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What is a bike friendly destination? At best, a bike tolerant destination in a sea of petrol-stinking crap. What is a transit friendly destination? A place with people inside its monstrous machinations.

We skip across the sea to the islands.

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Posted in: Aphorism

A preemptive contention

I hear through the grapevine that people are now collecting economic statistics on the recent development of Over-The-Rhine in an effort to demonstrate ‘the economic impact of the streetcar’. My contention with whatever they will is obvious enough that I feel silly making it but yet the folly goes forward rather oblivious to my mind.

The Streetcar doesn’t exist yet, people. Let’s cool down the propaganda machines.

What might be measured by and interesting in their report is the development of a neighborhood in rapid transition for any reason. What cannot be evident is the effect of a project not yet realized, unless we consider it only as a local, government outlay in which case we may as well have set to work digging ditches of a more ordinary sort. The effect they intend to measure, though they won’t put it in these words, is the effect of their own boosterism, a fully psychological impact. They want to show us how big their bubble is.

Please, all of you, do the spirit of rationality a favour: if you hear someone saying the streetcar is already, clearly, making OTR better, point out that the streetcar has never yet been seen to function. Demand serious analysis for claims that any one thing has dramatically effected something so complex as a whole, urban neighborhood.

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Posted in: Politics
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A brief glimpse of the Bike Map

So much time talking about the bike map, so little time showing what I’ve actually been working on. Usually it’s the other way around: all showing, no talking. I thought I might wet the collective hydrostat, prior to it’s ultimate aid of more thorough public digestion, with something that my more tiresome colleagues might call an image which conveys brand equity.

Soothing or perhaps jarring colours, a sense of immediate tangibility, not less than a touch of fetishism. The object or better it’s image becomes a site of worship. White-balance is of the utmost importance. Perhaps I’ve been in DAAP too long already today? Perhaps I shouldn’t work in this library any more.

Bike Map TeaserBut just look at that underscoring shadow!

On a less sarcastic tone, I’ve finally finished a task of which I’m rightly proud, which no one knew I was doing: detecting dead-ends successfully after a four day expedition into graph theory. Robert Tarjan is the guy to thank here, and the Wikipedia editors who tediously provided a pseudo-code implementation of his algorithm for the detection of strongly connected network components. The bike map will emphasize only one strongly connected network component, the biggest one, and all the rest will be damned to transparency!

Or more simply, the idea is to deemphasize streets which don’t go anywhere. There are a surprising number of them!

The goal right now is to have the map on the presses by the end of July, to be distributed near the end of August when I return from vacation. I’ve got a little surveying and data entry left for me in the days ahead, and then the big crunch as I finalize the layout and systematically double-check important features.

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Posted in: Design | Maps | Math

Historic Transit Schedules and Maps Now Available

That massive trove of historic Cincinnati transit data, which I teased the world with last month, is now available at OpenDataCincy.org!

The file listing is not the prettiest or most navigable yet, but it’s up and available, and we’re working on improving the formatting.

Check it out here.

Huge thanks to John Back of OpenDataCincy for hosting all these gigabytes and Dave Walters of the CTHA for providing the data. If any of you have old schedules or maps that you don’t see in this listing, Dave would like to borrow them! Leave a comment and I’ll put y’all in touch.

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Posted in: Data | History
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The trebuchet that is my work here

Note: I started writing this piece earlier this summer. I’ve since resolved much of my angst and committed myself to a variation on the plan sighted near the end. I just came back across this in my drafts folder though and thought it too interesting to delete. I offer it here as a glimpse into an earlier thought.

A good deal of travel this summer, and a better deal of reading from various philosophers and sociologists, has lead me to an angsty point. Angstier than usual that is.

My various attempts to criticize, I hope constructively, both SORTA and TANK over the last couple years, seem at SORTA at least, to have got me little more than a bad reputation around their Main St offices. I’ve known this for a while, and was reminded of it today1. Since I published the frequency map, I’ve known that the people whom I would love to employ me see me as no more than a potentially dangerous meddler, a niggling threat to their cautious and carefully laid plans. Inevitably, my criticisms come after plans are made, things purchased, contracts signed: the worst possible time. They come out of the dark. They are ill-informed. They are ignorant of all the work that has gone on behind the scenes. But how else could I possibly operate when there is a behind-the-scenes?

The problem is this: I do not work for SORTA.

The only thing I can do as someone who wants to be a major part of the big ongoing discussion Cincinnati needs to have about it’s transportation system is to shout at the institutional walls. To launch critical, perhaps political, attacks, hoping that I can strike deep enough or precisely enough to make some change in ‘the system’.

Must we either be inside the fort or assaulting it? This seems like an absurd dichotomy. Here is the problem: I have been too inclusive in my framing of the question up to now. For ‘we’ don’t care that much about the fort. I do. We are largely content to accept the work of planners, and should be. I am not.

The problem is this: I have become an expert, yet I do not work as one.

The ‘public feedback’ processes that planners design are grossly inadequate for people like me. For those without deep understanding, the planner’s leading questions are fine: Do you want more of this or that?(We’ll take care of the balance). Imagine a doctor describing his symptoms to another doctor and being required to accept the diagnosis without question or discussion.

I am much too qualified to engage in established ‘public feedback’ processes. Yet this is precisely what my peers and I are relegated to. Neither SORTA nor any other public organization (The City of Cincinnati is another example) has experience dealing with people like me: Experts Without Borders.

Normal, and local, employment seems impossible. There are too many planners graduating from DAAP and seemingly no hope for the growth of city administrative budgets.

Planners Without Borders…

We are left, this handful of un(der)employed planners and I, to attempt something that hasn’t really been done before, those of us wishing still to be planners: freelance urban planning, which sounds more like a Monty Python sketch than a viable career plan.

What is freelance urban planning? To my mind, it is NOT consulting for governments. If governments had the inclination, they would do better to hire staff. In any case, governments are sleeping with the big contractors and are generally not flexible enough to try working with small freelancers.2 Freelance urban planning could be a responsive, community/client driven urban planning process. It will be a challenge to established structures. Freelance urban planning can be a challenge to city institutions, from private organizations that lack expert planning knowledge, but whose goals are clearly stifled by planning institutions or administrative neglect. I want to be a hired gun in the same way lawyers are: you don’t jump into a legal environment without a (typically freelance) consultant do you? Neither should one attempt to reshape their city without a hired expert at their side.

I need the financial resources to build a really substantial challenge to stagnant institutions. And I DO want to challenge them, not kick the other contractors out of bed and climb in myself. By competition and challenge are we made stronger.

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Sometime in June actually
  2. Y’all are encouraged to prove me wrong.
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Posted in: Personal
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Bike Map Update

Fundraising Update:
The time is 9:57pm, June 27, and the final donation has just come in: We’re done!!!!

The Dancing Banana

Super-ultra-platinum sponsor:
Haile Foundation

Gold Sponsors:
REI Cincinnati
Steve Magas

Silver Sponsors
UC Geography Department
Urban Sites

Individual Sponsors:
Justin Ogilby
Minh Nguyen
Frank Henson
James Braye
Jack & Lyn Martin

Progress update:
(June 26)
I’m back in town now after a little trip to New York. Off to DAAP shortly to test-print/color-check some things I was playing with on the train.
I decided that one of the inset maps will show regional trails between Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, Xenia, etc. Another will detail elevation, and a third will highlight transit and retail areas. I’ve also been riding all around the city, which is much more tiring and time-consuming than I had expected, looking for speed limit signs and finding water fountains. If anyone knows of any fountains on the west side outside of Mt. Echo park, you could save me some time by telling me about them!
The most difficult part has been working on my script to identify dead-ends in OpenStreetMap data, but that’s coming along too.

I’ll try and post some screenshots here later this week as I develop things I feel ready sharing!

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Posted in: Bicycles
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