Archive for November, 2009

“To Whom it May Concern”

Friday, November 27th, 2009

I certainly won’t defend people who neglect to pick up after their dogs (in addition to contributing to filth in our city, they give the rest of us dog owners a bad name), but I’m not sure this is the most effective response:

To Whom it May Concern

(I blocked out the author’s name and phone number in the image.)

That sign is posted to a tree in a smallish park wedged between Park Boulevard and 5th Avenue which has informally become used as a dog park by a lot of people in the neighborhood. It is currently illegal to take one’s dog there, as it is illegal to take one’s dog to most Oakland city parks, but the law is mostly unenforced at this location, and many people let their dogs run around on the grass off leash despite the lack of fencing and the busy streets nearby. (In case anyone is wondering whether I have ever done such a thing myself, I invoke my fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination).

Some local dog owners are trying to get a fenced dog park built there, or to have the whole park designated as a legal dog park, so that dogs can at least be legally allowed in the park on leashes. (Pat Kernighan, who represents my district on the Oakland City Council, is taking an online survey to gauge community interest and opinion regarding a fenced dog park or a dogs-allowed policy in that park.) Naturally, some neighbors are strongly opposed to turning even one end of the park into a dog park, and I wonder if the person who nailed the above note to the tree is part of the backlash against the dog park supporters.

As I said, I can’t defend inconsiderate or irresponsible dog owners, but I wish some of the dog-haters would appreciate the benefits that responsible dog owners bring to their neighborhood. Oftentimes the only people I see walking around the streets in my neighborhood, especially after dark, are other neighbors walking their dogs. All of those “eyes on the street” make everyone in the neighborhood safer against muggers, burglars, car thieves, and so on. And most of the people I know in my surrounding neighborhood are people that I have gotten to know by walking my dog around every day (this includes people who don’t own dogs, but who recognize me and say hello when I’m walking past their homes). Those community benefits may be less quantifiable than a pile of dog shit on the sidewalk, but they are real nonetheless.

Tiki Bike

Friday, November 27th, 2009

I walked by this impressive piece of handiwork in Alameda this morning.

Tiki Bike

Check out the larger version at Flickr if you want to see some of the detailing, such as the wicker on the fork or the stays (even some of the cable housing is wrapped with rattan or some such). It’s safe to say that a lot of time and attention went into this bicycle.

Going Back to College for Some Lessons on Livable Space

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

I went up to Berkeley on Tuesday to remind myself of how the other half lives, and as I rode through the UC campus, I was reminded of something that came up in the comments on one of my earlier posts: college campuses are among the few places where pedestrians, bicyclists and low-speed motorized vehicles mix freely in “shared space” in the United States, and they offer prime examples of how mixed-use, unsegregated roads and paths can be safely used by slow-moving cars, pedestrians, bicyclists, wheelchairs, skateboards—whatever—as long as everyone is paying attention.

Indeed, the fact that all those modes of transportation are forced to coexist on the paths and roads of a campus such as Cal’s is what causes everyone to pay more attention, creating places where people can get where they are going at whatever pace they choose, with almost no conflict or inconvenience. It’s part of what makes a nice college campus feel so utopian compared to your average city street. In most cities, the majority of public space is devoted to moving or parked cars, with pedestrians segregated onto narrow strips of concrete on either side and cyclists uneasily mixed in with the cars (uneasily because many drivers perceive the roadway as “their” turf, and see slower-moving bicycles as obtrusive obstacles). On a college campus, the pedestrian tends to be the privileged one, while cyclists are expected to proceed with caution and automobiles are heavily restricted. Shuttle buses, utility trucks or other motorized vehicles that share the pathways have no choice but to travel at safe speeds and yield to pedestrians.

Another principle of the shared space philosophy that I was reminded of is the importance of making the space truly shared. Even a subtle division of the space by painting a strip on a path and telling walkers and bikers to stay on opposite sides of the line can have unintended consequences, especially if there is a limited amount of space, causing people to stray from “their” territory. The lovely path over the Brooklyn Bridge, for example, is divided into a bike lane and a walking lane, and back when I used to commute over the bridge by bike, the division of the space seemed to cause as many problems as it solved—inevitably, pedestrians would cross the dividing line and enter the bicycle side, either because they wanted to pass a group of slower pedestrians, or because they wanted to pose for a photo next to the opposite railing, or because they just hadn’t noticed that the path was divided into a ped lane and a bike lane. Cyclists would be irritated by the incursion into “their” space, so they would angrily swerve around the pedestrians at high speed, often having to cross into the pedestrian lane, which would cause other pedestrians to feel threatened by having a high-speed cyclists suddenly invading “their” space. The number of conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians may be reduced, but the unpleasantness of those conflicts when they do occur is greatly increased.

Given the fairly narrow path on the Brooklyn Bridge, the large number of pedestrians who walk across the bridge at certain times, and the desire of commuting cyclists to be able to ride at high speeds across the long bridge, that path may not actually be a great candidate for truly shared space, but it does demonstrate that dividing space so that each mode of transportation has its own territory doesn’t eliminate all conflicts—it might reduce their number, but when conflicts do arise, they may not be as smoothly negotiated as they are on, say, the paths of the UC Berkeley campus.

There is some effort to keep bicyclists off of some Berkeley campus areas, but in my opinion, it’s a good thing that those rules are so widely ignored—if bikes stayed on the paths that are marked as bicycle routes, then I think there would be worse conflicts between walkers and bikers at those places where they need to interact. As it is now, bicyclists tend to ride among pedestrians nearly everywhere on campus whether they are supposed to or not, and everyone seems to negotiate their way around each other just fine, because walkers and bikers alike are very alert to the possibility of encountering a faster or slower traveler at any time.

(more…)

Scenes from an Afternoon Stroll

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

Sunset Serenade

White Sails in the Sunset

Autumn Totem Pole

Nature Takes its Course

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

In case you’ve ever wondered what would happen if you, say, filled part of San Francisco Bay with landfill and built some airstrips on it, then abandoned them for a decade or more, here is a photo I took yesterday at the Alameda Naval Air Station, which has been unused by planes for over a decade:

The Tide is High

That’s a tidal pool on an old taxiway—the water shows up around high tide, then drains away as the tide subsides. Here’s a shot from the same angle, taken at a dry point in March:

A Runway with a View.

When you gaze out at the runways with plants growing in every crack and shorebirds sometimes swimming in the temporary pools of water, you get the feeling that it would only take another decade or two for the bay to reclaim this land. With the ongoing battles over redeveloping the area, maybe we’ll actually see it happen. Here’s a different angle of the same tidal pool, with a disappearing runway and the cranes and shipping containers of the Port of Oakland in the background:

New Growth

(I posted some other photos of NAS Alameda here back in March. Those photos and a few more are all collected in a Flickr set.