The AMP and West End Avenue: Will their marriage work?

March 3rd, 2014 | Living Well | 3 Comments »

West End Avenue needs help! The street doesn’t know what it is and seems to be making all the wrong choices.  Is it a highway, with highway speeds, or is it a city street, with all the amenities of places to eat, coffee to drink, shops to peruse, and sidewalks to stroll along. 

Right now, every day, the traffic on West End is unpleasant. It works somewhat as a highway in the early morning, with traffic lights stuck on green for the corridor and red for the side streets.  After that quick start as “highway,” West End becomes a city street, though an uninviting street, as the traffic lights switch to red, and traffic becomes congested and industrial. The sidewalks become speckled, but not packed, with humans, seeking destinations but not experiencing much pleasure along the way.   

The AMP, should it be approved, will transform West End making it better for bus riders, better for car drivers, and better for pedestrians.

Today, when the West End flow is light, or when the lights are locked on green (early morning, part of the corridor during mid- morning, weekends), the cars speed down the road near my home like it’s a raceway, too fast for a city and way too fast for a corridor with pedestrians and with activities (restaurants, parks, universities).  On the other hand, when the traffic is heavy and congested everyone in the cars looks grumpy, and the noise and pollution are loud and smelly.

One problem is that most of the drivers are driving empty cars, without passengers, and because they are alone they are trying to communicate with someone else (dialing, talking or texting) causing them to be distracted and a traffic hazard. On the morning commute, 80% of Nashvillians drive to work alone in their car. Think of all the weight (at least a ton) attached to one person, and also think of the empty seats in the car.

The center lane down West End is rarely used, but it gives the illusion of space, so people drive faster.  The buses bump along in the right lane with the traffic, slowing it down, stopping at most corners, and encouraging risky lane changes from the frustrated, aggressive drivers behind them.  Side streets between traffic lights are accidents waiting to happen as the drivers seeking to turn left out of those streets wait their opportunity to dart out into the center lane before merging with the fast flowing, or clogged, West End traffic. I’ve seen it. I’ve done it.

If the AMP gets built, West End will get better, much better. It will become a city street, and abandon its delusion of being a highway.  The car lanes will be narrowed and the center lane (or two) will become a green-way for buses.  As a result, the traffic flow will slow, making driving and walking (and crossing) safer and more pleasant for all. The dedicated bus lanes will serve as a divider, making the street into a more of a parkway than an industrial corridor, and creating fewer opportunities for collisions.  Left turns will occur where there is signaling, onto collector streets like Bowling, and not at every corner onto residential streets.

Most importantly, the redesign won’t result in a “suburban” parkway, designed only for fast moving cars. It will be an urban parkway, with the traffic flowing at a more measured pace, suitable for coexistence with walkers. There will be many more pedestrians in the mix, people walking the sidewalks as the noise level diminishes with slower traffic and more bus riders, and people standing at the center-of-the-road boarding stations, interacting, and texting (without driving) as they prepare to ride the bus to Vanderbilt, St. Thomas, or maybe to a downtown tower.  Drivers and walkers and bus riders will also see tourists unloading from out-bound buses, coming out to the Parthenon, to check out Vanderbilt, or to eat lunch or dinner at fine restaurants like Tin Angel. 

The corridor itself will change to include more high rises, more restaurants, and more sidewalk cafés.  With the AMP, property values will rise, so the restaurants will have apartments and offices above them. One kind of ugliness (surface parking lots) will go behind the taller buildings, or underneath. Transit also introduces the need for better walkability, and part of the money for the AMP (about $40 million) will target an improved walking experience for the bus rider, and anyone else who walks.

West End will become a different kind of street, allowing both people flow (on the AMP and in cars) and providing an ambiance of city life that is missing now. Rather than Cool Springs on steroids, we will have an urban parkway on tranquilizers (think the Hill Center shopping area in Green Hills with two travel lanes each way rather than one).

The AMP itself will be a delight. It will include frequent service, fast travel, comfort, sociability if desired, sheltered boarding stations, level boarding, and without the worry of slowdowns due to traffic congestion.  Every person who gets out of their car and onto a bus for getting around town improves the air quality for everyone else.  That person also creates an extra parking space at their destination, and takes up less space on the roadways they would have otherwise used. 

Downtown Nashville is becoming dense, and so is the West End Corridor.  If the density includes more walkable, more bikable, and more easily accessed “parks and recreation,” the density will be an asset.  Density is better served by sidewalks and transit than by parking garages and extra traffic lanes.  

The AMP will provide upgraded transit for the density, giving a bounce to the Belle Meade shopping area, to the retail corridor from 31st intersection with West End on in to Vanderbilt and towards downtown, and to the renewal occurring in the mid-town area. Centennial Park will become more of a destination, and more employees along the route and throughout Nashville will take the bus.

The AMP is only one part of the trend towards a new kind of city, but it is an important part and will give impetus to the downtown and near downtown revolution already taking place. Without the AMP, the West End Corridor will be diminished, still vibrant, but not what it could be.  With the AMP, and later with AMP extensions, West End can take the lead in the transition now rapidly occurring from “sprawl town” to “fun city.”

The risks of commuter biking (Post-crash investigation)

February 17th, 2014 | Living Well | 1 Comment »

Bike Crash update

Since my bike accident, I’ve had what appears to be a full recovery. To recap, I fell off my bike behind the Frist Museum (probably due to slippery stones and too strong brake application), hitting my head, resulting in a brief period of unconsciousness, followed by a longer period of dreamworld. My visit to the Vanderbilt ER lasted about five hours, and involved CT scans and stitches. For about a week I had what felt like a weight on my head, which then lifted.  My knees remained sore for about a month (bruised somehow), my head cut gradually healed, and finally a new  bike helmet arrived. The Vanderbilt Emergency services bill arrived in the mail ($7,500.00), but that amount was discounted down to negotiated rates by the insurer, and then covered except for the deductible and copay, so that my part (I think) was only about $250. By early January, I returned to riding my bike for short distance transportation, though with a promise to Kathleen to avoid “dark and stormy” and “slippery.”

The risk question

Ever since I began biking for most of my short trips around town (about 3-4 years ago), I’ve wanted to know the answer to this question: what are my risks on a bike? Is my idea of the positive health effects of biking overridden by the increased risks of injury or even death from bike accidents? Following my bike crash in late November, and feeling more nervous on a bike for a while, I returned to the question in earnest. After all, I have been a bike advocate, urging more people to ride. Am I doing the right thing? The following review of the evidence focuses on fatalities rather than injuries. (I’m saving that for another day.)

Safety in Numbers

One of the more interesting findings from studies of biking casualties is that there is safety in numbers.  The more cyclists there are, the fewer injuries and deaths per cyclist.  One study reported that in recent years there has never been an increase in bike riding that had been followed by an increase in bike deaths.  Deaths always remain stable or even declined.

There are several possible reasons for this finding:

  •  increased riding follows on improved, safer infrastructure
  • more bikes on the road make drivers more aware of bikes and more careful, and/or
  • more bikes on the road mean drivers are more likely to also be bike riders, and therefore more careful.

Infrastructure Helps: Portland, Oregon bridge crossing gives cyclists and walkers a safe place to cross into the city

biking-across-Willamette River

Biking in Portland, Oregon, demonstrates safety in numbers. During my visit there last summer, I counted 65 bikes in a 5 minute period coming off this bridge (around 8 am on a weekday morning). A bit later, 8:30, I rode across the same bridge inbound and saw the bike counter tick 1,435. This is one of four bridges going into downtown Portland, and all have walk/bike pathways.  During 2013 Portland had no bike deaths, and in the prior 10 years, there were three other years with no bike deaths.

As an advocate for biking, the safety in numbers hypothesis gives me some comfort that getting more people to ride bikes will not lead to more biking deaths, but there is still the question of how safe are we now, in Nashville or some other place in the US, where riding is far less common than in places like Portland, Oregon, or overseas in Amsterdam or Copenhagen.

In the US commuter cycling  is rare overall. About 0.6% of workers use the bike as their main commuting vehicle and the share is somewhere between 0.3% and 0.5% in Nashville (about 800 cyclists). The share rises to about 7 percent in Portland, and is much higher in some college towns. In the Vanderbilt and Belmont areas, the share is probably close to 5 percent. But, for the most part US motorists are not used to cyclists, and are not cyclists themselves, making biking more risky here than, say, in Europe.

The real danger is, of course, the motor vehicle. From the bike’s perspective, the motor vehicle is a weapon. Bike/motor vehicle crashes are a small part of overall bike accidents, but represent about 80% of bike fatalities. 

I didn’t find a study which told me what I wanted to know about risk in the US (there were good European studies), so I had to construct the relevant information from several sources.  My effort is summarized in the table below.

Risk of transportation fatalities

                                Annual    Risk per  Risk    

                        Deaths  risk per  100 ml    per ml

                        2012    ml persons miles     hours

Motor vehicle (all)     33,561      106.9     0.8      .32

  Automobile occupant   12,271       39.1     0.3      .12

  Pedestrian             4,743       15.1

  Motorcycle             4,957      742.0

Bicycle (adults)           884       10.8    11.7     1.17

  Commuter I**             335      151.7     4.6      .46

  Commuter II**             67       30.9     1.9      .19

  Commuter III**           708      187.7    11.7     1.17

British cyclists (all)     145                2.0     0.46

British cyclists (active)                             0.25

Dutch cyclist (all)                           0.7     0.12

Dutch car rider                               0.1     0.09

Note: The information in this table was developed from the following sources: (1) Malcolm Wardlaw “Assessing the actual risks actually faced by cyclists,” TEC, Dec. 2002, (2) The National Household Travel Survey, 2009, (3) A survey of North American Bicycle Commuters, William E. Moritz, Transportation Research Record, 1997, (4) the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Motor Vehicle Crashes, 2012, and (5) Center for Disease Control, CDC “Wonder” interactive data base, 2010.

** These represent three different approaches to calculating risks for commuter cyclists. Explanations follow in the text below.

Let’s sort this out. In 2012 about 884 adults were killed on a bicycle, while about 33,000 were killed in or by motor vehicles(Column 1). Large trucks were the most deadly kind of vehicle, with a 5.5 kill ratio: 5.5 third parties killed by the truck in crashes for every truck occupant killed and representing about 10% of the deaths. (Beware of those tractor-trailers.) It turns out that pickup trucks killed more cyclists than passenger cars. (Another vehicle to be wary of.)

The 884 bike deaths represented a risk of 10.8 chances in one million (column 2) of being killed among those who rode a bike at least once last year (about 35% of the adult population or 81 million adults).  The risk of riding in or driving a passenger car was about 4 times the bike risk (39.1 per million). For comparison purposes, the risk of dying of anything prematurely (before age 75) was about 3,712 in one million, and half of that risk involves cancer and heart (diseases in part linked to smoking, poor eating, and lack of exercise). The risk from firearms is about 100.9, the non-traffic risk from drugs about 172.2, and the non-traffic risk from alcohol about 105.5. The smoker risk trumps all. Among the 20 percent of the population who smoke, the annual risk of death was 9,161 in one million, or about 1 percent. The overall bicycle risk is tiny by comparison, but not zero.

Exposure is important

The average cyclist went about 92 miles in 2009 (9 hours at 10 mph), whereas the average car rider went about 13,000 miles (325 hours at 40 mph).  This leads to a risk per-mile (column 3) and per-hour (column 4) of exposure that is the reverse of the annual risk (column 2). 

The risk of bike riding is about 40 times the risk of car riding on a per-mile basis (11.7 versus 0.3 per 100 million miles).  The risk per hour, a fairer comparison, still indicates a risk ratio of about 10 to 1 (1.17 per million hours to 0.12).  Bike riding, then, is about 10 times more hazardous than car riding. However, since few people spend much time on a bike, the “annual risk” (column 2) favors cyclists.

But what about those urban bike commuters, who spend a lot of time on a bike?  I’ve taken three different approaches to that risk (Commuters I-III in the table).  I explain these in a note at the end of this column. Based on my assessment of the studies I reviewed, I think the average risk for the commuter cyclist today is somewhere between commuter I and commuter II, and may tilt towards commuter II where there is good infrastructure and more cyclists.

On a per-hour basis, commuter II is about 1.6 times as risky as riding in or driving a car, and less risky than the overall risk of motorized vehicles.  The motorized vehicle risk includes motorcycles (almost 5,000 of the 33,000 deaths) but also it includes the car or truck as a weapon: pedestrians and cyclists struck by cars and trucks.

Now take a look at the British Cyclists and the Dutch cyclists.  British active cyclists are in the same risk realm as the Commuter II estimate.  The Dutch, who are far more likely to ride bikes than Americans, have very low risks.  In Amsterdam (data not shown) bikes are used for more trips than cars, and are safer (fewer deaths) than cars, though the figure for nationwide deaths (in the table above) is slightly above Dutch motor vehicle deaths.

Managing risks

The estimates above are based on averages. My particular risks, whether in a car or on a bike, can be managed to improve substantially on the averages.  I can lower my bike commuting risk below the average by careful route choice (lightly traveled residential streets or where there are bike lanes), by avoiding rainy days, by not biking at night, by avoiding drinking and biking, by wearing a helmet, and by avoiding sinking into deep thought while biking. (The last caution is one of the drawbacks of cycling versus walking.)

For example, about half of all bike fatalities occur between 6pm and 6am (after dark). My perception is that most commuter-riding, by far, occurs during the day, suggesting a much lower risk from daytime riding on a per-hour and per-mile basis than the table implies.  (However, during the winter the daytime commuter can be caught in the early morning or early evening shadows.) Also, in about 20-25 percent of fatalities (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 2010), a possible causal factor was that the bicyclist was determined have a BAC of .08 or higher.  Individuals who lose their license due to a DUI may be forced onto bikes (no license required), but without having solved their drinking problem. There is also the drunk driver, and he (sometimes she) tends to be out late at night. 65% of traffic fatalities between 12 midnight and 3am involve impaired drivers (BAC>.08).

The Nashville Risk and an Example

In Tennessee, between 2005 and 2013 (inclusive) there were an average of about 6 to 8 bicyclists killed each year on the road. In Nashville (Davidson County) there were 10 cyclists killed over the past 11 years.  However, during the past 5 years, there has been only one cycling traffic death (in 2012).

That one death was a young man biking home from work around 9:30 pm. The following details come from the accident report.  He was hit from behind by a car,  with crash details suggesting the cyclist was towards the left side of the lane. There is some evidence the driver may have been texting or receiving texts at the time or during some time within a few minutes of the 911 call, though the text sent may have occurred before the accident and the texts received could have been ignored.  The driver claims he didn’t see the cyclist before hitting him and was not speeding at the time of impact. The investigating officers didn’t see a need to assess the driver (age 24) for alcohol or drugs. The driver did not leave the scene. People riding in the vehicle behind the driver made the 911 call.

The cyclist had reflectors on his bike, but no flashing rear lights, and the investigating officer inferred that the driver should have seen the reflectors from a distance of more than 400 feet, giving him about 6 seconds to apply the brakes.

The cyclist had a revoked drivers license (DUI) and a blood alcohol test revealed a BAC of .172 (above the legal limit of .08) and marijuana was also detected. The cyclist was seen 30 minutes prior to the accident at McDonald’s by two juvenile observers, who thought him behaving strangely, talking to himself and rocking back and forth, described either as under the influence or suffering a mental illness episode. One of the observers took a video, using a phone camera, which was also observed by the investigating officer.  Another observer who lived near the accident heard a driver yell angrily (cursing) at the cyclist near where the accident occurred about five minutes before the observer heard sirens. That same observer saw the cyclist riding on the right side of the road next to the curb at that time (not in the middle of the lane). There was no indication from the report that the cursing driver was the driver who hit the cyclist.

The investigation conclusion was that the cyclist should have been seen by the driver, and that the driver was probably inattentive, whether involved with texting or some other distraction. The investigator also suggested that the cyclists being in the left side of the lane rather than to the right was also a factor.

However, the attorney general decided against filing charges against the driver after a review of the case.  The AG mentioned the BAC level of the cyclist, but said it was unknown whether that was a factor. (In other words, the cyclist was hit from behind, while pedaling in the traffic lane, and whether the cyclist was impaired didn’t seem to be a factor.) The AG didn’t address the distraction issue, but did discuss where the cyclist was in the lane, the poor visibility afforded by reflectors, and the inapplicability of the 3-foot law in this case.   In another development, I was told by someone who had followed the case that the driver’s insurance company made a settlement with the cyclist’s family.

I’ve provided some details about this case because I think there are some important lessons implied in the description. Driver distractions, which were a likely factor, have become a major issue in accidents (especially the texting distraction), as is impairment from alcohol or drugs.  Bike lighting is important for night-time biking, though there was a difference between the investigator’s view (driver should have seen the bike) and the attorney general’s view (reflectors aren’t enough, though legally reflectors meet the minimum standard).  Finally, major arterial roads (this was a four lane with a middle suicide lane with a 45 mph speed limit) are not well suited for cyclists, especially at night.  As I mentioned in previous paragraphs, risks are higher at night, and using strategies to mitigate night-time risks (bike lighting, choosing roads with slower moving, more limited traffic) are important.

The risk of doing nothing

My own bike accident reminded me that biking has risks, but my general experience with biking and the calculations above suggest that the risks are within the bounds of the normal everyday risks of living in an urban environment. The exercise benefits of commuter biking on health haven’t been included in the calculations, but when included in European studies, the cyclist risk is well below the risk of car riders.

Nashville is improving its bike commuting infrastructure (with bike lanes, and more recently with protected bike lanes, and with greenways that can serve commuting needs).  Evidence has show elsewhere that as biking increases, and infrastructure improves, biking becomes as safe as or safer than driving a car. We have a ways to go in the US and in Nashville, but are heading in the right direction in Nashville.♦

Risk calculation details

The bike commuter is the individual who uses his (or her) bike to get places—to work, to a friend’s house, to a meeting, to the grocery store, or to a restaurant. Studies have found that such cyclists travel around 1,600 to 3,300 miles each year on a bike (160-330 hours), resulting in far greater exposure to accidents than the average bike rider (92 miles or 9 hours). There are about 2 million adults nationwide who bike for at least 30 minutes a day (and presumably may commute on a bike) according to the most recent National Household Travel Survey.  What is their risk?

To come up with reasonable per mile or per hour estimates, the 884 annual bicycle deaths must be allocated between two groups: the commuters and everyone else?  If you make a linear projection (Commuter III in the table), based on annual miles ridden by bike commuters (1600 miles) compared to the overall average for cyclist (92 miles), then bike commuters would make up about 80% of the bike mileage, and also 80% of the deaths (708), despite being only about 3% of those who ride bikes. 

There are two alternative approaches that I think are more likely to match reality. One involves inferences from a study (Moritz, 1997) of US bike commuters conducted in the mid-90s.  That study documented Emergency Room use among bike commuters, finding that 10% of bike commuters (annually) had crashes, and about half of those (57%) went to the ER.  Taking the current (2009) estimate of the number of commuter cyclists, estimating their ER use (based upon the Moritz findings), and comparing it to total ER use (by adult cyclists), suggests that about 37% of cyclist ER visits are from bike commuters versus the far more numerous occasional bike riders.  Applying that percentage to total bike deaths, a much lower estimate of the contribution of bike commuters to fatalities results (335 fatalities rather than 708). Note that the Moritz study  (Commuter I) found commuting cyclist to average about 3,300 miles per year rather than 1,600 miles used with Commuter II.

A second alternative approach (Commuter II) follows on an English study (Wardlaw, 2002) which used a fatality pattern found with automobile crashes to develop estimates for commuter cyclists. The auto study found that as miles ridden doubled, the number of fatalities didn’t double, but instead went up by 30%. The rationale for this for bikes is that biking experience (gained from daily commuting) leads to lower risk. Using that method, about 67 of the 884 cycling deaths would be linked to bike commuters (assuming 1600 miles ridden).

Bike Crash and the Kindness of Strangers

November 28th, 2013 | Living Well | Comments Off

My friend John Norris told me that cyclists tend to have a serious accident every 10,000 miles. My serious accident occurred early, at about 7500 miles.

Actually, bike accidents tend to cluster in the early stages of riding, before the biker is getting a feel for the bike, and for the nearby roads and their hazards. The bike must become a natural extension of the biker. But sometimes complacency sets in.

I had two early bike accidents, one when I ran into the rear wheel of a friend on the Shelby Bottom Greenway as I looked back to see someone who was passing us.  The second occurred when I hit gravel turning into the Richland Creek Greenway.  Both were minor things, one leaving me with a sore hip for a few weeks and the other scraping my leg and shoulder.

My friends and family all worry about my biking, urging me to be safe. Being safe is a complex mix, which I will go into on another blog, but yesterday, I thought I was being safe.

I had cycled down to a meeting at the Mayor’s office for a discussion with the newly hired bike/pedestrian coordinator. My path to the Courthouse was a six mile, mainly downhill trek to the Cumberland River, taking me through Centennial Park and the hospital district (along Patterson Avenue for local readers). I then doglegging over for the sprint along the heavily traveled Church Street as it crosses the gulch and then flows into downtown past the heralded churches, a few sky-scrapers, the public library, and the urban park with its street people and mural.  Crossing the viaduct always seems risky to me (it would be nice to have separated bike lanes there), but when I hit 8th and church I feel safe, as the traffic slows way down and the road narrows. Bikes can safely “take the road,” there and be in traffic along the stretch from 8th to 1st Avenue. 

I dog-legged over to Deaderick at 5th Avenue, and enjoyed the splendor of the final two blocks down the promenade running from the War Memorial Auditorium to the Court House. 

Following the meeting, I returned a different route, back down Church, but doglegging my way over to Broadway and then turned left onto the street between the Federal Building and the Frist Art Museum. (I stay on Broadway for about 50 feet, crossing immediately into the left turn lane.)

I remember turning at the Frist and then, maybe, turning into the back area behind the Frist, where there is parking. My next memory is a form of delirium where nothing is clear, a sort of dream world of being transported, of questions, and finally of a doctor talking to me as she patches an abrasion above my eye. 

When my mind becomes clearer, I find myself at Vanderbilt Medical Center, with my wife Kathleen coming through the door. When she received the call her first remark on hearing it was the Vanderbilt ER was: “Oh, you must have my husband who has been in a bicycle accident. The nurse laughed, and responded “he also wanted you to know that his bicycle is with security at the Frist.”

I think I had been talking (jabbering maybe) with the Vanderbilt ER physician who was sewing up my head and otherwise trying to decide if she had discovered and dealt with the important injuries. I think I remember receiving and waiting for the results on a brain scan. That scan found nothing (a joke), except, I’m sure, the normal declines and insults of advancing age.

Here is my dilemma. I have no idea what happened.  I have indicators of a fall (gashed eyebrow, scraped and bruised knees, and time in the ER) but no idea of what happened beyond that.  I did have an ambulance ride, so someone there made a report.  Did the police come and write up what happened?  This morning I will make a few forays (not on a bike) and limp into the Frist to retrieve my bike and see if any of the staff there qualify as witnesses and can tell me what happened. Next I will check in with the EMTs and then with the police. 

My goal is to learn what happened and how to avoid it in the future (yet still use a bike for transportation).  Stay tuned.   

Search for causes

I wrote the above post yesterday morning. Later in the day I began my exploration of what had happened. Kathleen and I drove down to the Frist, and talked with one of the employees who had been there when the accident occurred. He said he heard about the accident and went outside to make sure someone called 911 (they had).  His observation was that I was lying in the road, with 8 or 9 people around me, and a woman was sitting in the road with my head in her lap, providing comfort, and maybe dabbing at the blood flowing from the gash over my eye. Our contact also reported that someone from the group said I had been asked if I knew what day it was and I said “no.”  Then someone in the the group, a man of empathy,  said he, also, had no idea what day it was, and everyone laughed.

After hearing the Frist employee’s report, we retrieved my bike, which was in fine shape, no noticeable damage. It was not likely that I was struck by a car.

Later I called the fire department  (station 9) that had responded to the call and asked to speak with someone who had been there to retrieve me.  The team was out on a call at that point, but later an EMT called back and explained what he observed. When they arrived, I was surrounded by the group, with a woman holding my head. He said that the crowd around me dissipated when his team (on a fire truck and an ambulance) arrived, with few volunteering detailed information about the accident.  He confirmed that I was not fully cognizant when they arrived, and had been out cold for a few minutes at an earlier point.

Together we constructed that the likely scenario was that my tires slipped as I rounded the corner at the three way stop in the parking area immediately behind the Frist, and my head hit the pavement pretty hard. As is normally the case in airplane crashes, it was “pilot error.” My helmet clearly provided some benefit (a piece was chipped off), and the gash above my eye may have been due to the glasses I wear, which were bent but unbroken and are usable.

I’m puzzled about the muscle bruises above my knee (both knees), but I guess both legs somehow slammed against the surface, bruising and scraping my knees. (My knees are where I have the most pain right now, two days later.)    

The Kindness of Strangers

Here is my assessment.  My tires slipped, my helmeted head hit the concrete, and strangers responded, as I lay prone in the road. My bike was retrieved by museum staff and secured. None of my valuables were missing. A woman whom I don’t know held my head in her lap helping me be more comfortable and avoid the hard pavement. I probably bled on her. A call to 911 was made and EMTs arrived, took over, and transported me to Vanderbilt, without checking whether I had insurance.  The Vanderbilt staff received me, bagged my valuables, found out who I was and who was closest of kin, and called her.

I received care, including cleanup and stitches, plus use of the ER for about 5 hours.  These services would have been provided whether or not I had insurance, and whether or not I had proof of citizenship. Later I was discharged to a responsible adult and went home.

I realize now, a day later, Thanksgiving Day, how lucky I am to live in a well-ordered society where strangers are responsive and kind and where effective systems are set up to handle emergencies. I was flat in the street, unconscious, and people responded. I can image places where it is otherwise.

So, on this Thanksgiving day, I give heartfelt thanks to all of the people I don’t know who helped me, and would have helped anyone in need, the Good Samaritans of our city and country.            

                                                                             


The health insurance exchanges: What “you” don’t know could hurt your adult son or daughter

August 2nd, 2013 | health care reform | Comments Off

I have begun asking people I know and meet what they know about the new health insurance exchanges.  “Not much” is the common response. And for most of my friends, this is not a big deal, is it?  After all, most of them are covered by Medicare or by a major employer. 

Actually, for about half of my friends it is a big deal.  They have sons and daughters who are not yet fully settled into high paying careers, and whose insurance coverage is inadequate, fragile, or non-existent.  Their kids (adults aged 20-40) can benefit immensely from the exchanges, but at this point probably know less than their parents, and may have heard some of the negative propaganda being generated by Congressional Republicans and their media allies.

 So, what should you do, as a parent of a child who is eligible for the exchanges.  Here is my three part idea.

  1. Learn about the exchanges,
  2. Take your adult child on a virtual tour of the exchanges, and
  3. Offer to subsidize their coverage for a year (if they need your help).

There are two web sites to help you learn about the exchanges: 

www.healthcare.gov

http://kff.org/interactive/subsidy-calculator/

On the first site (healthcare.gov) you can find out general information about the health insurance exchanges, including whether your adult child might be eligible for subsidies on the exchanges.  This will also be the site that your adult child will return to in October to choose a health plan for 2014, or receive a referral to a specific state site. 

Calculating premiums

The other site, maintained by the Kaiser Family Foundation, will allow you to estimate premiums on the exchanges, given your son or daughter’s age, family status (married, with children or not), smoking status (smokers pay more), and the level of coverage they want.  There will be three levels of standard coverage (bronze, silver, platinum), plus “catastrophic coverage,” meaning a very high deductible policy.  High deductible policies bring cheap premiums, but presume covered individuals have lots of cash on hand to spend down on such events as trips to the ER, a brief hospital episode, or an outpatient surgery.

The Kaiser site provides estimates of the premiums that are available in the exchanges.  The actual premiums may be different, depending on pricing in your son’s region of the country, and the level of competition among the insurers offering coverage through the exchanges in his state or county.  Recent information from California, New York and some other states setting up their own exchanges suggests that pricing in “cooperating” states will be good—i.e., low premiums, many choices.  In non-cooperating states (primarily the old confederacy and a few western and Midwestern states run by Republicans), the federal government will run the exchanges.

Republicans run interference

I’ve read that some elements of the Republican leadership are organizing to discourage your adult sons and daughters (and maybe their own) from seeking insurance through the exchanges.  These Republicans are not doing this directly, telling individuals not to enroll, but instead talk about sharply rising premiums and loss of jobs due to ObamaCare, in essence discouraging potential exchange users from giving it a try.   The Republican hope is that young people will stay away in droves, driving up costs on the exchanges for 2015 as older and sicker people enroll, tipping the exchange markets into a downward spiral, and taking ObamaCare with it.

Meanwhile, word was released last week that they (Congressional representatives and their staff) got a fix in their own coverage, so that they will continue to get their normal federal subsidy as they are shifted from the Federal Employee Benefit Plan to the exchanges. It was unclear whether they would actually get the subsidy until the Obama administration came out with a rule this past week.

Apparently it is okay to hope the young won’t seek coverage, but not okay for their own coverage to be dropped or unsubsidized.

The answer to the Republican propaganda (misinformation is the polite word to describe what they are saying) is that the exchanges are actually a good deal, even for the young and healthy.  You will discover how good the deal is when you check out pricing and subsidies on the Kaiser “subsidy calculator.” What you won’t see are how poor the offerings are in the small group market as it operates today, where pricing is alluring, coverage is meager, and denials are common.

Going uninsured is never a good idea, but it is a worse idea when the plans are well regulated and the pricing is subsidized. If your son wants good care when a serious health problem surfaces, he needs health insurance.  If your daughter wants useful preventive services free of charge, including birth control, she needs health insurance. 

Going uninsured is an especially bad idea if your daughter has assets that could be tapped if she ends up being hospitalized. Furthermore, those assets might be your assets if you are the one providing the funding for a surgery she needs that she can’t get in the absence of either insurance or a stack of cash under her mattress.

My other suggestion (above) is important: help overcome any reluctance they have about buying insurance on the exchanges, given meager resources, by offering to subsidize their first year of coverage.  It will be worth it, to them, to you, and ultimately, to the country.

Finally, it is not just about your adult children.  The health insurance exchanges are for everyone you meet that might qualify–the restaurant cooks and servers, nanny’s, the self employed plumber or carpenter, the house cleaner, and part time workers of any type.

Comment: Lali

Thanks!  I’ll pass this on to my adult children, with a sigh of relief that it doesn’t apply to me.”

In the City of Bikes (a book review)

July 25th, 2013 | Living Well | Comments Off

If you are interested in what your world be like if you and most people you knew used a bike for transportation, then this book about biking in Amsterdam captures the feeling.   Pete Jordan moved to Amsterdam in 2002, and lived there for several years.  Perusing newspaper archives, official reports, other documents, and supplementing with his personal biking experience, he compiles a history of biking in Amsterdam from the first bike (late 1800s) forward.

He moves back and forth between his own experience (as an avid cyclist during his stay in Amsterdam) and the evolution of the biking culture in Amsterdam over the 20th century. 

Here are a few things you might find surprising. 

  • Bike theft. Bike theft in Amsterdam has been a huge problem since the 1920s, and at least two locks are the norm for bikes there. In contrast, that other European bike city, Copenhagen, has almost no problem with bike theft.  In some places in Amsterdam, bike theft is so common that it substitutes as an overnight parking fee.  Your bike gets stolen, and you buy a new (stolen) one the next morning for a low price (on a specific bridge) from the people who stole it the night before.
  • WWII occupation. The resentment against the German occupation during WWII remains to this day, and according to Jordan focuses on the German’s confiscation of their bikes. Sometimes, when German tourists arrive at a restaurant, they get a hostile “give back my bike” from restaurant owners with long memories as they refuse to serve them a meal.
  • Bikes as trucks. In Amsterdam, bikes not only replace cars, but also trucks. Jordan documents some of the items he has seen hauled on bikes, including chairs, ladders, beer containers (full and then returning the empties), mattresses, ironing boards, and dogs.
  • Dinking. In addition to things and animals, bikes haul people. Often women, and sometimes men, hop on the rear rack and ride with their friends or lovers pedaling them to their destination.  Children, of course, get stacked on the front and the back of bikes. Hauling a second person is called dinking, and is common in Amsterdam, while rare in Copenhagen.
  • The unruly cyclist. There are many expectations of biking in Amsterdam, but helmets and obeying traffic laws are not among them.  The culture, at least as portrayed by Jordan, is somewhat wild west, and attempts at control by authorities over the years are often met with defiance or, more often, by ignoring the rule.
  • Free bikes. Those of you from Nashville will be interested to know that an attempt at providing free bikes fell flat in Amsterdam, but is working well here in Nashville.

Jordan has a trailing girlfriend, Amy Joy, who arrives in Amsterdam with few skills, decides to learn how to repair bikes, gets training and then a  job at a nearby bike ship. By the end of the book she not only gains skill in bike repair, but also marries Jordan, gives birth to their child, becomes the proud owner of the bike shop.

Jordan’s saga of stolen and found bikes, his experience of fatherhood, the highs and lows of biking in Amsterdam during the 20th century, and his unique approach to both uncovering history and compiling of statistics, all make for an entertaining ride through Amsterdam and through the Amsterdam biking culture as it evolves across the 20th and 21st century.

The book disappoints in not giving a more detailed look at the resurgence of biking in Amsterdam since the late 1970s (from about 25% of daily trips to more than 35%, with half the population now riding a bike daily). Jordan does lament the decline in biking after WWII (when cars were scarce and more than 75% of trips were by bike). A low point was hit in the late 1970s, as city leaders increasingly embraced the car (e.g., he documents their talk of filling in canals to provide space for parking lots and roadways). But, Jordan doesn’t say much about the turnaround that was engineered by policy changes by new city leaders that began to favor bikes over cars after the 1970s.

Also, I was looking for pictures of biking in Amsterdam, and my paperback edition only had a collage on the front.

That said, your read will be informative and enjoyable, if you are interested in biking and a good story. 

“The City of Bikes” by Pete Jordan (published in 2013 by Harper Collins). 

You should consider buying this book locally, from Parnassus Books through their web site. It is somewhat more expensive than Amazon, and you have to pay Tennessee sales tax (Amazon will soon start paying, but doesn’t pay yet), but you avoid shipping charges, support a local bookseller, and can enjoy the bike ride over to pick up the book and peruse the stacks while there. (Disclosure: Ann Patchett, Parnassus co-owner, lives in my neighborhood.)

Walking

June 18th, 2013 | Living Well | Comments Off

In his essay of the same title Henry David Thoreau repeated the phrase wrongly ascribed to Horace Greeley: “go west young man, go west.”  Actually, Thoreau was talking about “walking” west, and for him the more precise direction was “southwest,” away from his village home (Concord), and away from the city (Boston), in the direction of the setting sun.  In his essay, he said he was going to make an “extreme” statement.  As he describes his walks, and the ambition of walking, the word “extreme” seems mild.

For Thoreau a daily four-hour walk was the minimum duration, and more was preferred. His walking “ambition” was to leave civilization entirely, avoiding the well traveled path and claiming the uncharted wilderness to the south and west as his home. His “home” in the village was merely a starting place for his walking adventure, but his destination was the Pacific Ocean, or maybe the Rocky Mountains. 

Unfortunately, or maybe to our good fortune, Thoreau never made it that far.  In fact, his pace wasn’t very rapid, and he was easily diverted. If you have ever been on a spring wildflower walk, you will know what happened.  Every step or two there is something new and unusual for a botanist/poet to look at, and if you are in a group, comment on.  Thoreau, like Christopher Robin, knew a lot about the 100-acre wood, but a 4-hour walk might take him one place in his imagination (say to some of the Greek Isles as he followed the meanderings of Odysseus), but while thinking Odysseus he might be observing some ant platoons outside his door re-enacting their version of the Trojan war.

For me, a walk in the wilderness is a deep pleasure. But my wilderness walks are a part time occupation. I take those walks several times a year, but in my daily walks (and bike rides), I turn Thoreau’s treatise on its head, and look towards the city, to meet friends, to purchase coffee, to shop for groceries, and to enjoy the pleasures of the urban experience, which are many. 

Thoreau, of course, did too.  His sustenance was more from the village and the city than from the wilderness.  He thrived on the intellectual stimulation of Concord and the wider Boston community, and he enjoyed friendship. He wrote about the horrors of the village (“most men lead lives of quiet desperation”), but was really sustained by The Village.

For Thoreau, walking was an elite activity. While it involved only a modest investment of money (good shoes, sturdy clothing, and a hat), it required time.  In Thoreau’s day, the only people with “time” were the wealthy and the occasional bohemian poet.  The men (and women) of quiet desperation walked to work and to market, but otherwise were busy creating the economic engine that won the Civil War.

One of Thoreau’s more memorable trips was taken by train rather than on foot, from Boston down to New York, and there he met a promising new urban poet, Walt Whitman, who had just been “found” and promoted by Thoreau’s mentor, a Mr. Emerson.  Thoreau had just published his masterpiece, Walden, a year earlier (1854), and Whitman had just published his first edition of “Leaves of Grass.”

In contrast to Thoreau, Whitman looked toward the city and its thriving masses of people for inspiration rather than to the uncharted wilderness near Thoreau’s cabin. Whitman’s walk is also open ended —walking “the long brown road before me leading wherever I choose”—but is also those he meets rather than where he goes—“the felon, the diseased, the illiterate person” and “the escaped youth, the rich person’s carriage, the fop, the eloping couple.” And, the objects of civilization: “planks and posts of wharves, rows of houses, porches” and then the ideas, the “philosophies” and the “music.”  Whitman’s walk was an exploration of culture—the city—rather than fields and forest, and he liked what he saw, as much as Thoreau liked wilderness. 

I like both walks. For my wilderness walks, though, I take part of the city with me, in the form of a friend or two. Climbing up a mountain along a shady path, we observe the beauty of a cascading stream while discussing whether charter schools really make a difference.

Walking is easy, requires no new expenditures, can be fit into a busy lifestyle, and helps you maintain health. It’s also fun, or can be. Twenty minutes a day (just over a mile) is helpful to health.  Forty minutes (2-3 miles) will help you maintain weight, and with healthier eating, possibly lose weight.  Either distance gives you time to think (alone) or banter (with friends), improving your mood and your friendships.

Thoreau set the bar too high, leaving his quietly desperate neighbors behind as he walked “away” from the Village. Today, in Nashville at least, the Village is the spark, encouraging its residents to leave the desperation (the TV, the computer, the couch, the bag of potato chips) behind, and take a walk (on the new greenway or sidewalk) “into” the Village.

For a description of one of the more interesting urban walks in America, try this:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/22/nyregion/high-lines-best-kept-secret-its-a-fast-commute.html?hp

Research note on Walking for Health

Two researchers at University College of London conducted a meta-analysis of 18 observational studies (460,000 participants) on the health effects of walking published between 1970 and 2007. Their study was summarized in the August 2009 edition of the Harvard Health Letter.

  • Walking reduced the risk of dying by 32% during the study period. The study period averaged 11.3 years for the studies reviewed. )  
  • The risk of cardiovascular events was reduced by 31%.
  • Benefits of walking were found for people walking as little as 5.5 miles a week at a pace of 2 miles per hour.  Greater protection was obtained by more miles and a more rapid pace

Here is a link to the Harvard Report

http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Mens_Health_Watch/2009/August/Walking-Your-steps-to-health

Is Nashville’s transportation system (the car) really that good?

June 10th, 2013 | Living Well | Comments Off

When someone makes a strong argument for the status quo, the status quo should be pretty good—with staying power. That is why the op-ed last week by Malcolm Getz, a Vanderbilt economist, in favor of maintaining the status quo for Nashville’s transportation system was surprising.

He was, of course, arguing against a specific design for transforming our transit system, the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT, now renamed The AMP) targeted for the West End Avenue Corridor. But his underlying message was that we should preserve our existing, small-town, car-centric ways of getting around the city, and not try to find a better way forward. (Note: Mr. Getz did say he was in favor of more frequent bus service.)

Mr. Getz’s primary concern is traffic congestion. He points out that The AMP will “remove two lanes of traffic from Broadway and West End” in order to provide dedicated bus lanes down the center of the West End corridor, and that the removal of those auto travel lanes will “dramatically increase traffic congestion.”  Of course, what he fails to mention is that there will be no traffic congestion for the buses traveling along the dedicated lanes, which is the point of creating them, and which is the key factor in the design.  Moreover, his traffic congestion assertion fails to hold up when examined more closely.

To bolster his argument, Mr. Getz uses powerful imagery, but that imagery  does not adequately capture reality. As a result, his “analysis” appears to make sense, but comes up short under closer examination.  And more to my original point, his analysis assumes the status quo is, if not “wonderful,” at least “adequate.” 

The problem Mr. Getz doesn’t speak to, for West End Avenue and our urban core, is that it is in the process of transforming. We are becoming more urban, with downtown living, and with office and residential towers springing up all over, while our transportation system remains small townish.

The growth in population and density is adding to congestion (not The AMP), and the automobile, with a driver and four empty seats, is the cause of the congestion. The car could actually be a solution to our problem for the next 20 years if instead of one person in the car (characterizing 90% of our auto trips) there were 2 or 3 people in the car. But the occupancy trend is going the other way, fewer per car rather than more.

But back to the AMP critique. Mr. Getz has the reader imagine two lines of parked buses running the full length of the West End Corridor, from Saint Thomas to the Bridgestone Arena. It is not a happy image if we are trying to drive a car down the corridor. He might instead have had us imagine two traffic lanes open for cars going that full length.  That is what we have now for the entire corridor for almost all of the day, and it is also what we will still have once The AMP is installed with its dedicated bus lanes and its mid-street boarding stations.

When parking lanes become traffic lanes

During the morning and afternoon commute, lanes used for parking during most of the day are taken over as travel lanes along about 40% of The AMP’s proposed route, expanding the two travel lanes to three.  After The AMP is installed, the lane expansion (2 to 3) will not be possible. However, there are only two small segments of the 7.3 mile AMP route in which two travel lanes during commute hours will be a problem.

Those two segments are between 33rd Avenue and 31st Avenue intersections; and, between the West End/Broadway intersection and where Broadway passes over I-40. The remainder of the corridor now allowing three lanes during commute hours will not suffer from the lane reduction because the traffic levels are below road capacity. For example, an estimated 48,000 cars a day are on the segment coming towards 31st from I-440, but that has dropped to 26,000 following the split at Centennial.

If Mr. Getz had focused on the two small .2 mile heavily trafficked segments of the 7.3 mile corridor, and asked “How do we solve this problem?” I would not be writing this.  Instead, he dismissed the entire project because of potential congestion at the two locations (less than 0.4 mile total), and would have us imagine that those two locations characterize the entire route. 

Mr. Getz has important things to say about the AMP, and says them more convincingly and less polemically in a longer paper he wrote last fall.  I urge planners to listen to his critique (actually I think they did), and to critiques of others, and respond with improved designs as the project moves forward.

Transit upgrade needed as urban density increases

I think the AMP –because of its dedicated lanes—can become a major upgrade to Nashville’s transit system. It would do that by transporting existing transit riders more efficiently, by attracting many current drivers to switch to transit, and by becoming a platform for handling a huge expected increase in urban density.

The AMP’s call sign would be that it is quite functional as transportation (shorten some trip times, eliminate parking, avoid congestion), but that it is also a better way to travel for many. It offers the benefits of exercise (a short walk at either end), of an office on the move (safely texting or working with your laptop), and of relaxed enjoyment (reading or talking to your neighbors), all while riding to your destination.

I believe The AMP can become an important confirmation of Nashville as a dynamic, forward looking city. It will demonstrate that we are willing to make the needed investments that will modernize our transportation infrastructure and make our urban core work.

The BRT will likely benefit, not hurt, Whitland

June 1st, 2013 | Living Well | Comments Off

A statement appeared on my neighborhood list serve the other morning that surprised me.  Normally, the list-serve posts information about neighborhood events, crime reports, household service needs, the time and location of political events affecting the neighborhood, and the like.  This posting, instead, was a more political statement about the new bus service, the BRT or Bus Rapid Transit, proposed to run along West End into downtown and then into East Nashville.  It was, to put it mildly, a strong statement.

My neighborhood, the Whitland area, borders West End Avenue, is full of nice homes and people I enjoy meeting and greeting.  We have sidewalks, and trees, lots of walkers and even a few bicyclists. And we have disagreements.  Some of us are Republicans, others of us are Democrats, and some are independents. And, we post signs of one type or another every two years.  The historic overlay initiative generated lots of disagreement, but came to a settlement that most people seemed happy with (a reduced overlay footprint) protecting the historic homes along Whitland Avenue, itself, while allowing the cross streets to remaining restricted only by city codes.

The BRT will undoubtedly affect the Whitland neighborhood, and the period of construction will be like most construction projects: disruptive.  (Some of us remember the construction for I-440.) But my neighbor’s allegations about the effect of the BRT on the neighborhood seem off the mark to me. Here is what he said (paraphrased to some extent):    

  • Cars will be backed up for miles along West End
  • Cars and trucks will be flying down our streets at high speed to avoid the backup on West End and our children will be at risk 
  • Our property values will drop
  • The section of West End passing by our neighborhood will be one lane in each direction
  • Drive times will triple or quintuple

·   

My neighbor also reasoned that very few professional people and stay-at-home parents in our neighborhood would make use of the bus. So The AMP is something being done to us by the Mayor on behalf of those other people, from other neighborhoods, who ride buses.

I’m presuming most of my readers know the key features of the BRT (recently branded The AMP) .  It is a bus service going down a dedicated lane in the middle of the West End corridor that has the look and feel of rail transit, but on rubber tires.  More details are at the bottom of this column.

Let’s look at the allegations. 

Will traffic congestion increase due to BRT?

The first bullet suggests that traffic congestion will increase, and the fourth bullet alleges why. That fourth bullet is just wrong.  There are two travel lanes in each direction the entire route, including the part going down our section of West End. While congestion will undoubtedly increase during construction,  recently completed engineering studies suggest that traffic flow will not be harmed by the completed BRT. Car travelers will lose the middle, mostly empty suicide lane, but they should be pleased with improvements at the currently dysfunctional Bowling/West End intersection. And by a new traffic light at West End and Elmington.

Studies conducted elsewhere have found rapid transit, including BRT style systems, move more people (per unit of time) down a lane than automobiles. However,the specifics are important, and the actual passenger productivity of the lanes will vary based on bus ridership and auto traffic.  Nevertheless, it is likely a close call whether the BRT lanes or the auto lanes will ferry more people.

An estimated 10-20% of the people traveling along West End are projected to be riding The AMP, compared to about 5% on buses today, and almost all the AMP buses will be going down the dedicated lanes rather than helping clog traffic, as now.

The only loss of travel lanes (3 down to 2 lanes) will occur after the I-440 overpass (towards downtown), and then only during rush hour. During rush hour, parking spaces are now transformed into travel lanes.

To sum up so far, with the BRT design as now presented, we Whitlanders will have no loss of travel lanes in our area, will have better intersection management, and are likely to have little, if any, change in road capacity (people per hour) down our section, and probably the entire length of the BRT.

We will have increased traffic on West End as our city grows, under either scenario. And it will likely be worse without the BRT, if nothing is done. The other allegations outlined by the bullets (property values; children’s safety; neighborhood traffic) are all based on the allegations of increased congestion due to BRT, and there is no evidence, based on engineering studies to date, that BRT will increase congestion. The lane loss along other sections during rush hour will be balanced by intersection improvements and a shift of car drivers to the bus.

Professionals do ride the bus

The final allegation (not bulleted), that Whitland neighbors have no cause to use a bus, mis-characterizes who bus riders are and who Whitlanders are. Some people here already use the bus, and others will begin to use it once it is vastly more convenient (10 minute intervals).

If you have actually ridden the bus, you understand that there are a wide variety of users (including professionals), and people in this neighborhood might find that getting out of their car and riding the bus on occasion is not only more interesting and adventuresome, but less costly than driving, and requires no parking. And the walk to and from the bus endpoints provides exercise of the best kind.

There can be a reasoned debate about whether the proposed BRT is the best solution for our city, or, how to make improvements to the design, but it shouldn’t start with false “all or nothing” choices.  I think the AMP will more likely than not have a positive impact on our neighborhood, make our transportation options safer, less polluting and more convenient, and improve traffic and people flow along West End. I also think there can be improvements to the design.

More details about The AMP can be seen in the link below.

http://www.eastwestconnector.org/PDF/EWCPresentation04-11-13.pdf

And a promotional video here:

www.tennessean.com/article/20130529/NEWS/305290154/Dean-commits-7-5-million-continue-BRT-push

Bike Accounting 2.0

February 10th, 2013 | Living Well | Comments Off

It has been almost two years since we sold our older car and started getting by on one car plus a bike.  Kathleen drives the car and I ride my bike for most routine, nearby activities such as grocery shopping, restaurant meet-ups, official business, and plant management (meaning watering tree seedlings at a nearby park or at my church during droughts).  For joint activities, we typically ride in the car, or, very occasionally, take the bus downtown.

As a result of substituting my bike for a car, I ride my bike a fair amount. I should pause here to note that while bike racing is an elite activity, commuter biking is not. I am a biking “outlier” among Nashvillians, but “elite” and “outlier” are two different concepts.  In Copenhagen, where about 36% of the adult residents bike to work daily and 68% cycle at least once a week, I would fall well within the norm. So, I am engaging in “Copenhagen normal” behavior as I pedal around town.

A rewards program

In order to reward myself for good behavior, I decided to not only track my bike mileage, but to set aside estimated savings from biking by paying myself the federal mileage rate (about 55 cents a mile), and moving the money from my nearly empty checking account into a savings account to be used for bike repairs and upgrades, including someday a new bike. Also, I thought the money could be used for entertainment, once biking essentials were covered.

I began by assuming that only about half of my bike mileage was replacement for use of a car, but then I realized that my recreational biking was probably substituting for a car drive over to the gym (Green Hills Y) for a workout. Thinking more carefully, I realized that Kathleen makes that very trip most days in our car, and if I were going to the Y, we could ride together.  I put that troublesome thought out of my mind, and went forward with the full mileage count.

To this amount, I also began adding the electrical generation savings from our rooftop solar panels, and with that addition decided to expand the types of purchases to make from the account to include any repairs to the solar system (did I really write that?), plus tree cuttings that must be undertaken to ensure my solar panel’s access to sunlight.

My savings account has accumulated nearly $1,500 net in it during the past two years, after subtracting about $400 for bike tune-up, tire repair and the like. Also, I subtracted out some tree trimming done last fall related to my solar panels (about $250 worth).

This morning (I’m writing this on Saturday) I am getting ready to bike over to the West End Farmer’s Market (the winter quarters are across the street from the Park where the set-up will return to in March), about a 6 mile round trip ($3.30 into my account).  Later today I might meet a friend or two at Bosco’s in Hillsboro Village for a drink (4.5 miles round trip, $2.42 into the account).

Copenhagen Normal

While accumulating all this cash, the rides are fun, especially along the Richland Creek Greenway where I’ll observe all sorts of joggers, dog walkers, baby carriage pushers, and other fresh air enthusiasts, as well as the roaring waters of the thrice-bridged stream (these days it is practically a river).

Well, biking is not always fun.  We’ve had some days in the 20s, and on those days it can be hard to get on a bike with a stiff breeze working against you (at least half the time) with a “feels like” temperature of 4 or 5 degrees above zero. But spring is coming (crocus and daffodils are already here), and the pleasure of cycling will rise. (Among the snow-storm pictures published in the Times, there was a picture of someone biking through the snow. I am not envious.)

Will Nashvillians become “Copenhagen normal?”  Certainly not citywide, but maybe in the close-in neighborhoods, where the city’s largest employers are less than a mile away, where there are restaurants and grocery stores within a literal stone’s throw,  and where bike friendly side streets can get you where you want to go safely.  In those neighborhoods we have already become “Portland normal,” if not yet “Copenhagen normal.”

My steadily growing cash trove won’t buy us a new Volt or pug-in Prius (yet), or rehab our kitchen, but it might provide a new bike this spring, and then fund a road trip to Austin, or maybe New England. That is enough to warm an accountant’s heart.

A return to Nature?

February 10th, 2013 | Living Well | Comments Off

Thomas Hobbs, in a notorious quote, described human life as “solitary, poor, brutish and short” and as a “war of every man against every man.”  What is sometimes forgotten about the quote is that Hobbs was describing the human condition in a “state of nature” rather than a “state of civilization.”

Civilization, with its tool box of expectations, rules, enforcement, incentives and huge productivity has been able to transform the “war against all” into something that in advanced western countries approaches a feeling of safe coexistence with others within our communities.  Most of us don’t have to fear that our neighbor is going to rob us or murder us, or, if we do have that fear, we can call on a mostly effective law enforcement establishment to help us out. (In Nashville, the average police response time to a 911 shooting emergency is 6 minutes, with a shorter average response in areas determined to be hot spots.)

Yet, today, in America, as gauged by its harsh response at the national level to the Connecticut slaughter of children, and the laws it is attempting to get passed in state legislatures, one organization, the National Rifle Association (NRA), their financial backers (the arms manufacturing and selling industries), and a small portion of their members, would have us ditch the “state of civilization” and return to a “state of nature,” a “war of every man against every man.” What else can be determined from their wish that every person be armed with deadly weapons at all times and in every location?  Apparently, 300 million guns in the hands of our citizenry is “not enough.”

In a civilized society, as opposed to “a state of nature,” we, the citizens, expect our institutions, not our personal weaponry, to protect us.