Tag Archives: Transit

ResNet 2009: The Rest of It

This post may end up long, but I’m bunching a whole bunch of topics into this single post.

ResNet is about a whole lot more than simply attending presentations and dealing with work-related stuff. It’s about making connections, meeting new people, seeing old friends. It’s about volunteering and helping out. This post covers the stuff that the other 2 didn’t. It covers all the stuff that happens at ResNet that happens outside the actual conference.

I’ll start by saying how ResNet is one big family. Everyone is friends at ResNet. If you weren’t friends with people there, you most certainly are now. I met up with some people I had met over the past 5 years of being part of this great organization. I also made some new friends.

I’ll admit it. The stuff that happens outside the conference can get a little crazy. As someone once described it, it’s like a bunch of college IT folks pretending we’re in college again. That is true to a certain degree, though usually things don’t get quite as crazy as they may have when we were in college. So to complete this thought, some beer is involved. And since beer is involved, I have to comment on the local beer I got to try.

The best of the local stuff was most definitely from Surly. I was able to drink the Furious and Bender on tap. Bender is described as a brown ale, but I’d call it more of a porter. It’s a very tasty beer. Furious is one of the best and most balanced IPAs I have ever tried. I brought some Bender, Coffee Bender, and Bitter Brewer back with me. I also got to drink some Summit, though it was only the Extra Pale Ale, which is just a pale ale. It was good, but got boring after a while. I tried some Schell’s, but I don’t remember what it was. It was pretty pale, but still pretty good. I think it was an adjunct lager of some sort. I also tried a couple New Belgium – the 1554, Mighty Arrow, and Fat Tire. The 1554 was very good. The other 2 weren’t anything special. I stuck mainly with Surly for most of the trip. Needless to say, if you’re in Minnesota, drink as much Surly as you can. The stuff is awesome.

One of the evenings brought about some shots of Jagermeister. Now, I’ll admit it. I love Jagermeister. I haven’t had the stuff since college. I’m also not one to normally do shots of anything. This was a fun way to end a night (after the lights in the bar came back on). In fact, the waitress even did a shot with us.

We tried a couple different bars in town. St. Cloud is a small place with not much to do but drink it seems. In fact, I counted no less than 3 shops selling bongs and other smoking devices along the main strip downtown. There were also a ton of bars. The first bar we tried was MC’s Dugout. It was a strange place where beer was not the drink of choice by most of the locals. In fact, they were all (including the bearded, pierced, tattooed, burly men) drinking what I would call “girly” drinks. They were pink and orange in color and served in curvaceous glasses. I later learned that those drinks are pretty high in alcohol and called a Hairy Buffalo. The second bar was The White Horse. This place had the best beer selection in town. The problem was that it didn’t seem to have any air conditioning. We were literally sweating just sitting there. The live music that was ridiculously loud didn’t help either. I would have loved to stay at this bar, but the atmosphere just wasn’t conducive to a bunch of people wanting to drink and chat. We ended up at the bar where we would return a few times, Tavern on Germain (aka The Tav). It provided us with lots of great beer (they had Surly on tap, which was all I needed) and a great jukebox (all I have to say is there was a biting incident while Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy” was playing). We were all worried about being on a dry campus, but the downtown area wasn’t far and the beer flowed like the Mississippi in town.

The town is pretty small, but it’s nicely setup in a grid (at least the downtown and surrounding areas are). It’s pretty walkable, but if you didn’t want to walk, there’s regular bus service (though I didn’t try it). It was about a 10-15 minute walk from the campus to the downtown area. Part of the problem was that the main road through town was under construction and you couldn’t easily get across it. The downtown area is pretty small, confined to a 5-6 block strip that’s only a couple blocks wide. Towards the outskirts, it looks like most suburbs with lots of strip malls and parking lots.

On the half day, I went to the Mall of America with a bunch of people. All I’ll say about that is that it’s a mall, just a really big mall. The only thing that sets it apart from any other mall is the amusement park in the middle, complete with roller coasters. The outside is about as inviting as any other suburban mall and the mall part has the same stuff, just more of it. It had some extra sit down type restaurants, but besides that, it’s still a mall.

While there, I did get to try some of the local cuisine. We ate at a Thai restaurant downtown one night. I enjoyed my meal and the waitress was really nice. It’s called Sawadtee (I found it amusing because we have one in Providence called Sawaddee). We also had some local foods. One of the lunches in the cafeteria had a dish known locally as Tater Tot Hot Dish. It’s a casserole with some kind of meat, some gravy, some peas and corn (maybe carrots, too) and tater tots. It was interesting and pretty enjoyable. We also had pickles-on-a-stick, which were really good. Apparently, they have lots of food on a stick in the Midwest. The last of the Midwestern food I had was at the airport. I tried some fried cheese curds, which were a lot like mozzarella sticks, just not as stringy.

This ends my reporting on this year’s ResNet Symposium. It was a lot of fun and I learned a whole lot and made lots of new friends. I can’t wait to see everyone next year in Bellingham, WA.

You got the mother and the kid…

… you got the guy and his date.

So sang the Violent Femmes back in the 1980s.  Well, I’ve been taking the bus to and from work for the past week or so.  I’ve been kind of anti-RIPTA in the past because it isn’t overly convenient for me.  However, with 4 new employees in our department and more people using our parking lot outside the building (because the faculty are still too lazy to walk across campus), I have to get up around the same time to get to work early and get a parking space.  So instead of driving, I’ve decided to take the bus.  I get on the 92 Green Line trolley with Susan (she takes it all the way to work) and get off at Kennedy Plaza and wait for the 55 Admiral St./Providence College bus that comes at 8:15.  It gets me right at the Huxley gate at 8:30.  In the past, I never got to work until like 8:35-8:40 (because I’m slow and lazy).  Now I get to work right on time.  The bus is quite relaxing.  I don’t have to deal with idiots on the road and I can just sit and watch the scenery go by on my way to work.  It also puts me downtown more often, which I’ve been wanting to do.  I now get to see the progress of the current projects down there.

There is a downside to the bus.  There’s nothing convenient to bring me back to Federal Hill at the end of the day.  I have to stay about 15 minutes late to get the bus at 4:47 or leave early around 4:20.  I stay late, it’s not bad and lets me get some more things done.  I get home a lot later than I used to.  When I drive and leave at 4:30 (or even 4:45 or closer to 5:00), I am always home no later than 5:10.  However, I now get home around 5:30.  Generally, I make the hike from Kennedy Plaza to Federal Hill.  The bus I would take is the 27 or 28.  They’re always over crowded and standing room only (and there are always way more people waiting).  So instead of waiting 5-10 minutes in Kennedy Plaza, I just walk.  It’s been good for my legs and weight.

I’m going to continue taking the bus until it snows.  It’s an easy and relaxing way to get to and from work.  I’m just tired earlier at night though.  I wake up about 45-60 minutes earlier because I need to get in the shower first (Susan wasn’t willing to change her schedule to accommodate my new mode of transportation).  I feel good doing something for the environment, and I’m saving us money at the same time.

Promoting Public Transit while Promoting Environmentalism

I came across this great idea while reading through some new blogs.  It’s an advertisement on the sides of buses that promotes the bus as an attack vehicle against global warming.  It’s a no brainer really.  A full bus, or even a train or streetcar, is using less energy per rider than a car, even if the car was a carpool of 4 people.  This means less emissions, less greenhouse gases, less cars on the road, and less noise pollution.  More people using public transit will also likely lead to governments (local, state, and federal) giving more funding for transit systems.  This would lead to better urban development and less suburban sprawl.  It would reduce our dependence on oil.  There are a ton of reasons why people should get out of their cars and onto the bus/train/streetcar.

ProJo got it right for once

The Providence Journal has a great editorial today about mass transit issues in Rhode Island.  RIPTA, the public transit system (buses) in the state, is going through a financial crisis, one seemingly worse than their annual crisis.  Unfortunately, the governor, Donald Carcieri, is basically a complete idiot and doesn’t really listen to anyone who actually lives in the state, with maybe the exception of the rich white folks in the suburbs who don’t give a crap about and don’t need public transit as they drive around in their SUVs.

RIPTA is now saying that they will likely need to cut some routes to save money because of high gas prices.  If the governor and the general assembly were smart, they’d allocate more money for RIPTA rather than depend solely on the guys in Washington to get us some money.  We pay a gas tax, but where does that go?  It’s most likely going right into the general fund.  Perhaps they should raise the gas tax and give all (or at least most, RIPTA does need the roads to be improved and the bridges to be repaired) of the money to RIPTA.

The longer I stay here, the more I understand just why the people in Rhode Island are so bitter.  The government goes ’round and ’round and never gets anything done.  They work for themselves and not for the people who elected them.  It’s actually pretty sad.  If you have ever even considered running for office in RI, please do.  We needs new bodies, not more of the same old corrupt politics that have brought this state into the problems that exist.  Dump the state employee unions, they’re great and all helping the people who belong to them, but the state employees aren’t really in too much danger of losing benefits of getting poor wages.  Force them to pay a higher percentage for their medical coverage and dental coverage, something more in line with what people in the private sector pay (something around 15-20%).  They’ll be all up in arms and the unions will threaten strikes, but stick to your guns.  Working for the state should not make you any more special than working in the private sector.  That’ll give the state more money to deal with the state budget crisis, prevent fewer cuts, and allow the state to give more money to RIPTA, even though Carcieri would probably love to see RIPTA stop running.  He won’t even give a boost to it by allowing the state colleges to have a U-Pass (a program that allows college students free or discounted bus rides by swiping their IDs).

Anyway, public transit is the way to go here.  There’s no reason RIPTA should have to reduce the number of routes and increase the headways so that the bus becomes basically unuseable for most people, especially those who rely on it to get to and from work.  If anything RIPTA should be increasing the number of routes and decreasing headways so that more people find it useful.

Why $4+ Gas is a Good Thing

Gas is expensive.  That’s a no brainer.  Most people are bemoaning the increased prices in gasoline and pushing the government to do something about it.  However, I don’t have a problem with expensive gas.  Now before you go and accuse me of being one of those people who doesn’t drive and takes public transportation or walks everywhere, that’s not me.  I drive to work everyday.  Yes, you read that right.  I live in the same city in which I work and I drive to work.  It’s about a mile and a half each way, but I drive.  Why do I drive?  Easy.  I’m lazy.  I don’t like mornings.  Driving gives me the opportunity to sleep a little later.  Why don’t I just take the bus you ask?  Another easy one.  The bus is not convenient in Providence unless you live downtown or live and work on the same bus route.  Susan takes the bus everyday for a couple reasons.  The first is that we live on the same bus route as the one that goes to Brown.  The second is that there’s a waiting list for a parking space at Brown, which would cost $400 per year and would likely be the same distance as if she walked halfway to work.  So long as she’s working at Brown, she will never drive to work.  If I could easily take the bus, I would.  But I can’t.  I don’t walk because I live and work on a hill, but there’s a valley in between and a 4 lane “super highway” is the only reasonable route to walk.  I also sweat a lot, and we have a ridiculous dress code at work (one that no other college I know of has).  Now that the PC gym charges, I can’t just stop there and take a shower at work.  It would take me about half an hour to walk to work, it would actually take me a little longer to take the bus.

Now, why is $4 (and rising) gas a good thing?  Because it forces people and the government (federal, state, and local) to rethink things.  Public transit ridership has increased greatly across the country.  People are moving closer to work.  More people are telecommuting when possible.  All this adds up to less pollution, less congestion on the roads, and less suburban sprawl.

With all of this, there is good reason for people to petition their local and state governments to increase public transportation options and increase the money they spend on public transportation.  Local governments should enforce good urban design and help create walkable neighborhoods.  There is no reason that the United States should not have a quality extensive, inexpensive railway network across the country connecting all the major cities.  People in Europe travel almost exclusively by train, public transportation, walking, or bicycles.  It all depends on how far they’re going.  There is no reason people in the United State shouldn’t be doing just that.  However, we do not have an extensive railway network.  We do not have the extensive public transportation options of Europe.  Aside from our major cities and some smaller village centers, we do not have walkable neighborhoods.  The 50’s and 60’s and the new “American Dream” of white pickett fences, expansive lawns, and large houses in the suburbs killed all of that.  We have taken cheap gas, something Europe has never seen, for granted.  We are now paying the price of the suburban dream.

Time has a great article called “10 Things You Can Like About $4 Gas”.  It’s worth a read.  Maybe I’ll attempt to ride the bus to work sometime this summer.  If it’s not as bad as I expect it to be, perhaps I’ll do it all the time.  In the meantime, I’ll continue to drive.  I have stopped coming home for lunch to save some gas.

I heart New Haven

I went to a little conference today at Yale University in New Haven, CT. I grew up in Branford, just outside New Haven. So I’m pretty familiar with the area. I spent Thursday night at my brother’s house and thought I’d take the train in to avoid parking fees and traffic. The nice thing is for a city of about 124k, there are decent mass transportation options (CT Transit bus, Dattco bus, Shoreline East commuter rail, Amtrak, and Metro-North). Heck, New Haven even has its own, albeit tiny, airport.

So I woke up this morning and went to the train station where I saw this cute sign warning of flooding. I was early so I had about a 15-20 minute wait for the Shoreline East train. However, about 10 minutes after the train should have come and gone, an announcement came saying that the train wasn’t coming and Amtrak would be making all the stops. Half an hour after the train was supposed to leave, Amtrak shows up. I make sure they’re going to stop at the State St. station when I get on. The conductor assured me they were. That was good. Approaching the station, however, they announced that Metro-North put them on a track not adjacent to the platform and they wouldn’t be stopping there. At least they never collected fares from us. I ended up at Union Station, making my walk to Yale more than double what it would’ve been. Luckily, today was absolutely beautiful. So that’s the mass transit horror story for the day, but it was worth it. The walk was nice and I wasn’t late.

Now, onto New Haven in general. Having grown up there, I have a certain affinity for New Haven. It’s a fine city that went through some rough times, but has pulled out of those. I can’t help but compare it to Providence. Unfortunately, there’s no comparison. Downtown New Haven is an urban delight. It’s very walkable, the development is very urban, it’s clean, and it’s super vibrant (though having Yale right downtown helps a bit with the vibrancy). I know Yale had a lot to do with this, but why isn’t Brown or RISD or Johnson & Wales or even Roger Williams and URI with their downtown campuses helping clean up downtown Providence? Why aren’t they helping in the development of downtown? Why isn’t Providence College cleaning up Elmhurst and Wanskuck? While Yale has a whole lot more resources than any of these RI colleges do on their own, together they could really move Providence in a positive direction. I mean, we have 5 colleges located fully within the city limits (URI and RWU are just satellite campuses, but counting those and CCRI, there are 8 colleges in Providence). New Haven has 4 (Yale, Southern CT State University, Albertus Magnus, and Gateway Community College).

New Haven has great signage for restaurants and shops. There are even pedestrian/driving signs telling you where the points of interest are. Street signs are abundant and even the “No Parking” signs are standing upright and are clearly visible and not faded. It’s amazing what all the little things add up to become. Downtown New Haven is not a whole lot bigger than downtown Providence. If you don’t count the Yale area (which would be like College Hill in Providence), then downtown is about the same size as downtown Providence (including the Jewelry District). Yet New Haven is clean and it feels safe all over downtown. The signs are inviting, the streets are lit at night. It feels like a much larger city, yet it has about 50,000 fewer people than Providence.

Being in the same class of cities, Providence should be looking to New Haven as a model of how to do things correctly. The new construction in the downtown area is all very urban. Granted, there’s that whole Long Wharf area that is not at all urban with Ikea’s massive parking lots, but downtown, and many of the other neighborhoods are very urban. The biggest issue in downtown New Haven is the massive parking lot that was once the New Haven Coliseum (aka Veterans Memorial Coliseum), but that would be considered business as usual in Providence.

RIPTA Needs Your Support

It’s rare that I post something that’s so restricted to the general area, but this is a very important issue facing the city of Providence and the state of Rhode Island. The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, aka RIPTA, is seeing some of the highest ridership ever, yet the state senate and the governor don’t seem to care. RIPTA cannot afford, on their current budget, to add buses to the bus routes that need increased service. What they end up doing is shuffling buses around from the routes with lower ridership to the overcrowded routes. This means that if you rely on one of those low demand routes, your bus may never come because RIPTA needed the bus for a route with higher demand. This happens quite frequently and leaves people stuck on the curb.

To any state senators and representatives that might see this, increase funding for RIPTA. RIPTA is not just something that does its thing and can be ignored. It’s a major asset to the state of RI and the city of Providence. When people who rely on the bus can’t get a bus, they must rely on other methods of transportation. This means more cars on the road. RIPTA is necessary for many people who do not have cars, who are not able to drive, or who just prefer not to use the cars they have. It should be a viable option for 100% of the people who live and/or work in the city of Providence to get to and from their jobs in the city. People should be able to step out to a bus stop in the city, wait no more than 10-15 minutes, and get on a bus. They should not be watching buses pass by because they are full. They should not be missing buses because the bus was moved to a different route. The continued success of the city of Providence is very dependent on the ability of RIPTA to meet or exceed the needs of the residents and workers in the city of Providence and the surrounding communities.

If you live in Rhode Island (this includes all you college students who came from out of state to attend one of our fine institutions), please contact your state senators and representatives in the General Assembly and urge them to give more funding for RIPTA. There is a reason it is called PUBLIC transportation. Just as the roads are public roads, the buses are public buses and must be funded by the state and not solely by the fares. Imagine if the roads were funded solely by the gas and car tax. The roads would be one giant pot hole, requiring an off-road vehicle to traverse the state. Contact Governor Carcieri and tell him why RIPTA is important to you and why the state needs to give them more funding.

More info:

Bus rides now a tough ticket (Providence Journal, 11/1/07)

Transit 2020 Transportation Project

Why don’t more people use RIPTA? (UrbanPlanet | Providence)

Transit 2020 Discussion (UrbanPlanet | Providence)

Public Transit in Providence (UrbanPlanet | Providence)

Car Free in Providence? (UrbanPlanet | Providence)

US Traffic Congestion is Bad

If the title couldn’t be any more obvious. Highways and roads in metropolitan areas across the country are at or above capacity and the problem is only getting worse. Living in the Northeast, I do experience traffic, but it’s nothing compared to what other areas of the country see. The worst, according to this article on CNN, are Los Angeles, Atlanta, San Francisco, Washington, and Dallas. The only one of these that is surprising to me is Washington as it does have a pretty good public transit system, though the beltway can be pretty rough and a lot of the jobs in the area are not actually in the city. The others are large sprawling southern and western cities that don’t have the best public transportation systems. But this isn’t about those cities, this is about the larger problem at hand. The country’s roads are filled to capacity and we can’t simply keep increasing the number of lanes on the highway. In some cases, there’s no room to increase the size of the highways (such as in the densely populated Northeast). In other cases, it’s just a futile effort. The more you increase the size of the highway, the more people will use it.

There is one good fix that should be considered everywhere – better public transportation. In most of the large cities around the country, there are commuter rails, subways, buses, streetcars, etc. The problems many of these systems face is that they’re overcrowded or they’re not used enough (because of the stigma that it’s the poor man’s transportation and people like their cars) or they’re not efficient or they don’t provide a good service. In the case of Providence, RIPTA provides great service to parts of the city and not so great service to others. All buses stop at around midnight, yet bars are open until 2 (this problem also plagues Boston). People are forced to either take cabs or drive (sometimes drunk). The biggest problem is the headways. The buses come every half hour or every 20 min if you happen to live on one of the better lines. That’s not good enough in a city as densely populated as Providence. Some of the lines (like the one that goes by my house) don’t run on Sundays. It just doesn’t make sense. Providence could also benefit from better commuter rail service. Currently, we only have commuter rail to/from Boston. It’s going to be extended to Warwick by the airport and then possibly farther to Wickford. Any densely populated metropolitan area should have commuter rail service from the other nearby metro areas. They should also have public transit within the city that a person would have to wait no more than 10-15 min at most for a bus or train (subway or streetcar).

The problem that most of these transit authorities have is a lack of funding. Our country is severely auto-centric. Our federal government should be putting more money to support the public transportation systems around the country and increase the usage and coverage of them. The state governments should be doing the same. The benefits of doing so would not only decrease the amount of time people spend and gas people use sitting in traffic, but it’d also provide serious environmental benefits as well. The best answer to the traffic problems is public transportation. I urge anyone who cares (and if you don’t care, you should) to support public transportation and contact your senators and representatives, both in Washington and in your state legislature, and urge them to support it as well.