commuting · Cycling · Life

Biking Madison AL

A comprehensive guide to biking the city of Madison, Alabama

Madison is trying to improve their bicycle infrastructure. They’re trying, but struggling. As with any civic project, money is the driving factor. As cyclist are aware, bike infrastructure often takes a back seat to other projects. I’m often confused by the city’s efforts. On the one hand, they’ve put in some great greenways and the County Line Rd. paths. On the other, they continue to install traffic lights without bike sensors or pedestrian crossings.

Traveling North-South through Madison

County Line Road
With the recent (2017) revamp of County Line Rd., Madison added its first full-fledged bike route. The idea was good. The execution could have been better. Both sides of County Line Rd. now support a multi-use (cycle/pedestrian) path. Unlike the motor lanes, the bike path has posted stop signs at every, single side street. If it was possible to use the motor lanes, a cyclist would have traffic lights less than half as often as the bike path’s stop signs. However, in Alabama, cyclist may NOT use the motor lanes if an adjacent bike path/lane is available (Code of AL Section 32-5A-263c). This basically means that the County Line paths were designed for failure, at least where commuter traffic is concerned. They do provide a slow-paced corridor to the neighborhoods and shopping along County Line Rd.

Don’t. Just don’t. Wall-Triana, at least north of Mill Rd. is a cycling nightmare, see also “death trap.” It is Madison’s most heavily used road. There are no shoulders, no turning lanes to speak of, and no passing opportunities for cars. Avoid Wall-Triana north of Mill Rd. at all costs. South of Mill Rd. Wall-Triana, or as it is known in Madison, Sullivan St., supports a third, left-turn lane giving motor traffic room to pass. Watch for the pinch point created by the bollards at the railroad crossing. South of Royal Dr., Sullivan widens to 5 lanes, but traffic is very heavy in this area approaching the 565 interstate. Proceed south with extreme caution. Though there are 5 lanes south of the interstate, the speed limit increases to 50 mph (80 kph).

Side note: Royal Dr. has Madison’s only painted bike lanes. They go absolutely no where and connect to absolutely nothing. But they do run the entire length of Royal Dr.

Hughes Road
You might assume that the second most heavily used road in the city would be a bicycle no-go, but Hughes Rd. is quite forgiving to bicycle traffic. It is 4 lanes south of Browns-Ferry Rd. and 3 lanes north of that intersection. The 3rd lane is a center, left-turn lane. It provides ample passing room for motor traffic to pass cyclists. You should remain aware of the forward road situation. If there is a car waiting in the center, left-turn lane, it can cause a pinch-point situation. With enough forward awareness, a cyclist has time to take center lane and discourage squeeze passes.

The 4 lane section from Browns-Ferry to Mill allows cyclist to use the full, right-hand lane. This section of road gives access to City Hall and Madison Cycles, my recommended go-to for repairs and equipment.

It’s recommended you avoid Hughes Rd. south of Portal Ln./Mill Rd. unless you’re just trying to get to Skate Park Dr. which is also accessible from Mill Rd. Once south of Skate Park, you will encounter a formidable hill in the form of the train track overpass. The speed limit increases to 45 mph (72 kph). It is unfortunate that this is one of only two routes to the post office and shopping along Madison Blvd. The post office is best accessed via Lanier Dr./Will Halsey Way from Old Town Madison.

Note: The path running the length of Hughes Road’s west side is NOT a multi-use path. According to the Madison City engineer’s office, it is a pedestrian-only sidewalk. The Alabama Traffic Code, Section 32-5A-52, forbids cycling on a sidewalk.

Nance to Hughes via Bradford Farms
The hill on Grand Vista Dr. is fairly steep. However, there is an alternative when schools are not in session. On the back (west) side of Rainbow Elementary is a sidewalk that connects to Green Springs Ln. in the Bradford Farms neighborhood. Do NOT attempt this shortcut when school is in session.

Old Town Madison Access
From Hughes and Plaza, take Plaza to Landers to Sturdivant to Church to Main. I recommend Sturdivant Street instead of Church especially if you’re northbound because the light at Church and Mill will not change for bikes and there’s less of a hill. Landers Rd. is not well maintained so watch for potholes and over-patched asphalt. Once downtown, it’s an easy connection through the stadium parking lot using an old construction path off Shorter St at the end of Garner St. This will connect with Celtic Dr and Madison Blvd. Alternatively, you can use Lanier Rd. to get to the post office. If Redstone Arsenal is your destination, Madison Blvd connects with Intergraph Way just one block east of Celtic. See “Arsenal Access” below for further tips.

Traveling East-West through Madison

North of Hwy 72
The shopping centers and cinema between Wall-Triana and Nance Rd., north of Hwy 72, are all interconnected. Using parking lots and the connecting streets makes shopping access by bicycle quite easy. Crossing 72 can be accomplished on Wall-Triana or Hughes Rd. since there is almost always car traffic to change the lights. The traffic light on Nance Rd., south of 72, will not change for a northbound bicycle and there is little northbound car traffic to trigger the lights. The southbound bike sensor are functional on Nance Rd.

Gooch Lane
Gooch Ln. is about the safest east-west corridor on the north side of Madison. The speed limit is 35 mph (56 kph). The lower speed limit and residential nature of the road make it one of the few choices for an east-west connection. Once Gooch ends at Balch Rd., you can access the medical district with a short ride north on five lanes or with a short ride south, use residential streets (Kentucky, Thoroughbred, Small Creek, and Joe Phillips) to connect to County Line Rd. There is also a sidewalk at the end of Eastfield Dr. that connects to the Shoppes of Madison (Target shopping center) on the shopping center’s west end.

Brown’s Ferry/Madison Pike
From Wall-Triana to Bridgestreet/Research Park West, Old Madison Pike is your only choice. There is a center left-turn lane that provides passing opportunities for cars for the entire length of the route. The Indian Creek Greenway also connects to the road just east of Slaughter Rd. You will encounter one decent hill between Dublin Park and Shelton Rd.

This is the southern most of the east-west connections. From Mill Park Ln. west to the Bradford Creek Greenway, there is a multi-use path. East of Mill Park Ln., Mill Rd. is two lanes and 45 mph (72 kph) until you reach Wall-Triana (Sullivan St.) where the speed limit drops. Portal Ln. is a residential, 25 mph (40 kph) zone and there is parallel parking on either side. This provides space if you wish to pull over and allow passing, but it is one of the few places in Madison where cyclist must watch the door zone. Portal connects to Shelton Rd. on the east end. This provides access to the shopping center at the corner of Shelton and Madison Blvd.

Other Considerations

Traffic signals
With one exception, I’ve yet to find a bike sensor in the city of Madison. Traffic lights will not change for cyclist unless they are on a timer. This is a major oversight in the city’s planning and infrastructure. I have quizzed the streets department on the matter and their response is simply, “Treat the red light as a stop sign.” I note that this advice won’t hold water with the police department simply because the streets department can’t be bothered to put in a manual button to activate the lights.

The one working bike sensor I know of is at Madison Blvd and Intergraph Way. There are bike sensor on Intergraph Way and exiting the Walmart parking lot at that same intersection.

Arsenal Access
Redstone Arsenal is best accessed from Madison via Gate 7 on Martin Rd. at the Zierdt Rd. intersection. Gate 7 is open for inbound traffic from 05:30 to 14:00 and outbound traffic from 05:30 to 19:00. There is a gravel path shortcut from Dunlop Blvd. to The Reserve neighborhood. This eventually connects to Nature’s Way and on to Zierdt Rd. The gravel path connects to a sidewalk, so dismounting is recommended and required. Thin-tire bikes are discouraged from riding the gravel due to potential flats and the adjacent pond. Watch for families and children going to and from the playground adjacent to the path. Also, reduce any noise/music levels out of respect for the houses near the secret sidewalk. Note: The hill out of The Reserve on Nature’s Way (east end) can be a daunting, but short climb.

Practical Cycling Map of Madison AL

Alabama Traffic Code Excerpts
Section 32-5A-52
Driving upon sidewalk.
No person shall drive any vehicle upon a sidewalk or sidewalk area except upon a permanent or duly authorized temporary driveway.

Section 32-5A-263
Riding on roadways and bicycle paths; right side signalling.
(a) Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction.
(b) Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.
(c) Wherever a usable path for bicycles has been provided adjacent to a roadway, bicycle riders shall use such path and shall not use the roadway.
(d) A person riding a bicycle may give a hand signal for a right turn by extending his or her right arm and hand horizontally on the right side of the bicycle. A child under the age of sixteen shall not be required to comply with the right side signalling.

Life · traffic

An Argument For the Idaho Stop

As many drivers will tell you, usually in angrily posted internet comments, roads were built for cars. This factoid comes from the latest New York Times bestseller, The Big Book of Thank You Letters to Doctor Obvious. The lanes are car-width. The speed limits are car-powered. The loop-induction traffic signals are car-weighted. Yes, it’s all very obvious that roads were made for cars.

Also made for cars are traffic-calming devices. Traffic-calming is the concept of creating a safer environment for all road users. It mainly consists of narrowing lanes and putting obstructions like speed humps (“sleeping policeman” for you Brits), islands, and curves into the traffic flow. The intended result is to slow the speed of cars and make drivers aware of other road users. Note that pedestrians and cyclist have no need for speed-reducing devices because they are rarely traveling above the speed limit.

Here in The States, we haven’t fully embraces the roundabout. We have opted for right-angle intersections with light or sign control. This makes the stop sign a ubiquitous fixture on American streets. For example, my neighborhood, which has only one connection to the highway, consists of four longish streets and seven cul-du-sacs. There are fewer than 300 houses. All traffic is local since it is essentially a dead-end. The speed limit is 25 mph as are most residential areas. There are 15 stop signs, not including the one at the main highway. Every single traffic sign in my neighborhood is a stop sign. I have to ask, “Why”

The only conclusion is, the stop signs are there to interrupt cars so they don’t build up speed past the 25 mph limit. If there was some other device, say a computer controlled car, that ensured the cars never got over 25 mph, every intersection could be controlled with a simple yield sign. The fact is, most drivers treat the stop signs as if they were yield signs because it makes no damned sense to come to a full stop to turn right when the only possible cross traffic is coming from two houses that have driveways to the left, on a dead-end street. The rolling or “California” stop for cars is alive and well. It’s normally a perfectly safe exercise and the only penalty is if a cop sees it.

The Idaho Stop
The name derives from a recent change to the Idaho traffic code that allows cyclist to treat stop signs as yield signs with the caveat that if another vehicle is already stopped at the intersection, they have the right-of-way. It’s not as crazy as it first sounds. Since bicycles are moving at a car-relative slow speed, the cyclist has more time to assess the intersection and continue without stopping if the assessment is “all clear.” Idaho recognizes that stop signs are traffic-calming devices designed for cars. The Idaho Stop doesn’t give cyclist carte-blanche to run every stop sign. It doesn’t give them the right-of-way at all intersections. It simply puts the responsibility for their safety in their hands and allows them to continue unimpeded if they can do so safely.

The next time you see a cyclist cautiously run a stop sign, remember that most stop signs are simply traffic-calming devices for cars. The next time you see a cyclist jump a red light, consider that they have probably waited through 3 cycles without a green light because they can’t trigger the loop-induction sensor. Indeed, roads were built for cars and what quickly followed were devices to make drivers behave. These devices don’t always apply to non-car traffic.

Share the road and keep chasing the odd, little happy.

Cycling · drivers · driving · internet · law · Life · traffic

Common Comments on The Topic of Cycling

These are the most common comments made on the internet when the topic of cyclist sharing the road is brought up. I’ve tried to provide some decent responses you can give if confronted with these ridiculous suggestions.

When cyclist have insurance, registration, and tags, they might have some rights on the road.
Maybe pedestrian crossings should have a coin slot so people crossing the road on foot pay a fee to press the crosswalk button, too. Speaking of pedestrians, they’re in the car’s way. They are holding up traffic by crossing the road. If cars were the most important thing on the road, should they be allowed to mow down those pokey pedestrians so they can turn right?

Still, that’s not how freedom to travel works. You aren’t granted rights by the government because you paid a fee. Rights, like the right to travel on public roads, is just that…a right. Your car registration and tag doesn’t buy you the right to the road.

Furthermore, having a tiny metal plate on a bike, isn’t going to guarantee the respect of other travelers. That respect either comes from a mutual need to travel safely together with other members of the community or it is lacking in a person’s character. No amount of signage is going to make the raging driver respect the rights of other road users. Having a plate on your car doesn’t stop you from being cut-off or honked at. Why would it change how bad drivers treat cyclist?

Stay off the road if you can’t do the speed limit. You’re impeding traffic.
I fail to see how a small object like a bicycle moving 25-45 KPH in the same direction as traffic, tucked neatly on the edge of the lane, and easily passed, impedes traffic. Here are a few things that slow or stop cars completely:

  • Pedestrians (we’ve cover them)
  • Traffic lights
  • Trains
  • School buses
  • Mail trucks
  • Delivery trucks
  • Farm equipment
  • Construction zones
  • (and frankly) other motorist

Those impede traffic, but drivers would misplace their anger on cyclist. Cyclists are part of the traffic flow. In congested cities, cyclist often out-pace cars. As a driver, if you are unable to safely pass a bicycle, please don’t drive while school buses are loading and unloading, and for God’s sake, stay away from train crossing.

Speed limits are just that: the maximum safe limit on a road under perfect conditions. They aren’t a minimum speed that the traffic must travel. And while we’re on the subject, what’s with speed humps? Are they there to slow down the speeding cyclist? No. They are there because motorist fail to observe the set speed limit and need a little reminder now and again.

Cyclist run stop signs and red lights.
Surveys show that lights and signs are run in about equal amounts by both cars and bicycles (6.8% and 7.2% respectively). If any argument for removing cyclist from the roadway is to be made based on this, cars would necessarily need to be removed, too. It’s just ridiculous to ban a particular mode of transportation based on the lawlessness of a few. Police don’t give speeding tickets to all cars in the area just because one driver is speeding.

That being said, there are often good reasons cyclist run lights. Very often the sensors built into the road that trigger the light to change are not sensitive enough to detect a bicycle. Prudent cyclist often treat those lights as stop signs because the light will never change for them.

Bikes are toys for children.
Indeed, they are. They are also the main means of transportation for more than 4 billion adults worldwide. Anyone making this observation hasn’t been on a bicycle since they were nine and needs to experience the sheer joy of a bike again. If you don’t cycle, don’t tell people who do how they need to act. You are, by definition, not an experienced expert on the topic.

Bikes should only ride on bicycle paths or roads with wide shoulders.
That would be preferred by all, cyclist included. Sadly, there isn’t the infrastructure for bicycles in all areas. If politicians and bureaucrats are to be believed, widening shoulders by a couple of feet would put an undue financial burden on their budgets. Bike lanes seem to be out of the question in all, but the most densely packed cities. When bike paths do exist in smaller cities and towns, they are often relegated to parks. That’s fine for a weekend outing, but if the bike paths don’t go where you need them to go, they are functionally useless. If bike paths existed between neighborhoods, commercial zones, and place of work, cyclist would happily stick to them. Cyclist have no more desire to mix with motorized traffic than the driver’s desire them to be on the roads.

Cycling · Life · life lesson

Sharing the Road is a Two-way Street

Cyclist and cagers* often have partisan views of how the roads should work. Cyclist insist they are traffic and demand to be treated as such. Cagers see bicycles as obstacles and annoyances to get around at all costs (commonly referred to as “Must Get In Front,” – MGIF syndrome). Then we’re told to “Share the Road,” and each group yells, “Yeah!” To cagers, sharing the road means, “Get out of our way.” To cyclists, it means, “Treat us as equals, even though we’re no match for a combustion engine and 1,000 kgs. of steel, oh, and let us break a few rules here and there.”

There are psychological theories that address why these factions act the way they do. They’re to extensive to delve into, but suffice it to say:
1. We like to put ourselves in “us verses them” groups.
2. We tend to exaggerate the failings of the opposite group while overlooking our own group’s failings.

What does “Share the Road” Really Mean?
For cars, it’s really simple. It means:

  1. Treat cyclists as if they were your own blood. You wouldn’t honk, shout, and bully your own kid, would you?
  2. Have patience. Does that 5 seconds you gain passing really get you where you’re going more quickly?
  3. Be aware of what is down the road. Don’t focus on the cyclist as if they are there to impede your journey. Look ahead and see what’s coming. Does it really make sense to pass if you’re just going to be a red light in 100 feet or behind another car that the cyclist is keeping up with?
  4. Pass when safe.
  5. Pass when you can give enough room. Generally, laws call for 3 feet or 1 meter of distance between the car and bike.
  6. Understand that cyclist are trying to get somewhere, just like you.
  7. Know when to break the rules. Cyclist and cops really don’t care if you use the left-turn-only lane to pass a bike. Just pass safely.
  8. Realize that your 1,000 kilogram car is a deadly weapon against a cyclist.
  9. Signal your intentions. Just use your indicators. They were free-with-purchase when you bought the car.

Cyclist would be happy if the list ended there. They love to play the victim when mixed with motorized traffic. However, cyclists need to follow a few “Share the Road” rules, too. One, it’s a social contract that goes two ways. Two, it makes cycling safer. For cyclists, “Share the Road” means:

  1. Plan your route. Yes, you have a legal right to the road, but you’re safer if you stick to low-traffic roads, low speed-limit zones like residential areas, and only mix with high-speed, high-volume traffic when absolutely necessary. When you inevitably have to get on a major street, make it one that has multiple lanes or at least a left-turning divide. This gives motorists room to pass safely. Check your local government’s website. They keep statistics on the roads. You can see which roads are used more heavily and plan accordingly.
  2. Have confidence, not arrogance. Confidence comes from doing, so get out there and bike. If the situation calls for you to take the full lane, take the lane. Just don’t do it when the situation doesn’t warrant simply because you legally can.
  3. Have patience. The most direct route isn’t always the safest. If you have to add a kilometer or two to your route to decrease your dance with death, leave early.
  4. Light it up! Put lights on your cycle. Put lights on your body. Put lights everywhere you can. Be seen. Consider a head-lamp. Sure they look dorky, but when you make eye contact with a driver approaching from a side street, you’ll know that they see that strobe on your forehead.
  5. Take a break if you can. If you see there are 20 cars piling up behind you, consider pulling over in a safe place to let them pass. This reduces the risk of road rage and gives you a breather, too.
  6. Do what is expected by following the rules of the road. We know the bane of the cyclist is stopping, but traffic lights and stop signs are there for a reason. Mainly, they keep you safe when people do what is expected. Don’t put yourself in danger and give cyclist a bad name by running signals and signs.
  7. Know when to break the rules. Bikes can go where cars can’t and sometimes that’s safer. Learn the peculiarities of your route. Know of a traffic light sensor that won’t detect your bike? Route around it, make a right then u-turn then right when safe, or move over and invite a car up to the line to set off the sensor.
  8. Know the laws in your area. Is riding on the sidewalk illegal in your city/state? Then stay off the sidewalks. Cyclist are generally good at this one.
    Most know the cycling laws better than the police.
  9. Realize that your 20 kilogram bike and 80 kilogram meat sack are no match for a car. Give them room whenever possible.
  10. Signal your intentions. Signal early. Signal often.

Simply Put
Do what is expected of you and signal your intentions. These two things will do more to keep you safe whether you’re in a car or on a bike.

*cager: an automobile operator.

Autos · Life

Dashcam Chronicles: Illegal Passing

I have a dashcam for several reasons. One, I’d like to have proof in court if I get a bogus traffic ticket. Two, it helps with insurance claims if there are questions about what happened. But, three, and the most important reason, it’s an endless source of entertainment and a record to just how idiotic people are when they drive.

Here’s the latest example of a driver who thought my wife pulled out a little to closely ahead of him on a 45 mph (~65kph) road. His little road rage tantrum manifests in a dangerous illegal pass (that’ll show her) only to be, you guessed it, stopped by the next traffic light with the person he just tried to run off the road.

But a picture is worth a thousand words, so here’s a million-word video that captured the event.

Keep chasing the odd, little, happy.


Fire The Police?


Does your city need to save millions in tax expenditure? Here is one simple, cost-saving solution: fire the police.

It sounds radical, because it is. I’m not advocating the complete removal of the police in your community. I am suggesting that huge amounts of money could be saved by removing what most people think of when they think of “the police,” the patrol cop. This is not an “I hate cops” rant. I’ve never been arrested and never gotten more than a minor traffic ticket in 35 years of driving. This is a logical, economic-driven solution. It’s about saving tax dollars without increasing crime.

Constables on Patrol (cops)
No other job except police includes the need to drive around looking for work. None of the other tax-provided services work this way. Firefighters and paramedics don’t scourer the city streets looking for emergencies. They wait until they are called. This can work just as well for police.

Why do police patrol? The most basic reason is, because it’s always been done this way and no one has taken much time to consider if it’s effective. Prior to the automobile, foot patrols were very necessary, otherwise, cops might as well be 100 miles away. With automobiles, having a cop in the station house is just as close as having one on foot 10 blocks away.

Patrolling is commonly dressed up as community involvement, a crime deterrent, or reduction in response time, but none of these are worth the money required to keep cops roaming the streets. They aren’t even valid reasons for patrolling. Studies, like the famous Kansas City Patrol Experiment, conclude that regular police patrols have no effect on crime or citizen satisfaction with their police. They also don’t decrease response times because most calls for service never involve only the closest officer. By policy, many situations require the officer to wait for back-up which negates the response-time argument.

The need for community involvement spawns more serious questions. Why does the community need better relations with the police? Police, like their fire and EMS counterparts, provide a service. Why are public relations a concern? When is the last time paramedics came to your house just to chat and see how you’re doing? Beyond the guy soliciting donations for the volunteer fire department, do firefighters ever drive around to simply show a presence or impress our youth? What is the mysterious relationship police departments are trying to foster? Community relations is really a euphemism for “damage control”. The damaged caused by the increasing, militaristic behavior of police and the natural backlash of the community’s declining respect for police can be better addressed in more economical ways.

What about traffic enforcement?
Won’t our streets turn into a bastardized, full-contact, demolition derby without cops on the streets? Nope. Most people obey traffic rules out of respect and safety. Few start their cars and think, “I’d better not speed because I could get a ticket” or “I wonder what I can get away with today.” The overwhelming majority of drivers are safe, courteous, and sensible. The few that aren’t are not weeded out by issuing the rest tickets.

In 2005, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, in response to rampant police corruption especially traffic stop shakedowns, fired the country’s 30,000 police officers. In the months it took to replace the old guard, there was no appreciable increase in crime, either violent or non-violent. There was no change in the number of traffic accidents. As President Saakashvili put it, crime actually decreased.

But I think that the overall picture of crime has decreased. The old police used to beat up people. They basically used what amounted to torture to extort the evidence. And the new police force was educated and is controlled in a way where nothing like this–there is zero tolerance towards torture. Zero tolerance. Everybody thought that there was no way to keep crimes checked unless you occasionally beat them up or managed them with beating them up or blackmail them into something. No, our examples show that you can reverse the crime trend even by being civilized.

Kill the self-feeding monster.
As with most things in life, little things grow to be big things, then giant things, then the unavoidable, mindless apparatus that most government is. Take traffic laws. We codify the reasonable things most people are doing anyway (e.g. slowing down or stopping at intersections, following color-coded traffic signals, stopping for pedestrians, etc.) Now that these are laws, we tell our police they must enforce the rules by ticketing or arresting those who break the rules. The city government now needs to hire more officers to enforce the laws. How to pay for the additional police needed? Collect fines from the rule-breakers, of course. Now we have hundreds of city employees and thousands of dollars and other resources dedicated solely to traffic law enforcement, fine collection, and an entire court set aside just for traffic violations. Throw in the natural need to defend one’s job and the status quo, and we have created the proverbial snake eating its tail. If we could do away with the cost of all that enforcement and collections, the cost of the additional police would evaporate, and the number of traffic accidents would remain unchanged. For even a moderately-sized city, that would free up thousands of dollars, money for things like road improvements that reduce accidents. Missing from the list of things that reduce traffic accidents is “increased police presence.”

The rules police enforce were designed to make people safer, but is anyone safer because of enforcement? The rules came from the fact that most people were doing those things in the first place, without anyone looking over their shoulder for red-and-blues. It’s unclear how police on every corner, collecting money from motorist, makes my daily commute safer. Most days, I don’t see a cop and I still don’t speed or run red lights. I, like most, follow the rules of the road in a very non-altruistic need to remain safe. I expect others to do the same. Before you know it, we have a community working together so everyone gets where they’re going safely without anyone making us wait precariously on the shoulder for some useless paperwork while other cars whiz past at 100 kph.

Safer for cops
Contrary to what most police tell you, being a cop is not the most dangerous job in the world. Cop doesn’t even make the top 10. But when cops are hurt, the main cause is traffic accidents. A little math tells us that minimizing their exposure to traffic would reduce police injury rates by almost 40%. We spend millions of dollars on bullet-proof vests and other equipment to protect officers, but we still send them out in the middle of their most dangerous predator, the automobile. Additionally, we tell them, they need to park their cars on the shoulder, precariously close to high-speed traffic, and distract themselves with document collection and form completion. The side of an interstate highway is hardly a conducive spot for office work.

Additionally, when city’s budgets require austerity, they typically eliminate police partnerships, sending most cops out on patrol alone. If police are held in reserve until dispatched, they can be dispatched in numbers required to deal with the call. No longer would cops be left alone in situations that have the most potential to cause harm. Single-officer traffic stops are the primary source of injury from both agitated motorist and traffic accidents. Taking the patrol officer off the road will eliminate their exposure to this potential harm.

What exactly do cops do?
It is the rare exception that police are in the position to prevent a crime from happening. When it does happen, it makes headlines exactly because it is the exception to the rule. The bulk of police work is post-crime. Investigations, interviews, evidence gathering, prosecution, and paperwork make up the majority of policing. Imagine how many crimes could be solved by reallocating the roving officers to these duties. But if money is to be saved, imagine how things would remain unchanged if the police department consisted of only the investigative wing.

We’ve come to believe police have special powers, but in most states, any citizen has almost all the same powers a cops has. Police simply have cute uniforms, shiny badges, government-issued guns, and special immunity. It’s that immunity that is the rub. Immunity fosters no accountability. Private security can and does offer all, if not more, of the protection the police provide. Plus, they are accountable for their behavior. If the police beat a suspect, they answer to only themselves via internal affairs. If a security guard beats someone, they answer to their employer and the courts. That puts a new spin on “justifiable force.” A private company or employee has a direct incentive in the form of a contract or paycheck to do their job. Police, on the other hand, are notoriously difficult to fire even in cases of extreme negligence. Try telling a cop, “I pay your salary,” and see what reaction you get. Now tell your private security guard that same thing and see if their job performance doesn’t improve. (See how Threat Management is effectively addressing the crumbling police infrastructure in Detroit.)

Technological innovations offer other cost-effective alternatives. I’m not talking about traffic cameras that mail out anonymous tickets, either. Those have serious 6th Amendment issues. Nor am I suggesting we employ a fleet of drones and CCTV cameras to monitor every nook and cranny of our towns. Those have serious privacy and other Constitutional hills to climb. I am suggesting we get our laws around our technologies and employ them in a safe, sane way to improve our lives. But in all honesty, being in public is just that. In today’s camera-laden world, you must expect that if you pick your nose at a red light today, it will be on Youtube tomorrow. The great thing about technology is a definite price tag comes attached. Hiring a city employee comes with all sorts of long-term, unadvertised costs. Buying a camera is a clear red-ink item on the city budget. You know exactly what you’re getting and how much it costs. Your town is also in less danger of running out of money in 20 years because some retirement investment went belly-up.

This is madness!
If cities really want to save money and spend their collected taxes wisely, rethinking how we police is long overdue. We are operating on 19th century policing principles well into the 21st century. It’s time to redefine why we have police and how they effectively manage crime. Reallocating or eliminating patrols has proven to have no effect on the crime rate. Why not take this to its logical conclusion? The first step is an honest evaluation of what police in our society really do and should do. It requires we drop any sentimental feelings we have for a uniform and honestly examine the mission of our police departments. If we want them to be self-feeding, collection agencies with little accountability, we can proceed with the status quo. If we want them to be effective crime* prosecution forces, it’s time to reorganize exactly what they do, how they do it, and how we pay for it.

*Crime here is defined as acts that cause harm to another person or another person’s property. This definition does not include the prosecution of actions that don’t involve harm to others. If cities need to raise revenue from people’s personal choices, they should tax those activities instead of criminalizing them.


Geometrically Challenged Bumper Puppets

I see it every day. You wannabe bumper puppets wandering cluelessly through parking lots are at the top of my Death-Race-2000, 100-bonus-points, see-how-high-you-ricotche-off-my-bumper list. Why do you think the rules of crossing the street don’t apply in parking lots? If you were crossing a highway, you’d walk purposefully and directly from one corner to the other at a right angle to the traffic. But put that street inside a parking lot and suddenly it’s a geometric challenge to all pedestrians. Right angles no longer apply. The only 10th-grade geometry you can now remember is “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line” from the door to my car. Traffic be damned!

And that purposeful walk suddenly becomes an aimless amble as you walk down the middle of the traffic lane. God forbid, you pull out your cell phone. Now you’re not only geometrically challenged, your head is in a cell-phone fog. Your tunnel-vision has narrowed 97%. If the driver who has been creeping behind you as you show no hope of actually getting out of the lane dares tap their horn in a friendly, “Hey, asshole, try actually crossing the street before I mount the curb,” gesture, you prepare your best stink-eye for a glare in their direction.

The last leg of my morning commute is the long walk from a section of parking lot that, frankly, could use a tram running every five minutes. I see the abhorrent lane-danglers there, too. These are otherwise brilliant people. Some are even rocket scientist, literally. Most ignore the thoughtfully installed sidewalk. God forbid I invite them to trade the asphalt for concrete. I get the extra-smelly stink-eye and my lunch stolen from the break-room fridge.

I’ve struggled with these feelings for far too long. Though, as these paragraphs witness, I haven’t completely come to terms with my geometrical demons, I have resigned myself to trusting in Darwinian evolution to do its job. Let the herd be thinned by metal and plastic flinging the mindlessly self-absorbed into light post and bushes! At least I can enjoy my lunch secure in the knowledge there will be an open parking space closer to the door tomorrow.


Driving Assumptions

You’re Welcome in My Home Town and Never Lost

Originally written in June 2006. I have since sold that old pickup truck and I miss it.

I don’t know when it happened, but somehow I’ve become the traffic concierge in my town. I guess it is because I look like a local should look. People make so many baseless assumptions and they make them in an instant, with one glance, at a traffic light.

I live in Alabama. Now you’ve already made many assumptions about me, not based on facts, but based on your own prejudices. The county I live in is not isolated in the backwoods and laced together with dirt roads. There are half a million people in my area and enough high tech jobs to give Silicon Valley a run for its money. But the image of the typical Alabamian is obviously etched in people’s minds. Let’s examine some of the key attributes of what constitutes the typical Alabamian.

They drive a pick-up truck
Ok, you’ve got me on that one. I drive a 1988 Isuzu pick-up with a bent rear bumper, a few other dents, and no air conditioning. The lack of AC in my old junker is important as you will shortly see.

They chew tobacco
Now I don’t chew tobacco, but I do smoke a pipe and a corn cob pipe just adds to the stereotype. I don’t use corn cob pipes for the charm. I do it because they’re cheap and disposable. Unfortunately, it plays right into the stereotype.

They’re overall-wearing farmers
I’m not even close on this one. I don’t own a single pair of overalls and the closest thing I’ve done to farming is plant a few tomatoes in the back yard. My wardrobe consists mainly of business casual with a few suits for the big occasions.

The happening
I don’t know when it happened, but I do know that broken air conditioner is the primary reason I’ve become the traffic concierge. With the windows down, I’m an open target at red lights around town. My first encounter happened on my way to work one morning. The radio news was interrupted by a woman’s voice shouting over the car engines. “Excuse me! Excuse me! Do you know where the Greyhound is?” was coming from the lane next to me. It took me a second to realize she was looking for the bus station. Really, who calls it “the Greyhound?” No one around here, that’s for sure. So she must be from out of town, way out of town.

Raised to be polite, gentile, helpful…you know, the typical Southern gentleman…I gave the woman quick directions to the bus station. As I pulled away, a realization slowly came to me; that women thought I looked like I knew where the bus station was. What gave her that impression? The more I thought about it, the more it bothered me. The fact that I actually know started to bother me even more. Of course, I’ve lived here 25 years and know a lot about my town. Still, she took one look and within two seconds, decided that I looked like a local and, furthermore, I looked like I knew where the bus station is. That darn air conditioner has a secondary contribution to the situation. With the window down, my hair tends to get a little disheveled during the drive to work.

My second encounter came a few weeks later. Both my daughters recently moved out and I made many trips, hauling furniture and boxes in my old beater to their new apartments. Nothing says “Jed Clampett” like a 20-year-old pickup with a mattress in the bed. During one of these trips, I was again accosted by a very well dress woman driving a BMW. In this day and age, you would assume that a luxury vehicle like that would come with a GPS navigation system, which I’m pretty sure it does. She, however, seeing my window down, decided to confirm the directions she had with a local.

I’m not sure how to deal with my de-facto status as the town concierge. Since I’m not the type of person to be openly cruel to anyone, I’ve taken my new job in stride. As long as they are polite, I’ll continue to be helpful. But I have plans for the first person to demand directions. You know the type. They think you owe them something just because they ask with an attitude. The person who pulls up beside me at the traffic light and gives me attitude while requesting my assistance is in for a surprise. They’ll end up in the worst part of town and they’ll deserve it. The one stereotype that is absolutely dead on is that Southerners are polite. We expect politeness in return. When dealing with any group of people, there are some basic assumptions that hold true.

Courtesy is never misplaced
“Please” and “thank you” are never the wrong words to say and will get you through some very tough situations. Rudeness will only be met with rudeness. This is true in face-to-face interactions and phone conversations.

Accents indicate nothing
Other than the region of the country where you were raised, your accent tells nothing about you. The fact that someone doesn’t pronounce words exactly like you is no indication of their level of education or their ability to think rationally. The next time someone uses the work “y’all” in conversation with you, don’t automatically dismiss everything that comes after.

Driving is a community affair
You are not the only person on the road. The other drivers are not out there just to get in your way and frustrate your attempts to get where you are going. In fact, some of us are out there to help you. Courtesy comes in to play here, too. Use a turn signal for cheese sake! We can’t read your mind.

I’m tempted to get my AC fixed, but I actually enjoy the human interaction. We think that we become invisible when in our cars, but my new role has taught me one thing: there are still people in those tin cans. They’re not morons, idiots, maniacs, or any other label that we shout out the window in frustration. They are people just like me. We all have the same basic needs and sometimes depend on the kindness of strangers to get us where we’re going. The next time someone asks you for directions, be kind. It might be me visiting your home town and testing you. You might be the next chosen franchise owner in my growing traffic concierge business.


Road Rage Rants

This was the third Saturday in a row that put me on the road. This time it was to meet my sister half-way to Arkansas in BF, Mississippi. There we exchanged my passenger, mom, so she could return home after about a six-week visit to Bama. As always, I took my camera along. Instead of vlogging the trip, I ended up with 5 minutes of me screaming at other drivers and ranting about stupid traffic tricks. You can watch me curse at my fellow road occupants and almost have a stroke.

Link for the embed impaired

AC · Associated Content · Facebook · HTML · Twitter

Blog Spring Cleaning: Maintenance and Other Things

I just completed some long over-due work on the blog. Nothing exciting, just stuff that needed doing. It’s getting a little busy on the sidebars so I wanted to take a moment and point out a few things.

  1. I joined Twitter. My five latest Tweets are on the left. I know you’re blown away. You can see my full profile/tweet-list by clicking the “I’m a Twit. Follow at Your Own Peril.” link on the left. I told Michy it was a bad idea for the world to be exposed to my unfiltered brain like this.
  2. I joined Facebook. I didn’t include any sidebar links though.
  3. I added RSS feeds for the blog to the right sidebar. Everyone wants a different option for following so, if you like RSS, there’s your monkey.
  4. I changed the graphic for the subscribe feature. To the person who unsubscribed citing “Too many updates,” come on! I only post here 3 or 4 times a week. Compared to 99% of the blogs out there, I’m a pathetic loser. Won’t you come back? I have candy.
  5. To my 3 new subscribers, “Welcome!”. You know who you are.
  6. The Plagiarism Today link on the right is unchanged, but worth mentioning because it’s a great little blog.
  7. The blogroll got a haircut. There were a lot of dead links in it and I added some blogs I found via Twitter. Note the links to John Cleese and Levar Burton. Burton is droning on about giving up smoking. I quit drinking last September and you don’t hear me pissing and moaning about it. Of course, you’ll probably pry my pipe out of my cold, dead, cancerous hands, but still, man up, Levar!
  8. I shrank my RSS feed from Associated Content down to the last 5 article just because the blog layout is getting too busy. Still, I appreciate everyone who reads my rantings at AC. Y’all are the best. Rodney recently told me he like my off-the-cuff stuff the better than my polished pieces. When I pumped out Stupidity About Town and saw the comment responses, I had to agree with him.
  9. I trimmed the Associated Content blog page down to just the add-on tools list and the tips articles. Give it a look because the new Payment Helper is there and it’s tax time. If you have a good tips article about AC, drop the URL in the comments of the AC page here and I’ll look into adding it to the list.
  10. I put my new, cool AC badge on the left sidebar. Everyone at AC is calling this the udder badge, but I’m in the top 1000 again so I put it on the fridge.
  11. I’ve noted that my HTML for Dummies series has been well received. Footnotes, Superscripts, and Hard Spaces is getting the lion’s share of the hits. If you have specific questions or would like to see a particular topic covered, just leave it in a comment.
  12. For the person who asked about the top-right image and why it says, “Bob Says Slack Off,” You’ll just have to click the blessed head of Bob and explore. The Church of the Subgenius welcomes all. (Not for the faint of heart or anyone under 18.)

Other than adding a few new images, that’s the spring cleaning. Hope all is well on your street.