Saturday, 28 March, 2020

Back Door Man


Every bus driver has experienced this.

There are many reasons people disregard the needs of others. Some are cultural, and some personal, ingrained by role models or lack thereof. Certain folks don’t consider others because they are young, and the last part of the brain to develop is also the portion concerned with empathy. It’s a survival mechanism; as a child you need to prioritize yourself to survive.

Other folks are older but just don’t have the brain development. Hard drug use is quite literally brain damage, and if you start using before the age of 25 (the age the brain fully matures), your brain will stop growing.* If you manage to kick your habit before 25, your brain is able to complete development, even if the process is delayed; but if you keep using past 25, your brain will never complete its maturation. For the rest of your life, you’ll be wandering around in an adult body but stuck with the emotional capability of a teenager, and you’ll wonder why existence seems so much easier for other people. Oh, Life. It can be so forgiving… except when it isn’t.

Still other people are self-absorbed for less dramatic reasons. They didn’t have parenting that encouraged caring or empathy. Maybe they were spoiled. Or they have cultural standards that look dismissive from the outside—differing concepts of personal space or noise, for example. Perhaps they are experiencing crises situations which require focus on themselves; the survival mechanism again.

Riding into the Future

A dodo on a bike along the industrial waterfront. (Reed Olson)
Will humanity go the way of the dodo? (Reed Olsen)

Living In Seattle, I am flooded with calls and texts from loved ones across the continent inquiring if we are OK. It is a warm feeling amongst the darkness how we mobilize and show up for each other. 

“I’m off to do a grocery run for my friend because he can’t leave the house,” I say, closing a call.

“How are you gonna do that, you don’t have a car?” exclaimed my dear friend.

The following pause had made it clear that the eye roll I am infamous for was piercing through the phone straight at him. Conversations like these are basically platitudes for commuting cyclists, but they bear repeating. In times of disaster, these conversations are telling of our collective conditioning. Even with this friend, who was once a candidate for a cross country bike tour with me. 

It is the 17th of March, 2020. I saddle up and ride out to greet the day. Seattle is sunny, warm, with a brisk wind. It is quiet. One can hear the birds. Without the roar of the nearby road, I can hear the flapping of crows wings overhead. The obvious is made clear and I am struck by the basic truth that yes, birds flapping their wings make noise. You just could not hear it before. Telling. 

The spread of COVID-19 in Seattle, while deadly serious, has shifted longstanding paradigms to a new normal overnight. There is opportunity in the cracks to ponder what kind of world we want and could have as we residents all dream of a return to normal. For a brief moment in the stillness, I imagine a future of my dreams. 

In the last four years while living in Seattle, I have seen what can only amount to a double-speak of residents: media and politicians voicing a concern for climate change while giving a free pass to cars, only to turn around and express dread for the city’s growing traffic problem. As a city, we are ranked as one of the worst in the country for congestion. Local radio station KUOW has initiated a reporting series on transportation and mobility in Seattle, and I have yet to hear the bicycle mentioned as a serious form of transport or remedy to the problem. The Seattle Times recently wrote a piece on new Amazon building construction in Bellevue, focusing on the congestion disruption. Again, no mention of incentivizing cyclists. Elected officials offering “we are a car-centric city.”

“A lot of people never use their initiative because no-one told them to.”


New York City just released a million dollar ad campaign with Billy Idol to encourage drivers to, well, not idle their cars and trucks. As an artist/illustrator, what I want to propose is a cycling public-relations campaign, invoking the PSA works of the New Deal era. Using the power of visual art to make the act of cycling both racially- and class-inclusive as well as the key ingredient: irresistible. We so often frame these conversations about what we have to lose, how about what do we have to gain? What would the stepping stones to that future look like? What kind of stories or narratives do we want to tell? My goal is to motivate, inspire, and draw wider, more inclusive circles in the world of cycling.  

Below is an assembly of my playfully polished visual thoughts on the matter…

Don’t Blame Density for Pandemics

Time Square is a good place to avoid pandemic or no. (Photo by Doug Trumm)
Time Square is a good place to avoid pandemic or no. (Photo by author)

If you’re a newspaper columnist or governor of New York, a pandemic is a great time to trot out medieval myths, repackage them like new, and feast on everyone’s anxiety to bring antiquated ideas into vogue once more. And that’s how you end up with “density is to blame” takes on COVID-19 running in the New York Times.

It’s also how Andrew Cuomo–governor of the state with the largest city in America–can tweet “density is destructive” and not be laughed into retirement. Perhaps if Governor Cuomo had sooner instituted a shelter-in-place order he could have used his high office to solve the problem. Instead he’s casting blame like any other Twitter troll.

The contention is nearly preposterous enough to defeat itself, but many urbanists gave it some help. Emily Badger corrected her breathless colleague with a “density is good” response that is definitely worth the read.

Many pointed out that countries that have most excelled at containing COVID-19 are among the densest. South Korea and Japan have two of the largest cities in the world with Tokyo and Seoul and yet have been remarkably effective at containing the spread, making tests widely available, and tracking down people who were exposed and likely infected to quarantine them and cut off the spread. Density didn’t prevent them from rising to the occasion.

And so Americans are left helpless reading dumb “must be the density” takes while sheltering in place at home and wishing we had the nimbleness of Japan or South Korea in responding–not to mention the density of Tokyo or Seoul that makes it likely a neighborhood has everything you need within walking distance.

Wonkabout Washington: The Little Climate Goal Bill That Could

2019 California Wildfires (Photo credit: Jeff Head, Creative Commons License)

Futurewise Legislative Wrap-Up: The Story Behind House Bill 2427, the GMA Climate Goal Bill

At Futurewise, we believe that local government planning needs to more directly address climate change. We need planning that helps us reduce emissions, especially from transportation, and we need planning that helps us adapt to the impacts of climate change like rising sea levels and increased flood and fire hazards. For these reasons, we pushed hard this year to add a climate goal to the state Growth Management Act (GMA). This year we came up short, but we are better positioned to pick the fight back up next year. Here’s what happened. 

Leadership in the House: Our current legislature is blessed with many new members with bold visions and a desire for action. This year Representative Davina Duerr (D-Bothell) stepped up to lead the fight for addressing climate change in the GMA. Representative Duerr introduce House Bill 2427 which added a climate goal to the 14 existing goals in the GMA. She also introduced a more ambitious bill, House Bill 2609, that would have implemented both a climate goal as well as a climate element. The element would give greater direction on how cities and counties should address climate change in their comprehensive plans. There are currently nine mandatory elements. It became clear early on that we didn’t have the votes to pass the more ambitious House Bill 2609 this year, but we might be able to pass House Bill 2427 this year to add the climate goal and build momentum for the full climate element in the 2021 session. 

A Deal to Pass in the House: Our main opposition came, not from the fossil fuel industry, but the Washington State Association of Counties. In the House, with help from Representative Duerr and Environment and Energy Chair Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Burien), we were able to strike a deal with the Counties. We would agree to go to a 10-year planning update cycle (instead of the current 8 and 10 years depending on the community’s population and rate of growth), House Bill 2342, in exchange for passage of the climate goal. We negotiated a five-year check-in on critical areas and housing that made us more comfortable with going to a 10-year update cycle. With this tentative deal in place, House Bill 2427 and House Bill 2342 passed the House with bipartisan support! 

Trouble in the Senate: We were optimistic going into the Senate. We had an agreement with our main opposition, bipartisan support coming out of the House, and it looked like we had the votes if we could make it to the Senate floor. However, two last minute developments cut the wind from our sails. First, the Washington State Association of Counties board voted against supporting a five-year check-in as part of the 10-year update cycle bill that was part of our deal in the House, which made them no longer interested in supporting the climate goal bill in order to get the update cycle change.

West Seattle Bridge Closes for Emergency Repair Work as Governor Issues Stay at Home Order

The West Seattle Bridge opened in 1984 and closed yesterday for repairs. (Credit: Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons)

The West Seattle Bridge is closed until further notice. Mayor Jenny Durkan said the bridge “cannot safely support vehicular traffic at this time” at a press conference called yesterday after the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) detected worsening cracking in girders supporting the 36-year-old bridge, which serves as the primary artery to the West Seattle peninsula–home to more than 80,000 residents.

SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe said the closure could last months to properly diagnose the issue and complete the repair work.

The bridge carries more than 100,000 daily trips under normal circumstances–which are not what we have right now. In fact, at a 5:30pm press conference Governor Jay Inslee issued a stay-at-home order across Washington state to contain the spread of COVID-19. Only essential businesses will be allowed to stay open, and local authorities will be empowered to enforce the order if necessary.

Residents are permitted a daily constitutional walk or run, which the Governor said is necessary to maintain good mental health during the order, which will last at least two weeks. Some epidemiologists have recommended stay-at-home quarantining last months to reverse the momentum COVID-19 has built while America twiddled its thumbs.

The silver lining in the West Seattle Bridge closure news is that vehicular traffic and transit ridership has plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic, which will make detours easier to arrange. Last report was that transit ridership was down nearly 70% on Sound Transit and King County Metro, which have both reduced service and instituted back-door fare-free boarding to help protect bus drivers from viral transmission. Meanwhile, car crashes are down 76%, which suggests automobile traffic has likewise nose-dived.

Now Is the Time to Re-Read Jane Jacobs Backwards

Jane Jacobs at a Save West Village press conference. (Library of Congress)

My copy of Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities is dog eared and marked up. There are little arrows on the spine pointing me back to important quotes because the original tabs I stuck there are long gone. It’s lived in as many cities as I have and been quoted in half the papers that got me through school. 

Now, let’s be really honest. It’s a hard time to talk about Jane Jacobs’ style of urbanism. Busy streets and active playgrounds feel crowded and contaminated. We are told that every encounter we have with another human could literally kill our grandparent.

Jacobs has a response to this criticism. Unfortunately, it was at the end of her 600-page book. Except for the lunatics with assignments in a graduate urban theory class, most of us skipped the second half of the book. We loved the parks, streets, and whipping on the highway builders. Taking down Brutalism and orthodox planning is joyous to read. Then she started talking bureaucracy. And international trade. We fully dropped out once she started going deep into economics, complexity, and quantum entanglement.

That last thing is a lie. You didn’t know because you didn’t read it. 

It’s time to correct that. Go back to The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and read it cover to cover. Backwards. Here’s why.

Opinion: Nathan on Lockdowns


I like people. I really do. As a child I liked animals, like all children, but when I eventually discovered people I knew I could never go back. The wildly imperfect, endlessly incomprehensible human beast, all of them searching in the dark for their version of love, of quality, each of us echoes of each other, something familiar in the glint of every person’s eye.

It is in that light that I offer these words on our Governor’s office. I’m not interested in calling people out, judging them for transgressions real or imagined, or pretending to have the answers. Other folks do all that enough—too much, I’d say. I feel closer to myself when I simply appreciate others; observing and reflecting, trying to learn something about this mysterious life we’ve been thrown into.

I recognize and respect the impetus behind the Inslee office’s current resistance to a shelter-in-place order. As he has stated, he’d like to avoid the economic impact if alternate methods prove such a drastic choice unnecessary.

I recognize this perspective, but I do not agree with it.

Sunday Video: What Are The Rules Of Social Distancing?


A social epidemiologist explains to Vox the parameters of effective social distancing are in the era of COVID-19 while also being mindful of how to still safely engage with people in our lives.