ratpag 03-S-02 “The One Where They Mail it In”

trump2

You probably thought ratpag was full of fresh ideas when we made our triumphant return some 4 – 7 days ago.  What a silly thought.  Today we present the second post of our third phase in this wacky ratpag experiment.  Take it away, New Jersey correspondent…

Hello readers!  Oh my!  You must be wondering “where has your New Jersey correspondent been the past few months?”  Did he take New Jersey Transit down to the Jersey Shore?  Or is he stuck on a train?  Maybe he’s waiting for the East Side Access Project to be finished.  Perhaps he is raising money to finance train tickets given the upcoming fare hikes.  Maybe he got addicted to weed!

Well, don’t worry – he’s not doing any of that!  He’s looking out for you, ratpag’s hardcore readers, by compiling rail and transit news as well as analyzing all of the candidates for the upcoming 2016 presidential election.  And, to jump on the bandwagon, he would like to inform you, the uniformed, ignorant reader, about DONALD TRUMP.

trump3

Fun Fact:  Did you know the “J” in Donald J. Trump stands for Jor-El, his biological father (husband of Lara, a leading scientist)?  

DONALD TRUMP is a successful businessman from NEW YORK CITY, home of the eastern side of the “most important rail project in the U.S.”  And he says he owns at least $10 billion worth of assets!  DONALD TRUMP’S $10 billion could pay for this $1 million investment 10,000 times over.  U.S. railroads may have recently logged the highest intermodal volume for a week but DONALD TRUMP would be the richest president ever – EVER!

trump4

Fun Fact:  Did you know the “J” in Donald J. Trump stands for “Jacopo” and that “The Donald” grew up in Costa Rica?

Vermont wants to improve rail service?  Well, New Hampshire has the first primary and DONALD J. TRUMP might win it!

trump1

Fun Fact:  Did you know the “J” in Donald J. Trump doesn’t actually stand for anything at all.  Once he reached age 18, Mr. Trump decided to make his middle name “Jay” so as to avoid confusion on DMV renewal applications.

Well, that’s enough fun for one day.  We look forward to seeing Donald Trump’s infrastructure improvement plan.  Or anyone else’s infrastructure improvement plan.  We’re sure all of the candidates are hard at work solving such important problems right now!

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Back By Popular Demand

Welcome-back-Frances-teddybear64-30997286-433-274

Welcome back, ratpag.  It’s funny – we had never expected to return by popular demand after having ceased operations some six months ago due to extreme lack of popularity – but here we are.  We realize you may have some questions for us.  We have some for you, too.  But first, to ease our way back into it – a little Q & A:

ratpag, does this mean that you’re now unemployed?

No.  Obviously if we’re making new posts for ratpag we can’t possibly be unemployed because writing for ratpag is work.  Tireless, unrewarding work.

Will ratpag be returning to its diligent 5-post-per-week (and sometimes on Sundays) schedule?

No.  Absolutely not.

Care to give a reason?

No…not really.  5 ratpags a week was pretty unsustainable.  In fact, 5 ratpags a week, along with our excessive unpopularity, is probably what contributed to ratpag’s 6+ month hiatus which we’re only now very slowly emerging from.  The idea of writing 5 ratpags a week makes us want to go on another hiatus.

ratpag formerly served as a “rail and transit” source before briefly turning its interests towards “recreation and travel” – will there be a defined focus this time around?

No, not specifically.  ratpag will post whatever cutting-edge, disruptive, avant-garde material it deems worthy when it deems worthy.  We see ourselves as a sort of  municipal treatment system that stands between the raw sewage that is most topics of discussion and the clean, treated discharge that will be our focus of discussion.  First topic of deep analysis is likely to be tomorrow’s Republican debate.

Can you assure us that there will be no abrupt, unannounced hiatuses in the near future?

No.

Will ratpag be soliciting outside stories by non-ratpag employees in the near future?

No.

Is ratpag hiring?

No.

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ratpag Turns One

babys cryin

To be precise – ratpag turned one just the other day.

It’s hard to believe but one year ago – February 21, 2014 – ratpag reintroduced itself to the world with a functioning website.  We threw our weight behind the L.A. Metro Rail connector project and look where it is now:  in progress!

Now, ratpag can’t claim all the credit for the “daylong and evening lane closures on Alameda Street” or the 10 days of construction that will “mean eastbound Second will be closed at Broadway” but we will say that we are pleased with the disruptions this public transit project is causing motorists throughout downtown.

So what else is happening with the Connector project?  Well, Comrade Obama has redistributed 115 million taxpayer dollars to the project, which has “already secured $670 million from the Federal Transit Administration and a $160 million federal loan.”  Book your tickets now for the 2020 opening of the project to cash in on your investment!

ratpag, what’s with the sarcasm?  You love actions that direct unlimited resources towards public transportation projects.

Yes, true – we’re not being sarcastic.  We really do plan on being there in downtown L.A. for the opening of the Metro Connector project in 2020 – so should you!

So where does ratpag go from here?  We haven’t been particularly consistent with our postings.  We apologize.  ratpag has no excuse.  We do want to pat ourselves on the back for having produced 171 posts over our first year.  That seems pretty good.  So maybe you should stop complaining, hmmm, and look back on such unprecedented productivity from an organization with a stolen rat-in-suit image as its logo!

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ratpag’s Super Bowl Non-Coverage

Tired of all that Super Bowl talk (we were sure to include the phrase “Super Bowl” and “The Big Game” in this post so as to stir up page clicks)?  Good!  ratpag has something completely not Super Bowl or The Big Game related from our New Jersey correspondent:  pizza slicing.

As you may have noticed, your New Jersey correspondent enjoys fine food.  He promoted spaghetti and hot pockets on this very site.  He has reported on Amtrak’s food service, and suggested restaurants in North Jersey.

Therefore, you can imagine the horror when he read about a restaurant in Brooklyn where the pizza “[arrives] in an intact circle.”  And, the server asks, “How many slices would you like?” and proceeds to cut the pizza right there at the table.

First, the answer is eight slices.  But, given that we’re considerate, thoughtful people, we’ll consider other answers.

1.  Don’t slice the pizza at all.

Apparently, in Italy, the pizza isn’t sliced.  And I encourage all of you to visit Italy!  But, this restaurant is in Brooklyn.  From time to time your author has left NJ, crossed the Hudson and East Rivers, and gone to Brooklyn.  (or crossed the Arthur Kill and The Narrows).  Brooklyn is trendy!   Your author enjoys Brooklyn themed beverages with his pizza.

pizza-and-brooklyn

Brooklyn is so trendy that apparently every other news source carefully analyzes a TV show focused on it.  Your author hasn’t seen the TV show, but does have some thoughts on the Borough.  First, given that you follow ratpag, you probably aren’t driving to Brooklyn.  But, if you do drive, beware of the BQE.  It may be the worst Interstate highway in America.  The best way to get to Brooklyn is to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge.  While you’re walking over the bridge, you can look at the traffic on the BQE and at the Brooklyn Promenade, which is a pretty impressive multi-level cantilevered section of the BQE and a public walkway that opened in 1954.  Walking over the Bridge may also inspire you to read David McCullough’s classic, The Great Bridge.

If you can’t walk over the bridge, you can take the Subway to Brooklyn.  We haven’t identified any subway riding dogs in NYC yet, however, a dog was recently found on Randall’s Island after being missing for five months!  Randall’s Island isn’t accessible by subway though, so we doubt he took the train there.

If you take the subway to Brooklyn, it can become contentious.  Recent contention has centered around how should you position your legs while you’re sitting on the train and is it acceptable to eat on the subway.  Your author is not going to tell you how to sit or where to eat, but if you see someone taking your picture, some other blog might write about you.

2.  Slice the pizza in half.

This doesn’t make any sense!  But, a lot of things in the world of rail-and-transit don’t make any sense.  Why would they build a brand new train station without bathrooms?  Why is the ticket for driving with an un-registered car less than the ticket if the un-registered car is parked at the mall?  Why would someone with kidnapped passengers hidden in his car use the HOV lane?  And, this one’s not rail-and-transit, but: how did a couple lock themselves in a closet without a lock on the door?

3.  Slice the pizza into an odd number of slices.

This would be difficult for the server because he or she couldn’t cut directly across the pie.  Sometimes rail-and-transit is difficult:  It might trap you on an airplane.  It might randomly stop running.  Maybe the transportation system doesn’t adequately alert you to free coffee.

4.  Cut the pizza into 1,000 pieces.

This would be extremely difficult for the server.  We’re not sure if there’s a limit to the number of slices, but if there isn’t, this could be fun for everyone at the table.  You and your friends could re-assemble the pizza, similar to your author assembling a jigsaw puzzle.

puzzle-showing-water-transit

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ratpag <3 <3 <3 Blizzards

Can ratpag be serious for a minute?  Like 2nd Ave. Sagas’ “postmortem” on subway closures serious?  We love snow.  If this organization wasn’t about rail or transit (or recreation and travel) it’d probably be about the weather.  We’d call ourselves something like the “Rain and Tornado Progress Advocacy Group” just to save money from ever having to buy another domain name again.

So did you hear about the NYC Blizzard of ‘015?  How could you not – we’re talking about NYC!

Screenshot_2015-01-25-17-49-32 For all NYC intents and purposes, the blizzard was a colossal bust.  Had ratpag known that ahead of time we wouldn’t have sent out every one of our NYC-area correspondents to document nature’s wrath on the city’s transportation infrastructure.  Nevertheless, some of our observations…

Monday, 2:14 pm

20150126_142025

ratpag has quarantined itself inside Vazacs Horseshoe Bar in Alphabet City.  The snow is falling outside at a considerable, miserable rate.  Every direction turned results in headwinds; snow “flakes” more like little snow rocks.  Very painful.

Very concerned at lack of bar patrons.  Perhaps not everyone felt it responsible to be at bar during middle of work day / snowstorm?  Unlikely says fellow bar patrons.  They’re all just “pussies” says fellow bar patrons.

Monday, 3:42 pm

20150126_162611

The time has come for ratpag to disembark the Horseshoe bar and walk homeward bound towards Brooklyn.  Also hastily-scheduled ratpag correspondent’s meeting at Pacific Standard bar in Park Slope.  No, ratpag does not just drink all the time and no, ratpag does not live in Park Slope.  ratpag does wish in the affirmative on both prior counts.

We are pleased with the cleared pedestrian way along the Manhattan Bridge.  Pathway seems even more clear than many of the surrounding roadways, which also pleases ratpag.

Chinatown

Chinatown

The FDR

The FDR

Monday, 5:25 pm

The walk from Manhattan took much longer than ratpag anticipated.  Conditions outside deteriorating.  Correspondents rendezvous at Pacific Standard under ratpag-marked territory:

20150101_002028Much discussion about the upcoming New York City transportation closures.  Verdict:  thumbs up, brilliant decision on shutting down automotive transportation at 11 pm.  Thumbs down, poor decision on shutting down all public transportation.   ratpag briefly considers taking matter into its own hands – perhaps we could operate the city’s public transportation?  Reality sets in.  ratpag departs for home just in time to not be stranded by massive transportation shutdown.

Tuesday, 4:05 am

ratpag wakes up to urinate.  Like a little school boy, ratpag can’t help but to sneak a peek at the blizzard’s mayhem.  Disappointment.  Blizzard is not panning out (at least not in NYC – New England another story).    ratpag returns to sleep.  ratpag is “working from home” for the time being, anyway, so can wake up whenever he wants.

Tuesday, 9:00 am

jcia-and-ht

ratpag’s New Jersey correspondent hits the streets in search of news.  Nothing to report.  He did capture this exclusive pic of a traffic-less, car-less Holland Tunnel.  ratpag editorial staff very happy at such a sight; gives Jersey correspondent a promotion.

light-rail

NJ correspondent also found evidence of public transportation operating while cars were not.  Another promotion.

snowy-slow-zone

Finally, a nearly car-free picture from Manhattan.  No promotion (we can see cars).

Tuesday, 1 pm

ratpag’s editorial staff crawls out of bed and walks to the city.  Best way to observe a city is by foot.  ratpag still inspired by Wayne Curtis’s The Last Great Walk.  This time we traverse the Brooklyn Bridge on our way to Manhattan.  Well-cleared paths.

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After a 3 pm power lunch of waffles and bagels at the Remedy Diner, ratpag decides to once again walk back home.  Did you lose your MetroCard, ratpag?  No, ratpag just has a lot of time to fill.

20150127_160736

Tuesday, nighttime 

freedom-tower

The heavens had cleared.  NYC seemed back to normal.  ratpag satisfied itself by watching a neighbor dig out a vehicle using a broom:

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ratpag took this snow storm as an opportunity not to hunker down and stay inside but to roam the streets and explore a city.  We encourage the same the next time a major storm selects your region!  And kudos to New England for digging bouncing back so quickly.

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ratpag Analyzes – With Grave Concern – the Condition of America’s Trail Infrastructure

icy-stream-2

“Where was ratpag last week?” you ask.

In case you didn’t remember, last Monday was a little federal holiday called, oh, I don’t know – MLK day.

“Yes, we do remember and you actually made a post – your most recent one – directly on MLK day.”

Well, where we’re (some of us) originally from, there’s also a little holiday called Lee-Jackson day.  And because ratpag made a post and took a trip into the field on MLK day (we drank for 14 straight hours on Lee-Jackson day) we decided to honor Dr. King by not working for the rest of the week.

Anyway, enough of that.  The real issue in today’s post is the harrowing conditions of America’s Trail Infrastructure.  ratpag recently traveled into the Hudson Valley backcountry and happened upon the lovely Harriman State Park just a little ways north and west of New York City.  The conditions found upon the Appalachian Trail both shocked and appalled your ratpag crew and, in our opinion, can be blamed squarely upon our most frequent – and bitter – enemy:  lack of federal infrastructure funding (this time for trails).

Case 1 – Deteriorating foot bridge conditions

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

Look at the unevenness of the slats atop this bridge.  And the inconsistent spacing!  It’s as if park workers and AT volunteers (who we appreciate greatly – we’re only digging into people who don’t fund all kinds of infrastructure) had to put together a bridge – one that crosses a thinly-frozen stream, mind you – with whatever scrap someone was kind enough to illegally dump into a state park.  But yes, it is quaint…until you see this:

Exhibit B

Exhibit B

Oh, so cars get reinforced bridges?!

All we’re asking is to ensure that foot trail bridges get just as much funding as backcountry vehicle bridges (before eliminating all backcountry vehicle trails – but keeping all foot trails and funding.  Our demands are simple).

Case 2 – Untreated icy conditions

Salt and sand disbursement along a trail would be inappropriate but we don’t believe trails should be left untreated (lest the unprepared hiker be at risk of grave danger).  Observe the following icy trail conditions:

Exhibit C

Exhibit C

Exhibit D

Exhibit D

Dangerous!  Fortunately, ratpag came prepared and placed chains on boots – much like an alpine-bound big rig:

Exhibit E

Exhibit E

The problem is that not everybody may have boot chains in case of icy conditions.  ratpag proposes that federal funding be provided to install ice breakers (people with strong sticks, sledge hammers, what-have-you) to treat ice along our nation’s trails in an environmentally-sensitive (non-salt) way.  Think of all the jobs that would create.

Other than that, ratpag doesn’t really have much else to complain about – it was a wonderful day along the AT.  We did get a pretty sharp picture of a perfect snowflake:

Little snowflake

Little snowflake

ratpag encourages all of our readers to hit the trail as soon as you can!  Even if it’s covered in three feet of snow.

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ratpag Talks Career-Killing (Something We’re Very Familiar With)

This could be you.

This could be you.

ratpag’s New Jersey correspondent doesn’t want you to live in a fantasy world where you blame your problems on everybody else [Editor’s note:  fantasy?].  Chances are, you’re doing something wrong [editor’s note:  that sounds like something you would say] .  Our friends at the BBC pulled together a list of things you are probably doing that will kill your career. Building off the BBC’s suggestions, your correspondent presents four characteristics that will hurt your career and will also hurt a rail-and-transit system.

1.  Producing well below expectations:

If you don’t meet expectations, your career may suffer.  Expectations aren’t met when the traveling public cannot use part of transportation system.  For example, in Boston, travelers expected to be able to use the Old Northern Avenue Bridge, however, it was closed due to “deterioration beyond repair.”

It’s nicer when expectations are exceeded.  The District of Columbia has had a great year for bicycle commuting, with about four percent of workers travelers to the office using this mode.  And, out in California, expectations have been exceeded in multiple modes of transport:  Amtrak had record ridership over the Thanksgiving weekend, and California highways have had the biggest annual increase in traffic in over 10 years!

2.  Being stagnant, and refusing to change:

Refusing to change can be detrimental to your career.  Jobs change and workers need to adapt to the new job.  Unfortunately, some politicians are resistant to change – like Governors Cuomo and Christie, who vetoed reforms of the Port Authority. And, of course, sometimes politicians recommend changes that aren’t a good idea, like the proposal to shut down overnight PATH train service.

Luckily, Amtrak has not been resistant to change.  They’re adding new service through Vermont and northern Massachusetts, and they’re adding more connections for passengers in the mid-west.  Sometimes new ideas are just returning to old ideas – and Amtrak is doing that, too, by resuming normal service on its Empire Builder line.

3.  Acting illegally:

Breaking the law is usually not good for your career.  For example, out in Ohio the supreme court ruled that municipal authorities do have the legal authority to use cameras to enforce traffic rules.

Sometimes transportation agencies try to change the law and regulations so that previously illegal activity is now legal.  Freight railroads are trying to do that, as they seek to change the regulations and allow for trains to be operated with one-person crews, rather than the normal two-person crews in use today.  In Minnesota, politicians are debating possible changes in the tax laws as a way to finance transportation improvements.

4.  Communicating poorly:

Poor communication in the office can kill your job.  Sometimes, in the rail-and-transit world, transportation agencies try to control the story and stop bad news from being published.  Oil transporting railroads cannot be happy that negative coverage is showing the danger of their trains.

On the other hand, the USDOT is trying to communicate more openly, using BuzzFeed to broadcast their message.

So how does this all relate to you, dear reader?  ratpag can tell that you have been communicating poorly.  How?  ratpag has readership statistics, you know, and we can see that they have remained stagnant (see point #2) ever since our miraculous return.  This is causing ratpag to produce below expectations (point #1) and will likely result in our acting illegally (point #3), at some point in the near future, to drum up readership.  This is all your fault, dear reader.  All your fault!

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Dogs! ratpag Talks Dogs and Transit

Dogs love transit

Dogs love transit

ratpag’s cold, rotten rat heart just melted today after coming across this article about Eclipse, the bus-riding dog.  The story is that Eclipse, having grown impatient with her cigarette-enjoying owner, decided to take the bus the three or four stops to the dog park on her own.

Her owner, Jeff Young, still joins Eclipse for a trip to the dog park but says that, on occasion, “she gets on the bus without me, and I catch up with her at the dog park.”

The bus drivers love her, the passengers love her, even King County Metro Transit is a fan. So who would be against such a happy situation?  That’s right, the uncouth bowels of the internet that is news site commenters.  Many comments are actually quite nice, but here are a few to rain on the parade:

“Cute” story, but there are LEASH LAWS in the city of Seattle that the owners needs to obey!  The owner needs to be fined for endangering the his dog’s life!!

-Jerrie Wolfe

arrest the owner. That dog will get old and at one time bite some little kid on the bus.  Dogs need on a leash.

-LDS

I’m going to get hate for this one, but the owner needs to pay the fare for the dog.

“Small dogs who remain on their owner’s lap ride for free. All other dogs pay the base fare (or reduced fare) paid by the customer accompanying the dog. No zone fare is charged and transfers are to be issued upon request.”

-kockatoo

That was fun while it lasted.

Eclipse not only evades fare but takes up two seats

Eclipse not only evades fares but takes up multiple seats

So how about other traveling dogs?  We’ve all heard of Moscow’s subway-riding dogs, yes?  Their story is that “in the Soviet period, the population of stray dogs…was strictly regulated.”  Think about what, in the Soviet period, “regulation” means.  Then, during perestroika (the restructuring of the Soviet system that eventually led to the end of the USSR), people stopped concerning themselves with killing stray dogs and a free-for-all began.  The stray population exploded.

The dogs sought refuge from the bitter Russian winter and made their way into metro stations.  Rather than being given the boot, “metro workers fed them” and “riders, too, were kind.”  So now we have three kinds of Moscow subway dogs:

  • “Dogs who live on the subway but do not travel,”
  • “Dogs who use the subway to travel short distances instead of walking,” and
  • “Entreprenurial dogs who spend the day riding back and forth, busking.”
The evening commute

The evening commute

How about one last traveling dog story?  This one is from a couple years ago but ratpag had no idea such a business exists, though we’re not all that surprised.  Do you have $349 to burn?  Is your dog an irritable traveler?  Does your dog abstain from alcohol consumption (thus limiting his ability to calm his nerves)?  If you answered yes, yes, yes, then you and your dog may be interested in the Hollywood dog flight training class.

article-2417672-1BC1BBC7000005DC-155_634x474

A diverse group of people and dogs

At K9 Flight School your dog will master:

Airport check-in, TSA screening, boarding, deboarding, turbulence, landing

And, we assume:  take-off, travel delays, home-to-airport travel, airport-to-home travel…and did we mention they filmed Lost at Air Hollywood?

So ratpag fulfilled its goal for the day – we talked about dogs and mixed in some transit.  We made some bad jokes and copied a lot of people’s work but at least we can feel proud of ourselves.  So join us next week when we talk about something else.

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Walking is IN: ratpag Declares 2015 the Year of Walking

ratpag’s New Jersey correspondent was inspired by the recent book review about Wayne Curtis’s The Last Great Walk.  Believe it or not, your correspondent enjoys walking.  He participated in ratpag’s Four Bridge Challenge.  Here are four other walks your correspondent recommends.

The Spring Lake Boardwalk

The Spring Lake Boardwalk may be one of the nicest walks in the state of New Jersey.  Two miles of level terrain with an ocean view.  Rail and transit service is available to within two-thirds of a mile of the walking path.

Spring Lake boardwalk

Spring Lake boardwalk

Looking at the picture of the boardwalk, and considering the weather outside, ratpag’s New Jersey correspondent is cold!  Have you seen the weather forecast?!  Can you imagine reading this in the summertime, and being transported back in time by reading about the cold weather?!

Imagine that the same train that takes you home from a bitter cold night at Times Square on New Years Eve could take you to a warm summer day at the beach a few months later.

The Notch Trail

Notch Trail in the Badlands

Notch Trail in the Badlands

This one is outside New Jersey:  all the way out in South Dakota!  Walking in Badlands National Park was one of the highlights of ratpag’s investigation of life without rail and transit.  Unfortunately, there is not much rail-and-transit news in South Dakota, but your correspondent did find this story about changes to the rail maintenance crews in North Dakota.

And, speaking of North Dakota, the fracking oil boom is focused there, and that has completely changed the rail traffic around the country.  Various states and the federal government have given over $80 million to freight railroads to make it more efficient to transport oil (despite having a lot of reservations about oil trains, your correspondent is totally in favor of government spending on railroad infrastructure).  As an example of how the government can spend money to improve the rail network, Minnesota may spend up to $300 million to improve rail crossings.  And, the rail oil boom may be affecting electricity prices, since it takes away capacity to transport the coal used to fire power plants.  So, when you pay for electricity, you may be paying the price for cheap oil.

Arches National Park

Arches National Park in Utah

Arches National Park in Utah

This one is also outside New Jersey. If you are in Utah, you should definitely go for a walk in Arches National Park.  Arches National Park is only a 14 hour drive from San Francisco, so it’s not too hard to see, if you visit California.  And, when you visit California, San Francisco is becoming a model for pedestrian transportation:  They closed the Golden Gate Bridge to passenger cars!

Speaking of bridge closures, this correspondent’s governor closed lanes near the George Washington Bridge!  And, the governor has recently released a report that may support building a new rail tunnel to NYC.   Now, of course, this same governor cancelled a rail tunnel that had an actual funding program and real design plans.  And, this plan has no real design, no funding, and no construction schedule.  It would require massive upgrades to Penn Station and land acquisition in Midtown Manhattan.  So your correspondent is a little skeptical that it will actually happen.

Stokes State Forest

Stokes State Forest near the Delaware Water Gap in New Jersey

Stokes State Forest near the Delaware Water Gap in New Jersey

Coming back to New Jersey, Stokes State Forest provides miles and miles of walking trails.  This one is a little tricky to get to by rail-and-transit, but Yahoo Answers has some suggestions.  If you visit Stokes State Forest from the New York City region, as the ratpag team did, you can stop for dinner on the way back to the City.  We would recommend the Outback Steak House on Route 46 in Parsippany.  Only a 3 mile walk from the Mountain Lakes Train Station.

If you cannot make it to the Outback, ratpag recommends a pot of chili.

Campfire chili

Campfire chili

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ratpag’s Book Club: The Last Great Walk by Wayne Curtis

last great walk

On Sunday ratpag previewed a new feature, ratpag’s Book Club, and announced that the first masterpiece that we’d delve into would be The Last Great Walk by Wayne Curtis.  Did you go out and read it?  We gave you three days notice!

Don’t fret, dear reader, if you haven’t had the chance to finish your work – ratpag is here to discuss our favorite points in what we’ll call a terrific anti-car, anti-sitting, anti-being lazy book (also a pro-walking book).

The story follows the trail of competitive pedestrian Edward Payson Weston along his coast-to-coast, New York City to San Francisco, walk in 100 days.  Didn’t know there were competitive, professional pedestrians?  Neither did ratpag!  Apparently there just weren’t that many exciting sports in the late 19th century.

Weston

Weston

Weston gained fame from his many long-distance endeavors, including his first great walk from Boston to Washington, DC – 478 miles – in 10 days and 10 hours (he’d lost a bet on who would win the 1860 presidential election.  He bet against Lincoln.  He had to walk to see his inauguration).  He’d later criss-cross New England, walk to Chicago, take a competitive tour of Europe and having a competitive walking career of over 40 years.  He’d even have another coast-to-coast walk a year after the one illustrated in this story but this 1909 one, from east to west, was the last to garner great attention.  Automobiles were exploding and people cared less for walking.

So why does ratpag like this book so much?  It isn’t simply about an old man walking across the continent.  Wayne Curtis fades in and out of the walking story with wonderful knowledge about, well, everything there is to know about walking.  How did humans come to walk?  Just how efficient is walking?  The psychology of walking.  How pedestrians lost the streets and how healthy walking really is.

So to whet your appetite, here are a few interesting walking facts from The Last Great Walk [with our opinions in brackets]:

  • Not walking, I believe, is one of the most radical things we’re ever decided to do.”  [Hell yeah!  ratpag agrees.  From page xviii]
  • “A typical American today walks an average of roughly five thousand steps daily, or somewhat less than two and a half miles…”  [This is including just bullshitting around the office and walking to and from your car.  From page 5]
  • “According to a 1992 study, a hominid walking on two legs can travel eleven kilometers on the same expenditure of calories as a chimpanzee traveling four kilometers.”  [From page 41]
  • “The engineering of immobility and comfort is essentially a modern advance.  Furniture pieces like chairs have long occupied a place in the world of elites, but were all but unknown to the common people until the Renaissance in Europe.”  [From page 47]
  • “‘What is more likely is that many people sit in chairs all day, get no exercise, and thus have weak backs [and, thus, back pain causing one to sit more and further weaken back muscles],’ he told the New York Times.  ‘We did not evolve to sit in chairs all day.'”  [From page 48]
  • “…by one estimate, the average American adult spends about 70 percent of each day just sitting…”  [From page 51]
  • “The average American spends about 190 hours a year commuting, according to Gallup.  That’s to say, the average American now spends more time in his or her car traveling between work and home each year than than same average American gets in vacation time.”
    • “…we spend, on average, one full day out of every year stalled in traffic.”  [ratpag thinks these two quotes are the most startling, and depressing, from the entire book – particularly the one comparing commuting time to vacation time.  Unless you get nearly 5 weeks’ – 4.75 weeks, to be exact – vacation time every year you’re spending more time commuting than on vacation.  From page 53]
  • “If you walk more and sit less, you live longer.  A study of more than four hundred thousand residents in Taiwan, published in The Lancet, showed that those who engaged in an hour and a half of moderate exercise weekly (walking, jogging, bicycling) increased their life spans by three years.”  [From page 69]
  • “…moderate exercise (walking briskly or jogging for thirty minutes three times a week) was just as effective at reducing the symptoms of depression as sertraline (Zoloft).”  [From page 88]
  • “[In the early 20th century, and all of time before, streets were a place of complete mixing of pedestrians, carts, wagons, everything.  But] within a decade, streets and sidewalks – venues of myriad public activities as late as 1920 – had largely been redefined as exclusive transportation ways, subject to regulation in the name of efficiency…”  [From page 145]
  • “‘We have effectively engineered physical activity out of our daily lives.'”  [Can’t argue with that.  From page 151]

We’ve probably quoted enough pro-walking propaganda for one post but, rest assured, there is much more in this very interesting book.  It’s a quick read, too, weighing in at 236 pages.  So there!  ratpag suggests that you read this book.  We give it 5 out of 5 rats (which is a good thing).

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