Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Letter to VDOT concerning the widening of I-66

To Whom It May Concern:

Let me begin by writing that I truly sympathize with commuters and travelers that need to drive through Arlington. Congestion can be awful on I-66 and it is the case that people often have poor alternatives to driving. Regardless, when I look at the present details of projects #1 and #3, I am pretty skeptical that any improvements are being made with respect to travel time. Given the general local opposition to the project -- I think that there are some valid points among the vitriol ... there are points that I see as more of a rant -- it appears to me that some more thought is needed to address the transportation issue. Consequently, I am opposed to the present plan.

My understanding of queuing theory is that people switching lanes creates more chaotic motion which increases travel times. I think that given the congestion on I-66 that aggressive drivers will use the long auxiliary lane to leave the regular travel lane, advance in the queue, and re-enter the travel lane at some point creating an effect that will -- on the margin -- increase travel times. Now from a conversation with the traffic management person at the 10/27 meeting, the creation of an auxiliary lane gives drivers that enter/exit the highway more space to negotiate their entrance/exit which would decrease travel times. His simulations suggested that the net effect is to decrease travel times.

One problem with the conclusion is that it appears to lack measures of robustness. For instance, if I ask what is the confidence interval of the average difference in travel times, the simulations do not support such analysis. The issue here is that there are competing effects and everyone agrees that the simulations contain considerable uncertainty, but we have zero measures of that uncertainty. Given the aforementioned competing effects, it would not be surprising if a confidence interval existed, it would include zero, as well as, a range of positive values. From the perspective of science, the conclusion that projects #1 and #3 represent an improvement is pretty weak.

A second problem with the conclusion is that according to the researcher, it fails to account for any changes in the number of accidents. More generally, his response was that traffic engineering's models for accident prediction is rough at best. Reading between the lines, his response was more along the lines of accident prediction models are "pretty darn bad." In my casual reading of traffic engineering articles and books, there seems to be a line of thought that aggressive driving is a major cause of accidents. Well, people are going to have these runways to zip ahead -- over one mile in heavy traffic! -- in an attempt to cut in line. However, my experience is that people cutting in line tends to irritate others resulting in more aggression in return. My take is that omitting these accidents from the simulations creates a downward bias in the travel times that would bias any comparison made when choosing projects in the first place. Moreover, it also opens up the possibility that even if the project results in a net decrease in average travel times, it might increase the empirical variance of travel times since an accident can create a real travel quagmire. In other words, the projects might make an ordinary day a little better but make it more likely that a commuter gets stuck in a nightmare. Whether that would represent an improvement is dependent on preferences but would be a turn for the worse in by my standards. Let's remember that people do get hurt in accidents. What the tradeoff is between travel time and personal injury is unclear to me. That travel times could get worse and we have more people getting hurt is obscene in my opinion.

At least based on intuition, I have less objection to project #2. That is, I can see how it decreases travel times. I guess it might help with traffic closer to the District by relieving later bottlenecks; although I suspect not. Whether it is worth the money and impact on residents nearby I-66 is another issue and others have written extensively on it. I have little to add other than it is my opinion that you should ensure that the plan is aesthetically and environmentally acceptable to a majority of those affected. At the moment, it is unclear whether VDOT has satisfactorily addressed local concerns.

My last point is that I am a believer in, "If you build it, they will overuse it." That is, if by chance the engineering changes represents an improvement in travel times, a subset of people using an alternative will substitute away from their present choice and drive. Or alternatively people will recognize the improvements and be more likely to reside/work in a location that takes advantage of this new improvement. This will occur until no advantage exists relative to any other alternative. I find it hard to believe that these projects are really addressing the big issue in a meaningful way. I would rather that my tax dollars be better used on something that truly represents -- or at least something that we have a high degree of confidence -- an improvement in a time where state and federal governments need to be more conscious of its dollars.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

So you're interested in a child trailer for your bicycle? My general thoughts, experience, and advice regarding trailers.

The good news is that there are several excellent models of trailers out there.  The bad news is that well defined guidelines for when a child is ready for a trailer are nonexistent.
So let's deal with the bad news ...

Roughly, you will find a few references that recommend waiting until a child is one year of age.  Precisely what that recommendation is based on is vague.  From what I can gather, the direct evidence is virtually nil such that it is more of a conservative educated guess.   We decided to take Henry for a few short rides at around eight-nine months since he developed good neck control at that age.  Moreover, since he was in an aluminum crash cage, we didn't bother with a helmet which would only add more weight to head and make the experience less satisfying.  Anecdotally, among cycling enthusiasts, I have read experiences with children from six months to about one year for the starting date.  But as I imply above, I would worry little about age instead of the child's physical development and their ability to enjoy the experience.  For instance, even at one year, Henry would have a hard time touching the floor of the trailer.  He was unable to use his feet and legs to support himself and would slowly slide forward into what appeared to be an uncomfortable slouch.  He never complained; but I imagined that it would not be particularly comfortable.  I ended up arranging a cardboard box to effectively raise the floor to his feet. 

The good news is that there are several excellent models out there.  After some investigation, I focused on three brands: Baby Jogger, Chariot, and Burley.  There are cheaper models which in truth are fine for a majority of uses.  However, we observed lower quality wheels -- the rims would only support low PSI tires for instance --, poor insulation, less comfortable seats, worse storage options, and less features.  Nonetheless, I am pretty confident in saying that they are almost certainly just as safe and acceptable for short rides. And assuming that any interested reader will do a little price shopping on his or her own, like bicycle components in general, one will pay a disproportionately large amount of money for an increase in quality/features.  Note that I only looked at models with 20" (ERTO 406) wheel as this is the common BMX size.  Consequently there are lots of quality tires and tubes available. If you decide to go with a model without suspension, you can find great street tires in this size that will roll well at -- the Schwalbe Big Apple is a famous example -- ridiculously low PSI. 

Baby Jogger has an awesome and quick fold.  It also converts from one mode to another in a fast fashion.  It is pretty expensive and heavy.  However, like many products if you are patient, you can find them on sale.

The Chariot has a lot of accessories and it features a suspension.  Unlike road/path cyclists where suspension adds little value, in the case of someone sitting down without an ability to use their legs to help absorb impacts, I think that the additional suspension will make a much more comfortable ride for the passenger in the back.  Wherever you ride, there are occasional holes, curbs, and so on that will result in big bumps.  This helps smooth it all out.  Realize that the base carrier does NOT come with the bike hitch accessory which I recall is non trivial.  Chariot is carried by REI which has a ridiculously good return policy and offers 20% off coupons that can be used on any single product.  With an REI credit card, there is also an additional percentage of the purchase added to your annual rebate.  

The Burley D'Lite also has tons of accessories and features a suspension.  Unlike the Chariot, it comes with the bike hitch.  Consequently, it is less expensive than the Chariot.  It used to be carried by REI, but I believe they only carry the Chariot line of trailers now.  

If you plan on having a second child as we were, then I suggest going with the double model.  There is a weight and width penalty to getting a two child trailer.  Although to date, the width of the two-child trailer has not been an issue for me.  This is the model -- the double seat Burley D'Lite -- we purchased.  I waited until the fall sale, got ~25% off, and still got 5% added to my annual rebate.  I know that Burley also offers an infant seat among its accessories which provides more support for babies.

Now I referenced relatively expensive models.  From memory, I believe both Chariot and Burley offer less expensive models that have fewer features.  For instance, at the time we shopped for trailers, the model one tier down the Burley line lacked a suspension.  The good thing about these expensive trailers is that there is a large used market for them.  One can often find a used model in Craigslist or recoup a decent percentage of a new purchase down the road.  Although before purchasing a used model, do realize that the models have changed over time.  For instance, Burley D'Lites from a few years ago do not have a suspension. 

Henry and I have done several 30-mile rides together.  So far, he seems to really enjoy the rides and is excited when I mention a trailer ride.  My rules of thumb are that I try to let him out of the cage every 60-90 minutes where he gets to play, do something interesting, eat with daddy, and so on for 15-20 minutes.  That seems to keep the rides lively enough for him to want to do it again.  Also ... realize that the damn thing is heavy.  The Burley trailer (double) is 33 pounds; plus 28 pounds for Henry; plus whatever supplies I have for the bike, me, and a two-year old; plus the fact that I ride a recumbent which is close to 30 pounds.  Picking appropriate gearing and routes makes the experience a lot better. Also, an upgrade that I wholeheartedly recommend if one is sticking with roads and paths is swapping the tires.  Not only will rolling resistance decrease but I suspect that the ride becomes more comfortable for the passenger as well.  I base this on rides with my recumbent which is designed with a passive suspension.  That is, the steel frame is designed to flex.  When I hit large bumps I'll hear the trailer hitch and the rear arm make some noise.  When I switched to Primo Comets -- virtually zero tread road tires that come in a wide variety of widths -- that sound decreased considerably. If one is patient, Primo Comets can often be found at a discount or used.

Feel free to ask questions and report your own experiences.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Am I the only one who thinks that this sign is going to kill someone?

While walking down Pennsylvania Avenue today, I tripped on the supports for a construction sign located at the Northeast corner of 20th St.  Traffic is coming from your left such that a pedestrians traveling east will typically be looking to the left.


As you can observe, the supports are quite long and easy to miss.  The supports also cross the direct path onto the crosswalk.  Besides the actual danger from tripping and falling, notice that there is a good chance that someone could fall onto the road and in front of vehicular traffic.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

former slave Jourdon Anderson letter

A bud recently passed a letter from a former slave named Jourdon Anderson to his former owner Colonel P.H. Anderson.  The background is that the P.H. wrote to Jourdon asking whether he would like to come back.  Jourdon's reply is quite witty and entertaining.  Being a natural skeptic, I wondered about its provenance and did a quick web search on the topic.  Low and behold, it appears that many others have asked the same question. 

One can search for Jourdon Anderson in Ohio and P.H. Anderson in Big Spring Tennessee in decennial Census records and find...
  1. a Jourdon Anderson in the 1880 Census born in Tennessee and married to Amanda with several children.
  2. a P.H. Anderson in Wilson County Tennessee -- according to the site there was a Big Spring in Wilson County -- who was a farmer aged 37 in the 1860 Census.   
Another individual, LE, found stronger corroborating evidence through the decennial census.  

The letter itself was published in a book titled the Freedman's Book -- see page 265 -- and reprinted in several newspapers of the day.  The NY Daily Tribune writes that it was dictated by Jourdon Anderson whereas other sources suggest that he wrote it.  Nonetheless, in short, the letter appears to be genuine and I am pleased that George Carter took the pistol away too.

Dayton, Ohio, August 7, 1865

To My Old Master, Colonel P. H. Anderson
Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter and was glad to find you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Col. Martin's to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have come back to see you all when I was working in Nashville, but one of the neighbors told me Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here; I get $25 a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy (the folks here call her Mrs. Anderson), and the children, Milly, Jane and Grundy, go to school and are learning well; the teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday-School, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated; sometimes we overhear others saying, "Them colored people were slaves" down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks, but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Col. Anderson. Many darkies would have been proud, as I used to was, to call you master. Now, if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free-papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department at Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you are sincerely disposed to treat us justly and kindly -- and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years and Mandy twenty years. At $25 a month for me, and $2 a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to $11,680. Add to this the interest for the time our wages has been kept back and deduct what you paid for our clothing and three doctor's visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams Express, in care of V. Winters, esq, Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night, but in Tennessee there was never any pay day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve and die if it comes to that than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood, the great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant,

Jourdon Anderson