To my urbanist and Sanders supporting friends, a word.

To my urbanist friends supporting Bernie and other government-funded solutions to problems of everyday Americans: I think I can open your eyes to something.

In my earlier post about Trump and Sanders supporters I said that in places like the Ohio Valley, government solutions seldom work because they almost never occur at a useful scale. Not since the Post Office and electricity. And thus the rise of Trump: “Why would I pay for something for someone else when we know we get nothing?”

Let’s shrink this down to a smaller area: Marion County.

Here are some perfectly valid claims, ones that many of you are highly supportive of:

  1. “Can I get some sidewalks near my home? It’s dangerous on the street without them, and at night people can’t go out without risking death.”
  2. “Can we build some trails so my spouse and I can have a place to exercise and lose weight?”
  3. “It’s getting tough to for us and the city to afford to operate a private car, and the city’s unable to maintain the roads well, how about more mass transit?”
  4. “Can we get our now 15-year old road re-surfaced? It floods a lot, too.”
  5. “Can we get more streetlights? Maybe it can help reduce crime?”

To many of my friends, these are all fantastic things that must and should be done. We’ll vote in referendums, we’ll lobby for increased funding, we’ll talk to our political leaders.

I know I have. I’ve been saying every one of those things for about 9 years now. Why such a specific number? Because that’s when I bought my house. In Marion County. 7 miles from Downtown. Just a few miles from Fountain Square and Irvington.

What do I have?

  1. No sidewalks anywhere outside my neighborhood.
  2. No trails nearby except the Pennsy Trail, which is unsafe by any means to get to on a bike from me, and appears to be on a completion time of 67 years. For most of the last 9 years it was a 1.25 mile stretch.
  3. My bus route gets “streamlined” to a 15-minute walk away from my house (it used to be right out the door), and I get to walk along a crap road that’s barely lit with a muddy, hole-ridden, chemical-stained shoulder.
  4. My arterial street hasn’t seen much beyond some quick hot-mix patches over the last 12 or 13 years. Stretches so bad people drive in the turn lanes to avoid the driving lane.
  5. Streetlights burn out and don’t get replaced, or are spaced so far apart I’m better off using my phone’s flashlight function.

What do I get told?

  1. We have a master plan for sidewalks, and we’re building it out 3 years at a time.
  2. We’re working on our master plan for trail connectivity over the next 20 years.
  3. We’re working on a new bus master transit plan with higher frequency and faster service. It’ll be great in 2021!
  4. We’re waiting for funding. It’s on the list.
  5. We’re going to replace every street light with new LED ones and put more in where they’re needed most.

Great!

Except not a single one of those things impacts me at all. And I do mean at all.

  1. The sidewalk plan has me in a tier 2 area. So expect something in about 15 years, if ever.
  2. The master plan for trails doesn’t come within 7 miles of me.
  3. The new transit plan leaves my route largely unchanged. Same 15-minute walk, same 60-minute frequency. Just some longer hours at times of night I don’t go anywhere anyway. In fact, the part of my route I care most about (Prospect, along through Fountain Square) will go away and instead carry me along English Ave. I think there’s a Dairy Queen along in there somewhere.
  4. Southeastern Ave. hasn’t been repaved in at least 13 years. In that same time Fall Creek Parkway is paved like the Speedway and Kessler, another Tier-2 road, has been resurfaced 4 times.
  5. We’ll see if Joe Hogsett lives up to his promise for more streetlights, but I’m not holding my breath.

And why am I told all those? This is where my urbanist friends have reasonable suggestions:

  1. We have to build where there’s the most demand!
  2. The trails will be great in high-density neighborhoods!
  3. Transit works best when it’s simple routes through dense places!
  4. We should have fewer roads so we can afford to maintain them!

You can see where this is going, right? You’ve chosen a set of “winners” and a lot of “losers”.

Can you imagine why a person loses faith very, very, quickly in these sorts of things? Government promises something, and doesn’t deliver. Or what it does deliver is lousy. And the reasons why are simply, “There’s just more over here.” More voters, more money, more everything. And here I sit, in a moderately dense area with nothing special. We’re not 38th street and we’re not Wanamaker.

And you want me to say, “Yes, let’s pay just a little more in taxes to cover these things!” Ok…but, do I like, get to use any of them? I’d rather not have to drive 20 minutes to Broad Ripple to use the Monon with my dog. I don’t think that’s asking too much.

This is how rural voters feel about everything. They don’t even get water. After a while, those of us who live in cities start to look really stupid for promising things to people that never come. These folks aren’t stupid. They’re literally working in their best interests because they’ve seen this movie before.

And here I am, 7 miles from the epicenter of our city, in a house I bought in Marion County to fight against suburban flight and I’m rewarded with, well, not much. Fire protection is pretty good.

So when someone comes along like Trump and says, “You know what, let’s just stop all this nonsense”, there’s some there there for a lot of people. This is why I have such a libertarian streak in me, too. It’s why I trudge along in ways no one else would. Not many of my urbanist cyclist friends would bike where I do and in the conditions I do. Not many people would put up with the walking I do. Because all I can do is what I do for everything: will it into existence. My desire to not spend money on a car is far above my desire to stay a little dryer when it rains. I’ll just wear a rain coat.

I still support all those things for Indianapolis. I just wish that after all my jumping up and down someone would at least throw me a bone. I can hear someone now saying, “Well this is good for all of Indianapolis.” Yeah, that’s nice, but it’s also sorta like saying, “What’s good for New York is good for Indianapolis.” No, it almost certainly is not. That’s patronizing and I wish you’d stop.

I’ve cycled over 15,000 miles

I just took a look at my bike computer and noticed “TOTAL ODO” read 1,081. It only goes up to 9,999.

Which means I’ve logged more than 11,081 miles on my bike. Not counting two other bikes I’ve owned and not tracked as closely, it’s reasonable that I’ve done about 15,000 miles in the saddle in two years.

That’s 283 trips around I-465, 55 trips up and down the height of Indiana, 5 trips across the United States, or a little over halfway around the earth. All while burning about 655,000 calories. That’s also 56,250 pounds, or over 28 tons, of air pollution not emitted.

I’ve saved about $28,923. I do not know where it’s gone, though. Presumably it’s allowed me to keep my rates affordable for projects I like and not work 15 hours a day.

How not to be an asshole, part 1 of 3,536

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I thought I’d take a moment to make a brief public service announcement on how not to be an asshole. This is a 3,536 part series and we’ve got a long way to go, so let’s get started.

For part 1, I’d like to take a moment to address drivers, specifically of the motor vehicle kind: please don’t kill me.

It’s been a year since I’ve started riding my bike around town for most everything and I’ve logged thousands of miles. Yet to this day despite thousands of dollars on public ad campaigns and infrastructure upgrades, people still seemingly don’t know how to drive around a cyclist. Allow me to explain some things from my perspective.

When I ride my bike around Indianapolis, most of the shoulders on the roads look like what you see at above right.

From a car you can’t see that it’s full of crap.

Lesson #1: Don’t litter or drive around with loose trash. Unless you’re a dump truck, why are you even riding around with this much loose trash that can just fall out of your car?

But take a good close look. There’s wood, splinters, weeds, mulch, mud, puddles, plastic, and all sorts of stuff stuck over at the side of the road. All roads. Every road. Every where. I’m convinced this is why shoulders were invented — to give garbage a place to drift to. When the road doesn’t have a shoulder, it just ends up in the grass off to the side of the road. Or, more accurately, the weeds on the side of the road.

I have cycled past, near, and over countless bags of fast food, cups, wrappers, and plastic cutlery. I’ve even cycled around furniture, boxes, what looked like a breast implant, toys, and more dead dogs and cats than I care to. In a car speeding past or around road kill you think, “Aww, that poor kitty.” On a bike you think, “Huuauaauaugh — that, oh my god, that cat.” I once cycled past a dog on south Emerson Avenue that must have been hit at an insane speed because it didn’t just get turned into a greasy spot in the road — it was eviscerated. I cycled past the dog’s head at one point and several yards later found the body, and then several more yards away was the dog’s back right leg. I could go into more detail, but when you’re hunched over the road traveling at about 15 MPH, you tend to have time to notice these things.

Lesson #2: If you have a dog, put it on a leash. It saves the dog’s life when it otherwise runs into the road and prevents it from chasing me down the road, which they do. A lot.
Lesson #3: As you’re driving, slow the heck down or else you’re going to end up with a puppy’s head stuck to your windshield wipers.

The point is, there’s a bunch of stuff in my way and there’s nothing I can do about it, so stop getting testy with me. If you’re driving a car and you see a baby grand piano in the road, you’re going to swerve to avoid it. Guess what I do when I see something in my way?

But take a closer look at what’s on the side of the road. It’s everywhere, and impossible to avoid:

IMG 0725

See it? There’s a big piece in front, but all through there are tiny bits of glass. I have no clue where this much glass comes from considering no one drinks out of clear glass bottles anymore, and beer bottles are tinted. My best guess is that this is glass that comes from people’s cars — headlights, windshields, mirrors, and tail lights. People get into a wreck and the glass is swept to the side, or, people drive around with cars that are falling apart and it decomposes right there on the road. Why the city doesn’t dispatch a street sweeper at accident sites is beyond me.

Lesson #4: I can’t ride over broken bits of glass anymore than you can ride over glass or nails (of which, there are plenty of on the road — who are these people dropping nails everywhere?). Stop honking at me for riding my bike in the driving lane. I know there’s a shoulder there, but I can’t use it.

The same goes for designated bike lanes. The bike lanes are, in effect, a generous shoulder with some fancy markings and signs spruced out along the way. I can rarely ride in the lanes as a result of your crappy car’s inability to stay in one piece.

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Lesson #5: If your car is in such piss poor shape it’s falling apart, that’s not only against the law, it’s dangerous. It’s time to get rid of the car.

Not to mention the ridiculous amount of potholes that litter the roads. A pothole that’s relatively small to a car means a flat tire or a bent bike tube to me. The above shot is from an actual bike lane.

This also forces me out for the shoulder and into the driving lane again. This is such a common thing for me that I’ve given up on riding on the shoulder or bike lane in most every place but the newest of paved roads. I’m going to ride in the driving lane because it’s the safest place for me and I’m relying on you not to be an asshole about it. I have a legal right to it under Indiana law. I understand that when the only thing that separates you from being an asshole and not being an asshole is the angle to which you hold your ankle to the accelerator, that it’s really hard to not be an asshole.

Lesson #6: You’re encased in a two ton car that burns money, gas, and emissions and is probably empty with exception of you and your latte, and I’m wearing a foam hat with no heat or air conditioning. Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate who the bigger man is here.

And you can’t tell me to ride my bike on the sidewalk. Sidewalks in Indianapolis are even worse, so much so in most places it’s against city code to ride your bike on the sidewalk anyway. The sidewalks have a bunch of problems. They start and stop at odd angles or just stop at curbs with no access ramp. It’s like riding along the highway at 60 MPH only to find that the road just drops off and ends 10 feet in front of you.

Plus, people are too lazy to take care of their portion of the sidewalk, like this guy:

IMG 0726

When his trash cans aren’t just sitting in the sidewalk, his bush is. Low-hanging tree limbs are just as bad. Plus, you can see here that the sidewalk is uneven, too, which can hurt when you just plop down a few inches randomly.

Lesson #7: Keep your sidewalks clear. It’s the law. It’s also a nice thing to do.
Bonus Lesson for this guy: The city won’t accept trash not in their designated trash cans. It’s been like that for a year. And four days after trash day your trash is still sitting outside, probably because you’re an asshole.

I go to great lengths not to piss off motorists. I really do. Twice this week I have gone far and away out of my way, miles out of my way, just to avoid some roads with narrow lanes that make it difficult for motorists to pass me. That’s right. I’ve pedaled in 100 degree heat for an extra 4.5 miles just so I can take roads that are just as crappy for a cyclist, but have fewer motorists.

I signal with my hands, I pull over sometimes if there’s not much room to get around me, I wear bright clothing, I signal and wave and say “thanks” when I can. I motion for people to come around me in right turn lanes if it’s safe for them to do so, just so they don’t have to wait for me.

And people still honk at me, sometimes (I think), to say, “Hey, excuse me. I’m behind you and coming up on your left.” Except car horns are really fucking loud. All I hear is, “HEY I’M IN A BIG CAR AND I’M SPEEDING BY YOU 10 MILES PER HOUR OVER THE SPEED LIMIT SO BEEP BEEP BEEP OUTTA MY WAY HERE I AM WEEEEEE!”

Lesson #8: Do not honk at people on bikes. It startles us and can cause us to swerve or become too distracted.

Roads with very low curbs or that sit an inch lower than the surrounding driveways and entryways pose another challenge, which is that if my tire hits the side of the very, very, low curb, I’m going to lose control. I have zero room for error and your honking, swerving, or speeding by me as if I can move is wrong. I can’t move. I’m stuck. I have literal inches of space to keep my tire lined up with and god forbid I stare down at a pothole. You’re the one that has all three other lanes, you have to move.

And as a final note, don’t ever tell me this is my fault. That somehow I asked for this because if I’d just have a car like everyone else I wouldn’t have this problem. No, that’s not the case. If I had a car I’d have to worry about assholes that might steal my car. Or assholes that might ding it in the parking lot, or ticket it because I parked on some magic painted line I didn’t know existed, or have to pay a bunch of interest to an asshole bank.

Lesson #9: Don’t steal or damage people’s things.

Cyclists are the ones who are able to save money like people are supposed to, who don’t pollute, who actually do something about protesting the gas pump. You “dump the pump” when you get mad on some random Thursday in May because gas went up that one time. We really dumped it. We’re the ones who pay property taxes to fund roads we can barely use. We’re the ones making a go at truly sustainable living. Just slow down.

Just stop being an asshole.

Car Storage

A story in today’s Indianapolis Business Journal indicated that the city of Indianapolis is considering building 3 parking garages to accommodate 16,500 more cars near Downtown. This does not include the proposed parking garage being planned for the Broad Ripple area.

Currently, Indianapolis has about 70,000 spaces around downtown, including spaces built to accommodate the oft-stressed IUPUI area, which has 16,781 spaces between lots and garages. All of IUPUI’s spaces are publicly-owned and constructed at a cost to Indiana taxpayers. 8,337 of those spaces are designed just for students, meaning faculty and staff take up almost half of the available spaces at IUPUI. There are over 30,000 students enrolled at IUPUI.

Figures based on the average cost of constructing a new parking garage indicate that in 2008, U.S. garages cost about $15,000 per space, or $44 per square foot. That’s a lot of money just to hold a car. Parking lots cost anywhere from $250 to $500 per space, depending on their location.

All that car storage takes up a lot of valuable real estate, too, causing city centers to be consumed by largely useless, ugly, concrete walls so people can walk a few short feet to their destination.

Considering the cost to the public to build large roads, parking garages either entirely publicly funded or abated with public tax grants, parking fees people pay, meter attendants, and other public infrastructure for car storage like signage and meter maintenance (now partially covered by a private operator in Indianapolis), that’s a huge sum of money. Even one garage that, on average, costs millions to build, is somehow seen as “okay”, despite it costing the average US city just under $6 million to do so.

The average student at IUPUI pays over $250 an academic year to park on campus, or about $25 a month. Similar rates apply to people who work downtown and have to pay their own parking costs. Dennison Parking operates a facility that charges $40 a month for non-guaranteed daily parking at their facility on South Meridian Street.

The entire IndyConnect plan would cost a person earning $50,000 just $10 a month to build and maintain a system. The average household in Marion and Hamilton County would pay about $120 a year for a system that would allow us to stop building ugly blocks for car storage, and instead allow people to get to the business of actually getting around town quickly and efficiently. The cost of three parking garages would roughly cover the cost of operating IndyConnect for one year.

Which means that the amount of money that Indianapolis is going to spend, without much of a peep from the public, is enough to operate an entire transit system that would catapult Indianapolis into the echelon of “cities with great mass transit” for a year. That’s just in public money that the city somehow “doesn’t have”. Outside of the public coffers, the plan would have to be funded largely by tax dollars on a recurring basis in a way that garages presumably don’t (beyond maintenance).

So, for the average schmuck who’s married with a kid or two, where both parents work, they’re willing to spend, on average a third of their income each year based on US Transportation Bureau statistics on cars and “car stuff”, like maintenance, gas, insurance, and parking fees. Or, $25,000 a year for an income of $75,000. As opposed to spending $120 a year in taxes, plus bus/train fees of $60 a month for a total of $1,560 a year (for two people).

Tens of thousands of people willingly pay $25,000 a year when they could just pay $1,560. Talk about an economic opportunity. Wouldn’t you like a third of your income back?

Most people in Indianapolis are one person in a car going to work, then going home. If you’re married, even losing one car to allow mom the use of the transit system while Dad takes the car to run a bunch of errands and then pick up and drop off the kids somewhere would still be a savings of $12,500 a year. If you’re a single parent with a kid or two, you can still enjoy the savings by using the car less in instances where the kids take the bus to school and you take the bus or train to work. Imagine saving just half the money you spend now per year on gas and oil changes. That would also extend the life of your car, or allow you to purchase and maintain a cheaper used car that you use less. For virtually everyone except elderly old quadriplegics in Indianapolis, everyone stands to save thousands of dollars a year.

For all those students going to IUPUI who spend untold amounts of car expense, they could instead invest that money in their education. Even not paying for a parking permit could cover the cost of several textbooks (or one big one if you’re in med school).

Cars are, for most people, a drain. They are not an asset, as an asset should retain or grow in value. They’re generally used for only transporting one person around, they pollute, they’re expensive, very few people like their car or their commute, and they’re an antiquated way of thinking about transit that we’re seemingly stuck with because of years of city building and construction that centered around the highway and the suburbs.

The City of Indianapolis is about to construct big boxes useful for nothing else but cars, while everyone sits around and wonders where all the money went, why they’re out of money themselves, and why they have to sit on the highway for so long every morning and night just to get to work. And not one public figure has drawn the connection that maybe it’s time we start diverting the money we do have to smarter ways of getting around. A reduction in waistlines, pollution, ugly and expensive lots and garages, and the convenience of knowing that even if you kept your car and one morning it doesn’t start, you still have a clean, safe, secure way of getting to work is not a bad thing.

Un-driving the car: the last vroom

For the first time in the nearly ten years I’ve been driving cars, I do not own one.

Today I sold my Toyota Rav 4. The last of a long line of Toyotas that I’ve owned, starting with my 1995 Toyota Corolla that I got for $5,000 when I was 15 years old and on my learner’s permit.

Over the last several months I’ve been playing with the idea of not having a car. I’d have to go out and start it up just to make sure the battery wasn’t drained. At times, I’d only really drive it once or twice a month, and usually that was just to get something taken care of for the car.

I no longer own a car and don’t intend on buying another. For now, I’m relying on my trusty Jamis bicycle and my Kymco motorbike. I’ll rent a car for really long trips. My new mantra for life is, “Never trust a man on four wheels.”

I thought it’d be interesting to try and figure up how much money I’ve spent on cars over the years. Here’s the best I can remember, as conservatively as possible:

1995 Toyota Corolla – $5,000 purchase price + $1,400 for insurance annually for 4 years + $650 for a new axle + gas and oil. I don’t remember how much I spent on gas or oil changes, but if you take the average price of wear and tear on a car at that time of .39 cents a mile x 12,000 miles a year, I spent about $4,680 a year on oil and gas + taxes of $150 a year.

= $30,120 over the four years I owned that car.

 

2006 Volkswagen Beatle – $6,000 purchase price + $600 for a new battery, radiator, turn signal, wipers and tires + .40/mile for 6 months I owned it (6,000 miles) + $650 for insurance.

= $9,650 over the six months I owned that piece of crap car.

 

2008 Toyota Yaris – $15,500 purchase price + $1,300 annually for insurance x 2 years + $212 taxes annually x 2 years + .49/mile for 36,000 miles (what it had when I sold it).

= $36,164 over the two years I owned that car.

 

2003 Toyota Rav 4 – 10,800 purchase price + $590 for insurance over 6 months + $180 in taxes + .49 mile for the 7,000 miles I drove it over 6 months.

= $15,000 over just 6 months.

Now, if you take away the sell price of each of these ($1,700 for the Corolla, $4,500 for the Beatle, $12,000 for the Yaris and $7,000 for the Rav), I’ve spent at least $65,734 for car stuff over 10 years.

I’ve tried to balance getting a good car for a good price at the demand I had for driving at the time. The Corolla was my first car, the Beatle was my second but it had too many maintenance problems. The Yaris was when I was living in the suburbs and commuting downtown for an hour one way every day. The Rav was my middle-ground after the Yaris when I started working from home.

This doesn’t factor in little things, like the floor mats I replaced in all of the cars, car washes, parking fees and other little piddly things that get in the way. I spent $250 on the Rav right after I bought it to get the window tint replaced and fixed. But at the very least, $66,000 in car-related expenses. Would you like to have $66,000, because I know I would.

That’s why this ends today. I sold my Rav, paid off the difference of about $4,000 and I no longer have a car payment. I wanted to unload it fast because in the next three months I would have had to pay $550 for insurance, $150 for taxes and registration renewal and $750 for car payments, plus it was due for an oil change and it would likely need new tires and brakes. Or about $2,100. In just three months, not counting gas, which costs the average American about $6,000 a year.

I just got back from a quick trip to the bank, on my bicycle in the slushy snow, and it didn’t cost me anything and was just as quick as a car (in fact, I followed a car from the bank to my neighborhood just as quickly as they could drive). The bike was $550 when I bought it. At that rate, I could buy about 119 bicycles for the price of all the car expenses I’ve had over the years. My motorbike, which I bought for just under $4,000 costs about $5 to fill up with gas, the insurance rates are less than half what I paid for the car and I can park just about anywhere I want and goes just as comfortably fast as a car.

Now I get to save, and save, and save…