October 26, 2013 at 8:01 PM
They seem to fit the profile of new tech that takes off: They make a popular activity faster and easier, and they’re green, to boot.
So why aren’t electric bicycles all over Seattle’s streets?
“Sixty percent of the people who come in here say some version of, ‘I had no idea these things existed,’ ” Daniel deCordova told me last week. We were at MadBoy Electric Vehicles, his shop in Sodo, surrounded by bicycles that do things bicycles don’t do.
Next time you see someone pedaling up a steep hill as if it’s nothing, take a look at the machine. See a round bulge at the center of one wheel? That’s a motor. The thick bar over the back wheel or hooked to the frame? That’s a battery. The e-bike might have a throttle, a display — even, in some models, a key ignition. The rider can pedal a lot, or just a little. It’s not up to physics. It’s up to the rider.
October 1, 2013 at 9:00 AM
I got this email last week from George Hickey, who told me he’s a recently retired bus driver. Hickey read my column calling for a more honest conversation about texting and driving.
Hickey’s message opened with a link to comedian Louis C.K.’s takedown of the practice on a recent episode of “Conan.” C.K. has a way of digging down to sticky truths in his jokes. This is no exception:
“Pretty much 100 percent of people who are driving are texting,” Hickey quoted C.K. in his email. “People are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t want be alone for a second.”
I can second that. As a Metro bus driver looking down into the laps of car drivers, I’ve observed that most are clutching a smartphone, and that at traffic lights, afraid to be alone with their thoughts for 90 seconds they immediately start using the phone and continue to use it as they drive away.
I still don’t see any indication that the politicians and media understand the importance of preventing these drivers from using their phones while operating a vehicle. These people threaten your life and the lives of your loved ones every time you leave the house. Why treat them with kid gloves as you did in your recent article? They are contemptible.
September 14, 2013 at 7:36 PM
They weren’t police, but when Beth Ebel and her team of investigators walked up and down intersections in six major counties this year, peering into car windows to count how many drivers were using their phones, some drivers dropped them. Hid them. Pretended they’d never held them.
“We in public health have this fallacy that if we tell people why they shouldn’t do things, they won’t do them,” said Ebel, a trauma doctor and director of the Injury Prevention and Research Center at Harborview Medical Center. “We’ve got to stop that.”
Today, 97.5 percent of the state’s drivers wear seat belts. When Ebel began doing research on seat-belt use in 2001, 83 percent did. One lesson from that hard-won battle: Statistics about risk and death are why we care about a problem. They’re not how we’re going to fix it.
June 3, 2013 at 1:48 PM
Driverless cars sound like a dream for a lot of people who just want to get from point A to point B.
But what if you just love to drive?
As head of the ProFormance Racing School in Kent, Don Kitch Jr. might get behind the wheel of anything from a Porsche to a BMW 535. He knows better than most why driving is about more than transportation. It’s about freedom, independence and fun.
That’s a big reason why commuting is a tough habit to break, no matter how efficient cities make other forms of transit.
While I was researching my column about how driverless cars would (and wouldn’t) kill congestion, I called Kitch up to chat. My husband, who learned to drive a manual transmission after watching seasons and seasons of British car show “Top Gear,” took a spin on the ProFormance track last year.
Are driverless cars the enemy?
June 1, 2013 at 8:00 PM
It was a drive like any other drive. I got on Highway 99 and headed south, confident, after checking Google Maps, that I’d be downtown in 20 minutes.
Then, near the Aurora Bridge, 99 became a parking lot. A portion of the route had been closed for construction. I’d had no idea.
“This traffic is crushing my soul,” I tweeted half a block and half an hour later. “Help me. Please. Something. Anything to keep me from losing my mind.”
Sitting stuck in traffic is a special kind of hell. These past couple weeks, Puget Sound drivers burned bad. First the 99 nightmare May 18. Then a bridge collapse May 23. Then, a few days ago, a semi jackknifed on Interstate 5, all but shutting down the freeway and surrounding roads for miles just in time for the morning commute.
Congestion is a reality of urban life. But somewhere in those two hours on Aurora, I wondered — what if it doesn’t have to be? Robot cars from “Minority Report” and “iRobot” cruised through my mind, as they do every time my decade-old Civic churns in gridlock. Someday we’ll escape this, I thought. Technology will show the way. It will be wonderful.
April 18, 2013 at 1:50 PM
We were talking about the strong possibility that the FAA will loosen restrictions on electronic devices during flights, and my mother-in-law’s eyes went wide.
“Well, all I can say is they’d better have a separate section for people who make phone calls.”
I knew exactly what she meant.
Gogo, the company that offers in-flight Wi-Fi on many United States flights, this month sent its group of customer advisers the results of a customer survey about calling and texting in the air. The company didn’t say how many customers were polled (as far as I can tell this wasn’t a public release). But still. The results were interesting.
Especially on Question 3…
When we can already email on planes, I don’t see why texting would really be a “nuisance.” Phone calls are a different story. An overwhelming proportion of consumers surveyed said they would rather other passengers text than call on a flight. Just 2 percent of respondents said they disagreed with that sentiment.
To the 11 percent of respondents who said they’re neutral on that: Really?
It is amazing, how irritating it can be to hear just one half of a stranger’s conversation. (Why? One recent study suggests it’s because they hijack your cognitive functions.) I’m writing from Third Place Books in Ravenna, where a couple women are chatting just behind me to my right. No big deal. But if it was just one of the women, speaking into her phone — at the same, considerate volume, no less — I and my fellow laptop loungers would stare her down if she kept the conversation to anything more than a few seconds.
At least here we’d have the option of walking away. On a plane? …
(Well speak of the devil. I just got a call from my eye doctor. I picked it up and gave a quiet, one word answers to confirm my appointment. “Just calling to confirm your appointment at 2 o’clock tomorrow.” “Yup.” “Do you have vision insurance?” “Nope.” “We’ll see you tomorrow.” “OK.” END.)
Don’t freak out, though. The FAA is feeling pressure to let passengers keep reading devices like iPads and Kindles on during takeoff and landing, cellphones are a long way from getting anything other than a Wi-Fi signal on flights — and only when the plane is high in the air.
Domestically, anyway. British airline Virgin Atlantic started allowing airborne calls on some flights last year, but many foreign airlines have made a habit of it. Dubai-based Emirates was the first to let passengers make calls back in 2008.
Other people’s calls are annoying. What about our own? I don’t know about you, but it’s kind of nice to still have some level of disconnection when I’m on a flight. I’ll buy Gogo Wi-Fi if I have to get work done (though the $14 price per flight can be pretty steep on a puddle jumper). But knowing I can’t schedule calls is … nice.
Airplanes are one of those funny places where we’re all cramped together, but want to be alone. With rare exception, the extent of my interaction with the people sitting inches (who am I kidding — an inch) away is an “Excuse me” to get to my seat and a hand off of an empty cup and a peanuts bag.
Then again, if there’s a way we overworked Americans can increase our productivity, we tend to pursue it.
In his letter to the FAA urging it to speed up the process of allowing more electronic devices to be left one during takeoff and landing last December, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski laid out that case:
“[Mobile devices] empower people to stay informed and connected with friends and family, and they enable both large and small businesses to be more productive and efficient, helping drive economic growth and boost U.S. competitiveness.”
Access to content and email helps with that. Are we going to demand the ability to make phone calls as well?
I hope that separate section is good and cramped.
April 6, 2013 at 7:55 PM
VIDEO: Sea-Tac Airport chief technologist David Wilson on WiFi, self-service and the airport’s tech priorities:
I know technology is getting better at the airport because I’m spending less and less time sitting on the floor.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has installed 432 new power outlets around the gates since 2011. It expects to add 564 more through 2014, plus another 24 in ticketing and bag-claim areas. The new outlets are on airport charging tables or just under the seats and — along with airlines’ own passenger charging stations — are preventing messy, tripwire campsites from forming around outlets on posts and walls.
To think. Those used to be for vacuum cleaners.
Planes take off and land at Sea-Tac well enough. But the top customer-service complaints here, as in most American airports, aren’t about travel, but technology. Connectivity used to be the biggest sticking point, but after Sea-Tac introduced free Wi-Fi in 2010, the crowd has craved juice.
“It’s a symbiotic relationship,” David Wilson told me. “The more Wi-Fi you have, the more power you need.”
It’s Wilson’s job, as the airport’s chief technologist, to juggle the needs of airlines and passengers, anticipate what we want before we want it, and race against the pace of technology to provide it. (That’s in addition to wrangling 180 systems in a monster facility where about 20,000 people work and the equivalent of the population of Bellevue passes through daily.)
Other airports might lag behind a trend or two. But this is Seattle. Like many of its residents, Sea-Tac aims to be an early adopter.
Wi-Fi and power are just the beginning.
March 29, 2013 at 2:56 PM
The survey was conducted by AT&T late last year and released this week. Among its findings: 98 percent of adults know texting while driving is wrong, but about half admit they do it. AT&T has been pushing the issue for a while now, encouraging customers to pledge never to text and drive. Last summer, the company brought a texting-while-driving simulator to Garfield High School presumably because the problem is perceived to be bigger, or at least more critical, with teens.
But it might not be. In the same recent AT&T survey, only 43 percent of teens — commuters 18 and 19, in this case — admitted to texting while driving, compared with 49 percent of adults.
Either grown-ups are more honest or less rational. Take your pick.
Either way, we’re setting a lousy example.
And get this: According to an earlier AT&T survey, 77 percent of teens say their parents tell them not to text while driving, but do it themselves “all the time.”
Forty-nine percent is “all the time” in teen speak.
Six out of 10 adults say they never texted while driving just three years ago. So you know what we need now: a look at accident rates over that same period. If any increase can be tied to texting while driving, it might knock some sense into us.
Or not. A 2009 study suggested that texting while driving could increase the risk of getting into a collision as much as 23 percent.
If knowing that won’t stop us, who knows what will.