Samstag, 11. Oktober 2008

The Traffic Series - Part 1: Biking

"Americans are fat, lazy and don't care about the environment, so they go everywhere by car!"
I don't know how many times I have heard Europeans say that. Now, I cannot speak for the whole of the USA, but I can challenge that statement when it comes to Seattle!

Rising gas prizes, smog and insufficient parking opportunities are a problem in all major cities of the US and Seattle is no exception here. But Seattlelites (that's the inofficial name for the nice people of Seattle) don't just accept that. They do something about it:

In September, Seattle was honored as a gold-level bicycle friendly community. In fact, 4% of the population commute by bike. That doesn't seem much, but it is ten (!) times the national average. Although Seattle is a very hilly and rainy city, it seems to be appealing for cyclists.

One reason surely is the metro's bike policy: If you should be surprised by a sudden shower or don't want to climb a hill on your bike, you can just jump on a bus and take your bike with you - without an additional fare for the bike. And since the bike is secured in front of the bus, you don't have to deal with ignorant riders blocking your space on the bus.

Seattle also has a large network of recreational and commuting trails for bicyclists, such as the Burke-Gilman trail. These trails are for pedestrians and cyclists only.

Some regular streets have bike lanes. Where bicyclists and cars have to share a road, car drivers are often made aware of this fact by markings on the street.

Bikes are also allowed on the sidewalks, however.

In some areas with high bike traffic, the city provides special parking spots for bikes.

However, with the increasing number of bikers in the city, there seems to be a new parking problem.

Parking your bike can cause more problems. Even though bike theft is very low in Seattle, there is the occasional unfortunate episode of "dude, where is my bike?"

Riding your bike on campus may add onto the list of dangers. The University provides these very nice and totally superflous signs that everybody ignores.

I highly recommend walking your bike on campus, however. Not only for your own safety and for that of pedestrians, but also for the hideously fat and thus incredibly slow squirrels on campus. But then again, you don't need a hunting licence in this country and there are too many squirrels anyway ;-)

Bottom Line: Riding a bike in the USA is dangerous, mostly because obtaining a driver's licence is so much easier here. Seattle is hilly and riding through the pouring rain usually isn't really fun. Seattle has, however, one of the nicest drivers in the country and if the weather is all too nasty, you can still jop on a bus.
And the greatest plus for bike riding in Seattle: You are faster than the bus and sometimes even beat the other traffic!

Dienstag, 7. Oktober 2008

German-American Day

In 1683, on October 6th, 13 families from Krefeld, Germany, arrived in Philadelphia to settle and later founded the city of Germantown. This event is celebrated by German-Americans every year and this year, Anni and I were part of it.
After school, we went downtown to the German House. Classical Music, a weeiirrd choir with shrill voices and some talks made for the general ceremony.
Later on, there was free food and drinks and we had some conversations with first generation immigrants, which was pretty fun. Central theme of this years celebration was the 60th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift.

I want YOU for registration!

The American Government generally does not want its citizens to vote (they successfully manage to scare away almost half the population from the polls or just keep them stupid enough for them not to care. Hence, they make it extra hard for everyone to participate in the “democratic” process. In order to make sure that they are still considered a democracy, they have to put up elections every four years, however. As most of you have probably realized, November 4th will be the day of the next election in this country.

One of the main means to prevent as many people from voting as possible (other than keeping them stupid through TV), is voter registration. Americans need to be registered in the government’s database in order to vote. If you are not registered, you will not be able to vote on election day!

There are, however, agencies who have realized the governments secret plans and are trying to subvert these plans. On Friday, one day before the official end of registrations, I joined one of these groups in their quest to undermine the system and get people to register for the election. Quite a tough job in the pouring rain.

Yet, I did find some lost souls who had not yet registered.

After reading in the Graduate Lounge for a couple of hours, I went to the GPSS Graduate Fall Reception. It is a social where graduate students get free food and free booze. There was some live music and dancing, but starting 5:30, they kicked people out by 9pm.

Of course, a Friday night cannot end at 9 pm and so we went on to a housewarming party, which was successfully dissolved shortly after midnight by the local police, including a ticket for the noise. Yet, caring as the local security is, they announced over their bullhorn that the party was going to continue at a nearby restaurant/bar.