Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A morning walk

I walked to work today.

Big deal, you say? Maybe so. But it didn't seem like such a big deal. It's 4.2 miles and took me 80 minutes. While walking I called a couple of friends to chat and told them what I was doing (to explain away the panting on the uphill parts). Both acted as if I was bonkers, and both offered to come get me if I needed help.

I didn't. I'm in decent walking shape – walk an hour a day most weekend days, and 30 minutes or so most weekdays – but this was, I admit, a bit daunting. I had to plan it out, choosing a day where I didn't need my car for work, with a good weather forecast, and then think seriously what to wear so I'd be comfortable yet not have to change clothes at work. I put my office shoes in my backpack.

I figure the walk only took about 30 minutes more than my usual morning routine. I typically walk 30 minutes anyway. The drive to work and walk from the parking lot take about 20. So it wasn't hugely time-consuming.

You see more when you walk, of course. I saw daffodils and crocuses and some fruit trees (cherry? plum?) blooming. I saw two places that were complete barriers to anyone wheelchair bound. They should be fixed.

One was the sidewalk in front of the shops at Morehead and McDowell. A utility pole narrows the sidewalk to about 18 inches. Anyone in a wheelchair coming from the south would be completely blocked and have to go in the street. The other was closer to the Y. Repair work at a corner (was it Myrtle?) blocked the sidewalk. I could walk around it, up a grassy hill where a path was being worn away into the grass. No one in a wheelchair could have done that.

I didn't get run over, though I had to make eye contact with motorists a lot and a couple of times realized that state law giving me the right of way in crosswalks was irrelevant, when drivers were complete unaware I existed because they never even looked. It felt like wearing Harry Potter's invisibility cloak.

I walked mostly along Morehead Street, Queens Road and Providence Road. It was rush hour so traffic was heavy. Almost every vehicle I saw carried only a driver and no passengers. Maybe 5 to 10 percent had a second person, typically a child. All this on a beautiful spring-like morning with a shining sun and temperatures climbing from the 40s into the 50s as I walked. I started to wonder why more people weren't walking. Yes, I admit it, the last 15 minutes were not so fun. I wasn't puffing but I was tired. My shirt got damp, especially under the backpack. But a few minutes at my desk revived me nicely.

And here's my reward. It's from a new book I've finished, called "Carjacked": "Just an hour of walking at a moderate pace burns 207 calories off the average woman and 244 calories off the average man."

No moral to this story, just sharing the experience, in hopes others might decide to give it a try someday, if they can.


Lana said...

What's your reaction to this statement from Norm Steinman of the Charlotte Department of Transportation:

"Steinman said no rapid transit project or highway has any significant impact on the city meeting its pollution goals."

(From Steve Harrison's article here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2010/03/09/1300198/smog-cutting-status-reviewed.html)

Karl said...

I walk to work every day.

Guess that makes me a better person than you.

Mary Newsom said...

Karl, Yep, I guess you win.

Lana, all I know is that the way the city calculates its ozone footprint for the EPA (much of those calculations the way the feds require them) has only a tangential relationship to reality. And I am very glad that Steve, not I, had to write that piece in today's paper!

bobr821 said...

Lana, you didn't ask me but I'll share my opinion anyway.

CDOT is exactly right, no transit project is going to significantly move the needle on air quality in the short term. However, over the course of years, as development patterns resort themselves around available transit and walkable places the city's reliance on automobiles will decline.

While this may or may not improve air quality in Charlotte (that is dependent on a larger debate about automotive technology) it will at least reduce the growth rate of auto use so there may be fewer cars in your way when you drive to work.

Flartus said...

I wish I could walk to work--or take a train or bus--but I live 10 miles from work, and the only reasonably direct route between home and office is, of course, 485.

Not to mention that, once at work, it is nearly impossible to cross the busy street to any nearby businesses, for lunch or to run errands. Outside of uptown and close-in neighborhoods, Charlotte has a LONG way to go in improving walkability. I live 1/2 mile from a library, and have to get in my car to get there safely.

consultant said...

Mary, great post.

If you can, try to walk 30 minutes or so a day. 30 minutes-15 minutes out and 15 minutes back. That's it. You'd be surprised how doing just this can get your weight down and keep you in shape.

Walking is great exercise, especially as you get older. I encourage people to ditch most of their junk exercise equipment. The only pieces most people will use are a stationary bike and a treadmill. On rainy or cold days, use your bike or treadmill.

Like so much that has gone wrong in America, we were sold a bill of goods with all the "health" clubs, exercise equipment, diet plans and all the rest of the crap. We probably have more health clubs than the rest of the world combined.

Find a safe place to walk and get to it! You will not regret it.

Jumper said...

I read somewhere it's actually forbidden to calculate air quality impact of large airports.

Sorry that's not sourced better!

Lana said...

"only a tangential relationship to reality"? Wow. What a pathetic dodge.

The "reality" is what the article reported, unless you think Mr. Steinman is lying. And remember, Mr. Steinman works for CDOT - you do not.

The reality is this: "No rapid transit project or highway has any significant impact on the city meeting its pollution goals."

Therefore there is zero justification for spending money on transit projects if the claim is that they will reduce pollution.

Mary Newsom said...

"Lana" - Transportation officials don't say, in their support for transit projects, that they'll reduce air pollution. Granted, some lay people and other advocates do. The experts don't say that. They say that transit may make emissions less than they would be without the transit.

Reasons for transit projects have to do with mobility, with giving people a choice to ride something with a reliable trip-length (rail) instead of the unpredictable commutte times, giving people access to jobs without them having to spend the $14,000 or so a year it costs to own a car, giving people who can't drive (elderly, handicapped, youth) ways to get around that don't require someone driving them, and so on.

Jessica Eiden Smedley said...

Nice post, Mary. I cannot drive due to vision problems, so I walk and/or take the bus everywhere. Some days it can be truly terrifying to be a pedestrian in this city.

Lana said...

"Giving"? "Choice"? Taxation of all to pay for something that fewer than 1% use is neither.

You're also pulling numbers out of your hat. Here's the AAA's latest figures - even assuming that everybody buys a _new_ car, their average figures are some 40% lower than yours.


Meanwhile, the $521 million Lynx Blue Line had under 14,000 "boardings" (translation 7,000 commuters because it takes two "boardings" to make a roundtrip). That works out to $74,000 per commuter. Nuts!

apbauman said...

Lana - what impact do you think the billions of dollars spent annually to subsidize cars has on the comparative rates of car and transit usage?

Why do you think it is fair to tax everyone to pay for roads and car parking but not for transit?

Why do you think AAA did not include costs for road and parking construction and maintenance in their report?

jackie said...

wonderful post! everyone should try this...what's the big deal right?

Karl said...

Why do you think it is fair to tax everyone to pay for roads and car parking but not for transit?

APBauman, a question for you: Do you use roads?

Because if you do, then you've no right to criticize others who also use roads. Much of the cost of roads comes from the gas tax, which is paid by those who (drum roll, please) use roads. And even if you don't personally drive, you benefit from the existence of roads because practically all commerce makes use of them: Deliveries to grocery stores and retail stores, the US Mail, etc.

Transit money, on the other hand, is extorted from everyone regardless of whether they actually use transit. Most people do not benefit from transit at all, yet everyone is required to pay for it.

If you can't see that there's a difference, then you are not fit to participate in this conversation.

apbauman said...

Karl, I'm having trouble seeing your point through all that anger. Are you saying that government should be paid for primarily by user fees? Or that no one should be allowed to use transit because you don't like it?

Just to clarify, transit is also paid for partially by user fees (known as fares). You might be interested to know that those transit systems that are most extensive and convenient tend to also pay for themselves the most. That is, as transit gets better, it also gets less expensive for taxpayers.

Karl said...

APBauman, I'm not angry. I'm simply poking holes in your fallacy. Sorry that you perceive disagreement as anger.

The truth is that the percentage of the cost of roads paid for by users (via the gas tax and other road-related fees) is much higher than the corresponding percentage of transit cost paid by transit users. Translated: Transit users are bigger mooches than road users. If we did switch to a system of user fees where the cost of infrastructure use was borne entirely by users, there would be no trains AT ALL in Charlotte because train users would never stand for the cost required to build and operate trains if they had to pay it all themselves. Roads, on the other hand, would do just fine.

Also, you conveniently ignored my original point: 100% of the citizenry benefits from roads. The percentage that benefits from mass transit: <3% in Charlotte. I'd like you to address this very important point -- why do the other 97% have to pay for something they will never, ever use?

apbauman said...

Karl, how many functions of government can you think of that are taken advantage of by every taxpayer? There aren't many. Even the entitlements have income limits, leaving a portion of the population without their benefits. Obviously very few Americans benefit from our vastly expensive military adventures (although your state profits nicely off of them). So your idea that government functions should be measured by how many people use them has very little to do with how it currently works. Not saying it's not worth trying for, although I wouldn't vote for it, because I don't like to see children starve.

You are right that roads are a function of government that most people use. I think that you may be forgetting the positive effect that a good transit system has on the entire transportation network, though. Don't you think that a large portion of the 26m rides that CATS provides annually would otherwise be impacting automobile traffic?

By the way, I'm curious where your 3% figure comes from. 26m rides a year in a metro area of 1.7m would suggest that at least 3% use transit regularly, not counting people who just ride the train to a game every once in a while.

Finally, Karl, some advice: when you impugn someone's fitness to take part in a discussion, that is commonly interpreted as hostility. And I wonder what fallacies you're referring to, as, until this post, I've only posed questions.

Lana said...


The discussion isn't about roads, but since you seem willing to concede the waste of money that transit is in order to move the goalposts to a topic you think you can win, I will temporarily entertain your strawman.

1. Roads are a Constitutionally-authorized function of government. Article I Section 8.

2. Road users pay gas taxes, registration fees, vehicle taxes, road use fees, property taxes, tire taxes and various and sundry other monies in order to build and maintain roads. In fact, the _least_-taxed vehicles on the roads are government buses (ironic since they exact more damage on roads than even the most eeeeevil SUV).

3. The AAA figures include gasoline taxes in the cost of gas and vehicle taxes in the financing figures.

4. Yes, everyone _does_ use roads. Do you own a home? How did the bricks get there? Do you eat? How did the food get to the restaurant or grocery store? Do you take prescription drugs? Wear clothes? While air and rail do play their roles in the movement of freight, it is _roads_ which cover "the last mile".

5. I'm not sure where you get where "everyone pays for 'car parking'", since parking is generally a fee-for-service enterprise.

Your question, "how many functions of government can you think of that are taken advantage of by every taxpayer" makes my point for me. When Person A is taxed to pay for a benefit received by Person B, that is robbing Peter to pay Paul, which as you might guess by the names used has been considered immoral since Biblical times. This is why the US was founded with a limited government with minimal and clearly identified powers (Article I Section 8 again; the clarification of the restriction was put into the 10th Amendment).

Lastly, CATS uses a dishonest calculation called "boardings" when counting its ridership. A "boarding" is registered whenever a rider gets on a bus. So every roundtrip is counted as two boardings. If you transfer from one bus to another, that's another boarding (thus a roundtrip is _four_ boardings). Run the numbers and you'll see that the percentage of citizens using transit is even less than 3%.

Mary Newsom said...

Um, "Lana," what if you, say, walk to work and then take the bus home? You're counted as one boarding and it's only one trip.

Or if you take the bus to pick up your car from the shop?

Or if you take the bus to work and ride home with a colleague?

Or, as I saw quite a lot of in Cambridge, you take public transportation to the grocery store and then hire a cab to get home with all the groceries?

Seems to me that counting "boardings" is a more precise measurement than making the assumption, as you do, that all trips equal at least two "boardings."

apbauman said...

Lana, I know what a 'boarding' is, and how it doesn't reflect the actual number of unique riders (which is impossible to know until we all have Government ID tags embedded in our skin - did I scare you?). Here is my math: 26m boardings divided by 130 work days (optimistic) is 200,000 roundtrips. Divide that by 2.5 (I'll give you the half, but in reality most work trips don't involve transfers) and you get 80,000 round trips. Divide that by the 1.7m Charlotte metro population, and you end up with 4.7%. However, it is unrealistic to assume that all of the boardings are people who take the bus to work. Likely a significant portion of them are people who only take transit every once in a while, or even only once a year (Mary though of some good examples of who that might be). That's why the less than 3% number seems fishy to me, and I'm looking for Karl's source.

apbauman said...

1. There are many functions of government not specified by the federal government, but I suspect that people would object to their discontinuance, at least after the starving children started dying in the streets.

2. I'm not aware of any precise number, but studies have estimated that road users pay for around 60-80% of the cost of roads. Levels of government do not typically tax themselves. Private bus companies do pay taxes.

3. The AAA figures are an estimate of costs to the individual, and are not an accurate representation of the cost of driving to society as a whole on a per user basis.

4. Mode share for freight is around 1/3 each for water, rail and roads - air is a pretty insignificant share. Of those three modes, roads are the most heavily subsidized.

5. The studies I've seen estimate that between 90 and 99% of parking is free to the "parker." Of course you and I know that everyone, whether they have a car to park or not, pays for it in the form of higher prices at the businesses that provide free parking.

Lana said...

Mary, your examples are severely flawed in that they represent a miniscule percentage of boardings, assuming that the trips about which you hypothesize are even possible. Among your many assumptions are that workplaces, mechanics, grocers and homes are all magically served by a single line thus reducing the number of measured boardings. Highly unlikely. Splitting trips between modes of transportation (walk one way, bus the other - yeah right) is also the stuff of fantasy, conjured up without reason or the ability to document, although I do appreciate your recognition that even taking a cab is a more practical mode of transportation than the bus (and taxis aren't funded through theft).

Lana said...

apbauman, I can guarantee you that if the federal government disappeared tomorrow, children would not start starving and dying in the streets, so please lose the demagogic hyperbole and try to constrain your comments to reality. Also note that Thomas Jefferson said on the subject, "If we were directed from Washington when to sow and when to reap, we would soon want for bread." Dependence makes one weaker, not stronger.

Your statement about road users paying "60-80%" of the cost of roads is absurd, because 100% of the population utilizes roads. 100% of the population lives on a road. 100% of the population transacts commerce that involves roads.

"Society" is an immeasurable abstract. There you go detaching from reality again.

Even using your (highly suspect - 130 working days a year? Try 220) 4.7% figure as the number of people using transit, you are still acknowledging that there are 19 people working and paying taxes without garnering any benefit for every one person using the bus. I believe the last time there were 19 people working for the benefit of 1, we called it "slavery".

Brendan said...


Everybody benefits from the buses. The people that ride them are the people doing jobs that no one else wants to do but society would fall apart without. Janitors, mechanics, food service employees, retail service employees, gas station and convenience store employees. These people can't afford to live but so many places and buses are the only way they can get to the jobs the middle class wants them to fill close to where the middle class lives and works.

So don't say that tax money spent on buses isn't providing any benefit for the greater society. It serves a huge benefit to everyone who pays taxes.

Lana said...


Wow, I didn't know that

(a) there weren't any janitors, mechanics, food service employees, retail service employees, gas station and convenience store employees before buses came into existence;

(b) there aren't any janitors, mechanics, food service employees, retail service employees, gas station and convenience store employees who work in cities and towns without buses; and

(c) every business where janitors, mechanics, food service employees, retail service employees, gas station and convenience store employees are employed is on a bus line.

Thanks so much for enlightening me.

Brendan said...


I'm assuming your implicit argument is that by having a bus system we have created a dependency that otherwise would not exist if we just forced poor people to buy cars or walk.

Before public transit existed, poor people lived and worked in the same place. Whether that was on a farm or in a small town. Every major metropolis as it grew incorporated trolley systems before the car was even invented. That means there was a need for people to commute or move longer distances than they were willing walk long before automobiles and long after it was practical for everyone to have a horse in these growing cities.

Now, logic would dictate, and I think you'd agree, that when Henry Ford made the automobile available for the masses, public transit should have died overnight. Whether it was because roads were still mostly dirt or the car wasn't cheap enough for every last person to buy one, it just didn't become as ubiquitous as it should have.

Cities are now much, much larger, and commute times are that much longer. And almost everybody has as many cars as they have family members. For the life of me, I can't figure out why everybody doesn't have a car by now. They are cheap, gas is cheaper than milk, and modern cars last much longer without regular maintenance than they used to.

According to the US Census 2006 Economic Survey, income data, 28% of US Households earned $25K per year or less. And according to the 2004 Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey the average US household spends 17% of their income on "car ownership and operating expenses". Obviously, some people may choose live in places without public transit and eat that cost, or maybe they can't find a job on a public transit line and eat that cost out of necessity.

But if members of that lowest economic class (almost 1/3 of the country) want to take what little they earn and spend it on other living expenses besides transportation that is good for all of us. Minimum wages don't have to go up as much because a car isn't a necessity, and commercial costs for everyone else stay lower. I don't know the cost savings of cheaper labor versus subsidizing a bus system with tax money. But I'm guessing the tax money is insignificant compared to the amount end user prices would increase if it became necessary to pay working class wages that considered a car a necessity.