Passing thoughts…

Hidden in plain sight
Heard only in the winds sigh
Felt where never touched

♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

That which might not be
Hovers above and below
Couldn’t possibly

♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

I gave them all bikes
Young men needing ways and means
They have all left us now

♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

Just a speck of dust
Rising from a lonely flame
Infinitely one

♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

He left so quickly
I wonder how he’s doing
There upon the winds

♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

Shall we not know Ulysses by his dog?
Argos he is named
And famed
For his arete
But as he lay
Flea bitten at deaths door there was no fog
Before his eyes
Between the two no lies
Ulysses too has left
And warp and weft
Knot the time away
With a tear Ulysses offers thanks
And so must we when closing ranks


Safe Spaces

If I say that our use of the 85th%ile rule is killing people (and I think the data shows that it is – a point I think the NTSB has acknowledged), is that “aggressive and argumentative”? Does that allegation render some space “unsafe”? That would appear to be the claim of the new acting head of AMATS, the Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation metropolitan plan organization.

Let’s face it, all I am pointing out is that our planning and design concepts from the foundations up are in fact the reasons people die on our highways. While many have known and argued this for years, it is particularly illuminating when traffic engineers like Charles Marohn are attacked professionally over it.

No area of study predicated on the premise that humans act rationally can ever be seen as rational or science-based because we have oodles (that’s oodles in the scientific sense) of evidence that this IS NOT the case.

So, would you say that someone arguing for streets to be “safe spaces” being called out for making “unsafe spaces” by way of his requests, “double speak” ? Is it intended to lead to “double think” ?

I recently chatted with a DOT employee who was asking why I would suggest that local municipal ordinance mandates the planning department collaborate with community councils on any plans, and that municipal staff working with AMATS who refuse so to do are violating the spirit as well as the letter of the law (not to mention the offense it does to the bylaws of community councils that were forced upon them by ordinance). Don’t you find it strange that despite the clear language about the roles of community councils in developing plans at all stages, that folk involved in metropolitan planning should questioning efforts to engage councils?

A conversation with a municipal employee about disagreeing agreeably brought the matter into focus for me. Aside from the mathematical impossibility of agreeing to disagree (yes, there IS a peer reviewed paper on that ) my question is how to be agreeable over something like the implications of the 85th%ile rule, or claims made when records requests show no basis for the claims. If I say, “Well Donald, your statement is demonstrably inaccurate based on these well documented facts”, why should Donald get upset?

I want people to stop dying on our roads. The NTSB has made it very clear that people are dying on our roads because of poor planning, design, and enforcement. How does my municipality, any municipality deflect that? Well, in large part we dissemble (some suggest that is the polite way to argue mendacity); we don’t adequately enforce, we don’t properly plan, and we design and construct with reckless abandon. While whinging against corporate personhood when it comes to rights, we seem happy the avoid any personal responsibility by blaming all on the corporate body.

Offering our state DOT staff a challenge; I agreed that if their engineers would run all the roundabout crossings of one of their roundabout highway intersections (2 roundabouts and numerous crosswalks) without stopping or slowing down I would cease carping about roundabout safety. Of course no one took me up on the challenge as it would not be safe, and yet the same agency prints materials claiming that those self same crossings are safe. You just can’t have it both ways.

People should be safe from terrible bodily injury sustained on our roads and streets. That injury is in no small part the result of the actions of AMATS staff. That may be disagreeable and uncomfortable, but it is true. That should make one feel unclean, not unsafe. I suppose the contra argument AMATS makes is “we only plan; we don’t design”. The unfortunate parallels to those claims are too low hanging to bear repeating here.

One of the guys who actually gets our roads and trails maintained and I frequently meet, and he, like some others, thanks me for calling and encourages me to continue despite the fact that I suppose I AM very critical. What do you think is the differential between someone like that and someone who claims to be afraid to talk to me via zoom?

Having been told that words hurt, let me suggest they don’t hurt as much as getting hit by a truck.

Aumann, Robert J. “Agreeing to Disagree.” The Annals of Statistics 4, no. 6 (November 1, 1976): 1236–39.
Barrera, Devora. “Dowling Road/Seward Highway Interchange Reconstruction.” Bike Anchorage (blog). Accessed January 25, 2022.
Herman, Edward S. Beyond Hypocrisy: Decoding the News in an Age of Propaganda : Including A Doublespeak Dictionary for the 1990s. Montr??al: Black Rose Books, 1992.
National Transportation Safety Board. “Bicyclist Safety on US Roadways: Crash Risks and Countermeasures.” Safety Research Report. Washington, D.C.: NTSB, November 5, 2019. Https://
Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. New York: Millstone Editions, 1949.
Schmitt, Angie. “The 85th Percentile Rule Is Killing Us.” Streetsblog USA (blog), August 11, 2017.

The Prayer of Common Books

At the risk of repeating myself ….

I think it intriguing that while a major reason for public education, at least in the US, being to ensure that everyone, through familiarity with a literary canon, shares at a minimum some basic memes, the public can become so outraged at the very concept of a literary canon.

A literate nation is not about being able to decode words in a third grade reader; it is about being able to comprehend the exchange of ideas among the members of the polity. It means that when I hear the lyric, “Just ask Alice”, a broad range of maps are brought to bear because I have the key to the references. To paraphrase Barth, the key to the treasure is the treasure.

Silly lists are first and foremost silly lists, but they give us pause, at least those of us willing, to stop and reflect on the “canon” and our shared experience.

EJ Dionne argues effective that we have lost all sight of any sense of community, and the lack of shared literary exposure is part and parcel of that loss.

I certainly am not a fan of “mandatory reading”, but I also realize that I wasted much of my educational time in no small part because my teachers were not able to shift my voracious literary appetite beyond a few genres. Decades later I discovered how to manage that and I think it unfortunate we do such a poor job at that…

Today you can read just about anything you want at little or no cost on any smartphone. We have text readers and audiobooks. But we spend our time passively plugged into multi sensory media.

We need to read more.

We need to read what others read.

We need to read that which challenges us.

“Citadel of Freedom and Liberty”

A friend opines,

“Why do Democrats believe that the citadel of freedom and liberty rests with government instead of with the people?”

And I respond,

“Curious you use the phrase MacArthur used 1 to refer to Manila on his departure…”

But the phrase is iconic and symbolic; semiotics being perhaps the last standing claim Homo sapiens has to uniqueness, it is strange that one of that species not understand the equivalence he questions. How did “America” become “a city upon a hill”? How did the Statute of Liberty become a symbol of American freedom? What renders the US at all remarkable is not the people, who are as loathsome as any other humans, but their republic… Why do some, ignoring that fact, focus on the foolish factionalism that the propounding pops decried as the death of that republic.

The drafters of our Constitution were steeped in the canon of the day: Greek and Roman literature which condemned the hoi polloi; the very name of the Senate conveys the founders intent to safeguard the union through the good offices of patricians who stood above mammon and mountebanks. Nevertheless, the fearful demanded an amendment to specifically provide the means to extinguish, militarily, insurrections (which were a very real contemporaneous problem).

The seat of that republic is, if there is such a thing, the Capitol, which was specifically designed and constructed to that end; the very essence of the republic for which it stands.

The myths of America while woven out of whole cloth, provide genres that arguably explain the delusions of a substantial minority of the polity. Today we are as conflicted over these shadows as de Tocqueville was almost 200 years ago.

A Fresh Start?


How about a collaborative effort to actually propose an objective decision matrix for re-opening face to face in person instruction?

We can of course use quantitative gates as well as qualitative gates. For example, no ventilation and filtration data is an absolute stopper, while available data could indicate that certain kinds of usage would be available.

PPE can be scored. Gowns, PAPRs, gloves and decon unit all prepped with staff practiced in full usage? Full marks! No PPE? Well, no score.

And in no case does an ASD administrator get to input a subjective score (a la the mess presently known as the current matrix,lol!)

You put it ALL in a publicly available tool (like Google sheets) so everyone can see the various inputs and how they are analyzed and evaluated.

Et voila! Instead of hot air we have a hard function.

You’d think the district having already done tens of hours of the most advanced study (sounds just like Trumpettes, doesn’t it) that such a tool would be at hand, and the fact that we have to start from scratch should tell us a thing or three.

So what is the greatest impediment? Here are my case notes:

Case No. 2020-576/b

Mark Stock on Objective Criteria

Mendacious Mark was at the top of his game at this week’s Board meeting, talking down to, well everyone, because they could not understand that it was impossible to adopt an objective criteria for school opening.

Of course, he was putting on airs because most everything he said was false.

In fact just a few weeks ago ASD had a very workable objective matrix that everyone fully understood and which worked just fine.

What Mark was really arguing is that objective criteria would prohibit his boss Dr. Deena, “the DeVosserRaptor”, from engaging in arbitrary and capricious conduct that could get thousand killed and who knows how many subject to as yet unknown long term disabilities.

Indeed, we could develop a very effective and transparent objective decision matrix pretty quickly. But that would of course mean that the Administration would have to come back to the community every time they wanted to deviate from it, AS WELL THEY SHOULD!

While Stock is a bloviating hack and could be expected to do what he was hired to do (did you notice the cute little game he and Deena played at the Board meeting referring to each other as Doctor – like watching the 3 Stooges) what is inexcusable if watching the Board get buffaloed

Rollercoaster in Anchorage

A number of people have suggested that as teachers “got what they wanted” (Superintendent Bishop finally relented over reopening the schools to face-to-face instruction) we should all just move on.

Let’s be clear.

Teachers did not get what they want.

Teachers want sane leadership that is concerned for the health and welfare of the community.

Teachers want evidence-based data-driven analysis not rhetoric and mendacity.

Teachers want to teach without endangering their students, their student’s families, or themselves.

Teachers don’t need to be told how and when to sacrifice.

And teachers don’t want to have to invoke a contract clause that says that can’t be required to that which is unsafe.

Teachers want to serve the public good, and want to work for people who feel the same way.

Cycletracks and the 85th Percentile

All modern transportation design guides addressing urban transportation, in an attempt to protect all persons of “all ages and abilities” while maintaining “flexibility”, require the use of cycletracks where there is an arterial or “connector” and the speed of the vehicles is over 30 miles per hour. That’s a lot to unpack. What we are really saying is that when you have car volumes as you see in most major urban locales for connectors, and those cars are moving at over 30 mph, it is critical that bicycle users on such roads be physically protected from automobiles.

Cycle tracks are, in gross terms, bicycle lanes that are protected from motorized traffic by physical barriers. The barriers could be lanterns, bollards, curbs (continuous or or not) etc. Painted “buffers” are not cycletracks, although many design apologists argue they provide “protection”, hence the rise of so much confusion as to what anyone might mean by “protected bike lanes”. The best practice is to use the terminology found in the design guide you reference. Hence the use here of cycletrack, which is the term employed by NACTO.

Confusion is further engendered because design apologists have suggested that if a road is posted 30 mph, it needs no cycletrack. Those folk have missed the “fine print” as it were, in that even the FHWA points out that the speed relied on in addressing the appropriate infrastructure is operating, NOT posted speed. So what do they mean by operating speed. In most cases they mean 85th percentile speed of all traffic. The 85th percentile marks the speed at which 85% of the traffic is doing that speed or slower. By way of example. If you have 100 motorists on a street, and 85 of them went 40 mph, 10 of them went 45 mph, and 5 of them went 50 mph, the 85th percentile would be 40 mph. Let’s assume that this street is posted at 30 mph. We can then see that 100% of the traffic exceeds the speed limit. 85% of the traffic traveled at 133% of the speed limit, and the 85th percentile is at 133% of the speed limit.

The fact is that most people do NOT travel at or below the speed limit. Indeed, it is rare that you don;t find someone traveling at least 5 mph over, in no small part because everyone figures that no officer is going to give you a ticket for going 5 mph over the speed limit. Historically traffic engineers RAISED speed limits to match the 85th percentile, and, as a result, the speed limit on Northern Lights was raised from 40 to 45 (though we saw numerous cases of people losing control of their vehicles at 40 mph). Soon thereafter the speed of traffic on Northern Lights rose, and now we see traffic moving along Northern lights at 60 mph (133% of the posted speed limit).

Is that 133% some magic number? Is the 85 percentile speed always going to be the speed of 85% of the vehicles? No. In quite a few cases where the posted speed is 30 mph we see speeds of 150%, and typically the less traffic the fewer cars are going to have synchronous speeds. But it seems that most people have no problem doing 45 on a connector, or 60 on a street to be divided highway like Northern Lights. It’s typically a matter of the driver’s perception of what is appropriate in the circumstances, as opposed to a driver’s compliance with signals.

Indeed, that is one reason why traffic engineers keep raising speed limits; they know that since people do not comply, the only way to keep people within any reasonable approximation of speed limits is to constantly raise the limits. This is not true everywhere. In places like Finland traffic speeds have been reduced to 50 km on connectors and 30 km on residential streets and speed limits are ENFORCED. More and more places are using “day fines” (fines based on the individual’s daily earnings so that no one is left with the feeling that speeding is just a matter of paying a nominal fine). Finland has all but eliminated death or injury from motor vehicles.

The NTSB indicated that the most effective ways to address injuries to bikers and pedestrians is infrastructure properly designed (something we, in Alaska, have NEVER DONE), and ASE (automated speed enforcement), which Anchorage has historically viewed as an unwarranted intrusion on the freedom to kill and maim.

In Anchorage, the common wisdom is that traffic signalling is advisory only. As a result, there being virtually no enforcement, the only way to implement appropriate traffic design to protect bicyclists on roads where traffic exceeds 30 mph is physical barriers. Unfortunately, though local designers give lip service to “Vision Zero” and the like, we have no cycletrack.  In fact even the sidewalks are designated as snow storage. And while northern cities in North American and Europe seem to manage snow and cycletracks just fine, you will not see any cycletracks in Anchorage because designers will make sure they are never built. Apparently, they argue, we are not quite ready to stop killing and maiming pedestrians and bicyclists.

I posed that question to the Assembly here once. How many bodies do we need to count until we do something about this. They would not give me a number, and mumbled something about how unfortunate it is. They then essentially patted us on the head and told us to go back and play in the traffic.