Reading the week: No funding in San Mateo County for Sidewalks, Happy at the Oscars, and Troubles in Tech


Here is what is on my reading list this week:

On Commercials: The Cadillac ELR (Electric Car)


So during the Olympics, at least initially, I wasn’t paying attention to commercials.  Then I saw a few interesting posts on this Caddy commercial, and well what can I say, I decided I should watch.

Other countries, they work, they stroll home, they stop by the cafe. They take August off. Off.
We’re crazy, driven hard-working believers. Those other countries think we’re nuts. Whatever.”

And after watching this commercial, I really thought it was quite perfect.  It wrapped up American values, American attitude, and American smugness succinctly.  With a side of American exceptionalism.  Genius.  The Ad Agency should get 10 gold stars.  Definitely the best commercial I have seen in a while, and it really sums up the aspirations of the the American Dream.

We have the hero, who works hard and pulls himself up by his boot straps to be successful.  And you know he is successful, because he has lots of stuff!  A McMansion! A $75K car! A pool!  And he works really hard, only taking 2 weeks of vacation a year and barely has time to greet his family before dashing off to work. But he is happy!  Because he’s got all the important stuff covered.

And clearly he has the sort of job you can come and go when you please. It doesn’t look like he is enduring any long morning commute at peak. Probably a senior-level white collar job.  A job that is really popular for people who look like him:

  • 70% of corporate board members are white males
  • 70% of corporate executive team members are white males

[Source: Corporate Diversity Report]

Work hard, create your own luck and believe anything is possible.  That’s the American Way.

But don’t forget to be born into the right family.  According to this new study on ancestry and “luck” covered in thy NYT last week, social mobility is controlled by your ancestors.  A lot further back than we thought.

To a striking extent, your overall life chances can be predicted not just from your parents’ status but also from your great-great-great-grandparents’. The recent study suggests that 10 percent of variation in income can be predicted based on your parents’ earnings. In contrast, my colleagues and I estimate that 50 to 60 percent of variation in overall status is determined by your lineage. The fortunes of high-status families inexorably fall, and those of low-status families rise, toward the average — what social scientists call “regression to the mean” — but the process can take 10 to 15 generations (300 to 450 years), much longer than most social scientists have estimated in the past.

I wonder how many more generations I have to go until anything is possible and I get one of those ELR’s?  Never mind, I’d much rather take August off and stroll to the cafe. N’est ce Pas?

Accidental bike rebel

Iva Jean pencil skirt for cycling

So I am sure you’ve noticed lots of bike and transit stuff lately. Sure enough, when you get a bike you somehow are way more concerned about bike infrastructure. This just tacked on to my burgeoning interest in transit and equity.

What I didn’t realize, is that I would be a rebel on my bike. So one thing I was 100% sure about is that I wasn’t going to turn into a Lance Armstrong clone. And since I wasn’t planning to use my bike for “exercise” I wasn’t really going to be wearing workout clothing that often on my bike. So that left me with my normal outfits. And I wear a lot of dresses and skirts. So that means, I’ll probably be wearing those on my bike too.

So on Tuesday I had jury duty, and I had a meeting in the evening, so I needed to look more professional. And as it so happens, I don’t really happen to have any professional pants. I have some jeans, but no proper dress pants at the moment. (The last few pairs I have purchased spent most of their time languishing in my closet, so I just stopped bothering to replace them.) So I wore a dress and a cardigan (and some tights).

I was surprised, people commented on my dress! Some were surprised “you are wearing that on your bike?” And other people were thinking “high five, she is wearing a dress on a bike!”  So now I will need to pay more attention to see how many women are biking in a dress or a skirt.

But I’ll leave you with some tips and some evidence:

*This is the featured image for this post

Reading this week: Promoting Biking in Southside Chicago, Polar Vortex, and Oakstop Co-working


Thought I’d share the things that piqued my interest this week!  Enjoy.

Unscientific study: San Mateo Bike Riders vs. Oakland Bike Riders


For the past couple of months I have been working in San Mateo (and biking).

I’ve noticed some key differences between bike riders in each city, in four key categories: bike accessories, attire, behavior, locking and parking. Here are the results of my highly unscientific study.

Let’s start with parking and locking. I noticed downtown San Mateo has a lot of bike parking.  Some cute bike shaped racks.  Yarn-bombed racks.

Yarn Bombed in San Mateo

Yarn Bombing in San Mateo

Parking meter racks.  But the odd thing is, I rarely see bikes parked in the official racks.  I see them chained to trees, street signs.  And some that aren’t even chained at all.  I saw a bike parked outside with just a kickstand for an hour.  Only half of the bikes are using the proper locking technique and a hefty U-lock.  I’ve seen cheap chains and cheap locks that left me thinking, I could steal that bike with some pliers.

I decided the people who locked up their bike properly must live in SF (since most of them have Caltrain tags).  And that bike theft must  be pretty rare in San Mateo.

Next up, accessories.  Oakland has a lot of “utility” and “transportation” bike riders.  These practical riders tend to have lots of accessories like racks, child seats and panniers.  Not very many of these people in San Mateo.  I rarely even see racks.  It is more like people on bikes wearing backpacks.  Also MIA in San Mateo?  Lights!  Hardly any bike riders have lights. It seems a little dangerous to me, as I spend a lot of time around El Camino, and it is both dark with fast moving traffic.

And following up the accessories, let’s talk about the attire too. Bike riders in San Mateo are frequently of the sporty variety.  Most people seem like they have special “bike riding clothing.”  Or they are wearing exercise gear.  Not so many people wearing “normal clothes.”  Except for the people with the Caltrain tags on their bikes.  I haven’t seen the hip Nutcase or Giro helmets either.  Most helmets look pretty utilitarian.  And everyone in San Mateo seems to have a helmet, whereas in Oakland, helmet penetration is more like 50%.  Another note, not much reflective gear in San Mateo.  And way too many people wearing all black at night.  I was shocked when I saw a father/son duo in all black biking around at night with no lights on El Camino.  Scary!

Lastly, let’s talk about behavior. And by that I mean following the rules of the road (and infrastructure). There must be bike lanes somewhere in San Mateo.  And bicycle boulevards.  But I see little evidence of their existence.  I have now confirmed that they are pretty rare, the city offers up 4 featured routes.  And they don’t seem to be downtown. San Mateo County seems to be seriously lacking in bike infrastructure, there is a bike lane on Delaware.  I have seen a few cyclists brave El Camino.  And cars honk rudely at them.

But mostly I see people biking on the sidewalk at near full speed. And unlike in Oakland, they don’t warn you when approaching behind.  Or respond to the pedestrian death stare.  They kind just look annoyed that you are in the sidewalk impeding their path.  The lack of infrastructure probably means the bike riders feel like they belong on the sidewalk, since it is safer than the street.  But bike riders and pedestrians don’t mix well on sidewalks, and this surely leads to conflicts between the natural allies.

In Oakland, I don’t see many bikes on the sidewalk.  It happens on occasion, but most riders stick to the streets. Or risk enduring the wrath of the pedestrians…and occasionally the police handing out tickets. Many bike riders ring their bells to warn you.  I have yet to hear a bell before being overtaken by a bike rider here in San Mateo.

Riding a bike in San Mateo vs. Oakland is like a different planet.  Even though we want more bike lanes (in Oakland), and a safer Telegraph, we have it pretty good in Oakland.  At least in downtown, and most of the adjacent neighborhoods.  Yes, Jack London Square isn’t fully connected to Uptown with a bike lane.  And Chinatown doesn’t have any lanes yet.  But all in all with the Bicycle Boulevards, and quieter parallel streets, it isn’t so scary.

We have more infrastructure, lots in the works and a detailed bike plan. Our bike racks are packed (have you ever tried to park at Whole Foods on the weekend with a bike?).  As a result, we see more types of riders: parents with kids, people with dogs, people riding for leisure, people riding for exercise and people riding for transport.

In San Mateo, bike riding feels like something for the adventurous, brave and committed cyclists. Riders do not seem to take as many precautions for safety (besides helmets) as our Oakland riders with lights, light colored clothing and reflective gear on those dark streets with high speed limits.

To quote Field of Dreams, “if you build it, they will come,” and the mass of bike riders in San Mateo are waiting.

Soapbox: why we need more stories and more storytellers


The other night I listened to Chimamanda Adichie’s Ted Talk on the Danger of a Single Story.  This talk was both humorous and insightful, as she discussed growing up as middle class Nigerian, finding her voice as a writer, becoming “African” as she came to the US for college, and traveling to Mexico.

I was surprised that the idea of cleaning your plate because the children in Africa are starving thing spread even to Nigeria, in her childhood (which causes a completely different set of problems).

All of this underscored the problem of relying on a single narrative to shape your impressions of people or places.  For those of us who grew up in the “West,” the story we heard about Africa (and Africans) is one of AIDS, poverty and civil wars between “tribes.”  We didn’t hear about entrepreneurs, colleges, dense cities or beach side resorts.  Our story of Mexico, is a land of “illegals” who eat burritos and walk over to the US.  And not stories of a rich culture, or history, or cuisine and modern development.

And we can look at the “single stories” we tell of our own people.  Our black males are thugs, criminals and drug dealers.  Our Asian-Americans study hard and become engineers, scientists and doctors.  When someone reflects a different, and unexpected narrative, we call them exceptions.  Or tell them they aren’t actually members of their group.

When we talk about Oakland, our story centers around violence, corruption and despair. We ignore the tales of success, like homegrown businesses from Pandora to Blue Bottle to Oaklandish, changing everything from how we drink coffee, listen to music and how we show local pride.  Local schools improving 15% year over year or violent crime decreasing in 2013.

This extends to our pop culture and mass media, which ignores the diverse experiences here in the US and abroad, making us invisible.

Minimizing our perceptions of people and places based on a single perspective robs us of the chance to think critically, to experience things with our minds and eyes open, and create our own narratives. Hopefully, by seeking out and experiencing new stories and multiple stories we can create new realities too.

I recommend checking out this excellent Ted Talk.