Interviewing the Elves

Figuring out why people who choose not to do something don’t in fact do it is like attempting to interview the elves who live inside your refrigerator but come out only when the light is off. People already working for a company might tell you what makes them unhappy. But these complaints won’t necessarily pinpoint the factors that keep women and minorities away from studying computer science in the first place.

Eileen Pollack, “What Really Keeps Women Out Of Tech,” New York Times, Sunday Review, page 3, 10/11/2015

Pollack’s metaphor is a trailer-load of apt when applied to the perennial question of bicycle advocates, “How do we get more people in the saddle?” One problem I see advocates having is that their own good fortune (or commodious circumstances) blinds them to the struggles that people at present considering whether to ride a bike actually face. This is an error that I have previously noted and categorized as a kind of fundamental attribution error, but I think it’s actually deeper than that. I see fundamental attribution error when I see bicycle advocates dismiss other people’s apparent reasons for not riding a bicycle as laziness or unfamiliarity. But the error that Pollack identifies is made on a different level.

Simply put, someone already bicycling sees his or her perceived choke points and difficulties as pervasive. The best example of this is the missing Second Avenue bike lane. Between 59th St and 34th St, there is no Second Avenue bike lane; there are signs along the leftmost traffic lane that say, “Bicyclists May Take Full Lane,” but not green paint or even a reserved door-zone lane. Commenters, some of whom are actual real-life bicycle advocates, are complaining on Streetsblog all the time about this, even hijacking posts about bike lanes in other parts of the city to do so. “Why are the authorities painting these subpar bike lanes in Washington Heights when the Second Avenue bike lane is still missing,” for instance.

From a wide-angle perspective, it’s clear that a New Yorker’s decision whether to bike or not to bike on any day is probably very little influenced by those 25 blocks without a bike lane. Plenty of people, after all, are not bicycling into midtown Manhattan at all, let alone the East Side. Here’s where Pollack’s insight comes in. While we can fairly easily attribute ridership to the presence of a bike lane on a certain street, it is more difficult to attribute the lack of ridership in the city overall to the absence of a bike lane on a certain street. The Second Avenue advocates’ argument is that better bicycle infrastructure on those 25 blocks will have some kind of domino effect, the riders irresistibly drawn by the lane’s presence channeling like a spring tide along all other bicycle infrastructure in Manhattan, thus by safety-in-numbers creating more and more bicyclists until all 8.3 million of us New Yorkers are hastening to and fro on two wheels.

This argument blithely assumes that there are no other constraints on bicycling in midtown, that nobody is hunting in vain for a bike share bicycle, or unable to find a safe place to park, or obliged to leave work after dark (or leave home before dawn). It recalls the old chestnut, the reserve army of bicyclists, in this case waiting in their midtown offices with padded shorts on for the Second Avenue bike lane to be opened.

I fully agree that the lack of the Second Avenue bike lane does make bicycling to Brooklyn from midtown more hairy and fretful than it needs to be. But this effect is only noticeable if you are already bicycling to Brooklyn from midtown (like, I expect, most of the advocates). Bicycling advocates have already worked through all the other difficult aspects of commuting by bicycle (finding the parking space, packing the clean shirt) and the implementation of the full Second Avenue bike lane is the one thing that would make their commute easier. Pollack’s insight is that the one thing for the advocate is likely not the one thing for someone ready to get in the saddle.



Bicycling by my lights is an affirmative choice

Bicycling by my lights is an affirmative choice. I choose to bicycle when I could take the subway or bus. In New York City, there aren’t that many of us. Many bicycle advocates work for making bicycling a default choice, which I have heard referred to as a “vacuum cleaner” approach, where bicycles are appliances like vacuum cleaners. Everyone has one, and nobody thinks very much about them.

As I get older, I find myself more drawn to my own peculiarities, shading in the twists and turns of my personality, and reveling more in what makes me different from other people. Clearly, bicycling to and from work has the potential to be one of these differences. I love it; it keeps my energy up and my heart strong. I get to and from work faster than I would otherwise, with the help of the Q44 bus to traverse the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge.

So my inclination as an advocate, who wants to make it easy and natural for anyone to leap on a bicycle, is leavened by my sheer delight in choosing to bicycle. The delight is largely in the choice and in the self-identification, however, because often the actual act of bicycling is fraught with difficulty and physical feats, which must be repeated regularly. I come home several times a week amped up on adrenaline from the last 15 minutes of my ride, from Boston Road west to St Nicholas Avenue, and it takes me a couple minutes to calm down. Even with that caveat, the riding is still worth it.

When I read Elly Blue’s articles, I always cheer, because she seems to nail the excitement of bicycling without needing to weigh it down with sanctimonious talk about how bicycling must be for everyone. She clearly lays out the fun of bicycling as an affirmative choice, as something special to do, as something that has its own special rewards.

Am I an outlier? I see the attraction in being in the vanguard of a large crowd, but as I get older, that attraction gets less important. The important thing is that I am true to myself and true to the people I hold dear. So when I read Elly Blue on how much she likes hills, I count myself as one of her true believers. Sure, we can revise our cities to create bike elevators on all hills, tunnels to avoid bad weather, gentle slopes for junior tykes on bikes, and protected lanes that are safely insulated from highway travel by grassy verges. And I guess in the fuzzy future, I am all for that. But in the interim, someone has to bike, here, and I volunteer. I want to be out there on the streets.

When and how to learn about NYC schools?

From parentandme1

Re: When and how to learn about nyc schools?

Tue Jun 24, 2014 9:25 am (PDT) . Posted by:

“Tracey Keij-Denton” lieferacey

This is an excellent question, and one that I wondered about since I was pregnant with my first kid 5 years ago. After having gone through both Pre-K and K applications, I would say, if you want to be sure you are on the ball and not rushed, but you also want to exhale for a little bit and not worry, I would say summer of the year your kid turns 3. So if your kid was born in 2011, you’d start the research this summer. Your kid starts Kindergarten fall of 2016 and can start public Pre-k fall of 2015. The pre-k application will be due in February or March of 2015. So if you give yourself he summer to do research, you can plan to do the tours in the fall and not feel rushed. If you can’t make one tour, there will be another one. If you leave it until January scheduling can be a nightmare, especially for work I g parents.

As another poster explained, Pre-K is important because if your kid gets into the Pre-K they have priority for the school. My regret is when Wed toured schools I should have been looking at them for both the Pre-K and the elementary school, and perhaps taken more notes. You won’t cover everything, but you’ll know what questions to ask later and this list is very helpful for that.

Touring the public schools with Pre-k first will help you explore both, and then you’ve got another year to look at schools without Pre-Ks before the Kindergarten application process takes place in February of the year your kid turns 5.