Category Archives: science and quantitative analysis

Paradigm Shift in Transportation Systems

“In today already walks tomorrow.”  –Rachel Carson, Of Man and the Stream of Time

The US Department of Transportation is walking out some good direction and detail in their recommended approach to accommodating bicycling and walking.  We are in the midst of a fundamental system-level shift in transportation, a major adaptation to our circumstances and times.   Bicycling and walking are being thought of as mainstream rather than as something different or alternative.  “USDOT hopes that public agencies, professional associations, advocacy groups, and others adopt this approach as a way of committing themselves to integrating bicycling and walking into the transportation mainstream.”  This inclusive approach leads the way for equal choice, access and treatment.  It promotes respect and more mobility freedom.

Instead of being used for escaping our problems and even compounding them, transportation is increasingly functioning for bringing people together, strengthening our social fabric and getting us moving towards solutions.   The changing attitudes in transportation are part of an expanding social awareness, akin to movements in social justice, environmental sustainability, and universal human rights.  Although Dickens’ paradoxical phrase continually rings true, that we are living in “the best of times, the worst of times”, I am very excited about the emerging changes that are reshaping the physical environment in which we move.

In my life when I make changes that show physical results, these are always preceded by a mental choice, a shift in attitude.  It works the same way on a larger scale.  Our US department of transportation has been making huge advances in public policy on bicycling and walking, and these policies and assumptions are slowly becoming more visible in our transportation systems.  These changes are as big as the changes we’ve seen in the Judicial branch supporting marriage choice.   These kinds of changes eliminate common reasons and justifications for discrimination, reduce unnecessary suffering, and free up the potential of choice and diversity to be fully expressed and for people to thrive and be included as part of the whole.  These adjustments are a natural part of the quest for a more perfect union and happiness.  They take time to manifest and it is hard work to activate principles and live by them.

I’m writing this this morning because these developments are promising although the evidence the change is happening is not always visible and apparent.  These changes are something every person should know about since they guide our public lives together.  With today’s policies tomorrow’s bicycling and walking culture is gathering up energy, being charged.  This is something we can all embrace.  Like all the social changes and advances that have happened before, the benefits are full spectrum and universal.  All human beings are winners.

Some of the things the USDOT is saying on accommodating bicycling and pedestrian travel:
In a recent memorandum transmitting Program Guidance on bicycle and pedestrian issues to FHWA Division Offices, the Federal Highway Administrator wrote that “We expect every transportation agency to make accommodation for bicycling and walking a routine part of their planning, design, construction, operations and maintenance activities.”  The Program Guidance itself makes a number of clear statements of intent:

  • Congress clearly intends for bicyclists and pedestrians to have safe, convenient access to the transportation system and sees every transportation improvement as an opportunity to enhance the safety and convenience of the two modes.
  • “Due consideration” of bicycle and pedestrian needs should include, at a minimum, a presumption that bicyclists and pedestrians will be accommodated in the design of new and improved transportation facilities.
  • To varying extents, bicyclists and pedestrians will be present on all highways and transportation facilities where they are permitted and it is clearly the intent of TEA-21 that all new and improved transportation facilities be planned, designed and constructed with this fact in mind.

In rural areas, paved shoulders should be included in all new construction and reconstruction projects on roadways used by more than 1,000 vehicles per day.

Full text here: Accommodating Bicycle and Pedestrian Travel: A Recommended Approach

Here’s the USDOT home on bicycling and walking

This is a good start.


How Clean is The Air

The Santa Fe Institute has an upcoming seminar on Quantifying Air Pollution Exposure in Cities  Through Large-Scale Data on Human Activities.  They are using mobile phone data to track human movements to better quantify exposure to ambient air pollutants.  “The power of big data for activity tracking in air pollution exposure assignments has yet to be unleashed”.   Science is cool.

When I’m cycling I’m super attenuated to the quality of the air I’m breathing.  I can smell if a person is smoking a cigarette in the car in front of me.  Our sense of smell is amazing and our lungs are sensitive organs.  So when a pre-particulate filter diesel powered vehicle goes by I try not to breathe too hard.  But when I’m cycling and walking this is almost impossible to do.

Walking back from 1millioncups this Wednesday I encountered this group walking on Central Avenue

Walking back from 1millioncups at FatPipe ABQ Wednesday I encountered this youth group walking on Central Avenue

Manufacturers for pick ups and passenger vehicles now include particulate filters on vehicles to clean up the exhaust stream.  And the fuel refineries began delivering ultra low sulfur diesel to 100% of the US on road market in 2010.  Between 2007-2010 heavy duty trucks and buses were phased in with diesel engines that are 90% cleaner. California has a safer standard and aggressive implementation program.  “By January 1, 2023, nearly all trucks and buses will need to have 2010 model year engines or equivalent” in the State of California.  California has 9 out of the 10 most polluted cities for particulate according to the America Lung Association.

Of course the main legacy issue are older vehicles still on the road, and also unmaintained vehicles.  I would love to see financing from all sectors–philanthropic, business, public–combine to facilitate faster change over to quicken the transition to cleaner air for everyone.  Studies like the Santa Fe Institute’s give people better information to manage the proactive changes.  There is no amount of pollution that is good for us.  The USA stands up for human dignity.

I would like to visit Sequoia National Park without emerging from a polluted central valley, seeing produce growing in smog, and worrying about the smog affecting human health and the ancient trees.  I would like to ride my bicycle and walk without worrying about damaging my lungs.  I would like all people to be free to live where they want without being discouraged or impacted by air pollution.  This is possible.  By directing science to benefit human health and by taking action we can determine a better present and shape a brighter future.


The World Health Organization has statistics on deaths and illness related to ambient air pollution.  Fine particulate matter from internal combustion engines has serious impacts on human health.

Santa Fe Institute, the Humanities, and Learning

“If I had to vote for one novel by a living American it would be Blood Meridian which is a fearsome story…with a deep implicit warning for American society…Bloom Meridian is the ultimate western.”  –Harold Bloom, How to Read and Why (see video below)


I have heroes in life.  Most of them are writers.  Barry Lopez, Wendell Berry, Peter Matthiessen, EO Wilson, Emerson.  Their voyaging curiosities usually interact with science, philosophy, anything and everything to help follow the narrative and tell the story.  One of the people I look up to, Cormac McCarthy, has articulated some wisdom in this two minute video below.  He says the Santa Fe Institute, where he engages regularly, is “absolutely relentless at hammering down the boundaries created by academic disciplines and by institutional structures.”  It is also good to hear the focus on sustainability, the environment, and human welfare.  It doesn’t narrow down the avenues to achieving improvements in these things, but identifying them as the center points for our pursuits is a timely focus based on what we know at the present moment.

It is inspiring to see one of America’s heroic story tellers interacting with science and society.  If you have not read Bloom Meridian, give it three tries.  Even uber critic Harold Bloom had to put the book down the first two times he tried.  “You get a great vision, a frightening vision, of something that is very deeply embedded in the American spirit, the American psyche.”  I love the unity of literature, history, and science working to solve the problems we have in front of us today.  We need all the help we can get.