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Friday, February 16, 2018

The Streets Where We Live

My street before the facelift.

I’ve only recently begun to explore the possibilities of the fantastic bus system in Valencia. Up until now I’ve effected almost all of my transportation by bicycle, which means that I have avoided certain pedestrian unfriendly streets in the city. These mainly consist of a few major thoroughfares that have lots of high-speed car traffic (often way over the legal limit) and where there is no safe place to ride a bike. Most of these same race tracks are also horrible places to walk as the sidewalks are barely adequate for two people to pass each other without one pedestrian being forced to turn sideways.

I ventured out last weekend to take the bus that passes directly in front of my building and circles the city in a sort of inner loop—my first time ever. I was extremely familiar with much of the route of this bus line as I follow it on my bike rides where there are bike paths. After living here for so long and spending so much time exploring on my bike I feel that I know the city better than most natives. I have a few gaps in my knowledge of Valencia because, as I said, I respect my health too much to venture in the areas where bikes are obviously very unwelcome.

It turns out that I haven’t missed anything by avoiding these streets because they are tremendously ugly and soul-crushing examples of what happens when a city places the automobile before humans. Until my little bus outing, I always felt that Valencia was an extremely beautiful city. It is. I was absolutely shocked by these pockets of inhumanity. It was like I had traveled to some bleak, Stalinist dystopia in the short bus ride from my home on a bright and palm-lined street. 

Only a few years ago the street where I live was one of these soulless areas fit only for automobile traffic. I remember thinking of this street as a sort of Berlin Wall that demarcated the outer limit of my neighborhood. As a cyclist or pedestrian, the street was extremely uninviting—hostile, even—and I would turn back and return to the relative refuge of the more tranquil areas where I didn’t feel I was being preyed upon by cars and trucks. 

Like much of my neighborhood, this street got a complete make-over beginning in 2008. The six lane racetrack became four lanes with a tree row in the median strip and a bike lane on one side. Traffic was tamed to legal speeds and the street became a much more inviting place for pedestrians, to say nothing of the aesthetic improvements (compare the two photographs and you decide).

Of course, like with any issue there are two sides. There are some who fight against anything they feel infringes upon the right of cars to travel at high speeds and without any hindrance from pesky human beings who might stumble into their pat. Leading that charge is one local newspaper’s war against pedestrians and cyclists. This is the same newspaper that complained that no one used the new city center bike ring which is completely laughable to anyone who rides on this path. This fucking rag’s war has been relentless as they fight against pedestrians, cyclists, sustainability, and the environment.

Luckily for the city, the forces of good are prevailing, at least for the moment. We have a new mayor who has been a bike commuter for years and is determined to make the city more livable while at the same time more beautiful. As an American I can say to the people of Valencia that I have witnessed first-hand the results of making the automobile the center of all urban planning and I wouldn’t recommend it.
My street today.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Black Box or Black Hole?

The fine Italian film “Perfetti Sconosciuti” explores the depths of our society’s obsession with the phone. They call it “the black box” of our lives. More like the black hole of our lives, in my opinion. What I resent about the phone culture is that it is taken as a given that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, must be genetically attached to their phone 24 hours a day. It’s like we’re all wearing the trackers they use when they put a prisoner under house arrest except we do it to ourselves, and we do it happily.

We don’t ask ourselves if we should have this little black box. The only question we have is whether to spring for an iPhone or a Smartphone. Simply not having a phone isn’t even an option. Or is it? Most people will claim that they need it for their work which is completely understandable, yet this doesn’t explain the creepy relationship so many people have with this gadget. Most people kid themselves that their phone is a tool when most of the time it serves as a toy.

Should young children’s completely creepy obsession with phones be worrisome? Is it OK to have your phone babysit a toddler? Do 12 year olds need instant, unsupervised, and constant access to the internet? What will become of a generation unable to sit for more than two minutes without checking their messages?

Is it even possible to live without a Smartphone? Are there rules for phone use in public? Is it possible as a society to take a step backwards to ask these kind of questions about the technology that rules us?Is it too late?

Saturday, February 03, 2018

None of Our Damn Business

Signs like these on closed businesses are quite common here. For some reason people feel the need to let us in on why they aren’t at work yet they leave out the interesting bits, like just what sort of personal reasons they have for playing hooky. I’m always tempted to write a few guesses below their message (and I always go with worst-case scenarios).

1. Diarrhea?
2. Sex Change Operation?
3. Abortion?
4. Drug Bust?
5. Auto-erotic asphyxiation mishap?