Anger at the City and Donald Trump: Katherine Cramer in the Chronicle

I’m an avid reader of the Chronicle, but I don’t always stay current with reading it, so I am not sure if it is this week’s edition or last week’s edition (I usually read the print version, as I spend entirely enough time staring at screens.)

And it’s unfortunately behind a paywall.

But, I am going to share enough of the piece to maybe get you interested in Cramer’s book, as I definitely am. The short piece is called The Politics if Resentment, and here’s the money quote.

The resentment I heard toward the cities in this so-called outstate part of Wisconsin had three main components. First, many people in small towns felt they were not getting their fair share of power. Second, they believed that public funds were not distributed fairly. Many voiced their view that tax dollars were being spent on Madison and Milwaukee and not shared with the rest of the state. Finally, they sensed that they did not get their fair share of something else: respect. Many told me that city people just do not understand rural folks. “I mean, we are, like, strange to Madison,” one woman in the far northern part of the state said during one of my first visits to her group.

Cramer’s book is The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

Honestly, I hope it’s something deeper than this because it sounds like so much bootyhootyhootyhoo to me. Most rural residents get disproportionate state funding because of stacked state legislatures and many public services scale readily (i.e., sidewalks cost less per person in New York City than it does in Winthrop, IA.) It also sounds like a cloaked racial comments. (Those welfare queens in Milwaukee, taking all my tax dollars, while I get none, even though it’s super-inefficient to maintain the rural farm to market system, etc. ) I hope it’s not…but I am pretty tone deaf about the dog whistle racism stuff simply because I am so clueless about social cues. I’m going to have to read Cramer’s book to find out.

My favorite About-Dad writing from the weekend’s surfeit

Father’s Day is a trial for those of us who do not have dads, and who will never have them again, especially if we ourselves have not been parents. This entire past two weeks has a been horrible. I’ve dealt with the email blowback of “The Smartest Boy Urbanist in the Room” which was, in general, quite mild tone policing more than anything. (I am not so foolish as to not know that puh-lenty of smartest boy urbanists are just a-waiting for their chance at a Dr. Lisa take-down. I’m sure the opportunity will arise for y’all soon enough. I am often wrong.) I also lost a friend, a man who helped me a great deal with rescue, who clearly didn’t plan for his own exit and who also hid a great deal from his friends. The result was that his passing became a nightmare for the rest of us he left behind. Most of last week was spent dealing with that heartbreak and work.

And then Father’s Day, and then the bloody heat started. And I’m working on a think piece that is going precisely bloody nowhere. The old horse isn’t walking, not even for me, not even for a July 1 deadline.

One happy pick-me-up in the weekend of sadness and grief was this marvelous piece from The Hairpin by Rosa Lyster entitled “My Father Reads Withering Heights for the First Time”. It is endlessly charming, if a little meandering in parts, about the relationship her father has with books, and in particular, with books written by women, including one of my favorites, Middlemarch and Jane Eyre:

My dad, naturally, admires all this without qualification. He doesn’t find her weird or boring in any way; he just thinks she is magnificent — a woman to look up to. He once sent me an email with the subject line “Jane Eyre: I love her.” He likes her spirit, and her independence, and how she doesn’t let anyone push her around. He even thinks she’s funny. He read Jane Eyre twice in a row, and then he read Villette (subject line: AAAARGH BELGIUM). He read Wuthering Heights (subject line: What is Hindley’s problem?), he read Agnes Grey (and then, of course, he read twelve books about the Brontës, and has ordered several more), and he will read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall before the month is out. He is probably reading Wuthering Heights again as we speak.

June Jordan’s I Must Become A Menace to My Enemies

Maria Rosales mentioned this poem on Facebook, and it strikes me as just the thing for a day like today, where we are somehow supposed to go on despite the fact that the people who hate us do not want us to go on. Please go check out June Jordan’s web page, too. And buy her book to support the work.

I Must Become a Menace to My Enemies

Dedicated to the Poet Agostinho Neto,
President of The People’s Republic of Angola: 1976

1
I will no longer lightly walk behind
a one of you who fear me:
Be afraid.
I plan to give you reasons for your jumpy fits
and facial tics
I will not walk politely on the pavements anymore
and this is dedicated in particular
to those who hear my footsteps
or the insubstantial rattling of my grocery
cart
then turn around
see me
and hurry on
away from this impressive terror I must be:
I plan to blossom bloody on an afternoon
surrounded by my comrades singing
terrible revenge in merciless
accelerating
rhythms
But
I have watched a blind man studying his face.
I have set the table in the evening and sat down
to eat the news.
Regularly
I have gone to sleep.
There is no one to forgive me.
The dead do not give a damn.
I live like a lover
who drops her dime into the phone
just as the subway shakes into the station
wasting her message
canceling the question of her call:

fulminating or forgetful but late
and always after the fact that could save or
condemn me

I must become the action of my fate.

2
How many of my brothers and my sisters
will they kill
before I teach myself
retaliation?
Shall we pick a number?
South Africa for instance:
do we agree that more than ten thousand
in less than a year but that less than
five thousand slaughtered in more than six
months will
WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH ME?

I must become a menace to my enemies.

3
And if I
if I ever let you slide
who should be extirpated from my universe
who should be cauterized from earth
completely
(lawandorder jerkoffs of the first the
terrorist degree)
then let my body fail my soul
in its bedeviled lecheries

And if I
if I ever let love go
because the hatred and the whisperings
become a phantom dictate I o-
bey in lieu of impulse and realities
(the blossoming flamingos of my
wild mimosa trees)
then let love freeze me
out.

I must become
I must become a menace to my enemies.

Barbara Jordan’s 1976 DNC speech , Black history, Women’s history, LGBTQ history getting made, all at once

With HRC’s presumptive nominee status, people have been remember Shirley Chisolm, who was the first woman to run for president (in 1972). These conversations, and the upcoming convention, have me thinking about Barbara Jordan. I remember her 1976 convention speech like it was yesterday: I was only just in elementary school, but my father was a local politician and he watched the conventions, both sides, obsessively. I thus did, too. To a little kid with a bad stutter and poor diction, she lit up my mind.

Barbara Jordan’s speech was a work of art. And I loved it: I loved the way crowd came alive. I loved the Texas theme song. I loved her pastel mint suit with the unapologetically frilly neck doodad. I loved how the crowd loved.

I still make my students in my social policy class watch the speech because it wasn’t always shameful to discuss the welfare state in American politics, and people should see and remember the work of Black of politicians. I still point people to it whenever I can because she was incredible. It’s also good to remind people that many of the problems we think we only have today have been with us awhile.

Less well known is that Ms. Jordan seems to have had a lifelong partner, which makes me happy.

She only lived another 19 years after this speech, which she gave when she was 40. Too young, damn it. Neither she nor Representative Chisolm lived to see President Obama in the Oval Office, which makes me sad, because they helped him get there.

It was a historic moment, it was a very good vision for the welfare state, and she was magnificent:

Part I

Part II

Part III

I am the worst scholar in the world, the very worst.

Soooooo yesterday I had a big block of time to do research. Took out the book I am working from and found: ACK. I have two index card left.

Briefly consider going to the bookstore to get some, but they will charge $400 per card. So no.

So I decide to start cleaning my drawers looking for cards. There have to be some in here somewhere, right?

Nope. Old, dead packages of mustard, check. Cords and little dongle things from long-dead computers, check.

Pull everything out of the drawers in a fit of pique, tell self I am going to organize the drawers.

After a half-hour of pulling stuff out of drawers, become overwhelmed by the job, get filled with despair at the mess I have made.

Begin reading The Letters of Peter Abelard and Heloise.

There is no scholarly reason for doing this.

Finally manage to work up the gumption to throw away what needs throwing away, put away what needs to be put away, and….

Get a call from somebody. There is a doggie emergency. Spend all last night dealing with a dog who has a ruptured eye (poor thing) and obsessively checking California primary returns.

Spend this morning arguing about politics on Facebook about how Sanders’ loss might be good for the far left, remember after multiple hours that it is not technically my job to argue pointlessly about national politics, but rather, my job to argue pointlessly about URBAN politics;

Sit down to work.

Realize I have no index cards.

But Hillary Rodham Clinton is historic, and that does make me smile.

Time to do a special study on gentrification books

I’ve finished with revisiting Aristotle for now, and I was casting around for something new to read seriously, and I noticed today that there seem to be lots of new, wonderful books about gentrification out there published over the last five years. So that’s where I’ll start reading next.

Suggest any you think might be good. Happy to look at bunch of ’em.

Safety in numbers, gaps in risk environments, and bike helmets, Part II

If I’d known I could so thoroughly piss off the Smartest Boy Urbanists merely by suggesting that I like bike helmets AND better design, I’d have done so sooner. And louder. One was particularly outraged and sent me roughly 90 emails (ok, 7). I was told I was wrong roughly 490 times, which is interesting because I feel like didn’t really come to any conclusions other than “gosh, these data aren’t really all that helpful, and I like it when people do not get head injuries.” But one of the great skills of the Smartest Boy Urbanists is that they know you are wrong without reading what you wrote or listening to what you said, so we’re good.

I did suggest that I very much doubt that helmet-lovers like me are the reason that most American cities aren’t turning into Amsterdam particularly fast. I’d put that down to our general tendencies in urban and social policy (towards less competence rather than more) in every policy domain rather than dowdy old me with my helmet. And the very real possibility that land uses do not change as quickly as we might like.

There is a difference between these questions:

1. Are you, Bob the Cyclist, as an individual better off with or without a helmet, right now, in the streets you bike in, not necessarily the streets we would like you to have in order to lower your chance of a incident to virtually nothing so that anything like helmets designed to protect you in case of incidents you won’t have in that better bike environment become irrelevant?

2. Might mandating helmets suppress “Safety in Numbers” (SIN), because people do not like to wear helmets, so much so that their reticence cancels out the SIN effects (and worse, discourages cycling so much that people won’t cycle and thus get the exercise benefits)?

Keep in mind, I am not advocating for mandating helmets. I am asking questions, particularly, about #1: in the matter of “should I wear a helmet and/or have my kid put one, too”… should you equip like you are in the city you want, or should you equip for the city you have?

Because if the city you have is badly designed, I think it could be pretty irresponsible for urban experts to tell people that helmets are dumb because Amsterdam! Helmets may, in fact, be dumb because Amsterdam!, but most of us do not live there, and there is a big gap between many–not all certainly–but many existing cycling environments in US cities and what Amsterdamians enjoy.

If you tell people to get out there and bike “for numbers,” there’s a time period, as the numbers build, where you are pushing people into existing crash risks for your agenda and using them as a means to your end. Somewhere between “not enough bicyclists to reduce crash incidents so low helmets are irrelevant/current conditions” and “enough bicyclists to be visible, displace cars, and make life safer for cyclists” there is a gap of time where the risks might well go up–particularly for inexperienced cyclists, which includes kids–and who, exactly, is supposed to take those risks on for the sake of getting us the numbers we need?

Is that time period and subsequent gap in the risk environment important? I do not know. How much more cycling would we need in order to push through that gap? Dunno. We have some good modelings studies, but models are models and a well-designed empirical study can invalidate a million modeling studies.

Granted the needed bike density threshold, whatever that threshold might be in various contexts, how much time would it take to get it in local contexts? Dunno.

Now, before all y’all scream and yell that this gap is no reason not to pursue numbers, that is not what I am suggesting or exploring here.

But I do think that gap is something we can’t just assume away as unimportant while we look down our noses at helmets because in Amsterdam, things are so safe for bicyclists that helmets are silly. I personally approve of many things in and about the Netherlands we don’t have in the US for all the reasons we in the US can’t have nice things.

If that gap is meaningful, the policy and planning recommendation (as opposed to the individual equipment strategy) is probably to go after car drivers with policy (such as price floors on gasoline) to decrease volumes immediately to give bicyclists in existing urban environments a fighting chance to get out there, even with urban environments as they are. Policy changes can occur more quickly than built environment ones, but…I know. Getting such a radical policy change is beyond the scope of what I can imagine for political feasibility. It’s too bad.

We don’t talk about the policy environment in Denmark or the Netherlands very much, just the design and culture, and you do have to wonder how crucial the policy environment was in securing the ability to make the planning commitments they made to biking.That is, do you get Amsterdam as it is without a $3.80 per gallon excise tax on gasoline? (And do you maintain the ability to tax the daylights out of fuel when you have provided lots of other ways for people to get around?) While I see plenty of advocacy for changing design and increasing cycling, I see very little real movement to discourage car use at high levels, and that tepid approach to dampening car use strikes me as an important blind spot in the gap in the risk environment that I described. Now, I know most people who advocate for Amsterdamishness also think that lowering vehicle volumes is important, but that advocacy has been much less successful than the ability to get bike lanes built, and that means, to me, an evaluation of what is possible/credible/workable granted that sticky problem.

My musings the other day were rewarded by a very nice gentlemen showing me a dream bike and sending me an OECD study where I went through and read a bunch of the bibliographic references. It wasn’t great coverage on the OECD’s part, but they did cite a meta-analysis, and it’s always weird surveying the literature when somebody’s already done it. That said, the brain bucket question is waaaaaaaaay more interesting than you might think:

Hard shell helmets:

  • Risk of head injury decreases by 64 percent;
  • Risk of facial injuries decreases by 34 percent;
  • Risk of neck injuries increases by 36 percent

Soft shell helmets:

  • Risk of head injury decreases by 41 percent;
  • Risk of facial injuries decreases by 14 percent;

Again, none of these are important if you live somewhere where crash risks are so low that subsequent injury or fatality risk is practically nonexistent. But do you live there? I don’t. I live in Los Angeles. It’s going to take us awhile to become Amsterdamesque.

These are from a 2009 meta-analysis, so the study could probably be redone as helmets have changed, and bicycling environments have changed, at least in some places.

This meta-analysis in question appears here:

Elvik, R. et al. The Handbook of Road Safety Measures. Bingley, UK: Emerald, 2009.

I HAD TO GO TO THE LIBRARY IN SUMMER TO GET THIS BOOK. You people have no appreciation how much I sacrifice for you. I give and I give and I give. AND WHAT THANKS DO I GET? Sassing from the Smartest Boy Urbanists, that’s what I get.

I also found a bunch of really nice papers by Rune Elvik in general, and while meta-analysis is often hair-raisingly difficult to do well, accident researchers I find tend to do them in ways that make me say “damn I wish I were that competent” and Elvik does not seem to vary from this general impression.

(ok for some reason my autocorrect wants this name to be Elvis. I promise I have changed it back at least 7 times. So for the record, I am not talking about Elvis. Elvik. Elvis. Sigh.)

It’s never not interesting when there is a conflicting effect. They only had a handful of studies on the neck injury portion, but there are probably more studies now on the neck injury findings.

People have taken stabs at the other question above, but again…I am not convinced we really know much. That said, there are some really nice studies out there, but they show pretty mixed possibilities for Safety in Numbers using methods, the data that are really limited, and most of what we have are pretty speculative modeling studies. (You have to start somewhere, but it’s important to not confuse your start with well-validated empirical findings.)

The strongest claims on behalf of Safety in Numbers article I found was:

Jacobsen, Peter L. “Safety in Numbers: More Walkers and Bicyclists, Safer Walking and Bicycling.” Injury prevention 9, no. 3 (2003): 205-209 (here’s a pdf I found of it.)

This is a strong attempt with severely limited data, but he dug for some good stuff. He’s got walking and biking data for 68 California cities, walking and biking in 47 Danish towns, he’s got bicycling and walking data for 8 European countries, and he has fatality and injury outcome measures. He’s also got data for the UK going back to the 1950s, and he uses a power function to fit relationships between fatalities and relative risks. His best fit is not surprising, the California cities, where he has the most observations. Unfortunately there he’s got to use the percent of the journey to work mode share for biking and walking prevalence. He assumes that those mode shares hold for non-work trips, and while that’s debatable, I don’t really have a better idea for him, and I also don’t really have a better idea than using the percentages even though there is going to be more noise from small cities than we really want in a small sample.

I do have some problems with his power function as he has a couple big outliers in the dataset. A robustness check to address those outliers would have helped me. That said, most of the benefits in relative risk reduction on the California side accrue with really small changes in mode share. That conflicts with a later study, but it suggests that you do not have to have a bike utopia to have real gains as long as enough bicyclists get out there and ride. (Aha! That means we don’t have to accommodate bikes in design much at all, since we just need a few percentage point changes…. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH I AM JOKING. JOKING MIT YOU.)

And I’m not sure I can accept the assumptions about distance and injury; he plots distance per capita against relative risk, and distance is his use measure, and yes, but…I am not sure distance is a proxy for numbers, which is what he wants to show. Per capita distance can go up with relatively few cyclists or walkers who walk relatively long distances or with lots of people on the road making close-to-average-distance trips. Without seeing the distribution, you can’t tell. These are two separate things, and I suspect they might have different effects: the former has longer trips potentially displacing more VMT versus the latter having bigger clumps of people both potentially displacing cars physically and raising cyclists’ visibility to drivers because there are so many cyclists you can’t miss them.)

Again, aggregation to the city or nation-state level–he says he has intersection data but I don’t see any, how did that get passed reviewers and an editor? Am I reading that right?–does not help very much. It could be what we are seeing here is, simply, lower car use. I’m fine with that, btw.

The study that I thought made a nice case for SIN, but it’s an APM model, which means limited parameters and a lot hinges on the assumptions. This is:

Elvik, Rune. “The Non-linearity of Risk and the Promotion of Environmentally Sustainable Transport.” Accident; analysis and prevention 41, no. 4 (2009): doi:10.1016/j.aap.2009.04.009 (I couldn’t find a pdf of that one, sorry…)

Their outcome measure is number of accidents, to both pedestrians and bicyclists. The parameter coefficients come from prior studies. For doubling the number of bicyclists, they do not really see a big effect. The big payoff comes when they reduce traffic by 50 percent, and…that’s a big change, and it’s hard to compare that with what Jacobson finds in relative risk because Rune is examining counts. Do we need a big change in the numbers or a moderate change in the numbers? Rune suggests a pretty major shift in vehicle flow, not the smaller shifts in mode share that Jacobsen’s suggested.

Stay tuned.

This is another APM study:

Schepers, J P, and E Heinen. “How Does a Modal Shift From Short Car Trips to Cycling Affect Road Safety?” Accident; analysis and prevention 50 (2013): doi:10.1016/j.aap.2012.09.004. (No pdf again, sorry. I am a Googling failure).

Schepers works for the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, which strikes me as being better than the Ministry of Silly Walks but not nearly as good as the Ministry of Magic.

This study, like Rune 2009, uses an accident prevention model again, but they have decent data, and APM models are not that data-hungry. They find using the data on crashes from Dutch cities that a mode shift for short car trips to bike trips would have no effect on fatalities and some increase on injuries. This is a good finding for the SIN advocates: without a safety in numbers effect and displacing cars, increasing biking would mean more crashes. It didn’t in this APM. And that’s good because you get the benefits of more biking with no real losses in fatality. If you want gains, then see Rune 2009, above.

Hooray. But. And this is a big one.

They do estimate a substantial increase in the risk of serious injuries from single bike crashes. These can be pretty serious, and a helmet could help with these ones. I suspect one effect embedded in the SIN effect shown in priors is that with good design and welcoming spaces, inexperienced bicyclists get out and ride, which is great, but that includes children, and then we need to get real about what risk and whose risks change, why, and what we should do about it. Kids learn and grow up, but there are new kids coming in and learning the system. Insulating them from major injury, even if it is a single-bike crash, is life-enhancing.

One last one I liked:

Bhatia, Rajiv, and Megan Wier. “Safety in Numbers” Re-examined: Can We Make Valid or Practical Inferences From Available Evidence?” Accident analysis and prevention 43, no. 1 (2011): doi:10.1016/j.aap.2010.08.015.

Basically, they say what I said when I stirred up trouble on Fboo and on the blog. APMs and aggregate spatial units are not an optimal way to figure this out. APMs tend to use spare specifications with volume data for the modes, that’s about it. Aggregate geographic spatial units are not really relevant to biking-motorist interactions in any meaningful way, and so we have no good information about design, only vehicle volumes (which can proxy for design if your design is lowering volumes.)

Only these authors say these things by sounding smart and with evidence and whatnot.

Some excellent papers I read that you might like too:

Wei, Feng, and Gordon Lovegrove. “An Empirical Tool to Evaluate the Safety of Cyclists: Community Based, Macro-level Collision Prediction Models Using Negative Binomial Regression.” Accident; analysis and prevention 61 (2013): doi:10.1016/j.aap.2012.05.018

Wegman, Fred, Fan Zhang, and Atze Dijkstra. “How to Make More Cycling Good for Road Safety?” Accident; analysis and prevention 44, no. 1 (2012): doi:10.1016/j.aap.2010.11.010 FOUND A PDF FOR THIS ONE

This one looks to be very promising in handling the murky mechanism problem I noted with SIN assumptions because they have a cool natural experiment around “cycling season”:

Fyhri, Aslak, and Torkel Bjørnskau. “Safety in Numbers – Uncovering the mechanisms of interplay in urban
transport with survey data.” AVAILABLE ONLINE!! YAY!

Somebody asked me about moral hazard with wearing helmets, so here’s some on those (people are naughty):

Gamble, Tim, and Ian Walker. “Wearing a Bicycle Helmet Can Increase Risk Taking and Sensation Seeking in Adults.” Psychological science 27, no. 2 (2016): doi:10.1177/0956797615620784 (PDF LINK)

This suggests that people compensate with other safety behaviors when they do wear helmets (people are smart):

Phillips, Ross Owen, Aslak Fyhri, and Fridulv Sagberg. “Risk Compensation and Bicycle Helmets.” Risk analysis : an official publication of the Society for Risk Analysis 31, no. 8 (2011): doi:10.1111/j.1539-6924.2011.01589.x

And just to piss everybody else off more…I don’t understand why everybody in planning loves roundabouts; when I am walking around them, all I can think is “Why am I going around this dumb circle instead of just cutting through it? Why did people forget that part of why DuPont Circle is cool? I hate everybody.” This study agrees with me so IT MUST BE BRILLIANT (I am joking, joking with you…)

Parkin, John, Mark Wardman, and Matthew Page. “Models of Perceived Cycling Risk and Route Acceptability.” Accident; analysis and prevention 39, no. 2 (2007): doi:10.1016/j.aap.2006.08.007

So now for those of you who wish to tell me I am wrong, TERRIBLY WRONG…I will summarize my conclusions here:

I got nothing I’d bet my first edition Varian on. But y’all haters do not have much in the way of evidence in support of your “helmets are not a solution, becoming Amsterdam is the solution” position, either. Maybe someday, you will, if people keep poking at the questions and changing streets.

Oh, but I do hate roundabouts.