Low Angles, Wide Lenses: 800 girlpower

Not going to lie: kudos to whomever came up with this ad. Credit where credit’s due: it’s pretty great.

drivers seat.png

Of course, bikes are pretty famously associated with the women’s suffrage movement in the US (and in other countries today) but the auto companies have pretty successfully cornered the market on being associated with freedom these days.

Welcome to car payments, women of Saudi Arabia!


Low Angles, Wide Lenses: The Good Place

The town center area on The Good Place constantly has people walking their bikes through the cobblestone streets–pretty, step through city bikes.  No cars.  You can see this in the background of multiple scenes–the delightful scene with Tahani and Michael talking about suspenders in the S1 episode “Jason Mendoza” is a good example.

Of course, given the twist that happened at the end of season 1, maybe bicycles are…not good?  Nah–it was supposed to look like the good place.  I’m taking the win.

Low Angles, Wide Lenses: Billy’s Car

IMG_7869This little gem is from a Little Golden Book called “Little Mommy.”  It was originally published in 1967–which makes the book make a lot more sense–but the disturbing thing is that it was reprinted in 1995.  Has walking, biking, and taking public transit ever made it this deep in pop culture?

Low Angles, Wide Lenses: Define Me

I’ve been thinking of this one as “There are 2,434,311 people in this city….but I’m the only one choosing to take up space with this ridiculous SUV.”


“There are 2,434,311 people in this city….and yet through the magic of television I’m not sitting in bumper-to-bumper gridlock”

Turns out, the auto industry itself had a better name just waiting: “Insecure, vain, self-centered, and self-absorbed.”

That’s what internal market research concluded about the buyers of SUVs in the 1990s.  According to a 2004 article by Malcolm Gladwell (citing High and Mighty, an excellent read on the topic):

“’Sport-utility owners tend to be more like ‘I wonder how people view me,’ and are more willing to trade off flexibility or functionality to get that.’ According to Bradsher, internal industry market research concluded that S.U.V.s tend to be bought by people who are insecure, vain, self-centered, and self-absorbed, who are frequently nervous about their marriages, and who lack confidence in their driving skills.”

The funny thing is, the ad doesn’t present a picture all that different from that opinion.  Just with a slightly more positive spin and some soaring music.

Awww….There, there.  Think of all your cupholders!!

(P.S.  Gladwell has a theory on those cupholders, too)

Your Minivan Is Worse Than: Fire! Part 2: 2FIREZ, 2FURIOUS

Last week when I wrote that post about fire, I forgot that I had this buried in my archives of drafts meant-to-be-but-never-written.

You know that fun (read: stupid; read: I don’t think even they believe it, they’re just afraid of change) refrain you hear from opponents of road-calming measures about how the bike lane/bulb-out/crosswalk is going to kill Grandma because it’s going to keep the ambulance from getting to her in time?

I’ll hand it over to YMIWT guest commentator Tom Vanderbilt, author of the fabulous Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do and What It Says About Us.

…the risk of dying in a fire in the U.S. is roughly the same as drowning: In one year, 1 in 88,000, and, over a lifetime, 1 in 1100. The risk of dying in a car crash, according to the article, is 1 out of 6500 in a year. The risk of being killed while being a pedestrian? “A one-year risk of one in 48,500 and a lifetime risk of one in 625.”

Designing roads to meet some supposed emergency response criteria, for that dramatic last-second rescue, actually helps raise the risk of dying in a much more common way: In traffic.

Thanks, Tom.

So, it turns out not only is that blatantly wrong, but the roads that we keep as big, fast (see above) traffic sewers so all the grandmas won’t burn to death?  Yeah, they’re actually a serious danger to the firefighters coming to her rescue, too.

“The United States Fire Administration…cites motor vehicle crashes as the cause of death for between 20–25% of the annual line-of-duty fatalities. Motor vehicle crashes are the second highest cause of death for firefighters. The leading cause of death is stress and overexertion which accounts for approximately 50% of the fatalities”

Occupational driving injuries are a big deal.  If you drive for work, they’re a big deal for you, too. Most of us don’t get our hands chopped off in machinery anymore (though you might be shocked how much that still happens even in the US), but we do face significant danger from driving for work. The annual risk of dying in a road accident for drivers who average >25 000 miles per year is 1 in 7000, a figure comparable with coal mining and worse than the construction industry (Harris 2004).  Road traffic injuries cost US employers $60 billion annually, 

Shocked?  I hope not.  Some damn bike lane might keep the paramedics from rescuing you…


Your Minivan Is Worse Than: FIRE!


Literally.  Actually.  Car crashes are the leading cause of unintentional injury for kids.  And unintentional injury is the leading cause of death for kids from age 1 on.  Fires and burns are #6 and it’s not even close.

So naturally, when I saw this article, I assumed one of the ways would be GET THOSE KIDS OUT OF THE CAR!!!!!  Car crashes are THE leading cause of death for kids!  Not to mention driving your kids everywhere contributes to our physical inactivity problem!  Whenever possible, walk or bike to your destination!

Yeeah, okay, no I didn’t.  Because everyone knows loving parents move their kids to the suburbs and take them everywhere in the car.  Actually, not even a car.  An SUV.  I mean, if you’re a good parent.

For what it’s worth, I agree with the other recommendations.  Learn CPR–absolutely. Teach your child to swim–hey, that one addresses the second leading cause of unintentional injury death for kids!  A measly second, compared to the numbers cars are posting, but second nonetheless.


Install smoke detectors and have a fire escape plan–please do.  When we learned about fire safety plans in second grade I kept trying to get my parents to make one because even though we lived in a little ranch house, I didn’t know how to get my window screens out and they kept telling me not to worry about it and then I didn’t sleep for a month because I didn’t have the words to tell them “don’t worry” was not comforting and then I became a doctor who focuses on preventive medicine because I still don’t know how to work the screens in those windows, MOM!!!!

Ahem, where was I?   Ah yes.  Car seats…of course, if you’re going to put your kids in a car, have them in an appropriate car seat.

But our fears around this are so out of whack.  Stranger danger was/is a big factor in pushing kids into cars, but it doesn’t even come close (how pretentious am I, linking to my own blog post….). People are getting the police called on them because they let their kids walk to the park.  And yet we also are putting our kids in cars with strangers (whaaaaat?).

This week Kevin Klinkenberg had a fantastic post about, among other things, the “false dichotomy that cities and urban life are all about excitement, action and trendiness, while suburbs are essentially about what really matters – family, safety and cleanliness.” 

But the suburban lifestyle, which confines people to the car, condemns them to exposing their kids over and over, multiple times per day, to the thing which puts them at the highest risk for death. Privileging cars in crowded cities does the same to kids (and adults) even if they’re not the ones in the cars.

Look at those first two pictures again.  And really think: which one is more dangerous to kids.  It’s the latter.  You’d do anything to protect your kids from that big, scary housefire on top: you dress them in non-flammable clothes, you put in smoke detectors, you’d run back in there yourself to drag them out. Why don’t you feel the same way about the real killer?

Low Angles, Wide Lenses: Urban Living

Reeeeeeeally low and wide.  Low enough to capture the Walk Score of this location, which is 41. Wide enough to find anything that’s not a highway or a stroad within walking distance.

The New York Times on Sunday had an article about the dilution of the term “mindfulness.”  As someone who recently started practicing meditation and mindfulness–my intro happened to be through improv, not some corporate lifestyle guru,but I digress–and thinks everyone else should too, I definitely see this happening.  (As another aside, if I ever start my own wellness company, it will only have 3 components–getting people out of their cars, teaching them how to meal plan and cook, and teaching meditation.  Okay…and maybe flexible work schedules and quality childcare, but let’s not get too pie in the sky, here.)  And yet, we had a work session on it a few months back and the hapless chaplain trying to explain it basically described it as paying attention while you’re eating your cereal.  Fe’s not wrong entirely, but none of my co-workers walked out of that session talking about anything other than how they don’t have time to taste their cereal because they have to get their kids to school.

I was reminded of this apartment complex I saw over the holidays, which was hung with a banner heralding it the “best of urban living” in St. Charles, Missouri.

For those of you not familiar, St. Charles is an exurb to the northwest of St. Louis.  It is your generic car-dependent suburb (and, in my experience at least, the land of cookie-cutter white-to-light beige identical siding houses.  I seriously have no idea how you choose which house within which identical suburb to live in there).  More factually, it has a population density of 2,782 people per square mile and 5 major highways.   It was, in fact, according to the Federal Highway Administration, the site of the first interstate highway project in the U.S.  In that proud tradition, the complex itself is nestled between an interstate and a megaplex movie theater.  Oh, and there’s a gas station for your shopping!

In fairness, there is an Aldi half a mile away.  Which is theoretically totally walkable, but the route to Aldi looks like this.

Given that there’s no way to live in these apartments without owning a car–41 is still classified by WalkScore as “car dependent”–do you really think anyone’s going to choose to walk that over hopping in the car?  Of course not, which is why we Americans drive to everything even though most of our trips are under 2 miles (well that, and ‘murica).

I suppose it’s some sort of progress when language–in this case, the language of urbanism–gets co-opted by marketing.  It indicates where the pulse of what’s currently hip and trendy is.  As we have seen over and over again, for Millennials, it is certainly in more livable, walkable communities.  Yet, it runs the risk of diluting beyond recognition the original term itself.

Is anyone choosing to live in a place like that actually fooled by this “urban living”? Moreover, is anyone who is looking here really concerned about “urban living”?  There are a few suburbs in St. Louis with semi-nice, functional little downtowns.  St. Charles is not one of them.  Why use those terms, then?   My fearful, cynical side suggests that it is because of an inability in certain parts to imagine what actual urban living or walkability is.

But advertisers are cleverer than that.  Appealing to emotion to obscure facts is hardly a new move. According to this article, “In the 18th century, when the contents of the Anchor Brewery were being auctioned off, the auctioneer said: ‘We are not here to sell boilers and vats, but the potentiality of growing rich beyond the dreams of avarice.'”  In a neighborhood and country of disconnect and isolation and getting in your car to go any damn place, the idea that your apartment in a subdivision in an exurb is actually urban living where you’re going to walk to get your groceries or meet friends at a bar down the street is powerful.  Powerful enough to get someone to hand over a rent check by imagining this as “urban” living.
In another generation, this might have been sold as “pastoral” and “secluded.” Today, transit-oriented, walkable, or urban are the buzzwords.  Of course, marketers don’t give a crap about real changes towards walkability and urbanism. But they have the right tactics.  The tactics to reach into people’s brains and sell them on something–even something as unbelievable as urban living next to an interstate and a Quiktrip.
But we should not rest there.  There’s no reason to let people settle for calling something like this “walkable” or “urban living.”  So why not use their tactics to up-sell real urban living–walkable communities, bike infrastructure, bus rapid transit?  Appealing to it being good for you or for the environment is part of the story, but so often it comes off a little like nagging people to eat their broccoli.  Why not take a marketing approach and sell people on the image of who they’ll be with a new bike lane or complete street in the neighborhood?  It’s been working for Bigs Auto and Oil for years, getting people to ignore all sorts of ills perpetrated on them by these very companies while gladly handing over their money and defending their rights. Imagine a world where people thoughtlessly defended complete streets that way.  Only this time, the benefits wouldn’t be all smoke and copywriting.