Origins of interpersonal problems

In her consulting practice, Dr. [Amy Cooper] Hakim says, many interpersonal problems boil down to a failure to communicate directly about the real problem with someone who can actually resolve it.

Good advice from the Rob Walker Workologist Sunday advice column in the Times, this one from 22 January of this year.

I appreciate this as lately I have seen so many iterations of this type of problem, where there appears to be a real problem but the person affected doesn’t seem to be willing to move very far to solve it.

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.




Another motherist piece here: Grandma can’t work as a babysitter for unborn child, mom cries, writes about it.

The commenters hit all the usual points: it’s unfair to the grandmother to expect this, old people are bad carers, relatives are the best carers, it takes a village, etc. What I found most interesting were the clues in the article that the old lady lived in Staten Island, and the kid lived on Long Island. Perhaps this would be more attractive to her if she didn’t have to drive along I-278 and the Belt Parkway every morning and every afternoon.

Why Dutch women cycle more

In this Guardian blog post by Herbie Huff and Kelcie Ralph the authors find perhaps the least persuasive justification for establishing family friendly policies in our polity: it will encourage more women to bike!

Women in Holland, researchers have learned, are able to bicycle more because they have fewer chores. The three reasons why: childcare responsibilities are more evenly shared, work weeks are shorter, and children and elderly don’t need as much chauffeuring around.

So they use this extra free time to bicycle. Yes, the authors contend, “Reducing total work hours and encouraging more flexible schedules for men and women alike could free up the time necessary to get around by bike.” Or, cynics say, it could free up the time necessary to watch more television.

Yes, Holland has a bicycle culture that makes it easy and accepted for everyone to bicycle. But even if the U.S. enacted all those family-friendly policies, we would still be a different country with a different transportation culture.

To this point, read the Motherlode blog post from today, about a woman traveling to Omaha, Nebraska from Washington, DC, a road journey of 1200 miles, with her husband and two children, in order to give birth. The writer talks about how she prefers the outcomes at the Nebraska hospital, but she curiously omits the risk and ennui of driving for three or four days each way, once while nine months pregnant, once with a newborn (can’t nurse in a moving car). I believe Americans have a cultural blind spot where motor vehicle transport is concerned, with the effect that these kinds of behavioral contortions pass without comment.

Americans perceive time in the car as time to ourselves, in our own personal bubble of control. The trip to Nebraska is not a 24-hour endurance test, with all passengers strapped down tightly for their own safety, unable to move, and the pilot solely responsible for the life and death of his family. It is transformed into an unforgettable four days of family time, with songs and banter, bracketing a joyous life event in the family’s collective timeline.

Airborne selfies for bicyclists

In Monday 23 June’s New York Times, page B6, Nick Bilton opines, “Among the first mainstream uses of drones will be airborne selfies.”

Great idea, I say. I can just see how in the near future, the responsible bicyclist is accompanied by an airborne videographer, whose video evidence will be used as irrefutable proof that the bicyclist did something right in a future collision.

As I reread this above paragraph, I see that “responsible bicyclist” can be interpreted in two different ways. Either bicyclists in accidents will be blamed for not having airborne camera support, or bicyclists with a responsibility fetish (and plenty of extra spending money) will rush out to buy these kinds of aircraft.

I can definitely see the attraction of having an eye in the sky to look after me, but consider the upkeep and issues involved. I have to stop outside my house and land the thing, then carry it indoors each time. I have to store it when I’m not flying it around 50 meters over my head. I have to fuel it, or charge it, or whatever. (I am a person who gave up on GPS tracking when I realized that it took too long in the morning to turn on and find my location, which was difficult to do from indoors as I slurped down the remains of my oatmeal).

One great appeal of bicycling to me is the lack of preparation time necessary. I can store the bike at home hanging from the front wheel, where it takes up next to no room in my hallway, and simply usher it out in the morning, hop on, and roll along to the workplace. I contrast this of course with the option of owning and operating a motor vehicle, where you have to retrieve the car from the parking place, fasten seat belt, turn on engine, clear away junk and distracting objects, tune the radio or music player, and then get going. Having to program launch codes for a flying overwatcher at the start of every journey is a step too complicated for my tastes.

As a proud New Yorker, I do like my bicycle, but I am not anxious to have it drift into the corner of fetish object, either on the transportation-object fetish scale or on the recreation-object fetish scale. Introducing a drone companion would be one step too far in this direction, no matter how responsible it would make me seem to others. As a parent, I realize that all possessions are ephemeral and we just use them until they are too beaten up to keep using. Best to remain focused on wheels, pedals, saddle and chain.

C. Niemann sees NYC in Lego bricks

Another reason to check out the Times on the web as well as the paper copy is the Christoph Niemann feature “Abstract City,” which features NY-inspired art. For those of you still reeling from the subway-map bathroom tiling job, here is a further jolt of familiarity in another form of expression: