Things Boston.

Hublog encourages correspondents to contribute thoughts about local news, particularly criticism of local media.

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Friday, July 19, 2002
Segways and byways -- Two interesting columns in the Herald about alternative transportation, and they both missed the same point. Cosmo Macero takes on low-speed "glorified golf-carts", which the Registry is going to have to license and allow on public roads with speed limits less than 35 mph. (The category is actually referred to as Neighborhood Electric Vehicles.) Thomas Keane argues that the Segway electric scooter should be allowed on a a sidewalk near you.

Both columns address essentially the same issue: Whether our roads/sidewalks are suited to NEVs/Segways. Macero says that the underweight and under-powered NVs are incompatible with our Ford Excursion-clogged roads. Keane seems to concede that the Segway is a bit much for the sidewalk, but says its potential for revolutionizing urban transportation depends on keeping them off the road -- where the'll get croaked by many times faster and larger cars and trucks -- leaving the sidewalk the only option.

The debate is too focused on how new vehicles fit into the existing infrastructure and its use and not enough on what the infrastructure ought to support. Despite Macero's very droll image of grandpa buzzing down to the early-bird special, isn't a cheap, lightweight, less-polluting vehicle better suited for a huge portion of the driving people do? Hublog's stop-and-sometimes-go trip to Bread & Circus would be not noticeably longer in a car with a 30 mph top end. Let's figure out how to make room for NVs (if they deserve it), where they don't have to compete with cars. Macero's biggest issue -- the problem of radically dissimilar mass and speed (a GEM two-seater weighs a third of a Toyota Camry) -- goes away if regular cars don't share the same roadway with NVs.

Ultimately, that's the Segway's problem, too. It could be a great option for trips to long to walk and too short to justify getting in the car. But, it's too heavy and fast for sidewalks. It's too slow and light for roads. It needs its own pathways.

What the debate over NVs and Segways demonstrates is the need to radically rethink transportation infrastructure to acknowledge the drawbacks of the automobile and accommodate alternative transportation. It shouldn't be sufficient to argue that bicycles, NVs, Segways, etc. aren't compatible with cars or pedestrians. We've got to find ways to make them viable.

Monday, July 15, 2002
The Right Thing -- Like Cosmo Macero, hublog is cheered by Coca-Cola's decision to report options as expenses in future financial statements. But, could the decision be the victim of the law of unintended consequences?

Will opponents of regulations mandating that options be expensed point to Coca-Cola's voluntary decision as proof that no regulation is necessary and that the marketplace should determine how options are accounted? It's easy to imagine W. earnestly citing Coca-Cola as an example of how markets can function best without regulation.

The regulation opponents have what seems to be a good argument: let companies like Coca-Cola earn a premium for transparency. Unfortunately, there's no evidence that the markets are routinely capable of punishing companies that lack transparency.

Friday, July 12, 2002
Not so fast -- Hublog yields to no one in his enthusiasm for the Segway HT, except maybe the nuts who paid over $100,000 at auction for each of the first three consumer units. He can't wait to try one. If the price ever drops to within shouting distance of reasonable, he'll propose buying one at the next meeting of the Family Council Ways & Means committee.

But, this campaign to give Segways and their operators complete right-of-way to the Commonwealth's sidewalks is just plain nuts. Before a single unit is in civilian hands, the Public Safety Committee is considering legislation that would grant, according to this Globe article, "access to every Bay State sidewalk, trail, and low-speed road, and would bar cities and towns from imposing any restrictions on the Segway."

It may be that we are at the dawn of a new transportation era, like the debut of the automobile at the last turn-of-the-century. If so, we're going to have to make some changes to accommodate Segways on existing infrastructure or build new routes. (Hublog loves the idea of dedicated bike/Segway lanes.) But, let's slow down and see how things shake out a little before we decide that the sidewalk is the appropriate place for a scooter that can go up to 12.5 miles per hour, according to Segway. (The Globe says an eye-popping 20 mph.)

Hublog is an avid bike commuter and knows what it's like to travel 13 mph in the city. It's way too fast for the sidewalk. Before the legislators get too starry-eyed from their demo rides inside the statehouse, they should try a different test. The committee members ought to walk up and down the sidewalk in front of the State House with Segway riders zipping by at top speeds. I'm betting that'll dampen their enthusiasm.

Critics of the legislation are inevitably going to be labelled anti-progress Luddites. Not fair. Bring on the Segways, just not on the sidewalk, please.

Thursday, July 11, 2002
Shanley the Opportunist -- Hublog correspondent Larry Fay draws attention to a troubling Globe feature on the "search for the real Paul Shanley" in the Living Arts section. The piece suggests that there is a struggle to make sense of Shanley as crusading hero and Shanley as molester, as though the good that Shanley did might mitigate against his crimes or that there is a separate body of good that lives independent of his crimes. The ambivalence is summed up by a quote from former nun and current Boston City Clerk Rosaria Salerno. "He may have done horrific evil, but he also did a lot of good."

The ridiculousness of searching for the "heroic" Shanley is revealed in a paragraph buried more than two-thirds of the way through the article. Carmen Durso, an attorney for some Shanley victims explains that Shanley's created "a pool of kids he could go after." Shanley's "crusading" work gave him opportunity for and cover to his unforgiveable offenses. To commit the kind of child sexual abuse Shanley committed, the perpetrator has to gain the trust of children -- to lure victims -- and respect in the community -- to discourage victims from reporting and to encourage authorities to ignore or discredit reports. All the better if the children are already outcast or marginalized, have no one else to trust, and are unlikely to be credited by authorities. Shanley's "good" was a necessary platform for his "evil." Anyone who tries to separate them is kidding themselves.

The real Paul Shanley is a predator. Paul Shanley is not a hero and never was.

Wednesday, July 10, 2002
Endorse this -- Mitt Romney's sicced the lawyers on Jim Rappaport for distributing Romney/Rappaport bumper stickers, though Rappaport is the officially endorsed Republican lieutenant governor candidate. Yet, he won't debate Robert Reich because Reich is not the officially endorsed Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

Mitt, hublog's confused. When does official endorsement matter?