My letter to Nicole Brodeur on road diets

Dear Ms. Brodeur:

I read your column regarding the road diet for Northeast 125th Street. Not being familiar with this street, I decided to go out and see it myself. something I hope you get a chance to do.

On my visit, I noted several interesting things. First was how pleasant the neighborhood was, with mature trees lining the street. I can see why folks up there see potential for interesting retail to spread west from Lake City Way.

My impression of the road is that, despite a little rough pavement, it's entirely bikeable as it stands, although to be fair it's probably more challenging during times of heavy traffic. I didn't see any bikes besides me, but on a Sunday afternoon, there weren't all that many cars either. Lots of people waiting for buses though. Not a lot of good places for bus riders to get to or from the required side of the street.

As for the monster 8% grade hill, meh. I assume this is west-bound from roughly 25th to 17th. I rode up it in 2 minutes without breaking a sweat. Literally, 2 minutes. I timed it. I ride my bike quite a bit, but I'm well into my 40s and don't have the strength I did as a kid. Surely, there are some casual bike riders that would have had to work harder or go slower, but a lot of those casual riders ride city bikes or mountain bikes with very low gears (I was on a road bike), so they can comfortably go quite slow. I reckon there are riders that would be intimidated by that hill, but I can't imagine there are very many riders who are not able to comfortably ride up it if they tried.

Why don't more bikers ride 125th? As for me, I ride in this area quite a bit, and I've never ridden 125th because, well, I didn't know it was there. Now that I've ridden it, I'll probably ride there now and again. It's actually better than the other ways I've been getting from Lake City Way to 15th. One thing this controversy might to is get more bikers to try 125th, and when they do, they'll probably like it. Lots of bikers ride Lake City Way, and southbound there are two hills far more formidable than the hill on 125th. Taking 125th replaces the steeper and more dangerous of the two Lake City Way hills with a shorter, easier hill having better sight lines.

So what does SDOT need to do for bikers on 125th? Nothing.

But the road diet isn't for bikers anyway. It's for pedestrians, and those bus riders I saw. 125th today is like Stoneway when I used to cross it walking my son to school. It was scary to cross, especially in the winter. After too many close calls, I ended up carrying three bike flashers with me so that cars would see us in the crosswalk. Sometimes that didn't feel like enough. It's worlds better now.

Businesses were worried about the road diet on Stoneway affecting them too, and it has. For the better. Slower driving speeds make people more likely to notice interesting businesses, and more willing to park. (Ever tried parallel parking on Aurora?) So I hope the road diet is as good for business on 125th as it seems to have been on Stoneway. I can't see anything special about 125th that would keep a road diet from helping business there.

When the road diet goes in, there will be space for bike lanes, and I suppose the city might as well put them in, at least westbound, although eastbound is probably better off with a little bit wider lane and sharrows. A bike lane or sharrows would both signal to bikers that they should give 125th a try. Had I seen such an invitation in the past, I would have taken it, and discovered a pleasant little neighborhood I'm now pleased I know about.


- Erik


Nickerson Street Road Diet

Drove the dieted Nickerson today. (Planned on riding it, but had another errand to run....) Maximum speed: 36 mph, probably a 10 mph improvement. Average range of auto speeds: less than 10 mph. So far, looks like the diet is working.

There are bike lanes, but this clearly is not bike-centric infrastructure. Bike lanes disappear when the space is needed for turn lanes or for room for cars to wait at the 5-way snarl at the approach to the Fremont Bridge. I think that's the right call, though. The road diet as implemented should have negligible impact on car capacity (of which there is excess anyway) while increasing bike capacity and giving a clearer signal to all road users that bikes belong on Nickerson.

As for pedestrian safety, the actual reason for the road diet? Traffic speeds are closer to the legal limit, with ample traffic capacity. The street now complies with national standards for crosswalks, and the street feels less like a waste land and more like a neighborhood. Everybody wins, even if they aren't ready to admit it.

Everybody, that is, except a few people who think that driving 50mph through a college campus is somewhere in the Bill of Rights.


How easily can you be persuaded to surrender personal information in return for meaningless quiz results?

I've just about had it with quizzes. Can we move on to some other gimmick? Maybe a video game where I try to type my SSN in backwards as fast as possible for meaningless points?



We're back from China, with pictures. It may take a day or two for us to get comments on most of the pictures. Briefly, the pictures are more or less in chronological order. We started in Shanghai. Next we flew to Hunan province, where we saw the fantastical landscape of Zhangjiajie, then the historic river town of Fenghuang and then the provincial capital of Changsha to visit family. We ended with a few days in Beijing mostly seeing the standard sites but also getting off the beaten path.



Aki got this movie at Kinokuniya. It is totally, comprehensively whack. The story is sort of a Wachowski brothers remake of Our Gang in a world built out of Jim Woodring fever dreams. Except not. Maybe more like a mash up of Akira, Star Wars, The Usual Suspects, and The Miracle Worker. Except, you know, weirder.

Go ahead and watch it. I'm pretty sure you can handle it.

BTW, Sven loved it.


Checklist Manifesto

What if surgeons operated on people like pilots fly airplanes? Atul Gawande's new book answers that question: fewer people would die on the operating table. Atul's new book is about how checklists can make surgery more disciplined without making it less creative or heroic. Atul tells literally gripping stories, among the most visceral writing I've seen on the very visceral subject of surgery.

But this book is about so much more than just making surgery better: it's about how complex processes fail, and the way we can make human processes that are still human, but produce the low rates of deadly mistakes we insist on. Atul is humble enough not to draw broad lessons that his data don't support, but he is bold enough to note that the question should be asked: in all kinds of complex processes, particularly during emergencies, how can we give people the tools they need to take effective action?

Atul Gawande is a great writer, a dedicated surgeon, and a creative health researcher. They are going to name buildings for him and new surgeons will be reading his books for decades. Read this book to learn about the incredibly vital worldwide revolution in surgical care that is going on right now.


Once again, bad driving in front of my son's school

This morning, walking home with Nick after dropping Sven off at school, a Ford Expedition rolls past the stop line for the crosswalk, starts to head for the parking lane, finally sees us, then decelerates without exactly stopping. At this point I am maybe 8 feet from the driver. who finally stops. I point at the red light and shrug. She starts to drive forward again, still in a red light. When I don't move, she stops again.

"What?" she says.
"Red Light!"
"Why do you care?"

Why do I care? Um, I dislike being run over? Not enough? How about this: it's fifteen minutes until first bell. Dozens of kids are going to cross this intersection in the next fifteen minutes, all of them harder to see than the two adult men you almost didn't see. If one of them was the kid I see strapped in behind you, would you be more cautious? Would you consider the chance that he would end up under your bumper less important than being able to get to the red light at the end of the block a few seconds earlier? I care because you're old enough to have your own child, but you don't seem to have any concept of the responsibility that comes with operating a device with constant lethal potential if not operated carefully. I care because it bothers me that you are willing to put the children of my neighborhood at risk to test your theory that the rules are for everyone else but you.

Floyd Landis comes clean -ish

Floyd Landis admits he doped. The admission is news. It's not really news that he doped. I think pretty much everybody knew that already.

Do I believe much of anything Floyd Landis says? Not really. It wasn't believable when he had a new story every five minutes for why his test results were positive even though he supposedly wasn't doping. When he stepped up to the microphone, darted his eyes around and said "I'll say, 'no.' " to the question of whether he doped, he looked entirely like a man who made a conscious decision to lie to the entire world. When he drunk-dialed another cycling athlete to harass him for urging Landis to admit the obvious, he went from reprehensible to pathetic.

So Landis' claim that he knows Lance Armstrong doped has as much credibility as most of what has come out of Landis' mouth the last four years: almost none. The evidence is that Armstrong didn't dope. New evidence could change that conclusion. But Landis' claims are not credible evidence about Armstrong's doping. All they are is credible evidence that Landis is still more interested in running and hiding than he is in facing up to the fact that his whole adult life is a lie.


I hated Flash before it was cool to hate Flash

Several years ago, I wrote:
"Don't use Flash. Especially, not for the home page. Waiting for a flash site to load is like standing in line to watch TV. Even after loading, Flash sites are slower. If you are going to have an HTML option, you will have to develop two web sites. If you require Flash, you will lose visitors. In any case, you will lose visitors who won't wait around for slow Flash to load. What do you hope to gain with Flash?"
I wrote this long before Steve Jobs started tearing into Flash, so I'm hardly shilling for Apple. (And approximately zero people look to me as a tech pundit anyway.) So is Steve following my lead? Not exactly.

I generally agree with Jobs' criticisms of Flash: it's a pig, it crashes a lot, it doesn't play nice with the native OS or user experience. But my main problem isn't even with Flash per se. That's why, a year or two ago, I changed "Don't use Flash" above to "Don't use gratuitous Flash." Sure, Flash is a pig, but it also encourages piggy web sites. Even if you don't use Flash, you can still make your web site suck if you try hard enough. The point is to provide the user with an excellent and supple user experience with as little delay as possible. Any site that feels compelled to put up a link that says "skip intro" is based on the fantasy that there are people out there who are giddy with excitement at the prospect of sitting through a bunch of pretty mood-setting pictures before they get to the reason they visited the site in the first place.

So go ahead and dump Flash. I'll cheer. But for all the people who will use HTML 5 to make sites that need "skip intro" links, sorry about all the traffic you didn't get.


Stones Into Schools

Greg Mortenson's sequal to Three Cups of Tea continues the story, mostly about building schools in rural Afghanistan.

If you don't know who Greg Mortenson is, you must have been hiding under a stone. Greg Mortenson and the schools his organization builds in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan have been reported everywhere, and Three Cups of Tea is a smash best seller. This book covers some of the same ground, so I approached it with limited expectations. The remarkable thing is that it is a great story that stands on its own. Greg makes you believe that a peaceful world might be remotely possible.


Car driving in a bike/parking lane

Car driving in a bike/parking lane, blowing through a crosswalk at high speed against the light on Fremont Ave.

This driver pulled out of the car lane to speed through a crosswalk while driving in a combined bike lane/ parking lane. There were children the crosswalk at the time going to school. The crosswalk is in a school zone. This driver committed a bunch of infractions and risked the safety of all around them. Why? So they could speed forward a few hundred feet, slam on the brakes to avoid hitting a parked car (It's a parking lane, remember?) then crowd back into the driving lane. Nuts, just nuts. SDOT has planned improvements to that area, and they can't come too soon. It's bad enough when bikes blow through that crosswalk. That kind of driver behavior is going to kill someone.

This isn't Paris.

Actual sign in Seattle. Seattle is not Paris. In Paris, people let their dogs poop everywhere, and the city cleans the streets every night. In Seattle, people let their dogs poop everywhere, but the city never cleans the streets. Ever.


Chilly Hilly

Did the course twice, each time in about two hours. A very nice day.



A two-pound comic book staring Bertrand Russel? Futhermore, Wittgenstein isn't the supervillain? Unexpected, perhaps, but an entertaining read.


The Outlaw Sea

William Langewiesche's book on why, in a small world, the sea is still a big place. A melancholy book about how all ships die, salaries go down every year, and the sea is even less safe than it needs to be. A very interesting book. Thanks for loaning it to me, Michi.


Haiti: Partners in Health

Partners in Health has been working in Haiti for 25 years. They may be the largest heathcare provider still operating in Haiti. My understanding is their infrastructure was relatively undamaged, although of course there is a lot that is unknown. If any organization in Haiti is in a position to help the people of Haiti, it's PIH.

Tracy Kidder's book Mountains Beyond Mountains featured this organization and it's director Dr. Paul Farmer. I gave PIH money that this month's budget doesn't really have, because next month there won't be as many people in Haiti to help.