... in traffic

What is a bike messenger?

22 Aug 2010 | 224 words | cycling drugs traffic work urbanism

Couple of days ago boingboing ran a post about a SF bike messenger who claims to work while tripping on LSD. Today i finally read the whole text (as opposed to just the short quote on boingboing which focusses on his cycling while tripping experience). Turns out that the his entire rant is rather amusing and that it contains one of the best descriptions of how the bike messenger business works i have ever come across:

In big cities, cars are fucking everywhere. It’s a wonder people still buy them, because they move at approximately the same speed as tortoises with arthritis, are goddamn expensive, and you use up more of your gas tank waiting at stop lights then you do actually driving. And because some people in big cities need packages transported from Point A to Point B in a very short amount of time (faster than the tortoises with arthritis can carry them) these people pay us an exorbitant amount of money to us, bike messengers, to bust our asses to transport said packages from Point A to Point B in a very short amount of time. Then, the company that hires us takes a small finder’s fee (approximately 90% of our wages) and gives us our pittance sum of cash that we get for risking our lives on a daily basis.

The motorized mountain bike(s) of Damascus

Back in december when walking through Damascus I ran into this mountain bike rigged up with small combustion engine:

Mountain bike fitted with a combustion engine on Khalid ibn al-Walid street in central Damascus

If you ask me this is quite a marvel of engineering and although I never spotted a second one during the 3 days that I spend in Damascus I am pretty certain that this is not a unique modification but rather one of many that are produced in some back alley workshop. If anyone has seen more of these or has additional information about these please do let me know…

Update (26 Februari 2017):I ran into the same design in Mexico City today.

The funeral and the wedding all howling in the microphones at the same time

15 Apr 2008 | 273 words | cairo traffic urbanism noise

There is an intriguing article about the insane noise levels in the city of Cairo on the NYT website (‘A City Where You Can’t Hear Yourself Scream‘). makes me at the same time want to go to Cairo and worry about Nat who recently moved there for a year:

“The noise bothers me and I know it bothers people,” said Abdel Khaleq, driver of a battered black and white taxi, as he paused from honking his horn to stop for passengers. “So why do you do it?” he was asked. “Well, to tell you I’m here,” he said. “There is no such thing as logic in this country.” And then he drove off, honking. […]

“We like to live our life with people around us “there is no privacy,” said Ahmed El-Kholei, a professor of urban planning at Monufiya University in the Nile Delta north of the city. “This is not a bad thing in itself, but the way it is expressed is wrong. Before, when someone held a funeral, the neighbors would postpone a wedding out of consideration. Today, you see the funeral and the wedding all howling in the microphones at the same time.” […]

“Life is like this,” said Ahmed Muhammad, 23, who makes his living delivering metal tanks of propane to homes. He hangs four tanks off the back of a rusted bicycle, then rides with one hand on the handlebars, the other slamming a wrench into one of the tanks to announce his arrival to the neighborhood. “Making money is like this,” he said. “What am I going to do? This is how it is.”

NYT via BLDGblog

Robots in the streets

20 Jan 2008 | 121 words | robots south africa traffic

We also do not have any robots left on our streets and little traffic so we don’t have the kind of traffic jams I saw in Jo’burg during a power cut. [Zimbabwean journalist writing on how to deal with frequent blackouts in the Sunday Independent]

No, this is not from the future, nor is not a status update from iraq and no, there are also no industrial assembly robots lining Jan Smits avenue in Jo’burg. I can also ensure you that the streets are not filled with aibo’s, roomba’s or other useless electronic pets. The robots mentioned in the above quote would simply be called traffic-lights in the rest of the world. No clue why, but i think it is cute.

The knowledge vs GPS

18 Dec 2007 | 305 words | london maps traffic urbanism gps

I have written about virtues of ‘the knowledge‘ and the dangers of GPS to human evolution before. Now the good old BBC is running an article that actually pits the one versus the other in some kind of technology versus humans death match. They held a race through London in which a cab driver (in possession of ‘the knowledge’) had to compete against a BBC hack who was following the instructions of a Tom Tom GO 720 navigation unit:

We chose waypoints that took us through extremely busy parts of London. We would need to go from Box Hill in Surrey to Wembley Stadium, then the Houses of Parliament and finish at Greenwich Observatory. In fact, if we had just followed the shortest route to our first waypoint – the new Wembley Stadium – we would have gone right through some of the worst traffic blackspots in the area.

The rules were simple. Andy the cabbie could choose whichever route he wanted, listen to traffic reports on the radio, and change route at any time. But so he did not get an unfair advantage, he was not allowed to use bus/taxi lanes to avoid any jams. I had to do what the sat-nav said. No exceptions.

The BBC’s Spencer Kelly won the first part of the race as a result of the GPS suggesting to take the M25 that bypasses London and managed to get to Wembley Stadium 5 minutes ahead of the Cab driver. The second leg, however was clearly won by the Cab driver who proved much more experienced in navigating through the highly congested city center and arrived at the Greenwich Observatory a full 27 minutes before the car following the sat-nav instructions. Guess this illustrates my point that relying on GPS for navigation is definitely going to be detrimental to humankind.

Tehran traffic ...

… so i am back from Iran after having spend the last two days in Tehran. it is pretty much difficult to make sense of Teheran in 4 days, which is probably due to the sheer size of the place. there are about 14 million people living in the metropolitan area of Tehran and one would guess that at most 5 of them are working as city planners. On the other hand every second inhabitant has at least one car (either a pre-historic Paykan or a grey Peugeot 206) which, during rush hour, is too much for the extensive highway system to absorb.

The metropolis of Tehran enjoys a huge network of highways (280 km) and of interchanges, ramps & loops (180km). In 2007 there were 130 kilometers of highways and 120 kilometers of ramps and loops under construction. [source: wikipedia]

Highways or not, during rush hour it takes at least 90 minutes to get from the southern end of the city center to the northern end of the city center. unfortunately public transport does not really offer a viable alternative

In 2001 a metro system that had been in planning since the 1970s opened the first two of seven envisaged lines. Work has been slow and coverage remains very limited. Development of the Tehran metro system had been interrupted by the Islamic Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War. Problems arising from the late completion of the metro led to buses taking on the role of the metro lines, serving mainly long distance routes. Taxis filled the void for local journeys. The taxis only drive on main avenues, and only within the local area, so it may be necessary to take several taxis to get to one’s final destination. [source: wikipedia]

The only for of transport that will get you from A to B fairly efficiently (and cheaply, a cross town ride is less than €1) are motorcycle taxis. They are a bit difficult to spot (as they are just regular motorcycles cruising the streets) but once you have managed to spot them they make the city much more accessible. Of course it helps to have a bit of a death-whish (the driver has a helmet and you don’t and they will go pretty fast on stretches of highway where the traffic is relatively light) but then it is actually really good fun…

Teach yourself german

21 Aug 2006 | 130 words | delhi germany india traffic

Usually i do not really like being recognized as a german when i am in a far-away-country, but todays encounter somewhere on a road just west of Delhi’s old city was kind of hilarious. the auto rikshaw we were traveling in was overtaken by a small white car and when the guy sitting next to the driver saw that the passengers were Westerners he immediately asked me ‘are you german?’ while showing his ‘how to teach yourself german’ course-book. my reply that i was indeed german seemed to make him profoundly happy:

When they managed to come next to the rickshaw again he pulled out his mobile phone to take a similar picture of me and my Delhi street map book. We should have really exchanged those pictures via bluetooth…

The knowledge

14 Aug 2006 | 220 words | london gps maps public transport traffic

Ars technica has a sweet little write-up about the fact that London cabbies apparently reject satellite navigation devices (which they are allowed to use since beginning of this year). The main reason seems to be pride in having passed the notoriously difficult exam (‘the knowledge‘) which is required to get a license:

Cabbies have two basic reasons for not embracing the systems, one rooted in technology and the other in psychology. For one thing, the devices still do not give the kind of perfect directions that are needed by someone who makes a living driving a car about the city. But secondly, the devices also remove the mystique that surrounds the Knowledge and the pride that passing the exam gives to cabbies. With a satellite navigation unit, just about anyone can become a cabbie and they can do it without studying.

Now everybody who was forced to take a cab in Amsterdam in the last couple of years will be able to attest to the fact that it is indeed a very bad idea if (a) ‘just about anyone’ can become a cabbie and (b) they do rely on satellite navigation which does not work in congested European city centers. Kind of surprising to see that that conservative stubbornness of the islanders does have positive effects once in a while…

Parallel infrastructures

Ok, cant go on being abusive of other people her like in the last couple of posts. does not really add too much to the whole and apparently it will be held against me by some prospective employer in the future anyway. Speaking about employment: it is no secret that the dutch economy (especially the construction, cleaning and agricultural sectors employ a huge number of (temporary) workers from Poland and other Eastern European countries (ironically germany seems to become an Eastern European country as well at least in this aspect if one is to believe the mdr (google cache).

Many of these migrants combine working in the the Netherlands (or western Europe for that matter) with living in Poland. these pendular migration strategies are made possible by the vastly improved transportation facilities between the east and the west. When reading about ‘improved transprotation’ images of high speed trains and low cost airlines come to mind, but these migration patterns seem to fundamentally rely on a parallel transportation infrastrcuture:

In my thesis i had already mentioned this parallel infrastructure (without giving much thought to it then):

A trip from Perlejewo to Brussels and back costs approximately 80 dollars, and the increased competition among coach companies is reducing the cost of such fares even more. The trip lasts approximately 24 hours, and there are even ‘door to door’ transport services. (Frejka et al. as cited on p. 53)

Last weekend i drove back from Berlin to Amsterdam relatively early on Sunday morning, and this provided me with an opportunity to see these transport services in action. A significant amount of the cars traveling west on the A2 were minibuses registered in Poland (and either displaying signs of polish tour operators or even more tellingly of Dutch temporary work agencies). Some of them traveling alone some of them traveling in convoys of 3 or 4 vehicles. in total i think i saw at least 60 or so of these vehicles of more than 40 companies, which as we are traveling at at approximately the same speed most likely is only a small share of the total traffic on that day. That translates into a lot of people commuting from Poland to work in NL on that Sunday.

In the last 3 years i have travelled a lot between Berlin and Amsterdam, but almost exclusively by train and while the direct trains from Berlin to Amsterdam originate in poland i have never really noticed polish workers using the train to commute to Holland. This is probably due to the exorbitant prices of railway tickets nowadays (a standard return ticket berlin amsterdam is €184) but having seen these minibuses in action there is obviously another advantage to them. most of them were traveling at 140KM/h or more and if one combines this with the fact that these buses seem to offer door to door services, this probably translates into enormous time savings especially when one assumes that most of the trips taken by these pendular migrants are from small rural places to small rural places (which tend to have lousy public transport connectivity). In any case i was quite impressed by this almost hidden, highly flexible parallel transport infrastructure.


13 Apr 2006 | 149 words | amsterdam cycling traffic

So i got stopped for running a red light today while on the way from the dentist to work. The cop who struggled with reading my (dutch government issued!!) id card asked me at some point if i wanted to make a statement regarding the reasons for running the red light, to which i replied that id do run every second red light and that this happened to be one of them. She politely asked if i wanted her to write this down in the incident report which i confirmed. Unfortunately it turns out that my statement was a bit of a twisted description of my actual behavior: on the rest of mty rout e to work i actually ran all 8 red traffic lights that i came across…

[btw can someone explain me why the price for running a red light has suddenly doubled from €25 to €50]

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: