Sunlit Water

December 31, 2011

The Year Of Many Cities

Filed under: Personal,Transportation,Urban Living — by teofilo @ 7:50 pm

Continuing my ongoing tradition, here are the cities I visited this year:

  • Highland Park, NJ
  • Netanya, Israel
  • Tel Aviv, Israel
  • Jerusalem, Israel
  • Albuquerque, NM
  • Lubbock, TX
  • Shamrock, TX
  • Clayton, NM
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • New York, NY
  • Miami Beach, FL
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Newark, OH
  • Chillicothe, OH
  • Florence, KY
  • St. Louis, MO
  • Cape Girardeau, MO
  • Jackson, TN
  • Memphis, TN
  • Little Rock, AR
  • Ft. Smith, AR
  • Erick, OK
  • Price, UT
  • Ontario, OR
  • Huntington, OR
  • Bellingham, WA
  • Haines Junction, YT
  • Glennallen, AK
  • Anchorage, AK

Once again, in keeping with the ground rules, this list only includes places I spent the night, and it includes small towns but doesn’t include truly rural areas or ferries.  Each city is only listed once, and the cities are in the order I first visited them.

That’s a lot of travel.  I’m pretty sure I traveled more in 2011 than I have in any other year.  It was a blast.

In general, 2011 was a good year for me.  After spending so long without much idea of where my life was going, I’ve finally figured it out and ended up in a place I like where I may end up staying for a while.  Even if I don’t, I do have a good idea of what I would be doing if I end up moving elsewhere.  Things are definitely looking up for me at this point, and here’s hoping 2012 will be just as good.

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August 23, 2011

Big News

Filed under: Job Search,Personal,Planning,Transportation — by teofilo @ 2:13 pm

So obviously I didn’t end up chronicling my cross-country road trip either here or on any other blog.  I did make it to Albuquerque, though, and saw a lot of stuff along the way.  Being in Albuquerque again is interesting in some ways, and I’m glad I have the ability to stay here with my mom for a while, but it’s not really a place I would want to stay permanently.

Luckily, however, I don’t have to.  Soon after I arrived here, I finally heard back from an SCA internship I had applied to back at the beginning of July.  They interviewed me and then offered me the position, and I took it.  It’s with the Alaska Regional Office of the National Park Service in Anchorage, and specifically with their planning division, so it’s actually a planning position (a rare thing among SCA internships).  This is exactly the kind of work I want to do, and this position will give me some great experience to use as a stepping-stone to a permanent position afterward.  The position itself is for a year, starting in mid-September.  It pays a stipend and provides housing and health insurance, so it’s really ideal for my purposes.  I’m very excited about this opportunity.

I’ll be in Albuquerque until September 13, when I leave to drive up to Anchorage.  I figured I should have a car up there, especially since I do in fact have a car and would have to figure out what to do with it if I didn’t bring it.  I hear Anchorage is the sort of city where it’s really best to have a car, and it would also mean I could take all my stuff with me instead of having to ship it, which I’m sure would be extremely expensive.  The easiest (though probably not the cheapest) way to go is on the ferry, so my plan is to drive from Albuquerque to Bellingham, Washington (where we happen to have some good family friends I could stay with), then take the ferry from Bellingham to Haines and drive up through Canada from Haines to Anchorage.  There is a ferry that goes across the Gulf of Alaska almost to Anchorage, but it’s all booked up for vehicles through at least the end of September, so only going as far as Haines and then driving seems like the best way to go.  It should be quite the adventure.

So anyway, things are going great for me right now.

July 30, 2011

On The Road Again

Filed under: Job Search,Personal,Transportation — by teofilo @ 12:07 am

I haven’t had any luck finding a job so far, and my lease here in NJ ends at the end of July, so the new plan is to drive back to NM and stay with my mom for a while and look for jobs out there.  I’ve come to the realization that I’d rather work in the West anyway, and the NY/NJ area seems to be particularly bad for planning jobs right now (which is really saying something), so this isn’t that bad a solution for me.  I’m sure I’ll find something eventually, but it may take a while.  The job market is really, really bad right now, and while I realize everyone knows that, I really don’t think people who aren’t unemployed right now realize the magnitude of it.

I’ve decided that rather than trying to just drive straight through, which would probably take about four days, I’d prefer to take a leisurely road trip and see some stuff along the way.  There’s a lot of stuff in the Midwest and South that I haven’t seen but would like to, mostly but not exclusively archaeological sites, plus I’ve always wanted to do this kind of road trip but never had the opportunity before.  When I’ve done previous road trips there has always been a time constraint, although its nature and strictness has varied.  This time, though, it really doesn’t matter when I get to my mom’s house, so I’m thinking I’ll take a week to ten days to make my way across the country and just get there when I get there.  It should be fun, and I’ll probably chronicle it here (and/or on the other blog) as I go.

November 6, 2009

More Conference

Filed under: Job Search,Personal,Planning,Transportation — by teofilo @ 6:32 pm

I went to two panels at the conference today.  The first was on career advice for young planners.  Not a lot of good news, but it was interesting to hear a variety of perspectives.  I’m still not really sure if I want to go into public-sector or private-sector planning.  Most jobs are in the public sector, primarily with local governments but also at the state and federal level and with various regional-level organizations.  Those jobs tend to be pretty stable and have good benefits, which is certainly something that appeals to me.  I think in some ways I’m a born bureaucrat.  Private sector planning, on the other hand, is mainly consulting, and it pays better than government work but also involves a lot more risk and longer hours.  The flexibility of that sounds kind of nice, but I’m pretty risk averse.  So I don’t know.  Luckily I’ve got plenty of time to find out, and if the economy doesn’t improve much by the time I get out of school I’m not likely to have much choice in the matter of where I work or what I do.

The second panel was on railroad right-of-ways and the importance of keeping them preserved now that rail is becoming more popular for both passenger and freight transportation.  New Jersey is full of these inactive right-of-ways, and they’ve begun to be encroached on by development or even converted to other uses, which in a state this dense will make it virtually impossible to add additional rail capacity in some areas.  The presenters had some interesting things to say about the very successful light rail line in Hudson County and the importance of freight rail access to industrial development, and they made a good case for why preserving the right-of-ways is crucial for any of this to happen.

The keynote speaker was a guy who’s just written a book about Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses.  He talked about Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses.

November 2, 2009

License Acquired!

Filed under: Personal,Transportation — by teofilo @ 3:59 pm

Pretty easily, too.  It turned out that the fact that my previous license had expired didn’t matter at all.  It only took about an hour, and I didn’t have to take the test.

So now that’s out of the way, which is a big relief.

October 5, 2009

Bicycles For All

Filed under: Transportation — by teofilo @ 4:35 pm

This discussion of bicycling in Denmark is interesting, and it reminds me of a similar dynamic that I’ve encountered here in New Jersey.  In my immediate area (Highland Park and New Brunswick), distances and infrastructure are such that pretty much everything you need is easily accessible by walking, and that’s how I get around.  All those things are, however, much more quickly and easily accessible by biking, so lots of people bike.  While in many parts of the US biking is associated with a certain socioeconomic group, here, as apparently in Denmark, it’s much more widespread.  Lots of cyclists are the expected young, educated white people, mostly Rutgers students and faculty, but at least as many are Mexican immigrants of all ages, and a broad cross-section of other parts of society is also represented.  Unlike in Denmark, however, the transportation system here isn’t designed for bikes at all.  The roads are narrow and crowded, and I have yet to see one with any sort of bike lane, so people mostly bike on the sidewalk, which is also narrow and crowded.  Everything’s just on a very small scale, and while plenty of the roads are oriented toward cars, very few were designed for the amount of traffic they now get.  The traffic jams in Highland Park are absurd for such a small town.  This, however, actually makes biking even more attractive in some ways, since it means that for a great many trips biking is not only faster than walking, it’s also faster than driving.  The driving force behind all of this, however, is just the density and socioeconomic profile of the area, not any deliberate policy choices to encourage biking, which makes it sound much like the pre-1970s Danish situation.  Obviously rather few places in the US are like this, so the general implications are probably fairly limited, but it’s interesting to see the dynamics in action.

August 23, 2009

Sigh

Filed under: Land,Transportation — by teofilo @ 10:55 am

This sort of thing shows that planning as a profession still has a long way to go to turn away from the mistakes of the past.  There are a lot of good ideas out there about how to do planning right, but they clearly aren’t getting through when you have projects like this being proposed.  If they’re expecting that many more people to move into the area over the next few decades, they should be figuring out ways to fit them into the already-existing development in that area, which is already quite extensively developed.  Building new highways to facilitate new greenfield development is so twentieth-century.  We should be past that mindset now, but it seems we’re not.  Note, by the way, that the cowboy and the Sierra Club representative quoted in the article are on the same side of the issue here.

August 10, 2009

Going Back To Houston, Houston, Houston

Filed under: Personal,Transportation — by teofilo @ 9:22 am

For reasons that are complicated but not very interesting, I am going to begin my journey from Albuquerque to New Jersey by driving to Houston.  I’m leaving in a few minutes.  I’m going to take a relatively leisurely drive out there, then fly from Houston to Newark.  I should have internet access for most of the trip, but I don’t know what the situation will be once I get to NJ.

July 9, 2009

Bichidi Adin

Filed under: Transportation — by teofilo @ 9:24 pm

In the course of discussing congestion tolling and responding to the frequent complaint that measures like this to make driving more expensive will, in places that are extremely auto-oriented like most of the US, have a disproportionate effect on poor people who have few options other than driving, Ryan Avent notes one fact that gets surprisingly little attention in arguments like this: cars are expensive.  So expensive, in fact, that the really desperately poor can’t afford them at all, and the somewhat less poor end up spending huge amounts of their meager income on financing car purchases, often on extortionary terms.

Moreover, this is not something that depends much on the nature of the transportation infrastructure or the availability of alternatives.  A car doesn’t necessarily cost exactly the same amount of money in DC as it does in Raleigh, but from the perspective of a poor person it’s going to be extremely expensive in either place.  So expensive that a lot of poor people simply are not able to buy one, and they end up taking public transportation, which is a hell of a lot easier in DC than it is in Raleigh.

If Raleigh were to significantly improve its public transportation system, however, by using the revenue from congestion tolling or otherwise, it would become much easier for a poor person to live without a car there.  Which, again, isn’t really a choice; the poor person is going to be living without a car in either case, so whether there are tolls on the roads doesn’t have much direct effect on their everyday life.  Whether there is reliable bus or rail service, however, has a huge effect.

I think one of the main reasons this doesn’t get much attention is that people like this, who are very numerous, are nevertheless mostly invisible to the middle-class people (of whom, I hasten to add, I am one) who tend to do most of the talking.  The downside of tolling is obvious to a middle-class person with a car who lives in a place like Raleigh (or, say, Albuquerque) and drives everywhere, and it’s easy to assume that it’s impossible to live somewhere like that without a car, and that tolling will therefore impact everyone.  Since poor people have the least money, it seems obvious that they will be hit hardest.  And, indeed, many poor people do have cars and will be hit hard by measures like this.  But not all.

It is actually possible to live in Albuquerque without a car; I’ve done it, and I’ve known plenty of other people who have.  In certain parts of town, like where I lived, it’s not even that difficult.  In most of the city, however, including most of the areas where poor people live, it’s very difficult, and requires being hugely dependent on a notoriously unreliable bus system to get anywhere.  People still do it, though, because they can’t afford cars.

To take this argument to something of an extreme, I’d like to mention how this works in an area of the country that isn’t going to be getting any tolls roads or public transportation options anytime soon: the Navajo Reservation, which encompasses a huge area of rural New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah.  This area, basically the parts of the three states that meet at the Four Corners, has both a very low population density (that data is a little old, but these newer maps tell basically the same story) and a very high poverty rate.  In essence, this is a huge, sparsely populated, and very poor part of the country.

In a place like this, there’s literally no practical way to get around except by driving.  Under the circumstances, it would make sense for people to have cars.  And, indeed, most people do.  They aren’t good cars, in general, or new cars, but people do whatever they can to buy cars.  This generally involves going massively into debt to buy a used car that isn’t in very good condition and is likely to break down a lot but is all that they can afford.  Sometimes they can’t afford even that, and the car ends up being repossessed.  Unscrupulous car dealers in Reservation border towns like Farmington and Gallup take advantage of Navajos’ poverty and lack of education to massively rip them off on the financing terms in ways that can be either legal or illegal.  People fall into these traps all the time, because there’s not much else they can do.  They need a car.  It’s the only way they can get around.

One other thing about Navajos, however, in addition to being poor and living in isolated locations, is that they tend to have big families.  Frequently, therefore, more than one person in a family will need to regularly drive somewhere, for work or other purposes.  If the family can afford to, they will generally buy as many cars as they need, but many (perhaps most) families can’t, and they end up with fewer cars than they need.

How do they deal with this problem?  In a variety of ways.  If they can time their schedules right, different family members can share the same vehicle and use it at different times.  If this doesn’t work out, they can carpool, which generally results in huge increases in travel time.  If this won’t work and one family member’s need for the car is considered much more important than another, that person may get to use the car and the other person is out of luck.  If they feel like they really need to get somewhere, they may hitchhike.  If you drive around the Reservation for any significant length of time, you will see many, many hitchhikers.  If they can’t get anyone to pick them up, sometimes these hitchhikers will walk the whole way, even if it’s many miles in the blazing sun.  The experience of doing one of these walks is likely to make someone appreciate the importance of having a car.

The moral of this, to the extent that there is one, is really just that it sucks to be poor.  It especially sucks to be poor in an isolated rural area where buying a very expensive vehicle is the only option for getting around, even though it ultimately makes you even poorer.

It sucks to be poor in cities too, of course, but at least there you don’t necessarily need a vehicle the way you might out in the sticks.  If the city in question has a decent public transportation system, it makes it a lot easier to live there without much money.  If not, it sucks more.  Either way, though, the world looks different if you’re too poor to buy a car, and the advantages and disadvantages of different transportation policies are not necessarily the same as those for middle-class people who can easily afford cars.

June 12, 2009

Keep Them Pumpjacks Running

Filed under: Transportation — by teofilo @ 1:40 am

I thought the price of gas seemed pretty high when I filled up the other day.  Oh well.  I don’t do much driving these days anyway.  Plus maybe this’ll keep Farmington afloat for the rest of the time I’m out here, which would be nice.

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