Friday, December 26, 2014

On Breathing

If you're a runner, breathing is kind of important.  Of course, if you're anyone, breathing is important. In fact, it's literally vital.  Breathing and a pulse are the two basic ways a paramedic decides whether you're alive.

But most people don't think about breathing a lot.  I know I've been breathing for quite a while, and for most of that time I more or less took it for granted.  You breathe in, you breathe out.

My son had asthma as a child, and I learned some things I didn't understand well at the time.  For instance, why is difficulty breathing out the test for asthma?  If the airways are constricted, shouldn't you have trouble breathing in as well?

Then, after many years of running in all weather, I came down with exercise-induced asthma.  I wound up on Advair, albuterol, and Singulair.  They helped a lot, as did a few other things, like acupuncture, and today I'm not taking any prescription medications.  I'm also not running outdoors in cold weather.  Cold air is my main, and possibly my only, trigger.

All this got me thinking about breathing, and so I did a little reading.  Some of the things I'm about to say may sound simple, but I never did find a source that says, Here's what you need to know about breathing.  Things are scattered, and occasionally sources conflict.  What I'm putting down here is my best understanding.

Basic Measurements
There are three main measurements of breathing.

First is respiration rate.  In an adult at rest, this is normally in the teens per minute.  When you're running, the respiration rate can double or triple.

Second is something called tidal flow.  This is the amount of air you take in and send out with each breath.  Tidal flow also increases when you're running -- you may have felt your lungs open up after you've been running awhile.  That's the tidal flow kicking in.

I can't put a number on this increase, but it is limited by maximum lung volume.  Jason R. Karp, in his 2007 doctoral dissertation, Lungs and Legs:  Entrainment of Breathing to Locomotion in Highly-Trained Distance Runners, has this to say on page 50:

"When assessing pulmonary characteristics of collegiate distance runners, it has been observed that flow limitation is more prevalent in the upperclassmen compared to the lowerclassmen. ... It is possible that the upperclassmen have learned, through two or three more years of high-level training, to maximize their ventilatory capability."

Unlike these guys, most of us will always have some lung capacity we're not using.

So we have a bucket with more than adequate volume, and we have a highly flexible rate at which we may fill and empty the bucket.

So no worries, right?  Well, there's those pesky bronchial tubes.  Think of them as a funnel.  Take your beaker of air, and pour it into your bucket -- through the funnel.  If the funnel is constricted, which is what the term bronchial spasm means, you've got a problem.  Actually, you probably have asthma.

Bloody hell, if I may say so from personal experience.  The little alveoli down in the lungs, which is where the oxygen transfer from the air to the blood takes place, are waiting patiently, and they're just not getting enough air.

Which brings us to the mystery from my son's childhood -- why is peak flow (the size of the funnel) always measured on expiration, and never on inspiration?

Breathing Muscles
The answer is that expiration is the Achilles' heel of the lungs.  The main breathing muscle is the diaphragm, which sits at the bottom of the lungs and is really big and powerful.  When it contracts, you breathe in.  When it relaxes, you breathe out.

Got that?  Breathing out, your basic breathing muscle is relaxing.  It's the weak moment, and that's what doctors measure.

There are muscles that work during exhalation.  The intercostals are the muscles that sit between your ribs.  Some of them work when you're breathing in, some when you're breathing out.  Other muscles can also get involved in breathing out, but with one exception they're not a big deal.

The big deal is your abdominal muscles.  Properly trained, they can really help you expel air from your lungs.

There's a yoga breathing technique that illustrates this.  Start breathing in down at your belly, and run the inspiration progressively up through your ribs to your collar bones.  Then reverse.  When you get back down to your belly, you'll find your abdominals working really hard.

Please don't do this more than three times in a row.  A little bit cleanses the lungs.  Overdo, and you may faint.  (See Stacie Stukin, "The Anti-Drug for Anxiety," Yoga Journal, April 2003, p. 111.  This article also discusses alternate nostril breathing, which is a good way to pass the time while you're waiting at a red light.)

Syncing Legs to Lungs
Runners also need to link their legs to their lungs.  Breathing is the basic rhythm of your body, and everything you do should flow with that.

For runners, this boils down to a simple question:  How many steps per breath?  For years I was basically a 2-2 runner -- breathe in for two steps, breathe out for two steps.  Recently I've been working on a 3-2 pace.  I find it helps me fill my lungs more fully.

An added benefit goes to your knees.  Runners hit the ground hardest when they begin to exhale.  2-2 means you always exhale on the same knee.  3-2 switches between knees.   (See Bud Coates and Claire Kowalchik, "Running on Air:  Breathing Technique,"  Runner's World, April 2013.)

I still slide into 2-2 when I'm going faster, and on sprints and hills I slip into 1-2.  I try to avoid 1-1.  Rapid, shallow breathing -- panting, if you will -- reminds me too much of my asthma.

There.  That's what I've learned.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Parking in San Francisco

There seems to be a lot of confusion here in Philadelphia about the San Francisco parking program known as SFpark.  The program has a website,, and I've done some reading.  Here's a synopsis.

The essence of the plan is variable pricing.  This seems to make a lot of people nervous, but the San Francisco program clearly shows that it works well in practice.

Why bother to shift from fixed meter prices to variable meter prices?  Well, San Francisco was choking on its cars.  The magic number here is 85 percent occupancy at the curb.  More than that, people can't find spots conveniently.  Less than that, you're wasting valuable real estate.

The supply of curb-side parking is essentially fixed, so if we want to manage the situation, we need to manage demand.  If a lot of people want to park, the price should be higher.  If few people want to park, the price should be lower. 

SFpark got its official start on November 18, 2008, when the board of directors of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency adopted a resolution enabling the SFpark program.  It was explicitly based on the ideas of Professor Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking, and it benefited from a $19.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Urban Partnership Program.

In July 2010 smart meter installation began, followed shortly by the hockey-puck sensors that everyone loved so much.  These were magnetometers installed in the pavement of each parking space in the project, and they were chatty.  Not only would they tell mission control whether the space was full or empty, they would tell any driver who had downloaded the app onto a smart phone.

In April 2010, the SFpark pilot project was formally launched.  It covered 6,000 metered spaces in seven parts of the city -- a quarter of the city's metered spaces, along with 12,250 spaces in garages run by the SFMTA. 

The pilot project ended on June 30, 2013, and in June 2014 a number of reports were issued evaluating the project.  All of this material is available on  I freely confess that there are documents on this site that I have not opened, let alone read.  It's a very rich site.

Today the SFpark program continues in eight neighborhoods.  The hockey-puck sensors were turned off, as nearly as I can tell, at the end of 2013, thereby infuriating drivers who had been using the app to locate empty spots in real time.

It's also my understanding that, while prices in the variable price areas go up and down during the day, the schedule of prices doesn't change very often, and when it does there is extensive public notice.  (And the app is still able to give you the prices -- just not the vacancies.)

The evaluation found that SFpark improved parking availability, reduced parking citations, cut greenhouse emissions, decreased peak period congestion, decreased traffic volume overall, lowered traffic speed, decreased vehicle miles traveled, decreased double parking, increased transit speed (that would be buses), and increased the safety of the streets (fewer crashes).

Seems like something that Philadelphia should be looking into.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Extend the Diagonal

Just after dark today I walked over to the Free Library for a meeting about the redesign of Love Park.  It was a cool, windy night, but clear, and as I was passing through Logan Circle I stopped for a moment to admire the view.

First I admired the statues in the fountain, beautifully lit and quite romantic.  Then I turned and looked up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, or Museum Mile as some people call it.  In the distance, clear as a bell and sitting up on its hill, ablaze with light, was the Art Museum.  Then I turned the other way and looked at City Hall, also quite spiffy in its bath of light.

This has to be one of the best urban vistas in the United States.  And I know if you walk up the Art Museum steps, you can get another version of the same thing, looking back to City Hall.  And if you go to Love Park and stand in front of the Love Statue, you can see to the Art Museum.

But the vista business stops there, at the Love Statue.  If you turn around and face City Hall, the great diagonal vanishes and is replaced by William Penn's street grid.  City Hall is physically isolated from Love Park by way too many lanes of traffic.   But it is also visually isolated. 

The park's gate actually diverts you to 15th Street, and offers up the Municipal Services Building as a sight of interest.  And there's a cacophony of street furniture that fritters away any thought of the diagonal axis, so vibrant for so long, and stopping at our shoulder blades.

I hope the redesign of Love Park will do what it can to continue the great diagonal, at least visually, all the way to City Hall.

And I hope City Hall will reciprocate.  You can actually see the Art Museum from the ground in front of City Hall.  Go to the Jose Garces sandwich shop and walk east, past the bollards.  Stop before you get to the statue of General McClellan.  Turn around.  Look carefully.  There's a lot of clutter, but there is a sight line.

Dilworth Park already has several slightly elevated seating areas.  Perhaps another one should go in at this viewing point.  What a great place to sit out in fine weather and drink a cup of coffee, or perhaps a Pernod.

Monday, November 24, 2014

What a Fabulous Ice Skating Rink

Last Friday I walked by Dilworth Park after work.  The ice rink was jammed with happy skaters, and the lit facade of City Hall made a wonderful backdrop.  Then I turned around and saw the buildings across 15th Street, lit for a movie premiere, and the Clothespin picked out with special lights.

All in all, the space was a spectacular bowl of light.  During the day, the sense of containment is less because of the open spaces to the north, but at night it makes for a very nice town square.

Now we just need a few more tourist restaurants claiming the plaza space on the west side of 15th Street.  Rockefeller Center?  Piazza Navona?  Maybe not yet, but watch out.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Professor Shoup's Parking Book

An Analysis with Applications to Philadelphia
Professor Donald Shoup's The High Cost of Free Parking is 800 pages long, and it will make a nice doorstop when I'm done with it.  I'm just not sure I'll ever be done with it.

However, as I was working my way through the appendices, it occurred to me that many people who are never going to read this book would benefit greatly from knowing about the ideas that are in it.

I started off thinking I would do a chapter by chapter synopsis, but as I got into it my approach changed. Call this an analysis of some of the book's salient ideas, with applications to Philadelphia.

A Parking Paradox
Let's have a look at Philly's Central Business District.  Let's say mid-morning on a Wednesday  You're walking down the street, and the place is jammed.  There are no parking spots to be seen.  We've got a parking problem.  Time to build some more garages.

Actually, there is no shortage of parking spaces.  It just looks that way.  At their busiest, the garages in Center City are only 74 percent full (Philadelphia City Planning Commission, 2010 Center City Parking Inventory).  You could take all the cars parked at meters in Center City and sweep them into the garages, and you'd only get the garages to 85 occupancy.

So why doesn't that happen?  Price.  An hour at the curb is $2.50.  An hour at the William Penn House garage, on 19th below Market, is $16.  This is simply too big a gap, and I think both prices have to move.

The Parking Garage Mess
Let's talk about parking garages first.  You'd think, with 74 percent peak occupancy, they might be interested in attracting a few more customers.  Professor Shoup says the socially optimal occupancy of a garage is 85 percent.  Above that level you start having congestion problems, with panicky drivers doing dumb things abruptly.  If you've ever been in the Whole Foods garage on South Street, say around lunchtime on a rainy Saturday, you'll know what I'm talking about.  But, as Professor Shoup puts it, "Commercial operators aim to maximize profits, not social benefits." (Pp. 301-302.)

To simplify his example, let's say you own a 100-car garage, and you can fill 50 spaces by charging $20 a day.  To fill 85 spaces, you will need to lower your price to $10 a day.  But filling the 50 spaces earns you $1,000, and filling 85 spaces only earns you $850.

So Center City's garage operators may be quite content with a 74 percent peak occupancy.

In addition to the profit motive, I would like to suggest that garage operators have another motive -- operational convenience.

I mentioned the William Penn House charges $16 to park for one hour.  Pretty much all the garages do something like this.  I was walking down 13th Street a while ago, and I watched a man in a nice car (perhaps an Audi) head into the garage entrance in the Wanamaker Building.  He stopped short and sat in the entrance for a moment.  Then he backed up a little.  Then he sat some more.  And then he went in.  Once he got over the shock, he decided he could afford it.

Other people may stay home, or go to a mall in the suburbs.  What would John Wanamaker say to the people running his garage?

The Early-Bird Special
Meanwhile, back to the William Penn House.  It charges shoppers $16 an hour, and I think that means it doesn't like shoppers and other short-term visitors.  Meanwhile, it loves commuters.

There's an early-bird special.  In by 8:30 a.m., out after 2 p.m.  You can stay up to 12 hours, all for $18, or $1.50 per hour.  OK, $1.50 per hour for a commuter, $16 per hour for a shopper.

So garages love commuters, and they hate shoppers.  Did you notice that the early-bird price is only 60 percent of the price for parking on the street?

Clearly the garages could make a lot more if they catered to shoppers, but that would lead to a lot of in-and-out hustle and bustle during the day.  The garage would have to work harder.  The motive here is not profit-maximization.  It is operational convenience.  In the morning, you suck them in, and in the afternoon, you vomit them out.  During the day, you take a nap.

This is in my opinion a mess, and I don't know what to do about it.  The city's merchants should be unhappy.  If you have an office in Center City, and you ask people to come to meetings, you should be unhappy.

There ought to be a constituency for change.  But what's a poor City Council Person to do?  How do you make change here?  What are the tools?

Price controls have a habit of backfiring.  But you could tax empty parking spots in garages.  For the first 15 percent, the tax could be zero.  Below 85 percent peak occupancy, the tax would be greater than zero.  Just a thought.

Prices on the Street
Meanwhile, prices on the street have to go up.  They're currently set by City Council.  The maximum is $2.50 per hour, and there is a very noisy constituency opposed to raising the price.

But at these prices, pretty much all the spots are taken all the time.  So, again, access is denied.

Professor Shoup notes (p. 297) on-street parking works best with 85 percent occupancy at the curb.  This is the same figure as with garages, and for the same reasons.  Below 85 percent you're wasting space, and above 85 percent you get congestion craziness -- people circling the block, choking traffic as they look for a spot that isn't there.

Cruising Causes Congestion
How much does cruising for parking contribute to traffic congestion in the downtowns of America?  A lot.  The first study of cruising, in 1927, found that "between 19 percent and 34 percent of the cars traveling in downtown Detroit were cruising for curb parking."  Later studies have come up with figures from 8 to 74 percent (pp. 275-291, 358).

In 1984, Professor Shoup and his research assistants at UCLA studied cruising in Westwood Village, a small commercial area that borders the UCLA campus.  They found that, on average, 68 percent of the cars on the road were cruising, with a peak of 94 percent between 7 and 8 in the evening.  The amount of cruising was directly related to occupancy levels at the curb (pp. 348-370).

Access Is the Key
The solution?  Raise prices until you get average curb occupancy down to 85 percent.

So who's against this?  Well, merchants traditionally have a horror of charging for parking.  They're afraid they'll lose customers to suburban malls or other areas that don't charge for parking.

The counterargument is that customers are more interested in convenient parking than free parking (p. 400).  And numerous studies have indicated that higher parking prices will not inevitably reduce employment and trade downtown.  People may park a little further away, or go into a garage, or take the bus or trolley or train or subway (pp. 639-640).  Or they may bike.

And the higher prices lead to more turnover in an individual parking space, so the merchant will actually see more customers.  "Underpricing creates the incentive for solo drivers to 'squat' in scarce curb spaces, reduces turnover, and deters visitors by creating a shortage of convenient short-term parking.  Market-priced curb parking will reallocate the curb spaces to visitors who place a higher value on their time.  More spaces will also be available to short-term parkers who come for a quick purchase and leave immediately, so the curb parking spaces will generate more customers for local businesses.  A low price for curb parking may sound good for business, but it is not."  (Pp. 365-366.)

I certainly hope the merchants at the Italian Market hear about that paragraph.

So How Do We Do This?
When it comes to getting curb parking right, Professor Shoup has two basic maxims:  Charge market prices for on-street parking; and return the revenue to finance neighborhood public improvements (p. 548 and passim).   Market prices will get you 85 percent occupancy at the curb; and returning revenue to the neighborhood will generate political support for the new approach.

So who do you give the revenue to?  In the case of Philly's Central Business District, the obvious candidate is the Center City District.  In addition to being a Business Improvement District, CCD would become a Parking Benefit District, meaning it would receive revenue from the parking meters and spend it on improving the district, something it already knows how to do.  With more money, it could do more.

One of the first Parking Benefit Districts was in Pasadena, California.  At the time, the downtown had no parking meters.  When the meters went in, the new district got all the funds (pp. 403-418).  Later cases have proved more complicated.  In San Diego, for instance, the meters were already there, and the city was accustomed to receiving the revenue from them.  And hence was born the phenomenon of Parking Increment Finance (pp. 418-427, 528-530, 694-695), whereby the district and the city share the larger pie that comes from raising prices.

One big obstacle remains.  You're asking City Council to raise the price on parking meters, which it does not want to do.  As Professor Shoup puts it, "councilmembers naturally hesitate to raise the price that voters pay for parking."  And he provides the solution:  "One way to skirt this conflict is to redefine the goal of parking policy.  Instead of voting directly on the price of curb parking, a city council can establish a target occupancy rate -- such as 85 percent -- and instruct the parking authority to set the right prices to achieve this average rate." (Pp. 304-305.)

We can do this in Philadelphia.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Parking Dream

My daddy told me this story.  He was a young doctor.  It was the 1930's, the Depression, but he was doing okay, and he'd recently bought a car -- a used one.  His dentist's office was in the newly opened Rockefeller Center, in midtown Manhattan, and one day, when he had an appointment, he decided to drive his car.  He drove down Fifth Avenue and parked his car directly in front of Rockefeller Center, on Fifth Avenue.  And when he was done, he came out and got in his car and drove home.

That was the dream.  Autos would make everything easy.  It didn't last long.

I remember talking to an older friend, Bill Moennig, about his relationship with the Schuylkill Expressway.  For many years Bill ran the family fiddle shop on Locust Street in Center City Philadelphia -- make, repair, buy, and sell, as he used to say.  He was modest about his client list.  And yes, he was the father of Katherine Moennig.

In the 1950's Bill, like so many Americans, heard the siren call of the suburbs, and he moved out of town and commuted in on the newly constructed Schuylkill (I-76).  The early years, he said, were a charm, a joy.  But then, with every passing year, the traffic got worse. And worse.  And so he eventually gave up and moved back to town.

I didn't grow up in Philadelphia.  I grew up in New York City.  And I remember listening, as a child, to ads on the radio promoting the newly opened Connecticut Turnpike.  The ads urged dads to pile the wife and kids into the car on a weekend day, and drive out to the country -- Connecticut, to be specific -- where they could ride along easily, admiring the scenery, as their car was eating up the miles. Eating up the miles.  I remember that very specifically.

I don't know if you've been on I-95 in Connecticut recently, but you don't eat the miles.  The miles eat you.

It's hard to imagine today how romantic cars were right after World War II.  A generation traumatized by depression and war looked forward to something different, and the country's leaders responded with a new vision built around the car.  City-dwellers would move to new suburbs where there was plenty of elbow room, and dad would commute to work by car, soon driving on brand-new roads called Interstates.

At home, mom's drudgery almost vanished with the advent of clothes washers, dishwashers, and other labor saving devices.  Dinner became a snap with new inventions like frozen peas.  Tired of breast-feeding your babies?  Well, how about some specially formulated formula, designed to optimize the little darling's nutrition?

The Ultimate Labor-Saving Device
But the ultimate labor-saving device was the car.  Think about it. What did the car replace?  The horse and wagon, which is why, early on, it was known as a horseless carriage.

Cars are a lot less work than a horse and wagon.  I've never harnessed a horse and hitched it to a wagon, but I have saddled a horse.  It takes a fair amount of time, and you need to cooperate with a horse that may or may not want to be saddled.  With a car, you get in, turn the key in the ignition, and drive away.

People seem generally to think of the car as a replacement for trains. But trains are still around.  When was the last time you saw a horse and wagon?

Cars were a definite improvement.  However, there was a problem with the suburban-interstate highway model:  It was predicated on a few cars and a lot of land.

But the cars always managed to multiply faster than the road could grow.  I remember years ago, probably in the 1960's, listening to a talk by a wise old man who had spent his life wrestling with transportation issues.  He said, "You can't make more room for cars. You can only make room for more cars."

It was a statement worthy of a Zen master.  I didn't understand it for several days.  Then it hit me.  Elbow room is over.  You can build as many highways as you want.  The cars will come and fill them.

And, of course, that's pretty much what we've seen -- not just when cars are moving, but also when they're parked (which is 95 percent of the time).

Malthusian Pessimism
I've watched this Malthusian pessimism play out in my own parking life.  When we first moved to Philly from New York City in 1979, we didn't own a car.  After all, the old core of the city has been eminently walkable for more than three centuries -- and today, of course, it is eminently bikeable.

For fifteen years we walked, we took buses, subways, trains, and the occasional taxicab, and whenever we needed to we rented a car.  It worked just fine.  (Today we also have Zipcar and Uber.)

Then my son went to high school in Germantown, and it really became time to buy a car.  So we did.  And I parked it on the street.

I hated it, but I hung on for about five years.  Things started out tight, and they just kept getting tighter.

What finally sent me into the garage, though, wasn't the congestion. It was the damage to the car.  I can't remember the exact number of times a roaming thief smashed one of my windows.  I think it was two or three.  And then one morning I came out and my hubcaps were gone.  This was across the street from my house.  Another morning I came out and a whole wheel was gone.  Someone had jacked up the car and taken the whole right-front wheel -- rim and tire.  He left the car jacked up, and he left my lug nuts on the hubcap on the ground.  I call him the gentleman bandit.  All this happened on the street next to Graduate Hospital.

The Final Straw
The final straw came one day when I had a particularly nice parking place on Lombard at the corner of 18th.  It was the first spot in the line, so you didn't have to back-and-forth to get out.  You could just pull away.  During the afternoon an 18-wheeler turning from Lombard onto 18th sideswiped the right side of the car with the tail of his trailer.  I know this because a neighbor saw it happen and left a note on my windshield.

After we got done paying for the bodywork, my wife and I had a different perspective on the relative price of on-street and off-street parking.  We put the car in the garage, and we've been keeping it there for about fifteen years now.

If you stop and think about it, and I often have, cars are rather fragile things.  Their exteriors are made of glass, plastic, thin pieces of sheet metal -- all things that don't stand up to impact very well.  So why do we just leave them out on the street?  Back in the horse and buggy days, you wouldn't have parked your horse at the curb overnight.

The Chokehold Line
But let's get back to the main point, which is what I call the chokehold line.  I live in the southwest quadrant of old Philadelphia, which extends from Broad Street west to the Schuylkill River, and from Market Street in the north down to South Street.  William Penn put a large square in the middle of each of his quadrants.  Ours is called Rittenhouse.

We're choking on our cars, and it's getting worse.  When I first started parking on the street, you could actually get a spot on Lombard or Pine.  It might take a while, and it might be five blocks from your house, but you could do it.

On the other hand, Spruce Street, directly north of Pine, was impossible.  I quickly gave up looking for a spot on Spruce, or the streets further north.

So the chokehold line was Spruce.  Then I noticed something interesting.  The chokehold line was moving south.  It swept through Pine and Lombard (this is after I put the car in the garage).  For awhile it was on South Street; now I estimate it's on Bainbridge, and it's clearly headed for Carpenter.

Why is the parking congestion getting so much worse?  Well, call it a problem of success.  Many Americans, it turns out, are tired of elbow room, and cow tipping and tractor pulls, and they're giving up their splendid isolation and moving back to town, where they can rub elbows with humans.  It turns out that people are social creatures, and they enjoy being around other people.  Who knew?

In the Rittenhouse quadrant, this has led to an increase in population that is spreading south to Washington Avenue.

Many of these new people, particularly the younger ones, are arriving without cars, and quite a few of them are getting around on bicycles.

But quite a few want to keep their cars, and recently the percentage of households in Center City that own cars has ticked up slightly. Even so, 43 percent of Center City households do not own a car, and in some parts of Center City the figure is 75 percent.  In my neighborhood 52 percent do not own a car.

Still, there are enough new people, and enough cars, that the chokehold line keeps moving.  And people are unhappy.

Here's the complaint.  I took the family out to dinner.  We came home about 9 o'clock.  I let my wife and kids off at the house, and then I started looking for a spot.  And there were no spots.  None at all.

So what do we do?  The zealots, the Savonarolas, would have us ban cars from Center City, leaving the streets to pedestrians, and bicyclists.

Louis Kahn Had an Idea
Louis Kahn, one of America's greatest architects, actually proposed something like this in the early 1950's.  He thought that Center City should be a place for pedestrians (the rubbing elbows thing), and that cars should be parked in large garages on the periphery (think Vine Street and 15th, right by the I-476 exit).

As you may have noticed, things didn't go that way.  The people who were paying for the new buildings downtown had no intention of walking four blocks to the office.  They would drive to the garage in their building, and take an elevator to the executive suite.  They would not set foot on a sidewalk.

The dream of parking at the curb in front of your home can shift, but it never dies.

It's not just business executives.  Look at the curbside parking around City Hall.  The signs say City Council Only.  My favorite is City Council President Only.  That's how you know you've succeeded in life.

Culturally, we don't want to be in the business of ordering people to give up their cars.  It's a losing game.

Others suggest that we go with inertia and just let things play out. Sooner or later, maybe when the chokehold line gets to the Navy Yard, people will give up their cars because they can no longer stand the pain.

I'm opposed to pain.  When it comes to parking, there's a lot of it out there.  I know.  Just start talking about changing the way we do parking, and people (including my wife) go ballistic immediately.

We don't need more pain.  We need less pain.

So what do we do?  I've been doing some reading, and there are some good solutions out there.  Donald Shoup has a Ph.D. in economics from Yale, he is a professor of urban planning at UCLA, and he has spent the last several decades studying parking.  His book, The High Cost of Free Parking, is 800 pages long, and I'm not suggesting that you read it.  His ideas, though, have gotten around, most notably to San Francisco, which, with the help of a federal demonstration grant, has reformed the way it does parking in the busiest parts of the city (see the website  Other cities have also tinkered with their parking, including New York City (ParkSmart), Washington, D.C., and a bunch of smaller places.

Things can get better, and it's not just a theory.

Storage v. Access
Here's the basic problem:  storage v. access.  Currently in Parking Zone 1, where I live, we're all about storage.  My block is stickered for Zone 1, and with the exception of the handicapped spot, it is almost always full.  The underlying parking rule is a 2-hour limit, but if you have a Zone 1 sticker you can park there forever.  And there are days when it feels like that's what people are doing.

Again, this is a problem of success.  People move to town, they keep their car, but most of the time they don't need it.  They walk to work. They take Uber to the restaurants on East Passyunk.  What do they need their car for?  The weekend.  Grocery shopping.  Driving your wife to the train station (I'm talking about myself now).  Vehicle Miles Traveled plummet.

But still the cars are there, and storage blocks access.  Where is my plumber going to park?  Where is the guy who's taken his family out to dinner going to park at 9 p.m.?  There are no spots.

Well, guess what?  On page 696 of his book (2011 edition), Professor Shoup suggests destickering a few spots on each block.  The spots would no longer be available for long-term storage, but they would provide access.

I know this will work.  In the 1700 block of South Street, the south side of the street is stickered for Zone 1; the north side is not.  The south side is almost always full; the north side is where my plumber parks.

Immediately, of course, the storage caucus will object.  Vociferously. Even though it appears they didn't let out a peep when the handicapped spots went in.  Or the Zipcar spots.

Parking is always a political issue.  I have several thoughts.

First, the storage caucus is a relatively small one.  As I mentioned, 52 percent of the people in my neighborhood don't own a car.  And then let's look at the car owners.  A bunch of them, like me, are in the garage on South Street.  But hold on a minute; there are other off-street spots.  In the 1700 block of Lombard, there are 16 on-street spots.  There are 41 off-street spots.

Think this is a fluke?  Just north of Lombard there are three streets -- Addison, Waverly (which is really an alley at this point), and Pine. There is no parking on Addison.  On Pine there are 15 curbside spots. On Waverly, more or less tucked into people's back yards, there are 34 off-street spots.  They're not pretty, but they get the job done.

One should use caution extending such a small sample to all of Center City, or even the Rittenhouse quadrant.  But let's just say that 20 percent of households are parking on the street.  The actual numbers can vary a lot from this estimate without invalidating my basic argument:  Only a small percentage of residents have a stake in long-term storage on the street, whereas 100 percent of residents have a stake in access.

With access, our friends and family can come visit us.  A story:  This past Labor Day weekend my wife's brother and his wife came in from New Jersey and had lunch with us at Parc, up on Rittenhouse Square. They found a parking spot on Locust Street in front of the restaurant. Then, later, they came to our house to see some changes we'd made, and they found a spot in front of our house.  Any other time of the year, this would not have happened.

But it could be an everyday thing, if we managed our parking instead of surrendering it to storage.

And, remember, the 20 percent who do store their cars on the street will also benefit from better access.  When you come home at 9 o'clock at night after dinner there will be spot.  So you have to get up and move the car at 8 a.m.  You found a spot.

The dream of park in front of my house, drive to work on an empty road, and park in front of the office is a seductive one.  Recently I was at a Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting where a very nice young woman insisted that the parking spot in front of her house belonged to her, and that the students from neighboring La Salle should not be allowed to park there.

Sorry.  Elbow room is over.  But if we manage what we have properly, things can be pretty good.

So it's not Fifth Avenue, it's not in front of Rockefeller Center, it's not even in front of your house, but it's only a short walk to home, and you're happy.

Because you're a grown-up.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Turning JFK Boulevard into an Extension of Love Park

Last Saturday -- a lovely day -- I found myself in Love Park chatting with a very pleasant and diplomatic young woman from PennPraxis.  As I understand it, the parking lot under Love Park is being rebuilt, and the City has decided to take the opportunity and rethink the design of Love Park.

As usual, my idea was outside the box.  John F.  Kennedy Boulevard has been a pet peeve of mine for quite a while.  It doesn't help that I work up there. 

Some of JFK's Many Design Flaws.  
We can thank the defunct Pennsylvania Railroad for many of JFK Boulevard's shortcomings.  Back when the Chinese Wall was coming down, Ed Bacon pleaded that the planned new buildings be oriented north-south, instead of east-west, to allow sunlight to reach the sidewalks with some regularity.  (For this history, I rely on Kenneth Halpern's Downtown USA, Whitney Library of Design, 1978.  An old book, but still I think a good one.)

My personal thought is that the railroad guys couldn't process the idea.  The trains had run east-west, and so of course should the buildings.  It was the natural order of things.

Anyway, if you've ever wondered why JFK Boulevard suffers from darkness at noon, it's because the buildings are oriented east-west instead of north-south.

Another huge issue for me is the width of JFK Boulevard.  It's six lanes wide -- four for traffic and two for parking -- and it's effectively an automotive version of the old Chinese Wall (which, for those of you who don't know, was a railroad viaduct that ran from the Schuylkill to City Hall.)

There has never been enough traffic to justify four lanes for moving cars on JFK Boulevard.  The designers had to know they were making it too big.

JFK is a short straw that is corked at both ends -- by Reading Terminal Market on the east and by 30th Street Station on the west.  What traffic there is seems generally to come down 15th Street from the Vine Street Expressway, turn right onto JFK, and then left onto 19th Street, where it queues on both Market and 19th before disappearing into the many parking garages there.

These garages should be closer to Vine Street.  This is not my idea; it's Louis Kahn's.  But that's another story.

If we closed a lane or two of traffic on JFK, it wouldn't hurt the traffic flow, and the street would be a lot easier for pedestrians to cross.

More than You Want to Know about Traffic
Upon reflection, I'm going to take this a step further.  One of the gnarliest intersections in the city is at 20th and JFK.  JFK is one-way from Love Park up to 20th.  Then it becomes two-way as it travels up the viaduct (parts of the old Chinese Wall can be seen here) and across the bridge to 30th Street Station.

Cars headed west at 20th can go straight, turn right, or turn left.  Cars headed east must turn right or left.  Cars headed north on 20th can go straight or turn left.  Cars headed south can go straight or turn right.

There's a whole lot of turning going on, and the streets are very wide, and it's not a good place to be a pedestrian, and it's clearly often confusing for motorists.

Down at 20th and Market the situation is, if possible, worse.  20th south of Market is one-way north, so all southbound traffic must turn on Market, which is one-way east of 20th and two-way west of 20th.  Got that?

Back to JFK.  I suggest we make JFK a two-way street, with one lane going in each direction.  I'm sure many of the motorists coming from 30th Street (including me) would be very happy to continue down JFK instead of dog-legging onto Market through two nasty turns.

Westbound, having one lane of traffic would eliminate a primary source of fender-benders, which is turning vehicles that fail to stay in their lanes.

Back to Love Park
Enough about traffic.  What do we do with the space we just got?  How about expanding Love Park to the south.  (You could also do this to the west, but that's once again another story.)

Then Love Park could flow up the north side of JFK to 20th Street.  It could be the Ben Franklin Parkway's mini-me.  (And maybe we could borrow the idea of a planted median from Park Avenue in New York City.)

I'll leave the design and programming of this space to others with more talent, but I do hope they'll consider adding a cycle track for bicyclists.  This part of Philly has some of the most intimidating traffic in town.  I'm sure the bicycle messengers would be grateful, and if someone could figure out connections to the evolving north-south bicycle routes -- and to the Schuylkill Banks -- I think you'd see a lot of bikes here.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Why Do We Do Sports, Anyway?

Call it archaeology.  The recent news got me thinking about an article that I wrote a long time ago, and couldn't get anybody to publish.  I looked for it in the basement,  I looked for it in the closet in the study.  I looked for it again in the basement, and I found it.  Just a printout.  No digital remains, and no metadata.  I have no evidence of who I sent it to, or what they may have thought of it.  I do this.  I strip files down to the story.  So here's the story.  I think it's about 20 years old.   I looked for things to change, and decided I'd just retype it.  I hope you like it.

One day a few years ago I was having dinner with my family, and my daughter remarked that my jaw clicked as I chewed.  And indeed it does.  I explained to her that I'd dislocated it a number of times playing football.  She suggested I stop clicking.

I haven't figured out how to do that, but I have given some thought as to why I was playing football in the first place.  As I recall, it had something to do with building character.

Last year my son became a great fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, and because he's my son I sat and watched at least a bit of the games with him.  I found that having played the game -- even on a lowly intramural level, and on a losing team at that -- gave me an advantage over my son as we gazed at the Cyclopean image of the television.  I know what it feels like to play football.  It hurts.

There are also moments of ecstasy, and the satisfaction of blood lust, but as I sat watching the TV, my enduring memory was one of pain.

What were we building on those crisp fall afternoons, so long ago?  Briefly, we were using football to build Christian Soldiers, and after we graduated we were expected to go Onward, seeing every situation we encountered in later life as just one more set of downs.  Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching as to War.

So how, precisely does football build character?  Aside from an increased acceptance of pain, what do we learn on the gridiron?  I've drawn up a little list that works for me:

Lessons to be learned from football

1.  goal orientation
2.  task orientation
3.  teamwork
4.  subordination
5.  obedience to rules
6.  steadfastness
7.  reward for effort

You can come up with other lessons -- in fact, I'm going to float a few more later.  But the basic point is that football is good training for life in modern society.  The large bureaucracies that dominate our lives simply couldn't function without people trained in these skills.

This shouldn't be surprising, because Walter Camp, the inventor of modern football, designed it that way.

More interesting is the thought that most modern sports teach these lessons, to a greater or lesser degree, and that the lessons are available to spectators as well as participants.  Just listen to the crowd count down the clock at the end of a college football game.  If that's not a lesson in clock discipline, I don't know what is.

Despite the excitement that large groups of people seem to derive from counting backwards, it seems unlikely that people would troop to stadiums on the weekend if all they were getting was lessons in bureaucracy.  Camp's genius lay in joining his lessons to the fulfillment of deeply felt human needs.  Here's another list, and again it applies to many sports, not just football, and to spectators as well as participants.

Human Needs that Can Be Satisfied by Sports

1.  blood lust
2.  blowing off steam (catharsis)
3.  winning - domination
4.  gambling
5.  flaunting wealth
6.  the thrill (euphoria)

Sports have changed a lot over the years, but they have always found a way to satisfy these yearnings.

A Look Back
A quick look back at the history of American sports will show us how much change there has actually been.

-- In the early nineteenth century, the major sports in America were cock fighting, bull baiting, bear baiting, and horse racing.  Depending on the expansiveness of our definition of sports, we could add hunting, fishing, and dueling.

-- Around 1850 baseball and boxing began to settle into the national psyche.  Rowing had started this process earlier, but became institutionalized in the 1850's.

-- After the Civil War football rose to prominence, and by the 1920's -- often called the Golden Age of Sport -- the Big Three were baseball, football, and boxing.

-- Nowadays we have a Big Four of baseball, football, basketball, and hockey, but these must compete for attention with a long list of other sports, from ice skating to beach volleyball.

A number of themes lie just under the surface of this story.

-- Over the years there has been a marked decline in the violence of American sporting life.

-- At the same time the lessons taught have changed as society has changed from an agricultural to an industrial basis.  Baseball occupies a curious middling position in this progression from farm to factory.  An intensely urban game, its job was to bring a bit of the country to the city, and make newly arrived farm boys feel more at home in the urban environment.

-- Finally, sports, once invented, seem not to go away, although they can certainly decline in popularity.  I'll make an exception to this rule for bull baiting and bear baiting (which I certainly hope are extinct in North America), but cock fighting is still very much with us.

To help us with our thinking about American sports, I've assembled a list of dates and events that seem important to me.

A Few Dates to Think About 

1851 - 1st America's Cup (sailing).
1851 - YMCA comes to America (Boston).
1852 - 1st intercollegiate rowing race (Harvard v. Yale).  This is also the 1st intercollegiate athletic event of any kind in the United States.
1858 - Schuylkill Navy formed (an association of rowing clubs in Philadelphia).
1859 - First intercollegiate baseball game (Amherst v. Williams).
1869 - 1st intercollegiate football game (Princeton v. Rutgers).
1875 - 1st Kentucky Derby (horse racing).
1875 - 1st recorded public indoor ice hockey game (an intramural match at McGill).
1876 - National League formed (baseball).
1891 - James Naismith invents basketball at Springfield, Mass.
1892 - 1st heavyweight boxing championship under Marquis of Queensbury rules (gloves).
1894 - Flying wedge banned (football).
1895 - 1st Penn Relays (track & field).
1896 - 1st modern Olympics.
1903 - 1st modern World Series (baseball).
1905 - White House conference on football.  (Eighteen players die during the 1905 season.  President Roosevelt summons representatives from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, and asks for reforms.  Numerous rule changes ensue, including the introduction of the forward pass.)
1917 - National Hockey League formed.
1919 - Black Sox scandal.  (Chicago White Sox players accused of accepting bribes to throw World Series.)
1924 - 1st U.S. team joins NHL (Boston Bruins).
1929 - Pop Warner football league formed.
1938 - 1st American television broadcast of a sporting event takes place in Philadelphia.  (This information was unearthed by Professor Benjamin Rader of the University of Nebraska.  Until recently it was thought that the first sports broadcast had taken place in 1939 in New York.)
1939 - Little League formed (baseball).
1947 - Jackie Robinson breaks major league baseball's color barrier when he joins Brooklyn Dodgers.
1949 - National Basketball Association formed.
1961 - In a speech to the National Football Foundation, President John F. Kennedy urges mass participation in sport to increase physical fitness in the general population.
1962 - The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner (movie).  Running is about freedom.
1967 - 1st Super Bowl.
1972  - Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act.  (Basically says girls can play too.  Schools and colleges are still scrambling to comply.)
1972 - 1st general strike in baseball.
1977 - Jim Fixx's Complete Book of Running published.
1978 - Amateur Sports Act completely overhauls American Olympic sports program and accelerates the trend towards professionalization of these sports.
1984 - Introduction of the Macintosh computer.

Breaking It Up into Chunks
Lists like this are interesting, but mainly useful as a starting point for analysis.  If we look at the history of American sports, from the time that things started to get organized in the 1850's, events fall reasonably comfortably into four overlapping periods.

The Time of Getting Organized (1851-1905)
If you build it, they will come

The United States began to emerge from its Jeffersonian pastoral fantasy well before the Civil War, as the industrial revolution began to take hold, and enterprising individuals began the process of erecting the large bureaucratic structures (such as the Pennsylvania Railroad) that soon bestrode the land.  It was a process fertile in possibility and uncertain in outcome.  We tend to ascribe a certain inevitability to the past -- after all, you can't change the past.  But that makes it unalterable, not inevitable.  It didn't have to be that way.

When it comes to sports, I think that one of our great historical mistakes occurred when football beat out rowing for primacy among college sports, feeding a sports system centered on the spectator rather than the athlete, and on violence rather than strength.

In fact, during much of this early period, football is a strongly regressive force, playing increasingly to the violent impulse as Walter Camp strove to create a sport that was both instructive and popular.

The growing violence of football reached a crisis in 1905, when even Teddy Roosevelt decided he'd had enough and invited representatives of several colleges down to the White House for a little chat.

Death did not disappear from the gridiron immediately.  In fact, in 1909 thirty players died, compared to only eighteen in 1905.  But the principle had been established that death was no longer an acceptable outcome for a football game -- or by extension any other sporting contest.  This was a major turning point for the definition of sports in America.  It could have gone the other way.

The Baseball Era (1903-1967)
Christy Mathewson to Mickey Mantle, with Babe Ruth in the middle

Bucknell's most famous dropout, Christy Mathewson was born in Factoryville, Pa., in 1880, and attended the Keystone Academy, where he played football, basketball, and baseball.  He continued his gridiron exploits at Bucknell, where he scored all ten of his team's points in a 47-10 loss to Penn in 1899 before being sucked into professional baseball, where he quickly landed with the New York Giants and became America's first general consumption sports hero.

As Ray Robinson notes in his book Matty:  An American Hero, before Mathewson the United States had chosen its heroes from fields other than sports.  Although it may be difficult to believe today, politicians could be heroes -- Lincoln, Washington, Teddy Roosevelt.  So could soldiers such as Robert E. Lee and even inventors like Thomas Edison.

Previous sports celebrities, most notably the boxer John L. Sullivan, were certainly famous, and they were certainly heroes to certain groups -- in Sullivan's case readers of the Police Gazette.  For the emerging public consensus, though, Sullivan was too rough-hewn to be a role model.  This was, after all, a society that was about to ban liquor through the 1th Amendment to the Constitution and also establish a Motion Picture Production Code that prohibited, among other things, obscenity, profanity, disrespect for religion, and "excessive and lustful kissing."

Unlike Sullivan, Mathewson was a role model from Central Casting -- clean living, honorable, and one hell of a ballplayer.  Even after his playing days were over, Mathewson found ways to make America's mothers proud.  During the 1919 World Series he was in the press box for the New York Evening World and was instrumental, along with Hugh Stuart Fullerton, in articulating the suggestion that the Series had been fixed.

After Mathewson came the twenties -- the Golden Age of Sport and the Era of Babe Ruth.  By this point the engines of publicity had reached a state near perfection, and even such a deeply flawed character as Ruth could become a hero to America's youth.

It is interesting in this regard how the foundation for sports heroics began to crumble almost before the facade was complete.  Yet the edifice proved durable.  The hero syndrome continued through Mickey Mantle, who actually had fewer flaws than Babe Ruth but wasn't as good a ballplayer.  Clearly, sports heroes were useful to American society -- perhaps because of a decline of heroes in other areas of life, perhaps because we needed heroes badly.

Nowadays, of course, a sports hero is almost as rare as a political hero.  Why has the hero become an anachronism?

In sports, I would suggest that the process is related to the decline of baseball, a sport where individual acts of heroism are clearly related to the success of the team and, by extension, the society from which the team sprang.  In football, by comparison, even the quarterback is a bureaucrat.

The decline of the sports hero is also part of a larger decline in hero-worshipping.  This decline has been attributed variously to Vietnam, Watergate, a shift in what sells newspapers, and many other causes.  I'd like to suggest that maybe we just grew up and have less need of heroes.

The Age of Television (1938-1984)
From America's first sports telecast to the introduction of the Macintosh

Spectator sports are, first and foremost, spectacle.  They exist primarily for the enjoyment of the audience, and not for the satisfaction of the participants.  Numerous writers have criticized the effect of television on sports, most notably Benjamin Rader in In Its Own Image:  How Television Has Transformed Sports.  But it's important to remember that there was no golden age of innocence for spectator sports.  Before the question of ratings there was the question of how to fill the stands.

Television did raise the stakes here by broadening the audience.  The mass audience is television's greatest strength, and also its greatest weakness.

There's a rule:  The larger the audience, the less loyal the audience.  There's a corollary:  The tail wags the dog.  In order to deliver the mass audience, you have to appeal to the least interested member of that audience.

From the beginning, television executives fell back on what they knew would work -- violence and vaudeville.  Boxing was crucial to the early success of television, as was Sid Caesar.

Even comic books had their influence on TV sports, as wrestling matches became live action cartoons.

The highlights syndrome surfaced early.  Editors in the cutting room discarded the boring bits with abandon.  Then along came a sport that did the editors' work for them -- the Demolition Derby, which is simply car racing boiled down to the wrecks.

A number of sports had relatively brief days in the sun.  The promoters discovered one of the cruel laws of television.  The mass audience is fickle.  The marginal viewer -- who, remember, is the most important viewer -- has limited interest and a short attention span.  Lose that viewer and your ratings dip.  Then you're gone.  This happens to individual shows all the time.  It also happens to whole genres of shows -- Westerns, for instance, or boxing, both of which were very big in the 1950's.

My personal feeling, though, is that the basic problem of television is not that it is a mass medium but that it is a medium.  Watching television, we no longer have a direct experience of the sporting event.  The priesthood of spectacle stands between us and the event, shaping and interpreting that event, possibly for our benefit but certainly for its benefit.

Think for a minute about the difference between watching the Super Bowl on television and going to the field and watching your high-school team play its archrival.

By comparison to direct experience, television is weak tea.  It fails to nourish us in the way sports should.  It fails to meet those deep-set needs that led to the creation of sports in the first place.

The Time of Personal Sports (1961-    )
John F. Kennedy and the Return of Play

It must have been in the spring of 1962 that I stood on a cinder track and listened to the track coach tell a friend that jogging was worthless.  And from the coach's point of view it was worthless:  he had no interest in the cardiovascular fitness of a population.  Rather he was focused on the performance of a few.  However, as John F. Kennedy said in his December 1961 speech to the National Football Foundation, "There are more important goals than winning contests."

The coaching establishment bitterly resisted this idea, and by and large still does, but as the years passed the concepts of physical fitness and lifetime sports began to take root.  Sneaker manufacturers even figured out how to make some money in this new world.

Running is central to the fitness craze because of its almost protean nature.  It can be competitive or noncompetitive, long or short, fast or slow; and just about anybody can do it just about anywhere.

I think the chameleon-like nature of running has forced a loosening of our overly rigid definition of sports as competitive contests, and allowed us to reconnect the concept of sports and the concept of play.

I seriously doubt that John Kennedy had anything like this in mind in 1961 -- he was primarily concerned with raising the physical quality of draftees for the armed forces -- but the relationship of sports to play is a central idea in Roger Caillois' Man, Play, and Games, first published in English in 1961.

Caillois sets up an interesting framework of four types of games.

-- Agon, or competition.  This is where we find football, baseball, basketball, etc.
-- Alea, or chance.  Here we find gambling.
-- Mimicry, or simulation.  This is the home of theater and children's dress-up games.
-- Ilinx, or vertigo.  Here is dancing, skiing, mountain climbing, and standing on the roof of a tall building and looking down.

I just had the strangest idea.  What if, instead of having departments of athletics, colleges had departments of play?  We could move drama and dance into this new department, the colleges' Title IX numbers would get better, and the dance and drama teachers' salaries could rise until they approached parity with the coaches' salaries.  Just a thought.

The revolutionary idea here is actually much simpler.  Sports can be play.  Ever since Walter Camp industrialized football, we have been turning play into work, and then using work in sports as a model for work in life.

Personal sports, such as running, put the play back in sports.  If we're not careful, the lesson may spill over into life.

Some Interesting Parallels to Religion

Despite what they say down in Texas, football is not a religion.  Interestingly, though, the historical progression of sports from external spectacle to internal fulfillment has unmistakable parallels to the history of religion.  There is a period when blood sacrifice is allowed, and a period when it is not.  There is an age of saints, and a prereformation period of wretched excess (connected with television).

All this doesn't make sports a religion.  It just shows that certain modes of development have a way of recurring in human affairs.

False Lessons and Artful Misdirection

Sports are also like religion in that they have the ability to teach untrue lessons.  Many of these lessons are socially useful, but that doesn't make them true.  What follows is a list of my discontents.

1.  Time is linear

Nineteenth century factory managers had a problem.  They needed their workers to show up on time.  The workers, on the other hand, came from an agricultural world where time was a function of the sun and the seasons, not the clock, and where work was episodic and strongly dependent on the weather.  Enter football and the other clock-bound sports.  (By the way, Walter Camp, who invented modern football, was also an executive of the New Haven Clock Company.)

Now we're so used to mechanical time it's easy for us to forget that time is not linear.  Time is actually a river that runs both faster and slower than the clock.  It has eddies and undercurrents, and sometimes it flows backwards.  But we have our eye on the clock, so we generally don't notice.

The same flattening has happened to the calendar.  Instead of varying our activity with the seasons, we do pretty much the same thing every day, year round.  For a while it seemed that sports might help us preserve seasonal change, but with lengthened playing schedules that idea has pretty much gone away.  Instead of well-defined progression through the year -- as is provided, for instance, by the Christian calendar -- we have virtually everything virtually all the time.

I don't think there's anything in particular to be done about all this, but it is a loss.  I find I tend to avoid sports that have really big clocks.

2.  The sweepstakes syndrome

We hear a lot about athletes' salaries.  This is, of course, a subtle method of social control.  We relate strongly to the athletes, and if they can make that kind of money, so can we.  It's just a question of winning the lottery of life.

Anyone who has ever put on a sweepstakes will tell you that it doesn't matter what you offer as second prize.  People fixate on first place.  So second place -- getting a raise down at work, or just keeping up with inflation -- has less value.  We all become happy gamblers.

As an aside, the high salaries are simply the players' share of the excess profits generated by monopoly capitalism.  If sports writers were truly interested in economics, they might want to explore the effects of the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961 and the Football Merger Act of 1966, and possibly think in print about what life might be like if professional sports leagues didn't have monopolies in their individual sports.  After all, AT&T can't have a monopoly in telecommunications.  Why is the NFL so special?

3.  The moral equivalent of war

As Robert Higgs points out in his recent book God in the Stadium, in much of the country football is suffused with militarism and religiosity, thus fulfilling in a strange way William James's 1910 call for "the moral equivalent of war."

What James actually had in mind was turning military virtues to peaceful uses (his example sounds something like the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps).  What we have in football, of course, is hardly peaceful.  The most serious problem with all this is that many Americans have come to believe that war is simply football carried on by other means, which it is not.

4.  Winning is the only thing

In the 1994 World Cup, the two best soccer teams in the world ended their game in a tie.  They then decided who got to take the cup home through a penalty kick shootout that had very little to do with soccer and a lot to do with luck.  To use Roger Caillois' framework, we were no longer doing agon, or contest.  Instead we were into alea -- a game of chance.

Brazil took the cup, and the Italians were unhappy, and just about everybody had a bad taste in their mouth.  We want our contests to be resolved as contests, and we expect that there will be a winner and a loser.

I'm going to make a heretical suggestion.  Let's bring back the tie.  In baseball, that means eliminating extra innings.  If you're even after nine, shake hands and go home.

By allowing ties, we recognize that many situations in life, as in sports, do not fall into the neat win-lose paradigm.

In fact, win-lose or "zero sum" games are relatively rare in life outside of sports.  Far more common is something called The Prisoner's Dilemma, which is actually the title of a good book on game theory by William Poundstone.

The Prisoner's Dilemma is about long-term cooperation among people who don't like and don't trust one another, and who are operating in a stressful environment.  Sound familiar?

5.  Rage as a way of life

Coaches often admonish their players to get angry, and in the context it's usually good advice.  Rage does increase peak performance in certain areas.  However, it also decreases performance in other areas -- in my experience, fine motor skills, peripheral vision, and abstract reasoning.

So this is another area where the lessons we learn in sports should be applied to our daily lives with caution.  Beyond that, your doctor will tell you that it's bad for your health to get angry every day.

6.  The payoff

The emotions aroused by sports are very powerful -- the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat.  But what does this have to do with our daily lives?  Life is not a series of intense, short-lived episodes, although these episodes do occur, frequently without warning.  These episodes should not distract us too much from our basic experience of life, where effort is less intense but steadier, and where time walks slowly toward a horizon.

Because of our training, we expect our lives to be as exciting as a football game, and by and large they're not.  Perhaps we should stop equating life and sports and look instead for the nobility and the
meaning that lie embedded in our daily lives, if only we will look for them.  Perhaps we could call this search the moral equivalent of peace.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Looking and Not Seeing, Listening and Not Hearing

The other day I was walking to work on a beautiful day about 8:30 in the morning, and as I got to Spruce Street the light turned red.  So I stood there until the light turned green and, for something to do, counted the traffic in the street.  Eight cars, four bicycles.

The light turned green.  I moved on.  Around the time I hit Rittenhouse Square it occurred to me that one-third of the vehicles in that little snapshot back on Spruce Street were bicycles. 

Yet it didn't feel like that many bikes.  Bikes are inconspicuous.  Any frame you put them in, they're easily overwhelmed by a few cars.

The Visual Frame
Take the visual frame.  The silhouette of a bicycle coming directly at you is minuscule.  Then turn the bike and look at it in profile.  It gets a lot bigger, but it's essentially transparent.  You can see through it -- a few bars of metal, and wheels with spokes.  You're talking about something that, compared to a car, is barely there.

The only vehicle I can recall that is more evanescent is a single scull on the Schuylkill, going directly away from you as the sun goes down.  The boat itself is essentially under water.  All you really see is the rower and the oars.

So how many bikes would it take to produce the same impression of occupying space as one car?  This is a very subjective thing.  My guess is maybe eight bikes, gaggled at a stoplight, might be an adequate visual counterweight to one car.  But remember, the bikes are carrying eight people, and the car is probably carrying one.

The Auditory Frame
How about the auditory frame?  Cars and their big brothers, the buses and the trucks, are a primary source of noise in our cities (and also out in the bucolic countryside).  Other major sources of noise are airplanes and helicopters and heating and air conditioning units, like the compressor in my back yard.

Bikes, like pedestrians, are basically silent -- except when their riders decide to cast some invective towards an errant taxi-driver.  I remember calling a cabbie a jackass on Spruce Street.  Believe me, he deserved it.  His response was to to share with me all the English curse words he knew -- about five, as I recall.  I think we both wound up enjoying ourselves, and the vocabulary exercise seemed to be a good stress reliever on both sides.  He was happy he hadn't hit me, and I was very happy about the same thing.

So bikes are Lilliputian in the auditory frame, particularly when compared to, say, a poorly tuned Diesel trash truck.

The good news is that cars don't need to be so loud.  Hybrids, when running on electric, are virtually silent.  Kind of like bicycles and pedestrians.

Oddly, some people think this is bad.  There have been proposals to add sound to hybrid cars, so that inattentive pedestrians can be aware of their approach.

I'm not a great fan of this approach.  My thought is, if the overall environment is quieter, we will more easily attend to subtler cues.  And failing that, the motorist could beep her horn or, in an emergency, roll down her window and dish out a good dose of Philly invective.  It works for bicyclists.  I've even heard the occasional pedestrian speak up and remonstrate with a vehicular reprobate (both two- and four-wheeled).

The Olfactory Frame
Finally, we come to the olfactory frame.  Motorized vehicles inevitably smell.  That is because they are essentially defecating into the air -- and the result winds up on your window sill and in your lungs.  Some are worse than others.  Rudolf Diesel's progeny are among the worst, but they are hardly alone.

Bicycles, on the other hand, don't smell.  Okay, maybe a little chain oil.  And bicyclists can definitely smell, which is why I'm predicting that the next great office perk will be showers for sweaty bicyclists who show up to work early, so they can freshen up for the day to come.

Getting Big, But Not Seen That Way
The Bicycle Coalition has recently come out with a wonderful report.  Two Philly neighborhoods, Center City and South Philly, have bicycle commuting rates above  5 percent.  This is huge, and makes us major players on the national bicycle stage.

But do any of us here in Philly really perceive the magnitude of the shift that is taking place?  I include myself here.  I have my little snapshot on Spruce Street, where 33 percent of the vehicles were bikes.  I could calculate that, but could I feel it?  Can I feel it right now?  Frankly, no.  And I think the time is not far off when most of the vehicles in such a snapshot will be bicycles.  I'm saying more than 50 percent.

But will we see it?  The bicycle's virtues -- small, quiet, olfactorily inoffensive -- all work against it, when it comes to perceptions of the importance of the bicycle.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

About Cars

I like my car, and I use it a fair amount. But I'm glad I live in a city where I have a choice -- I can walk, ride a bike, take a train or a subway or a bus. We in the Northeast are fortunate that we have these options. A monoculture of cars is, in the end, self-defeating. And the demands of car culture over the last century have damaged older cities, like Philadelphia. I have no desire to park my car in my living room, but that is the way many homes have been constructed in Philly. We need to push back a little on the car.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Off-Street Parking at the Italian Market - Current Conditions

In my last post (August 3) I looked at the old Moyamensing Prison site at 11th and Reed in South Philly, which is currently occupied by an Acme supermarket and a 202-place parking lot for Acme shoppers only.  I suggested that the lot should be open to the general public, and that this would help relieve the shortage of parking for the Italian Market.

A reader gently suggested that if I was going to write about off-street parking at the Italian Market, I might want to learn about what's already there.  And so I went and educated myself.

First stop was the Internet, where I quickly found a website called Philadelphia 9th Street Italian Market:  Attached to the site is a map of off-street parking lots:  It lists seven lots with a total of 560 spaces.  Not bad.  Certainly more spaces than I expected.

I'd been aware of several of these lots, but a number of them were new to me, so on August 21, after acupuncture, I walked around, map in hand, and counted spaces.

Instead of seven lots, I found five.  The municipal lot on Ellsworth between 9th and 10th is now Cedars Village (921 Ellsworth).  The website says it's for older people, and construction was completed in April 2014.   Nice apartment building.  Parking lot had been listed as having 47 spots.

The lot on the north side of Carpenter between 9th and 10th has also disappeared.  There is new construction on the spot, which had been listed with 75 parking places.

On the same block of Carpenter, on the south side, there's a lot listed with 65 spaces.  I counted 53.

The lot on the south side of Washington between 9th and 10th is listed with 120 spots.  I counted 82.

It's true that I'd just come from acupuncture, it was a warm day, and I was hungry.  My counts may be off by one or two, but they're not off by 38.

The only lot where my count agreed with the map was the lot on the south side of Washington between 8th and 9th:  43 spaces.

An Improvement Opportunity
This lot is, to my mind, an interesting improvement opportunity.  As you're walking on 9th Street below Washington, there's a lengthy plywood barricade on the east side.  Behind it is a dead zone of uneven land where presumably there were once buildings.  And behind that is the parking lot, occupying perhaps half of the vacant land.  Philadelphians, unite!  You have nothing to lose but your dead wasteland in the center of the bustling Italian Market.

At the very least we should be able to add 50 places and have an attractive frontage on 9th Street.

The municipal lot on the north side of Washington between 8th and Passyunk is rated for 120 places and has 74.

Finally, the municipal lot on Christian between 7th and 8th is listed for 90 spots but only has 27, plus four spots reserved for Zipcars.

This last lot is adjacent to the lot for the Fleisher Art Memorial.  Perhaps at one time all of this was one lot, but that's not the way it is today.

So, as I noted above, the map totals 560 spaces.  I counted 279, a little less than half of 560.

Those 202 spots down by the Acme are starting to look pretty good about now, aren't they?

Especially since off-street parking near the Italian Market seems to have declined in recent years.  Remember, the map said seven lots, and I found five.  Minus 112 spots, by the map's shaky count.

Who's Looking After This Mess?
This business of a neighborhood getting new construction, and parking lots being turned into condos, is predictable.  It's happening around the Italian Market, it's happening down by the South Street bridge.  And I think it's a good thing.  But there's an obvious downside.

Tectonic shifts like this call for a coordinated institutional response.  If the area has lost 112 public off-street spots, maybe our city elders should look at the old Moyamensing Prison site and figure out how to add 200 spaces.  I believe the merchants would appreciate our concern, as would the customers.  Me included.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Once There Was a Prison

About a block from my acupuncturist in South Philly is an unusual sight for the area -- a very large open space.  It's a parking lot for an Acme supermarket that's pretending it's in the suburbs, sitting way back from Passyunk Avenue, with its rear facade on Reed Street.  There are 202 parking spaces in this lot by my count.

How did such a thing come to be in a part of town noted for its lack of open space?  Well, there's a plaque.  It says this is the site of the old Moyamensing Prison.  For those of you who have read The Devil in the White City, this is where the serial murderer H.H. Holmes was finally executed.

On the site there's also a senior citizens' center on Passyunk, with a really pretty garden in front, and over on Reed, behind the Acme, a city-owned lot that used to be for police cars but now sports a random selection of battered city vehicles, along with piles of rusting metal junk from road work.

The impression of a hodgepodge is locked home by the Acme store.  It's a refugee from a mall, and it simply does not belong in a densely built-up neighborhood.  The low, rambling building, the vast apron of parking asphalt, and worst of all the back wall of the store on Reed Street.

Across Reed is an old, tall, imposing masonry structure.  The city's fleet management operation has repair shops there, but much of that work is apparently now farmed out to private contractors, and I think we're looking at an incipient high-end condo.

What will the future condo owners look out on?  Well, across Reed Street, the Acme has essentially dropped its trousers and mooned the world.  There are a few grimy loading docks, stretches of blank wall, and odd pieces of ground where the architect apparently gave up.  This being Philly, some of these spaces are now being used, awkwardly, for parking.

This rear service area is standard treatment in the suburbs, but usually you don't see it.  It may back onto a bit of woods.  And there's often a chain link fence to discourage exploring.  Here, it's facing onto a city street that's being treated as an alley.

In terms of urban redevelopment, the Moyamensing Prison site is a disaster.  The structures have no sympathy for their surroundings, and they're wasting a lot of space in a tight neighborhood.  This is particularly true of the parking lot, which is placarded for customers only, with a 90-minute time limit.

Have I mentioned the idea that parking is in short supply in South Philadelphia?  And here is a 202-car lot which, when I pass it, is largely empty.

A Parking Lot for All
So, first things first.  Let's get our head out of the suburbs and turn this parking lot into a real city lot, available to all.  Charge money.  Give Acme shoppers at checkout a voucher for reduced-rate or free parking.

If you're looking for an example of what to do, take a gander at the lot next to the Eastern State Penitentiary on Fairmount Avenue.  Also, many of the parking garages around the Reading Terminal Market accept reduced rate vouchers from the merchants in the Terminal.

Maybe, if Acme was willing, even Pat's and Geno's could offer vouchers.

This brings me to who would benefit from these new spaces.  Complaints about parking are legion in South Philly.  If you listen carefully, I think there are two main issues -- overnight parking and the Italian Market.

There are a lot of cars in South Philly.  Many of them leave in the morning and come back at night with their owners.  There are actually spaces during the day -- except for the Italian Market, which is in my opinion impossible all the time.

Well, the Moyamensing Prison site is a block south of Pat's and Geno's, the beginning of the Italian Market, which then runs up 9th Street to Sarcone's, above Christian Street.  It's a linear market, so walking is built into the experience.  Parking at the Acme would allow you to take a leisurely stroll and look around.  I'm particularly fond of the live chicken place.  If your feet get tired, have an espresso at Anthony's.

And if you live in this part of South Philly and you come home late, and there are no street spots anywhere, the lot will beckon.  Or if you're from Center City and you have a dinner reservation at the Victor Cafe, wouldn't the lot be convenient?

Pie in the Sky
What the Moyamensing Prison site really needs, of course, is a complete do-over.  In Philadelphia, we actually know how to do urban supermarkets.  Go to South Street -- look at SuperFresh, look at Whole Foods.  They don't wear their parking lots as aprons.  They wear them as bonnets.  Store on the ground floor.  Cars on the upper floors.  Been done.

So let's rebuild the Acme as a three-story building with the store on the ground floor and the parking upstairs.

But wait a minute.  Let's have a look at the Piazza up in Northern Liberties.  What would happen if we took the Moyamensing Prison site and ringed it with buildings, and had a large open space in the center?  Then we would have an actual urban open space that, with the right programming, people would flock to.  Open air cafes, a bocce court for the senior citizens, maybe even a big TV screen where we could watch the World Cup. 

This isn't really pie in the sky.  All of it has been done here, in Philly, and all of it works.  What it does require is some imagination, some teamwork -- and some leadership.

Monday, June 30, 2014

An Easy Fix

There was yet another article about alternate-side-of-the-street parking in the Times this morning.  I think I've been reading these since around the time I started to read.

ASOTS, as I'll call it, is a strange New Yorker ritual that involves moving your car once a week so the city can clean the street next to the curb.  Everybody agrees it's a pain in the neck, but nobody can figure out a better way.

Well, there is a better way.  And, as an added bonus, it involves various members of City Council taking a junket to Rome, perhaps accompanied by a Deputy Mayor or two. 

I was in Rome this spring, and here's what they do.  They have a small truck with brushes underneath, to sweep up trash.  In addition to a trash bin, the truck has a large water tank, which is attached to a long hose.

There's a two-man crew -- the driver, and the hose guy, who walks between cars and up on on the sidewalk and uses the water flow -- it looks pretty forceful -- to push the solid trash up into the traffic lanes, where the truck gobbles it up.  Meanwhile, the water is also washing the street.

I know certain people will object to the two-man crew -- too expensive, they'll say.  I say, compared to what?  Shall we put a price tag on the inconvenience of ASOTS and match that up against the price of the added man?  Maybe it's time for a trip to Rome.  I'd be happy to tag along as a consultant.   

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Great Bicycle Highway to South Philly

I finally figured out why the bike lane treatment on 11th Street runs only from Bainbridge Street down to Washington, instead of continuing south to Reed Street.

It turns out that the Great Bicycle Highway to South Philly does exist.  It turns left on Washington Avenue and runs east on Washington to Moyamensing, where it turns right and runs all the way south to Snyder.

Washington Avenue
There is no way to know this when you're standing at 11th and Washington.  There are no bike lanes marked at Washington; this is true from 11th down to 7th, on the other side of the Italian Market.

Bike lanes are painted for several blocks east of 7th, until Washington sprouts an additional, separate lane that looks a bit like an exit lane from an Interstate but isn't.

I've often wondered what the city's engineers were thinking when they laid out this stretch of Washington.  The road is simply much too wide -- and, I have to say, poorly organized.  There's a buffer lane painted between the east- and west-bound lanes.  Would be a nice spot for a pedestrian-friendly median with curbs and trees.  The spare eastbound lane could be eliminated and the open space put to use as open space.  For instance, Jefferson Square, between 3rd and 4th, could be expanded to the north.

And there's plenty of room for a cycle track, as there is on Moyamensing, a nice wide street already equipped with bicycle lanes north- and south-bound.

Moyamensing is so wide that the traffic engineers blessed it with head-in parking for much of its length.  At the risk of belaboring the obvious, I think it's a very bad idea to stripe a bicycle lane directly on the rear bumpers of a bunch of cars parked head-in.  The drivers haven't got much of a chance of seeing the bicyclists, and the bicyclists have almost no time to react when a parked car backs into the bike lane.

On 11th Street, the engineers were at least trying.  There are a number of signs telling people to park back in, rather than head in.  For 11th Street, I recommended a two-way cycle track next to the sidewalk,with the parked cars between the cycle track and the moving cars.  (See blog post, April 10, 2014.)  I recommend the same thing on Moyamensing.

Discoveries on the way home
This section of Moyamensing ends in a T intersection at Snyder, which has very nice bike lanes east- and west-bound.  I gave some thought to heading west, looking for a route further south.  But then I decided to bag it and headed my bike east to Delaware Avenue, thinking I would ride the bike lane there north to Center City.

As I approached Tasker, I decided to take a detour.  I'd been to a Planning Commission meeting where there had been considerable discussion about Tasker as an important way to get to the river, and how access to the river was a key component of the master plan for this part of the city.  So I turned right on Tasker and rode past the back sides of Home Depot and Walmart, expecting to dead end at some point.

To my considerable surprise, instead of a dead end I found a gate to something called the Delaware River Trail.  I had never heard of this charming walk-bike trail, which runs through industrial ruins in the process of becoming gardens.  (This involves using plants that work on concrete slabs, essentially as slow-motion jackhammers.)

Several piers are slated for renovation.  They are intended primarily for fishing and sitting outside by the water on a fine day.  (You can tell the difference between these two activities by the presence or absence of a fishing pole.)

When I go out on a ramble, I'm always happy to stumble onto something that's entirely new to me.  Mission accomplished, I rode up Delaware to the cycle track at Spring Garden, rode the cycle track, then rode across Spring Garden to the Schuylkill Banks, and thence home.

It is getting easier to get around town on a bike.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Some Thoughts on Bicycle Lanes

One summer day when I was about twelve I was riding my bicycle down the main street of West Hampton Beach, New York.  The cars on this street parked head in, and when one of them abruptly started to pull out, I braked hard.

When I regained consciousness, I was sitting on a chair in the local pharmacy, surrounded by attentive adults.  I had gone flying and managed to abrade my chin and forehead without damaging my glasses.  There were no helmets in those days.  The bike was fine.  And so, miraculously, was I.

11th Street
Recently I've been going to South Philly Community Acupuncture on Passyunk Avenue.  I generally walk home through the Italian Market, but a few weeks ago I found myself getting reacquainted with 11th Street.  The cars park backed into the curb on 11th Street.  Most of them, anyway.  Some park head in.

When I was ten or so, my brother and I used to ride our Uncle Ed's horses.  This was way upstate in New York, and we would ride trails in the woods and traverse farmers' pastures.  I noticed that my horse would shy away from the large rock outcroppings that are a feature of pastures in the area.  (My grandfather used to call his farm "Stony Acres.")  I asked my uncle about the horse shying, and he explained that the horse was from out West, where rocks like that tended to attract rattlesnakes looking for a warm place to sunbathe.  Rattlesnake beach.

I think my avoidance of 11th Street over the years may be my reaction to the way the cars were parked.  But I confess that the parking setup does make sense.  11th Street is very wide, and South Philly is very short of parking.

Sometimes I wonder why the street is so wide.  Perhaps one day I will engage in a bit of archival research.

Even with back-in parking on both sides, there is ample room for two car lanes, one northbound, the other other southbound, and for one bicycle lane, northbound.  The southbound car lane is painted with sharrows, which look something like a corporal's stripes sitting on a bicycle and are supposed to encourage motorists to share the road with bicyclists (share arrow).  I was standing there one day, wondering how well this worked, when as if on cue a bicyclist passed me going south in the northbound bike lane.

This wide configuration for 11th Street extends from Bainbridge down to Reed, where it runs into an Acme grocery and a very large parking lot, which are sitting, I'm told, on the site of the old Moyamensing prison.  Why the parking lot is a parking lot, and not a three-story parking garage, I do not know.

Inexplicably, the bike lane and the sharrows stop at Washington Avenue.  I have no idea why they don't extend down to Reed.  Perhaps the city ran out of paint.

It's kind of a no-brainer to suggest extending the current treatment to Reed, but I have what I think would be a better idea -- a two-lane cycle track.  There's room.  Paint it right next to the sidewalk, and move the car parking out where the one bike lane is currently.  All of a sudden you have protected bike lanes running north and south between Bainbridge and Reed.

This would be a big deal, because moving people from South Philly to Center City, and back again, is a big deal.  The Spruce-Pine pair of bike lanes provides access between Center City and West Philly.  There is nothing comparable for South Philly.

It would also help people get to the new east-west bike lanes proposed for Washington Avenue.

I think Philly will always be a share-the-road town.  But wouldn't it be nice if the road sharing took place on quiet little streets near your home, and then brought you to an arterial network of bike lanes and cycle tracks that took you everywhere?

Schuylkill Avenue
I seem to have cycle tracks on the brain these days.   Recently I was at a community meeting about the new buildings CHOP plans to build along the east bank of the Schuylkill River, just south of the South Street Bridge.  (CHOP stands for Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, already a major presence just the other side of the South Street Bridge.)

It was an odd meeting.  The audience was asked to vote on something, but the people running the meeting didn't seem to be able to agree about what we were voting on.

Still, it was a generally good-hearted, if feisty, discussion.  I think the meeting space helped -- The Philadelphia School's new Garage space at 25th and South, two blocks from the South Street Bridge.  Anyway I found myself standing in the speakers' line, thinking about what I could say as virtually every speaker in front of me bashed the two vehicular entrances to CHOP's new campus that are currently planned for the South Street Bridge.  One of them even gets a stoplight.

As I was looking at the plan of the site, projected on a large screen, I found myself focusing on little old Schuylkill Avenue.  This street runs north-south between the new CHOP campus and the Toll Brothers development in the old Naval Home.

For years the only point of public interest on Schuylkill Avenue was the Springfield Beer Distributor, which has decamped for Washington Avenue.  There's a large PECO power plant, not exactly a tourist destination, and not much else.  (Okay, the School District's police department has a garage, as does the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority.  There's a no-name warehouse at 801 Schuylkill Avenue, where George Smith will be happy to tow your car should you choose to commit some unspecified infraction.)

There's a lot more vehicular traffic on Schuylkill Avenue than there used to be, because the Naval Home development has a gate there.  But it's still pretty desolate, and pedestrians are a rarity.

It's a pretty wide street, not as wide as 11th Street, but pretty wide.  And it runs from South Street to Christian.  Not Reed, but not bad.  And Christian hooks you into Grays Ferry Avenue (bike lanes) and Washington Avenue (bike lanes).

So, when it was my turn to speak at the meeting, I suggested that the designers look
into a cycle track.  They listened politely.

A few days later I decided to do the research I should have done before making the proposal.

It's a two-lane, two-way road, and I think there's just enough wiggle room for one but not two bike lanes.  I scrambled a bit to save my idea, and I came up with something I thought I would never propose:  Making the sidewalks narrower.  Less room for pedestrians.  How can you do this, Bill?  Well, both sidewalks are 15 feet wide.  The sidewalk in front of my house on Lombard Street is a bit under 12 feet wide.  Even if the new CHOP development puts a lot of pedestrians on the street, I think 12-foot sidewalks would probably be sufficient.

There are quite a few utility poles on the Naval Home side of the street, along with four fire hydrants and three of what look like steam vents.  The CHOP side of the street has two utility poles, up by the old beer distributor, and three fire hydrants.

If you were willing to move some curbs, there would be plenty of room for a cycle track.

But where would it go?  Schuylkill Avenue runs into Christian, a very narrow two-way street, which crosses Grays Ferry Avenue at a point where Grays Ferry is also a very narrow two-way street.  And that intersection actually has five spokes because another  random street runs into it.  Kinda gnarly.  (All right, it's 25th Street.)

Grays Ferry by the Naval Home
Grays Ferry Avenue and I have a history.  For a number of years I worked down in Delaware, commuting by I-95 and the Schuylkill Expressway (aka I-76).  On the way home, if the Schuylkill looked like it was getting ready to swallow its tongue, I would hop off at Vare Avenue and tool up Grays Ferry to home.

The lower part of Grays Ferry is very wide, with capacious bicycle lanes.  Then you go under the railroad viaduct, the road narrows, the bike lanes disappear (replaced by sharrows), and for quite a while you run straight as an arrow up next to the brick wall of the Naval Home on a street that feels quite a lot like a lane in a bowling alley.

On this stretch, there are six intersections on the east side and two curb cuts for the Naval Home on the west side.  There are no stop signs on this part of Grays Ferry, and only one light, at Fitzwater.  Throw in a tired motorist's strong desire to be home, and this is not a good place for bicyclists.

My post office is down on the wide part of Grays Ferry, and I've ridden my bike down the bowling lane.  I won't do it any more.  I'll take 21st south to Washington; 21st is narrow, but it has lots of stop signs to slow the cars down.  It could use some sharrows.  For the way back there's 22nd, which is a little wider and has a very comfortable bike lane (also the Ultimo coffee bar at Catharine).

The Foot of the Bridge
As we headed for home after the CHOP meeting, Lois and I were walking along with an acquaintance who was explaining why we really didn't need a bicycle lane on South Street.  I listened politely, but I was mainly thinking about the idea I should have proposed at the meeting.

It has to do with the intersection at the eastern foot of the South Street Bridge, which is technically South and 27th (another one of those now-you-see-it, now-you-don't streets).

This intersection is scary for bicyclists, pedestrians, and, frankly, motorists.  One of the reasons is that the bike lane, as it approaches the intersection, kicks out from the sidewalk and eventually winds up between two lanes of car traffic.  This is so the right lane of cars can turn right.  It is an invitation to mayhem, to which we are about to add two curb cuts further back on the bridge that will apparently accept cars turning from both the eastbound and the westbound lanes.  And cars exiting the curb cuts will also be able to go either way.  All this takes place in perhaps 100 yards -- two curb cuts and a crazy intersection.

We should remember that many of the drivers headed east on the South Street Bridge have just gotten off the Schuylkill Expressway and are still in Interstate mode.  I know.  I was one of them.

I can't fix the curb cuts, which are apparently as-of-right.  CHOP doesn't seem to need anybody's permission to install them.

But I can fix the intersection.  Sarah Clark Stuart, of the Bicycle Coalition, has been sending around materials about what I call the Dutch intersection, because it seems to have gotten its start in the Netherlands.  It neatly separates cars, bicycles, and pedestrians, and provides everybody convenient and pretty safe ways through the intersection.  That's what I should have talked about at the meeting.

If you'd like to know more about the Dutch intersection, here are some links:
(A nice video with lots of suggestions for further reading.) 
(A two minute video with a Dutch accent.)