Thursday, June 30, 2011

North Hills to Squirrel Hill *entirely* by bike (Nov. 12, 2007)

A week ago, I took the bike on a series of buses that got me to Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill, starting in McCandless. Yesterday, I tried the entire trip there on two wheels. That, and I did it in a cold drizzle, too. It took less time, too.

I started at 2:40 p.m., and might have made it in just over an hour, but took 46th St instead of 44th St through Lawrenceville, which dead-ends at St. Mary's Cemetery (adjacent to the larger Allegheny Cemetery). In respect to its residents and those who were just visiting, I walked the bike through. This delayed me maybe 10 minutes, though it did make for a pleasant stroll. (I like cemeteries.)

My path: Perrymont, Lindisfarne, various small streets in Ross Twp., Babcock Boulevard, Maryland Street in Millvale, the sidewalk along Rt 28, 40th St Bridge, Foster St, 46th St, aforementioned cemetery, Friendship Avenue, Taylor St, Liberty Avenue, South Aiken, R on Fifth Avenue, L on Wilkins, R on Murray, and proceeded to Douglas Street. I made it to the far end of the 40th St Br in just over a half hour, and the entire trip in 83 minutes. At end, I was fairly wet (no fenders), but not that cold. Last week, with considerable bus help, it took 90.

The return trip, close to 6 p.m. when it was fully dark and raining steadily, was done with a lot of help from buses. I biked to Forbes and Murray, following, of all things, someone on a bicycle. My biggest problem getting home was that there isn't that much bus service on a Sunday night, so I stood shivering, waiting for anything to show up. Fortunately every bus that did show had racks. My situation would have been greatly helped by having figured out a bus itinerary in advance, but I just winged it.

The first bus was a 59U, which I grabbed right away, but I should have waited for the 61C that was right behind it, because the 59U (which the 61C passed) only got me to Oakland. Then I stood, dripping and shivering, waiting for anything going Downtown. A 71C eventually did, and from that I was able to get to a 500 that I'd already missed in Oakland (which I would have caught if I'd waited for that 61C).

The 500 got me all the way to West View, and in 15 minutes, I was home. Good thing, too. If I knew there was a 12A coming along just after the 500, I might have waited for it, but that would have meant standing in the rain 10 more minutes, and I would have been 25 minutes later getting home, since the 12A takes such a torturous path through Ross Twp. It took me less time to bike three miles from West View than it would have taken the 12A to travel two miles from Siebert Road to Perrymont.

The only scary part of the trip was coming down the hill on Perry Highway toward Three Degree Road. I had the green light, but did not know if the car making a left off of southbound Perry could see me, in the dark, in the rain.

I really need to get head- and tail-lights.

Monday, June 27, 2011

I hate leaf blowers (Nov. 10, 2007)

Current mood: aggravated

It's that time again. Autumn! Beautiful red and orange trees! No flies! No garden to tend! No snow to shovel! No severe thunderstorms to take down thigh-sized limbs across your windshield. No slush to slop through. No floods from errant hurricanes, melting snow piles or summer deluges. How can you not like autumn?

Throw on a sweater and go for a walk. Take in that refreshing cool air. Rustle your feet through the gathering piles of leaves.

Leaves!! I love leaves! I love raking piles of leaves together and then going FWAAAA!! and leap into them. With the kids! Without the kids! Still!

But hey, what's that sound?


What I can do without is all the leaf blowers. Especially the gas-powered ones, which sound like miniature chain saws, which in fact they pretty much are. The sound of those things carries a half mile. On a crisp autumn day here in the 'burbs, I can sometimes hear five of them at a time. Even one nearby is enough to wake me from a nap.

What happened to rakes? Why is it that if some "labor saving device" gets put on the market, that everyone has to go out and buy one? Of course, they're all Made In China, too, but that's a rant for another day.

Is it any wonder that we are a nation of overfed fools who can't run one mile or walk three if our lives depended on it? Is it any wonder why we have such a demand for petroleum? Not that the leaf blowers use that much, but they use any, and make an infernal racket doing so.

Here's how I take care of my leaves: I take the old sheets that I last used two weeks ago to cover the tomato plants. With a couple of people's help, I spread them out over parts of the yard. I rake leaves onto one. Someone else (occasionally it's me alone) folds up the four corners of the sheet, picks it up (maybe 20 pounds), and carries it either to the big pile in the yard to have fun with, or to the side of the street for the vacuum truck to come along and take them all away. Repeat.

Take a hint: Lose the stupid blowers, get a rake, and then get some exercise. Maybe have fun, too!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

My first stint as Judge of Election (Nov. 7, 2007)

Current mood: jubilant

In Pennsylvania, every polling precinct (a.k.a., voting district) has five workers: a Judge of Elections, two inspectors and two clerks. The last four are effectively interchangeable for the most part, but the judge is in charge, makes any significant decisions, and in general has a good bit more responsibility.

Today was Election Day, and I volunteered to work as the Judge of Elections in a fairly busy district, one corresponding to a portion of the on-campus population of University of Pittsburgh student body. My son Gabe was one of my clerks. My two inspectors were a man I know through transit circles, and a woman I had never met. (The fifth position was vacant.) With the exception of the woman, who had many years of experience doing this, none of us had even the slightest. Gabe hadn't ever even voted, having just turned 18 in July. Nevertheless, we pulled off the feat of running a busy polling place, with neither mishap nor major error.

It's real late now, nearly midnight, so I'm pretty much drained. Before another 24 hours goes by, though, I will type and post the diary that I wrote as the day progressed. Stay tuned!


Rather than start a new blog, I'll just add the detail as a comment.

Saturday, November 3, noonish. Reizenstein MS is an easy walk to and from the East Busway's ELib station. I'm glad I didn't pick up this "suitcase" by bicycle. It's the volume and mass of a full milk crate, but with a handle and wheels. One thing I notice right off: The lid could use a bungee cord to tie it down. It popped off when I hit a large crack in a sidewalk. The thing is pick-up-able with two hands, provided you can lift 45 pounds correctly.

12:30 p.m. It can be lugged onto a bus, but it's difficult. On a 3100-series articulated bus, it only fits in the space directly behind the driver, and I can fold up in the little seat behind that, almost facing forward. Otherwise everyone is tripping over it. Such is the case on a 5400-series Gillig. I had to put it on the seat next to me. Later, I have little trouble lugging it 3/4 mile along Perrymont Road, though I can tell that big mass is there every time I climb a grade.

4:00 p.m. I take a look inside. I hoped to see a "Quick Start" page, a packing list, and charts indicating what's what and how to repack it after closing the polls. A photo would be nice, too. Ideal location for this: Underside of lid.

5:00 p.m. I do discover the green binder, which has a lot of really well written detail, and is organized well.

Tuesday, 5:25 a.m. Spent the night at a friend's house in Oakland so as to be near the polling place without a commute. Another judge in the same house is calling her other pollworkers to be sure they're up. It never even crossed my mind. Really I should have looked them up a couple of days ago to identify myself and say I was going to give them all a reminder call.

6:00 a.m. On site. Turns out 4-8 and 4-14 share a space. Good. Being close together can be useful.

6:10 a.m. Lee is here. She's been doing this for 40 years. Good. Jim Love is here, too. Jim and Gabe set up the machines, and Lee starts them, while I get the paperwork going.

6:45 a.m. Signing paperwork, swearing oaths, hanging signs. We look a bit disorganized, but it's coming together.

7:00 a.m. We're open for business; so is 4-14, who gets a couple of people in the first 15 minutes. We don't have anyone before 7:30. Our constable is here (Carol), as is 14's (Tom). Most of 4-8's clientele is on-campus students, while 4-14's is off-campus students and permanent, older Oakland residents. Carol runs out to Panera for coffee and bagels so we don't starve. In our rush to get here early, neither Gabe nor I ate. (Turns out, all day, only one set of food gets delivered to us. 4-14's staff has experienced deluges of deliveries in past years.)

7:45 a.m. First two customers. Also, Guy G, a campaign worker, comes by. He and the two constables recall an incident last year in which all the campaign signs got repeatedly torn down by Pitt maintenance staff during the day, and it took Chancellor Nordenberg himself to settle it. (Turns out, we have no trouble with this or anything else involving keeping order.)

9:30 a.m. Jim calls Downtown. Fifth person never showed. We're not that busy (9 so far), but Lee says we should have five. They take my information, but said I was in better shape than some of the districts.

9:55 a.m. A lady shows up, has ID, but no paperwork. She did move, so upon further thought decided to look there. I look for but do not find the URL of the website which can be used to verify voter status. Note: Later (like 2 p.m.) I have a student look it up for me, so here it is, for the record:

10:00 a.m. Lee notes that we have 3,662 registered voters in the district, which overfills two "cans", i.e., long cardfile boxes. I had brought in my own 3x5 box to hold the overflow, but it's still tight to work with. The explanation is that a lot of students registered to vote in 2004, then graduated, but did not change their registration. 4-14 has 937 people, and a lot of them are former off-campus students now living who-knows-where. Lee's old district had maybe 300.

10:15 a.m. We actually have a short line.

11:00 a.m. Very busy, about five in five minutes. Lee notes that tops of hours tend to be busy.

12:15 p.m. Call Downtown. What is the number to find out where you vote? Call is disconnected. I suspect they're being hammered. Promoting that website would have been a good idea.

12:30 p.m. Constant trickle of voters. Now 40 on roster, a few more than 4-14. Had three machines busy at once a few minutes ago. We've settled into a routine of Lee on register, Gabe on card file, Jim on PEBs, and me on the numbered list or anything else when it gets busy. No problems. Several have come by either not knowing where they should vote, or thought they could vote anywhere since they were registered (i.e., some other town/ward/district). No fleeing voters yet; most voters are familiar with the iVotronics, but also note nearly all voters are under 25, and most had never used a lever machine. Also, no problems so far with the wires on the floor. We have enough cords across paths that I thought we might be a problem, but our "Please use other door" signs must be doing the trick.

2:10 p.m. In a flurry of activity, we thought four people came in to vote. Only two were found qualified (the other two were just asking questions), with cards were pulled for the two. This caused a mix-up in one log book. I think that if I do this again with a district this big, I will split the register in half. Finding the right card and register entry for each person is a time-consuming task. Gabe and I clearly can read faster than the others, so we can look up people a lot faster, but it also takes time to log each person as well as mark voter cards.

2:20 p.m. We finally get the URL of the website which allows you to figure out where you're supposed to vote:
I made up a couple of sheets that say "Not sure where to vote? Check on this website." I allow students to borrow this, go over to one of the several terminals nearby, use it, and return the slip, usually smiling, and usually knowing where to go. We realize that non-students would be helpless here, so really what is needed is for District staff to have a laptop handy with Internet access, so that we can look up people's voting status and location for them. While it would be a significant drain on our resources if we were really busy, we may be able to help a lot of people vote, since they would be able to go directly to their polling place, assuming it is nearby. Beyond this, it would be a good idea to have a table set up at fairs, festivals and the like, through the summer and early part of the school year, while there is still time to register to vote, or change one's registration.

4:15 p.m. Film crew from a Pitt class films a pretend candidate. They've been filming themselves off to the side for 20 minutes or more, not bothering us or anyone. Four, I think: One well-dressed woman (like a reporter or PR person), one well-dressed man (the "candidate"), and two average dressed students with camera. They ask permission to film the candidate operating a voting machine. I say it's OK, provided nobody else is voting and the machine is blank. Constable Carol reviews the rules with them in a little more detail, but they are OK with that. They complete filming and leave without incident.

4:20 p.m. We grow tired of the one inside door flying open, as it is very cold and windy. I have Gabe put up "Please Shut Door" signs just as the Facilities Maintenance guy shows up. He suggests putting a chair in front of the door to deter usage. He comes back around 4:30 to work on it some more, and post a more official "Please Use Other Door" sign. He suggests placing a chair in front of the door to keep it from blowing open.

4:25 p.m. We compare notes with 4-14. We have something like 90 voters to their 40. For a while in the morning, we were neck-and-neck. I think a lot of the permanent residents voted early, then went to work, while students were just getting up. Lee is right, we get crowds at one-hour intervals, corresponding with class-change times.

4:40 p.m. The wind pushes open the door along with the chair. I have Gabe duct-tape down the chair. About an hour later, the wind yanks the door open, along with the chair and the tape. Re-attaching it, the wind dies down enough that the chair stays put the rest of the night.

5:15 p.m. District 4-14 has a machine that sounded like a fleeing voter. The machine was right behind me, and we weren't busy at that moment, so I looked at it and called their attention to it. (4-14 had at that moment only one machine with a customer, an elderly couple at the machine to its left. I do not know what happened prior to the machine going into "fleeing voter" mode, since it was occurring behind me, and wasn't my district.)

When I looked at the machine, the ballot did not appear to have ever been started. One of 4-14's clerks came over and filled out a minimal ballot and entered it (red light then green square). I got the Judge in 4-14 to try to cancel this blank vote, but he was not quite sure how to deal with it, so they have a vote discrepancy of one, a problem that could have been avoided if their Minority Clerk had -- or used -- the proper training. (Sorry to say, he isn't too bright.)

6:15 p.m. All four of 4-8's voting machines are in use at once for the first time all day. Four young women came in as a group; none had ever voted before. At that moment, I was the runner manning the PEBs. The fourth machine in line (S/N: V5184887), after use, went to the opening screen. I had started all four of these voters, one at a time, with the same how-to-use-it speech. All knew to push the red button at the top when done, then the green square to confirm. I stepped off to the side, casually observing them from some distance. When the fourth one was done, I noticed that the machine had changed to display the beginning-of-poll screen. I personally verified with this voter (Tess Sanders, 118 on 4-8's log of voters), before she even stepped away from the machine, that she did follow all instructions properly. She said she did.

She left, and Gabe and I watched the terminal for several minutes, expecting it to go into "fleeing voter" mode. It did. Gabe then inserted the red PEB and canceled the vote, selecting "Problem with terminal". When this was done, the message "Public count 66" appeared; the time was 18:25:30. Gabe and I then counted the paper stubs in the envelope; total was 67. Sorry, Tess.

We tape the machine closed. It was not used again that night. (We closed it officially along with the other three at 8 p.m.)

6:50 p.m. With the permission and supervision of 4-14's Judge, I count slips on their machine that had malfunctioned in the same way (S/N: V5181467). I find 14 slips, but "Public count 15". This was because of the Minority Clerk's filling out of an empty ballot to clear the problem on that machine.

7-ish. Gabe canceled a voter's vote at the voter's request. At the close of polling, we find that our vote count is under by 2. One of these undervotes was this requested cancel; the other would have been Tess Sanders.

7:45 p.m. Began going through suitcase, assembling collections of recyclable paper, forms to complete, envelopes to go back, etc.

8:00 p.m. Went outside at two exits, as well as inside, and announced loudly and generally inside that the polls were closing. I think our last customer was at 7:57.

8:05 p.m. Gabe and Jim yellow-PEB the machines, pulled and stored the flash cards, and took them down. Lee took care of envelopes and paperwork. I posted returns and got signatures on forms. Called my wife (who had the car) to ensure she was on her way.

8:28 p.m. Machines down and loaded on cart. Suitcase and envelopes ready. Final stages of getting stuff posted, packed and filed.

8:42 p.m. Sarah and Amy here; Amy came in to find us while Sarah circled, looking for a parking space. Jim left. Lee left with us, as she lives near Reizenstein and it's still blowing bitterly outside.

9-ish At Reizenstein. Lee, Gabe and I take the suitcase to the first turn-in line. Since Lee had done this several times before, most of our ducks were already in good order. As we got closer to the front, we/she could see what specific things they were looking for and in what order, so when we were up to bat, she had it ready. Repeated this at the 2nd and 3rd tables inside. One poor guy "had a mess", as the Table #2 lady observed. Nothing was filled out. But us? Bing-bing-bing, we were in and out of there in less than five minutes, all with smiles and thanks from the other side of the table. Then off to her place of residence and saw her in. Then home before 10, and finished writing this (long-hand) by 10:30.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Why bus service to 3 Pittsburgh malls should stop (Nov. 3, 2007)

Current mood: angry

If I had to reduce all my complaints over 17 years about Port Authority of Allegheny County to a single item, it would be this: PAAC does not speak up loudly and forcefully enough when to do so would serve the interests of its customers and itself. Instead it tones down its message, or times or words it in such a mannner as to leave less of an impression. This is done, I have come to believe, to appease politicians as well as business and labor leaders at all levels, and to avert the negative press that often follows taking a principled stand.

In the latest case, Simon Properties Group, owner of Ross Park Mall, Century III Mall, and South Hills Village, has ordered bus stops moved away from convenient mall entrances, to areas distant, dangerous and difficult to access. Would you park your car in the most distant space possible, even on the other side of the road circling the mall?

SPG did this because it does not want bus riders' business -- something about undesirables, lower-income, lower-class citizens. This fact has been independently corroborated (from a former inner-office employee), and as such it proclaims blatant race and class discrimination. The fact that it also endangers its rider clientele, especially the elderly, the disabled, and small children, appears to be lost on mall management. Who takes the heat for this? Port Authority, of course.

Two can play at this game, however. To drive this point home, Port Authority can and should terminate all service to these three malls unless and until curbside service can be guaranteed. While this would surely upset people, not the least of whom would be existing riders willing to tolerate the malls' stupidity, PAAC needs to make clear whose decision prompted the action, and whose would restore service.

The last I checked, riders' money is just as green as that of customers arriving in cars. Thus, if PAAC cannot deliver its clientele there safely and conveniently, it should not go there at all, and most importantly, not be afraid to say why.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What? No candy on Halloween? *What* then?! (Oct. 27, 2007)

Current mood: thoughtful

No, indeed, I do not give out candy on Halloween. Never have. Well, not exactly true; there is some candy available, but that's not the main event.

I give out coins. No, not plain old money, collector coins. I'm a numismatist.

Each year that I've lived here in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh, I've given out something different. Let's see if I can recall some of them:

* "V" nickels.
* 1943 steel cents, with a magnet
* Eisenhower dollars
* Silver Certificate $1 bills
* Canadian provincial quarters (the first year we had our U.S. state quarters)
* British pennies; note that the U.S. has only and always minted cents, and has never referred to them as "pennies".
* Medals with dinosaurs on them, the year that one of "The Land Before Time" movies came out.
* Kennedy half dollars.
* 1897 Indian Head cents, in 1997.

The point is, there are plenty of ways to make kids' eyes bulge out with things they've never seen before. My job as an educator is to instill in them a sense of wonder and excitement.

What a wonderful opportunity I have each year! Kids come up on my porch by the dozen, looking for a handout, and I willingly give it to them! Only in my case, they do not get something they eat, but instead they get something they can keep! Forever! It might even be worth something.

In the last few years, as I've seen my clientele get younger and younger, I've included a note along with the coin, explaining what it is, and why I give them out. I also include my name and address, in case any parent wonders where the kids got the thing. While I never have had a parent call me to question the handout, I've had some neighborhood kids come by a couple of days later to see if I have any extras. (Which I did, and gladly gave them what I had.)

Of course, I cannot give out things that have a whole lot of value. On a good evening, I might get 25 kids. If I got 250, it might be a different story and not be able to give out anything. But on the other hand, I know plenty of people who drop $30 to $40 on candy.

Don't expect me to hand out gold pieces from the 1840s, but stop by my house and you will get something that will make you think a bit!

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Second Monroeville bike trip (Oct. 26, 2007)

Current mood: tired

Yesterday I tried biking to Monroeville again. Getting there was easy: The 13A on McKnight had a rack, as did the 67A, and on both legs of the trip I pretty much zoned out.

Getting back was a different story. I tried to catch the very same 67A trip as last Friday, but this bus did not have a rack. I ended up bicycling all the way to the Wilkinsburg station of the East Busway. And there I sat for nearly a half hour, waiting for a bus in service that would both stop and have a bike rack. Nearly 10 buses were headed back to the East Liberty Garage, all with racks. Fat lot of good any of those did me!

Finally an EBS arrived with a rack, a huge articulated (i.e., bends in the middle). I almost freaked when the driver pulled almost past where I could squeeze myself and the bike past the end-of-station barrier, but I managed somehow. I cannot believe he didn't see me: I was wearing my orange safety vest, had a helmet on, and was standing right there with the bike in full view.

Downtown, when my 11C showed, it too was rackless. No biggie; the 11C is not a designated bike route, so I wasn't too surprised. I noted that it was bus 5021. Headed across the 7th Street Bridge, I was passed by bus 5022, a 500 which would get me to West View. I charged ahead, caught the bus at a traffic light, and Yay! it had a rack! While the light was still red, I mounted and boarded, and off we went.

Somehow, though, I managed to munch a knuckle while loading the bike that time. I'm still not sure how I did that, as I've had plenty of practice, and have never done it before. I had riding gloves on, too.

The trip there required an hour and five minutes, but the trip home 2.5 hours. It took me 25 minutes to bike from the Expo Mart next to Monroeville Mall to the Wilkinsburg station, about as long as waiting for the bus at the Wilkinsburg station. I thought about biking home from there after waiting so long, but the idea of a mid-day 25-mile ride didn't quite thrill me.

Anyway, one more trip under my belt!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fire hoses and flower gardens (Oct. 23, 2007)

Current mood: contemplative

Let's say you go out to water your flowers. What do you use? A sprinkler that you carry around? Maybe a one-inch green hose with a spray nozzle? Well, how about if you instead use a 100psi-rated fire hose? You do want to make sure they all get watered properly, don't you?

Insane, right? No, wait -- I forgot that the fire hose also has a leak right at the nozzle that sprays you straight in the face with a jet of water. Doubly insane, but the analogy is accurate when we tackle the topic of outdoor lighting. Looking around, I estimate that at least 80% of all outdoor lighting is overdone, misdirected, wasteful, and always does more harm than good.

In most cases, the outdoor lights we as a society have installed pour light as much sideways as down. The cobra-shaped public streetlight is a prime example. You can see them from a mile away, yet the amount of street that they actually illuminate well is fairly small, at best 200 feet away, beyond which any object fades into the shadows. OTOH easily 30% of the light goes sideways and even up, relative to the base of the metal fixture holding the bulb. Thirty percent of your tax dollars are lighting up the night sky. The wasted light may be close by, such as trespassing directly in a window, or lighting up the sky many miles away. Recall that our atmosphere scatters light, so all sideways light is "up" to someone, Either way, that, dear readers, is harm.

Even worse is the private yard light that looks like a crystal hornet's nest. These are everywhere. Fully 30% of their light, too, goes anyplace but down into the yard where supposedly needed. Same goes for those side-mounted box lights often found over doorways or on the sides of buildings, and floodlights pointed towards parking lots. Think fire hoses.

All of these lights typically draw 250 to 400 watts of power. At 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, or one cent per hour per 100 watts, a 250-watt bulb running 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, costs its owner $9/month, closer to $15 for the brighter ones, $28 if they run 24/7, as some do. Those fixtures, while inexpensive to purchase ($20), cost over $100/year to run. (Is that sirens I hear? Where are my flowers?)

I do not see where people get the idea that light glaring directly into one's eye is desirable, but any fixture that directs or allows light sideways as well as down is doing precisely that. It's nuts! The human eye works very nicely in dim-light situations, thank you, but not when nearby lights are bright. In fact it takes our eyes several minutes to recover from brightness when it is otherwise dark. Think leaky fire hoses.

The solution is to replace lights that shine sideways with ones that shine down. I know of areas which have both types of lights installed (Mars, Butler County, is one). It is actually brighter under the downward ones than the omni-directionals, though from a couple hundred feet away the omnis appear to be brighter. Further, the downward ones use far less juice, 50 watts, vs. 250, with whiter light than the omnis' peach-pink glow.

The point is, if you want the sidewalks to be lit, light the sidewalks, not the walls and roofs of every building in town.

Why is this important? First, cost. Whether you own the light, or run the business that pays for the light, or pay the taxes to whatever governmental body operates it, that's your money down the drain. Second, pollution. Much of that power comes from coal, and no matter how clean you make it, that's still smoke going up, as well as greenhouse gases.

Third, and this one is nearest and dearest to my own heart, is the loss of the night sky. That sideways and upwards light becomes the sky glow that blots out the stars in the sky. In a central city or the glare of a mall parking lot, you might be lucky to see 10 stars overhead, maybe 100 in a suburban yard. Dozens of miles out from the city, you might see 1,000. But in very dark areas, anyone with reasonably good vision should be able to see about 15,000 stars. If you cannot see the Milky Way, your sky has been wiped out by bad lighting.

Fourth is plain old safety. Those who want bright lights have bought into the very common idea that lots of light means security. Piffle. Define security! How secure are you when an attacker can clearly see you, and has positioned himself so that the nearby lighting is right in your face? How much better it would be if lighting were subdued so that your eyes were adjusted to the dark, with just enough downward light so that you can see not to trip over something!

How secure is your building from vandals who can see clearly what they're doing because you've provided them the light to do so? How safe is your yard when an intruder can see everything there, and hide in the shadows until people have left, before making a move? How much better if the place was always dark, but became flooded with light when someone walks in and trips a motion sensor? Light might make you think you and your property are safer, but it doesn't make you any safer.

The sensible approach to lighting is this: Less is better. Save money. Avoid waste. Avoid pollution. Think.

Use a sprinkler, not a fire hose, and don't spray yourself along with the flowers.

More info: International Dark Sky Association (or their resources page), and this link for one product anyone can buy and install.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

New glasses (Oct. 22, 2007)

Current mood: happy

The reason for my bike ride the other day was to pick up my new eyeglasses. Wow, was I overdue for a new prescription. I could see reasonably well with the old glasses, so long as I was not looking at something up close, but in the last couple of years, to do that I could actually see better without. That meant I wore my glasses on my hair more than my eyes most of the time. They got moved around so much that one of the horizontal supports actually snapped off a few months ago.

I am slightly near-sighted. I think I was 12 or 13 when Mom trooped my sisters and I off to the eye doctor for a routine exam. "He needs glasses, Mum," he said, and a week later I got my first nerdy pair, making it easier to see writing on blackboards. I've been getting nerdy looking rims ever since.

The solution to the current dilemma, I guessed correctly, was bifocals. At age 49 (almost), I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. What did surprise me was that the distance prescription had not changed. Even without glasses I can read the top line or two on the standard eye chart, but with the distance lenses, I can read the 20/15 line. That translates to being able to discern "13C Perry Hwy Exp" from "13F West View Exp" on a headsign from about three blocks away.

I opted for the low-cost type, with the obvious line between the two lenses. For a couple dozen more I could have gotten the line-free type, and for a couple dozen beyond that I could have gotten an even fancier multiply-graduated type. Not necessary, I said.

They're taking a bit of getting used to. They fit well enough, and when I drive I hardly notice them, as the separation line is exactly at the level of the dashboard. Around the house, though, they're a bit weird, especially when scanning up and down, such as trying to find the jelly in the refrigerator. I think I won't use them on the bicycle, at least for a while, if only because the lenses are a tad smaller than the old ones and so don't work quite as well as a windscreen.

It is good to once again be able to read labels, dates on coins (I've been a numismatist it seems like forever), to see the notes I'm taking, and do such mundane things like write checks and sign my name. Yet it's weird to have to learn to tip my head in a different manner, depending on what I need to look at. It's not much of a tip, and I'm sure it will become reflexive eventually, but I'm not there yet.

Still, even though the acquisition of bifocals probably means I have officially entered The Realm Of Old-Fart-Dom, I'm happy to be able to see properly once again!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

North Hills to Monroeville by bike (& bus) (Oct. 21, 2007)

Several days ago I had an eye exam. I've gone to the same optician for 25 years (shameless plug: James E. Hill, O.D.; 412-373-4433), and though I've moved several times, he's always been in Monroeville. Thursday I got the call that my new glasses were ready, so Friday morning, off to Monroeville I went.

The day of the exam, I drove, 25 miles each way, for a total of about $7 in gasoline. Friday, I wasn't about to drop another $7 to contribute to air pollution, traffic congestion, and continued feeding of oil companies, so hopped on the bike to make the trip -- with a little help from Port Authority of Allegheny County.

The trick was to not only catch four buses (south then east, west then north), but to catch buses that had bike racks. To do this, I had a little inside information: Harmar and Ross Division buses are the most likely to have bike racks, and as it happens, I live in the Ross area, and Monroeville is in the Harmar area. Those who live south of Pittsburgh, with buses that come out of West Mifflin garage, are least likely to encounter bike racks, though every new bus will get one. All of the last order (the 5500s) are so equipped.

The first leg of the trip involved a brief errand (depositing a paycheck! yay!), so I didn't try to catch a bus near my house, but simply continued on into West View, served by the 11D Perrysville or 500. The 500 came along first, and had a rack, so off we (bike and I) went. I don't think I stood still more than five minutes waiting for that bus.

The second leg of the trip was made more interesting by a seat-mate, a woman roughly my age who boarded in Bellevue. We got to talking, and that always makes a bus ride more interesting. She exited Downtown but I stayed on well past Oakland, wondering how far east I could get before the 500 and 67A parted ways. I exited where the 500 turned north off of Fifth Avenue, at College Street in Shadyside. From there, I knew it to be maybe a half mile to Penn & Dallas in Point Breeze, which brings us to ...

Leg 3: The first in-city bike ride. This was a bit daunting, as Fifth Avenue at that point was narrowed to a single lane because of construction. I was sandwiched between a large delivery van in front, and a 71D bus behind, with nowhere to go besides the sidewalk. More irritating than scary, I had to endure the stop-and-go behavior of the delivery van, which takes a lot of energy. Fortunately, this only lasted a block or two. The bus passed me; I passed the bus; the bus turned (more accurately, the bus stayed on Fifth which bends left where I bent right onto Penn Avenue); and I zipped along unimpeded for the few more blocks to where I could board a 67A. However, I was having enough fun, and knew that I was 15 minutes ahead of the 67A, so simply stayed on all the way into Wilkinsburg, where I waited on Sawyer Way, by the East Busway, for the 67A to catch up with me. This was probably the longest pause in the trip, 10 minutes.

Leg 4 was the 67A, which as I guessed did have a rack. Riding the 67A is a known quantity for me, as I used to work at a couple different places in Monroeville. At least I thought I knew the route. As we went past Miracle Mile Shopping Center, I was a bit taken aback when the bus got in the left lane, as I expected it to loop around a couple of banks by Routes 22 and 48. Nope, it headed left -- north -- on 48.

Leg 5: I exited at the first stop, again an area well known to me, as I actually used to have to walk this road on a daily basis a few years ago, when I first became second-car-less. Those who find McKnight Road in the North Hills daunting have at least a clue what dealing with 48 in Monroeville is like. It's five lanes of hell, not at all tolerant of bicycles. The trick is to let the flood of cars pass you at a light, then make the best use of the relative calm. It only is 3/4 mile from 22 to Northern Pike, which hardly took two minutes. The difficult part was figuring out how to make a left at that intersection, what with the company of 45 cars, a dump truck, and a school bus. Answer: Don't try. I stayed far to the right, turned right onto Northern Pike, made an immediate U-turn, hopped onto the sidewalk, and rolled up to the pedestrian crossing light. When the light changed, I just rolled the bike across the intersection as a pedestrian. This, too, was a bit chancy, because, as is common in the suburbs, ped-Xing lights do you no favor. The ped-Xing light comes on, and you step right into the path of a bunch of cars making a right turn from behind you. By the time the flood of cars got out of the way, I only had a couple of seconds to hop back on and ride across, before car traffic again took over, and so I again hopped out of the way, onto what passes for a sidewalk. From here, it was easier just to walk the bike, since there is no shoulder, traffic is incessant, and there are just too many entrances and exits to figure out. All that for 100 yards of suburban travel.

Finally: Accomplishment. I am in my eye doctor's parking lot. Next problem: Where to put a bicycle. As is typical in the suburbs, there is noplace to park a bike, nothing to hook it to. I scoured the main floor of The Polidora Building for someplace I could wedge it out of the way. Nada. So I rolled it around back, out of sight, whereupon I find a sign saying -- get this! -- No Skateboards or Bike Riding. Aha, I thought, what better place to park a bicycle! I just wish I had a camera with me!

Leg 6: The return trip. I opted to keep my old glasses on for the bicycle part of the trip, since they were a bit bigger and made a better windscreen. Making it the 100 yards back down Northern Pike wasn't too difficult, once I had a break in traffic, then even Route 48 was OK. I just waited for the flood to go by, then gunned it as best I could. My bike is essentially a racing bike, so I can get up a good head of steam, probably 25 to 30 mph, in a sprint. Getting across 22 was the next problem, one that could not be done from the curb lane. I just got in the center of my lane at the stop light at 22 and made sure I had a little extra space between me and the car in front, in case I needed to dash out of the way, but the car behind stopped with plenty of spare. When the light turned green, I started moving before the car in front did, so as to be able to have a leg up on the car behind. Bicycles accelerate from a stop faster than cars, at least for the first few feet, and if timed right, a strong cyclist will be able to keep up with traffic that doesn't exceed the cyclist's top speed.

Once across 22, the next problem was in not getting on the Parkway East. Cars coming off the Plum exit were not too difficult to deal with; but trying not to get run over by cars getting on the on-ramp required some thought. Looking more behind than in front, I hugged the curb until I saw enough of a break that I could dash to the left curb while I still was not fully committed to getting on the on-ramp. If I had to do it again (which I might), I might be a bit more bold and not hug the curb lane in the first place. In any event, once I got past the on-ramp, traffic thinned out a lot, and all I had to do was make a left across 48 to the southbound bus stop.

Leg 7: In about five minutes, a 67A showed up, and though it was a different bus from the outbound trip, true to form it had a bike rack. Yay for Harmar Division buses! I got on board and took a long nap, since I knew I'd be riding most of the way Downtown, which takes close to an hour. Somewhere after Oakland I woke up. Hint: CMU and Pitt add 30 people to nearly every trip, so the noise level increases markedly, not that it's ever real quiet.

Leg 8: I checked the timetables, and saw that I only had three minutes between the 67A's arrival and the 13A's departure. Well, OK, I didn't have to ride the 67A all the way to the end. Somewhere after Duquesne University, I exited the bus, grabbed the bike, and headed toward the Allegheny River side of Downtown. The plan was to continue on Fifth Avenue to Sixth Avenue, right on Grant Street, then left on Seventh Avenue, where I would join the 13A's path. In actuality I had about eight minutes between exiting the 67A and meeting the 13A, so I was in pretty good shape in terms of time. In terms of traffic, dealing with Downtown is at least a known quantity, if not close to easy. Of course cars are everywhere, but unlike the suburbs, most times they do not exceed 30 mph. In a Downtown, cars and bikes can co-exist reasonably well. I just joined the flow of traffic, made my lane changes and turns, basically followed the rules, and easily enough pulled up at Seventh and Smithfield to await the 13A.

Leg 9: Within five minutes, the 13A appeared, complete with bike rack. Yay! Four for four! This bus would get me all the way to Perrymont Road, so I'd lucked out on all four major pieces of this trip in terms of bike racks.

Leg 10: Exiting at Perrymont, the only difficult piece left was crossing McKnight. This, too, is a known quantity, since I get off a bus, minus a bike, here all the time. Five minutes later I was in my driveway.

Mission accomplished! Total time: About five hours. It would've taken at least two by car. I started a little before 11 a.m., was on the 500 about 11:15, changed to the 67A around 12:40, was at the eye doctor by 1:15, was back on the 67A around 2, the 13A by 3:15, and home by about 4. Most bus waits were for five to ten minutes, which seemed reasonable. I didn't eat, though planned to take a lunch break if I had to wait for another bus that had a rack. Usually I stuff a bagel and a yogurt in a bag if I know I'm going to be out on the road.

I also tried to perfect the loading and unloading of the bike. I can do it in 10 seconds or less most of the time. I figured out that the fastest way to get the bike off is to hold it in my left arm while I put the rack back up with my right. Previously I'd tried to park the bike and use two hands on the rack. Turns out this is not necessary, and avoids the problem of the bike falling over. Practice makes perfect!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Not shopping at Wal-Mart, ever (Oct. 18, 2007)

Current mood: calm

Fact: Prior to last Friday, I had not set foot in any Wal-Mart since 2002.
Fact: I have not purchased a single item in any Wal-Mart since 1998.
[Update, 16 June 2011: I have not set foot in a Wal-Mart since I wrote this in 2007.]

Some of this is intentional: I do not shop at Wal-Mart, if at all possible, for several reasons (details below), but a more general fact is that I do not shop at all, if possible. Note that I am the person in my household who does the larger part of any shopping that gets done, so this is not a "someone else does that" type of thing.

No, the larger issue is that I just plain do not shop. I don't buy stuff. I don't need stuff. What stuff I use, I typically reuse from stock on hand. Lots more comes from discards, either from The Freecycle Network, straight from the trash (it's amazing what businesses and people throw out), or the occasional bag of hand-me-downs from someone we know. It's not so much charity as friendship, as we return the favor just as often.

The Three "R"s: Reduce, reuse, recycle. We've heard that mantra before, haven't we? Well, I live it. I do not use what I do not need to use (that's the reduce part), I do not use new stuff if a previously used item will do, and when I'm done with it, it probably won't go to a landfill.

But as to Wal-Mart, probably the easiest explanation is that there isn't one handy. The McKnight Road corridor has three major malls and four major plazas, plus a Sam's Club [well, in 2007, it did, but it's since closed], but no Wal-Mart.

I do most of my shopping at stores I can walk or bus to (Pines Plaza, West View Plaza), and this fact alone is worth accenting: If I cannot get to a store by bus, then I won't shop there even if I have a car handy.

Most importantly, I do not shop on price. If I like a store (see previous paragraph), I will go out of my way to shop there, and will gladly pay more, because I want to keep them in business.

Price is irrelevant. If I need the item (see 3Rs paragraph, above), then I don't care about price. If I'm short on money, I probably spent money on something else I didn't need as much (again, the "reduce" part) or that I too soon discarded something I could have reused.

Now, as to Wal-Mart. They're focused on low price, which is antithetical to my beliefs. They use price to drive out existing businesses. They're usually placed on green-space sites which have little public transportation, or where it is costly for transit to service. Hence, they foster continued or increasing dependence on the automobile as part of their business model, and thus on our lifestyle.

Long ago, I asked myself this simple question: If I could not use a car to get to Wal-Mart, would I shop there? The answer was no.

Consequently, even if there was a Wal-Mart nearby, I would not shop there. Even if there were no other stores nearby, I would not shop at Wal-Mart. I refuse to contribute to their growth or profit. In fact, I would "do without" first.

And I suggest everyone else do likewise.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Growing tired of church -- again (Sept. 30, 2007)

Sometime around 1986, I stopped going to the church I went to every week, a church that was literally on the same ancestral plot of ground I lived on. Some great*N grandfather deeded a chunk of the original farm's land grant for a church and cemetery, and the acre I lived on was the last remaining of that original farm. Roots that deep, yes, can be uprooted.

I did not go to another church for a long, long time. Of course, it must be noted that I am an independent, not only not affiliated with a church, but not affiliated with a denomination. I specifically do not claim to be a Christian, since that label, in my view, infers lots of meanings that may or may not apply (see related blog about my upbringing). In my view, calling oneself a Christian is an easy label to hide behind, an easy bandwagon to jump on. We so easily forget that Jesus of Nazareth was, himself, an independent, defiant of the status quo. In my view, to be like Jesus is to stand apart from bandwagons, to be to some extent defiant, to look establishmentarians in the eye and tell them where to go.

In any event, I have grown enough dissatisfied with my own personal status quo that, here I sit, 10:20 a.m. on a Sunday, at home. Well, sitting only to type this, as I'm also taking care of some routine stuff (laundry, dishes) and some long overdue personal projects. Nor am I alone, as Gabe is upstairs, studying.

So why the dissatisfaction? A mishmash of things, some of them going back years. We changed senior pastors about two years ago. I really liked Pastor Wayne. He made Jesus come alive in my mind, made it make sense. I disagreed with a few things with him (creationism, strict constructionist judges, other political stuff), but in church, those were not big issues, and outside of church we were able to disagree without being disagreeable.

Following him were a series of interim pastors, one staying most of a year. They, too, had their pluses and minuses, and for that matter, so does the current, permanent senior pastor, a youngish guy (40, younger than me, anyway), very affable, with a clear, understandable message. Well enough, I guess, and I do like the way he can make the KJV Bible come alive.

No, what's getting at me isn't any one single thing. It's that rootedness coming back to haunt me, the feeling that I have to go to church and have to go to church there because I have to go to church and I have to go to church there. Indeed, though, there are a couple of needles in my side, which weekly trips to get there and back seem not to be worth the $5 I spend in gasoline.

For one, the more I learn about Jesus and the early church, the more I learn about what has been added on as unquestioned and unquestionable Scripture, over the last 1900+ years. (I won't list the details here.) I recently acquired a Roman Catholic version of the Bible, and find several books, and chapters and verses of other books, that are not in KJV or NIV or any other translation previously available to me (see my blog entry on Bible translations). I also own and am trying to read a Koran, which at a very shallow level is in essence saying "OK, Christians, you had half a millenium to get it right and failed, so let me show you how it's supposed to be done."

Closer to home and the present, the interchange between me and several church members with the blog entries from a couple of weeks ago (1, 2) and another one about a year ago left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Last summer, the interim pastor had a sermon the same week as Pope Benedict's dust-up with the Islamic world, in which he said something that struck me as particularly intolerant, the sort of seed which, if planted, would cause lots of sectarian grief.

Possibly the largest item in recent weeks is the passing of Rev. Dr. D. James Kennedy, about whom I wrote but did not publish a blog entry that said, in effect, "Good bye and good riddance". Kennedy, in my view, represented the ultimate ill-will generator in this generation, a religious extremist, in precisely the sort of mold as were the right-wing ayatollahs that overthrew the Shah of Iran (an event that occurred on my 21st birthday). There has been little but religious, sectarian strife over in that part of the world ever since. Here, Kennedy and his ilk (Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, a dozen more) have taken over politics (the Republican party in particular), the airwaves (every major market now has a "Christian" station), and the thinking of nearly every organized Church Body in the U.S.A., to think like he does. Around 1970, this line of approach did not exist. Kennedy and others defined an alignment, and everyone it seems toes that line, or risks some sort of hell or damnation if they do not.

Well, I do not. Perhaps it my father's fuckemallist philosophy coming out, perhaps it's just that at nearly 49, I see no reason to toe anyone's line. And going to church serves primarily to toe that line.

Can I do better? (Sure, I'm familiar with Proverbs 3:5, Genesis 12:1, Psalms 10:4, and Jeremiah 9:23.) I can do better with following all the good books.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Planning public transit (Sept. 25, 2007)

Current mood:hopeful

This is the first in a series of blogs I intend to write in which I will try to explain to my readers just how difficult it is to figure out how to use public transit, and what should be done about it. I say this because I want someone to hire me to figure this out on a regional level, so as to help both relieve some of the pressure to constantly increase the automobile capacity of the highway system around here, and help the metro Pittsburgh transit company get out of a long-standing operating deficit.

First, bring up this link in a separate tab or window. It shows a map of the area near my house (marked as "me"), with several nearby residences also marked. There are only two bus routes in this area that matter, one which travels Perry Hwy, the 11C, and one which travels McKnight Road, the 12A. (For simplicity, I am ignoring several naming variants and other routes which cross the edges of this view, at least for now.)

What brought this about was talking with a man yesterday whom I had previously not met. He mentioned that he used the system occasionally, but only after driving some distance, since it was so difficult to use the system from nearby his house. We exchanged business cards, and I was amazed to find out that he lives less than a half mile away (marked as "WS"), and would board the exact same 11C that I do, only one or two stops north of me.

How was it, then, that if I can find the system so indispensable, he cannot use it at all? Well, take a look at where I am, and where he is. I need only walk a mere tenth of a mile west on Perrymont Road, where I can cross four-lane Perry Highway at a "walk" light. He, by contrast, must walk a half mile on narrow, unlit, sidewalk-less suburban residential side streets. This area is also very hilly. While I am part mountain goat, quite capable of dealing with mud, snow and ice, I can easily see why this would be hard or distasteful enough to dissuade most people from finding transit a desirable "Plan A".

Also by contrast, consider my neighbor "ZZ", who lives even closer to his 11C stop than I am to mine. One thing ZZ and WS have in common, though, is that they must cross Perry Hwy without a traffic light. It's tough. Dozens of cars a minute whiz by. ZZ puts up with it, possibly because he is so close.

Now also consider the people living west of WS, shown as JB and DJ. JB is a full mile off the main drag, DJ almost 1.2 miles. These neighborhoods are classic examples of suburban sprawl, with tract after tract of land developed from either forest or farmland. The hundreds of people back in these developments, if they were to use transit, would travel to those same three bus stops along Perry Highway. However, this is not going to happen, since virtually nobody back there will walk that far, nor is there anyplace to legally park a car or even a bicycle closer to these stops. Also because of the low density, there is no chance at all to get a bus to circulate these neighborhoods. Indeed, the 11C itself has been cut back severely due largely to ridership losses. [Update, 2011: The Perry Highway service has been eliminated entirely due to transit funding cuts.]

Rider KK, on the other hand, at top center of the map, used to drive her car to the parking lot of a large office building by Perry & Perrymont. She had permission to do this, but apparently no longer does, despite some 80 of the lot's 135 parking spaces never being in use on any given day. This was not her decision. As a result, one more car has to chase into Downtown every day, or fight for the pitifully few legal park-and-ride spaces that do exist. Four other large lots along Perry similarly sit empty or nearly so, some with nasty "commuters stay out" signs prominently posted, while, conversely, the community college (in north-center of map, unmarked) has constructed oceans of asphalt to handle its commuter load. Can't some of those students get there by bus? A couple do, but not the hundreds who could of the thousands who drive.

Now consider the difference in difficulty faced between two almost neighbors, JO and JD, who live barely 100 yards apart in distance, but worlds apart in difficulty in using transit. JO needs only walk a quarter mile up to Perry Highway, and for the inbound side, can walk another few feet to cross at the Perrymont traffic light. By contrast, JD cannot do that. She would have to hike a mile to get out to McKnight Road. For her, there is no reasonable method to get to Perry Hwy.

MK (on the eastern side of the map), by contrast, also has to hike out some distance, about a half mile, but this is a bit more do-able, as much of his hike involves wide shoulders and connected parking lots. He also has another option, a third route, which travels Peebles Road. He prefers the McKnight bus, though, because it is a faster trip home, even with the walk, and there is better rush-hour service. I, too, can use the McKnight buses, since it is a straight 3/4 mile hike east on Perrymont, and the comparatively large amount of service makes up for the plain-nutso difficulty in walking along Perrymont. But even close-by ZZ would find the McKnight options prohibitively difficult. Though I might consider them close enough, those buses are a world away for him.

All of this illustrates, I hope simply, how different an experience can be had for several people within a very narrow geographic area. For all, there is no sidewalk anywhere to be found, and what lighting exists is bad. It would be better to remove it.

Welcome to riding transit in the suburbs!

The solution to all this -- why I want someone to hire me -- is to develop a scheme to resolve some of this difficulty. Much of it would be low-tech, low-cost stuff like improving shoulders (e.g., put down some gravel), trimming branches, and improving lighting. Some of it would be getting parking-lot owners to allow some limited commuter parking, especially on the little-used fringes.

The big change, though, involves some technology. Point-specific timetables that vary from house to house that would tell people when to leave the house to catch a bus (example), or how to make connections to get Downtown, or get back, would ease greatly the difficulty in figuring out how to catch what service does exist.

I figure this would cost someone $100,000 to $200,000 -- tiddlywinks when compared to what transportation projects cost. A hundred grand might buy a single traffic light. A half-million might add a right-turn lane at an intersection. A bridge widening is going to run into seven digits. Re-timing all the traffic lights on McKnight Road a few years ago cost five to seven million. Rebuilding the Parkway East is getting into eight digits. The MFSoB (Mon-Fayette/Southern Beltway) project will cost five billion.

On the other hand, pay me a decent salary for a year, and be willing to implement whatever I come up with, and then we won't have to build as much. It may cost a few hundred thousand more to put my ideas in place, but that's still insanely cheap compared to constantly building out the road system. However it gets paid for, that's still all tax money.

Just in Pittsburgh, projects to improve the highway system each year run well into the hundreds of millions of dollars. It costs roughly $300 million to run the transit system for a year, too, over half of which comes from tax dollars in one form or another. The difference between its needs and the availability of that money ran to almost $80 million this year.

Getting 50,000 more people a year to buy a bus pass, by contrast, would put dozens of millions of dollars into the system, and take tens of thousands of cars off the road each day. Do you see where I'm going with this? Figuring out ways to get people to want to use transit would cost a trivial amount of money, would save dozens or hundreds of millions of highway dollars, and help transit dig itself out of the budget hole it faces each year. Business owners can rejoice in giving their employees a better standard of living at zero cost. The rest of us can celebrate cleaner air, less congestion, reduced use of foreign oil, and lessened global warming.

Just as importantly, each person who gets on the bus saves money in not having to buy fuel, and if they get reliant enough on it, might even be able to jettison that second or third automobile, thus saving the household thousands of dollars each year. That money, in turn, can improve each household's standard of living, apart from their cars. (Think college, a trip to Vegas or the beach, starting a business, getting out of debt, etc.) Just a thought -- check that, more than just a thought.

This morning, the Parkway East backed up from the Squirrel Hill Tunnels to Route 22 by 6:30, five miles of stop-and-go traffic. There was no wreck; it was just a volume backup. So many cars, so little highway. Do we spend $5,000,000,000 on a road, or $100,000 or so on an idea that would help us avoid building that road and 200 smaller ones?

Please. Someone. Hire me.