Wednesday, January 31, 2018

100+ of the best albums of 2017: Rock continues, as always, to be far from dead

Guided By Voices
Best Remasters and Bonus Tracks: 
  • Paul McCartney's Flowerers in the Dirt seems like it should be a cheesy early 90s throwaway, but the album has several great tracks and the bonuses included here are stellar and must-haves for Paul lovers. 
  • And throw in the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles Sgt. Pepper's release for good measure. 
  • Perhaps the best of the bunch: Prince and the Revolution really jam out on Purple Rain Deluxe (Expanded Edition). 
  • Evan Dando's Baby I'm Bored is an underrated post-Lemonheads pop masterpiece and this expanded edition throws in lots of great never-released songs. 
  • Radiohead's OK Computer (Remastered) brought a new listen after many years away, and it holds up extremely well.
  • R.E.M.'s remastered and expanded Automatic for the People is an album that somehow keeps growing on me with time, and the demos and live tracks are almost entirely essential.
Best Live Albums: The Doors Live at Matrix show from March 1967 on the 50th Anniversary release of their self-titled album is a pretty major throw down displaying how freaky they were. And The Replacements: For Sale: Live At Maxwells 1986 captures my third-favorite band in all its glory and on the same tour I saw as a 15-year-old in St. Louis.

Great Singles: Lydia Loveless: Desire / Sorry; Against Me! Stabitha Christie; Superchunk: I Got Stuck.

Best EPs: Curls' Vante is a pleasant surprise by Christopher Owens of Girls fame. Two instrumentals and two perfectly beautiful songs that sound like Lou Reed and Ween. Snail Mail's Habit is an ear worm of indie-rock beauty, and The Lemon Twigs' Brothers of Destruction continues to display their assent to the top of today's rock mountain. Belle & Sebastian's How to Solve Our Human Problems isn't the usual monumental B&S release, but hey, it's still B&S.

Biggest Disappointments: Phoenix has been one of my favorite contemporary bands since its sophomore release in 2004, but its new Ti Amo is a stinker that is nowhere near as good as the 1970s disco masterpieces it emulates. LCD Soundsystem's return with American Dream is a most unwelcome addition to the band's cannon, sounding like a retrograde ripoff bore of bad U2. Foo Fighters' Concrete and Gold is a mostly throw-away affair except for a few songs at the tail end. The Killers latest is a disappointment too.

112. Mogwai: Every Country's Sun (I haven't cared much for this band since its 1990s heyday, but this one is a pretty powerful blast of sound)
111. The Raveonettes: 2016 Atomized (this is one of this great duo's lesser efforts, but some transcendent moments, like "Where Are You Wild Horses," put it into the list)
110. Charlie XCX: Number 1 Angel (this is a deplorable and tasteless album that I can't stop listening to)
109. The xx: I See You (from the glorious Hall & Oates sampling to just a basic return to form of their debut, this is a treat all the way through)
108. Matthew Sweet: Tomorrow Forever (the usual lovable blast of loud solo guitars and hummable melodies)
107. Yoko Ono: Feeling the Space (this is 90 percent less weird than all the rest of her albums, and therefore I like it about 90 percent more)
106. Harry Styles: Harry Styles (of course nobody should ever admit to liking such post-boy-band rock, but it's probably what Harry Nilsson would release if he were still alive, so those are serious bonus points)
105. Jay Som: Everybody Works (this is kind of uncategorizable, but everything about it is undeniably poppy, enjoyable, and good for rainy-day lazing about)
BONUS LATE EDITION: The Dears: Times Infinity/Volume Two (I hadn't heard much from this band since the early 2000s when I stumbled upon the fact that it released an album in 2017. Super pretentious stuff that is totally perfect for when you want to hear something super pretentious)
104. Jack Johnson: All the Light Above It Too (this is not one of my favorite of his releases, but I've come to really enjoy just throwing some JJ on every once in a while)
103. Greta Van Vleet: From the Fires (well, we haven't had a new Led Zeppelin album in a very long time, so this is nice and will have to do)
102. U2: Songs of Experience (there's no way this often-samey-sounding album is supposed to make this list, but it just happens to be surprisingly good in most parts)
101. Alex Lahey: I Love You Like a Brother (I don't know much of anything about this artist, but I liked the cover and listened, and there you go ...)
100. Son Volt: Notes of Blue (not one of the better Jay Farrar releases - those would all be Uncle Tupelo's stuff - but also just about as good as any country music out there)
99. Ryan Adams: Prisoner (this is one of my favorite artists and one of my least favorite of his albums. Still makes the list though because he's just that good)
Cigarettes After Sex
98. Waves: You're Welcome (this is a fun blast of fuzzy indie rock that the world will always need)
97. Rozwell Kid: Precious Art (like the Waves album, a happy blast of emo pop)
96. Cayetana: New Kind of Normal (this would normally be a really good indie-rock record, but the bouncy, burbling bass throughout puts it over the top)
95. Girlpool: Powerplant (more lo-fi noodly-type female indie rock, but when you're good, you're good)
94. Fancey: Love Mirage (former New Pornographers guitarist releases a crazily catchy album somewhere between the Pornos and the Bee Gees)
93. Mark Lanegan: Gargoyle (the former Screaming Tree releases his best solo album in a while, which is saying quite a bit; he's had some good ones)
92. Dead Man Winter: Furnace (these slow-burn songs from a founder of bluegrass's Trampled By Turtles sound like something I've heard a thousand times before, but they're still oh-so-good)
91. Faith Healer: Try ;-) (probably you don’t remember the band Papas Fritas, but if you do, you loved them, and this is a lot like that)
90. White Reaper: The World's Best American Band (loud and bright guitars highlight this blast of 70s-like big arena rock, ala Thin Lizzy at times)
89. HAIM: Something to Tell You (this would have to be considered a sophomore slump album by these mega-breakout Top 40 stars, but it's still worth a few spins)
88. Los Colognes: The Wave (it's surprising that this makes the list because they were on a summer tour with the awful Blues Traveller, but it's like a soft-rock version of late-era Grateful Dead)
87. Delicate Steve: This is Steve (this might be the weirdest thing on this list, and it's completely instrumental, somewhere between Ween and ZZ Top)
86. Ben Lee: Sings Against Me! New Wave (pretty much just what you would expect - greats songs and great interpretations; bonus in a busy year for Ben is his other albums: Freedom, Love and the Recuperation of the Human Mind is an excellent and earnest release, but his album of Muslim-themed kids songs is well meaning but not super interesting)
85. Surfer Blood: Snowdonia (some troubled years have spanned this Florida band's career, but they no doubt remain, if somewhat elusively, near the top of the indie-rock pile)
84. The Feelies: In Between (We don't get a new album from this jangle-pop band very often, so we have to enjoy it when it happens, and this one is probably their best since 1980's Crazy Rhythms)
83. Robyn Hitchcock: Robyn Hitchcock (this is one of his most loose-feeling releases, with all kinds of examinations of pop and literary culture to add to the excitement)
82. Vietnam: Antiparadigmas (a rowdy minor release by a weirdo band that I somehow keep following over the years, don't know what they're screaming about but I love it)
81. Amber Coffman: City of No Reply (I don't really know what this is, but I like it. Kinda like if Madonna were still cool)
80. Aimee Man: Mental Illness (the former Till Tuesday singer is getting better and more profound with age)
79. Circus Devils: Laughs Best (The Kids Eat It All Up) (a hits collection for one of Robert Pollard’s side projects, it’s weird and it’s also his 100th or so essential disc)
78. Ray Davies: Americana (The Kinks' leader kicks out his usual blend of hilarious and poignant melodies, with a topical focus on, yes, America)
77. R. Ring: Ignite the Rest (always nice to see a Breeder sister back in the game, and this is a nice male/female duo interplay of tunes)
76. The Obsessives: The Obsessives (finally, an emo band that brings the pop power like Promise Ring and Get-Up Kids did it in the 90s)
75. Diet Cig: Swear I'm Good at This (dirty-minded little newcomer indie-pop group that is a lot of fun to listen to)
74. The Sadies: Northern Passages (I saw these troubadors play with The Highballers and John Doe of X and have been a fan ever since. This crosses genre boundaries like My Morning Jacket)
73. The Flaming Lips: Oczy Mlody (weirder than I typically like even my Lips, but it mixes enough of their old pop melodicism to keep this worth many listens)
72. Dr. Dog: Abandoned Mansion (this band just keeps adding stellar - if slightly indistinguishable - songs to its catalog)
71. British Sea Power: Let the Dancers Inherit the Party (this band seems like it's been around forever and that I shouldn't like their new releases, but I always love them)
70. The Minders: Into the River (this former Elephant 6 '90s staple is back in a grand way with music that totally fits how far music has come in the past two decades)
69. San Cisco: The Water (this album joyously bounces all over the place and serves as a bit of replacement for those recently missing Vampire Weekend dudes)
68. Thievery Corporation: The Temple of I & I (a wide-ranging jam of reggae, trip out, and rap)
67. Jens Lekman: Life Will See You Now (I've actively tried to not like this artist for a while now, but there's no denying, this album is very adventurous and catchy)
66. Neil Young: Hitchhiker (he's been on an all-time losing streak lately, so going back to release a "lost" album from his golden era breathes new life here)
65. A Giant Dog: Toy (a bit hit or miss, but when it's hit, like the hilarious song about "saggy tits," this Austin band provides the A-1 party starter album of the year)
64. Deerhoof: Mountain Moves (I haven't been into this band for a while, but they're back with a very accessible riot of weirdo pop, even closing with probably the weirdest yet most gentle Bob Marley cover ever)
63. Sondre Lerche: Pleasure (he keeps his orchestral flourishes and makes this release a little more Strokes-rock flavored. In other words, better than usual)
62. Dent May: Across the Multiverse (this dork rocker seems like he should have faded away long ago, but this is an undeniably catchy record)
61. Jeff Tweedy: Together At Last (despite running the risk of a Tweedy overdose, his stuff in acoustic form is just too pretty to avoid)
60. Ron Sexsmith: The Last Rider (never been a big fan, but this is just lovely and the best of this stretch in the countdown of mellow releases by Jeff, Sondre, and Jens)
59. Deer Tick: Volumes 1 and 2: (this is a Use Your Illusion-size platter of songs; it sounds a lot like Tom Petty, and it was eerie that I was listening to it the moment I heard Petty had sadly died in October)
58. Jason Lowenstein: Spooky Action (this comes from a key member of Lou Barlow's Sebadoh and it's like an excellent and unexpected Sebadoh release for our '90s-loving pleasure)
57. The Jazz Butcher: Sex and Travel (this is a swinging number for those times when you just need to feel like you're stepping out on the town all fancy-like; didn't dig their other album this year as much)
56. The Cribs: 24-7 Rock Star Shit (these guys are back with wobbly-wailing guitars and vocals as good as ever)
55. Arcade Fire: Everything Now (despite a few real stinkers in the middle of this one, the supposed biggest band in indie rock is back with an excellent complex work)
Soccer Mommy
54. Chris Robinson Brotherhood: Barefoot in the Head (this is a truly weird pop turn from the lead hippie of the Black Crowes, he still has it all these years later)
BONUS LATE ADDITION: Lemur: Recreational Hate (some laid back country indie-pop that goes in many enjoyable boy-girl directions)
53. St. Vincent: MASSEDUCTION (this is a weird title of a word that I don't think exists, but it's fitting for a weird record that solidifies this artist's title as the new female David Byrne)
52. Filthy Friends: Invitation (I always seem to like Sleater-Kinney side projects more than Sleater-Kinney projects themselves. This is no different and really hooky; must be the Peter Buck guitar)
51. Helium: Ends With And (I've really been taking an interest this year in rediscovering Mary Timony's underrated catalog of music, and this has many highlights but may be a little too ambitious for its own good)
50. Who Is She?: Seattle Gossip (this minor-supergroup led by the excellent Lisa Prank offers succinct pop pleasures that would be physically impossible for anyone in the universe to dislike)
49. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: The Nashville Sound (this is really just flat-out good, mellow country music, and the best country album of the year)
48. Alvvays: Antisocialites (there is no sophomore slump for this band, whose pop pleasures melt in our ears like a city morning unfolding slowly before our very eyes)
47. Lee Ranaldo: Electric Trim (almost like if a new R.E.M. album existed, the Sonic Youth lead guitarist is an underrated solo artist)
46. Amine: Good For You (this hip-hop has a lot of different samples and good things going on; I hear something new every time I listen and it just keeps getting better)
45. Afghan Whigs: In Spades (the production is a little large for my tastes and it's kind of samey throughout, but man, it's a nice kind of samey)
44. The Relationship: Clara Obscura (a really cool batch of tunes from a band I had never heard of that combines 60s sounds of groups like the Zombies and modern power pop)
43. Drake: More Life (I hadn't really ever discovered the smooth tropical-club pleasures of Drake, but I'm glad I finally did, heading right into Summer '17)
42. Ted Leo: The Hanged Man (it's always good to have Leo back in the fold, and this is the usual mix of his joyous modern take on The Jam's Paul Weller)
41. New Pornographers: Whiteout Conditions (this begins with several instantly lovable smashes, but it took me awhile to eventually come around to the end of this release by one of my favorite contemporary bands)
40. Craig Finn: We All Want the Same Things (this is probably my favorite of the Hold Steady leader's solo releases, like a very melodic Springsteen album without all the Springsteen baggage)
39. Kendrick Lamar: DAMN. (his words keep cutting deeper and his music is addictive)
38. Dude York: Sincerely (kind of like a next-generation version of Christopher Owens' great band Girls, this album happily rocks and I'm bummed I missed them at SXSW)
37. Spoon: Hot Thoughts (this one is clearly a grower that will hold up well over time; Spoon gets more creative, experimental, and even Saturday Night Fever-y than ever before)
36. Colin Hay: Fierce Mercy (this album is like a long and winding road from where Hay started out on his pop journey all those years ago with Men At Work. Beautiful and heart-breaking)
35. Sleaford Mods: English Tapas (this is a perfect companion piece to Pete Doherty's record and is like if The Jam and the Beastie Boys got into the same room and mashed themselves up ... wack)
34. Peter Doherty: Hamburg Demonstrations (this former Libertine with a heroin addiction was supposed to be long dead by now, but instead he makes his best Shane MacGowan-like record ever)
33. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: The Echo of Pleasure (perhaps the most 80s-delicious release on this list, this band keeps churning out some of the very best stuff of the 2010s)
32. Ariel Pink: Dedicated to Bobby Jameson (this may be Pink's most-accessible collection, and it's all over the place in a good way, from The Who to GBV to Syd Barrett)
31. Alex Cameron: Forced Witness (this is kind of an oddball lovechild of The Killers and Peter Bjorn and John, and maybe Richard Marx too! Watch the video for "Stranger's Kiss" with Angel Olsen and just try not to fall in love with this guy)
30. Blondie: Pollinator (there is absolutely no way this album is supposed to be this good, and it's like Debbie Harry is now super old but is maybe more rocking than ever. Hope for us all!)
29. Taylor Swift: reputation (It pains me to have Ms. Swift on this list, AND ESPECIALLY SO HIGH!, but there is just so much here that our musical brains are so conditioned to embrace)
28. Sarah Shook and the Disarmers: Sidelong (this is the best renegade pop-punk I've heard perhaps since the early days of Uncle Tupelo)
27. Tobin Sprout: The Universe and Me (the usual thoughtful mix of rocking and gorgeous Sprout songs; if the Beatles still existed, they would sound like this)
26. Grandaddy: Last Place (the band is back after years away, and their space-ageification of all sounds and genres will always be welcome)
25. Elf Power: Twitching in Time (this is one of my favorite all-time bands, and this is a pleasant, pastoral entry into their psych-pop canon)
24. Jen Cloher: Jen Cloher (this is like getting a bonus album of current fave Courtney Barnett, which makes sense since the two are married)
23. Peter Perrett: How the West Was Won (a new discovery for the year, this album by the British lead singer of The Only Ones may be the most surprising psych-pop gem on this list)
22. Waxahatchee: Out in the Storm (this is arena rock for indie-rock kids; all the bells and whistles of Katie Crutchfield's big vocals, loud guitars, and soft moments are represented equally)
21. Coco Hames: Coco Hames (this is a country-tinged album because of her voice, but it's paired with some serious pop songwriting chops, not to mention a perfect Bash & Pop cover)
20. BNQT: Volume 1 (this is truly a supergroup in my book, with members of Grandaddy, Band of Horses, and others, and it gathers the best elements of all the groups in ways that demand summer good-mood repeat listens)
19. Destroyer: ken (he's been basically ready to break out and start releasing better music than that of his supergroup The New Pornographers. This year, he finally did it)
Chastity Belt
18. Chastity Belt: I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone (such a melodic take, and a bit of a slow grower, from the family tree of Sonic Youth)
17. GospelbeacH: Another Summer of Love (there might not have been a better record in years for cruising down the California coast; the former leader of the great Beachwood Sparks is back with what sounds like a great lost Tom Petty album)
16. Eyelids: Or (learned about this band on a GBV Facebook fan page, and that is very fitting in describing what they sound like)
15. Low Cut Connie: Dirty Pictures (Part 1) (a rowdy sleazy time is had by all on the year's best "Southern rock" album, with bonus points for its right-on cover of Prince's "Controversy")
BONUS LATE ADDITION: Sheer Mag: Need to Feel Your Love (this pop-punk-wacko release would be the year's best EP if it were only the absolutely brilliant and hooky songs #2-4, and there is a lot else to unpack throughout)
14. Soccer Mommy: Collection (so indie lo-fi-ish 90s that it would be painful if it weren’t so mesmerizing and hook-filled)
13. Bully: Losing (not as great as their classic debut, but this is the next generation of 90s Pavement, with a screamy punk-pop vocal twist)
12. The Jesus and Mary Chain: Damage and Joy (the top of this list looks a little like a 90s collection, but these are seriously some of these old-timers' best releases in decades)
11. Juliana Hatfield: Pussycat (this is the Boston indie-pop legend's best album since God Bless the Blake Babies, with lots of Trump bashing as a bonus)
10. Beck: Colors (the wait on this album was worth it, as Beck pulls all has best party-boy instincts into once big, perfectly produced dance spectacle)
09. Daniele Luppi and Parquest Courts: MILANO (this is a squiggly, quirky, freaky left-field PQ side project that is probably the best-possible side project we could have ever gotten from this top-tier band)
08. A. Savage: Thawing Dawn (that is, until this one came out late in the year. PQ’s frontman sounds like Lou Reed smashed together with 90s greats like The Lemonheads and Sonic Youth)
07. Foxygen: Hang (these guys have been shipped in from a futuristic place called the 70s, where weirdness and unabashed orchestral beauty were still almost considered cool)
06. Bash & Pop: Anything Could Happen + Too Late/Saturday EP (any year is a great year for music when Tommy Stinson of The Replacements releases stuff; this is the best swaggering party album of the year)
05. Paul Weller: A Kind Revolution (The Jam is one of my favorite bands and this stunner strikes me as Weller's best and most rocking and beautiful work since those glory days)
04. Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile: Lotta Sea Lice (spanning a weird and melodic spectrum from Dinosaur Jr. to The Vaselines, this release might be what Kurt Cobain would be making today if he were still alive; it's already timeless)
03. Cigarettes After Sex: Cigarettes After Sex (it apparently took this guy 10 years to release his debut, and it was worth the wait and may be the best totally mellow indie-rock album of all time)
02. Guided By Voices: How Do You Spell Heaven (this is ridiculous. All these years after GBV's founding and there still is just simply nobody else in their league)
01. Guided by Voices: August by Cake (seriously, there is no rock'n roll competition this year for the 100th release from Robert Pollard of GBV; this double album is GBV's White Album, moving all over the place and always exciting and diverse)

Friday, January 26, 2018

Stephen King continues on with more stories from A Bazaar of Bad Dreams

I wrote up summaries for the first several tales from Stephen King's latest short-story collection a little while ago. Here, I read on.

"A Death" is about a man out west who goes to the gallows claiming he's innocent of killing a young girl. The sheriff even starts to believ him, but by then it's too late. After he's good and hung, they find out the man had swallowed the evidence and done so again and again while awaiting his trial and execution in his jail cell. This one is kind of slow, but it's short and clever and memorable.

4 out of 5 stars

"The Bone Church" is a 7-page short poem that I either read and can not remember at all or that I skipped because Stephen King and poetry just doesn't seem like my thing.

NA out of 5 stars

As a side note, I’m currently reading one of King’s early classics, Firestarter. It’s one of his few titles from that era that I haven’t read (and I haven’t even seen the movie based off of it, starring an E.T.-era Drew Barrymore in the title role).

I’m completely immersed. For my money, there has never been a more page-turn-inducing author than King.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Bully in concert proves that this band is here to stay

If this live performance at NPR doesn’t sell you on Bully being one of the finest new rock bands around, then I don’t know what will.

When my buddy Peter and I caught them in November at the U Street Music Hall in Washington D.C., they were every bit as good, and the venue was perfect for such a loud and raging pop-punk show.

They return with a high ranking in my year-end list (to be released here soon) for their LP, which Peter got signed by Bully’s lead-singing banshee. It’s not as great as their debut last year, but that’s not saying much because that album was one of the very best of the past decade.

Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile was a great first experience at DC’s new Anthem

I got to experience the new nightclub in Washington DC called The Anthem, down on the wharf in Southeast.

The place is amazing. It holds five times the amount of people as the 9:30 Club and seems to equal the sound quality of the country’s greatest music venue.

Courtney Barnett is one of my very favorite rockers of the past five years. Her album Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit is an instaclassic.

Kurt Vile is a performer I’ve admired and now the two of them together just works so well. It’s like they’ve always been together. A sort of Hall and Oates of the indie set in that they complement each other so well and flow in and out from each other’s parts effortlessly.

The set list featured some of each perfomer’s best tunes, of course songs off their new album as a duo, and eclectic covers by the likes of Belly, Gillian Welch, and Barnett’s wife Jen Cloher (whose album, in its own right, is great. She also opened the show).

4.5 out of 5 stars

Video by EasyMorningRebel 665

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Auto shows are dead, bring on the personal mobility device conventions

This article by me originally appeared at

Auto shows are so 1999.
We’ve come a long way since then. Although most of the U.S. public is still heavily wed to personal autos, various industries – including the auto industry – are positive that the future will look different.
Such a future was on display last month at LA CoMotion, held in the Arts District of Downtown Los Angeles (Mobility Lab was a media sponsor). In many ways, it was just like one of those old auto shows, but instead, it was all about the variety of transportation choices now offered by “personal mobility devices.”
Attendees and exhibitors were convinced that, sooner or later, everyone will want a specialized device that will be perfect for their specific needs of getting around town, going to work, running errands, and reducing the time they need to be stuck behind the wheel.
One major hurdle for now: “Streets aren’t really designed for all these little devices we have out here,” said Katherine Perez-Estolano of the planning firm Arup, motioning towards the test tracks and exhibits outside the conference’s main speaking area.
She even (only half-jokingly) suggested that autonomous kayaks would be a great addition to the nearby L.A. River.
“That little ball that’s rolling around outside is real. This is all happening now,” suggested Stephen F. Smith from Carnegie Mellon University, in reference to the event’s omnipresent Gita, which acts as a kind of robotic luggage.
Sasha Hoffman, chief operating officer of Piaggio Fast Forward, which created the Gita (pronounced jee-tah), said the little round robot uses camera technology to recognize a person’s leg and then follows the person everywhere, carrying whatever – as long as it’s 45 pounds or less – that person needs for the day.
She pictures it being a feature of, say, a conceirge desk at a hotel or in high-rise or retirement communities, where people can unlock it with their smartphones, cart their stuff around as needed, and then return it for the next users.
The Gita was really the one product at LA CoMotion that most embraced good old walking. Most everything else seemed to recognize the one recurring, ultimate trait of humans: laziness.
Don’t want to walk to transit? Take this. Don’t want to use up your daily allotment of brainpower navigating to work through traffic in your own car? Take this.
Perhaps the personal mobility device that seems the furthest along in having a shot at altering the way many of us move around is the electric bike – which almost seems a little old-fashioned by now compared to many of the other products at LA CoMotion.
Bosch, along with making auto parts and dish washers, is now churning out perhaps the world’s best e-bike motors, which basically repurpose car tech for bike tech. Bosch-powered e-bikes rolled out in Europe about eight years ago and did the same in the U.S. about three years ago.
Demand for mid-drive, pedal-assist e-bikes is increasing at around 30 percent growth each of the past several years, according to Jonathan Weinert, sales and marketing manager for Bosch eBike Systems. 
“The really nice thing about pedal assist is that people love to bicycle but they hate the hills and the sweat. You still have to do some work with pedal assist, but it’s more like a moped. The barrier to cycling goes down because it flattens hills and shrinks cities.”
Weiner said e-bike companies originally saw older adults as the prime market, but now Millennials are showing more interest, families are buying cargo e-bikes, and younger people are using them for commuting and mountain biking. He said he thinks e-bikes will increase ridership for transit as well.
“The toughest thing is to get someone to throw a leg over an electric bike. Once they do, they’re sold on it,” he said. And by the thrilled looks on the faces of riders on the LA CoMotion test tracks, he’s correct.
The same could be said for those testing e-scooters. While not as fast as e-bikes, these devices have advantages such as taking up less space on streets and in storage. One of several that were featured at LA CoMotion was the folding urb-e, and it actually is pretty zippy. You may recall Silicon Valley TV star Thomas Middleditch riding (and struggling) around the office on one in a recent Verizon Wireless commercial.
Simon Caballero, an urb-e sales manager, said the Pasadena-based company sold 3,000 in its first year of operation five years ago and hasn’t looked back since.
“We partner with Metro and Metrolink in Southern California as the only electric vehicle allowed on their systems,” Caballero said about the scooters, which range in price from $900 to $2,000.
For those a little less comfortable enjoying the wind in their hair, the future will probably offer a world filled with driverless shuttles to take you from home to the subway, from one end of town to another, or along a sightseeing path.
The one available for test rides at LA CoMotion was courtesy of Transdev, an Illinois-based company that mostly has its eyes set on becominga solution for people whose walk to transit is a little further away than ideal.
But the vehicles could also be used at airports, business campuses, universities, amusement parks, and other places, according to Neal Hemenover, North America chief information officer for Transdev.
The company is currently working on some test pilots in Europe as well as San Ramon, Calif., which he said are similar to the Las Vegas pilot underway in that city’s busy tourist corridor.
Watch Hemenover explain further as he took me for a ride, and how the vehicle senses its environment:
Similarly, SAE International was on hand to give people test rides in a driverless car. Here’s what it felt like to ride in the passenger seat:
There was certainly a lot more on display at LA CoMotion (how could I forget drones? see below) – and it will be fascinating to watch which of these products catch on and which are relegated to the junk heaps of history.
But for now, another exhibitor was not offering a product but rather information, with a new website called Have A Go that helps people decide which personal mobility devices are right for them.
Photos and videos by Paul Mackie for Mobility Lab.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Los Angeles looks for the recipe to someday make itself a great transit city

This article originally appeared at Mobility Lab.

People often say it’s difficult to make a blueprint for how to plan transportation because every place across the world is different.
Katherine Perez-Estolano speaks at LA CoMotion
That may be somewhat true, but certain principles can apply everywhere and, at last week’s LACoMotion conference, there were promising signs that Los Angeles can usher in a more nuanced era than its historical image as the nation’s car capital.
When asked during a panel discuss what L.A.’s mobility revolution looks like, Katherine Perez-Estolano of the planning firm Arup said basic connections still need to be made throughout the region to make it easier to get across town.
“You get out of this area [the Downtown Arts District] just a few blocks and there are no paved sidewalks and [many sidewalks end mid-block]. It is the most interesting laboratory in the world. Everybody’s wondering what L.A. will do,” she said. “I’m kind of past urban transport and mobility, and I’m into a whole different place about how we access space and place.”
Just having that positive and creative-minded attitude alone – which is similar to the one L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti relentlessly has, including in his keynote address to the conference attendees – are steps in the right direction.
And all the happy talk is backed by reality. Bike lanes are popping up everywhere in the city. The powder-blue Expo Metro subway/light-rail line takes people from downtown to the ocean in Santa Monica in under an hour. Measure M is ushering in a massive transportation plan for the county and funding to support it.
“The number of places served by mass transit is going to more than double in the next 10 to 15 years. We’ll start having transit-oriented communities and people will start walking in those neighborhoods,” said Joshua Schank, chief innovation officer for Los Angeles County Metro.
But L.A. still has a Herculean task on mobility
There are so many good things happening in the City of Angels that it feels a little harsh to constructively criticize.
But one of those criticisms: Despite all the bike lanes in downtown and elsewhere – not to mention the increasingly excellent bikeshare system that ideally will continue expanding outwards from downtown – L.A. still feels very different than, say, Washington D.C. In the District, most drivers have come to expect other types of road users. In L.A., from my recent experience of biking and walking over the course of six days, the cars mostly rage past at significantly uncomfortable speeds. People on bikes are supported by stripes and sometimes green paint on the roads, but little else to prevent the creeping feeling of imminent doom.
Some of the ever-expanding LA Metro lines
Two, take the above-mentioned powder-blue Expo Line, most of which is above ground and offers good views of the passing neighborhoods. There is almost no transit-oriented development all the way to the coast. That will become necessary to get people out of their cars, and right now it looks like a major uphill battle since it’s almost all single-family households immediately adjacent to the line. I’m not convinced that the route was very thoughtfully or creatively planned. But then again, L.A. is pretty jam-packed with sprawling households everywhere, and there may not have been much else of a choice.
Three, there’s the Metro Red Line, which opened in 1993 and carries impressive amounts of passengers between Union Station downtown out to North Hollywood. Buses lines expand the transit system from all the stations, but those buses take an often-prohibitive long time. I disembarked at several Metro Red stations, but they are really spread far apart and are no doubt unattractive to the many people who have jobs near the halfway points between stations.
There’s another real concern that truly does speak more specifically to L.A. – and California cities in general – and that’s the shocking and sad degree of homelessness. Governor Jerry Brown was recently quoted saying that his state had succeeded at getting about 74,000 of the 75,000 people with mental-health problems released from prison. He noted that the new problem is that about 1,000 still remain behind bars and the rest are living on the streets because there is nowhere else for them to go.
This affects public transportation greatly. It’s no stretch to imagine a lot of people simply won’t ride transit because they’ve had uncomfortable or even unpleasant run ins with mentally-ill people. They were sleeping in every station I visited and riding every train I took, and sometimes this can add to the appearance of dirty or unsafe trains and buses. And compared to many systems around the world, L.A.’s transit is indeed dirty.
Some of L.A.’s expansion of transit will need to address these issues to truly make a dent in car culture. As it stands, according to the L.A. DOT’s general manager Seleta Reynolds, “You can get to 12 times as many jobs in L.A. by car as you can by transit. Not having a car can be tough in L.A.”
How to make a mobility future happen in L.A.?
Perez-Estolano again made a great point: that people will need to almost be tricked into using “transportation options” without knowing they are having to do so.
“There’s power in allowing people to be engaged and participating in things when they don’t even know they’re being engaged,” she said, citing the CicLAvia events that close iconic and busy Wilshire Boulevard for hundreds of thousands of people only on bikes and foot.
And don’t forget about marketing. If there’s one thing we can count on L.A. doing well besides miserable traffic, it’s entertainment. The city is the best transit advertiser in the U.S. – albeit with a ridiculously low bar, but still notable.
Riders enjoying the Metro
“It’s really a lot about marketing,” agreed Gabe Klein, the former leader of both D.C. and Chicago’s DOTs. “In Copenhagen, you get off the plane and there’s a giant picture of a bike and how to use your transit card.”
All transit agencies could be better at making the case for whatever positive claims-to-fame they might have. Klein noted that it’s faster to use Divvy bikeshare for most trips in downtown Chicago than to use the train. Jay Walder of Motivate said the same is true for Citi Bike over yellow cabs in Manhattan. Those notable claims, along with many others, should be better publicized.
No matter where you live, one thing does remain the same. “People are lazy,” said Sean Rhodes of the design firm frog. “People bike in Copenhagen not because gas is $10 a gallon or for health. They bike because it’s the fastest way to get around. As that becomes the situation, you’ve still got to be safe and comfortable, and it’s got to be super easy. We’re energy conserving and lazy and that’s just the way it is. We’re not going to change that.”
Rhodes added another funny sidenote: “People in Denmark say they don’t exercise. But they ride eight miles to work. We need to make the healthy sustainable options the default.”
A train arrives at the movie-themed Hollywood/Vine station
L.A. is no great transit city yet. The percent of people who take transit in L.A. is equivalent to the percent of people who do so in Buffalo, N.Y., said Gina Trombley from Bombardier Transportation.
But again, the city’s leaders may truly end up setting the agenda for the rest of the country on how to reimagine a world of transportation options that will align with the needs of young and future generations. Many of the speakers at LACoMotion expressed the right mindset – pretty simple stuff, really – as they get started.
“I hope there are mobility hubs where people congregate and create happy neighborhoods,” Reynolds said.
Photos by Paul Mackie/Mobility Lab.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Sightseeing around L.A. on public transportation

My Sunday in Los Angeles (see my Saturday on the Sunset Strip here) started with a nice little bike ride down to Chinatown from my hotel to get bánh mì sandwiches for breakfast. This is something I could probably do just about every breakfast, especially if it were as good as this restaurant in a back alley with a really friendly mom-and-pop working called Buu Dien at 642 N. Broadway. The owner said they make everything fresh and he took great pride in the two coffees he made for me.

To walk off my full stomach, I strolled the 20-minute walk back to my hotel to catch a little football before going out for more adventures on the day. With the California sun shining brightly, I enjoyed looking at all the municipal buildings, some of which were made extra famous by the O.J. Simpson shenanigans of the 90s.

There were lots of other beautiful buildings in my hotel's district, on a high hill in downtown, such as the beautiful modern L.A. Philharmonic structure.

After watching some NFL action, I was off to explore the LA Metro subway, which is a pretty good option to at least some locations around the city. And it often beats staring at traffic or riding in the Uber and Lyft cars whose drivers here all seem to have not gotten the memo to lay off the man cologne.

I took the Red Line two stops up from MacArthur’s Pershing Square to get out and walk at Wilshire/MacArthur Park. I didn’t know anything about MacArthur Park except for the Donna Summer song. But now I know that it’s a filthy place bathed in pigeons everywhere, dirty sidewalks, and at least one dude peeing very much in the wide open. That said, it’s well worth the walk, with the L.A. skyline in the background and the palm trees dotting the park and its large body of water.

One reason why the Metro clearly becomes less of an option for people is that the stops are pretty darn far apart, even for someone in relatively good shape. My walk from the Westlake/MacArthur Park station to Wiltshire/Vermont took a solid 20 minutes, and the latter station itself is tucked back in a corner off the street and down a long elevator.

I recently read that this is one of the most walkable stretches in L.A., which is true, since there are wide sidewalks and good crosswalks. But I also sense the bar here for "walkable" is set rather low.

But the trains themselves, once they arrive and get going, other than the serious homeless problem everywhere, including at transit hubs, are really fast and pleasant.

I decided I wasn’t going to miss the sun set and what better place to go than Sunset Boulevard? As I exited the Vermont/Sunset station, I noticed a sign for a 50-cent DASH bus to the Griffith Observatory and Hollywood sign, so I jumped on it (they run frequently).

The lines to and from the observatory are outrageous, but the public-transportation combo of train and bus was actually probably the best way to go. I was in and out in an hour or so. And then it was off to take the train back to my hotel to pack it in for the night on another action-packed day in L.A.