Archive for March, 2008

Bike Columbus!

The mayor recently delivered his State of the City address, and while the biggest attention was on enforcing curfew laws and installing streetcars, a lot of folks in the media seem to be downplaying what was actually a fairly significant part of the speech. Hizzoner committed to spending $20 million dollars in the next 4 years (pending a bond issue in November) on bikeways! A grand total of 86.3 miles of bike routes and trails, 54 of which are on-street routes and lanes.

Needless to say, I was very happy about this. It’s about time that people in power started listening to us and doing something about the fact that you take your life in your hands every time you get on a bike in this city. But as nice as it will be to have dedicated bike lanes, this is only the first step in making Columbus bike-friendly.

First of all, I couldn’t help but notice that bike lanes certainly didn’t make headlines in the reports on the speech, and in many cases didn’t even make it into the reports on the speech. Maybe that’s because the news outlets don’t think it will be of interest to their audiences, but that’s really the fundamental problem. People don’t realize that this is an issue at all. I’m glad to see that the activist groups in Columbus have clearly finally gotten through to the Mayor’s office, but unless we can get through to the rest of the residents of the city, it won’t really help.

Which brings me to the second issue. One of the major roads here was recently rebuilt, and as part of the rebuilding they included bike lanes. Great idea, right? The problem is that the road is an 8-lane behemoth that may as well be a freeway the way people drive down it. The bike lane is on the right with no physical barrier between it and cars traveling over 50 miles per hour. On top of that, they created bike sensors at the left turn signals so that a bike can actually trip the left turn signal. Except that in order to get to the left turn signal you have to cross 4 lanes of traffic. Even though I’m an experienced and confident rider, I’m not sure even I would feel comfortable with that maneuver.

To be fair, roads like High Street are better suited to bike lanes. Lower speed limits, more traffic lights that slow traffic further, and a narrower road generally. But really this just points at the larger problem we have in Columbus. We are a car town. Everything in this city for the last 30 years has been built to solely accommodate cars. That’s enough of a problem in itself, but the side effects are even worse. The majority of recent developments are so far removed from any services that you need a car to get anywhere. If gas were to go to $10 a gallon tomorrow, at least I’d have alternatives where I’m located. The poor suckers up in Powell and Dublin and Canal Winchester and Dublin would be SOL.

But the other side effect is far more insidious. It’s the idea that cars and the people who drive them own the roads. It’s the idea that leads to people screaming at me while I’m riding, or thinking it’s funny to try to spook me, or pass me so close and fast that the draft almost knocks me off my bike. Frankly, it’s also the attitude that has led to so many car/pedestrian fatalities. I’m worried that people will feel so entitled that when it comes time to put a bike lane down High Street, they’ll just get pissed off that they don’t have a center turning lane anymore and will take it out on the cyclists.

So kudos for putting the plan out there, Mike. But let’s start trying to change attitudes as well.

March 17, 2008 at 8:54 am Leave a comment

Snow!

That’s right folks, we actually have snow in central Ohio. And not the little piddly crap that usually passes for snow around here. Real, honest to goodness snow that you can sink a shovel into and that makes the people around here who have snow blowers not look like idiots. For once they actually closed the library for good reason!

And it’s still falling! This has got to be the most snow I’ve seen in one snowfall in the 12 years we’ve been living here. I had forgotten having to clear the steps just so you could get out of the house. I had forgotten the snow being so deep you couldn’t tell where the path was. I had forgotten how it clings to your pants leg when you step in up to your knee. I had forgotten what it was like to have to clear your car off not just when you left the house, but also when you got out of the store you were at.

While 12 inches is a respectable snowfall anywhere, it is kinda amusing to watch the city shut down the way it would if there were 3 feet in the northeast. I actually did go out (thank you, Subaru) for coffee and to do some grocery shopping, and as of 10:30 this morning one of the major roads near my house looked like it hadn’t seen a plow since the middle of the night. The other major road was minimally better, but not much. When I came back the plows had hit that road, and managed to plow in the side streets. Fortunately the owner of the Chinese market at the end of my street had shoveled the plowed snow out of the middle of the road so I could actually get through.

So now we begin the fun that is watching people who have no clue what to do with this stuff try to get around in it. I had already seen three abandoned cars on my way to the stores, and there probably will be more as people get themselves into drifts they can’t get out of. Spinning tires can be heard all over the neighborhood. And we’ll probably have the inevitable “I shoveled that parking spot out, so it’s mine and you can’t park there” squabbles. At least they’re prediciting rain and highs in the 50’s by next weekend, so this won’t last long.

So for a little while at least I can pretend I’m back in New Hampshire, and that there actually is such a thing as winter instead of grey drizzle.

Happy snow day, everyone!

March 8, 2008 at 5:26 pm 4 comments

Here Comes Everybody

After hearing an interview with the author on this past week’s “On the Media,” I am now anxiously awaiting my copy of Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody. The book discusses how the ease of access to information is lowering the bar for who contributes, and as a result there is more power in numbers online than any other force. In media like television and radio, the producers and advertisers call the shots. But online, no matter how much “official” outlets and advertisers may try to shape the direction things progress, ultimately it’s people who make things happen. The interview has some interesting examples, but you can already see it in things like iTunes, YouTube, and even Wikipedia. Their prevalence is entirely due to the number of people who have hopped on board, thinking they’re good ideas. I think the biggest proof is in Google. Page rank counts for everything in Google, and that’s directly related to how many people are clicking through to your site.

So what does this have to do with the price of tea in China? Frankly, it impacts libraries. Traditional libraries are another variety of the old media. The librarians control access to the collection through selection, cataloging, and search skills. But in this new environment, the numbers outweigh those old skills. Forget selection, we’ve got the biggest collection in the world right here. And the things you want bubble right to the top because everyone is talking about or looking for them. Forget cataloging, we’ve got tagging. Now some might say that you need to have professional skills to catalog, and that’s true if you’re just one person cataloging. But if millions of people are doing the cataloging, eventually the preferred terms will rise to the top, no AACR2 needed.

In the interview, Shirky points out that the old model was to gather, then share. That is, you develop your collection, catalog it, and then open your doors to the world so that everyone can share it. But on the Internet the rule is share, then gather. Storage is so plentiful and dirt-cheap you can upload absolutely everything. Then once everyone has shared everything, people start identifying common elements. That’s what humans do: x is like y, a is like b, etc. Since so many people are doing this at once though, the common themes float to the top without the need of an actual cataloger trying to guess what should float to the top to help people find what they’re looking for. Instead they self-select.

So where does this leave libraries and librarians? First off, we still have searching. We can still do that better than anyone. And even though the collections are being made for us, we still should learn what’s in the collection and be able to navigate it to find what’s needed. But as for libraries…

Well, doesn’t everybody need a place to come?

March 3, 2008 at 11:41 pm 1 comment


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