Sunday, August 31, 2008


*This is a somewhat politically charged post. I want to be fair but sometimes I let my personal feeling on my blog take precedent. To new readers, irritated readers, and future employers, I am capable of unbiased whining. :)

click the image to see a larger version. if you don't this post won't make sense, will it?

I had to heavily edit this photograph to make my issue clear, but I want to emphasize that it was extremely visible from a hurtling train. It was so visible that I was immediately outraged and began to fume so much that the teenagers asking for donations to their charity basketball game quickly backed away.

The building pictured is where the CTA trains go at the end of the day. It's where they're likely repaired. From my vantage point little CTA workers' heads bobbed up and down as they came and went throughout their CTA building. So in theory this is government property. Government property that is supporting asshole candidate Ron Paul.

Let's get a little personal: I hate Ron Paul. I think Ron Paul is a joke, which is good because if he were a viable threat, and he won, I'd probably throw in the towel on life. As it stands, the damage he's done is bringing young (admittedly dumb) minds to his right wing agenda, promising that the legacy of right-wing buffonery can continue.

In reality, the sign is probably the result of one [dumb] enthusiastically CTA employee. However, this sign faces billions of people each day and reinforces CTA's stance on politics. If CTA support Ron Paul then it must therefore support the following:

-A pro-life agenda
-Stem cell research is "manufacturing babies to be used for research."
-Doctors perform abortions for the money
-U.S. Border Patrol
-Death penalty for doctors performing abortion and jail time for women who have abortions
-And basically overturn Roe v. Wade
Favoring abstinence only education, which, historically favors misinformation and has shown to hurt students
-Income tax resistance
-You know, I don't think I can go on, but I think Wikipedia can.

By the way, I don't know what to make out of the post I found on Feministe while I was Googling (to make sure I had my facts right). It makes my head spin. (Which is why I simply can not go on.)

Support these in your personal life. Keep it out of the workplace, CTA. Everyone else does.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Anarchism (and organized!)

I stumbled on this tonight on Flickr. User kjmatthews photographed it when he saw it on the MTA.

I think it's hilarious.

This is Too Cool to Wait for Monday

Via the CTA Tattler, an Orange Line train filled with are will be circling the loop Saturday. You can ride for $5. The juried exhibition in an “8 car train converted into a mobile gallery” will run from 6-10 p.m. as part of Art on Track.  (Enter at Adams and Wabash; handicap entrance at Washington and Wells.) Tickets are available at the entrance or online. Each car will have people to inform and discuss the work on display.


Art on Track is from Salvo, a “think tank of artists who have recognized a gap between the broader public body and the artistic community.” Their mission, the website states is, “to provide Chicago artists the means to exhibit work unconventionally…to redefine the public’s role in the arts irreversibly.”


I think this is super cool. From the standpoint of an artist, the exposure to billions of people sounds like a phenomenal opportunity. From the standpoint of a rider, I’m jealous this isn’t available in DC or Baltimore. Let’s work on that, people! (Can we get a Christmas train, too?)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Clean and Cool Bathroom for Grand Central Station

New York City’s Grand Central Station has been named a finalist for America’s Best Bathroom by Wallet Pop. The Station is joined by stiff competition: fancy hotels, museums, Louis Armstrong, and, oddly, CBGB’s—ew? From Wallet Pop’s entry:

Grand Central Station

2008 Rank: Finalist
Location: New York, New York

The recent renovation in Grand Central Terminal in New York reflects the architect’s philosophy of designing restrooms that not only befit the grandeur of one our most prized national landmarks, but also a belief in an exceptional design aesthetic with the use of high quality materials: Bottocino marble walls, terrazzo seamless flooring, stainless steel doors, Stony Creek granite partitions and high quality sustainable light fixtures.

Sounds pretty fancy for a terminal restroom. Good job, New York!


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Headache in my Metro Cavity

There’s a giant Metro clusterfuck this week in DC. I could point you to the Washington Post article from this weekend but DCist takes care of that plus its own take on how This is Really Annoying. (Or I may have projected that, it’s Tuesday.) Either way, if you need the Metro this week/end you’re screwed.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Because I post an excessive amount of news links I'm going to try and limit these posts to the weekend, with the exception of finds I just can't hold quietly. I'm trying to get to bed in the next three minutes so prepare for a link assault!

New York's CityRacks has a design competition to design clever bike racks. This is old to everyone but me but I'm still really fascinated (I'll try and touch on it next week) I hope DC will do this next.

The Bonnie and Clyde of graffiti was arrested this week. They're wanted in New York...and Europe...for destruction of...whatever. They've been accused of tagging subway cars, and it is illegal, but street art is the best enhance of my transit commute.

An empty bus crashed into an apartment building in Alexandria. The driver asked its passengers to exit the vehicle because the breaks were misbehaving. He was then forced to exit the vehicle before it careened down a hill.

A Ghost Bike was knocked down in New York. I'm bummed. I first found Ghost Bikes through Broken Bike/Contemporary Finds (here)

The Villager reports that New York governor David Paterson is considering assigning a special prosecutor to last month's incident wherein a NYC police officer attacked a cyclist during the city's monthly critical mass. Cyclist Christopher Long, a sales associate at a grocery store, is a U.S. veteran. The officer comes from a family of NYC cops.

"What I want to show is that there is support all across New York from a variety of groups to hold police accountable for their actions," Councilmember Rosie Mendez said.

Mendez held a meeting last month to discuss the incident. Paterson was arrested in 1999 with then-NAACP president Kweisis Mfume while protesting the police shooting and death of Amadou Diallo. He was charged with disorderly conduct for blocking the entrance to police headquarters. He was demanding the appointment of a special prosecutor to the case. (The officers were later absolved in the case.)

I am apparently not the only one unnerved by SmartBike's pairing with Clear Channel. The L.A. Times has an article about the new program. Apparently it's doing really well.

Friday, August 22, 2008

End of the Line, Buster

My ride to—the end of the stop—Coney Island, 2007

The New York Times has a great photo series online, "Going to the End of the Line." It accompanies an article about the communities near the last stop of the subway line ("The Curious Would of the Last Stop"), listing each stop and its surroundings. It includes the end of the 4 in the Bronx, and Woodlawn cemetery, where Duke Ellington is buried, ("Woodlawn was hardly the first cemetery to recognize the benefits of mass transit. In the pre-subway era there were a Calvary Cemetery line, a Holy Cross Cemetery line and a Green-Wood Cemetery line."), Astoria's Station Plaza, which made a cameo in Serpico, and, of course, Coney Island. They cover that Coney Island is where old people go to socialize, which I think is its most charming attribute because the old people are there in the winter (especially if you walk to Brighton Beach where the old men are discussing the Family Business).
My only complaint is that if The New York Times had hired me I'd have handed this in long ago. :) From the article:
There are 24 stops on the New York City subway system past which you can ride no farther. For those who get off somewhere else — almost everyone — the end is just a sign on the train. New Lots: wonder what that’s like. Dyre Avenue? Sounds kind of grim. Middle Village — what is that, a jousting park? As it turns out, the end of the line, like most ends, is a place of abiding mystery.

The photo series includes videos of the subway and interviews with people living and working near the stop. I find it all very fascinating.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


You better hope your bike isn't too ugly for Union Station. " bike is old. I bought it used from a bike store a few years ago, and it has certainly seen better days. But it functions as it should, taking me from point A to point B," wrote Georgina Ardalan to The Washington Post.
Isn't that what a bike is supposed to do? Get you there, get you back. Ardalan locked her bike near the station--she didn't even tempt commuters and Metro employees by taking it on the train like I would.

But when she got back, the bike was gone. She thought it was stolen and reported the theft at the station. When she reported the theft to a security guard he "promptly retrieved [her] 'stole' bike." But there isn't any relief because Metro "stole" it.

"As it turned out, my bike had been judged to be 'unsightly' by Union Station standards and had been impounded." Ardalan asks if banks will foreclose houses for peeling paint. I wonder if I park at the station if they'll tow my car because I hit a guardrail in the parking lot a few weeks ago and cracked the headlight. (The cover. The light is fine.) Ardalan asks about cars too, but she's not serious. ...I kind of am.

The story made the rounds last week and letters in response included stories from other riders. If a Google search is indication of anything (it's not, I'm just being smug) Union Station does this frequently. It's not clear if Union Station is willing to waste valuable man hours and its already underfunded monies to cut through an industrial strength U-Lock (for the sake of argument I'm ignoring that it's allegedly really easy to break those locks because it's not convenient, I don't think I could do it, and experience cyclists have said, no, not really, it's kind of hype). Just watch, I'll end up near the station to grab breakfast at Taqueria Nacionale before work and hear the sickening whine of a saw. I'll be as disgusted as I would if it were zombies feasting on entrails. (Queasiness is all that holds me back on a zombie attack!)

It seems especially unfair when you consider this bike on Bike Hacks, posted in May. Ardalan's bike is actually really cute. Maybe it has some scrapes, maybe a little rust, but you can't see it in the photo. I see no disrepair, no bent spokes. I see a basket and some cushy handlebars. I don't think my bike can hold to Union Station's standards, and I think my bike is in great condition. I'm paranoid about people touching my cellphone, my cameras, looking at the car from the wrong angle, and I don't think I treat anything better than my bike.

(It was stolen once. It was emotionally taxing. I'd probably have slept with it at night if it had fit in bed when I got it back.)


The MIT students were behaving as good citizens within this culture of security research. They met with the MBTA before the presentation. They never planned to expose the full details of their successful expose of the vulnerability of the MBTA's fare system … The free speech implications are even more important because showing faults with a government agency's systems is core political speech. The Boston Herald reports that an MBTA Advisory Council Member was concerned with the fare card payment systems (in light of this controversy), and noted that the 'T gave a no-bid contract for CharlieCard services to a former government employee.' This makes the public interest in this matter even stronger," it reads.

Or more simply, as stated by Wired:

MBTA lost. Judge George O'Toole ruled that "presenting an academic paper would not violate computer fraud laws." Go hackers.

So now the presentation is supposed to be all over the Internet. (As if it wasn't before? Reports said that it had circulated before the conference started.) Has anyone seen it? I'm afraid if I look when I'm at home I'll have the FBI at my door in the morning.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Metro crimes are on the rise, so hold onto your shit. (DCist reports that arrests are declining and The Examiner reports that half of the arrests are kiddos under 17.)

Dr. Gridlock, "the Dear Abby of Traffic," is griping about documenting the Orange Line commute for a rare non-highway non-car column. I wanted to say ONE-TIME ONLY like this was a circus show, but he has more to share in the Commuter Column on Sunday and more notes later this week. His morning ride is as boring as my commuter bus (where I've taken to—surprise!—sleeping):

In fact, our car was very quiet. I heard no conversations. No one even muttering to himself. This crowd was into music, reading and snoozing. Highlight: Man offered his seat to a pregnant woman as soon as she boarded.

I used to take the Red Line toward Shady Grove to Union Station when I was in college. I'd spend the night at my sister's after concerts, and since I don't have a car, and MARC has limited service (for my needs, that is) I'd crash in her spare bedroom, get up early, and ride back to Baltimore on the MARC before class. (I might have skipped my astronomy lecture after a Minus the Bear concert to take a second shower and a nap before my important classes. Maybe.)

I should shut up about speeding, now that I am reminded of Metrobus' record.

Riders are legitimately annoyed that mayor Richard Daley is riding Bejing's subway to make the L (I like "el" better) more efficient. They politely point out maybe he could ride his own subway and learn what it is like to make improvements.

48 high schools will receive CTA Smart Cards at a reduced fare. They reduced fair is still only applicable during "school hours" (5:30 a.m.-8 p.m. during school months.)

My male doppelganger has been outed.

Oh my goodness, a green line train hit a man this morning. The line was down for an hour. It's unclear to me exactly what happened--one article says the man "jumped" in front of the train, but no one confirms that this was an Anna Karenin style execution. One article misled by saying the train hit a "pedestrian."

Wilco is trying to organize fan carpools. From The Boston Globe:

A few weeks ago, the band launched a special tab on its website that lets fans register as drivers or passengers. A feature then connects would-be carpoolers to each other based on where they live and which show they are attending.

"The thing we were trying to look at is: What is the thing in any given show that probably has the biggest environmental impact?" Tony Margherita, the band manager, said by phone from his home in New Marlborough. "That's the thousands of people driving in their cars from their homes to the venue."

So far, about 100 people have registered, according to the band's publicist. Wilco's website managers are working on adding features such as automated mapping and passenger feedback. Margherita said he would eventually like to share the software with other bands.

Maryland Transit (MTA MD) has eliminated its express bus to M&T Bank stadium…just in time for Ravens season. The buses allowed for fans to avoid the hassle of parking (or not parking, rather). The worst part isn't just the convenience, but the prices. From The Baltimore Sun (emphasis my own):

Some companies have stepped in to fill the void left by the MTA. But where the MTA charged $10 for a round trip, the going rate on the charters appears to be $20 for service from the former MTA starting points.

Fans can still get to the stadium using other bus lines, the Light Rail, and the subway. It's $1.60 each way on these services, why are you paying $10 for the bus? You can park at the Light Rail or a park and ride for free!

The Sun has an account of its reporter who decided to give up her car for a week. Give that woman a gold star! Seriously, this is part of her opening:

After six years in this city, I'd never taken a bus, never ridden the light rail, didn't own a bike. I live 1.79 miles from work, but had never tried it by foot.

This week, I'd try all of it.

ccording to - a site that rates neighborhoods across the country for their proximity to things like stores, restaurants and parks - with my Patterson Park address, I all but live in a pedestrian's paradise.

Who knew?

Not I. Certainly not the neighbors I compete with every evening for a half-decent parking spot.

Uh, really? You're a moron.

Staff reporter Jill Rosen finds out that sometimes transit workers are kind of mean, that sometimes the Trip Planner doesn't work that well, that the MTA MD websits sort of sucks, the buses don't actually come every ten minutes, that sometimes you'll be late for work using transit, and using public transportation in inclement weather is far less encouraging than waiting for that late bus. Yeah. I coulda helped you out, Rosen.

MARC is providing 70 more parking spots because its commuters had to park in Halethorpe's residential neighborhoods.


Note: I wrote this Friday night but was too busy to post it!

I spent at least forty-five minutes unbearably pleasant and optimistic today. (The unfailing pleasantry was dampened slightly by the dark skies when I wanted to eat lunch outside, okay?) In the interest of being fair, I was hellbent on having a good day because later tonight—and I mean, boy howdy, not until 10 p.m., which has turned into my bedtime—I will be drinking beer. While that's usually just marginally enough for me to survive a bad day Much Much Later Tonight also includes people I enjoy and the general good times that can be positively associated with beer and People I Generally Enjoy. Still, it only takes one person to fart on the commuter bus to dampen those spirits, doesn't it? (Yes, it does.)

Today's insufferable agreeable attitude comes thanks to a fellow commuter:

To the Young Man in the Brown Suit at Shady Grove Metro:

Thank you for letting me approach the farecard machine first. No, really: thank you. I suspect from you suit that you ride the Metro frequently and you probably wear a suit every day of the week to go to your job, which I suspect, you love as much as everyone else in the city loves his or her job.

I didn't know you were standing in line until you made your gracious move to let me move ahead. I had started to lunge for an open line—something I've been chastised for here and at home yet also been teased mercilessly for in both cities for letting people move ahead when they are, logically, next—when it was fairly superseded by a woman my age. Surprisingly, I didn't mind waiting in the line I was in.

It was not held up by tourists, an old person, or a large family, all demographics that irritate me only when I'm using Metro. Instead it was a young man not much younger than I am, and he was fumbling with his wallet to extract money without 1) drawing attention to its bulge 2) dropping the items in his arms 3) lose his loose change. I was that young woman last week. I dropped my wallet and the machine spit all of the money back at me, and inexplicably receiving nine dollars in quarters and nickels I uttered the f-word next to a first grader.

Do you know what's more stressful than running late for your bus and receiving nine dollars in quarters? Cursing out a seven-year-old. I apologized, and her mother didn't hear it (getting me out of a stickier situation) but I still feel bad. I still feel a little stressed out, to be honest.

So I didn't mind. You weren't there for the premature lunge, I know because I would have run into your arm. But you were there when I zoned out and you were still there when another line opened, so you tapped me on the shoulder and quietly pointed me to the line. I added money to my SmartTrip—did you notice? I didn't drop anything or use any unsavory language—and with a spring in my step, returned to my bus stop.

I like to remind people that my adjustment to leaving Baltimore is going poorly in the face of Really Mean People in Frederick County. I like to illustrate that part of Baltimore's charm is the widespread quirky personality and kindness of the people, and I like to list all the nice things strangers did for me while I ran the streets: walking me to the front door of a club (even if it wounded my pride in the process), giving directions to any location from any location using any form of transportation, saying Good Morning and genuinely meaning it—especially when the morning isn't good for anyone at all—just because we're passing each other on the same side of the sidewalk, calling every stranger by a pet name because they mean it, not because they're patronizing or ironic. Sometimes I go out of my way in the face of what Outsiders notice—the appallingly high per capita murder ride, the violent crime, the deteriorating streets, the foul stench—because I'm willing to believe that strangers (or friends and family) don't believe me. And in that same vein I'm likely to occasionally "forget" that time my roommate and I drove to Paper Moon and a dude leaned out of his upstairs window with an AK47. And he was not being filmed for The Wire.

I know it's a small thing, telling some kid that a line has just opened up, but it's made my day a little more sunny, my frigid office a little warmer, and the slowing ticking hands of the clock move a little faster. I hope someone does something completely logical nice for you today, too.


Katherine M. Hill

Thursday, August 14, 2008


More and more blurbs!

Thanks to Feministing I found Hollaback, a website that chronicles jarring street harassment. Naturally, that includes incidents on the subway. I think it sheds light on the issue. I don't know if it really allows for "fighting back" but I'm glad there's an outlet to point out the pervs somewhere, right? Maybe The Metropolitan Transit Authority can hire Rick from Recher Theatre? He kicked out a guy at a show when I was 19 because the guy was following me around and masturbating. It was scary and I've felt endearment ever since. I mean, he did a good job. Let's round up our favorite secruty detail and get them on transit! Anyway, many of these posts include photographs snapped with cell phones as the pervs are in the act, and I appreciate that. I'm never thinking quickly enough because I'm so damn irritated.

Katie, of Contemporary Finds, confirmed by way of comment in last night's rambling post that I've escaped having my ass kicked because... I'm lucky, I guess?

DC's mayor Adrian Fenty took his press op yesterday for the city's launch for SmartBike. DCist said he didn't look nerdy. I think he looks sort of ridiculous...and too tall for the bike. Washington City Paper commenter Hector points out that Fenty's riding on the sidewalk. Uh, dude? Riders have to share the road with cars.

This weekend I'm going to try and plot routes that I/my sister/people I know/regular Joe's would need commuting/sight seeing/whatever it is you do when you rent a bike so I can stop whining that I think the system is insufficient. I can't wait to see how embarrassingly wrong I am!

The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA NY) is getting rid of advertisements for Hello Heath. Presumably, but not confirmed because that's kind of humiliating, because the ads have been vandalized. The ads in question have empty thought bubbles, and I think, beg for contributions. I know I'd have a hard time from refraining. One hopes I'd make my own artistic response at home, but I make no promises. (For the record, I've never vandalized anything...except that one time on the 8 when I corrected grammar with my own red Sharpie.)

I've driven twice to work this week. It's given me time to think a lot about transit: I'm beginning to sincerely believe I'm an anti-car person. I'll let you know how this develops.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Because DC's new bike program launched today ("SmartBike") and I am secretly obsessed with bike culture, this post is devoted to velocipedes.

Of course the city's mayor, a "bike enthusiast" is thrilled:
"The most basic use, we believe, would be for someone to pick one up near their home, to use it to commute to work and, of course, drop it off somewhere near their work location and use it to get home in the same way," Fenty said.
Uh, Mr. Mayor? The bikes last for three hours. I'm stubborn. I just don't think there are enough bikes or stations to allow for people do that successfully. (I do however, hope I'm wrong.) Did anyone try it today? How did it work for you?

Here's, this YouTube video I meant to post several weeks ago of a uniformed police officer assaulting a cyclist during July's Critical Mass. You've probably already seen it but I think it's worth watching just in case you haven't.

Critical Mass is "a monthly bicycle ride to celebrate cycling and to assert cyclists' right to the road." Events are held all over the world (look, one is coming up soon in Alaska!) but probably gain the most traction (pun not intended) in larger cities like New York. Cyclists have long cited excessive force with police during the event. 200 cyclists were arrested in New York in 2004.

In smaller towns the event doesn't accomplish anything--in Frederick there weren't even enough people to attract attention or cause a nuisance (which isn't the point of the event). Given the focus of the event and the subsequent action in July, it's fairly obvious that there's a struggle in sharing the road. That should be common sense--a vehicle is heavier, faster, deadlier--but the severity and frustration seems to escape most people anyway. (You can see my friend Jacob and I go at it in this f-locked LJ post.)

Before you ask, Gothamist reports that the cyclists were within their rights for the event. They didn't need a permit, and, the Gothamist also kindly points out, most of the time cyclists have to swerve around parked cars obstructing the bike lane.

As of July 29 the officer, 22-year-old Patrick Pogan, has been stripped of his badge and gun. The cyclist, 29 year-old Christopher Long, was detained for twenty six hours following the incident. He was also charged with assisting arrest, attempted assault, and disorderly conduct.

And finally, to file under You Have to Be Fucking Kidding Me: Baltimore's City Paper music editor was attacked on one of the trails:
Approaching the old BGE power station--the future site of the Westport development--a group of 10 to 15 teenagers (presumably) rushed me. I was able to swerve away for the most part but took a fist to the face and stayed, fortunately, on the bike.
This is mega shitty and it's been bothering me all day, for several reasons. Foremost, the shittiness of the situation on its own. (Obviously it sucks that someone can't walk down the street, wait for a bus, ride a bike without being threatened or bothered.) But then there are the little things that bother me. Since moving to Frederick I've dreaded riding my bike through the neighborhood because I'm convinced I'll be hassled by one gaggle of youths or another. This is a personal issue, but it bothers me because it makes me realize that I'm Old And Afraid of Young People. When I was sixteen I dated a boy on the other side of the neighborhood. He was short, and with blue hair and black band tees, was significantly unpopular with the dope dealing faux hip hop crowd...who hung out near his house. Because he insisted I stay over as late as possible I usually had to run home and the fastest way home was through unfenced backyards and parks inhabited by "bad kids." This didn't bother me. I was genuinely not afraid. What were they going to do? Call me fat? Call me a bitch? Big deal, that didn't bother me. But now the idea of it does, and I'd rather ride my bike through cow laden pastures. Cows don't call anyone a "fat ho."

My parents' neighborhood is nice. People don't think it's nice because it has a reputation, but most of the unsavory things that occurred in the late 80s through early 90s were perpetrated by people who didn't live here. They lived in the expensive communities and went to the "nicer" high school in Frederick's city limits. The shooting that occurred in high school was by a woman from West Virginia and the shooting that occurred last year solely involved people from Frederick. They just rented out the facilities in Walkersville. (This explanation isn't helping.)

Ultimately I come back to wondering how I would have handled that situation when I lived in Baltimore/Towson. Maybe that's what bothers me most of all, because the visualization is on a continuous loop and it always ends with me as a heap of limbs on the ground. What would you do? I really want to know what Kate's experiences are like and what she thinks.

The blog received a comment detailing a reader's description. Commenter c3104 responded to the post with his/her own account of a similar incident (emphasis mine):
I have been jumped like that in the middle of Fell's Point. Bottom line, people are not safe anywhere. I carry a canister of powerful mace that dangles from the clasp of my bag's strap. So, it sits basically on my chest, a clear warning to any would be attackers, that they will get juiced. I'm glad you were ok, my incident required 18 stitches.

I know we are supposed to accept violence as part of city life, but do we have to? My commute now is disturbingly safe. I'm more likely to get injured because the bus crashed than even engage in a verbal altercation. This is new to me; I've accepted brazen and aggressive behavior as the norm. In fact, I expect it. (And I miss it.) If I did engage verbally it's with a corporate drone over cutting in line for the commuter bus from Shady Grove Metro station to Frederick, and though we're all very cranky, it's not likely to happen. I could probably sit in line on a laptop and remain undisturbed, and though I am obviously jarred by bad behavior, I'm just as bothered by the radical change to this weird sense of classicism. Because that's what it is--these routes are treated better than everyone else's because of the people that are on them.

I'm a downer. I'll have more for you tomorrow, I found a lot of articles about MTA (NY) today while fact checking. (Don't worry, I have more thoughts about the DC commute, too.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Riding the Loop

I went to Chicago at the end of July to visit one of my oldest and dearest friends. We're both City People. That is, we'd rather walk the distance than take a bus any less than six stops. Somehow I've barely taken the el at all on the last two trips to the midwest. On those adventures we took the bus when we were desperately cold and I took the train to the airport into the city and away from the city when I was forced to leave. Forced because my plane ticket said that was the day I was departing. I was lucky this time and spent the better part of an afternoon navigating the city on the rails, which required a run on the loop.

This time around I realized how much I love riding around the loop. I guess if I lived in Chicago I might not feel that way, but part of me thinks no, it would be like riding under and over 83 on the Light Rail: I'd secretly look forward to it.

I took a few videos--mostly of the buildings--with my digital camera using a gorilla pod. I loved looking into buildings and watching people on their lunch break, spying on pedestrians, and gliding over traffic.

News Bites

News news news! Some of it is current. Some of it is not.

Here’s more about those subway ads in NY:

Sexual misconduct on subways (editorial)
Gothamist’s run-down (Aug. 6)

Also, goats shipped into the city to eat plant pests slipped through a fence to trip a security alarm, allowing the media to use phrases like “weapons of grass destruction” and this charming lead:
It was a report calculated to send chills through those charged with anti-terrorist vigilance in New York City: Bearded intruders secretly penetrate heavily guarded transportation site.
You’re so funny, Associated Press! NOT. This is worse than your editorialization that suspected Anthrax-mailer Bruce Ivins is lyke, totally guilty guyz. Sigh.

I also failed to mention in this posting madness that MTA (NY) has negotiated labor contracts two years early to avoid a strike. This is good, I think. But I think that If I lived in Brighton Beach (where I’d probably start looking if I moved) the MTA contract wouldn't have been negotiated and I would have tested my daily commute from Brighton Beach to NYC. CAN SHE WALK IT? PROBABLY NOT. (But I also imagine that if I moved to New York—and this was all speculative fantasy in high school and part of college—I’d party more, because that’s what twentysomethings do in New York, and I’d have to drag a hangover behind me at 6 a.m. Oh, yes, it will take me three hours to walk from Brighton Beach to midtown. Is midtown where there’s publishing? Because that’s where I’ll need to walk. Or bike, but I think we can all agree there’s no way I’m going to ride my bike from one borough to another and share the road with a car. Ha!)

Lame! MTA has changed its mind and is now uninterested in weekend rail service at Penn Station and midday rail service to the Camden Line. Baltimore and surroundings cities could really benefit from weekend surface.

Some guy tricked Google News by adding to the MBTA vs. MIT hack. He wrote that the CharlieCard and the drama were all related to That Song, ostensibly to prove that Google News is a robot without, he says, a sense of humor. I guess the article would be funny—I’d probably link it here with more vigor if it were from The Onion—if he weren’t trying to trick anyone.

DC Buses drive too fast. In the face of last year’s pedestrian accident (and CTA’s various incidents of similar nature) speed = bad. I’m willing to concede that I take a sick joy in silently cheering my bus driver on to speed through Shady Grove Road and make my morning and evening routes substantially shorter. I’m also willing to admit that I’m throwing caution to the wind because I’m secretly pretending that this is completely safe when it’s not. Still, the news focused mostly on whining transit riders who’ve never had to wait for a bus before and I’m drawing the line. I have to draw it somewhere and spoiled whining looks like a good place.

DC is finally bringing it’s bike program, Smart Bike (Clear Channel’s involvement kind of freaks me out), to the public starting tomorrow. You have to subscribe to a $40/year service and the replacement fee is $550. If you fail to return the bike within 24 hours, you’re charged the replacement fee. Also, I’m paranoid and not trusting the ease and simplicity of locking the bike. I don’t trust that because it’s through DC that the bike won’t get stolen. Hrmph. (Renting does look easy, though.) Subscription includes the Smart Bike DC card and I wish the easy pass through WMATA were somehow related. I know, I know, the easy pass and Smart Bike are different people! I just want ease. Rental hours are only three hours, which makes my sister’s plan of riding to work null. Maybe Smart Bikes will inspire more people to ride their own? Whine whine whine I'm going to actively attempt to follow this. I know it's not mass transit. Not in the sense that you share elbow space with someone, at least. Yet I'm deeply fascinated in bikes and the on-going struggle for the road. (Also, I like to ride my bike, so it's a personal thing.)

After totally screwing up my attempt to get from point A to point B in Chicago last month, Diversey station is open. Or something. I'm so annoyed that the station opened so soon after I COULDN'T USE IT THAT I CAN'T FINISH READING IT.

And, from the CTA Tattler: "CTA Workers Get Lost Wallet to Owner." This isn't news but this is worth sharing, especially as a kiddo who lost her wallet and had it return by mail. I think it speaks volumes about the importance of being nice to transit workers. The rider lost her wallet, asked CTA to watch out for it, and had it returned! My heart feels warm.

MIT Students Blocked From Presenting MBTA Hack

Three MIT students were blocked by court ourder yesterday from presenting a presentation demonstrating how to “hack” the MBTA transit to generate fare cards and ride for free. (The demonstration did not include how to change routes or disturb the rails, which is what I think of when I hear “subway hack.”) The demo was slated for Las Vegas’ Defcon conference but was stopped federal courts yesterday because MTBA said the 87-slide presentation would “inflict significant damage.” The students, representing the Electronics Frontier Foundation, plan to fight the order:

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority said in a complaint filed Friday that the students offered to show others how to use the hacks before giving the transit system a chance to fix the flaws. MIT is also named in the suit.

But Granick told The Associated Press on Sunday that the students were simply trying to share their research and planned to omit key information that would make things easier for anyone who actually wanted to hack the payment system.

Lawyers for the transit system did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment on Sunday.

Electronic copies of the 87-slide presentation circulating the Internet disparaged the transit system's physical security and showed photographs of unlocked doors, turnstile control boxes and exposed computer monitors at subway stations.
One slide explains that the presentation would teach attendees how to generate fare cards, reverse engineer magnetic stripes on cards and hack radio frequency identification (RFID) cards.

The next slide says: "And this is very illegal! So the following material is for educational use only."
I know this is wrong, but I want to see the presentation. I’m curious. From the vantage point of a student—and a generally curious person—the scheme is kind of genius. Monthly passes, one-trip fares, and fees are expensive on a student’s budget and the students argue that the investigation points out serious flaws MTBA needs to fix. At the very least, hacking for free rides is far more productive than cheating Vegas, even if it doesn’t pay tuition. Of course, public transit is usually under funded and relies on fares to stay afloat. I’m not supporting that, of course.

The instructions are out there somewhere: the discs were distributed Thursday before the convention began. MTBA fears that the information will cause damage despite the court order. They're right, it probably will. Could anyone with the instruction resist the urge? As a person who is perpetually made an example of and as someone who turned in a brand new digital camera I found on the CTA (and had my wallet sent to me by mail after someone found it in a cab, thanks!), I don’t think I could actually cheat the system, but if people will pull over on the freeway to scoop cash—even as the unfortunate soul desperately clings to the remaining fortune, I think someone could. (Seriously, how hard is that? And how guilty would you feel knowing the person who lost the money watched you take his money?)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Apple Apps

You know how I really want subway maps on my iPod? My wildest map dreams for you can come true—if you don’t mind a $9.99 fee, have an iPhone or iPod touch, and live or need NYC/San Francisco/DC—by way of Apple’s Apps. Ladies and gentleman: iTrans. (Applications cover New York’s subways, the BART, PATH, and Metro.)

Described as “high-quality vector maps of the New York City subway system anywhere, including underground!” the application uses tapping and pinching to utilize zooming and allows the user to search for a station to obtain directions. iTrans’ FAQ says it will account for the time of day when it maps your route, being mindful of schedules. The reviews are mostly positive with the biggest grip directed at the application’s outrageous price. (A Lite version is available for $0.99.) Bonus: the application comes in English and Spanish.

You can get CityTransit for $2.99. NYC Subway is the only transit system developer Magnetism Studios offers. The application doesn’t include zooming—and according to its competitor and user reviews (the veracity of which is debatable)—has less vectorific graphics. Still, it’s not impossible that I won’t download it when I upgrade my iPod later this month. (Hey, developers! Send me your software for trial runs! I’ll give helpful feedback.*) The description does note that “service advisories provide fresh data from the MTA website to your [device], allowing you to quickly see the latest changes in subway service.” Really, isn’t that more than we already wanted in a map anyway? I just wanted to know I always had a digital copy of a map.

I guess you could just as easily look at a map, but in defense of my unending lazy activities, I was given a CTA map last week, dropped it in my bag, and found it covered in a mysterious candy goo when I took it out of its previously safe home. I never found another map. So ha! …My experience has found New York substantially easier, however.

Or you could develop your own software! As interactive media grows more complicated and creative I wish I knew how to write programs. I’d be so organized! If you make an App of your own, promise you’ll share it? Despite its price and other drawbacks it’s still fascinating. Now add Baltimore and CTA to your list, iTrans! I have many needs.

(It is possible, of course, to install the map on your iPod without hacking the device. I just don’t know how to accomplish this successfully, but all of my friends in New York have.)

*That wasn’t ethical.

...and then I died from the excitement

Thanks to a Google Maps application, MTA (MD)’s website features a transit trip planner. New York, Chicago, DC, and other cities have already had this opportunity—if not through the city’s transit than by way of HopStop—but Baltimore’s navigation has been left to the riders. In theory, navigating a transit system shouldn’t be difficult—I’ve been fine in the aforementioned cities with just a station map—but have struggled since embarking on the harrowing journey otherwise known as My Life With Baltimore Transit. In retrospect I’ll regret having publicly admitted for nearly two years that I am MTA Incompetent.

This application is Brand New. So Brand New that when I used MTA’s site on Monday to plan my work commute that it wasn’t available. I thought I’d test out my old apartment to my old office as a means of verification and the planner included walking directions from my door to my bus stop and generic information to get me to work. This is awesome, people. A phone call to MTA usually suggests taking buses and transferring to get from Towson to Mount Vernon. The planner uses the Light Rail (which is easier because it bypasses traffic—it’s worth noting that if the weather is inclement and a tree falls on the tracks, you’re totally screwed).

MTA wants you to know that it’s new too. When you submit your addresses the site warns:

Welcome to the new Google Transit driven MTA Trip Planner. Please be advised that we are still working some of the bugs out of the system, but we believe that you will find it quite useful. If you wish to give us any comments (positive or constructive) with the results of your trip planning, please e-mail us at

Thank you for your patience while we work on even more enhancements to our website over the coming months.

That’s okay, MTA. I understand. Especially with the promise of new enhancements, you bet I understand. Maybe I could download the directions to my ipod? Have it texted to my phone? Who cares? We’re finally catching up the the modern century!

I entered the address for the Ottobar (you don’t need to know where I used to work) from Towson’s campus (or where I used to live) but I think the directions fail a little there. It has you take the 8 going South (toward UMD Medical Ctr) and walking from Greenmount. I guess you could do that, but a bus does go past the entrance to the Ottobar. I don’t mind walking, but it doesn’t Sit Well with me. Maybe the suburbs is making me unconsciously lazy. So I tried Fenwick Bakery in Parkville on Harford Road from Towson’s campus instead:

I’m hungry, I could use a sugar rush.

I like that the site provides traffic data, estimates the next bus arrival (I’m not counting it to be on time) and provides reverse directions, which are different from the arrival plan:

Wow, this rocks. Why couldn’t I have had this when I lived in the city? As it stands I’m taking bike-unfriendly transit (with the unfriendly MARC as my backup plan) and forced into buying a car.

I mean, I want a car, but maybe I want to park it and ride my bike through the city. Maybe I liked the freedom I
Good news! New York’s MTA is (allegedly) going to install ads anti-harassment ads in its subway. This is great news, considering MTA NY took the lead from Boston’s transit before announcing fears last month that the advertisements would encourage harassment. The fears were announced the same time a study found that groping had increased. The removal seemed ridiculously stupid, mildly (at best) sexist giving pervs more leeway into gropage. Thank goodness they’re supposedly changing their minds.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Whoo Hoo!

I'm starting a new job this week just-outside-DC and desperately trying to understand foolproof ways to commute efficiently with as few connections as possible (ha!) and found this in the MARC FAQ:

Why did you buy these old gallery cars from Chicago?
MARC is faced with
record ridership and needed to acquire more equipment. There were no funds
available for new cars that can cost up to $2million apiece. The gallery
cars were available for very little because Chicago's system was purchasing 300
new gallery cars. While they are not new, these 30 year-old cars are
virtual "spring chickens" compared to the 50 year old MARC I cars that they will
replace. In addition they provide over 150 seats per car versus 85 in the
old single level cars. This will not all be a net gain in seating because
later in 2004 we will begin taking our oldest MARC II cars (the 3 and 2 seaters)
out of service for a much needed overhaul. We know that there are features
of the gallery cars that are foreign to our riders. However these
cars carry over 100,000 riders each day in Chicago and are a proven
design. Because of their door arrangement they can only be used at
low-level platforms, which restricts them to the Brunswick Line.

I knew I loved those MARC cars! (I guess I missed this when it was news, sorry.)

Saturday, August 2, 2008

What a Welcome Home

Oh, this is nice: Metro wants to remind you that people with cameras are photographing the tunnels so they can bomb us and remove our freedom.

Was that sarcasm cranky? You're right, I'm sorry.
It's just that yesterday, every station was inundated with blinding flashes from tourists. Look, from this angle I get an artsy shot of the track, getting smaller in the distance! And across the platform, Cheese! (It doesn't help that I tend to shoot quietly from under my purse so as to shoot commuters as anonymously as possible.)

I'm not disputing "suspicious behavior" in the name of Angry Photographers' Rights, it just seems a little silly to hype up (admittedly, I'm helping) the image of terrorism as anyone with a camera. And though "Persons photographing, sketching or documenting activity at or around Metro stations" was probably meant to mean shady and aloof work the language is still broad, even if we all know it means non-white people with compact digital cameras and cell phones.

It is important to note that Metro maintains that photography is allowed. So have at it, fannypacked, Metro tourists! Just stop blinding me, and for the love of God, get out of the way, I need to catch this train.