Apr 29, 2009

Plan 9 From Outer Space

When the City of Dallas developed its current Council adopted Bicycle Transportation Plan (working with the Department of Transportation and over 100 bicyclists from local cycling organizations), a “clean-slate” design approach was taken. All possible facility types were considered.

There are basically four bicycle facility designs: street separated Multi-Use Paths, on-street bike lanes, side paths/cycle-tracks (all examples of segregated facilities), and on-street bike routes (shared lane facility). Each has its preferred application scenario.

Multi-Use Paths/side paths/cycle-tracks

Currently, the City is in the process of completing 100 miles of paved, 12’ wide, off-street trails though parks, under power lines, and parallel to rail corridors. Because these facilities are constrained by location and available right-of-way, their use as a viable, city-wide transportation element is limited. But they can be a good enhancement to an on-street system.

Side paths (also called cycle tracks) have been discouraged by traffic engineers and responsible bicycle planners for some time, due to the dramatic increase in collisions between turning automobiles and straight through cyclists. The Netherlands (where such facilities are extremely popular) have documented up to an 180% increase in serious collisions on side paths compared to on-street cycling.

Bike Lanes

Bike Lanes are preferred by cyclists who fear sharing a roadway with automobile traffic and motorists who have a dislike of sharing the roadway with bicyclists.

From a traffic engineering perspective, a bike lane is classified as a “traffic control device”, whose job is to channel existing bicycles out of the way of motor vehicles. The popular notion is the opposite, that bike lanes are designed to attract cyclists, but that is not how they function or why they were designed. To install bike lanes that function, you need two pre-existent conditions: high volume of cyclists in a concentrated area (i.e., a large college campus and surrounding area), and sufficient road width to accommodate a 5’ lane.

Most urban thoroughfares and collectors in Dallas have 11’ wide vehicle travel lanes (a foot narrower than the current recommended minimum and three feet narrower than the Texas Department of Transportation preference). The recommended width for bike lanes is four feet, with a one foot edge stripe (five feet in total width from curb).

On a typical Dallas three-lane divided urban thoroughfare, the cross-section looks like this: 11’-11’-11’----11’-11’-11’. Attempting to install bike lanes on such a street without removing travel lanes would result in vehicle travel lanes that are only 9 feet wide (5’-9’-9’-9’----9’-9’-9’-5’), 25% narrower than current minimum recommendations, and too narrow to accommodate existing truck, bus and even SUV usage. This creates traffic conflicts that can lead not only to property damage, but can even endanger lives (especially the lives of cyclists as cars are “pushed” into the available space).

To install bike lanes of the recommended 5’ width (4’ for the bike lane, with a 1’ offset from the curb), the street cross-section now looks like this, 5’-14’-14’----14’-14’-5’, dropping a full lane of traffic in each direction. When you consider that people tend to ask for bike lanes on streets that are already overcrowded, you can see how the problems are exacerbated by the attempts at alleviation. Removing one lane of traffic from a 3-lane directional configuration does not decrease that street’s capacity by 33%, but by almost 50%, resulting in increased queuing at intersections and left turns, which means increased idling and greatly increased emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

There is also a problem with banning all on-street parking on streets with bike lanes and the resulting backlash from homeowners and businesses. While many cities stripe 3’ wide bike lanes next to on-street parking (like Austin, Texas), they have proven to be very dangerous, as cyclists are often hit by opening car doors.

Contrary to popular belief, there is an increased danger to cyclists in riding in bike lanes, caused by newly created conflicts with right-turning motor vehicles. This is an unavoidable complication of having a straight-through travel lane for bicyclists located to the right of right-turn allowed motor vehicles, a lane that lulls cyclists into thinking they are protected from right-turning vehicles. The vast majority of serious car-bike collisions occur in this type of conflict, as cyclists outside of motorists’ direct line of sight, slip into the motorists’ left-side blind zone.

The conflict that many cyclists believe a bike lane protects them from (being struck from the rear by an overtaking motor vehicle) is by far the rarest of serious car-bike collisions, but it is among the most dangerous (exceeded by wrong-way cyclists hitting oncoming vehicle). Interestingly, when you remove the rural road incidence of this type of collision (the most common area for fatality occurrence), the collision rate for cyclists in a bike lane, and without a bike lane, is statistically the same.

On-Street Bike Routes

Rather than install a few miles of bike lanes, what Dallas did was create a city-wide 400 mile (800 lane miles) signed bicycle route system on local, mostly low volume, streets that parallel thoroughfares. Where a thoroughfare (or bridge) is required, the City committed to build wide-outside-lanes to create extra room for cyclists and motor vehicles to share the road. On new road construction (and reconstruction when right of way is available), depending upon posted speeds, the roadway cross section will look like this: 14’-11’-11’----11’-11’-14’, or 15’-12’-12’----12’-12’-15’.

Instead of striping less than 20 lane-miles of bike lanes (.05% of the City's streets), the City (upon the recommendation of active cyclists) signed 800 lane-miles of bike routes (10% of the City's streets), resulting in a more comprehensive city-wide bike plan than a simple bike lane system. The vast majority of these cyclist-selected routes were on low-volume local streets that paralleled major thoroughfares, and were the ideal setting for cyclists.

The plan improved real conditions for cyclists without degrading conditions for the dominant motor traffic. This approach works best in a city like Dallas with a complex street grid system dating to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Suburban cities (and the far edges of Dallas) have a more difficult task. It was understood that an education component was required, for both cyclists and motorists, but the City Council decided to not fund that element as a cost saving measure, as the City continued to downsize staff and eliminate “non-essential” services. Reduced forces also played a part in the City's decision to decline a $1,000,000 bicycle education program for adults and children.

Dallas is preparing to undertake a comprehensive update of its current Bike Plan, and the viability and application of bike lanes and cycle tracks will again be considered, with changes in the City’s approach being preordained.

Apr 27, 2009

Observant servant.

In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ.

Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy.

Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution.

Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture.

And, finally, it moved to America, where it became an enterprise.

-- Richard Halverson, former Chaplain of the United States Senate

Apr 21, 2009

"Will you come to the bower I have shaded for you?"

The Battle of San Jacinto, fought on April 21, 1836, was the decisive battle of the Texas Revolution. Led by General Sam Houston, the Texas Army engaged and defeated General Antonio López de Santa Anna's Mexican forces in a fight that lasted just eighteen minutes.

As the Texian infantry advanced, a single fife and a single drum played the popular love song "Will You Come to the Bower?"

Will you come to the bower I have shaded for you?
Your bed shall be of roses, be spangled with dew.
Will you, will you, will you come to the bower?
Will you, will you, will you come to the bower?

There under the bower on soft roses you'll lie,
With a blush on your cheek, but a smile in your eye.
Will you, will you, will you smile my beloved?
Will you, will you, will you smile my beloved?

But the roses we press shall not rival your lips,
nor the dew be so sweet as the kisses we'll sip.
Will you, will you, will you kiss me my beloved?
Will you, will you, will you kiss me my beloved?

Hundreds of Mexican soldiers were killed, and hundreds more captured, while only nine Texians died.

Apr 20, 2009

Burning down the house.

"The Church exists by mission as fire exists by burning. Without mission there is really no Church."

-- Emil Brunner (1889-1966), The Word and the World, London: SCM Press, 1931, p. 11

Apr 19, 2009

Welcome to my church...

...and (probably) to yours.

The conception of the Church which we tend to reproduce as the fruit of our missionary work is so much a replica of our own, so much that of a fundamentally settled body existing for the sake of its own members rather than that of a body of strangers and pilgrims, the sign and instrument of a supernatural and universal salvation to be revealed, that our missionary advance tends to follow the lines of cultural and political expansion, and to falter when that advance stops.

... Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998), The Household of God, New York: Friendship Press, 1954, p. 166

See the book at http://cqod.com/r/rs036

Apr 16, 2009

Dallas guitarist Rocky Hill dies at 62

Dallas/Houston guitarist Rocky Hill dies at 62
Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
April 13, 2009, 4:24PM

Rocky Hill was described as “a monster on guitar,” though over four decades he could be a difficult creature to find. His career dated back to the 1960s when he was a hotshot player with blue hair joined on bass by his brother Dusty in a psychedelic rock band. That a Google search on “Rocky Hill” turns out dozens of entries on a town in Connecticut and nearly nothing on the guitarist is testament to how good a musician can be without ever finding his rewards.

Hill died Friday at his Houston-area home; he was 62. A statement claimed he died of “undisclosed complications of a medical condition.”

Documentation of Hill’s career requires a hunt. One of the two albums he made with American Blues, a 13th Floor Elevators-inspired band he formed with Dusty in the late-’60s, can be found online for upwards of $70 while the other is unavailable. His three solo albums can be found online, but are unlikely to be stocked at your local record shop. Still Hill was a flashy slide player with a gritty, soulful voice who always stated he was more interested in playing than making money.

John Rockford Hill was born Dec. 1, 1946. He was 10 or 11 when younger brother Dusty received a guitar for Christmas. But Hill was the child drawn to the instrument. He started out playing Jimmy Reed songs; years later Reed would have a slide piece custom made for Hill.

By 15 Hill was playing clubs in Dallas with his band the Starliners. Dusty learned to play bass guitar and also sang. They phased through a series of band names before settling on American Blues, a trio featuring drummer Frank Beard. They dyed their hair blue and played psychedelic blues rock common to the era: The trippy echoed vocals on songs such as All I Saw Was You and Tim Hardin’s If I Were a Carpenter; the twinge of folky pomposity that wafted through Fugue for Lady Cheriff.

But their 1967 debut album also showed a clear affinity for the blues evident on Mercury Blues.

The band split in 1969 and all three members moved to Houston. Beard was recruited by Houston guitarist Billy Gibbons of the Moving Sidewalks. They needed a bassist and Beard suggested Dusty; the new trio became ZZ Top.

“Dusty wanted to play rock ‘n’ roll,” Hill told the Chronicle in 1979. “(Dusty) wanted to make some money. And he did. … I wanted to play some blues. And I did.”

Hill fell in with Lightnin’ Hopkins, earning $5 a night playing bass and fetching drinks for the blues legend, as well as carrying his guitar. “It was a great idea,” he said, “but bad financially.”

Hill’s path was a bumpy one. There are stories of erratic periods with little or no performing and struggles with drugs and alcohol. Around the time of a 1972 interview with the Chronicle he was coming out of a period of inactivity and referenced trying to curb some of his chemical excesses.

Seven years later he was a fixture at Blues Wednesday at Anderson Fair, but still had no album. Hill wouldn’t cite a cause for the delay in making an album, but told the Chronicle, “I’m real hard-headed. I do things slowly. I have a certain way I go about doing things. I wanted to make sure everything was correct before I committed myself. … I’m just real careful about what I do.”

That care meant he didn’t get around to making an album until 1982 when he released Texas Shuffle, which featured Hill singing in a gruff bluesy voice. His playing was predictably sharp. Still six more years passed before he released another album, Rocky Hill.

Hill should’ve been a sure thing in the 1980s. His brother’s band was selling tens of millions of records of boogie-based mainstream rock, while Stevie Ray Vaughan, a Dallas guitarist eight years his junior, was also finally receiving his due. Hill suggested he still wasn’t interested in chasing success. “My reputation is terrible for flaking out on people ‘cause I always really have been true to my material and true to my art,” he told the Chronicle. “I’m an artist, first and foremost.”

After another lengthy break, Hill put out a lively album, Midnight Creepers, in 1994. We played when blues was not in vogue at all,” he told the Chronicle in 1993. “Now that blues is very hip, I’m gonna do a rock ‘n’ roll band. My career is backwards.”

Hill had played a show in Clear Lake in 2006, but according to an online comment by a family member, he’d been ill for more than the past year. He will be buried today in Como, where his mother was laid to rest. He’s survived by his wife, Joy Hill, his son, Christian L. Smith, brother Dusty, sister Sue Shadix and other family.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked for donations to the Texas Liver Coalition.

RIP, old friend.

XXX Sugar

When visiting our daughters and grandkids in Kyle (between Buda and San Marcos), we literally go out of our way to avoid Austin (for lots of reasons). Usually we take I-35 to Georgetown, and then swing east on Texas 130 (toll road) to avoid Sodom on the Colorado. Sometimes, we take 67 to 220 to 281 and go west of Austin. When we do that (as we did yesterday), we stop at the half-way point in Hico. There is a convenience store/fast food joint/gas station where 6, 220, and 281 all come together. That's where we stop and get some Dublin Dr. Pepper made with Imperial Pure Cane Sugar (Dublin is close by).

I went to the soda fountain to get a 32 oz. "roadie" of DP, when my eyes beheld an angelic vision. There on the dispensing machine was a tab for "Dublin Triple XXX Root Beer" made with Imperial Pure Cane Sugar! Triple XXX was always my root beer of choice growing up, and it's almost extinct now. What product there is contains the dreaded HFCS.

The fountain dispenser was set a little on the "lean" side, but even then, the taste was wonderful.

Now begins the search... does Dublin Dr. Pepper bottle Triple XXX, or is it just for fountain service?

Apr 12, 2009

Easter Signing and Dancing

Another in a series of low-quality cellphones videos of high-quality church worship.

It's Easter. The rabbit died.

It's Easter.

If the rabbit dies, that means new life is imminent.

"Kill the wabbit."

A Lesson from Art History

A Lesson from Art History
(a parable)

One week during their Introduction to European Art History Summer Session tour, three college students were assigned to do a report on stained glass windows. Even though they had signed up for the summer semester trip to Europe primarily as a way to visit the pubs of England, they still had to do a certain amount of work (and get a passing grade) so that their parents wouldn't mind paying for it. They were excited about seeing the Modern Art scene in London, but now they were in a small township outside London, wondering what could possibly be more boring and irrelevant than stained glass windows.

For their report, they chose a local village church that was an excellent example of the gothic style. As the three students (I'll call them Peter, Paul, and Mary, in honor of an earlier college generation that I am more familiar with) approached the church, the bravest of the three (Peter) decided to go inside and look at the windows. The main entrance was locked because it was a weekday, and no one seemed to be at the church, but Peter went in search of a side entrance. Paul and Mary didn't want to risk trespass, so they decided to do their report from the outside. The tour guides had reminded them that they were guests in England, and they certainly didn't want to do anything improper.

They noted first the insulating storm windows that had been placed over the stained glass. The plastic panels sealed the windows not only from the wind and weather, but also from stones and debris that might damage the fragile antique constructions behind them. They marveled at the hundreds and thousands of pieces of glass that were used to construct the windows. The diversity of big pieces, little pieces, colored pieces and pieces that had been painted upon was astounding. The bright sun revealed every small detail of the construction. Each piece of glass was secured to the adjoining piece by strips of hand formed lead. Silver solder sealed the joints and the gaps. Because the glass was too heavy to hold itself up, supporting rods were installed in the window frames and hand tied with little copper wires. The rods were positioned at intervals behind horizontal seams so they would be invisible to someone on the inside.

Paul and Mary never understood why it was called stained glass until now. From the outside, everything was a dirty gray, like an old, stained towel. They could see that some pieces had a bluish tinge, others a reddish one. They could make out an occasional dull face, arm, or backwards word, but they couldn't see anything impressive or important beyond the meticulous construction details. Though antiquated and irrelevant by modern standards, it was certainly an impressive engineering feat (considering the primitive technologies available to the craftsmen of the day), and due to the age of the church, they were undoubtedly of great historical importance.

Mary finished her notes as Paul took some digital pictures for the PowerPoint presentation he was going to do for their joint report. Peter hadn't been seen since he went to find a way inside the church over an hour ago, and Mary now decided to go find him. It would be Happy Hour at the pub near their hostel soon, and they agreed to meet there to compare notes. Paul kept taking pictures as he walked away, only now from a distanced, wide-angle perspective out by the lane. Mary walked around the church until she found a small door near the bell tower. She knocked tentatively, and the door gently swung open under the weight of her knuckles.

Inside the centuries old church, she was astonished by the sharp contrast of light and dark. Dark wood and dark stone pierced by radiant beams of bright light filled the interior. Just as her eyes would grow accustomed to the enveloping darkness, the bright light pouring in through one of the stained glass windows would suddenly dazzle her. When she walked through a darkened area, she could feel the damp coldness of the old building soak to her bones. But when she walked into an area illuminated by the sun's light passing through the glass, her whole body was warmed. Up ahead, she could see Peter with his pad standing in front of one the largest window, furiously sketching and taking notes.

All around her she saw panels of blazing light and color, telling stories of joy and gladness, suffering and pain, and of glory. She was stunned to realize that these were the same panels she had spent the last hour detailing as gray and colorless from the outside. Now, with the sun behind them, they told stories of life and death and God's love for His people. She saw Eden, and the Fall. She saw the Flood, and the Exodus. She saw King David, and she saw the Exile. She saw the Return, and she saw a stable with a baby in it. She saw a beautiful man with a hobbled lamb over his shoulders, and she saw the same beautiful man stripped and nailed to a cross. Finally, towering over her and Peter, she saw that same beautiful man robed as a king, with nail wounds in his outstretched palms. "Isn't he the most beautiful man you have ever seen?" asked Peter.

Mary had to agree. There was something about his face in all the windows that seemed to be looking straight into her heart. Even the little baby at his mother's breast seemed to be looking at her in love. She was amazed to discover all this beauty and majesty in something that just a few minutes before she had been describing as mechanical and boring. How could that baby or this king be boring?

She and Peter simply stood in awe before the windows until the sun set below the nearby rooftops. There was nothing said.

Later, during Happy Hour at the Hare and Hound, Peter and Mary were happier than normal as they shared their discovery, certainly happier than a warm pint of Bishops Finger Ale could produce alone. Paul, however, was eager to share with them his concerns about the possible toxic effects of all that ancient lead used to construct the windows. He was glad for the sake of the local children that the outside had the storm window coverings, and he was certainly glad that he hadn't gone inside the musty old church and perhaps been exposed to the potential lead contamination in the air. How could the government allow such an obvious hazard to be accessible to people? He was a little worried about Peter and Mary's seemingly irrational behavior. Were they merely intoxicated by the strong ale, or had the air they breathed inside that old church somehow adversely effected their ability to think clearly?

Paul's part of the report was quite specific, focusing upon every detail of the stained glass' construction, age, and preservation attempts. He also pointed out how modern techniques rendered such quaint constructions obsolete. Peter's notes, on the other hand, were filled with subjective descriptions of feelings and beauty. At times, his report just didn't seem to make any analytical sense at all. Paul asked Peter if he had perhaps wandered off to a different church, but secretly wondered if Peter just wasn't as smart as he himself was. Paul worried about their grade being reduced because of Peter's poor scholarship.

Mary's report, while sharing much of Peter's excitement, spent a great deal of time describing the contrast within the church between the cold, dark areas and the warm, light areas. She concluded that the construction of the building itself prevented the windows from illuminating a greater area of the church, thereby discouraging people from coming inside to experience the strangely warming beauty of the stained glass.

In the end, Peter's nonobjective portion of their report did indeed bring their grade down to a C+, earning them a passing but "can do better" grade. Paul hoped they could improve their score on their next topic: marble reliquaries. He certainly intended to keep his eye on Peter this time, and not let him go wandering off unsupervised.

He would sure hate to have all his good work found meaningless again.

© 2002 pmsummer

Apr 10, 2009

Music for Good Friday

John Coltrane


Passio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi Secundum Joannem
Arvo Pärt
The Hilliard Ensemble
Paul Hillier, cond.

ECM New Series

Gavin Bryars

Point Music

Matthäuspassion, BWV 244
Johann Sebastian Bach
Gabrieli Players, Peter Harvey, Susan Bickley, Magdalena Kozena, Stephan Loges, Deborah York, Mark Padmore, Julia Gooding, James Gilchrist
Paul McCreesh, cond.

Deutsche Grammophon

Carlo Gesualdo
The Hilliard Ensemble

ECM New Series

Dietrich Buxtehude: Membra Jesu Nostri
Heinrich Schütz: O Bone Jesu
The Monteverdi Choir
The English Baroque Soloists
John Eliot Gardiner


Apr 5, 2009

An idea for retirement efforts.

As I begin pondering what post-bureaucracy early-retirement employment will mean, I had the idea to open a gourmet confectionery shop called...


Of course, you'd have to enter the shop through the bach door.