When the late lunch hunger pangs come on, it’s become old-hat to whip out the smartphone and survey food options via Yelp. But what if the cravings are more along the lines of staving off screen fatigue and finding the best birch in town?
Open Tree Map has got your back. Seattle is catching up with places like San Francisco, Philly, and Tampa with a just-launched program using Open Tree Map’s software to help city folk catalog, find, and learn about the local trees living in the midst of their urban jungle.
Earlier this month, a pair of senators introduced the Safe Streets Act. The bill would bring "complete streets" principles to federal road funding. Complete streets accommodate all users, regardless of whether they're in cars, regardless of age or disability -- pedestrians, bicyclists, wheelchair users, stroller pushers. In practice, this often means streets with sidewalks and bike lanes -- two features that are often missing from roads built in the last half-century.
For too long, traffic engineers simply asked how to move cars as quickly as possible, rather than how to make streets safe to walk along or cross on foot. But now complete-streets policies have been adopted in more than 610 jurisdictions across the U.S., requiring local transportation departments to take the interests of non-drivers into account. The Senate complete-streets bill would require all federally funded road construction or repair to do the same.
So where are these two senators from? Presumably bastions of liberal, coastal urbanism like California or Massachusetts? Try Alaska and Hawaii. The sponsors are Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). Complete streets, it turns out, are appealing in lower-density areas too.
“This is not just an urban priority,” Schatz tells Grist. “It’s important for people to be able to move within their community safely.”
The problems all started with Newt Gingrich. For decades, federal transportation funding had been a bastion of bipartisanship: The gasoline tax served as a user fee for our roads, 20 percent of the revenue went to mass transit and the rest to highways, and everyone kept the system running so their districts could get what they needed. Then, in 1994, Gingrich led the right-wing Republican insurgency that took over the House of Representatives. They did not want to raise the gas tax, even to keep pace with inflation. They actually tried to repeal the previous gas-tax increase, from 1993. Hatred of the gas tax, like hatred of all taxes, soon calcified into Republican orthodoxy. Rather than increase the gas tax, President George W. Bush presided over a growing gap between our transportation needs and the revenue the tax generated.
And the problem has not been fixed under Obama. With Republicans currently controlling the House, Congress cannot pass a reauthorization of the surface transportation law that would address our nation’s growing transportation investment needs. Instead, they have retained the status quo through a series of short-term extensions and then, in 2012, a two-year authorization (normally the law is extended for six years) that maintained current funding levels by using general revenues to patch a shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, which is supposed to be fully supported by the gas tax. That authorization expires this year, so some kind of transportation deal will have to be worked out in the coming months.
On Wednesday, Obama went ahead and laid out a progressive vision for a four-year transportation bill, despite the fact that Republicans will never go for it. It would boost transportation spending to a total of $302 billion over four years and reorient that spending in smart ways.
For several years now, the rideshare revoluton has promised a day when we could throw our car keys away for good. Companies like Lyft, Sidecar, and Uber have succeeded in connecting available drivers and hip urbanites via sleek mobile apps, offering an alternative to car ownership and the potential for reduced gridlock. But some city and state governments have sought to put the brakes on ridesharing's rapid expansion -- resulting in regulation battles across the country. Until they get onboard, it remains to be seen whether the mustachioed car is here to stay or if it'll fade away like last year's waxed handlebar mustache.
In one corner: companies like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar, often called Transportation Network Companies, or TNCs. The TNCs provide prearranged, app-based pickup services and continue to grow in popularity with the plugged-in, smartphone-using, it's-1-a.m.-and-I-need-to-get-home-from-the-bar crowd.
In the other corner: the highly regulated taxi and cab companies that are deeply invested in protecting their industry. These past few weeks, cities and states have been scrambling to strike a balance between the growing need for flexible urban transportation solutions and protecting the interests of the taxi and cab drivers. In Grist’s backyard of Seattle, the city council votes on a new ordinance today. Heck, even Macklemore has chimed in. [Update: A modified ordinance has passed, which seems to make no one happy.]
So far regulation has been stop-and-go for rideshare companies. California set the tone as the first state to approve a set of regulations in September, giving Uber et al much-needed legitimization and the impetus to face other regulatory challenges in New York City and Washington, D.C. But a recent wrongful death lawsuit in San Francisco has drawn attention to public safety concerns.
Below is a map featuring some of the most heated legal battles in cities and states across the country. Depending on your vantage point, some measures may seem more progressive than others. Click on the purple cars to get more information:
Some time around 1986, Vernice Miller-Travis was in her home in West Harlem watching her favorite movie, Claudine, when she noticed something familiar. In the movie, James Earl Jones’ character, Roop, a New York City sanitation worker, is at the end of his daily garbage run and his truck is headed to the transfer station. That station -- the Marine Transfer Station on the Hudson River -- was right near Miller-Travis’ house on 135th St. Along with the North River Sewage Treatment Center, also near her home, it was the reason she and her neighbors smelled an unmistakable funk all …
Oh COME ON, New Jersey! I want to be able to defend you against haters -- really, I do. But you gotta help me out here. For starters, maybe you could NOT do the thing where you clean up a toxic waste site and then decide to dump more toxic waste in the same place, because it'll be profitable for people with political connections.
Would that be so hard?
Apparently so. As Michael Powell reports in the New York Times, Jersey is allowing a company called Soil Safe to build 29-foot mound of petroleum-contaminated dirt on a site that was once a dumping ground for cyanide-contaminated sludge. This is happening against the advice of environmental experts, who are worried that this mound could wash away into the Rahway River.
We were going to like the Armadillo even if it didn't have a very practical purpose. C'mon, it's a recycled bit of bike infrastructure named after an animal -- basically the Grist List trifecta. But those little plastic bumps have a real purpose, too: They're an easy way for commitment-phobic cities to create semi-separated bike lanes.
It’s a gentler reminder to drivers than a concrete curb, says Anthony Lau, managing director at Cyclehoop, the company that makes the product. “They’re not very high, so if a driver strays in the road they’ll just feel a bump and move away from the edge. It’s not like driving over concrete, which would just destroy your wheel.” Ambulances and other emergency vehicles could drive over the separator if necessary.
Would someone giving away free homemade cake on the subway make you grin -- or make you call 911? (ANTHRAX!!!!1) Well, Bettina Banayan was hoping for the former. The New York City culinary student whipped out a two-layer cake, gloves, and icing while riding the subway earlier this month. She then proceeded to frost and decorate the cake, completely undaunted by onlookers, and pass it out to fellow hungry passengers:
“New Yorkers aren’t very personable with each other,” she explained. “We’re constantly in people’s private space, especially on the subway. I think it’s important to have some kind of community.”
Leaders in Los Angeles seem to have been paying attention to Hollywood. A little more than a year after the release of Promised Land, a movie about the dangers of fracking starring Matt Damon, members of L.A. City Council are trying to ban hydraulic fracturing.
"Fracking and other unconventional drilling is happening here in Los Angeles, and without the oversight and review to keep our neighborhoods safe," Councilman Mike Bonin said during a committee hearing on Tuesday. Here's more from the L.A. Times:
You know the archetypal “bad kids” who hang out at abandoned construction sites at night (maybe with skateboards, possibly turned into aliens)? Logan Hicks is that kid, all grown up -- and armed with a DSLR. He sneaks underground so you don’t have to, taking eerie shots of abandoned subway tunnels from Detroit to Paris: