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The City Council is about to pass a bill that would allow alternate side parkers to move their cars back into a parking space once the street sweeping truck has passed. (Currently, they need to remain with the car during the entire street-sweeping period as indicated by signs.) This way, rather than sitting and waiting, often with their engines running, will waste less gas and lower air pollution, allowing them to move back to the curb extends an additional courtesy to car owners who already park free on city streets. It will save them time, money and bother.

Why do car owners have the right to regularly occupy pieces of public real estate? The answer is simple, of course: follow the money. Some parkers, I know, are people on tight budgets who need cars to get to family members' jobs and schools.

In July, we will only remember the small corners of beauty from the winter of 2014.

Sidewalks: Who's Responsible?

After a series of snowstorms, pedestrians pioneered trails through the sludge accumulated at most streetcorners.

While streets are cleared by the City, shoveling sidewalk snow is the responsibility of property owners. Building owners are required to create a sidewalk path wide enough for pedestrians, wheelchairs and strollers. A few new, high-end buildings have underground heaters that melt the snow away, according to a recent NYTimes article, but most sidewalks are cleared by the grueling (occasionally fatal!) job of shoveling.

Every pedestrian (and most of us are pedestrians at some point of every day) knows that some owners do a great job of clearing (albeit with the earth-unfriendly use of calcium chloride), while others leave barely passable walkways or do nothing. (Strangely, an uncleared patch of sidewalk can sometimes be easier to traverse than one that has been cleared and turns to black ice!) A winter walk in Manhattan is a trip across the treacherous unknown.

In addition to the unpredictable status of sidewalks, pedestrians encounter impediments at every corner where snow accumulates.

It is unclear who's responsible for the corners, where curb cuts disappear under pools of melting slush and where pedestrians have to scale mountains of ice and ford pools of melting snow.

A grateful pedestrian posted this sign after being helped across "hills of snow and ice."

A Slippery Slope: Blizzard Edition

New York City: It wasn't easy getting people around during and after a recent January snow storm. Worse than the messy sidewalks, were the subway stairs.

During two recent days of non-stop snowfall, many commuters encountered free sledding at their subway station entrances, despite this from the MTA web site: "During a heavy snowstorm, tracks on outdoor subway lines must be cleared often, the third rails kept free of ice and outdoor steps at all 468 subway stations shoveled and salted."

While outdoor tracks and third rails were apparently attended to (the subway got me where I needed to go, and I am grateful), I saw no evidence that "outdoor steps" had been "shoveled and salted" at two heavily used station entrances I passed through. Instead, accumulated snow turned to ice and stairways become ski runs. Unsuspecting commuters invariably slipped at the top step. If they were lucky, someone below them was gripping the rail and could stop them from cascading down the stairs.

Getting around was hard enough for the able-bodied, but how many more fragile people simply stayed in?

Is it safe to walk?

Some drive, others take taxis, many take buses and the subway, but every New Yorker is a pedestrian. Too many walkers are cut down by speeding vehicles. Two people, a child (who was crossing with the light on the zebra lines with his father) and a man in his 70s, were killed this way on the same day in January on Manhattan's UWS. A few days later, a young woman who was jaywalking was killed.

Imposing lower speed limits, enforcing current or new limits more effectively (by expanding the number of traffic cameras or by actually citing drivers on the spot), installing more traffic calming features, and improving driver education are among the many suggestions offered to reach the goal of zero traffic deaths.

It seemed odd that the first reaction of the NYPD was to go after jaywalkers while errant drivers regularly escape police attention. Parking violators are cited because they bring revenue to the city, while drivers who commit moving violations go free.

Posted on Manhattan street corners near dangerous intersections

A friendly reminder to pedestrians from the NYPD....Or is it? While the emblem and acronym of the police are on this randomly posted sign, its origin is not (I am told by people in the know) an official missive.

"It's the Vehicles Dummies! When did you last witness a pedestrian run down a car?"

This response to the "NYPD" signs appeared briefly on a few UWS street corners.

It will take more than the recently painted "LOOK!" signs to make crossing the street a truly pedestrian act. Admittedly, most of these stenciled signs at selected crosswalks are larger than this one. They were painted in by the City to remind cell-phone hypnotized pedestrians to pay attention to where they are walking.

Bollards protect fire hydrants. How about people? Insufficient attention is being paid, perhaps, to bollards, trees/planters, and other dividers that separate defenseless peds on the sidewalk from racing, 2-ton motor vehicles.
Trees, parked cars, and even parking signs act as sidewalk buffers. NYC's new bike lanes are another important way street design can calm traffic. They add an additional layer of protection for sidewalks and help slow cars and trucks by narrowing traffic lanes.

Ironically, a stationary car can act as a life-saving buffer for pedestrians. (Once, in California, our own parked car kept a drunk driver's out-of-control vehicle from ramming up onto the sidewalk (where I was standing) and severing my right leg.)

Nothing, however, protects peds as they venture out onto crosswalks other than their own good eyesight, acute hearing, physical agility--and luck. There are efforts now underway to build street features that better protect pedestrians when they cross a street (bulb-outs/neckdowns that reduce the distance between streetcorners, raised crosswalks, etc.), though many of these still might not have prevented these recent deaths. Until the city makes it harder to drive irresponsibly (through better driver education, improved automobile technologies, better traffic flow planning, as well as more enforcement of driving laws), people will continue to die.

Better Living Through Density: It's Complicated

City Skyline at Dawn, Seen in a New Light

Like many a high-profile politician, the often romanticized water tanks that dot the Manhattan skyline and supply water pressure to buildings over six stories, have been revealed to hold unsavory secrets. As a recent New York Times investigation revealed, the water in poorly maintained tanks is populated with E coli, parasites, viruses and other microorganisms as well as dead animals and other debris. So far, no negative effects on public health have been identified. One would think, however, that the yuck factor in this revelation would end the romance between the tanks and the public. It may be that, just as the image of certain roguish politicians not only survives but is heightened by scandal, knowing the dirt about the waters above may only add to the tanks' edgy profile.


The demand for big gas-guzzlers continues to grow in China, while Ford introduces a 2015 pickup truck whose lighter build raises its fuel efficiency to 30 mpg. Sadly, the latter is not likely to be a long-term solution for the former: both promote more driving, more fossil-fuel vehicle production, and more auto infrastructure (highways, roads, parking, gas stations, etc.) and distract from efforts to find alternatives to cars.

"Transportation is the center of the world!"*

Transportation is indeed at the center of two current coastal controversies:
George Washington Bridgegate and San Francisco protests against private, luxury tech-company commuter buses using public muni bus stops.

*Robin Chase, co-founder of ZipCar

Transportation: A West Coast Public/Private Battle

In a reversal of pre-Internet-age Bay Area patterns, San Francisco is now a bedroom community to suburban Silicon Valley where many tech companies have built expansive campuses. Recently, protesters expressed their anger about luxury shuttle buses that use San Francisco Muni bus stops to pick up and drop off well-paid high-tech Silicon Valley employees. A short-term agreement was reached in early 2014 and the private shuttles will pay to use city bus stops for an 18-month period.

Other private businesses that use public space include the intercity bus businesses (such as MegaBus, Peter Pan, Bolt Bus), that connect downtowns in the Midwest and on the East Coast. These companies save money by not having to operate their own stations while clogging public streets and sidewalks and adding to wear and tear.

Defenders of shuttles and intercity buses point out that their service lowers transportation's carbon footprint by taking cars off the road. But shouldn't these companies should pay their fair share of taxes or fees for the use of public infrastructure? Perhaps this money could go to funding expansion of public transportation--or of affordable housing, so that cities like San Francisco and New York don't become enclaves of only the rich.

Design Notes: Vacation Rental

Rental mug. Would you dare to drink from it?

This chipped mug, with its Halloween theme and over-the-top and impractical design, was pulled from the owner's attic and used to equip a vacation rental condo.

Tsk, tsk.

I am all for reducing how much we send to landfills by repurposing items we already have (see the resources at Zero Waste Home), but it's important to discern an object's appropriate destiny. In this case, we'd all be better off if this mound of clay were allowed to return to the earth.

Elkhorn Slough on Monterey Bay, Central California

Moss Landing Power Plant and Elkhorn Slough

If I had a telephoto lens, you would see here a raft of otters. Sea lions, harbor seals, cormorants, pelicans and other sea life are also drawn to the Elkhorn Slough estuary.

On a recent evening, we watched two young people approach a beached sea mammal that was ashore to groom, heal, or rest. The couple had crossed a barrier with multiple, multilingual signs informing them that it is against the law to "touch, harass, or prompt" a marine animal. A friend who works with the Marine Mammal Center based in Sausalito says that getting too close can harm bipeds, too: sea mammals weigh hundreds of pounds, can be aggressive, and their bite can lead to nasty infections. Endangered, ill, or stranded sea mammals are sometimes rescued by experts and volunteers of the Marine Mammal Center and held at a transfer station located on property lent by the power plant pictured at the upper left.

The PG&E-built power plant, visible from many vantage points on Monterey Bay, was completed in 1950 and now operates on natural gas. It is a significant provider of electricity, but there are ongoing concerns about its environmental effects on adjacent Elkhorn Slough, an estuary that attracts and supports a rich array of bird and sea animal life. The plant draws sea water for cooling, a process that kills sea life both large and microscopic. State agencies are requiring a phasing out of this water intake system. Water flowing out from the plant is also a concern: The plant was recently purchased by LS Power Group, which will pay Moss Landing Harbor District $50,000 a year to dump heated water into the bay.

Pacific Sunrise

The start of another warm, clear day on the California coast. A late 2013/early 2014 weather pattern brought summer-like weather with the downside of continuing drought.

Silicon Valley Shopping Mall Dressed Up for the Holidays

A Christmas tree broadcasts music into (appropriately, for car-dependent Silicon Valley) a parking lot.