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What we can learn from millennials who opt out of driving

preppy guy on bike
Shutterstock

The signs of an American shift away from driving have been so well-reported as to amount to a new conventional wisdom -- declining vehicle miles traveled, increasing mass transit use, the trendiness of biking. Jeffrey Ball of The New Republic examines whether the leaders of this supposed cultural movement, the millennial generation, really are affirmatively choosing not to drive. Could it be instead that most of them are merely avoiding the cost of driving? During the last decade in which driving has plateaued, gas prices have risen and the economy has been weak.

Ball is compelling in marshalling evidence that, except for a relatively small number of educated professionals choosing to live car-free in big cities, the decline in driving reflects economic constraints, not personal preferences. Here are his two concluding paragraphs:

According to data from the Federal Highway Administration, “zero-vehicle households” encompass two Americas, one unusually rich and one unusually poor. Roughly 4% of those households earn more than $80,000 annually, a wealthy group concentrated in and around New York. Yet 70% of U.S. zero-vehicle households earn less than $30,000 per year. It’s a spread, in other words, much like many others in certain coastal American cities: Some well-off and often-child-free folks up top, some struggling folks at the bottom, and not many in between.

Things may well be changing in the land of the Mustang and the Explorer. But for now, most carless households in the U.S. remain what they’ve long been: carless by economic necessity rather than by choice.

Ball suggests higher up in the piece that such a conclusion is bad news for urbanists and environmentalists, who are hoping America’s love affair with the gas guzzler has ended. “[I]t may be ... an economically-driven, and thus ephemeral, shift,” Ball writes. He implies that millennials will start driving more as they move up the income ladder.

While his basic analysis is strong, it could lead to a different conclusion, one much more encouraging to environmentalists.

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This eye condition means you don’t see pedestrians — but in many states, you can still drive

pedestrians-crosswalk-stroller-kid-flickr
Marie Coleman

As surprising as it is, people who have lost sight in half their visual field in both eyes -- a condition called hemianopia -- can legally drive in 20-some states. In addition to the usual worries -- a driver smashing into your bike, T-boning you, or never seeing your obscene gestures -- this is troublesome because these drivers don’t see pedestrians, according to a new paper in Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science.

Researchers at Massachusetts Eye and Ear/Schepens Eye Research Institute compared people with and without hemianopia, using a driving simulator:

People with hemianopia have to look (scan) with eye and/or head movements toward the side of the field loss in order to see obstacles or hazards on that side. “The wide field of view that needs to be scanned at intersections presents an especially challenging situation for drivers with hemianopia as they have to scan larger angles than drivers with a full field of vision in order to see all of the intersection on the side of the field loss,” said lead author Alex Bowers, Ph.D.

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Forget bikes — get your lunch delivered by parachute

jafflechute-sandwich-delivery-parachute

Sure, bike messengers and delivery cyclists are cool, but what if your lunch floated down from the sky, Hunger Games­-style? Thanks to Jafflechutes, eaters in Melbourne recently got their sandwiches delivered by parachute, and the pop-up, float-down eatery is headed to New York City next.

The triangular ("jaffle") sandwiches come in cheese and tomato ($5) or ham and cheese ($6), although word is they’ll make you a vegan one if you ask nicely. After placing your order via Paypal and selecting a time, you stand on a taped X outside a certain address and wait for your sammie to gently float down from the building where it was made.

It doesn’t always work -- a test run got lost in a tree. (Thankfully, it was a Murakami novel, not an actual sandwich. WHEW.) The Jafflechute team discourages sandwich recoveries, but one hungry person climbed halfway up a pole to rescue a jaffle anyway:

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Congress backpedals, restores cut-rate flood insurance for risky homes

hurricane-damaged-home-sandy
Shutterstock

When the going gets tough, Congress gets weak in the knees. That's the lesson we can take away from the recent fracas over reforming government-subsidized flood insurance -- insurance that has encouraged people to build (and rebuild) in increasingly flood-prone areas along rivers and coasts.

In 2012, more than 400 members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted for the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, sending a clear message to homeowners that if they were going to live in risky places, they would have to shoulder more of the cleanup costs when disaster inevitably struck.

This week, 306 representatives voted to roll back some of those reforms. Yesterday, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to do the same. The White House says President Obama will sign the bill.

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Should you live in a tiny house?

Has our recent coverage of the tiny house way of life got you pining after a miniature dwelling of your very own? Even if you’ve spent approximately half of the past week designing 35 different versions of your dream cottage, don’t quit your four-bedroom just yet -- it’s not necessarily for everyone. We’ve put together a handy flowchart to help you decide whether you’re cut out for 200 square feet:

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Rent a quiet room in NYC for studying or sleeping — just not sex

breather-privacy-room-nyc
Breather

We love cities, but sometimes they take their toll on us. All that dense, efficient living can wear down introverts who just need some quiet time. But the typical “third space” -- an alternative to home or work -- can have its problems. Coffee shops can be noisy. You can't really meditate in a bar. Napping in the library is technically a no-no.

Breather is a new service that aims to profit off these flaws by letting you rent a quiet, relaxing room in New York City or Montreal for around $25 an hour. (San Francisco and Boston are next.) You can study, sleep, meditate, take a phone call between meetings -- anything but drugs, gambling, or sex. (Breather! Always spoiling the fun.) It’s basically a short-term hotel room without the stained comforter.

breather-app-small
Breather
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Cycling naked might be the best way to get drivers to pay attention

A nekkid Brit on a bike is basically our version of heaven (just try not to think of the chafing). So this PSA is pretty dang persuasive. After all, if a bare English muffin isn’t enough to get drivers checking their rear-view and side mirrors for cyclists, what is?

We should take this lesson to heart on this side of the pond, where cycling is on the up and up. “According to the Federal Highway Association in the U.S., the number of bike trips in America's 70 largest cities has increased by 73 percent between 2000 and 2011,” says Fast Company. (Data on cyclist nudity doesn’t seem to be available, oddly enough, although we know there ARE naked bike rides in Peru, Portland, Cape Town, and Seattle, for starters ... )

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Get a peek at the world’s biggest ghost town

ordos-china-ghost-city
Darmon Richter

There are no tumbleweeds or abandoned saloons here, but Ordos is most definitely an epic ghost town. Ghost city, to be precise -- and the largest one in the world. Sitting in the middle of a desert in northern China, Ordos was intended to be the Vegas of Inner Mongolia. That was before everything went wrong.

ordos-airport-ghost-city
Darmon Richter

Inner Mongolia’s GDP tops Beijing’s, and its cities were booming. So why did shit go south? According to Darmon Richter, it was too much, too fast. Richter recently detailed a depressing, eye-opening trip to Ordos on Gizmodo:

[N]obody quite anticipated how quickly this new development would fall flat on its face. Deadlines weren't met, loans went unpaid, and investors pulled out before projects could be completed -- leaving entire streets of unfinished buildings. The ridiculous cost of accommodation in this dream city put off many would-be inhabitants, so that even fully completed apartments became difficult to sell ...

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You have to hold hands with strangers to make this bus shelter warm

Look away, germaphobes. A bus shelter in Montreal will keep you warm and toasty -- IF you hold hands with your fellow travelers. As a social experiment (cough, PR stunt that we totally fell for), Duracell sponsored the shelter, which uses human flesh to create a circuit. After joining hands, the people at either end of the chain press one palm to a negative and positive contact to complete the connection and activate the heat:

If the goal is to draw a parallel between human warmth and that of actual heaters, we can think of a couple more kinds of skin-to-skin contact that would make the bus stop downright steamy. (Kissing's been done, so next time let's raise the bar on awkward human contact.)

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Spiderwebs don’t work as well in cities

spiderweb-flickr-jamie-millar
Jamie Millar Photography

Imagine you’re a spider. You get to the big city all bright-eyed, like an eight-legged Carrie Bradshaw, dazzled by the skyscrapers and the buzz of activity. Then you realize you can’t eat.

It’s not that spiders can’t find acting gigs and end up too poor for ramen. Rather, the concrete jungle messes with their webs. Specifically, concrete lowers the vibrations that a spiderweb might otherwise pick up, making it harder for spiders to sense prey. PLUS, the hubbub of a city adds in extra, erroneous vibrations, getting a spider’s hopes up that a meal is near, only to viciously crush them (it’s only me, running by to catch the bus -- sorry!).

That’s basically a slightly more colorful version of what UC Berkeley researchers recently found. Here’s the background:

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