Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Stephen King Offers a New "Bazaar of Bad Dreams"

I have a soft spot for Stephen King. Reading his books always take me back to my teen years, when I devoured almost everything he had written up to that point. (See my opinion of his best books.)

His short stories are some of my favorites, so it's exciting to dig into his new The Bazaar of Bad Dreams.

It begins with an old story he conceived at age 19. He wrote it but claims he lost it due to doing too much acid. While recently driving down I-95 in Maine, he remembered the story and rewrote it. "Mile 81" starts with a young kid named Pete who bikes to an abandoned rest area along the interstate. After looking at pictures of nude women hanging on the walls and drinking found vodka, he falls asleep.

What happens within shouting distance during his nap is a horrible chain of events starting with an abandoned, muddy station wagon that lures motorists from the road to the rest stop to help. Bad mistake.

5 out of 5 stars.

Next we have the Raymond Carver-inspired "Premium Harmony." About halfway through, I realized I had read this in, I believe, The New Yorker many months ago. It's a minor story about a middle-aged couple that argues all the time. She doesn't like him smoking and he doesn't like her eating Twinkies. Then everything changes when she goes into a convenience store to get a purple ball for her niece.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

In "Batman and Robin Have an Altercation," no superheroes are involved, Even better: an Alzheimer's patient and a big tattooed Texas roughneck are involved. When a road rage incident gets out-of-hand, the unexpected happens and the police are too late to help. This is a touching story, especially to any grown adults who have had to care for dying parents. And especially if they have done it by regularly taking them from the care facility to Applebee's for lunch.

4.5 out of 5 stars

I was lulled to sleep for a few pages of the short "The Dune," about an old man who paddles out to a small island in Florida frequently. He calls a fellow lawyer to revise his will after seeing disturbing things written in the sand, which he has actually seen in this same spot ever since he was a boy but never told anyone until now. The ending is positively wicked and abruptly makes the story one of Kings's best.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Rounding out the first third of the collection (I'll save the rest for later when my Stephen King withdrawals set in) is probably the best of the batch. Offering a Shawshank-like prison scene and a life-spanning story of one man's battle with a devil who appears in little-boy-with-a-beanie-propeller-hat form, "Bad Little Boy" will almost certainly be opted into a movie or TV show in the future. There are many points that offer spine-tingling chills. And, after all, what more do you want in a King story?

5 out of 5 stars

I'll be back with more about this book later.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My 7 Favorite Albums of 2015 + 60 More

This was far and away my favorite album of 2015:
Courtney Barnett

  • Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

This is far and away my second favorite album of the year:

  • Bully - Feels Like

And, what the heck, 3 through 7 are:

  • Christopher Owens - Chrissybaby Forever
  • Wilco - Star Wars
  • Mac Demarco - Another One
  • Robert Pollard - Faulty Superheroes
  • Twerps - Range Anxiety

The "Best of the Rest," in mostly no particular order (not because I'm lazy, more because there is just so much music being released all the time that this is one year I was unable to keep up to date):

Second Tier

  • Alpaca Sports - When You Need Me the Most
  • Astronauts, Ltd. - Mind Out Wandering
  • Best Coast - California Nights
  • Belle and Sebastian - Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance
  • Car Seat Headrest - Teens of Style
  • Cheatahs - Mythologies
  • Desaparecidos - Payola
  • Jason Isbell - Something More Than Free
  • The Juliana Hatfield Three - Whatever My Love
  • King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - Paper Mache Dream Balloon
  • Laura Stevenson - Cocksure
  • Mac Mccaughan - Non-Believers
  • Mikal Cronin - MCIII
  • Moon Types - Know the Reason
  • Palehound - Dry Food
  • Ricked Wicky - I Sell the Circus
  • Ricked Wicky - King Heavy Metal
  • Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin - The High Country
  • Yo La Tengo - Stuff Like That There

Third Tier

  • Albert Hammond Jr. - Momentary Masters
  • B.C. Camplight - How to Die in the North
  • Beirut - No No No
  • Ben Lee - Love is the Great Rebellion
  • Built to Spill - Untethered Moon
  • Chris Stamey - Euphoria
  • The Decemberists - Florasongs
  • Destroyer - Poison Season
  • Diamond Rugs - Cosmetics
  • Ducktails - St. Catherine
  • The Foxymorons - Fake Yoga
  • Iron and Wine and Ben Bridwell - Sing Into My Mouth
  • Jeff the Brotherhood - Wasted On the Dream
  • Joanna Gruesome - Peanut Butter
  • Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly
  • Lou Barlow - Brace The Wave
  • Low - Ones and Sixs
  • Modest Mouse - Strangers to Ourselves
  • The Monochrome Set - Spaces Everywhere
  • My Morning Jacket - The Waterfall
  • Parquet Courts - Monastic Living
  • Robert Forster - Songs to Play
  • Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield - Sing Elliot Smith
  • Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell
  • Surfer Blood - 1000 Palms
  • Swervedriver - I Wasn't Born to Love You
  • Wavves - V
  • Wire - Wire

Best Reissues

  • Led Zeppelin - Physical Graffiti
  • Velvet Underground - Loaded
  • Paul McCartney - Pipes of Peace and Tug of War

Biggest Letdown 

  • Tame Impala - Currents

Singles That Are Hard to Argue Against

  • Carly Rae Jepsen "I Really Like You"
  • Dawes "Things Happen"
  • Madonna "Ghost Town"
  • Rihanna, Kanye West & Paul McCartney "Fourfiveseconds"
  • Snoop Dogg and Stevie Wonder "California Roll"
  • The Weeknd "I Can't Feel My Face"

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Five Ways TDM Is Invisible (and Why That Should Change)

Originally published by Mobility Lab.

Transportation demand management is like an alarm clock.

It’s the under-appreciated mechanism that, once set into place, plays a significant role in changing your routine and habits over time. The alarm clock does the dirty – largely invisible – work of taking you from a restless, grumpy night of sleep into the sun-shining, coffee-scented, iPad-reading promise of morning.

In TDM’s case, this means getting people from schlepping through their daily drive-alone habit to waking up to a world of better transportation that exists for them, from bikeshare to carpooling to transit.

Average Americans almost never consider altering their transportation habits. TDM is the path to changing that.

1.) TDM encourages

When we think about bicycling, for example, most of us skip right to the most memorable part: feeling free with the breeze in our faces and, in the city, breezing efficiently past the dozens of cars backed up at every light and stop sign.

What we forget about are the little ways we were educated and changed our minds from simply taking the car for every trip – as we had done every day since biking became “uncool” in our circles of friends along about high school or thereabouts – to consciously replacing a good number of car trips with bike trips.

Mobility Lab estimates that BikeArlington’s outreach work shifts about 300 Arlington, Va., residents from commuting by driving alone to commuting by bicycle each day. Within the region, only Washington, D.C., has a higher share of residents who bike to work most days. 

Further, bicycle commuting increased an impressive 40 percent in Arlington between 2012 and 2013, according to the most recent U.S. Census American Community Survey.

“This year, we’re trying harder than ever to reach the 60 percent who have concerns, but would bike if those concerns were addressed,” says Tim Kelley, BikeArlington’s operations manager.

What Kelley is talking about is TDM, but he has no reason to ever say that it’s TDM.

2.) TDM informs

One of TDM’s greatest tricks is how it works to integrate into established business and policy processes. Most local, regional, and state TDM government agencies and transportation management associations focus on going directly to employers and developers to help them with transportation information that meets their particular needs.

There are guidelines, regulations, tax breaks, and all kinds of other hurdles that make sense for transportation experts to centrally handle for everyone else.

The Oregon Department of Transportation has introduced the excellent idea that calling this kind of information something as wonky as “TDM” really doesn’t help anyone.

This is because TDM funding is often tied to congestion mitigation and air quality, but everyday travelers care much more about “total travel time, travel time reliability, and having a mode that allows them to be flexible in the times they travel,” according to research by TransitCenter. The Oregon DOT has redesigned its statewide plan by rebranding the term to “transportation options” to be more relevant and thus more effective at informing Oregonians.

In addition to actual programmatic – and publicly “invisible” – work, such as informing employers of pre-tax commuter benefits, TDM agencies and TMAs need to spend more time on rebranding, communicating, storytelling, and marketing.

3.) TDM happens behind closed doors

TDM happens mostly behind the scenes, often making it very difficult to tell compelling stories about the programs companies institute to make commuting easier for their employees.

Some of the greatest business successes are simple things, like Boeing being named a “Champion” by Arlington Transportation Partners due to the corporation’s local initiatives, which include adding showers and secured and enclosed bicycle parking for bicyclists, and priority parking for shared-ride commuters.

But these kinds of things have proven to not get a lot of mainstream press, and “installing showers” is not particularly newsworthy beyond the internal office newsletter. So learning these kinds of best practices typically happens through repeated TDM-agency outreach.

One of the best ways to discuss TDM for those interested (or, often, mandated) is to couch it within other, trendier terminology. TDM is a connecting thread across transit-oriented development, complete streets, walkable activity centers, integrated corridor management, and livability, sustainability, and Vision Zero initiatives.

4.) TDM creates incentives

Non-automotive transportation options are at an unfair disadvantage in the United States. Our policies rain down a flood of incentives aimed to get you in your car alone.

TDM tries to look after the little guys: bicycling, walking, transit. There is a lot of work ahead to get the powers to be to understand that actually incentivizing these things rather than parking and cars is what we have to reimagine in the face of overpopulation, pollution, poor health, and the rest of our societal problems.

A great example is the Georgia DOT program, Georgia Commute Options, which, according Atlanta NPR affiliate WABE, “offers free commute options for residents and employers,” compensating them with cash and prizes to ultimately eliminate nearly a million vehicle-miles traveled each day in Atlanta.

5.) TDM changes our minds

It’s all about behavior change, which is tricky. But the best TDM programs truly do focus on moments in people’s lives when they will be making the most major changes. If a new company is moving to town or when people are purchasing new homes, those are key times when TDM experts can influence travelling behavior. Once that new resident locks into driving alone every day from her new home across the city to work, a major opportunity has been lost.

A big part of this that leaves TDM practitioners dangling is that public transportation infrastructure – like subways, buses, bikeshare systems, and good sidewalks – needs to exist. Without them, a TDM practioner’s job becomes a lot more difficult and is limited to options like vanpools, carpools, shuttles, and teleworking.

We still don’t understand fully all the best ways we’ll inevitably need to reduce our collective car trips and make traffic jams less onerous. Part of the question is the transportation services themselves, and part is people’s perception of what is available or convenient or cool. They don’t know what they don’t know.

Social media could already be playing a huge role in helping quickly spread information about positive trends in transportation. And we already know that social influence is a key factor to behavior change in transport.

New technology and software offer some of our greatest hopes to shift behavior. App-based ride-hailing systems like Uber and Lyft deserve a lot of credit for getting people to think differently about transportation through simple on-demand transactions.

It’s these kinds of shifting attitudes and habits that the alarm clock of TDM seeks to instill in sleepers on drive-alone commutes. But instead of setting it and having it run invisibly all night, TDM agencies should be finding all the best TDM data and communicating it through storytelling. This would help the science of transportation behavior become more visible to us all.

Photo credits: From top, Masroor Hamid, Flickr, Creative Commons; BikeArlington; Boeing; Richard Roberson, Flickr, Creative Commons; Dean Hochman, Flickr, Creative Commons.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Taking Fewer Car Trips is the Best Thing You Can Do for the Environment

This article originally appeared on Triple Pundit.

As leaders from around the world are meeting over two weeks in Paris to advance collective action on climate change, it’s heartening to note that transportation continues to gain prominence as an accepted path to cleaning up pollution.

In order to keep global temperatures below levels that are dangerous to humans, transportation offers both the curse of being the fastest growing source of CO2 in the world and the blessing that offers significant hope: if we can reduce the number of cars on the road and, more importantly, the number of total trips, then we can cut the 27 percent of greenhouse gases that originate from transportation vehicles in the U.S.

Perhaps most crucial of all to transportation goals than the UN’s Conference of Parties 21 meeting is the parallel launch in Paris of the Climate Summit for Local Leaders. Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, and Michael Bloomberg, just named the first-ever UN Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, lead the group.

City officials in attendance are learning from each other what can be done. For example, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is focused on the conversion of his city’s vehicle fleet to fossil-free fuel for a 50 percent reduction in GHG emissions. Olympia, Washington’s Mayor Stephen Buxbaum stresses the importance of consistent, public reporting of his city’s climate data as a way to show how action affects change. And Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf has ambitious climate goals, which include engagement with employers to reduce commute and business trips.

Determining which modes to promote from an environmental standpoint

This isn’t about granola-crunching hippies with anti-car axes to grind. Cars are great. They can be beautiful. They can be a life-safer, like when you’re running late and have three kids to drop off at three different play dates. They can even – every great once in a while – truly take you away for a refreshing, exhilarating Sunday drive that’s mostly free from stressful, annoying traffic jams.

But those kinds of uses are becoming less and less commonplace in a landscape that is simply becoming too crowded to continue incentivizing people to use personal vehicles for all their trips.

The environmental benefits are clear for fewer drive-alone trips. The University of California and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy recently found that pollution in cities can be cut 40 percent by 2050 by more people switching from cars to taking trains or buses, bicycling, or walking. That, in turn, would put about $100 trillion back into the economy.

How universities (and maybe someday schools) are on the leading edge

It’s no accident that traffic seems considerably more pleasant the moment you enter many university campuses around the U.S. They have been some of the most forward-thinking entities on designing spaces that make it easier to get from place to place. For example:
  • As part of its master plan, Lehigh University in Pennsylvania is moving car travel to the periphery to make it a more walkable campus.
  • Free transit passes, a campus bikeshare program, and implemention of a $150 charge for an annual parking pass have helped Westminster College in Salt Lake City reduce its drive-alone rate for students and faculty from 77 percent to 57 percent in just four years.
  • Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., added 40 electric golf carts to its fleet to improve the way employees move about campus.
  • The University of Kentucky’s Lexington campus offered a $400 voucher for students to use at local bike shops if they agreed not to bring a car to campus for two years.
And, as researcher Todd Litman notes, these programs (which he lists in detail at his website) are often “particularly effective and appropriate in such settings. It is often more cost effective than other solutions to local traffic and parking problems, and students and employees often value having improved transportation choices.”

One area, however, where much improvement is needed is at elementary, middle and high schools throughout the country. The fact that Mobility Lab published an article with this headline – Arlington County First in Nation with Program to Ease Public-School Staff Commutes – earlier this year indicates a big problem.

“Jurisdictions have typically focused on reducing car trips for students – like under the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, which gets them thinking about walking or biking to school. But the drive-alone rate for Arlington Public Schools staff is a surprisingly high 88 percent, compared to 53 percent for the county overall,” said Elizabeth Denton, business-development manager for Arlington Transportation Partners, which partners with APS in the ATP Schools Champions program.

“Staff at Discovery Elementary School, which is brand new and is also one of three net zero schools in the nation, is forming carpools and establishing walking groups. H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program started a student after-school bicycle club. Other schools are conducting staff commute surveys and working with Safe Routes to Schools to start walking schools buses and to incorporate bicycle and pedestrian education into PE and health classes,” she said.

Denton promotes the Champions program using environmental messaging, which she says is an important motivational factor for school staff. APS is a “green” school system, ranked third nationally in green-energy usage by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The research presents a compelling path forward

Two studies by Susan Shaheen of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California-Berkeley have the data that could prove influential in getting more people to understand the power of reducing car trips as a way to save the economy and the environment.

She studied what the effects of the growing trend in ridesharing would be. Two of the positive factors include potential monthly savings for those who change from driving alone to pooling in some way of $154 to $435 and a decrease in their contribution of greenhouse gases.

And just recently, the Natural Resources Defense Council announced an upcoming study with Shaheen’s group to determine the environmental impact of major ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft and whether they are indeed – as these companies have hinted – removing the total number of car trips from the nation’s roads. The recent launches of uberPOOL and Lyft Line, which hold great potential for reducing car trips, could help change a long-held societal distaste for riding in cars with strangers.

Sure enough, the Mineta Transportation Institute recently found that uber and Lyft may be reducing vehicle miles traveled in the San Francisco region by as much as 23 percent.
Whether those numbers add up or pan out over time, at this point, it’s safe to say that we have reached an important period when truly realistic “future of transportation” scenarios like autonomous cars, electric vehicles, ridesharing, and an on-demand economy present an opportunity – a glimpse in time – when we have a chance to redefine and reinvent the ways we travel and go about our business.

How can leaders in business and policy connect the environment and transportation for people?

Bike advocates have been buzzing about it for a long time now, but truly, one of the best things company leaders and politicians can do is call for better bike infrastructure. Once that happens, it will be much easier for all those Americans with bikes sitting unused in their garages for the past two years to gain the confidence needed to ride sometimes instead of drive.

Some of the most compelling recent evidence for how much bicycling matters to local transportation networks comes from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. It found that if cities work harder to get people to bike, carbon emissions from urban transportation could be cut 11 percent.

The growing trend of bikeshare systems in cities, towns, and campuses is a really easy way for business and city leaders to influence the transportation system and increase everyday satisfaction and happiness of employees and constituents. Since 2009, when there were virtually no bikeshare systems in North America, more than 50 cities and towns – from New York City to Birmingham, Alabama – have added them to their transportation networks.

Other low-hanging fruit includes:

Many business executives may fail to focus on how their workforce gets to the office, but any company – big or small – can reap economic and social benefits of promoting the kind of perks provided by LinkedIn and Facebook. LinkedIn has a handful of bikes on site that employees can take to meetings or even to their homes as a way to have healthier, happier workers and a cleaner environment. A similar program at Facebook – still in its early stages – actually helped increase the share of people who bike to work from 1 percent to 6 percent.

Further, streets present a huge opportunity for local transportation departments to do much more than simply patching potholes. With local governments strapped for cash and infrastructure getting worse, an easy sell for politicians ought to be: one mile of protected bike lanes is 100 times cheaper than one mile of roadway, and lots more environmentally friendly.

Transportation thought-leader Chris Hamilton notes, “If we make our streets more people centered, and if we help make it easy for more people to walk, bike, and take transit, our cities will be more prosperous. More physically healthy. More mentally healthy. And more green.”

Here are eight practical ways to help the environment through your personal transportation habits. What are other ways to help?

Photo: Metro riders board at NoMa-Gallaudet Station in Washington, D.C. (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab,