Serpentine, Shel, serpentine!

…in which I draw a parallel between central Phoenix’s new audible crosswalk signals and a classic scene from a 1979 movie.

Every time I’m at one of the crosswalks in central Phoenix, the sound that the crosswalk signals make (either a machine gun or a jackhammer, hopefully the latter!) reminds me of this scene from the 1979 movie The In-Laws (guidance: language):


Serpentine, Shel, serpentine!

Monday opinions on dog parks

…in which I opine on a downtown Phoenix dog park and express dismay over the tenor of the dialogue.

A map of the temporary site of the downtown Phoenix dog park.I’m finished opining on the downtown Phoenix dog park.

Everyone has a right to their own opinion. I enjoy hearing the different thoughts that come out in the dialogue and I’m amazed by the diversity of ideas produced. But I have become distraught at the tenor of the conversation. It appears like there are groups of people who are so entrenched in their viewpoints that they fail to consider other opinions.

I’m not saying that one side is right and the other is wrong. I am saying that it is only fair to have a reasoned and rational discussion among all sides about the dog park issue. Personally, I believe that there are more important things to downtown Phoenix’s renaissance than siting a dog park. We need to consider our downtown’s macro issues, being mindful that these are the things that make a downtown truly great: arts and culture, affordable housing, community building, good design, sustainable transportation, social equity, historic preservation, a diverse economy, strong neighborhoods, vibrant public spaces, and solid planning.

While I’m sure that organizations with which I’m affiliated (like Downtown Voices Coalition, the Hance Park Conservancy, and others) will weigh in on this issue, it is my hope that the debate is civil.

I, personally, am finished weighing in on the dog park. My priorities are based on that list above.

Bicycle Tech: iPhones and Bicycling?

…in which I add a smartphone component to bicycles and bicycling.

As a technology fan, I like following along with all the cool ways in which technology is embedded in various things. At the risk of sounding somewhat hypocritical, I’m a fan of the “connected cars” movement. I think that there needs to be some sort of safety feature that disables user intervention with that tech when the car is in motion. But I generally like how cars are becoming more aware of their surroundings.

I don’t have a car. I have a bicycle. Before I got my bicycle, I researched some software for bicycling and found that the iPhone’s marketing slogan is true here: there’s an app for that. I bought an iPhone mount for my bike and downloaded a couple cycle computer apps: Cyclemeter ($4.99) and BikeBrain (free download, $1.99 in-app upgrade).

Screen capture of the Cyclemeter appThe advantage that an iPhone cycle computer has over a traditional hard-wired cycle computer is that the iPhone can do more things than just figure out how fast you’re going and where you are in space. It’s your bicycle’s built-in stereo system: the speaker is pretty loud and rather impressive. Need to figure out the best route? Use Google Maps to give you some bicycle directions. The list goes on and on. (I haven’t tested telephone calls while moving yet. I have a feeling that might not work. Something I refuse to test: texting.)

There’s one major caveat to the iPhone as a cycle computer: It uses GPS to calculate everything and there is a definite delay of about three seconds in the system. (That might not seem like much but 3 seconds traveling at 13 mph is about 60 feet in distance.) When you start your trip, you have to wait for the iPhone to receive GPS signals–and when it does, you’ll get some initially erroneous readings as the iPhone places where you are in space.

Caveats aside, it’s still a good thing to have. I’m still testing out both apps. Cyclemeter is a very robust app that has a myriad of features beyond the basic functions of a cycle computer. Cyclemeter has a text-to-speech engine that will speak to you at pre-defined intervals of a distance or time. A very cool feature is that it will read you your Facebook notifications as they come in or Twitter replies and DMs. A lot of Cyclemeter’s features are for recreational or competitive cycling; for instance, one can define routes and have competitions against one’s self or against others. In fact, the screen captures I have in this post are from Cyclemeter.

BikeBrain is a much simpler app. It’s a free download; however, if you want a couple more features, you can purchase an in-app upgrade. It doesn’t speak to you nor does it read you your Facebook notifications. What it has that Cyclemeter doesn’t have is a map. The compass is a bit directionally challenged but that might just be my iPhone or my part of the world. A very neat feature of BikeBrain is that it’s a feel-good app: It will tell you how much CO2 you haven’t emitted by riding a bicycle instead of driving a car. On my trips today to and from the Downtown Phoenix Public Market, a distance just under four miles, I saved about 2 lbs in CO2 emissions by riding a bicycle instead of driving a car. (Go me!)

Map view of Cyclemeter, showing accuracy of GPS trackingBoth apps, because they are essentially GPS apps, will track your location and plot where you are and where you’ve been on a map. I think that Cyclemeter’s map is a bit more accurate. On a trip up and down 3rd Ave in midtown Phoenix, Cyclemeter mapped which side of the street I was on pretty accurately. There’s a tradeoff: to do that, Cyclemeter has to poll GPS signals rather frequently and that goes through your iPhone’s battery very quickly. BikeBrain’s map isn’t as detailed as Cyclemeter’s but I think that it’s because it doesn’t poll GPS position as frequently.

As I learn more about both apps, I’ll share them here. What apps are you using to make your urban cycling experience more enjoyable? Or are you a purist and just enjoying all the scenery as it goes by, laughing because you’re in the environment instead of being in a metal box?

Keep Bicycle and Pedestrian Funding in Federal Transportation!

…in which I express concern over HR 7, the latest Federal transportation bill that would gut sustainable transportation funding.

[source: League of American Bicyclists] We need you to help us maintain pressure on Congress for a smart, modern transportation bill. Both chambers of Congress are moving towards floor debates on their versions of the bill, so we are again asking you to take action.The current Senate transportation bill (MAP-21) weakens walking and biking programs. To improve the bill, we’re asking senators to vote for a bipartisan amendment to guarantee local governments a voice in transportation decisions and allow them to build sidewalks, crosswalks, and bikeways that keep people safe.

In the House, we are asking representatives to oppose the House transportation bill. Despite the fact that walking and bicycling infrastructure is a low-cost investment that creates more jobs per dollar than any other kind of highway spending, the House bill eliminates dedicated funding for walking and biking altogether.

Senate: Support the bipartisan Cardin-Cochran amendment
As written, the Senate’s transportation bill removes dedicated funding for walking and biking and allows state DOTs to opt-out of safe street programs. The Cardin-Cochran amendment ensures local governments can fund walking and biking infrastructure.

Tell your senators:
  • Local governments deserve a voice in transportation. The Cardin-Cochran amendment ensures that cities and counties have a voice in making transportation decisions for safer streets in their communities.
  • Safety matters. Bicycle and pedestrian deaths make up 14% of all traffic fatalities, but only 1.5% of federal funds go      towards making walking and biking safer. These programs provide funding for sidewalks, crosswalks, and bikeways that make streets safe for all users.
  • Active transportation is a wise investment. Walking and biking infrastructure is low-cost, creates more jobs per dollar than any other kind of highway spending, and is critical to economic development for main street America.
House:  Say “NO” to H.R. 7
On the other side of Congress, the House is about to consider a transportation bill that reverses 20 years of progress in making streets safer for people. Despite the fact that walking and biking make up 12% of trips but receive only 1.5% of federal funding, the House bill eliminates dedicated funding for walking and biking. It’s time to defeat this bill.
Tell your representative:
  • HR 7 takes us back to the 1950s. HR 7 takes us back to a 1950s system by eliminating dedicated funding for biking and walking AND kicking   transit out of the highway trust fund. We need a transportation bill to meet 2012 needs, not 1950 needs.
  • HR 7 doesn’t invest wisely. Federal transportation laws should invest our finite resources in cost-effective, efficient infrastructure solutions that create jobs and keep the economy moving. The House bill eliminates walking and biking, despite the fact that walking and bicycling infrastructure is low-cost and creates more jobs per dollar than any other kind of highway funding.
  • HR 7 makes streets more dangerous for kids. By repealing the successful and effective Safe Routes to School program, the House bill makes the streets more dangerous for kids on their walks and bike rides to school.
Congress needs to know that that finding effective, efficient transportation solutions to keep people safe on the streets should be a national priority. Please contact your representative and senators today.

Spring Cleaning


It was time to do a little Spring Cleaning on the blog and I’ve re-launched the blog. Happy February!

There are a few new features on the latest version of that you should know. First, page organization is handled a little differently. I’m beginning to focus on three key areas: bicycling, downtown Phoenix, and technology. Those key areas are in the header bar above. You can also find my current biography (under biography) and the latest posts (under blog).

Over on the right-hand side are other links to other resources that I’ve found useful online and to my various profiles on various networks. Find and follow me there.

There might be a few hiccups along the way. In exchange for that, I’m going to be introducing some new features. Bear with me…and we’ll all win.

My new bicycle!

…in which I share the good news: I have a new bicycle!

I decided to get a bicycle! It’s a 1980’s Kabuki bicycle made by the same people that make Bridgestone tires. The crew at The Bicycle Cellar in downtown Tempe meticulously refurbished this cycle with new cables, new brakes, new accessories, and an extended seatpost and handlebars. It’s an absolute thrill to ride!

Over the coming weeks, months, and hopefully years, part of this blog will be dedicated to my adventure with cycling in downtown Phoenix. I’ll write down my hints that I’ve learned as a new cyclist, share advice I’ve learned from others, review some interesting technology, rant about the Phoenix metropolitan area’s bicycle infrastructure, and share some miscellaneous ephemera.

With that, I invite you to join me on this ride. Getting to our destination doesn’t have to be solely about arriving. It’s about the journey. Put the helmet on, pack up, and let’s get moving!

Why I’m opposed to a First Street dog park

…in which I express concerns and reservations about the latest iteration being thrown around of a downtown Phoenix dog park.

There’s been a lively debate on Facebook about the merits of yet another incarnation of a downtown Phoenix dog park. The latest iteration has the dog park as a series of two linear parks on 1st Street between Hance Park and Roosevelt Street. One of the latest plans is seen in the very long diagram to the right. At the top is Moreland St and Hance Park. At the bottom is Roosevelt St. North is up.

I have to admit that I’m not a dog owner and that I’ve never had a pet (save for a fish that I “rescued” — yes, Virginia, there’s a VERY long story to that one). I did support the first iteration of a downtown Phoenix dog park when it was proposed to be built on the site of the former Sahara/Ramada Inn at 1st St and Polk. I was supportive of a dog park when it was considered to be built at Hance Park, although with growing reservations.

But this latest iteration, put forth by Sean Sweat, the urbanist and downtown Phoenix resident, seems to fall short on a few different levels.

One of my qualms is that this location is not located in any current residential areas. The major buildings near this proposed location are the Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS in the former KPNX building, the 1001 N Central Ave office building, and the Firehouse art space.   The Post Roosevelt Square apartments and condominiums as well as Portland Place are on the west side of Central Avenue and the heart of the historic Roosevelt neighborhood also falls to the west of Central. For those living in Post Roosevelt Square, the Portland Parkway is leaps and bounds more suitable. For residents of the Roosevelt neighborhood, there is Roosevelt Park on 3rd Avenue. To access this location, residents and their dogs would have to cross (at least) Central Avenue. I don’t see this happening.

Another major qualm that I have is that it creates inconsistency in 1st Street. 1st Street is a very wide street all the way from Washington to Hance Park, and then north of Hance Park to McDowell. Although some blocks of 1st St have been altered with new car parking facilities, this would be a great opportunity to have some sort of a grand linear mall that extends over a mile. I remember that when I visited Boston last May, I was so impressed with the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, a grand linear park that runs from the Boston Public Garden to the Back Bay neighborhood. Although 1st Ave isn’t as wide as “Comm Ave,” it could be a grand statement for Phoenix. In fact, an idea put forth for the redesign of Hance Park is making 1st St from Roosevelt to McDowell a linear park that includes the existing Cancer Survivors’ Park.

My biggest qualm, and one that I have expressed repeatedly and continually about Phoenix’s construction habits, is that this project spurns existing infrastructure in favor of building new infrastructure. We have great park spaces in downtown Phoenix that could be absolutely grand for this. Instead of building a new facility, how about taking a part of the Portland Parkway and making that a dog park? Or what about Roosevelt Park? Or even Hance Park? Why must we not look to our existing stock of infrastructure and see what we already have? As a preservationist, we are taught that “the greenest building is the one already there.” So, too, the greenest park is the one that’s already there. Or, if we have our hearts set on building a dog park east of Central, let’s use one of the dirt lots that are a scar on the community.

There is a lot more to urban vitality than dog parks. I think that any urbanist or student of urban design and urban policy knows that. We must look at different ideas and not pin downtown Phoenix’s salvation du jour to be a dog park.

DVC presents: State of Sustainability in Metro Phoenix

A panel of local experts and Andrew Ross, author of “Bird on Fire,” will discuss the current state of sustainability in Phoenix at a public forum on Tuesday, January 17, 2012.

PHOENIX, Arizona – A panel of local experts and Andrew Ross, author of “Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City,” will discuss the current state of sustainability in metropolitan Phoenix at a public forum on Tuesday, January 17, 2012.  The event, free to the public, will be held at the George Washington Carver Museum & Cultural Center at 415 E. Grant Street. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., panel discussion 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., audience Q&A 7:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., and reception with complimentary refreshments 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

RSVP on Facebook / Join DVC on Facebook

Panel moderator will be Charles Redman, Arizona State University (ASU) Virginia M. Ullmann professor of Natural History and the Environment and founding director of the ASU School of Sustainability. The current slate of panelists (with two to be added soon) includes:

  • Steve Betts, former president/CEO of SunCor Development and current Arizona District Council Chair of the Urban Land Institute;
  • Terry Goddard, former Phoenix mayor and former Arizona attorney general who now teaches a course at the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus: “Phoenix and the Art of Public Decision Making;”
  • Taz Loomans, architect and writer/blogger on sustainability issues;
  • Eva Olivas, executive director, Phoenix Revitalization Corp
  • Andrew Ross, professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University.
  • Silvia Urrutia, director of Housing and Healthcare Finance, Raza Development Fund

According to Susan Copeland, steering committee chair of Downtown Voices Coalition, “Issues of sustainability are paramount to the future of Phoenix. Ross’ book is a great springboard from which to begin, or continue, discussion.”

The Downtown Voices Coalition is sponsoring the event with in-kind support from the Lexington Hotel in downtown Phoenix, Four Peaks Brewery of Tempe and the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center.

Bird on Fire” is available at Made Art Boutique, 922 North 5th Street in downtown Phoenix and at Changing Hands Bookstore at 6428 South McClintock Drive in Tempe. It is also available at Burton Barr, Cesar Chavez and Mesquite Branch libraries in Phoenix.

Downtown Voices Coalition is a coalition of stakeholder organizations that embrace growth in downtown Phoenix, but is mindful that healthy growth should be based upon existing downtown resources — the vibrancy of neighborhoods, the strength of the arts community, the uniqueness of historic properties, and the wonderful small businesses that dot downtown. For more information, visit

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Facebook oversharing

Chalk this one up in the list of things that Facebook is encouraging: oversharing information for all to see.

Chalk this one up in the list of things that Facebook is encouraging: oversharing information for all to see.

Facebook’s revamped profiles to be timelines. The idea is that the Facebook timeline is an annotated biography of your life complete with links to people, pictures, and more information than should be shared.

There’s one big issue with Facebook’s new timeline feature that I see that I don’t think has been explored too much: no matter what your existing privacy settings are for other content, your privacy settings for adding in your life events (e.g. jobs, relationships, where you live, etc.) is set to “public.”

Here’s a screen capture of the prompt to add a life event:

If you can’t read the annotation on the screen capture, this is what I said: “Here’s where you change things. Bear in mind that there is no Facebook global setting to limit the privacy/visibility of your life events. If you want to restrict who can see what, you’ll have to change it ON EACH ITEM.”

This is my big beef with Facebook. The default privacy setting for new content, it seems, is “public.” People don’t necessarily check permissions settings (in a rush to share things) and so stuff that might be intended to be seen only by a handful of individuals ends up  being shared with the whole world. I don’t know if this is an oversight or something that Facebook’s doing by design. Whatever it is, it’s annoying.

That leads me to my First Axiom of The Internet: Anything you post online (be it on a social media site, a forum posting, or a site that requires a login) will end up being shared with more people than you originally intended.

Just keep that in mind the next time you’re going to post something.