My New Favorite Thing: Walkscore
Location, location, location may be the mantra of real estate agents but you seldom hear walkability cited as key in making places great. Cheers are in order, then, for Walkscore, a handy website for assessing the walk factor of neighborhoods in the United States, Canada, and the UK. You just type in an address and it gives you a score from 100 (walkers' paradise) to 0 (the Mariana Trench).
I must say it is mysteriously accurate. My block in Prospect Lefferts, Brooklyn, rates 86, below my old place on the northwest side of Park Slope, 97. Mother-in-law HQ in suburban Queens rates a 63; my old house in Carrboro, North Carolina (where I biked everywhere), 58; and my childhood home in car-addicted Clearwater, Florida, 34.
Too bad we're not moving again anytime soon 'cos this site would come in handy.
An SUV experiment
For those of you in New York, WNYC's Brian Lehrer show is looking for people to participate in a crowdsourcing experiment, By Thursday, they want you to count the SUVs on your block and to report back to them with your findings. In order to use your info, they'll need the following:
1. Your neighborhood
2. Your block (street and cross streets)
3. The number of SUVs parked
4. The total number of cars parked.
I plan on participating myself, though I'm not quite sure what the point is. According to the website:
We’re trying to find out just how much gas-guzzling SUV use there is throughout the New York area, with all the talk of environmental sustainability in the city.
If they think people are hypocritical about driving SUVs while professing a love of the environment, they would do well to read James Surowiecki's column in a recent New Yorker.
As Surowiecki points out, Americans overwhelming support fuel-economy standards, even though they continue to buy gas-guzzling SUVs. But what looks like a contradiction makes sense when you realize that Americans associate big cars with safety (erroneously, but with reason). So while they'd prefer that gas-guzzling tanks not be on the road, they don't want to be dwarfed by these vehicles if they are.
Surowiecki compares the situation to the National Hockey League in the 70s, when hockey players voted for the league to require helmets, even though most players personally chose not to wear them. Helmets protected players from head injuries, but gave them a competitive disadvantage: it was harder to see in them, for example. As long as some players wore helmets and others didn't, the players who didn't had an advantage. But if rules required everyone to wear the helmets (which they eventually did), everyone benefited from greater safety and a level playing field.
So, while owning an SUV in the city may seem to make no sense whatsoever, a healthy percentage of SUV drivers would probably welcome SUVs eradication. (The rest, we can presume, are self-centered, delusional pricks.)
NYT op-ed on Congestion Pricing
Sunday's New York Times had a couple of Op-Eds about Mayor Bloomberg's plan for congestion pricing in New York City. One of them, by Ellen F. Crain, makes almost no sense at all. Crain argues that congestion pricing will inadvertently lead to more traffic in the outer boroughs because "drivers will be looking for parking near subways there to take them to Midtown."
I'd love to ask Ms. Crain where all this presumably free and easy parking in Brooklyn is. I'm in Flatbush and even here free parking is slim pickins. The plumber across the street sometimes sits in his car for an hour just waiting for a space to open up. The idea that swarms of people rich enough to keep a car in the City would drive to another neighborhood, search for a space to park, then board the train for a 35-minute ride to the city just to save $4 (assuming the subway and back is $4) takes some imagination. I don't know about the other boroughs, but I'm going to guess that the closer one gets to the city and the subway, the harder it is to find free parking.
The entire Op-Ed rests on this claim, which is totally unsubstantiated in any way. It also doesn't acknowledge that there's a pretty easy workaround: get rid of free parking!
Speaking of England, the way those crazy Brits go after motorists really warms my heart. Thanks to an ingenious government plot, drivers who try to sneak into the high-speed lane meet their just desserts.