Wednesday, December 19, 2007


The atmosphere has fallen down on us, thunk, and we have an inversion settled over the Twin Cities. That means thick fog and no sun, and that also means a sharp reduction in air quality because of all the stuff spewed out of various pipes around town. The weather service warns you not to exert yourself as much during these inversion times, but last night on the weather report I saw something different. They did warn people to exert themselves less, but the first of the bullet points they had about how to deal with the inversion said "Drive Less." That would have always been my first bullet point, because if you have a problem, the first thing you should do is stop what's causing that problem. But this is the first time I have seen this advice at the top of the list. Maybe things are changing here a little.

This makes me think about water, and how in some parts of the world, and not that long ago here, people used to dump their raw sewage into the same bodies of water from which they gathered their untreated water supply. People were and still are drinking their only slightly watered down sewage. This seems very repulsive to us today, and how could people stand it, how can people still stand it today?

But yet we have cars with their tail pipes low to the ground spewing out poisonous exhaust into the same air that we are breathing. This is as repulsive to me as the thought of drinking my own untreated slightly watered down sewage.

Houses and factories at least send out their poison above our heads. The winds dilute it up there, so we end up breathing less of it. But cars are spewing out their gases right into our lungs. There isn't much time for that yucky stuff to dilute before we take a breath.

My guess is that in a few years people will think about all those cars blowing their exhaust right into lungs the way we think about people drinking their own untreated sewage. They might even throw up just thinking about it.

They'll only be thinking about it, because by then we'll have decided that cities are really for people, and not so much for cars.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I had a wonderful walk into work this morning. The temperature was in the single digits Fahrenheit, and there had been a snow/fog combination earlier in the morning that sprayed all the black branches and fences with a layer of crystal. When the sun came over a house and lit up the branches, it made the whole world look like a solarized photograph.

Every branch had its white shadow of frost. When I looked up close I could see the intricacy of the crystal pattern. I saw some crabapples still on their branches. Each little ball in its cluster had a white hat. I saw the long white trail on each needle of a fur tree.

A church rang its bells and a few people walked out of the church. But these people only walked a few steps and got into their cars at the curbs. These were the only other people I saw on most of this beautiful walk.

I find that you can walk for blocks and blocks thru amazing beauty in Minneapolis, and never run into another pedestrian. At least I was walking down a quiet street that had few cars. For a few blocks I could have believed that I was the only person in the world.

And then I turned over to busy University Avenue to walk my last few blocks. Now I stopped noticing the frost on the fences, now I only saw the metal machines, each with one caged animal inside. They were sitting still because of the thickness of the morning traffic. I watched the tall plumes of ghostly exhaust rising up behind each of them.

Those plumes of exhaust made me think about the article I read in the paper this morning about how the arctic might already be over the brink as far as global warming is concerned. This made me feel almost as grumpy as all those people looked inside their traps.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Midtown Greenway Bridge Dedication on TV

My video (posted below) of the Dedication of the Midtown Greenway bridge over Hiawatha Avenue will be on community television in Minneapolis at the following times. It will be on MTN 16 (cable in the city of Minneapolis) on Thursday December 13 at 6 pm, Wednesday December 19 at 12 pm and Friday, December 21 at 10 am.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

first snow

The snow started falling this morning and it has been falling all day. It has completely changed the way that everything looks, and it has also changed the transportation system in the Twin Cities.

Minnesota has ice and snow in its winters. Everybody knows that. But despite the certainty of ice and snow, it has a transportation system that is based on the expectation that rubber will always have traction on asphalt. When there is ice and snow, which are a predictable part of the Minnesota climate, there is no or little traction, and the transportation flails around in near death throes.

Steel on steel works pretty good in ice and snow. Trains don't slide around in the snow like cars and buses do. But in the transportation system of this metropolis of 3 million people there is only one eleven mile rail line.

The rest of the transportation system is based on rubber tires needing traction on asphalt streets. That wasn't happening today. For it to work tomorrow, thousands of dollars must be spent on plows and salt. And that salt keeps on changing things long after the winter is over.

Some people are opposed to a rail transit line between downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. They say that buses serve that corridor just fine. Today I rode the bus line along University Avenue. The bus I was on filled up in St. Paul's midway, and at all the stops in Minneapolis around the University of Minnesota, the driver had to tell all the people who wanted on his bus to wait for the next. Who knows when that next bus would come or how full it would be.

A two car train would have had room for all those people who had to wait, and room for more. And it probably wouldn't have been as behind schedule as that bus was.

On another bus I rode, the driver announced that he was running more than an hour late. That's what happens when a transportation system based on the traction of rubber tires on asphalt meets the reality of a beautiful December day.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Midtown Greenway Bridge Dedication

On November 8th, a soaring cable stay bridge opened to let bicyclists and pedestrians easily continue their trip on the Midtown Greenway across Hiawatha Avenue. This was the dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony.

For more viewing options, go here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

i sing the bicycle trailer

i sing the bicycle trailer

that connects to my bicycle without a hitch (actually it connects with a clever bicycle hitch that is quick to attach and yet secure)

i sing the bicycle trailer

which i hardly even notice is behind me unless i am carrying two big boxes of kitty litter

i sing the bicycle trailer

which allows me to cart big and heavy loads, as long as they fit on the trailer, and as long as they do not weigh more than one hundred pounds.

i sing the bicycle trailer

especially when it makes the neighborhood kids smile and laugh at the bobbing heads of spring flowers on their way to my garden.

i sing the bicycle trailer

because it makes the green lights work for me (the detectors in the street do not recognize my trailer-less bicycle)

oh, i hope that i am like schultze in the movie "schultze gets the blues," who, a retired salt miner in germany, continues to pull behind his bicycle his bicycle trailer, carrying loads of coal, loads of accordion, and sometimes, as all bicycle trailers occasionally must, loads of empty.

Monday, October 15, 2007

A ton

I have never owned a car and never really felt the need to own one. So one thing I have never been able to wrap my mind around is why do so many people feel they need a machine that weighs a ton just to go from one place to another?

We all have legs or wheel chairs which can get us around. If I need to go further and faster than my legs can take me, I ride a bicycle. If I am going someplace that mass transit can take me, and I don't feel like biking, I can ride mass transit. If I need something bigger than I can carry, I can pretty much always get it delivered for a few dollars more.

A couple weeks ago I took the Minnesota Energy Challenge, and answered questions about my lifestyle so that my carbon footprint could be estimated and I could be told some ways to reduce it. The first questions was: How many cars are there in your household? I said zero, which is the truth. Based on that and on the size of my apartment, I was told that my carbon footprint was so much smaller than the average Minnesotans'. There are certainly things I can do to reduce it even more, and I am working on that, but I felt good that mine was already pretty small.

When I heard the MN Energy Challenge auditor talk to other folks, most of what she asked them about were their driving habits. But what I couldn't figure out was why they even had to drive in the first place. Some people say they have to drive because they have to get to their job. But my choice of job and the place I live were based on if I could get to them by foot, bike, transit, or all three. I wouldn't be able to take a job that I could only drive to, so that is nothing that would ever happen to me.

Because if you have a machine that weighs a ton, your whole life revolves around that machine. Where you work, where you buy your groceries, what you do when you are not working. In my case, my world revolves around those other three modes of transportation, which I feel always gives me more options than my car-enslaved friends.

I don't need that ton to get me around. I don't need that ball and chain. What I can't figure out is why so many other people do think they need it, and keep on needing it, despite all the environmental problems this machine causes.

It's easy for me. I'd rather that the polar bears keep their habitat and that Bangladesh and The Maldives don't wash away than that I have a machine that weighs a ton to get me from point A to point B.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Brand on the Brain!

I live in Northeast Minneapolis and do not have a car, so the Parkway Theater seems so far away from me. But with new management, they have been having such great movies there that it I simply must deal with my distance-fever.

Last Tuesday, I was lured down there by a Gene Kelly/Frank Sinatra double feature. It was very rainy, so I put my bike on the #11 bus and took a long nap-filled bus ride nearly all the way there. It was showtime by the time the bus got to 46th and 4th, so I rode as fast as I could the last few blocks. By the time the double feature was over, the rain has stopped, so I had a nice power bike ride home.

Yesterday afternoon it was the new Guy Maddin film that lured me. My intention was to bike all the way down to the theater on Portland Avenue, but there was such a headwind and it was so muggy, that when I saw the rail tracks by the Metrodome I waited for the next Hiawatha line train and took it down to Minnehaha Parkway. Then I had such a lovely ride along the parkway to Chicago Avenue and I even had time to have a coffee before the movie started. After the movie, I had a nice tailwind that got me home in just a little over half an hour.

I get that brand on the brain about distance, and way south Minneapolis seems so far, and St. Paul certainly seems so far, that when I actually do the trip and go there, it all seems like a big to do over nothing. But it also is good to see distances for what they really are - distances. My car-owning friends think nothing about crossing town. Maybe I think too much about it. Maybe the happy medium is somewhere in between, and maybe there is a nice off-street segment of the trip to make it a little less painful, and even awe-inspiring autumn beautiful.

Friday, October 5, 2007

More Critical Mass

Here is a letter to the editor I wrote to the Star Tribune in response to a column by Katherine Kersten.

In her column about the “bike-riding mob” that she says own the street of Minneapolis during Critical Mass rides, Katherine Kersten neglected to mention the car-driving mob that owns the streets for the rest of the month.

I do wonder when the vote was taken to give streets over to cars. All you have to do is look at a pre-1900 photo or painting, or watch a Western movie, for that matter, to see that streets used to be shared by many users. Streets were where people gathered for special events, and where children played. Pedestrians, bicycles and carriages all shared the road without a single mode dominating. At some point, cars took over the streets, and all those shared uses ceased.

The streets are really owned by those who pay for them. I pay taxes that repair streets, clear them of snow, put up signals, and so on, and yet I do not own a car. And my tax dollars do not pay for the infrastructure that I do use: sidewalk repairs are paid through assessments to homeowners, sidewalks are shoveled by individual property owners. This signals a strong bias in local government toward car transportation. Twenty percent of the households in Minneapolis do not own cars. These people are paying local taxes for car infrastructure, and getting very little for their own use.

In the last hundred years, city streets have been re-engineered from community gathering places into veins and arteries in the car transportation system. Traffic signals and signs and road rules are all based on the needs of cars. Pedestrians and bicycle riders are subservient to cars in these spaces.

A Critical Mass bike ride is a success when there are enough bicycle riders that the bikes do, for a short time, become the primary mode of transportation on a street. As the temporarily dominant mode, the bicycles determine the traffic speed and rules, just like cars do the rest of the time. Bicycles certainly do marginalize cars for a few minutes a month during a Critical Mass ride, just like cars marginalize bicycles and pedestrians for the whole rest of the month.

Kersten thinks that the authorities in Minneapolis should clamp down on the rides in order to get them to stop. But when I was in Portland, Oregon earlier this year, a series of articles in the newspaper described how the Critical Mass rides there were dying out. The cause of the demise of the rides was that many bicyclists felt they were no longer necessary. Portland is a national leader in changing traffic laws and re-directing transportation money to even the playing field for bicycles. These days, in Portland, cars are seen as just one piece in the transportation puzzle rather than the dominant mode, and streets are spaces that should be shared by everybody and all kinds of vehicles. And the Critical Mass rides were one of the reasons for this change in thinking and policy.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Critical Mass Ride September 2007

This is a four minute version of much of my journey through the Minneapolis Critical Mass bike ride on September 28, 2007. For an excellent summary of the ride, see Chuck Olsen and The Uptake's documentary cut in a middle night frenzy from video shot by four different cameras.

I enjoy partaking in the Critical Mass rides because it is the one time a month that the streets of this town belong to something other than automobiles.

Streets used to be the center of the city. The streets used to be where community happened. I love Western movies, and one of the reasons that I love them is that they really show what the street meant to a community in the years before the automobile.

In Westerns, the street is where everything happened. It is where you got hung, where you did the shoot-out, and every good bar brawl worth its name broke thru the saloon door and ended up in the street.

Two of my favorite Westerns are about taking back the long-gone streets of Old West towns. In both "A Fistful of Dollars" and "High Noon," a pedestrian takes back the streets of a town from a group of violent bullies (or two groups of violent bullies in "Fistful").

At some point, we gave our streets over to the car. There was no vote on it. It just happened. Today, streets are where the opposite of community happens. If you took a bar brawl out of the saloon door and into the street everybody would just get run over and that would be that.

When the car dominates the street, everything about the street is about the car. Traffic signals, lane markings, pavement, everything about the street is about the movement and parking of cars. That means that if you are a walker, you must walk like a car, and if you are a bicyclist, you must bike like a car.

During Critical Mass, bikes dominate the streets, and just for a few minutes they marginalize cars in the same way that cars marginalize bikes (and pedestrians) the rest of the time. As a taxpayer who does not own a car, I feel like Critical Mass is the only time in the month where I really get to use the streets that I pay for.

The street under the control of bikes is a very different place. It is a fun place. It is a place where you can't stop smiling. It isn't such a hurried place. It is a relaxed place. It is a place where a jogger can run in the middle of the street and not get a tire stripe up his back (there was just such a jogger riding in the middle of the bike traffic this ride).

That is why I like Critical Mass, and why I have the delusion during the rides that I am the Clint Eastwood or the Gary Cooper ridding the streets of violent bullies, even if only for a very short time.

Enough talk. Here's the video, finally. And for more viewing options, visit here.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

World Carfree Day

Today, September 22, is World Carfree Day. Events are happening around the world to point out the destructive impacts of car transportation, and how free life can be without that car ball and chain to weigh you down. I don't know about any events going on in Minneapolis to celebrate this day, so I'll throw up a little bit of confetti and give a hip hip.

Today, on World Carfree Day, I am reflecting on some of the city policies here that make it difficult to live without a car. These policies seem to me to really encourage car use and discourage use of other transportation modes.

First of all, during the winter, the city scrapes the snow down to the surface on all the streets but leaves sidewalk cleaning to the private sector. This means that carfree folks pay taxes to clear the streets that they don't use, and have to walk a hazardous tangle of ice and snowpiles on the sidewalk space that they do use. The city also pays for street repairs from its general fund and assesses individual property owners for sidewalk repairs. This seems to be a great way to get homeowners to hate walking when they look at their bills. The city also lights up the middle of the streets with its streetlighting system, but if people want streetlights that light up the sidewalk they have to pay assessments.

All these policies encourage car use. It's the whole chicken and egg thing: government is using your tax money to make it easier for you to drive so you do drive. It isn't because cars are better, it's because the state is forcing you to use them.

Despite all this, 20% of Minneapolis households do not own cars. These people are really paying for the transportation choices of the car households. Many of those carfree households are that way for economic reasons. This is really a social justice issue. The poor are subsidizing the transportation choice of those who are wealthier than they.

And that's what I'm thinking here in my carfree life in very car-intensive Minneapolis on World Carfree Day.

A family who lives near me recently went from a car family to a carfree family. Their car-aches and bus-aches and bike-aches and victories are all documented here:

And here is where you will find more information on World Carfree Day:

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Transportation Dictatorship/Transportation Democracy

After the collapse of the 35W freeway bridge, there were several letters and commentaries blaming the bridge collapse on the funding of non-car forms of transportation. People wrote that funding light rail transit drew resources away from freeway bridges. Loopiest of all was Katherine Kersten, Star Tribune columnist, who called Senator Oberstar to task because he funded bicycle transportation amenities, and that made the bridge collapse. These people are certainly subjects of the transportation dictatorship, their brains so warped by it that they can't see outside the limits.

We live in a transportation dictatorship. The state has decided that transportation is the same as cars, and that you do not get around if you do not do so by car. So the vast majority of state money spent on transportation is spent on building up the car transportation infrastructure.

What would it take us to get to a transportation democracy? It would take the division of that transportation funding into equal amounts, so that as much state money was spent on developing bicycle trails that was spent on car things, that transit funding equaled highway funding, and that pedestrian amenity funding was the same as that spent on car infrastructure (by the way, the city is fixing sidewalks around my block now, which is great, but they are billing the work to the homeowners. Why does the city fund street repairs through the general fund and charge homeowners for sidewalk repairs? Because that is how cities act in the transportation dictatorship.)

If we had a real transportation democracy, we would be able to make real choices. If we requested that our government spent equal amounts on cars, transit, bikes and walking, we would have a wonderful pedestrian transportation system. Biking would be a great way to get around. Transit would get you where you needed to go. But if we gave car transportation the same funding as the other modes, we would have a pretty poor car transportation system.

That is because car transportation costs so much more than all those other methods. That is why no other nation in the world has built as intense a car transportation system as we have. And a car transportation system is the least sustainable - it deteriorates the fastest.

A real transportation democracy would relegate car transportation to a fairly minor role, because it wouldn't be able to compete with the other modes given equal funding.

Let's get away from the transportation dictatorship and start building transportation democracy.

Friday, August 3, 2007

freeway bridge collapse

I was sitting in my Northeast Minneapolis backyard when I heard all the sirens. Then I started getting calls from my family in Montana and California to find out if I was alright. Then I turned on the TV and saw what was happening not far from from where I was, and very close to where I work. If I hadn't taken off work early to get ready to leave town the next day, I probably would have heard it fall.

It was very out of body to see all those familiar places on CNN, and it is stranger yet to see them now, a few hundreds miles away.

It felt odd to be leaving Minneapolis at this time of community coming together to mourn and rescue and recover. But I had my plane ticket. I left the next morning for a trip to Montana to visit my father and sister. As the number 17 bus slowly drove across the Third Avenue bridge, I was looking down the river just as everybody else on the bus was to see the disaster. All I could see was what I couldn't see. I could see the 10th Avenue bridge completely. Before, it was always blocked by the 35W bridge, which just wasn't there.

A woman on the bus on her cell phone was giving the play by play to the person on the other line. She talked as if she was seeing the horrible tragedy of it, but all I could see was its absence.

I took the train down to the airport and as I took off I tried to lean over to see the collapsed bridge but it was all too small compared to the rest of the city all around it.

Even if it was impossible to see from up high, that bridge was huge and important and of course it will be rebuilt, but I also have to think about what might happen if we decide not to rebuild it. When the Embarcadero freeway crashed down in San Francisco sixteen years ago, that city chose not to rebuild what was there. Instead they made a wide leafy boulevard with a streetcar line down the middle of it.

There was a time when 35W didn't cut its canyon thru the city, and I believe that there will a day when it will be all just a memory. Maybe we should see the bridge collapse as a reason to rethink our city's transportation system. San Francisco realized that it could still function without that one freeway. The structure had to fall down before they could see that.

Maybe we could do something different and better, something that memorializes the tragedy rather than effaces it with a brand new 8 lane freeway bridge. Maybe we could do something that treads a little lighter on the world and builds community, something involving transit and bikes and walking. Maybe the riverbanks and gravity and everything else is trying to tell us something, and we ought to listen for a change, and act.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

I Am Ethanol

What a brave new world we live in in which we plant corn with a tractor, fertilize it with petrochemicals so that this monocrop can make it, harvest it by burning more fuel, transport it to a distillery so that it can be fermented with more petroleum-derived energy, ship it to a gas station where it can be mixed with some more oil and make ethanol, and then pour it into a car so that 90+% of the energy can go to move the vehicle and less than 10% go to moving the person inside (based on a comparison of the weight of the car to the weight of the person inside it).

So here is my own version of ethanol. I eat food grown in the ground. Quite a bit of the vegetable matter I've been eating this summer I grow in my own garden. Then I directly use the energy from those crops to power my body so I can turn my pedals and ride my bicycle to get around.

I can grow the food in my graden without petrochemical fertilizers because I make compost from my own food waste, and because I get down on my knees to weed. I can ferment the vegetables inside my own body and break them down in my own stomach so I don't need a smelly huge ethanol plant to do that part. My stomach wall takes in the energy of the food and sends it to my muscles so they can turn the pedals of my bicycle. I don't need a heavy contraption of steel and plastic (more petrochemicals) to burn the fermented liquid into energy for transportation. And almost all the energy I create with my food-stomach-muscles goes to actually moving me. Just a little bit of the energy goes into moving the machine - my bicycle. My bike weighs quite a bit less than I do. Cars weigh quite a bit more than bicycles, and it takes so much energy to move a car that the person gets moved by just a small percentage of that ethanol energy.

So I think I do the enthanol thing a lot more efficiently than the state-subsidized ethanol industry does.

And it seems to me that we are pretty sad car addicts if we are so interested in moving cars around that we grow food to feed to them. We are spending valuable food on movement rather than on keeping people and other animals alive. That seems pretty crazy to me.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Car Castrastion

Here are two things I observed yesterday.

Somebody pulled up in his car next to my neighbor's house. Instead of getting out of his car and ringing the doorbell, he sat in his car and steadily honked his horn until a couple women told him to quit.

Late last night, when my girlfriend and I were walking the last couple blocks after we got off the last bus of the night, we noticed this car spending too long at the stop sign. When it drove forward, a man in the passenger seat dropped a string of lit firecrackers. They went off as we walked past, but the car had sped off into the distance.

These two episodes reveal to me with extreme clarity nothing but the laziness and cowardice of the guys doing these antics. They are so emasculated by their car that they have to act out from the inside of that shell. They can't talk or walk so they blap their horn. They can't interact with people so they throw firecrackers out of their car window.

These aren't men. These peas inside those metal pods are bits of giggling jelly. I do not think they would be that way if they didn't have that illusion of car shell invincibility. I think that if they had to face the world with no shell but the courage they had to make inside their own guts they would have the sense to not be assholes.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Car Sick

Before this past weekend, I had been in a car a total of three times so far this year. This weekend my sister, brother-in-law and their 3 year old daughter were here visiting and they rented a car for their stay. They were here for a wedding way out in a western suburb but spent most of the rest of the weekend with us.

Even tho cars are not really part of my lifestyle, we had one available for the weekend and it was used. It is amazing how seductive a car is when it is sitting on the street in front of your house and you have access to it. It really is a physical thing - if that car is there, your body almost wants it, maybe it even does want it, and wants to overdo it too.

The excuse was that with the three year old it was easier to just load all five of us in the car and go someplace rather than walk or take transit. And it was easier. My sister, who lives in Chicago, observed that Minneapolis felt much more car-centered than Chicago.

One thing I noticed by Monday, when my riding in their rented car was winding down, was how sick I felt. I felt sick and achy and knew that I was feeling car sick. It is easy to get queasy in a car, especially when you rarely ride in one.

There is something about the physical sensation of movement at a static body position. I think the body wants to move when it goes places - its natural response to inactivity during travel is to get a little nauseous.

I think most adults harden themselves to this car-nausea by their frequent time behind the wheel and over the wheels. It's like how that first cigarette might make you real sick, but the more you smoke the less sick you feel, and then your body starts to need those cigarettes. Car rides in isolation make you feel sick, but when you use one enough you harden yourself from the sickness, and then you become physically dependent on that car-movement.

I am glad to be back on my bicycle and getting around in my usual car-less manner. I feel much better already.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

thirsty ground

When I was little I used to think about the hungry ground on rainy days. There was ground underneath the asphalt and concrete of streets and parkinglots and on a rainy day that ground couldn't drink the water like the exposed ground could. The rain water ran away, it ran off down the slope of the streets into storm drains and far away. Only where there were cracks could the ground drink up, and where it drank it grew weeds with roots that could slowly crack the street and parking lot into pieces, a slow Sampson, I called it.

The thirsty ground made me sad. That and so many other things made me revolt against the car culture that beats down on little kids and turns them into car-addicted adults.

I thought I was a little crazy to even think about such things as thirsty ground back then, but now we know all about stormwater runoff and impermeable surfaces and the problems that happen when all our rain water is diverted by our streets and parkinglots into lakes and rivers rather than seeping into the earth and refreshing the aquifers. Now we're trying to mitigate the problems that arise from all that asphalt by inventing permeable surfaces and engineering rain gardens.

Let that toddler wisdom out. Try to think how you thought about things before you only knew motion with cars. Let that thirsty ground drink. Get rid of a parking space, or the need for a parking space, today.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007


This past weekend we got about a foot of snow. It sounds like more snow is on the way. At times like this, I am more happy than ever that I do not own a car.

From the car owners that I know, I have been hearing one complaint after another. On Sunday I watched my neighbors spend an hour or more digging their cars out of the snow drifts on the side of our street. I have talked to friends whose cars were towed so that the streets could be shovelled. They had to wait in line for an hour to get their car back, plus pay a fine and towing charge. Drivers have had accidents, they have had to dig their cars out of road sides, they were stranded for much of Sunday. But I got around pretty much as usual, taking transit and walking.

Snowplows do plow snow onto sidewalks, which don't always get shovelled for a few days. But stepping over a pile of snow in your snowboots is something I'd much rather do than dig my car out of a drift or shovel a whole driveway to park it in.

It is at times like these that I really have to count my blessings, and one of the chief blessings I have is the absence of car.

Monday, February 19, 2007

portland aerial tram

There is probably no other U.S. city as bold and brash and pioneering in mass transit as is Portland, Oregon. The latest display of transit brash in Portland is an aerial tram, which opened in late January, and which I rode last week when I was there visiting family.

The Portland aerial tram is one more original puzzle piece in the city's transit picture. It all started twenty years ago this year, when Portland opened its first light rail line. That first line has seen three additions. Six years ago, the Portland Streetcar got every other city in the U.S. talking about streetcars. And the tram will probably get cities thinking about ways to put the sky into their public transit systems.

On the west bank of the Willamette River, cliffs that are almost mountains rise up and perfectly frame the city's downtown. A little south of downtown, in a former industrial area called the South Waterfront, these cliffs rise up fairly close to the edge of the water. On the side of one cliff sits the crystal highrises of the Oregon Health and Science University campus. The cliff doesn't provide a whole lot more room for the campus to expand, so they are expanding down below, on the waterfront, where dense high rise housing is also going in.

The aerial tram takes you from the south waterfront up to the 9th floor of a building on the OHSU campus. The tram is composed of two silver pods held in the air by an overhead wire. Terminals down below and on the 9th floor of a building are connected by the cable, and there is one tower between the two terminals that gets the pods up into the air. As one pod goes up, the other goes down.

Riding the tram is a little like riding in Willie Wonka's glass elavator. There are big windows that let you look down at the rooftops and out to gorgeous volcano views (on clear days). I rode with my nearly four year old nephew, and his eyes lit up with the magic of the ride.

The ride is only a few minutes long, but you are soon up on the side of the hill. We rode the ride just to take it, and had lunch up at the hillside campus.

Portland is a place that takes transit seriously. They could have built a small parking garage for the money spent on it, or a road, but instead they built a bold gesture that you don't need a car to use.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

portland, oregon

i was in portland, oregon this last week visiting family members there and walking and taking transit to get around. there were signs up around town that it was the 20th anniversary of the first max line. twenty years ago, portland opened the first leg of its light rail system. there have been four expansions since then and another line is now under construction. they have a popular streetcar, and a couple weeks ago, the latest addition to their transit system opened. it is called the portland aerial tram, and it is a wire suspended gondola that takes you from the portland south waterfront up to the campus of the Oregon Health Science University, on the hillside above the city.

portland may only have one professional sports team, it might not have as a high a profile as some other metros, but it is often one of the only U.S. cities i see on international lists of first class cities for walkers, bikers and transit users. twenty years of light rail have made the city see that alternative forms of transportation work, and the city and metro have committed funds and dreams to making it possible for people to get around well without a car.

i walked all over the city, and always saw other people walking around me. the weather was much warmer there than here in the upper midwest. spring was starting, and bulbs were popping out of the soil. but walking goes on in portland year round. it seems that people there walk not only for health, but to get places, and also for the sheer entertainment of walking.

saturday night i walked down broadway street after spending some time at the Oregon Historical Society. Altho some people looked like they might have been walking to get someplace, and some folks were walking their dogs, many people had that look on their faces that they were walking just to walk, that they were walking for the sheer entertainment of it.

there were many cars in portland, many people driving, but there are almost just as many not driving. there is a transportation balance in portland that doesn't exist in many or even any other U.S. city of that size. sure, people drive and park in parking lots. but many other people don't drive. they find that they live a great life walking and taking transit and biking. and the city has reshaped itself over the last twenty years to make those alternative modes competitive to the car. it seems to me that this could only be seen as fair. minneapolis doesn't have this balance. i hope it gets there someday, and the sooner the better, as far as i am concerned.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

cold and a walk

it was quite cold last night but i had a nice long walk to the california street building to see an art show and sale of a friend preparing to move and casting out his past work. on the long walk there i went completely inside. i was aware of car traffic and of the snowy mess on most of the sidewalks, i saw the texture change sometimes to ice and made adjustments to my walking but my concentration and energy was all on myself, on keeping my heat inside. i think it was a little bit below 0 degrees F but the walk was tolerable, brilliant and amazing.

it took me a while to adjust to the changes, the heat and light and crowd inside the gallery space. outside, it had been just me and the cars. here were the people, and the paintings and drawings and prints. i looked hard at the images. i saw my friend thru his paint and ink and the patterns of his thoughts and eyes on the walls around me. i picked out an image of the inside of a bus, seen from the back, and almost floating up, out of body. there was one silhouette on the bus with the seats and windows in japanese black ink over white. it was very like my walk to there, my walk back home.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

wind chill

it was only a six blocks walk last night but the windchill felt like it was biting my face off. i was so happy to walk inside my door and be home.

Monday, January 29, 2007

bus community

the bus is a community. the people you find on the bus are from all kinds of backgrounds and ages, and they share the ride together, and this sharing is a building of community. it works, this melting pot on wheels, it works almost all the time. problems are rare and stick out like a sore car.

the driver is the closest thing to an authority figure, but the driver does not have much pull when it is one against twenty or more people riding the bus. the community has a way of enforcing itself. riding a bus a little like looking back at how cities worked before cars and big police forces. a look can slow you down. a look can make a person behanve, if it is one person acting out and twenty others enforcing with their eyes.

because sometimes that car ego does come out on a bus ride. sometimes there is somebody on the bus who is better than everybody else, and they act that way, and they act the selfish fool. but there is everybody else on the bus, and even if you think you are an island you slow down a bit seeing all those other faces. drivers can barely see faces thru windshields. drivers share the world road with ghosts, while bus riders look around and can see so clearly that they are sharing the world with real people, people with coats and hats and ways of walking and language. and sometimes with cell phones.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


Friday night we saw legendary experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger at the Walker Art Center. He showed several of his films and talked great vines of words from topic to topic that rarely had much to do with the question he was asked.

Two of his films from forty years ago deal with the fetishism and conformity that go with motor vehicles. Scorpio Rising looks at motorcycle fetishists while Kustom Kar Kommandoes does the same for those who polish cars.

In both films, the motor vehicle is the object of a young man's affection. The motor vehicle is his real lover, and something much more. Anger also puts this metal love into a context with images of skulls, Nazi flags and the KKK in the title of the second film. He is saying something about the facist like conformity at the heart of vehicle obsession. He is saying something about the sexual nature of motor vehicle obsession. These ideas can go a long way to explain why so many people cling to their cars in these days of news of global warming, and the great and destructive war for oil.

As we stood outside the Walker waiting for the bus, I couldn't help but notice how much all those cars do really look like skulls, with their smooth heads, their empty eyes and grins, their occiputs jutting out behind. In their appearance, cars really do look like a death wish. They are more than the wish of death for the cities that they bash their way thru, they have already killed them as meaningful people places - there is no more clear example of this than that spaghetti of streets and freeways right outside the Walker. What could be one of the loveliest parts of the city is made into a hell by the mouth of the Lowry tunnel, and the myriad lanes of the Hennepin-Lyndale mix-up.

Cars are a kind of global death wish too. With all the news about global warming and the war in Iraq, I can't figure out how so many people can keep driving so many cars, burning all that bloody oil to melt the world.

Anger made movies about how these vehicles represent an individual death wish. Scorpio Rising ends with the wipe-out of the biker and his wish is granted. But this is even a whole world we are death wishing now, and that is very sad.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

future downtown

i am a member of a committee that is reviewing the city's ten year transportation plan. it is an education to see the process and an honor to be involved and to give input, but it is also disappointing to me, as a resident of minneapolis, to see where it is going, or see where it is not going. thirty-five years ago, minneapolis was a world leader in developing new ways to think about transportation in a U.S. city, but it is not that way any more.

One of the goals of this planning process it to make transit the transportation mode of choice in the city. The plan will do many good things for transit, will allow double lane bus lanes on two downtown streets, and combine bus service on just a few streets. but nicollet mall, which was once a revolution in city transportation planning, is old transit mall technology, and getting down it on a bus takes forever, and that will not change for people like me who take local buses down it. We will also have to cope with frequent service disruptions due to events on the mall. and what the plan will not do is make walking, biking and transit more appealing than driving. cars are still king in this plan.

it is a great kansas city or fargo downtown plan, but it is not the plan of a city that aspires to be a world-class city. what world class cities are doing all over the world is limiting car transportation in their cores. they are widening sidewalks until there are no car lanes left on many of their downtown streets. this turns their downtowns into places where people want to be, where they do want to walk and stay and hang out. residents don't have to worry about car or bus fumes in these pedestrian only areas, they don't have to worry about getting hit by a car, they don't have to deal with the levels of crimes that comes in places where cars are king, and they can get to their city hearts by transit or by walking.

a downtown plan with a schedule for converting several streets into pedestrian and bike only spaces would be a truly visionary transportation plan for a world class city. this plan is blinded by dependence on cars, and is far behind the curve.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


at my neighborhood meeting the other night, the issue of parking came up, as it comes up so often. a developer was going to get so many parking spaces for a development, but thought they would need more. the people on the neighborhood board agreed that they would need more.

i have should said something but i stayed quiet, because i feel like i can sound like a broken record sometimes, but if we know anything, we do know that if you build good car infrastructure and lots of parking spaces, people will choose to get around by car. if you build good transit, and biking and walking options, people will use them. we also know that if you make it harder to get some place with one of those transportation modes, people will shift.

unfortunately, for us and for the polar bears, this city almost always chooses to put the resources into car transportation, into streets and parking lots, so many parking spaces, and this has made as thick as concrete the equation that transportation equals only cars.

it doesn't have to, and we don't have to clog up our neighborhood streets with more cars by making more pakring if we limit the parking and build up the alternatives. the polar bears are counting on us doing that. if we are so concrete or asphalt of heart that we won't, they are goners.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

friday afternoon stroll

yesterday afternoon i took a walk to pick up a print order for work. i walked from where i work, on main street under the central avenue bridge, to washington avenue north in the warehouse district, where the print shop is. it is a walk thru the heart of the city, much of the walk along the mississippi river, which has to be one of the loveliest parts of the center of the city, in the center of its urbanness, and along that walk i ran into one other pedestrian until i got to washington avenue, where there were a few more.

it was 1:30 in the afternoon and a crisp day with temperatures in the teens, but it was very sunny, brightly sunny reflecting off the snow, and i thought that if i were in chicago or so many other cities i would be seeing so many other pedestrians on such a walk. in minneapolis, on my walk, i saw lots of cars, and they were going fast and close to me and i kept on thinking how vulnerable i was. if only one of those cars went just a little off kilter - there i would be - smush.

they say there is safety in numbers, and there are reasons that people say this. if i was not the only pedestrian, but one of many, i would feel much safer. the cars could be going just as fast, and just as close, but i would not feel as vulnerable. all the pedestrians would also probably cause those cars to drive slower because of all that people movement, and the patterns, all that would make the cars feel faster, so they would slow down for the situation.

but that wasn't the case, and i mostly walked alone on what for me was a lovely early afternoon. and i did get to my destination in one piece. i picked up the box of newsletters i had to pick up and walked a few blocks to catch a bus. it's a little awkward walking with that big box so i took the bus back to work. there were lots of other people on that bus. there was some safety in number in there.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

travelling matte

i saw a documentary on the animator malcolm mclaren. the film featured a clip of him talking about how he developed his travelling matte idea, back in the 1940's. i have adapted his idea to my computer and made some forward travelling mattes of landscapes made out of cars cut from magazine car ads. i spent last night making just a few. it is time consuming. these will be the images in the windshield of the driving dj, livius.

in real transit news, it has been cold but i have been lucky making transfers, and haven't had to wait too long out in the cold. because our drier died, on monday i rode the train out to Sears at the Mall of America and picked out a new drier and scheduled delivery. there are closer stores that have appliances to me, but most of them are hard to get to on transit, so i chose a farther destination that was easier for me to get to.

Friday, January 12, 2007


i went out last night, and talked to friends and heard music and saw movies behind that music. and when i go out i have to get back home, and because i do not drive, and because i did not take my bicycle, that meant that i either had to walk or ride the bus. i rode the bus home.

some people tell me that they would ride transit here more if we had a better transit system, and that would be nice, but i do find that i get around pretty well on the transit system we have here with a few accommodations. the first one was just to be a little aware of what the transit schedules were. it took me two buses to get me from dinkytown to home, and both of those buses were only running every half an hour, so if i didn't make a quick transfer i would be waiting a long time outside on a cold night. it also meant that i left not at the end of the show, or even at a natural break, but when i would have to leave to catch the bus.

people are always making accommodations for their car travel, so you inevitably have to make some kind or another if you choose another mode of transportation. so i rode the bus and shared the ride with a few others. everytime i hear somebody talk about their car, or see them get into a car, i see a polar bear sliding into the water and into death. for me it is worth leaving a show a little early for that.

and it didn't take me that much longer to get home than it would have if i had gone by car. my waits for buses were about five minutes each, and the bus was warm and i could read a couple pages on each short leg of my ride home. and i also had a few blocks of good healthy walking in the trip. now what could beat that that doesn't involve an inordinate amount of global warming?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


the bus i had stood outside to wait for had broken down downtown, i heard, so i had almost a half hour wait for the next one last night. but the time went rapidly for i had a nice long talk with a friend who was also waiting for that bus.

the view of the skyline across the river was stunning in the dark evening, the cold was cold but not so bad, and the talk was nice. the only bad thing about that half hour was the traffic speeding by just a few feet from where we were standing on our feet. if you step back and think about it, it was really quite a dangerous situation to be in, only the slightest error in one of those tons or more of car and we would have been smush, but it didn't happen this time.

the price of gasoline is going down, which will help out alot to make global warming worse. and i spend a few hours last night making drawings for my new animation project.

Monday, January 8, 2007

bus and books

i rode the bus on a couple of long trips Saturday. the bus was my library, my reading room with amazing walls of transformation.

transit and reading have been linked for me from an early age. when and where i first started taking the bus, in Billings Montana, when i was in seventh grade, i took the bus downtown to go to the library. this was my saturday routine: i would stand at the bus stop and read, i would read on the bus on the ride into downtown, i would go to the library and read there, and also eye the shelves with all the thousands and millions of volumes that i had yet to read, and i would read on the bus ride home.

on saturday, this saturday, in my home now, i tore thru a long book on my bus rides. i was disappointed that i finished it too early, i finished it with one long leg of bus ride left.

transit is a great place for reading, it is a place where you can fall into yourself as the world surrounds you in all its territory and people. the wonders of the book i am reading and of the outside and the bus inside all play roles in the drama of the book of bus, and the bus of book.

i can really only fatasize about what the trip is like for a car driver. but i do remember my small car driving experience, the few drives i took during driver's education class in high school. what i remember well is the role that faith, not reason, played in the whole experience. you drive by looking forward and having faith that your car will go where your eyes are looking. you grip the wheel and you have faith that you do not jump the curb, or run into that car in the lane beside you. you have faith that you will go where you are looking and it all seems crazy to me today, just like it seemed to me back then when i was actually doing it.

the fantasy faith that i would rather have is one of falling into that interesting book while riding or waiting for a bus, and not that of hoping and dreaming that i do not crash my ton of car.

Friday, January 5, 2007

20 years

i do not so much remember stories, as in he did that or she did that. i remember a few images, as stark and formal as a photograph. but mostly i remember feelings, the particular emotion i felt at a particular day or place or with a certain person. these are the strongest transmissions that break their way thru the brick of time.

it was twenty years ago, not today, but yesterday, or a couple days before yesterday. it was january 2nd or the 3rd, i don't exactly know, but i do know that it was 1987. i rode the greyhound bus to town, to minneapolis, my new home, my new old home, the place of my return. i arrived at the old greyhound station, which is no longer there, and the place where i spent my first thirty minneapolis minutes, a bus stop bench, was on a block that has since died and been reborn.

i must have had things, i must have had a suitcase or two of clothes and notebooks to last me out my first few months in minneapolis, but i don't remember them. i remember myself, and the feeling i had.

i left the bus station and had just a couple blocks to walk to the corner where i was to catch the city bus that would take me to my friend Greg's house. i was almost at the bus stop when i saw the bus go by. i saw the back of it all lit up, and i knew i would have to wait a while for the next one. it was six o'clock in the morning, it was january, but not so cold, and it was black with growing lights, but still quite quiet. it might have been sunday morning.

i waited that half hour sitting on a bus stop bench at 6th and Hennepin. Shinder's News store was then on that corner. I saw all the magazines inside and the neon light. i sat on that bus stop bench for a half an hour, or maybe it was an hour, waiting for the next number 14.

what i remember the strongest is what i felt at that moment. i was a little frightened, for this was the biggest place i had ever tried to live in, this was a big city to me, i had no idea then really how big it was. but i also had a stronger feeling: the feeling that i was ready for anything, i was ready for my fate, and it was going to happen to me, and i was going to let it happen.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

mid night wake up

it is so warm these days. the furnace was on very little last night. i heard it start up and stop, and i heard a car go by. i was laying wide awake and thinking about global warming. once that starts, it is hard to fall back asleep.

these have been very warm days for january in minnesota. it is comfortable, but it is frightening.

i lay awake last night thinking about what we were doing to this planet, and it just kept on hitting me hard and hard and keeping me awake. who can fall asleep with that horrible thing.

i thought about global warming all nine times last year i rode in a car. it made me a little nervous about it, every time. it also made me think about all the people who drive every day, or take multiple car trips daily. do they think about global warming, about all the greenhouse gas they are spewing out when they take those trips. do they even connect their own transportation habits with the climate of the whole world.

i finally did fall asleep, only to wake up to the clock radio telling me about a car bomb that went off in Bagdad. several people died. that's another car connection that i am happy to distance myself from. i'll stay out of a car today. getting in one would be my own part of that car bombing. driving a car would be too much of my own global warming.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007


there is no such thing as new year but i'll still borrow it for a reason. it's only tuesday morning, but it is time to start a new thing.

here is my story, so old and so bugs. here is my story of life and animation. will i walk or will i take the bus, and what advertising will i cut to pieces on this day - that is a story in words and in reality, of making some grunts from the markings and the spaces.

last year it was nine car rides the whole year. i tried to minimize it and this might have been the all time low number for my life. mostly i get by with walking and biking and mass transit, and that is the locomotion in my life. i don't know if i'll be able to go so low with car rides this year, but i'll try to avoid them as strong as i can. global warming and so many other reasons are the reason, you know.

and i start up a new animation project. still working on the script. still working on starting up the thing. have characters drawn, have thought about the paper sets. of making layers of near and far go by, hopefully i will say more in the future.