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Is bike parking the key to better cities?

bike-parking-flickr-michiel-s
Michiel S.

Cycling advocate (and former Grist contributor) Elly Blue thinks parking spaces are a waste of money. They could be, you know, actual businesses attracting customers and juicing up the local economy, after all.

apex-bar-portland
Apex

Blue gives the perfect example: Portland’s Apex Bar. It has modest seating inside, but the real draw is its outdoor beer garden, with rows and rows of picnic tables for sipping a craft brew on a nice day. The beer garden was originally -- wait for it -- five parking spaces. FIVE. Now it draws throngs of vitamin D­­-craving hipsters and houses up to 63 bikes on its racks. (The boom in business also benefits the taqueria next door, which delivers orders to Apex customers.) What once was undoubtedly a frustrating parking lot is now one of the neighborhood’s busiest drinking spots on a sunny day.

Blue also cites hard numbers:

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Goat Samaritans

Hungry goats might be saving the Bay Area from wildfires

goat
William A. Clark

Who would you pick to save your community from rampant wildfire?

A) Daenerys Targaryen

B) Lil Wayne

C) A herd of goats

If you picked A or B, we’re sorry -- your house has burned down. If you picked C, you’re clearly a prevention-minded person! But you’re also out of luck, because firefighting goats are in extremely high demand these days.

In the Bay Area, goats are literally eating wildfire fuel. These hoofed heroes like to graze on dry brush, which, if left unconsumed, could contribute to the spread of fires. In case you haven’t been paying much attention to goings-on in the Golden State, wildfires are already threatening huge swaths of the state, and parched flora is in abundance.

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Here’s how and where you’re most likely to die on a bike

cycling-flickr-steven-vance
Steven Vance

Getting rear-ended doesn’t sound THAT bad as far as accidents go -- you could get viciously t-boned instead, or an anvil could fall on you when you’re in your convertible. (Just sayin’.) But for cyclists, it’s the most deadly kind of crash.

According to a new yearlong study by the League of American Bicyclists, 40 percent of U.S. bicycle deaths are from a driver hitting you from behind, or as Treehugger gruesomely puts it, “where drivers just go right over a cyclist.” Ugh. Here's a breakdown of the types of fatal collisions:

most-common-bicycle-collisions
League of American Bicyclists

Another major finding:

High-speed urban and suburban arterial streets with no provisions for bicyclists are an over-represented location -- representing 56 percent of all bicyclist fatalities.

Geographically speaking, Florida’s the worst place to be a cyclist, with 17 percent of the nation’s cycling fatalities, and almost 22 cyclist deaths for every 10,000 bike commuters -- well above the national average of 8.6:

Read more: Cities, Living

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This app makes the NYC subway system come alive

Subway maps aren’t exactly the most gripping thing to look at while killing time. But if you're in New York, the free app Tunnel Vision wants to use data to make the minutes go by a little faster.

tunnel-vision-itunes
iTunes

Point Tunnel Vision at any MTA map, and augmented reality gives you nuggets of info about arrival times, turnstile activity (!), and even census data like rent prices and median incomes in various neighborhoods. It doesn’t even need wifi to work. Here’s a quick overview:

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joy buzzer

Put a bee on it: Portland “bee dork” makes hives with pollinators in mind

portland bee geek
Bee Thinking

Matt Reed is driving through Portland, Ore., with 20,000 bees in the back of his truck. This morning, someone tipped him off to a swarm of wild bees and he set off to catch them. He does this a lot this time of year, when wild swarms start to come out in the spring. Tomorrow morning he’ll move them to one of the hives he keeps in a local community garden.

Reed’s hives aren’t the usual stacks of white, blocky drawers, however. He builds “top bar” hives. Pared down, locally sourced-and-built, and often standing on stilts, they’re designed to mimic how bees build hives naturally. They’re in line with Portland’s trademark artisanal-everything lifestyle, but -- or maybe because of that -- beekeepers from New York to Nebraska want them.

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Before repairing the climate, we’ll have to repair the impacts of racism

United WorkersProtesters rallied in December to oppose the construction of a garbage incinerator in one of the most polluted parts of Baltimore. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 18-page cover story for The Atlantic making a case for reparations for African Americans is a must-read, even if you’re not into all that hopey, changey racial justice stuff. Even if you believe that the only thing we need to repair right now are the practices that are leading to surplus greenhouse gas emissions and resultant climate change, you need to read it -- in fact, you are the ideal audience for it. Coates makes the …

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Make Me Care: What should we really fear and loathe in Las Vegas?

las-vegas-wesley-allsbrook
Wesley Allsbrook

Welcome back to Make Me Care, Grist’s video blog experiment, in which we get our writers and editors to explain why their story is worth paying attention to. On this episode, erstwhile host and editorial intern Amelia Urry welcomes Grist senior editor and writer Greg Hanscom to talk about his adventures reporting on resiliency in Las Vegas.

Yeah, Vegas -- world capital of waste and fakery. And it's built in a desert, where climate change is going to make all things heat- and water-related more difficult. But neither of those is actually the biggest climate-related threat to the Sin City, Hanscom says. When epic droughts and 115-degree scorchers aren't your biggest problems, you're REALLY in trouble. Watch the video to hear more!

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The desolation of smog

When China became the world’s workshop, it inherited the world’s air pollution, too

beijing-smog
Hung Chung Chih

“Good news!” said my friend. “It’s safe to run this morning!” I was sitting in the courtyard of the house where we were staying, drinking coffee and not even thinking of running. I had arrived in Beijing with only one clear goal hovering in my mind: to eat my own body weight in dumplings.

But part of the rainbow of human existence is having friends who care about staying healthy even when they're on vacation. When this one arrived in China, she had downloaded a weather app on her phone that used data from the air quality monitoring station located on top of the American Embassy to tell you how vigorously you might want to be breathing that day.

The day before, the sky had been gray, and the entire city had felt like smoking a cigarette that we could never put down. But this morning, the app reported the air quality index was about 40, down from yesterday’s 200. And so my friend had pulled on her spandex and taken off exploring. No one else in the neighborhood was running, but when they saw her, a few people waved encouragingly, and faux-jogged in place, like vaudevillian performers.

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Have a Koch and a frown

Why the Koch brothers hate Detroit

"Sit on it Detroit" sign
Hiii Fiii

Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy organization founded and funded by the Koch brothers, has it in for Detroit. One of the leading groups affiliated with the Tea Party movement, AFP is trying to put the kibosh on a deal that would rescue Detroit from financial ruin. The New York Times reports:

Over the last five months, a deal has come together that would solve some of the most contentious issues in Detroit’s bankruptcy. It would minimize the pension cuts for 30,000 retirees and city workers, save the city’s art collection and give a reasonable amount of money to the city’s bondholders.

As expected, there were some objections from a few big insurance companies that stood to lose heavily. But with the support of Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, the deal seemed to have a shot in the state legislature, which would be required to spend about $195 million of tobacco-settlement money on behalf of Detroit’s pensioners.

And then, a few days ago, a loud and depressingly familiar voice rose in protest. The Koch brothers, through the screeching megaphone they built known as Americans for Prosperity, condemned the deal and announced plans to contact 90,000 conservatives around the state to build up pressure against it. The Associated Press reported that the group threatened to run ads against any Republicans in the legislature who voted for the deal in the coming days.

AFP has already set up a website — “No more bailouts for Detroit!” — that plays on the long-running, sometimes racially inflected resentment of Detroit around Michigan.

Read more: Cities, Politics

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Don't pull out all the stops

Why bikers should live by the same laws as everyone else

cyclists and peds on city street
Shutterstock

All of us who ride bikes know the feeling of not wanting to stop completely at an intersection when there’s no one coming. It’s an understandable impulse. Far more often, though, I’ve been legally walking across a street and had a bike roll through the crosswalk, forcing me to freeze in mid-intersection as it breaks the law and crosses my path. Sometimes, it zips frighteningly close.

But some cycling advocates argue that we should make it legal for bikes to go through a red light, after stopping to check that there are no oncoming cars and pedestrians. This is called the “Idaho stop.” Legal only in Idaho and a few towns in Colorado, it also allows bikes to roll slowly through stop signs, treating them essentially as yield signs.

The idea has been picking up steam for the last few years in local blogs from San Francisco to New York, thanks partly to this oddly popular video. In a recent, widely read article in Vox, Joseph Stromberg compellingly laid out the case, drawing on the authority of physics: “So many cyclists do these things ... because they make sense, in terms of the energy expended by a cyclist as he or she rides. Unlike a car, getting a bike started from a standstill requires a lot of energy from the rider. Once it's going, the bike's own momentum carries it forward, so it requires much less energy.” (Of course, if we made traffic laws primarily about physical efficiency instead of safety, we'd all be roadkill.)

Jeff Miller, president of the Alliance for Biking & Walking, argues that because bicyclists can more easily see and hear pedestrians than drivers can, rules designed for cars should not necessarily apply to bikes. “We don’t perceive any concern or threat on the part of pedestrians” from the Idaho stop, he says.

But bicycle advocacy groups are split on the issue. Miller's coalition has not taken a position on the Idaho stop; many of its member organizations support it, but other leading cycling organizations don't.

Even if the Idaho stop is good for bike riders, it's not good for cities.

Read more: Cities, Living