Thursday, April 30

HUD/DOT Partnership

About a month ago, HUD and DOT decided that they needed to be working together a lot more (and a lot better) than they currently are. Most of it is bureaucratic nonsense, the kind of thing that says "Harmonize! Redefine! Change! Transparency!" You know, the usual rhetoric for a new administration's press release.

One paragraph caught my eye though:

The task force will redefine affordability to reflect those interdependent costs. The task force will also continue to ensure that the costs of living in certain geographic areas are transparent– using an online tool that calculates the combined housing and transportation costs families face when choosing a new home.


I think this could be an incredibly useful function, a tool that allows you to input a neighborhood, and it would spit out information on Utilities, Transit, availability of transit, food costs, and more. The fundamental costs of living in that location. Hopefully this will actually work, and not be some useless government calculator that is hopelessly inaccurate.

Wednesday, April 29

Advantages of Lightrail.

Thanks to Streetsblog Network for the heads up on this video.

Although this was made for Kansas City, I think the point is pretty clear: Light Rail development is good for building your city. Studies throughout the country have proven this, particularly the one in Portland (I'll find a copy if anyone cares...).


Imagine KC from Jonathan Arnold on Vimeo.

Monday, April 27

Holly - I Love You. Don't Read this Post.

So, this post is one that I don't want my wife reading. If your name is Holly, and you aren't my wife, you can keep reading. If your name isn't Holly, please keep reading. If you are my wife, GO AWAY. Seriously.

May you feel horribly guilty if you keep reading.

Anyway, now that that's over with...

I'm trying to raise money to buy my wife a kitchen-aid, tricked out with a bunch of accessories. I've done the math, and it is like $559 for all the stuff she wants, which is way, way more than I can afford, so I'm hoping that enough people pitch in that I can decide it is enough to go buy it. If not, I'll give you your money back, or get her something else, whichever you prefer.




So here's the thingy, you can just push the button and donate. If you'd rather, you can click here.

Also, if you like, feel free to spread the word and let other people know. If I raise enough, I promise I'll take pictures of her reaction.

This is what I'm looking at getting her, only in red:




Last but not least... anyone want to bet on whether she reads this or not?

Tidbits in the news

Just a couple tidbits I thought I'd share:

UTA is hosting this year's National BRT Initiative Workshop, which has classes on Best Practices, future plans, methods and ideas, county-wide initiatives, and more. They don't have registration yet, but they should soon. I wonder if I could get a press pass... yeah...

The city of San Francisco is trying to buy early Trolley museum pieces from a third organization, Friends of the Cable Car. Unfortunately, they can't agree on price. Or just about anything else, for that matter.

Thursday, April 23

It's all in the Name

Yesterday my parents babysat the Paladin, so Holly and I went out to dinner at her favorite restaurant, P.F. Chang's (the conversation went like this: "How does Chinese sound?" "Pei-wei sucks, they have lettuce wraps, but only chicken." "So? Let's hop on a bus and go to PF Chang's").
The bus driver on the way down was named Timmy. This wouldn't have been a big deal, except that she was a girl. What on earth could Timmy possibly be short for? I'm convinced she's sleeping with another driver, and grabbed the wrong shirt (So maybe there's a guy out there wearing a shirt with the name "Mary" or something).

At the restaurant, we got a patio seat, which was really cool. We decided to get dessert. They have these cool little shot glass desserts that are nice and cheap and small enough you can actually eat the dessert without passing out from the sugar rush. The waitress brings them over, and starts displaying them against the concrete pillar thing, but the balance is wrong so one of the glasses goes flying and hits the table. The glass goes one direction, the dessert the other. The glass hits the floor and shatters, and the dessert flies and smacks Holly right in the chest.

Fortunately, they were fake, so she just picked it up and handed it back to the poor horrified server. The manager was glad, because the glass costs about fifty cents, but fake dessert costs upward of $60. Yikes!

But the manager was the same guy who took care of us during the great Valentine's Day Caper. We mentioned this to the server, who mentioned it to him, and he remembered us! So he came by and chatted for a few minutes, promised to "take care of" some of our dinner, and asked us to ask for him next time we came in.

He comped us over a third of our meal.

His name is Remington. (His younger brother's name is Jackson).

Wednesday, April 22

Love, Love, Love (But don't tell anyone!)

One of the reasons I absolutely love living in Salt Lake is that it is, pretty much, still a secret. Don't get me wrong, we've faced tremendous growth in the last decade, but we aren't a destination for anything other than tourism. Frankly, we should keep it that way. Seriously though, Utah is one of the best kept secrets in this country. It has every kind of terrain (except for ocean) that you can imagine, from green meadows to endless deserts to soaring mountains. It has a big city and it has small towns. It has a conservative population and a liberal population. It has churches and bars, malls and art galleries. It has something for just about everyone, and no one knows about it!

Unfortunately, word is starting to get out, and more and more people are moving here. This would be a great thing, except that they are creating ever worse suburbs, blights on a once beautiful land. Yuck.

Tuesday, April 21

Overheard...

Riding on the bus, I occasionally overhear random snippets of conversation. Sometimes they make sense, other times they don't, and about one in five isn't really publishable. Today's conversation wasn't too bad.

A guy gets on the bus, with a book in hand, page marked early on in the book. The driver says "Starting a new book, huh?" A smiles, says something, and moves on. Sits down next to a girl, who is also holding a book, and says "That's one nice thing about the bus: I get a lot of reading done." She says "Are you kidding? That's why I ride the bus in the first place! I used to drive, and I felt totally uneducated because I wasn't reading anything!"

Yeah. Anyway. Just thought I'd share.

Monday, April 20

Great Weekend!

Friday I hung out with a close friend of mine, AJ; we played Wii and I helped him install the Character Builder, so he can do creation on his own and whatnot, which is a very good thing (it took forever, mostly because it uses some stupid microsoft app which screws up and takes three tries to install). Then I went home and did dishes, and I have (had) a clean kitchen. But cleaning it today should just be keep up maintenance, so I'll have a clean kitchen AGAIN, which will be great.

Saturday, I had a Living Forgotten Realms thing to go to, out in West Valley, near where my in-laws live. We got a lift from them, which turned out to be miraculously life-saving, as A) the SLC Marathon was this weekend, so the buses would have been on horrible detour and B) the store moved. I saw this on their website, and assumed (incorrectly) it meant they had moved to where I thought they were. Turns out, they moved to a new place a few miles less conveniently located. Seriously not cool. If I hadn't been in a car, I wouldn't have made it to the game day on time. What a joke! In the future, Justin will probably give me a ride, and then I'll get a lift home with his wife or take a bus/train/bus. Yeah, two transfers. Yuck.

Sunday we went over to my folks house so Holly could work on some pictures, but she accidently left her thing at home, so we just hung out. This turned out ok, as she started feeling really icky. Poor wife!

Today is Monday, and I'm back at work. I might have something transit related to post, but if I do it'll be later.

Oh, and this is post #50. Yay!

Dad Blogs Giveaway

I'm entering a contest to win this awesome swingset/playset thing. Growing up, we had this ghetto-awesome swingset, (which was really just a giant metal bar welded to two other giant medal bars which were bent and cemented into the ground. It wasn't rated, because it was homemade, and if you went to fast/high, the poles pulled out of the ground. It was great fun, though! My parent's moved, so the little Paladin and Barbarian won't be able to use it, which is kind of sad.

My parents decided a while ago that for Christmas/Birthdays they were going to start buying up a play set, a piece at a time. A baby swing went up first, followed by a small playset, a slide, etc. This is at their house, so all the kids get to use it, which is actually better, really. They plan on being there permanently (or at least until the grandkids start having kids), so a play place would be a great installation. TONS of kids would get to use it, and the swings are rated at 250 lbs each, which is really impressive (and it means they won't grow out of it as quickly. The playplace is from Kid's Creations, and the giveaway is through Dad Blogs (which I need to look into more closely).

If I won, this would go in at my folks house, since they have one and I don't.

It would get used, and it would be awesome.

Friday, April 17

A Familiar Face

So I have ridden the bus long enough, on the same line, that I pretty much know all the regular drivers (some of them by name, all of them by face) on this line. Some of them are good, and some of them not so good, but they are getting to the point where they know and recognize me, which is kind of cool. Patty, for example, was my driver on every step of the journey of my Valentine's day fiasco, which was actually kind of strange. It was a Saturday, which makes a difference, but somehow I timed it so she was my driver from when I dropped off the Paladin to when Holly and I got home. So she definitely knows who I am, and says Hi when she sees me (and calls me sweetie or something like that).

But I think regular ridership makes a difference. There are probably people the bus would have driven right past the other day, but I'm a regular and the driver recognized me, so he double checked to make sure I wanted the bus... now, maybe he would have done it for everyone. Then again, maybe not...

I do know, for sure, that they'll be switching the driver's up soon. They did a while ago, the last time I got to know all the drivers (December? January?), so it is only a matter of time. It makes sense on their end, but is kind of frustrating.

It is kind of nice to see a familiar face in the morning.

Thursday, April 16

Not in Utah

No High Speed Rail lines here. Press release and all that jazz (see more here, here, and here), but there are not plans for enhancing anything in poor little old Utah. See map:
And then I thought about it...

Where would it go?

High Speed Rail, the kind that goes upward of 100 mph? In Utah? To Where?

Seriously:

  • Wendover? Only if the Casinos pay for it.
  • St. George? Not enough traffic to justify it.
  • More local? Provo/Ogden? Too close, doesn't justify the line.
  • Further Afield? Vegas? Denver? Reno? These are too far, and still don't justify the line.
I guess we're stuck with the California Zephyr for now, and I'm pretty much ok with that.

Whoops...

So, yesterday I swung by Wal-Mart on the way home, mostly to pick up an envelope just in case my Dad didn't end up bringing one by, so we could file our tax thingamabob. Now, I have the worst luck with Wal-Mart. Invariably, regardless of how carefully I give myself an extra ten minutes, something goes wrong, or takes too long, or the bus is super early, such that I end up getting into the parking lot at the exact same time as the bus hurtles by 50 yards away.

Not the case this time. I was out there pretty much perfectly on time, so the bus came two or three minutes after I got to the stop. As he pulled up, he pointed down with a funny look on his face, like "You want me to stop here?" I nodded, thinking "Duh!" only to look around and realize...

I wasn't at the bus stop.

I was standing next to a speed limit sign.

Wednesday, April 15

Meme? Really?

Yes, it is, sad to say, a meme. However, I thought it might be fun. It is an interview; the questions come from over at Majority of Two, one of the blogs I regularly follow (her interview is here).

Here are the questions:

1. Have you ever been influenced by a work of art – music, painting, book – and if so, how?
Most of the work that influences me is music; I listen to all kinds of music, and it applies to my life in dozens of places. I have found that I quote things from random sources and lines pop into my head for easy use. I have also been influenced by books... the top of that list would have to be Orson Scott Card's Worthing Saga. This is a story which follows me in all things, and is probably the single greatest influence on the ethic

2. If you were a chocolate bar, what type would you be?
I'd be one of those yummy Dagoba chocolate bars, with exotic chocolate that is different than anything you'd expect, like this, or maybe this.

3. What is your secret weapon to lure the opposite sex?
Um... my roguish charm? I always wonder what women see in me, and so far haven't been able to figure it out. Maybe my love for Dungeons and Dragons? Or my adaptability?

4. What, in your opinion, is your greatest accomplishment?
I was asked this question in my last job interview, and my answer impressed the HR rep. But then, she was a woman, so maybe it was just romantic sentimentalism. Still... the best thing I have done with my life, thus far, is marry my wife. She's fantastic!

5. How many friends do you have on your Facebook account?

I can't access Facebook from where I am, but... 80-90?
Oh, and... if you want to be interviewed, let me know and I'll send you 5 questions.

Monday, April 13

Grocery Shopping

On my list, grocery shopping is pretty high up there on the Dreaded Tasks list. Mind you, I’m not talking about the quick trip to the store to get milk and bread, I’m talking about the stocking up for the week trips, the ones where you have to figure out what you need to get through the week, without a) wasting money and b) getting too much stuff to get home.

Saturday was a particularly lousy trip. I wasn’t really feeling good anyway, but we were unable to contact anyone for a ride (one of my easiest ways out) so I was stuck doing it on foot. I bring the kid, because the stroller generally makes it easier, not more difficult. I grabbed the umbrella stroller, though, because our big one is practically falling apart, and if I loaded it down with groceries, the wheels would pop right off half way home, which really wouldn’t help. So I threw the little one into his umbrella stroller, and headed out. Got what we needed, checked out (too much money, of course), and headed for the door… only to realize that it was pouring rain outside. And I had too much stuff for the kid and the groceries to fit, which meant he was walking home. In the rain.

This is not one of those times you look forward to having.

So I pack it all up, get stuff tied on, and am pretty much all ready to head out the door, when I hear a woman ask “Do you want a ride?”

Suffice it to say, I took it.

Looking back, I’m not really sure I should have. She didn’t have a car seat, for one thing, so the little monster sat on my lap, which I’m not really ok with. Maybe I should have sat it out, waited for the storm to subside. Maybe I should have just walked, and suffered the consequences. Maybe.

Friday, April 10

Basic Division

This should technically be called "Why I love/hate blah blah blah blah #4, blah blah" but I got bored of that format. It does link back to the original Love/Hate list, though. Also, I don't know how detailed this particular post will be, so I may come back to this topic again.

Those of you who have talked local politics are aware of this particular frustration of mine, but I doubt I've fully gone in to detail with most of you. There is, in my beloved state, a solid, nigh impassable barrier. You can't see it, taste it, or smell it, but when you run into it, you'll know it is there (I'm still working on a creative name, but all the good ones are taken).

This is the line between those who are Mormon and those who are not. It shows up everywhere; in politics, in city planning, in idle conversation, at work, at church, in coffee-shops, and in the minds of friends, family, and neighbors.

The Mormons founded Salt Lake, but they are pretty industrious and founded cities all over the country, from Prattville (AL) to Las Vegas (yes, really) to several cities in California, and dozens (hundreds?) of places in between, particularly along the 1-15 corridor.

It didn't take long for Non-Mormons to show up, though. Many Christians flocked here, actually, as it is/was considered to be a "safe" place for children to be raised. The Catholics had a large presence quickly, as did the Masons (one of the greatest arguments in Masonic history is whether or not Mormons qualified to worship the Big G). The origins of the divide date back over a hundred years, and the passing of time has solidified the line, rather than clearing it up.

Having spent my Two Years on the other side of this particular barrier, I find it frustrating, infuriating, and baffling. Fundamentally, what happens is this. If someone finds out that the person they have been talking with is on the other side of the fence, they shut them out. The conversation ends. Both parties leave, slightly irritated, and then go complain to someone on their side about how awful the other side is. They don't associate. They don't go to the same parties. They don't keep the same friends. It is like the two largest cliques at school have a blood feud, and refuse to work with anyone on the other side, except that it infects the entire city.

There are exceptions of course, good people on both sides who don't care, but theirs is a constant battle to simply maintain the status quo and prevent backsliding.

I only hope that I can be an exception, and that everyone (regardless) can be equally comfortable around me.

Guest Postings?

I am looking for people to guest post now and then (although I'm considering making it a regular feature on Thursdays, a day I can't post most of the time due to other time constraints). If you would like to, please let me know.

I plan on writing a few bits for guest posting other places as well, so if you want me to return the favor, let me know that as well.

Wednesday, April 8

A Few Numbers

First, let's consider that for 14 months straight, mass transit use has increased. At first, this was attributed simply to gas prices, but now that a gallon of gas is cheaper than a bus ticket, that's just silly.

Of course, if mass transit use is up, that means highway use is down, right?

Right.

In Utah, what that means is that traffic congestion has decreased a total of 45% from last year. This is an immense change!

Unfortunately, they road segments they analyze don't really cover Salt Lake as a Metropolitan Area, just the Salt Lake Valley (and, strangely, across I-80. Did they ask anyone who lives here?). It goes from North Salt Lake to Draper, missing the two worst parts of the commute.

Interestingly, the worst time of day to drive is on Wednesday from 5-6 pm. Also, the traffic time is only 1.07 (meaning it takes 7% longer than "freeflow" conditions), compared to last year's at 1.14, which is a pretty major improvement.

Thankfully, all this reduction in road usage is also marking a reduction in deaths. It is important to note that although we have a marker for when our deaths were this low (JFK era), they aren't per capita, it is a flat number. Consider how much larger a nation we are today, and that flat number is even more impressive.

The next one is a little silly (see if you can figure out why). American's love trains!

Tuesday, April 7

One Bus Away - A Modern Solution

One of UTA's single greatest difficulties is finding out information. I'm sure this is the case other places, but here they have a singularly moronic problem: although the buses run from 5:30 AM until 12:15 AM, customer service is only open from 9 AM to 5 PM. There is no other number to call, so if you need information and are in the middle of nowhere, all you can do is call a friend and get them to go online and look it up. It is grossly inefficient.

Worse yet, it doesn't give details on where buses are, simply on where they are meant to be. If you are a regular rider on a route, you know when it should be there, you just want to know why it has been twenty seven minutes and your bus isn't there yet.

With this in mind, I present to you:

One Bus Away

Run by Brian Ferris and Kari Watkins, OBA serves the greater Seattle area, providing the basic services necessary for bus location, plus a few. You can inquire about your bus using the phone number, the web page, by text message, and they are even working on building an iPhone application!

Using open-source coding and virtually free technology (they have shelled out about $50), they launched almost a year ago and have skyrocketed up to a little over 4500 visitors every day. They do have some advantages though: King County has a site that tracks where buses are, how late they are, etc. It doesn't inform about canceled buses, but that isn't really an issue here because we are used to crappy weather. If UTA even had this kind of tool, it would be a massive improvement (It shouldn't be that hard to implement, there is navigation and tracking on all the buses for internal purposes, it would just be a question of externalization).

Brian says:
The biggest on-going challenge is turning something that I'm passionate about into something that I can do full time while still paying the bills. We have a long-term vision of creating tools that really make transit easier to use, but the reality is that tools like this aren't really going to make anyone a lot of money. Transit agencies are broke and riders can't be expected to shell out much to use these tools. We're pursuing grants from transit funding agencies to support long-term development, but like most things in the social entrepreneurship realm, it'll be a tough space to make it work.
Maybe they can get their mitts on some of that stimulus money; this would be a far better investment into infrastructure than yet another highway project.

Go check it out. When you're done, send UTA a note and let them know we'd like a little of the same, if they don't mind.

Monday, April 6

A Serious Case of Bus Envy

Not much to say right this second, I'll try to post later tonight, work is just... work. Lots of it.

So I don't have as much fun blog time here, I'll have to do it later. No biggie.

In the mean time, to tide you over, there is Barack Obama's serious case of bus envy. He just can't get over wishing we had a decent rail system like the rest of the world.

Friday, April 3

Why I Love/Hate Salt Lake (Detail 3) - Weather

Why I absolutely HATE the weather in Utah:

It isn't the snow, honestly (although it gets old, eventually). I like autumn/winter clothing better than spring/summer stuff, so the snow is a nice excuse.

It isn't the heat, either. I don't mind staying inside until it cools down a bit, and I love the warm summer nights.

What I absolutely hate, more than anything else about Utah's weather?

How much it changes from day to day. This week it has snowed two or three times, but it has also been sunny enough to go outside without a coat on. If you think this is just a spring thing... I very much disagree. It does this all year long, and I hate it. I want the weather to pick something (hopefully seasonal) and stick with it!

Thursday, April 2

UTA Raising Rates?

UTA is considering raising rates for the Handicapped service, Paratransit. These are currently the same as regular bus rates, which is (of course) absurd, considering the difference in service actually provided.

From UTA:
Since implementing paratransit service in 1988, UTA has gone above and beyond for its riders with disabilities, providing service beyond what is required by ADA. The agency continued to provide service beyond the 3/4-mile rule, and has kept Paratransit fares lower than the amount allowed by ADA.

Paratransit ridership has grown significantly, but funding to support the expensive premium service has not.

The current economic downturn has significantly impacted UTA; sales tax revenues in 2008 were $18 million lower than projected.
Basically... we've been trying. Money is tight, though, and getting tighter, and something has to give. Paratransit is what we've chosen, because what we do is stupid and wasteful.

They are, thus, proposing to drop service down to the minimum level required by law. This means that para-transit only picks people up within 3/4 miles of a regular, fixed, daily route. This doesn't include express buses, ski buses, or anything else weird. It does include TRAX/MAX. They will also remove discounts for Paratransit, and charge double the regular fare (making it cost $4).

Personally, I think this is both good and bad. Living as a disabled person must be difficult, but Paratransit has (frankly) been abused as a system. Rather than adding accessibility to the regular routes, it has been more of a personal taxi system for almost no cost. A massive portion of the budget goes to this program, with almost no benefits gained from it.

What can the disabled do? If they live in the suburbs, very little. Get a ride. Get a taxi. Contact UDOT and make them pay for it, they are ultimately far more responsible for the situation than UTA is, and have significantly deeper pockets.

Is that cold of me? Probably.
But let's be honest: UTA shouldn't be expected to solve all transit related issues, and then be given no budget to do it with.
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