Monday, November 12, 2018

A Star is Born comes along as shockingly great

With two little kids, I admittedly don't make it the movie theater to watch adult movies much these days. So I can't make huge pronouncements at the moment about the competition, but I hope A Star is Born sweeps the Academy Awards in a few months.

Bradley Cooper as the aging rock star. Best Actor. Check. Lady Gaga as a genuine person who goes from nothing to the top. Best Actress. Check. All the big players. Best Supporting Roles. Check. Best Picture. Check.

I went to this film thinking I'd like it but that it easily could border on romantic schmaltz. But the story is all there. And the characters are all so real. No gloss whatsoever. And oh the songs, made even better by the fact that Cooper and Gaga wrote them all and performed them often live in front of festival and other audiences. Just incredible. I actually cried during at least four songs. (Here's a good article in Vanity Fair about how Cooper became such a great singer and songwriter.)

Run out and see this before it leaves theaters as quickly as you can.

5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Aretha Franklin made us all feel like a “natural woman”

While reading the always-remarkable music journalist Mikal Gilmore’s remembrance of Aretha Franklin (there is a lot of dirt in the profile, about her nastiness to a lot of people and becoming a mother at age 12 AND 14), I was inspired to watch this performance from late in her career in front of the Obamas at the Kennedy’s Center Awards.

If anyone ever doubted her talent, all it takes is one viewing of this clip.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Kids today are fascinated by 1980s movies

My kids (and many others whose parents have told me so) have been on a real kick of watching movies from my childhood. And I’m not complaining because somehow there are still many that had escaped my viewing back then.

Recently I’ve boosted my movie knowledge by adding Teen Wolf, Uncle Buck, Adventures in Babysitting, and Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead to the list of older movies I’ve seen for the first time with and because of my kids. Heck, I’d never even seen Wayne’s World (excellent, by the way). I let my 5-year-old watch Austin Powers, thinking she would be bored within about two minutes. But she watched the whole thing and now often says “yeah baby” to me in a groooovy British-ish accent.

My 10-year-old and I watched Teen Wolf last night. It’s an awful movie - that we couldn’t take our eyes off. That's probably because Michael J. Fox is so universally lovable. But, like many of those 1980s and 1990s movies, there is a lot of not-so-subtle male misogyny and rape-y culture. Those elements would likely be much tamer today, or at least far more subtle - at least in PG and PG-13 offerings. 

Many of the more politically incorrect movie scenes remind me that kids do crazy things. It's what they do, no matter whether it's the 1980s or the 2010s. Kids are pretty much raised to either know when they’re doing something crazy and be measured about it or to simply have no clue and basically be future candidates for the penitentiary. The good thing about today is that even the ones grooming for prison should know better because of the national conversation happening with #MeToo and Trump and Brett Kavanaugh’s good old boy network. If politics were a movie, those two would be playing the drunken, rapist, pink-sweater-wrapped-around-the-neck jerks at all the parties in 80s movies.

Pop culture note: With his movies, Fox has never topped his legendary TV role as Alex P. Keaton in Family Ties. But my favorite of his films, in order, are Casualties of War, Bright Lights Big City, Back to the Future, and The American President.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Do Uber and Lyft really care about being environmentally sustainable corporations?

In my role as director of Mobility Lab, I get quoted a lot in this CityLab article. Here are some tidbits:

For Paul Mackie, director of communication and research at Mobility Lab, which studies transportation behavior and policy, the announcements are another sign of how these companies are adopting roles as “societal partners” rather than just ride-hailing services—ones that can change the way public transit is marketed to the masses. In moving into the bike- and scooter-sharing markets, Uber and Lyft are also encouraging more people to ponder driving alternatives, and making it easier for them to change their behavior.

Lyft’s campaign resembles the new subscription service the firm is experimenting with in Salt Lake City, in which participants pay a flat $200 every month for 30 rides. But by integrating bikeshare and public transit, Lyft’s “Ditch Your Car” initiative goes one step further, potentially demonstrating how public transit agencies could benefit from a new payment model. “You think of these other smart industries—like Netflix or food recipe subscriptions—those are working and its showing that its what people want,” Mackie said. “Why is public transit is so slow to have that model?”

... “It would be naive for anyone to think that Uber and Lyft aren't thinking about what’s best for their bottom line,” said Mackie. The two companies also want a seat at the policy-making table, with both ramping up their lobbying spending over the last few years. (Uber’s backing of congestion pricing, as CityLab previously reported, could be a win-win for both company and city.) Uber is still scrubbing its brand after the multiple scandals associated with former CEO Travis Kalanick, while its smaller competitor Lyft is sticking with its famous “better boyfriend” strategy, donating to the ACLU and giving voters free rides to the polls.

But the companies are still leaving out the one thing cities really want: data. Uber’s gift to SharedStreets may be a gesture toward handing over more of this precious resource, and Mackie thinks this could be another win-win for both sides. “Cities have curb space and parking—things that could really help Uber and Lyft,” he said. “We like to think that if they did share their data, then the governments can work with them to make cities much nicer working grounds.”

And Mackie also credits Uber and Lyft with encouraging more people to consider sustainable transit options. Despite the rise of ride-hailing, Americans are largely still holding on to their private cars, and the concept of shared mobility remains novel to many.  “So it’s another thing to be a bit of cheerleader for Uber and Lyft because we want them to incorporate this sharing mindset in all of us,” he said. “It’s a noble experiment in behavioral change.”

E-bikes: An exciting alternative

This article originally appeared in the Sierra Club's newsletter.

It’s too early to tell if electric bicycles hold the secret to grand pronouncements such as “the
future of transportation.” But there’s definitely something interesting happening.

Anecdotally, I researched e-bikes for years before I felt comfortable enough to buy one as a
way to improve my mobility options in a ridiculously congested place like the Washington D.C.
region. There weren’t enough retailers who would also be able to make necessary repairs,
something this is more complicated than with traditional bicycles. The battery technology
wasn’t good enough to carry a charge decent enough to get back-and-forth across the city.

The first e-bike I bought ended up being too difficult to get repaired and I returned it,
thankfully (after lots of headaches), for a full refund from the German company, with a
California wholesaler and a D.C. retailer.

But earlier this year I tried again. After test riding many e-bikes and researching online (and,
despite the excellent Electric Bike Reviews site, with so many manufacturers and models, it’s
still an intimidating purchase decision), I purchased an excellent Magnum Metro from Hybrid
Pedals in Arlington, Va.

I’ve never met anyone who didn’t agree that, after riding an e-bike, it changed their life. The
problem is that so few people have actually ridden e-bikes. The U.S. market grew by 25
percent in 2017, to 263,000 e-bikes sold. At that rate, it will take a long time to make much of a
dent in the still-small percentage of people who bike for utilitarian purposes like getting to
work, going to eat, or meeting friends.

Some of the good news is that new and trendy options like Uber, Lyft, e-scooter shares,
dockless bikeshares, and soon autonomous shuttles may slowly be getting people out of their
century-long drive-alone mindset. In an increasingly crowded and polluted world, e-bikes could
play a valuable role in being a gateway to switch from this bad habit to these healthier, more
sustainable, more affordable, and just plain fun choices.

If all bikes today - every single bicycle in the entire world - were suddenly thrown away and
replaced with e-bikes, that wouldn’t be good for the environment. Obviously.
But e-bikes are good for the environment in a somewhat surprising way: because riding an ebike
is less physically demanding than a regular bike, making it easier to climb hills and go
longer distances, people might ditch cars for e-bikes.

Sounds far-fetched, but research says otherwise. An extensive survey of more than 1,800 ebike
users in the United States by the National Institute of Transportation and Communities
earlier this year found that most participants switched to e-bikes to reduce car use.

“What stood out, however, is how many motives involved eliminating driving hassles,”
Bicycling’s Selene Yeager wrote of the study. “Twenty-eight percent of respondents said they
bought an e-bike specifically to replace car trips. Others pointed to craving a more car-free
lifestyle, such as using e-bikes to carry cargo or kids, avoid parking and traffic woes, be more
environmentally minded, and have a more cost-effective form of transportation.”

But Americans are buying e-bikes at much lower rates than people in China and Europe. In fact,
the Wall Street Journal quoted a transit expert in 2016 claiming that 60 percent of all battery
production in China was for e-bikes. That’s a lot of batteries.

So how can we fix this? We can educate people on the benefits of e-bikes (and make sure they
know that riding an e-bike is still good for your health). We can advocate for better bike
infrastructure, which is proven to increase rates of bicycling across the board.

The research holds for me personally as well. I definitely bought my e-bike to maneuver more
easily and efficiently through D.C.’s stressful traffic. My car trips have gone way down, and
now my 17-mile roundtrip work commute is often the best part of my day.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Cord cutting my cable gives me unlimited TV options this fall

Some might think my recent decision to get rid of cable TV for the first time ever is crazy in the midst of the peak-TV era. But I'm super excited to watch as much TV as ever with my simple cord-cutting strategy.

I've got Amazon Prime, Netflix, Sling TV, YouTube, and MLB on my Roku and get to spend about $100 less than I was with Verizon Fios, which I basically never watched and had a big pile of junk on my DVR that I always felt obliged to watch.

After trying a few other apps, Sling TV is clearly the best. I'm paying $45 a month for the channels I want to watch and even have 50 hours of cloud DVR included. And maybe the best thing about Sling compared to cable is that I can watch live or recorded TV anywhere on any of my devices.

Here are some shows I hope to catch this fall and where I'll watch them:

Netflix brings continuing tales like Ozark, and new shows like Maniac, which stars Emma Stone and Justin Theroux in a drug trial gone wrong. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina sounds intriguing as a bit of spinoff from Riverdale and starring Mad Men's Kiernan Shipka as the protagonist.

Amazon's new Forever, starring Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph is being billed as a must-see take on a faltering relationship. And The Romanoffs is producer Matthew Weiner's first return to TV since Mad Men.

Viceland on Sling has The Hunt for the Trump Tapes, with Tom Arnold searching journalist-style for at least a handful of Trump's pre-presidential idiocies. I can't imagine The Cool Kids could be good, but it is co-created by It's Always Sunny's hilarious Charlie Day and I can watch Fox on Sling. I'll probably also continue to give The Good Place a shot on Sling's NBC.

Once the football, college basketball, and baseball seasons end and I can switch up my sports-heavy Sling subscription (you can change it around anytime rather than being locked into a cable contract), I'll subscribe through Sling to Showtime. Jim Carrey is being hyped as a return-to-form Mister Rogers type in Kidding. And Escape at Dannemora, about the recent prison break in upstate New York, looks like true-crime fun.

I might have to splurge for the HBO app at some point too. Not that Lena Dunham's new Camping is the thing that will break me towards doing it, but it won't hurt either.

And of course, like any good cord cutter, I bought an antenna for $20, which allows me to watch the two "networks" I don't get through Sling TV, CBS and PBS. Can't think of a reason besides football that I would ever watch CBS, but the Native America documentary on PBS could help me put that antenna to use.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Stop signs can help us make the world a better place

Originally published at

Americans can take action to slow the decline of civil society simply by focusing on the ubiquitous stop sign.
If you’ve ever ridden a bicycle on city streets, you recognize that there are a ton of people driving while texting. It’s easy to see because a person on a bike can easily see down into people’s cars.
If you’re walking, you know how often people driving won’t stop for you in clearly-marked crosswalks. They either don’t notice you or don’t care, feeling smugly protected in their cages.
Meanwhile, everyone in cars sees people on bikes and foot doing things we deem as reckless (zipping in and out of traffic or not watching what’s in front of them on the sidewalk).
This all fits into a fascinating little brief commentary in the Glendale (Calif.) News-Press that horrifyingly documents the war zone that exists in the vicinity of stop signs.
Do you stop at stop signs? So few drivers do that Glendale posted temporary electronic signs informing drivers to “stop at stop signs.” What’s next: “breathe in and out”?
The other day I pulled up to [a four-way] intersection. Cars were at each of the four stop signs.
To my left was a car making a left turn. The next driver to go was supposed to be me. Just as I released my brake ready to enter the intersection, the car immediately behind the one that made the turn quickly followed right behind so closely that it appeared one car was towing the other.
It was one of those eye-popping “did that just happen” moments. There were at least five other drivers who witnessed that illegal and highly dangerous maneuver.
What was going through the mind of that man behind the wheel? Obviously, he did not give a whit about the rules of the road and was determined to shave off a few seconds from his commute — to hell with everybody else.
In what little research that exists on the matter, there is no correlation between getting moving violations and changing one’s driving habits.
The author goes on to make the suggestion that parents and school systems need to do a better of teaching the increasingly lost art of social responsibilities. Schools are definitely cutting funding for driver’s ed.
That’s one problem. It’s also a sure sign that, if there’s not as much education about how to drive as part of the rules of the road, there is almost certainly not much teaching going on about how young people should operate in an increasingly multimodal society.
Since police forces no longer put much time into ticketing people who run stop signs, one transportation demand management offshoot strategy is to petition local governments for street-calming measures such as speed humps, traffic circles, bike lanes (or, better yet, protected bike lanes), wider sidewalks (or, in many cases, any sidewalks), and many others.
On a hyper-local level, I’m leading a neighborhood charge in my city of Takoma Park, Md. Even though my street already has a nice sidewalk and stop signs that aren’t too far apart, we have noticed more and more of exactly what the journalist in Glendale details. Despite the high prevalence of kids playing and people walking, drivers constantly blow through the stop signs in front of our house. They seemingly don’t care or have lost the muscle memory be able to stop in the name of either the law or human decency.
All my crusade will take is 2/3 of the households on my block and the two adjacent blocks to agree to get the city to install a speed hump in front of my house. That equates to 12 households, which seems like a pretty easy task in the name of perhaps saving the lives of the kids on our street.
Even if my petition fails to get the required signatures, at the very least, I’ve informed my neighbors about the research that shows speed humps are a valuable addition to our transportation spaces.
As always, so much of TDM’s success hinges on getting infrastructure to adapt to new trends. Steps like my petition for speed humps is a perfect example of the importance of TDM, also known as transportation education.