I thought about war and peace in November. Well, mostly war. War is frightening. The United States of America appears to be flailing about militarily all over the world guided by noforeignpolicy. Big wars of the past have sometimes been started by overconfidentleaders thinking they could get a quick military victory, only to find themselves bogged down in something much larger and more intractable than they imagined. But enemies are good to have – the Nazis understood that a scared population will believe what you tell them.
We should probably be sounding the alarm just as urgently, if not more urgently, on biodiversity as we are on global warming. But while the case against global warming is so simple most children can grasp it, the case against biodiversity loss is more difficult to articulate.
A theory of mass extinctions of the past is that they have been caused by massive volcanic eruptions burning off underground fossil fuels on a massive scale. Only, not quite at the rate we are doing it now. Rapid collapse of ice cliffs is another thing that might get us.
It’s possible that the kind of ideal planned economy envisioned by early Soviet economists (which never came to pass) could be realized with the computing power and algorithms just beginning to be available now.
The Onion shared this uncharacteristically unfunny observation: “MYTH: There is nothing mankind can do to prevent climate change. FACT: There is nothing mankind will do to prevent climate change”. It’s not funny because it’s probably true.
There were 910 deaths from drug overdose in Philadelphia last year. Interestingly, I started writing a post thinking I might compare that to car accidents, and ended up concluding that the lack of a functioning health care system might be our #1 problem in the U.S.
On the climate front: There are some new ideas for decoupling human wellbeing from energy use by focusing on the distinction between needs and wants, which mainstream economics does not do. Electric cars and self-driving cars may explode onto the scene at the same time. Al Gore released An Inconvenient Sequel. Will it start to turn the tide against willful ignorance of science and logic? Fingers crossed, although I doubt the people who are most impervious to science and logic will watch it. Maybe there are still some people on the fence who will.
Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:
Tile is a sort of wireless keychain that can help you find your keys, wallet, and those other pesky things you are always misplacing (or your significant other is moving, but won’t admit it).
“Fleur de lawn” is a mix of perennial rye, hard fescue, micro clover, yarrow, Achillea millefolium, sweet alyssum, Lobularia maritima, baby blue eyes, Nemophila menziesi, English daisy, Bellis perennis, and O’Connor’s strawberry clover, Trifolium fragiferum.
NACTO has a new guide integrating stormwater management and multi-modal transport ideas on streets. This is significant because NACTO is not just a bunch of hippies or even hipsters, but a transportation industry group that has real influence on the design approaches that end up getting incorporated into federal, state, and local design criteria and technical specifications. And this is how engineering business gets done – once design criteria are written into the codes, whether they are good or bad, engineers are going to follow them because this is the most efficient and lowest risk thing to do, and in some cases there are no alternatives.
I like these ideas for better traffic lights. It really is time for something much better that can give clear instructions to drivers while minimizing conflicts between drivers, walkers and bicyclists.
Here are some best practices for sidewalk closures published by the city of Oakland, California. In a nutshell, contractors have to provide a walkway rather than make pedestrians cross the street in downtown areas, expect for very short periods. The walkways have to be ADA accessible. If the walkways take up a bike lane, there has to be a safe place for the bikes to go. Barriers have to be substantial enough to actually protect pedestrians if vehicles hit them. I could walk 5 minutes in any direction in Philadelphia and see every one of these principles violated.
I just realized I forgot to do a month in review post in January. Well, I had a lot going on in my personal life in January, most notably the arrival of a tiny new human being. Blog posts are not the only thing I forgot – I forgot to pay some important bills and to do some important paperwork at my job too.
The U.S. government may be “planning to roll back or dilute many of the provisions of Dodd-Frank, particularly those that protect consumers from toxic financial products and those that impose restrictions on banks”.
The Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, ruled that New York City and other municipalities can be held liable for failing to redesign streets with a history of traffic injuries and reckless driving…
“This decision is a game-changer,” says Steve Vaccaro, an attorney who represents traffic crash victims. “The court held that departments of transportation can be held liable for harm caused by speeding drivers, where the DOT fails to install traffic-calming measures even though it is aware of dangerous speeding, unless the DOT has specifically undertaken a study and determined that traffic calming is not required…”
Vaccaro said the decision “will create an affirmative obligation on the DOT’s part to — at the very least — conduct studies to determine whether infrastructure can reduce traffic violence, and unless such studies indicate otherwise, to install the infrastructure.”
Lawsuits are not the ideal way to do urban planning or protect public safety. They are a last resort. But I support them as one tool in the toolbox when engineers, planners, and public officials are ignoring their ethical obligation to protect the public when they know (or, if they don’t know, are ignorant of knowledge they are ethically obligated to acquire to be a competent professional in their chosen field) there are better, proven alternatives out there.