Nominal Mass Part 2: ‘to ride or to drive that is the question…’

Well I used my Garmin Edge 305 GPS/cyclometer and my camera and went out for a two hour ride today and documented some of the cycling challenges.

Below is a link to the ground I covered.

BTW if you want to convert data from a Garmin Edge 305 suitable for GIS or Google Earth you need to download a communicator from Garmin for your device, and go to and use their converter and you can download all kinds of files. I downloaded an EXCEL file, and I hope to use it for creating shp files for my project. [update it worked- hoo ray!]

A few observations:

North Arlington is hilly, that’s good for cycling enthusiasts looking for a workout, but not for novices and commuters.

Downtown Arlington is flat, that is good for commuters. It is very commercial, lots of used car lots and repair shops. Its also a little sketchy in some parts, such as dogs wandering around and some people who I don’t feel comfortable around on my overpriced bike and holding camera gear worth even more, so…

Fielder sucks!!!! I am comfy with traffic, but people really are not expecting a bike in “their” lane. I had one guy from the solace of his pick up truck yell out his window “faggot”- he must be a people person. Fielder also smelled of sewage near Randol Mil, but at least that masked the smell of diesel and 10% ethanol, and the one car that seriously need new rings or a valve job! Blue smoke is not cool!!!

Davis and Bowen are much better routes from UTA Blvd to the North towards Green Oaks.

To drive, or to ride, that is the question…


Fielder, north of Randol Mill, not a great path at 5pm


Fielder, just south of Green Oaks, not much traffic, but the rolling hills are too much for commuters


The beginning of the 1/2 mile of marked bike lanes in Arlington, this is on Pecan street between UTA Blvd and Mitchell. It’s flat, but given the crime on campus, I would not really want to ride my bike there. I did, but I was uneasy about it.

If you want to avoid the train, this is between Main and Division on West


This is a “roadie”, notice the skinny tires. This is on Green Oaks on the hike and bike trail- very nice…


Stopped to drink while on the bike lane on Pecan. Notice the compass to keep from getting lost, its also a bell! So I can “ding ding ding” to get people’s attention. I thought of getting a cow bell and tying it to my saddle,

since sometimes I feel to lazy to ding the bell.


Nominal Mass Part 1: “Where the sidewalk ends”

Some of you have heard of “critical mass”, I am humbly proposing “nominal mass”. My idea is that by identifying routes for cyclists to commonly use, they may generate a presence that will hopefully demonstrate to other cyclists to use that route, and eventually these routes become better known by cyclists. The point of that is, a regular presence of cyclists would hopefully signal to drivers that cyclists are using certain streets and to be more aware of cyclists, and also maybe the City might be more inclined to at least post a sign noting that street as bike friendly. All this in response to teh reailty that cities are strapped for cash, and cycling is not a priority when you have crime and streets in need of repair. but bikes can use much of the existing infrastructure, and with some information, a cycling presence, and some signage posted by the city, I think we can make cycling more attractive in Arlington and be a model for other cities with similar challenges.

I also hope to get some pics of the elderly on their scooters ie Larks that use the street to get around, but back to the bikes!

According to the latest Planning magazine, they delineate 3 types of cyclists. A, B and C. A is comfortable in traffic, B is somewhat comfortable riding in traffic, and C is not comfortable or should not be riding in traffic, they are the recreational riders and children or novices. While I am a planning student, and appreciate this tres fix of cycling types, my inner bike snob sees it a little differently.

That is Type A is likely a “roadie” someone who not only is comfortable riding in traffic, but in really good shape, can sustain 18+ mph for at least an hour, and can not ride on a sidewalk or crappy street, cuz they ride a 3lb aluminum frame, with 20mm wide tires inflated to 100-135 psi. A mountain biker may also ride in the street, but at a much slower and comfy pace, of course 2″+ wide tires at 35-60psi is a lot cushier of a ride on Arlington streets! The type B rider may ride a road bike, but slower, they may ride a mountain bike, but probably hop back and forth between the street and sidewalk, navigating the lesser of the two evils. Type C as the authors from the Planning magazine noted are uncomfortable or should not be riding with traffic, for them they can stay in the neighborhood on the wide low to almost no traffic streets.

This is an Arlington sidewalk, it just ends and is poorly maintained, not suitable for even pedestrians!

where the sidewalk ends

This is Fielder facing North, it has enough room for a cyclist and a car, ye barely!

I think I can squeeze in there

This is Fielder facing South, I think this demonstrates the A vs B cyclist, although this may have more to do with riding two abreast for a sense of comraderie, which is a cycling no no when on the street, but at any rate….typeA rides in the street, type B is taking the sidewalk. Now what happens when a pedestrian wants to use the sidewalk and a cyclist approaches? There is little use of sidewalks in Arlington anyways, but other cities there is “trail rage” and “sidewalk congestion”.


This is UTA Blvd. (not sure what makes this a blvd) It has a sidewalk that students ride and walk on. It is odd to me that college students ride on the sidewalk, given that traffic is low, and the lanes are fairly wide. I need a picture of that! But this is what I have so far.


Well those are just a few pics and thoughts. I thought I’d share. I had ideas of identifying corridors for A and B type cyclists to navigate through Arlington and to connect to other cities, but I am not sure I can do that. Even the bike shops are not easily accessible by bike!

Planning, how dismal thou art: A reflection on 10 months of study

Economics has been labeled the “dismal science”, for several reasons, one that it was a difficult one to learn, and two, because often its science forecast dismal pictures for the future. Much has changed in economics since, but I am not sure much has changed in planning in the past century.

To be fair to planning, it has never claimed to be a science. However, it is interdisciplinary, and some disciplines are of the sciences, planning itself uses (more or less) scientific methods and statistics; moreover, planning is decision making, and while there may be an art to it, there is a science to it as well (or should be).

A challenge for planning, and transportation planning, has always been to find a balance between all the competing actors, among all the competing groups, across all the many places, into the foreseeable future, and the built environment today reflects the decisions made in the past. No one asked what the future residents wanted, but they will live in the built environment someday. We call this a representative democracy in the US, or we talk of the “public interest”, which sounds deceivingly singular despite its pluralistic nature. However not all interests carry equal weight.

Since at least Plato in classical western political philosophy, a sense of justice about what governments “ought” or “should” do, and for whom, has been a time honored tradition of contention in western political philosophy. Only recently in the past 100 years or so, do we ask what can or could government do.

Was Plato right? Would we be best served by “Kings with a heart of gold”? Would a benevolent dictator or a centralized form of government be better? These governments do exist to day. The folks I meet from other countries, Taiwan, China, Germany, Japan, Korea- all have less involvement in local representation of their interests in the planning process, and anecdotally they seem possibly happier than I, and yet I have choice and American democracy, hmmm… something does not add up.

Psychologists seem to think happiness is relative. Are they on to something? Other researchers have said more choice makes you less happy. Cases in points, Charleston and Savannah both developed without the aid of planners, and by new urbanist standards, liveability and walkability rank high in these cities, these cities are models for new urbanism. Grid pattern development and public parks were chosen without consulting planners, without consulting the public, and without the benefit of scientific research. And what came of it? We are now trying to replicate today through so called “new urbanism” an approach in planning that models the result of forgoing science and the public interest! Maybe a dictator who imagines where they might like to live is enough? Maybe we do not need political process and science to plan? Or maybe the local power elites do this already?

A few political ruminations:

Marx’s argument that the proletariat “should” govern themselves rather than the bourgeois class was rebuked by Bakunin. Bakunin had argued that everyone “ought” to be self governed and act collectively, and to reject authority that they did not accept willingly. This was anarchism,though they seldom reach consensus. Marx is quoted as saying, “if this is Marxism? Then I am not a Marxist”! Even the leaders of revolutions can not agree with what to do!

Around this time Darwin’s “Origin of Species” was making the rounds in the home’s of elites at cocktail parties, and it was Herbert Spencer who coined the term “survival of the fittest”, a justification of the position of the ruling class and wealthy by the “social Darwinists” that Spencer had inadvertently spawned. Spencer was an early libertarian. Again, not unlike Bakunin’s anarchist ethos that one “ought” to be allowed to self govern, and so government should be minimal to maximize personal liberty. Libertarianism is still alive and well in the US, but in very small numbers of those who vote libertarian, although some research suggests a strata of libertarian leanings among Americans.

But maybe it’s all illusory. Maybe we think we have a voice in the process, and that’s all that matters. If people can adjust to the loss of a limb or loved one, why not a new mall, or tollway, or TOD, maybe it just does not matter at the end of the day.

In conclusion:

This brief, incomplete, and cherry picked rehash of western political philosophy is meant to illustrate the problem of, who governs, and who is governed as a persistent problem. At least two millennia later and counting, we are no closer to resolving this issue. The quest for knowledge has culminated in science in modern times. The extent to which that we have scientific knowledge may not matter in the policy making/planning process.

What seems to have mattered most historically, was not science but politics. Whose right, who has scientific evidence, which scientific evidence, it just does not matter! It only matters who won, or achieved their desired political outcome. And science and reason have little to do with it- chant, “it just doesn’t matter”, Bill Murray from the movie “Meatballs”.

Muddling 2.0: The only constant is “change”


One of my first reflections is the demographics of land use and transportation as they change over time, in general and in no specific place, but for now, I would think in terms of the US. The land use and transportation are of course strong forces on the built environment and its inhabitants (population). The built environment though has a permanence (rarely does a freeway get uprooted like in Portland, and schools usually last decades at least, as well as most of the housing stock), I think, that is more lasting than the demographics, in general. I mean to say that the rate of change (any kind of popular metric in research, such as age distribution in demography and Housing stock or number of miles of rail or expressway lanes) in the built environment I would think would be slower than in the demographics- war/terrorism and natural disasters aside as one possible rapid change in the built environment. [This reflection is focused more on rates of growth than rates of decline, and without empirical evidence I realize is pure conjecture]

At a more local level, these rates of change may both be “speedy” in growth or decline. One example would be any boom-burb/city), that its built environment has grown rather quickly, but likely coinciding with the change in demographics. I am not suggesting that if total built environment metric is 5% and the population metric increases is 5%, that they are concordant, I would think there is no symmetry in that, so “rate of change” is meant generally and qualitatively. I think when the rates of change are close in magnitude of change it is politically easier to make plans and policies and implement them, but only terms of making any changes. However, when the demographics of the city are growing slower as compared to the built environment, I think we have our common problems in planning, such as getting consensus and finding funding.

That is to say when there is such rapid change in either the built environment or demographics (of course these two concepts are interconnected, but do not necessarily move in the same directions) the public may be more willing to go with changes offered by planners, as they may seem needed solutions. But when the rates are discordant, then I think planners have a problem getting those “best laid plans made”.

So, is it ideal to be in a position of rapid change? Who knows? But there are some serious challenges! Especially in forecasting, you have a shorter time window to assess needs, and develop plans, and hopefully plans that work well in the near term and beyond. A slower changing city while politically more contentious, may also allow more time to assess needs and make incremental changes. Also the homogeneity of the values of the city will decline, and the issues of plurality will increase beyond some population size, my premise is drawn from George Simmel’s work on the effects of the Second Industrial Revolution in urban areas. But the fast changing city will not have time to indulge incremental changes, and may need quick and large changes.

Peter Gordon’s article “Settlement patterns in the U.S. and Canada: Similarities and differences- Policies or Preferences?” I once quipped in my Land Use and Management class, “Smart Growth? How would that be different from Smart Sprawl?” At the time I just thought it was a funny thing to say, and quite glib on my part. Now, I am starting think that I may have been on to something! Sprawl became a “bad word”. My favorite local Punk-Ska band in Houston was a bunch of Rice students who named themselves SPRAWL. Having grown up in the quasi-suburbs I thought Sprawl was bad, but I did not know why. I think maybe we are attributing up stream factors such as inequality, economic and racial segregation, etc. to a space, the suburbs, and a process Sprawl, but what good does that do? If Sprawl is just a reflection of society and the down stream result of up stream factors, then stemming Sprawl would do very little to affect the up stream factors! The proposed policies to stem Sprawl are not without costs, and maybe it might be more cost effective to consider other policies if the real motivation is to affect a social issue such as inequality or racism. I am not for unbridled growth, but maybe we have bought into a political statement, rather than a worthwhile research or policy area; and need to rethink this line of inquiry. I think one person’s Smart Growth may be another’s Smart Sprawl.

Gordon and Lee describe Sprawl as “auto-oriented development”. That may be a good idea, to more clearly state what is meant by Sprawl, rather than a “slogan”. Gordon and Lee also imply counter factual claims on the part of planners opposing Sprawl. An example would be, ‘a World Bank study concluded that if Atlanta could be remade into Boston, its annual VMT would fall by 25%’. Gordon and Lee note that between 1990 and 2000 that Boston metro area grew by 6.7% and Atlanta metro area grew by 38.9%. It is not clear to what actually grew, population, the actual area? Gordon and Lee are actually a little vague through out the article. But I think what is important to note, is that Canada and European countries are dealing with suburbanization and exurbanization and the European counties tend to have more extensive mass transportation and more density, but are still Sprawling.

Gordon and Lee are trying to make the case that free land markets can work, and that personal preferences are an over riding determinant, more so than government policies. I am willing to go along with the idea that, much more is going on than opponents of Sprawl are admitting to, but I am not sure that Gordon and Lee have made their case in terms of preferences and that it is better to let the market decide land use. They have cherry picked examples that support their theory; they quote Hayek and other welfare economists and throw in at the end the issue of “perfect knowledge”. Also, what is the measure for ‘better’, that is how do we measure a planning or policy outcome as ‘better’, when there is no consensus on the goals to be achieved. Gordon and Lee prefer personal preferences be expressed. Opponents of Sprawl may prefer to address inequity. We are still “muddling through”, we are just much more sophisticated in the ways in which we muddle.

Old quotes that come to mind…

Heraclitus– “You cannot step into the same river twice, for fresh waters are ever

flowing in upon you.”

Lucretius- “What is food to one, is to others bitter poison.”

Confucious- “In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.”

David Hume-Men often act knowingly against their interest.

Karl Popper-Science may be described as the art of systematic over-simplification.”


Gordon, P and Lee, B. “Settlement patterns in the U.S. and Canada: Similarities and Differences- Policies or Preferences? Keynote address presented at the 26th Australian Transport Research Forum. October 3, 2003. Tables.