum level member in its Champions program run by Arlington Transportation Partners. Starting with just a handful of participants back in 2013, there are now 221 Champions, a sure sign that a little friendly competition can bring an entire community together to accomplish clear goals.
Set goals: To become a top-level Platinum Champion, employers in Arlington have to “achieve company mode-shift goals within one year.” That is pretty advanced, considering it requires actually having tenant mode-shift goals in the first place, and surveying to follow up.
Offer free money: Developers can lure people to their properties by simply offering the kinds of transit benefits building-wide that individual tenant companies have long offered their employees. Transit passes get people riding.
Display quality information: Some developers understand that boring information bulletin boards in lobbies don’t work for the needs of today’s mobile society. Wayfinding signs aren’t just for roads and highways anymore. Real-time transit-information displays and tailored, hyper-localized transit marketing are crucial to helping residents understand their sometimes overwhelming transportation options.
Provide pooling services: While individual building tenants may not yet be able to afford home-to-work shuttles, such options becomes more possible at the building-wide level. And there are also ways to improve traffic in a building’s neighborhood by offering passes and benefits for UberPOOL, Lyft Line, and other services; subsidies and priority parking for carpools, vanpools, and electric vehicles; and passes for car-sharing fleets like Zipcar and car2go.
Focus on the family: Back in San Francisco’s menu of options, the Planning Department lists incentives for developers who provide cargo bikes and shopping carts, storage for car seats near car-share parking, and on-site childcare services, which help remove the anxiety some parents feel about needing a personal car to make various stops along their daily commutes.
Dedicated, secure bike parking
Forget about parking assumptions: At the top of options Arlington and San Francisco recommend to developers is to reduce, if allowed, the number of parking spaces on site. Some of the best ways to do this – and replace all those empty spots with something more lucrative – include separating the cost of parking from the cost of renting, leasing, or owning; allowing for only hourly or daily parking passes; and giving employees the possibility of “parking cash-out,” the option to receive the cash value of the space rather than the space itself.
Think about how people will get there: Better still, developers should grab a bike, walk around, and take transit lines directly to their buildings from every conceivable direction. Being in other people’s shoes will likely open possibilities that developers may not have envisioned otherwise.
Prepare for future cities: And finally, developers must not forget the dawn of the autonomous vehicle, already testing in places like Pittsburgh and Detroit. Most of these will likely – or at least hopefully, for the sake of traffic sanity – be fleet vehicles shared among groups of people. Much like how individuals should avoid paying too much for a garage in a new home, unless you’re Jay Leno, developers too should avoid going overboard on garages (or build them in smart, convertible ways). When shared autonomous vehicles are roaming the streets, they will, in theory, not need to go into those garages nearly as much. Redfin estimates one-third of urban real estate currently devoted to parking garages could become parks.
There is a lot here for developers to take into account. As people embrace more walking, transit, and other options, and the era of paving over America hopefully trends downward, there will be an awful lot of new real estate for developers to put to better use.
Photos: Top, a Metrobus on Columbia Pike in Arlington County (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com). Middle, a bike parking room at The Nature Conservancy in Arlington (Jon Fisher, Flickr, Creative Commons).

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Washington Post quotes me on people who are making transit better

MetroHero, one of many unofficial DC Metro apps
It's been a good week for me getting quoted in major newspapers. First it was USA Today about Trump's pick for transportation secretary and now I'm in the Sunday edition of the Washington Post (Page 2 of the Metro section).

Reporter Faiz Siddiqui attended Mobility Lab's Transportation Techies this week and did a nice wrap-up of how everyday citizens are using data to figure out myriad ways to make Washington D.C.'s Metro subway better.

Here is an excerpt from "How developers are turning to Metro’s newest software tool to enhance their apps:"
The gathering at Metro’s headquarters, the latest in the series of monthly meetups sponsored by Mobility Lab, the research arm of Arlington County commuter services, was all about little fixes developers can make to improve riders’ experience, said Paul Mackie, a spokesman for Mobility Lab.
“This doesn’t need to be part of a 30-year-planning process or even a five-year process — a lot of these things can be incorporated immediately,” Mackie said. “It’s not only free labor, but it’s passionate and caring labor.”