Monday, June 29, 2009

If I Had Another Billion Dollars

In a previous post I explained some ideas I have for improving the east side of Raleigh's downtown area, assuming an imaginary budget of $1 billion. Today, I turn my attention (and my fantasy budget of $1 billion) to another problem facing the future of Raleigh.

Raleigh's public transit system has a problem: white people don't ride Capital Area Transit (CAT) buses. There are several reasons why whites don't ride CAT buses, but mostly it comes down to inconvenience and discomfort. I was tempted to say racism, but as a white person who has relied on CAT buses in the past I think that would be an oversimplification since the discomfort angle really stems from several points which I hope to address in my plan to revamp the system.

First off, buses aren't sexy. They are loud, big, slow, and spew diesel fumes into the air. Even though they are a cleaner transportation option than having more cars on the road to accommodate all the riders, this "greener" aspect isn't enough of a selling point alone to supersede the other issues for most residents. Further, the stops are often poorly marked/placed, and the main hub downtown is filthy in appearance and smell. As to the slow and inconvenient point, it usually takes 1.5 hours to get anywhere in Raleigh by bus. However, by car, you can get anywhere in Raleigh in 15-30 minutes -- 30-45 if there's traffic. For public transportation to be an attractive option, transit times from start to finish need to be reduced to at least an hour... preferably 45 minutes.

To accomplish faster transit we need to stop forcing everyone to go downtown to transfer buses. Instead, regional circulators (like the R Line which runs downtown) would be faster, more frequent, and more efficient since Raleigh is divided into 5 main zones (downtown, north, east, south, and west). People in Raleigh typically travel within one or two of the main zones for most of their needs. Unfortunately, current bus routes take you all over the freaking city to get to the downtown Moore Square Station hub. It's idiotic, plain and simple. Don't get me wrong... As someone who would like to live downtown, and wants to encourage growth in the area, I'm not trying to steer people away from downtown. But going all the way downtown when my real destination is only five miles from my house, and NOT in the direction of downtown, is a TOTAL waste of my time!

Next, we should have small zone hubs for each circulator route which would allow transfers to connectors which would travel to the downtown central hub. By doing this, trips across town would involve two or three transfers instead of the standard one transfer now. However, total travel time would drop significantly to perhaps 15-45 minutes per trip because buses would be able to travel more frequently and wait times between buses would be reduced. (For more on the value of transferring buses read this article from Jarrett Walker's Human Transit blog.)

Additionally, these zone hubs should offer bike rental kiosks such as those offered by Bcycle. This would allow people to ride to more specific areas where the circulators wouldn't reach while getting some much needed exercise. Even better, the zone hubs could offer bicycle services like those offered by Bikestation, which allow you to store a bike, use showers and changing rooms, and request bicycle maintenance services.

To increase sexiness and efficiency we need to enforce stops ONLY at designated bus stop shelters. These shelters would be powered by rooftop solar panels which would allow the shelters to have GPS monitors displaying real-time bus location data and calculating arrival/departure times. The shelters would also have built-in kiosks for purchasing transit cards which can be recharged at any kiosk (or perhaps even online) and would encourage/facilitate repeated ridership. Enforcing stops only at designated bus stop shelters would increase speed of travel while addressing a major problem I've always had with the system, which is not knowing where stops are located most of the time. Sure, people see buses go down a street, but you can't clearly see where you need to go to catch the bus as the current system is designed (that is to say, it ISN'T designed with any consistency) without having to walk up and down the street looking for some cryptic, and not graphically appealing sign. And, going to the trouble to design great looking shelters and better signage gives people the impression that real thought and effort was put into the system, which provides a great first impression to new riders.

Of course, I haven't even come close to spending a billion dollars, yet. The rest of my money would be invested in a plan for regional light rail, such as this one that has been estimated at $2 billion. I think that plan eventually died due to lack to funding, since, for reasons that escape me, those bozos thought the system should extend from Clayton, through Garner and Raleigh, to places like Wake Forest and Burlington! BURLINGTON? Who the hell ever goes to Burlington? I'll let the state and federal lunatics figure out a way to pay for a train to Burlington. I'll use the rest of my billion to create a rail system for Raleigh which would potentially go to Durham and Chapel Hill, but would primarily focus on Raleigh and its main suburbs of Garner and Cary. Anyone who is crazy enough to commute to Raleigh from farther away than those areas isn't going to be encouraged to take light rail into the city because they are already too committed to travelling by car. We shouldn't waste money trying to cater to an already lost cause. Besides, the point of good quality public transportation should be to try and encourage dense urban population growth. Extending transit farther from the city center only provides capitulation to unsustainable sprawl.

I'm sure I could go on with a little greater detail than what I've laid out here, but I won't bore you anymore than I already have.

Have fun and keep living life... or some approximation thereof.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Father's Day

I was catching up on listening to podcasts today when I heard a recent Father's Day themed episode of This American Life. I had forgotten about Father's Day completely, largely due to the fact that I've never met my father. Occasionally, I think about him, and what it would be like to meet him, but the mood always passes as quickly as it arrives.

My father was originally from Sri Lanka. I've never been there, but I've seen videos and heard stories that the island is gorgeous. My parents met in Asheville, NC under what circumstances I'm not completely sure. I do know that my father didn't intend to get my mother pregnant and that he basically told my mother to choose between him or me. She chose me in a decision which I've regretted off and on for 35 years. Not to get all emo, but the pro-life movement can pretty much eat my ass. I should have been aborted and I wasn't. My father didn't want me and my mother wanted to abuse me. Sometimes, maybe even most of the time, people are better off being aborted.

I'm starting to feel really angry as I write this. At some point anger always seems to rear its head whenever I think about my father. I can't even pronounce his name properly. All I have as a remnant of his existence is an old black and white photo of him in a metal frame. He's not even smiling. I know I was an inconvenience to him, but I wish he knew how inconvenienced I've been my whole life because he chose to fuck my fat cow of a mother.

Sometimes I think about trying to find him. I don't even know if he's still alive. There are only a dozen people in the US with his last name and they are all concentrated in two locations, so it wouldn't be hard if I cared enough to try. As luck would have it, I saw a guy I believe is my cousin a few years ago on TV. He was serving as a lawyer in a case that made national headlines for about two days and he was interviewed several times. I could easily ask him if he knows what happened to my father.

Whenever I fantasize about talking to my father it never goes as I expect it too, which implies that I have some expectations which I'm apparently not fully aware. I don't think I really want a relationship with him, but I want him to know me. I want him to understand what happened to me. And as unsatisfying as I know it would be, I guess I'd like to hear him express remorse. I'm not sure what that remorse would be for, but just to hear him say, "I'm sorry you had to go through all that pain" seems like it would mean so much to me in a way that no one else can say those words.

Now I get why I don't spend very long thinking about my father at any one time... Any longer would feel too much like masochism.

Keep living life... or some approximation thereof.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

If I Had a Billion Dollars

As I've already mentioned, I'm one of those people who just sits around thinking up ideas for remaking the world without actually having the where-with-all to bring my ideas to fruition. That said, today I'm casting my focus solely on my hometown, Raleigh, NC.

First on the agenda is to remake the east side (not pictured) of Downtown. Right now, the area is largely a slum for the city's poorest black and Hispanic residents. Up until now, all Downtown revitalization efforts have pretty much ignored everything from Person Street eastward, and even the Comprehensive Plan doesn't seem as ambitious (more to the point, it lacks the specificity of detail that is present in the plan for other areas of the city) about this area as I would have expected. Personally, I would just start bulldozing the slums and rebuilding them as efficient, attractive, environmentally conscious, multi-use facilities which are affordable and give the residents a greater sense of self-worth and encourage them to get out of the lower class.

I would begin by hosting an architectural design competition among the students from the NC State College of Design. The designers whose plans are selected for construction would receive their full tuition paid for as well as real world architectural experience. Whenever possible, some of the east side residents would be hired and trained to assist in construction. After all, one's sense of pride in a project increases when he/she has been able to build it with their own hands.

While construction commenced, I would work with Shaw University's Department of Business and Public Administration to create an extensive series of business training seminars for the area residents which would help them develop small business proposals for the ground-level retail space once construction was complete. I would also establish a trust fund to provide seed loans for the small business start-ups, with the ultimate goal of attracting other local/state investors to contribute. It is my belief that, once the residents see other people are willing to invest in their futures, the people living on the verge of poverty will start to see themselves as having real value and potential, and their enhanced self-esteem will begin to radiate through the community.

One pet project of mine among the construction would be the creation of a vertical farming facility which would also house an on site grocery store/produce market. Currently, Downtown Raleigh is severely lacking an actual grocery store, so all the people in Downtown have to travel elsewhere (mostly by car) to buy their food. This facility would help alleviate that need to use fossil fuel while also creating more jobs in the Downtown area. And it would be cool to eat a tomato for lunch which had been picked fresh that morning on the fourth floor! Additionally, the food produced in the facility would be organically grown, and more affordable since there would be no transportation costs to consider in the price. Further, having easier (by foot or by bicycle) access to fresh produce will help create a healthier lifestyle for all the residents of Downtown but especially the impoverished who tend to eat poor quality, nutritionally absent, processed foods which are currently more easily accessed and afforded.

My expectation is that, after I had brought the economically depressed east side to vibrancy, enhanced the welfare of its citizens, given them a sense of pride and ownership of their surroundings, and made the area safe to walk or bike, I would eventually make back my money, and then some. Of course, all of this requires people skills, which I lack in abundance. However, with a billion dollars, I think I could convince Julie and her husband, Andrew, as well as Osterberg and his wife, Andrea, all of whom HAVE the necessary people skills, to come work for me and help me accomplish all of this. Afterward, I would begin to turn my attention to Raleigh's transportation woes. But, that's a discussion for a later day.

Have fun and keep living life... or some approximation thereof.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Information Overload

I'm not sure if it's because I'm obsessive compulsive or not, but I tend to have a voracious curiosity. As an occasional consequence I find myself getting obsessed over a few topics to the point where I start to have headaches from trying to absorb so much information in a small amount of time. The topics often change, but my obsession stays the same.

For instance, over the last week or two I have been obsessed over environmental news so I've been reading every article I can on World Changing and Good, as well as the various cross posted articles that they link. That doesn't seem so bad, until you add it to the fact that I already spend seven hours a day watching/listening to podcasts and streams about technology from CNET, politics from The Young Turks, and news from Brian Williams, Keith Olbermann, and Rachel Maddow!

There simply aren't enough hours in the day for me to take in the amount of information I'd like to accumulate. Thankfully, since the podcasts/streams don't run on Saturday and Sunday, I can spend weekends catching up on my various YouTube subscriptions and the newly posted talks on TED.

Part of the problem comes from the fact that I want to know a lot about a lot of subjects. Most people seem satisfied to know a lot about a little, or a little about a lot. Nope, not me. I want to know as much information as I can possibly acquire. That said, I don't actually want to DO anything with the knowledge... I just want to know it!

This used to annoy the hell out of Ex. She was of the view that if you see problems in the world you should make an effort to help make things better. It's an admirable position, to be sure. Unfortunately, for her, I like to tell people how messed up the world is, and then tell them how it should be changed. I remember, on our second date, Ex asked me what I was doing to change the world. I looked at her like she was crazy and responded, "Why the hell would I want to do something like that?"

On reflection, I suppose Ex is more noble and respectable in that regard than I am. My main pleasure from accumulating knowledge seems to come from using it to intimidate others with my intellect. That probably speaks volumes to my insecurity, but there it is. Part of me WOULD actually like to do something with all this information I've gathered, but it's hard to find the start of the yellow brick road when all you can see in front of you is the land of Oz.

Thankfully (or perhaps aggravatingly; we'll have to wait and see), I'll be taking a forced vacation from all this data acquisition next weekend when I head to Hickory, NC for three days to visit my grandmother, Mame. Even though it's a suburb of Charlotte, Hickory is somehow the land that technology forgot. Cell phone coverage sucks there and Internet access is slow almost to the point of futility. There's nothing to do there but talk to Mame and play with my aunt's chihuahua.

I can already sense the feeling of withdrawal...

Have fun and keep living life... or some approximation thereof.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Admitting Past Mistakes

Why does it seem as though Conservatives think apologizing is a bad thing to do? I'm being honest. I don't get it. For the last 20 years I've heard Conservatives repeatedly us the term "apologist" as though it were a derisive word. And again, today, Conservatives jumped all over President Obama's back for giving a speech in Cairo aimed at easing tensions between America and the Middle East. In the speech, Obama acknowledged five or six areas where the US has failed in the past to be sensitive to the sovereignty of nations in the Muslim world. Naturally, Conservatives stopped there and threw up their fists like children, screaming, "How dare he apologize to Muslims!" Well, let's face it, what choice did Obama have? It's not like any Republican would ever apologize for anything!

Of course, in their zealous diatribe the GOP-ers totally missed the fact that the President also called out Muslims for civil rights abuses against women and children, being too willing to allow violence against innocents as a form of political protest, not recognizing the sovereignty of Israel, and holding mock elections under the guise of democracy. I guess calling out the neighbors in their own house isn't enough to trump the weak kneed apology of a coward who may be in collusion with Muslims... that is, if he isn't one himself!

The thing is, I get the impression that Conservatives honestly believe apologizing for past mistakes is somehow a show of weakness. And, in their eyes, the US is the greatest nation in the world and should, therefore, NEVER show weakness! But think back to when you were in high school. Who thought they were the baddest motherfuckers in the room and refused to show any contrition whatsoever? It wasn't the popular kids, nor the smart kids, nor the drama geeks, band geeks, emo kids, or the losers. No... It was the bullies!

You don't even have to think back to high school. In your job right now everyone is working for the same reason -- to get paid and go home. But there's ALWAYS that one person who makes everyone else miserable by being disrespectful and invading their workspace. Does this person ever apologize? Of course not! Why? Because they're an asshole, that's why!

Don't get me wrong. I love being in America. But we do tend toward being the assholes of the global office space a little too often. And while we will probably never get EVERYONE else to join us in that drunken rendition of "The Twelve Days of Christmahannukwanzaakuh" we're so fond of at this year's holiday party, with a little contrition every now and then we might actually get an invite to the formerly "secret" after party party at the club for once! And who knows... We might even get lucky and see the hot Persian chick from Accounting and the cute Jewish chick from IT settle that nasty border dispute over their Gaza Strips!

Okay... Maybe that was a little too A-holey! Sorry.

Have fun and keep living life... or some approximation thereof.
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