Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cerrillos and St. Francis Bike Trap

The New Mexican had an article a few days ago about NM-DoT putting up the bicycle vs. railroad tracks hazard sign (see below) because more than a few cyclists are crashing hard upon crossing the tracks at Cerrillos and St. Francis. This intersection is a huge issue, given that it basically bisects much of Santa Fe and carries a tremendous amount of traffic.

Basically, even under more optimal conditions, you have to maneuver yourself into position in order to cross railroad tracks with your front wheel as close to a right angle to the tracks as you can. That means taking the lane and using it to optimize your approach to the tracks, esp. on Cerrillos. As one commenter, an LCI, alludes below, and I concur, its not even likely that a considerable number of cyclists (most?) can do this maneuver at this intersection, given the angles and heavy traffic. See the comment at the end.

At any rate, take a look at the video.But this is one intersection where I would be wise to advise many cyclists that unless you are pretty sure of yourself, to dismount and use the ped crossings, at least if you are headed Southwest (?)on Cerillos or turning left from Cerrillos to St. Francis headed south. Or, if turning left, delay the left as long as possible to minimize getting your wheel parallel to the tracks.

How to Properly Cross Rail Tracks on your Bike from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

Note: Click on the pictures below to see them at full size.

Looking North on St. Francis (sidewalk and road). It doesn't look too bad. The tracks are not parallel, but not a terrible angle.


West on Cerrillos (sidewalk and road) and its bad. The tracks cross at a very high angle to your approach. The two left turn lanes are to the left (in the pic) of the RR crossing X sign. It looks to me like the sidewalk is just as dangerous--you have to veer left to avoid that idiotically placed sign, thus steering close to parallel to the tracks. And I'd bet anyone a beer that the sign planted in the middle of the sidewalk is an ADA violation. Someone needs to call a lawyer.

The new Beware of Death sign.

Although this sign is good as far as it goes, i.e., that it alerts cyclists to use caution, NM DoT needs to do much better. This sign does not show cyclists how to deal with the situation or how hazardous it is. Nor does this treatment take into account that NMDoT and the RailRunner have made cycling through the heart of Santa Fe hazardous. But if you have to ride here, consider dismounting and crossing the worst parts of this intersection as a pedestrian. Or, check out the sign and the technique shown in the video I embedded, courtesy of Streetsfilms and the Cascade Bicycle Club. I doubt their sign is MUTCD compliant, but not sure this sign is either.

Maybe the long and convoluted discussion of a bike-ped specific crossing (see below for examples of discussion) should actually get some serious consideration. The bottom line is that for cyclists, this critical intersection is unsafe at any speed.

 St. Francis-Cerrillos crossing: Too late to do it right?
Plans for Overpass Go Badly

11-17-10 Addition: Comments from Tim Rogers, BPE consultant with the Santa Fe MPO and former NM BPE Coordinator:

1.  Khal: I did not see any comment about the NEW signs blocking the sidewalk, which they do, particularly on approach to the skewed sidewalk crossing. I have commented to Tom Trowbridge of NMDOT on this.

I have stopped many times to watch cyclists use the sidewalk and have seen two go down plus one close call - by someone who had been verbally warned by me. I have seen or heard about ambulances at the spot picking up cyclists more than once. All four members of the "car-free family" have gone down there. I have heard additional testimony to BTAC and anecdotal evidence such as what you have posted. So there is no doubt in my mind that the actual number of persons who have gone down on the sidewalk alone is in the hundreds. There could have been a huge improvement through City's current at-grade trail project by creating a perpindicular link to this sidewalk, but it seems as far as the city is concerned it is NMDOT's problem. I live six blocks from here and unlike the designers, I will have to use whatever is built.

I will make the claim that I know AASHTO bike guidelines and AASHTO and FHWA pedestrian safety design better than anyone in the state. Unlike anyone involved in this project, it is 100% of my professional focus. I have crossed this intersection on foot or bike more than a thousand times. I have visited the intersection with national pedestrian safety and trail design consultants. I asked both the city and the consultant to be part of the design process over a year ago and never heard back until there was a final design for an at-grade trail that does not address this, takes a circuitous route to avoid having to purchase right of way, and includes no improvements at ADA ramps or crosswalk.  Apparently the intention is for cyclists to dismount to cross, which is not an approach support by any guidance.

There is a lot that could be done very easily if the city chose to discuss options. To have been excluded from this process and then see that they have broken ground with this design frankly turns my stomach.

2.  Believe it or not the skewed rail and the overpass/underpass are almost completely unrelated except where this at-grade connection is concerned.  The overpass/underpass is for the Acequia trail to the north, not for ped or bike movements at the nearby intersection which there is no way it can logically serve in any convenient way.  So it only solves skewed rail issue for acequia trail users, who should never really have had to cross the rail in the first place.  The overpass/underpass would never be recommendable if there were no direct trail alignment for it to serve.

That said, the at grade connections to signalized crosswalks at St F and Cerrillos are needed in any case (with or without grade separated trail crossing), which I have always advocated for (with improvements) and that is what the city is building right now (albeit not with any improvements to road crossing.

Skewed rail on sidewalk is an easy fix that city is missing by pursuing the easiest (for them) at-grade trail alignment, which is well north of the tracks where the grade separated alignment should be someday, along acequia and then along St. Francis Dr. itself, which is not only longer than the direct rail line route but longer than the existing hazardous sidewalk route.

If they had thought of this segment as the Rail Trail, which it is, they could have pursued ROW to hug the north side of the rail line, the most direct alignment to the intersection, and then they would have created an easy opportunity to create a pedestrian link directly across rail to sidewalk so people using that sidewalk could cross the rail at a perpindicular angle.  All using the same existing concrete pad that is part of the sidewalk today.  (That reason alone should be enough to simply purchase the ROW which is useless to owner - NMSD - anyway.)  They would be creating a superior alignment to get to the crosswalks from the Railyard Park, with no rail crossing, which is an indirect solution, AND they would be able to directly solve the sidewalk problem for bikes, strollers, wheelchairs etc., for anyone that still happens to use the sidewalk.  This concept has been on our web site since last December (see , Bikeway Planning Presentation, Inset B) all of which I would have been happy to work with city and/or consultant on in the year-plus since I offered my assistance.

OK, then they could eradicate the remaining sidewalk between the rail and the intersection so that there would be no skewed sidewalk crossing anymore.  That in fact MIGHT in turn create some space for pavement along Cerrillos Rd. to create a kind of escape area so that on-road cyclists could cross the rail at a perpendicular angle too, as shown on your blog and in AASHTO guidance on this issue.  That concept is complicated by the impending right turn onto northbound St. Francis but in any case it is well beyond the scope of anything that the city or its consultants might have thought about under the current project.

If possible, that all would at least address two out of three of the skewed rail problems, but especially the worst, the sidewalk.  The third problem, which is harder to address, is for eastbound cyclists on Cerrillos.  Although NMDOT put up a sign on northbound St. Francis Dr. too, the approaches to the rail on St. Francis Dr. and on crosswalks along St Francis Dr. are far less significant because the skew is really not so bad there.  I have not heard of anyone falling because they were riding on or along St. Francis Dr.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Alaskan Senate Candidate recruits GIs to act as guards and arrest reporter covering his rally

 You know, members of the armed forces are not supposed to be acting as civilian police, as per the Posse Comitatus Act. But that doesn't keep underpaid GIs from making fools of themselves and of the Army.

Guards at Alaska Miller event included active-duty soldiers
"...Was Joe Miller required to bring a security detail to his town hall meeting Sunday at Central Middle School in Alaska?  That's what Miller, the Republican Senate candidate, told two national cable news networks Monday in the wake of the arrest by his security squad of an online journalist at his public event.
But the school district said there was no such requirement made of Miller -- he only had to provide a hall and parking lot monitor, and advise participants of school district courtesy and food rules.
Meanwhile, the Army says that two of the guards who assisted in the arrest of the journalist and who tried to prevent two other reporters from filming the detention were active-duty soldiers moonlighting for Miller's security contractor, the Drop Zone, a Spenard surplus store and protection service..."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Elections vs. Investigations

Carol Clark's article about the "stalled" investigation of County Administrator Tony Mortillaro just adds to the frustration many of us are probably feeling about government. We are accustomed to believe the worst about elected and appointed officials and are all too often rewarded by being right. But investigations can also result in vindications.

The current headlines, occurring just weeks before election day, can't be helping any of the incumbents.

The citizens/taxpayers of this county deserve to know whether their government is behaving itself. Tony Mortillaro deserves vindication from these innuendos if these charges are groundless.

Council needs to light a fire under this thing and get it done. Get Tony back from California and get on the stick, guys.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bob Edwards: Children Without Papers

If you ever doubted that we need to reform the mess called our immigration laws, read Bob Edwards' compelling story about Isabelle Castillo. Brought over illegally by her parents when she was six, she graduated H.S. with a 4.0 and college, sans financial aid, magna cum laude. Now working as a waitress due to her lack of papers, but going public with her call to reform the system.

Frankly, I'd trade half a dozen lazy native sons for every one illegal with an intellect and work ethic like Isabelle's. We would be a better nation for it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Thomas Friedman: Are we the new Rome?

Sure looks that way...go read the whole thing.

"...A friend in the U.S. military sent me an e-mail last week with a quote from the historian Lewis Mumford’s book, “The Condition of Man,” about the development of civilization. Mumford was describing Rome’s decline: “Everyone aimed at security: no one accepted responsibility. What was plainly lacking, long before the barbarian invasions had done their work, long before economic dislocations became serious, was an inner go. Rome’s life was now an imitation of life: a mere holding on. Security was the watchword — as if life knew any other stability than through constant change, or any form of security except through a constant willingness to take risks.”..."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

In Delaware, keep your hands where they belong in the voting booth

I guess Delaware doesn't have any real problems to deal with. there is a critical socio-economic issue for the US Senate to deal with.

Thanks for the um...heads-up to the Media Consortium.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Letting a crisis go to waste...

Crisis Past, Obama May Have Missed an Opportunity

"...What all of this means for the country is that, even if Mr. Obama ultimately succeeds in stabilizing the economy, he faces a political climate that seems to be growing more hostile to the scale of public investment that many economists say the nation needs to keep pace with foreign competitors.

And that, you would think, is the very definition of a crisis having gone to waste."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Well, at least its books they are burning...again

A Gainesville Christian church is going to commemorate 9-11-2001 with a Koran burning. The bad news is that even though this is a small church, it is getting international attention all out of proportion to its size and worrying Gen. Petraeus, who is concerned that U.S. troops in the Middle East might become convenient targets of retaliation.

I guess the good news is that while our extremist Islamic brothers and sisters elsewhere are stoning people to death, our extremist Christian brothers and sisters here are just burning sacred texts. So far, anyway. But it seems misguided to me and to Professor John Esposito as well, to blame the Koran for the nutjobs who carried out 9-11 just as it would be nutty to blame Christianity for Timmy McVeigh's truck-bomb ride to infamy in Oklahoma City.

The First Amendment gives us the right to be nutty as fruitcakes, as long as we don't hit anyone over the head with the fruits of our kitchen labor. Gen. Petraeus, however, is worried about some of his men taking extra potshots over this. He is certainly wondering if the good Pastor Jones is going too far.

Sigh. Hasn't humanity traveled down this road before? The picture above was taken in Berlin in 1933. Acknowledgments to Wikipedia and the NY Times.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Robert Reich: Why the economic smoke and mirrors won't work

In today's New York Times

"...The national economy isn’t escaping the gravitational pull of the Great Recession. None of the standard booster rockets are working: near-zero short-term interest rates from the Fed, almost record-low borrowing costs in the bond market, a giant stimulus package and tax credits for small businesses that hire the long-term unemployed have all failed to do enough.

That’s because the real problem has to do with the structure of the economy, not the business cycle. No booster rocket can work unless consumers are able, at some point, to keep the economy moving on their own. But consumers no longer have the purchasing power to buy the goods and services they produce as workers; for some time now, their means haven’t kept up with what the growing economy could and should have been able to provide them...

(snip)...THE Great Depression and its aftermath demonstrate that there is only one way back to full recovery: through more widely shared prosperity. In the 1930s, the American economy was completely restructured. New Deal measures — Social Security, a 40-hour work week with time-and-a-half overtime, unemployment insurance, the right to form unions and bargain collectively, the minimum wage — leveled the playing field.."

Go read the whole thing.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

And another oil platform goes up in flames......

Oil Sheen Seen Near Damaged Platform in Gulf of Mexico

The mile-long sheen was spotted hours after an explosion on the offshore oil platform on Thursday, the Coast Guard said.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Twilight of the Bombs

Richard Rhodes last book is out. Here is a review in the LA Times by Tim Rutten. Here is one in the NY Times. Here is the conclusion from the Rutten review:

"...In the end, Rhodes' conclusion is that the only safety in a nuclear age is an age without nuclear weapons. How that entirely unreasonable aim can be achieved in an unreasonable world is a difficult proposition. Rhodes speaks to it with great eloquence in his conclusion, which is essentially that of W.H. Auden: "We must love one another or die."

I wish I were an optimist on this one.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What is Afghan for Ap Bac?

Sigh....why do I think I am reading Neal Sheehan's book all over again?

"...On January 3,1963, several American war correspondents approached General Paul D. Harkins to ask what he thought about the battle the 7th Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) Division had just fought at a village named Bac...They learned that the fighting had ended the day before, and that it had not been a success. 'It was a miserable…performance,' said the American adviser to the 7th Division, Lt. Col. John Paul Vann..."

KABUL, Afghanistan — "...An ambitious military operation that Afghan officials had expected to be a sign of their growing military capacity instead turned into an embarrassment, with Taliban fighters battering an Afghan battalion in a remote eastern area until NATO sent in French and American rescue teams..."

Monday, August 2, 2010

Four Deformations of the Apocalypse

Four Deformations of the Apocalypse

By David Stockman*, in the New York Times

"IF there were such a thing as Chapter 11 for politicians, the Republican push to extend the unaffordable Bush tax cuts would amount to a bankruptcy filing. The nation’s public debt — if honestly reckoned to include municipal bonds and the $7 trillion of new deficits baked into the cake through 2015 — will soon reach $18 trillion. That’s a Greece-scale 120 percent of gross domestic product, and fairly screams out for austerity and sacrifice. It is therefore unseemly for the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, to insist that the nation’s wealthiest taxpayers be spared even a three-percentage-point rate increase..."

For a local version of this disaster that is unfolding, see Greg Kendall's latest op ed, posted in the Monitor and on the Los Alamos County Views.

* David Stockman, a director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan, is working on a book about the financial crisis.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

While the Senat dithers, the algae burn...

This just in from VOA and Dalhousie University. Global warming now blamed for a precipitous drop in oceanic algae. And while the algae burn, the U.S. Senate dithers.

Rather than repeat a rant here, I'll direct you to the LA Bikes site for some comments.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

If we wanted more Cheney, we would have voted for more Cheney

From the Washington Post:

White House proposal would ease FBI access to records of Internet activity

"...The administration wants to add just four words -- "electronic communication transactional records" -- to a list of items that the law says the FBI may demand without a judge's approval. Government lawyers say this category of information includes the addresses to which an Internet user sends e-mail; the times and dates e-mail was sent and received; and possibly a user's browser history. It does not include, the lawyers hasten to point out, the "content" of e-mail or other Internet communication...To critics, the move is another example of an administration retreating from campaign pledges to enhance civil liberties in relation to national security. The proposal is "incredibly bold, given the amount of electronic data the government is already getting," said Michelle Richardson, American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel. "

As Kevin Drum said in Mother Jones, "...You know, if I'd wanted Dick Cheney as president I would have just voted for him...."

With a tip of the hat to Patrick O'Grady, who posted the picture above earlier today.

When will we stop getting fooled again?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Film credits: Economic gain or corporate welfare?

Today's Monitor has a glowing story about the film industry bringing money into Bombtown and frankly, it made a good case for us locals seeing some ca-ching land in our cash registers. But what is the balance sheet in the give and take between film industry money spent here vs. tax credits given away to the film industry? I Googled to find out, and found this:

from The New Mexico Independent:
"...Citing a 2008 study of New Mexico’s film industry subsidies, Los Angeles Times business columnist Michael Hiltzik Friday questioned California’s own $100 million-a-year tax credits for Hollywood film productions, calling them “corporate welfare.” The study showed that New Mexico saw only 14 cents in returns for every dollar it spent on film production tax credits...A competing report commissioned by the NM film industry in January 2009 by the New Mexico Film Office found a much more positive economic impact than the report cited by Hiltzik. Conducted by Ernst & Young, the study concluded that the program had earned $0.94 in additional tax revenue for each $1.00 paid out in incentives based on the 2007 value of present and future year tax receipts and the 2007 value of state film production tax credits..."

But with each state competing to provide more lavish tax breaks to the film industry than the next, one has to ask if this is a race to the taxation bottom. Neale Peirce says this in Citiwire: "...The raw bottom line is this: Subsidy-induced film activity may have glitz and surface appeal. But nationally, it’s a washout — film production lured from one place to another is classic “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” At the end of the day the country’s no less prosperous. The net economic impact is simply to enrich the filmmakers at the expense of state taxpayers. Even a Cecil B. DeMille would blush."

Or, I would add, the country's no more prosperous, and the state that "wins" is getting the least return for its efforts. Like most free lunches, this one is probably too good to be true. If New Mexico is such a great place to film, we shouldn't have to give away the store.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Daniel Schorr, 1916-2010

As reported in today's New York Times. Click on the picture from the Times for the link to the story..

As my wife said today, we will miss that voice of reason in a sea of insanity and madness.

I first paid attention to Mr. Schorr during the Nixon Administration where he covered that tumultuous and dangerous time in our history. Mr. Schorr gave one of the annual lectures at the Univ. of Rochester and left us in awe. He was a giant among men and among journalists.

Dan was a protege of Edward R. Murrow. I guess it is therefore appropriate to say "Daniel, good night and good luck". I am sure where Dan is going, he will not need the luck. Shalom, Daniel.

Great set of pics of Dan Schorr's life here on the NPR site.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Tuli Kupferberg, Poet and Singer, Dies at 86

From the NY Times Art Blog: "Tuli Kupferberg, the poet, singer and professional bohemian who went from being a noted Beat to becoming, in his words, “the world’s oldest rock star” when he helped found the Fugs, the bawdy and politically pugnacious folk-rock group, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 86 and had been a longtime resident of Greenwich Village...."

Not all their stuff was as political as Kill for Peace. For example.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Finally, the Supreme Court makes a 2nd Amendment decision

Much has been written, some good, some bad, some even worse, about the "original intent" of the 2nd Amendment. "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.". Past Supreme Court decisions have somewhat skirted the issue of whether the 2nd Amendment is as basic a citizen's right as, say, the 1st Amendment's guarantees of free speech and freedom of (and from) religion rather than a right only granted in the context of the needs of states to staff militias (i.e. the National Guard). This Court's decision, combining both the 2nd and 14th Amendments, did not dance around the subject, albeit the decision was along the usual hidebound and increasingly pathetic ideological lines.

Seems to me that if the writers of the Constitution didn't want to grant citizens the right to bear arms, they wouldn't have explicitly granted it to the "People". They might have granted states the right to form militias, or granted members of those "well-regulated militias" the right to keep and bear arms. The writers instead granted the right to the People and seemingly treated the militia and the people as one and the same for good reason, i.e., a fundamental mistrust of standing armies under the control of strong men. Therefore, the writers granted universal right and responsibility to the People to be armed for the mutual defense and to presumably act responsibly.

Tony Heaton, with whom I sometimes have common ground, adds this on his own blog:

"...I don't think (the Founding Fathers) would and I've seen none of their writings that would suggest that ( letting localities or states circumvent the 2nd Amendment) was their intent. Their writings are quite the opposite. Thomas Jefferson said, “No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.” During Virginia's Convention to ratify the Constitution, George Mason, Co-author of the Second Amendment was asked “What is the militia?” His answer, “It is the whole people. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them.” Patric Henry said, “The great object is that every man be armed.”and “Everyone who is able may have a gun.” Thomas Paine said, “The supposed quietude of a good man allures the ruffian; while on the other hand arms, like laws, discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as property. The same balance would be preserved were all the world destitute of arms, for all would be alike; but since some will not, others dare not lay them aside... Horrid mischief would ensue were the law-abiding deprived of the use of them.” Alexander Hamilton, “The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed...”

To those who think this Court made a bad decision or that the 2nd Amendment is now so outmoded as to be ridiculous in an age of standing armies and highly trained "warfighters" armed with high tech gadgetry, one still has to beg the question to assume the People no longer have the right to bear arms. For those who want to limit the public's access to guns I think the path forward is obvious: amend the Constitution. We passed and then rescinded a Constitutional amendment installing Prohibition so there is precedent for adding restrictions to our lives and later changing our minds; indeed, the Constitution is a living document. But its getting increasingly ridiculous to argue with extreme convolutions of logic that the 2nd Amendment's rights to individual gun ownership is not a fundamental part of the Bill of Rights, which was after all added to the Constitution to guarantee individual rights, not the rights of well-regulated militias. Disarming an increasingly unruly underclass points to more serious social and political problems than the presence of guns, whose rampant misuse in our cities seems a symptom of a far more serious disease.

I have grave doubts as to the validity of any argument that erodes our Bill of Rights. Meanwhile, as the justices said, no right is absolute, and this decision does not mean that state, local and Federal government is unable to put some restrictions on gun ownership or to restrict some classes of weapons entirely. I doubt that the Founding Fathers original intent was that citizens keep a short 12 pounder loaded with grapeshot handy to repel burglars. What the ruling means is that like prior restrictions on speech, the burden of proving that a restriction is reasonable is on the government to argue compellingly for its validity rather than on the citizen to fight off onerous stupidity. Thus, any bill on its face has to be compelling. Banning or restricting weapons that have no legitimate private use can still be argued successfully as some of the amicus briefs argued. Indeed, some of these amicus briefs cite past restrictions on handguns. But the bottom line is the 2nd Amendment is safe. For now.

Past Constitutional arguments on hate speech and other speech-limitation cases may provide useful guidance too. And, of course....

Monday, June 7, 2010

When the dead pelicans come home to roost

In a way, this Gulf of Mexico drilling disaster brought to us by BP is the best thing that could have happened to humanity, although as this link to the Washington Post makes obvious, it sure does suck to be an animal. It may wake us up.

Far too few pay attention to the slow degradation of the environment as we pave and crap up the landscape, or to the centuries-slow progress of our anthropogenic contributions to climate change. We pay attention to pies in the face, or to stories Rod Serling would write and this one is a doozey: we drill a hole in the earth, have the drill ship blow up, and a wounded Gaia bleeds out uncontrollably, poisoning the Gulf (and potentially, parts of the Atlantic Ocean) in one big science-fiction gulp as we watch in helpless awe. Rod could not have written a better story than this one regarding the politics of our oil addiction and we are still waiting for the last set of commercials (i.e., the yapping of politicians and other blame-mongers) to end so we can see how the episode itself ends.

Interior's Ken Salazar was recently reiterating that the government was going to "keep a boot on the neck" of BP until the Gulf well blowout was sealed shut.

But who is going to put the boot on the American public's neck? We usually don't see traffic congestion in Los Alamos, but its the rule in our nation's major population centers, as reported by the Texas Transportation Institute: In its annual report (see link) the TTI tells us that:

  • The overall cost of traffic congestion (based on wasted fuel and lost productivity) reached $87.2 billion in 2007 – more than $750 for every U.S. traveler.
  • The total amount of wasted fuel topped 2.8 billion gallons – three weeks' worth of gas for every traveler.
  • The amount of wasted time totaled 4.2 billion hours – nearly one full work week (or vacation week) for every traveler.
Without the voracious and often wasteful appetite we have for oil in our transportation sector there would be less reason to drill in deep water and certainly more reason to be prudent in how we do so.

The League of American Bicyclists held the 2010 Rally in Albuquerque this past weekend. Amidst the rides and beer, there was the more sombre moment of giving the eulogy for Gail Ryba, who was posthumously awarded the League’s Phyllis Harmon Award for Outstanding Volunteerism. I counted Gail as a good friend as well as fellow advocate, and giving that eulogy was especially hard. I nearly lost it a couple times, having to stop and steady myself in mid sentence. Amidst the tribute to Gail and to put her work in an immediate context, I spun some of the yarn about the faux Rod Serling episode you see above.

Gail’s work as the President of the Bicycle Coalition of New Mexico was but a small part of her full time paying job as a super-advocate and policy planner for sustainable living. A Ph.D. in Chemistry from Caltech and several years as a fuel cell researcher at Sandia National Lab turbocharged her thinking. She was also the Exec. Director for the NM Coalition for Clean and Affordable Energy and was a leader in the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club of New Mexico. Gail quit her paying job at Sandia about a decade ago so she could put all her considerable talents into making the world a better place.

Gail would probably tell us that there is nothing too surprising about this BP mess given our consumer-driven priorities; as long as mineral extraction is key to our energy-intensive economy, mistakes will be made. Of course, these "mistakes" will be discussed in the passive voice, too. Failure is an orphan. Especially so when profit is detached from cradle to grave costs, as it so often is in the energy sector as elsewhere.

In the final analysis, we might as well own up to our own role in the problem along with holding accountable the asshats at Buggered Petroleum. We want our gas and we want it cheap. Unless hit in the face with these disasters, we believe what is convenient to believe: that government should not regulate and that offshore drilling and other risks are worth taking. Well, the dead pelicans have come home to roost. Unlike theories about global warming, this disaster is hard to miss. Unless, of course, one is actively working to avoid seeing the problem. Here 'tis. And this was a month ago.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Millions for a jailhouse, but not one cent for bus stops?

I don't really agree with the Tea Party movement or with Ordinance 555, but I do see the point of those who are souring on Government. Sometimes our own Council's priorities leave me perplexed.

You would think that with GRT money rolling in since LANL has been privatized, we could at least afford to build real bus stops or paved platforms along the outlying routes. Instead, bus patrons routinely have been left standing in the mud all winter and spring, often balancing on non-horizontal mud surfaces (since an obscure County ordinance seems to have prohibited more logical bus stop locations) while these patrons are trying their off-level best to make the Atomic City Transit a success.

Meanwhile, we are building a jailhouse second to none on the best real estate in Downtown BombTown and an allegedly expansive Municipal Building. The message seems pretty clear: if you want a roof over your head, you are better off running for Council or getting arrested. Last thing you want to do is be waiting for the bus.

We need to get the little things right, too. Not just the big ticket items.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dispense with Ordinance 555

Fran Berting has written a very good essay in the Monitor explaining how Ordinance 555 might not be a particularly good idea from the standpoint of managing large projects. I suggest it as required reading for anyone having an interest in this issue.

I particularly agree with Fran's admonition: "...think a minute about what you are asking for..." as this proposed change in County governance may well make many large projects unmanageable in terms of real world issues that are involved with any major public expense. Not to mention, how many citizens are willing to put in the time needed to get on top of these public works projects at an early state.

Go read Fran's essay.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Happy May Day, you mutts!

Some of us still remember when our answer to the Marxists was the union movement. Been a while, hasn't it? Well, here is a tip of the beer stein to all the UAW brothers and sisters who helped put a decent roof over my head, paid the taxes that kept our schools the best, and who build some pretty damn good cars, too. Now if they only built some pretty damn good bicycles...

(p.s. Not to forget, here is a tip of the mortarboard to my former UHPA colleagues at the Univ. of Hawaii from a former UHPA Board member)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"Drill baby, drill..."

How about a little more conservation and exploration safety stirred into the mix, rather than a rampant effort to pump every drop of oil out of the ground in a reckless manner? Its sad that we deplete our resources and ravage the coastline so that we can drive our SUVs to the corner store cheaply and easily.

So next time someone tells you to "get off the road" when you are riding to work and humping it through the Diamond Drive construction zone as fast as a bicyclist can, thank them for this mess:

Gulf Coast Towns Brace as Huge Oil Slick Nears Marshes

And of course....funny we have not heard from these folks lately.

If you are into weird, this one is cool.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Your papers, please....

Before I ramble on, you should simply listen to my cousin Lori and her friend Chuck, who make up Pacific-Buffalo and who are way more articulate than I am.

Those are Lori and my maternal grandparents at the 2:02 mark.

A still unsolved murder blamed on drug dealers, increasing insecurity about America no longer being "leader of the free world", and Federal partisan gridlock on immigration reform have contributed to Arizona passing a highly controversial immigration law. I don't envy Arizona, as it is Ground Zero for our immigration crisis and must sit and watch Washington fiddle while the border sizzles. Still up for grabs is whether this draconian bill will pass judicial muster, but until that is resolved, its passage has created quite an uproar.

The 15 minute Bill Maher clip here points to some of the underlying insecurity leading to these misguided efforts to save America from those illegals by locking them up--yeah, whatta bitch. You will now have to raise bail to get those same people outa the hoosegow to do your yard work. Unfortunately, what we really need to do is save America from our own bad habits: spending ourselves into debt and therefore finding ourselves at the mercy of our creditors, concentrating on short term gain rather than long term stability, and ignoring our own nation's strategic vulnerabilities. Americans need to look in the mirror to find the cause of those problems. Nah. Its easier to find scapegoats.

Back to the Arizona law, the NY Times tells us that the law "...requires police officers, “when practicable,” to detain people they reasonably suspect are in the country without authorization and to verify their status with federal officials..."

Now, barring racial profiling or a crystal ball, how the heck do you suppose the police will reasonably suspect you are an illegal alien? Sounds like open season on people who look different to me. Better stay out of Arizona if you don't fit the profile of an honest to god American...whatever that is. I'll try to stay clear of AZ until reason prevails.

What I keep wondering is how much of this is political posturing? I don't think most of my fellow citizens are as wacky as they look below.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Geological Society of America Position Paper on Climate Change

Position Statement.

Decades of scientific research have shown that climate can change from both natural and anthropogenic causes. The Geological Society of America (GSA) concurs with assessments by the National Academies of Science (2005), the National Research Council (2006), and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007) that global climate has warmed and that human activities (mainly greenhouse‐gas emissions) account for most of the warming since the middle 1900s. If current trends continue, the projected increase in global temperature by the end of the twentyfirst century will result in large impacts on humans and other species. Addressing the challenges posed by climate change will require a combination of adaptation to the changes that are likely to occur and global reductions of CO2 emissions from anthropogenic sources.

(go to link above for full text)

Colin F. Peppard Responds to Does Transportation Need A Sustainability Measurement System??

Colin F. Peppard Responds to Does Transportation Need A Sustainability Measurement System??

Sunday, April 18, 2010

CMR-R in One Thousand Years?

From Wikipedia: "Ziggurats (Akkadian (transliterated): ziqqurat, D-stem of zaqāru "to build on a raised area") were massive monuments built in the ancient Mesopotamian valley and western Iranian plateau, having the form of a terraced step pyramid of successively receding stories or levels..." Photo of the reconstructed facade of the 4100 year old Great Ziggurat of Ur, near Nasiriyah, Iraq

If you read this morning's Monitor, you will notice Greg Mello and Paul Gessing questioning the price tag and usefulness of the CMRR Nuclear facility, which in light of new seismic requirements, has skyrocketed to 4.2 billion dollars and what Greg and Paul tell us is an earthquake-proof (perhaps asteroid-impact proof as well), 225,000 cu. yard concrete foundation.

I am not a civil engineer, but I can't help wonder whether we as a nation really need such a massive structure to safely handle plutonium. What are the relative risks imposed by spending so much on this one project vs. spending on other things we really need to do with what is left of our national treasure?

The pubic's overhype with the risks of all things nuclear, including CMR-R, and Government's potential willingness to spend any amount of Joe Sixpack's money on disaster-proof construction, may be leading us to ignore nuclear's real usefulness: not as bombs, but as a carbon-lite power source. That application is increasingly unlikely to be cost effective since we have convinced ourselves we need to budget so much money to over-engineer nuclear safety requirements. Save us, dear regulator, from an unlikely accidental nuclear release so we can have a far more likely head-on collision with our driving while distracted neighbor on unregulated roads, where we kill over 30,000 Americans per year. Indeed, we suffer more than a worst-case Chernobyl a year due to crashes on our roads, most of which are preventable. But instead lets worry about Plutonium.

Indeed, at least some out there think nuclear power is a cost-effective idea. A NY Times article makes the claim that Middle Eastern nations and the IAEA think it is cost-effective for the Middle East to sell oil abroad and run their own nations using nuclear power: "...When prices are high, gulf countries would prefer to sell their oil at great profit rather than burn it for power. A study done by the International Atomic Energy Agency and a group of gulf states concluded that nuclear power made sense for the region when the price of oil exceeded $50 a barrel. Today it is above $80, and with the world economy gradually recovering, many expect it to go higher. .." So why there but not here?

We need to consider alternative energy sources in order to lessen our carbon footprint and reduce our vulnerabilities to the near-future economic impacts of peak oil and anthropogenic climate forcing due to CO2; nuclear power is one such alternative. Interestingly, I tried the Nature Conservancy's Carbon Footprint Calculator. It ranked our household "above average" for the US with 71 tons of CO2 per year, most of that home energy use. Simply by "moving" my household to New York State, all other things being equal, that number dropped to 45 tons. I suspect it is all our coal-fired power! NYS uses hydro and nuclear as well as fossil power.

Nuclear power, albeit one alternative to fossil fuel burning, is not a solution by itself to our energy gluttony; uncritical addition of yet one more power source to the mix simply adds fuel to the fire in which we will one day cook ourselves. We have to throttle back on our high energy lifestyles by employing extensive efforts in energy conservation and take advantage of a range of options including wind and especially solar in places like the Sun Belt. Indeed, for many of us in the Sun Belt, a quite valuable expenditure of a few billion dollars would be to create a home-grown industry in conservation and green energy so we can better insulate our homes and outfit the equivalent of a moderate size city with solar power, including photovoltaic roof panels. Industrial production may need stationary sources, as may cities in parts of the Gloom Belt such as Western New York where I grew up. In-situ residential power production, where feasible, can reduce the number of these stationary sources and their not-so-hidden social costs.

CMRR-NF at over four billion bucks is only of long term economic value if it saves more than four billion down the road, i.e., if we put in place solid international protocols towards disarmament and non-proliferation and use CMRR to help ramp down the bomb race, solve some of the problems posed by the disposal or re-use of nuclear waste, and to secure and recycle the world's legacy of weapons into reactor fuel. Not to mention, that idea will only work if we develop real international programs that eliminate the reasons nations and other actors seek to develop WMD to begin with--megalomaniac leadership (read Iran) and political and economic unfairness across borders that drive folks to war as a solution. Of course, one may be begging the question to assume we need such a large, overbuilt facility at all if we stop building bombs. Or frankly, even if we do continue to build them, the Defense Board and over-worried citizen opinions notwithstanding.

As far as weapons, I increasingly think that nuclear weapons are the 21st Century's analog to the Maginot Line or Battleship Row: very imposing and powerful in their own right, but likely to be increasingly irrelevant in defense of our nation as technology evolves, and eventually only of high value to terrorists and rogue nations. Of course, even battleships were in use for decades after Pearl Harbor, but in a limited role. Will be the same for nukes--as a deterrent to a fool. Hopefully, never as a warfighting weapon. We need to move on. I think cyberwarfare is the weapon of future choice.  Google cyberwarfare and you will see evidence for its coming ascendency. Its fast, cheap (i.e., you don't need a six billion dollar building to fiddle with it), effective, and has less long term collateral damage than radioactive fallout. Here is Richard Clarke's spin on the future international conflict: cyberwar.

In the final analysis, if we humans don't start cooperating rather than figuring out more innovative ways of fighting, and if we don't get out in front of the curve of the crossing patterns of energy (and food, and water) supply vs. demand, we are cooked. A Jared Diamond style collapse is not entirely out of the question, either for the U.S. or more likely, for our tightly interconnected world. Perhaps in a thousand years or so, the only human artifact left in New Mexico from the U.S. era will be the ruins of CMRR-NF looking like the Ziggurats that came before it, stared at by primitive, post-industrial wanderers. I hope not, but we don't have much time to think about it.

(with acknowledgments to Greg Mello for the Ziggurat analogy and for a lively discussion of this subject)

Edited 5-2-2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Change is hard....

In this video, New York City Transportation Commisssioner Janet Sadik-Khan offers some important pointers that we need to consider in Los Alamos if we are ever to get off our collective okole and move transportation into the 21st Century and beyond shuttling traditional cars on and off the Hill.

From the web site above:

Want to change the game on transportation in your city? Here’s Sadik-Khan’s workplan for you:
  1. It starts with strong leadership from the top with a long term vision of the city.
  2. Then you need a policy framework to make it reality. “The public needs to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. What’s the plan?!”
  3. You need a team of great people, and the institutional capability to deliver.
  4. Move fast, don’t get bogged down in endless debates, and don’t be afraid to experiment. The results will speak for themselves. (I’m reminded of Jaime Lerner’s dictum: “If you want to make it happen, do it fast.”)
Point 4 seems relevant in Los Alamos. From what I have seen, we can talk anything to death here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mark Fiore wins Pulizter for political cartoons

Congrats to Mark. And some of this stuff hits close to home. Check out the NarcoMex, Inc. and Gringo Guns videos.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

And now, for an example of bipartisanship...

William Perry, Sec. of Defense under Bill Clinton, and George Schultz, Sec. of State under Ronald Reagan, wrote this very balanced piece about arms reductions and the underlying need for looking beyond the present discussion on reducing nuclear weapons. Amazing what you can accomplish by putting your heads together. Now if Congress would ever catch on....

How to build on the Start Treaty

"...New Start is the first tangible product of the administration’s promise to “press the reset button” on United States-Russian relations. The new treaty is welcome. But as a disarmament measure, it is a modest step... Perhaps the treaty’s greatest accomplishment is that the negotiations leading up to its signing re-engaged Americans and Russians in a serious discussion of how to reduce nuclear dangers..."

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Round and Round we go...

The Transportation Board meeting in White Rock on Thursday was taken up with a presentation and discussion of how to upgrade/modify NM-4 through White Rock to make it more people-friendly in light of County plans to develop both sides of the highway. Many in the community, and apparently in DOE and NNSA as well, continue to be skeptical of roundabouts. So the White Rock Implementation Committee downplayed their use, even though no one seems to know why they should not be used. Indeed, the Transportation Board members supported their use here. So here we go again--round and round in the same circles of questioning, explanation, and skepticism.

There is plenty of information on roundabout safety out there. Here is an FHWA link. Kinda surprising that we have to keep going "round and round" with these discussions.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

North Mesa Mutts: Rationale

We decided to start this blog so we can bark and howl without offending the team that runs the LABikes blog, or otherwise compromise the intent of the LA bike site. Someone has to speak for the purity of the plateaus and canyons, right? Those humans are way too compromised to tell the story straight. You gotta go to the dogs to get the real deal.

Is Los Alamos to get "State Department Store"?

"...The most famous GUM*... a large store
in Kitai-gorod of Moscow, facing Red Square...."

I find it rather interesting that on a County Council dominated by Republicans, we are still having arguments, albeit from a single councilor, about County Government mandating that we have a Big Box store here in Bombtown. But even discounting that one emphatic voice, the overall tone of the conversation continues to be government managing private enterprise. Is not the free market supposed to decide these things? Shouldn't the county just sell the land and let private enterprise decide how to develop it? Unless, of course, we want to put up a college or other public institution.

Well, Comrades, if Council acts on turning Trinity Site into retail of its choosing by brute force, I think the taxpayer will end up footing the bill when it fails. We wouldn't be the first community to end up with a white elephant for a mall.

As imperfect as capitalism is, the theory is that customers vote with their paychecks amidst the free market of goods and services provided by those willing to build an enterprise. Well, that's the theory, anyway. The (limited) role of government is to facilitate commerce impartially through fair tax and zoning policies, to oversee a level playing field (i.e., antitrust laws, interstate commerce laws, and the like) and to collect taxes and maintain the public's infrastructure and services.

Government can and does regulate commerce when it is in the national interest or in the interests of public safety and health, but those roles are limited and Government should not otherwise dictate shopping choices for us.

Shopping has changed considerably in the last decades and not just on the Hill. With a fast freeway to bigger, more centralized market centers that can support Big Boxes, and with Internet shopping at our fingertips, the role of the local store in a small community has been redefined. I am sure that if Big Box, Inc. thought it could turn a buck here, we would see their CEOs breaking down the doors to Council Chambers rather than County Government having to ask. But maybe government knows best on this one?

Perhaps if gas prices climb precipitously, people will shop closer to home and it will make sense for more companies to invest in some concrete and steel up here. But until it makes economic sense for those companies to build here, I won't hold my breath. Why? There isn't enough market to support the considerable overhead that a concrete and steel store needs to raise (see Richard Hanneman's post) and there is a lot of competition down in the bigger population centers in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

So if the simple act of freeing up more land brings down costs and brings these stores to town, that's great. If not, and if you want nearby Boxes, move to a big city. But if you want to enjoy what makes Los Alamos a small and special place in its cul-de-sac by the Jemez Mountains, you may have to deal with the limited local shopping. At least until, via changed consumer spending habits and a little more freed up space on the hill, that changes.

Personally, I would like to see Trinity Site used for building an enterprise we could use to sell stuff to others rather than as a convenient shopping mall built on a one-horse economy. Los Alamos is utterly dependent on Uncle Sam's largess. With the nation floating on borrowed money and with Congress utterly dysfunctional, that scares me and maybe it should scare you.

That's my $0.02, anyway. YMMV.

* from wikipedia: Main Department Store or GUM (ГУМ, pronounced as goom, in full Главный Универсальный Магазин, Glavnyi Universalnyi Magazin) is a modern name for the main department store in many cities of the former Soviet Union, known as State Department Store Государственный Универсальный Магазин, Gosudarstvennyi Universalnyi Magazin) in the Soviet times.