Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Caught Between a Rock and a Rock

Randy LoBasso wears two hats in Philadelphia, he is the spokesperson for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and citizen journalist for Metro Newspaper. Where he writes columns about bicycling and infrastructure. In his most recent piece, “Philly Needs to Change its Street Safety Approval Process”, he bemoans the growing problem of Philadelphia’s City Council control over bike lanes.

You see in Philadelphia, City Council, not Civil Engineers, have the final authority as to whether or not a bicycle lane is installed. Any City Council member can stop a bicycle lane from being installed for any reason or no reason at all. This is often done by claiming “neighborhood concerns” or cherry picking which replies from community members are valid.

However Mr. LoBasso glosses over the key reason why this has happened with this statement, It's time Council gives up this unneeded privilege it gave itself five years ago and leave street safety to the experts.” Philadelphia’s City Council didn’t wake up one day and engage in coup d'etat to take control of bicycle lane infrastructure, it was given to them by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia in May 2012. Which I wrote about in “Dancing with the Devil.”

In exchange for an ineffective Safe Streets Bill the BCGP agreed to let Philadelphia City Council pass a bill giving City Council final approval of bicycle lane infrastructure. The same bill that City Council tried to pass in 2011 and was stopped by the BCGP when they marshaled their forces against it.  

So let’s face it everyone, while the Philadelphia City Council is the problem, they will never give up control over bicycle lanes. The root of the problem is the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. They are the ones that made this deal in the best interests of Philadelphia cyclists. A deal that continues to work against the needs of the Philadelphia cycling community. The only question that remains is when will the BCGP learn that Philadelphia City Council can not be trusted and how many more deals like this will be made before they do.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Not in my Country

Throughout Trump’s political campaign he made every effort to vilify anyone who spoke out against and demonize any ethnic group to turn them into a threat to America and Americans embraced him. While he failed to admit that in doing so he was enabling and drawing the support of radical domestic terrorists, the groups they belong to, and their supporters. Then refusing to repudiate and separate himself from them in any meaningful way.

That has finally come to haunt us, in the form of Nazi rally in Charlottesville, VA. And make no mistake calling the people who organized and participated in the “Unite the Right” Nazi’s is the only thing they can be called. It had all the trappings of of Nazi rally; a torch lit night march, chants of  “blood and soil”, an old Nazi slogan, and “Jews will no replace us”. To do call them alt-right or White nationalists down plays the enormity of what they did.

The “Unite the the Right” rally was planned and organized months in advance and included a speech by Richard Spencer, a pretender to Adolf Hitler’s legacy. As part of promoting the rally organizers and their supporters encouraged participants to bring pepper spray and anything else they needed to defend themselves. This event was considered so morally and ethically repugnant that AirBnB closed the accounts of anyone trying to find someplace to sleep if they were attending the rally, because it violated AirBnb’s anti-discrimination policy.

The rally’s organizer and participants are not the only bad actors involved here. In spite of months of advance planning by the city of Charlottesville, which included 1300 additional police officers and National Guard. Law enforcement failed to keep the Nazi’s separated from the counter protestors. Quite possibly a deliberate choice made on the part of the people in command. The only reports that anyone did anything to stop the mayhem appear to be on the part of New York state militia group who arrived heavily armed and broke up fights. A sad state of affairs when we have to rely on the questionable politics and motives of the militia movement. To say nothing of Trump’s mealy mouthed statement that failed to repudiate the Nazi’s for what they had done.

The permit for the rally was protected by the ACLU when the city of Charlottesville tried to move the event to a different park. As a Jew  and an American. I have never been able to fully support the ACLU since 1978, when the ACLU protected the rights of the American Nazi Party to march through Skokie, IL. At that time Skokie, IL had the largest population of Holocaust survivors outside of Israel. While these repugnant groups have the same protection under the Constitution as all Americans that does not mean I approve of their right to do so.

After WWII, a war in which all Americans united to stop the Nazi’s, the phrase “Never Forget” was heard throughout the Jewish community around the world. During college I went to school with several students whose families immigrated from Ireland and Italy in the 1890’s. In the same way members of my own family immigrated from Eastern Europe and Germany during the 1890’s All seeking to live in a country that allowed people to pursue their dreams and aspirations of a better life for themselves and their children.

During spring break some of these students would take trips to Italy and Ireland and visit family that still lived there and reconnect with their heritage. When I asked one of my grandmothers, whose family had immigrated from Poland, about this subject her response was chilling.  From the 1890’s to 1939 letters were routinely exchanged and there were trips to Poland. She told me that “in 1939 the letters stopped and no one has heard anything from them since.”

What happened in Charlottesville should be considered an early warning sign of what could happen in America if Nazi’s, their enablers, and supporters are not met with “Fire and Fury”. Marches like this should be stopped in their tracks by counter demonstrators with linked arms to create human barricades to prevent these types of marches and rallies from moving forwards. Counter protesters who instead of chanting should respond with deafening silence. If the Nazi’s respond with violence, then they should be met with a level of violence that sends a message to any future rallies that they march at their own risk.

I know there will be trolls, Nazi supporters, and enablers who will label me as a liberal and say that liberals are supposed to tolerate everyone. To that I say, I hate Nazi’s whether they call themselves the alt-right or something less conspicous. I hate anyone who hates someone because their race, religion, country of origin, gender, and sexual identity.

And to anyone who says otherwise I only have one response, THIS WILL NOT HAPPEN IN MY COUNTRY.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

It seems that yet again when it comes to bicycle infrastructure in Philadelphia we have been we have been subjected to the Machiavellian manipulations of yet another duplicitous member of Philadelphia’s City Council. This time it was Councilman Kenyatta Johnson when he wrote a letter against the creation of a protected bicycle lane on Lombard St. That letter will put an end to any attempt at restarting this project, ever.

Keep in mind that the “protected lane” was going to be nothing more than plastic delineator posts and as‏ @bikemamadelphia on Twitter stated; “Flexi-posts are like the press on nails of bike infrastructure”. Easy to install and equally easy for cars to tear them off the road.

So how did we arrive at this situation? Part of this was the process that Councilman Johnson and his office used to make sure they got the results they wanted. First they solicited opinions from the public on this matter and then further narrowed the field by only counting those comments from people within his district. Which resulted in 100 phone calls and e-mails being counted, 80 were against and 20 were in favor of the bike lane. Seems pretty cut and dried, at least on the surface. The problem is that the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia submitted 217 comments they collected; 91 were within Councilman Johnson’s district and 87 of those were in support of a protected bike lane. So now it was 80 against and 107 in favor of the protected bike lane. Not so cut and dried any more.

So how were these additional pro bike lane comments ignored? Simple, according Councilman Johnson’s Communication Director; “The ones reported to me were “direct comments,” explained Johnson’s communications director, Kaitlyn Manasterski. The 80 percent opposed were “among the immediate neighbors who contacted us.” This is the equivalent of overturning the results of an election, by disqualifying absentee ballots because they were mailed in and not submitted in person.

This brings us back to a larger issue, that being the bad deal the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia made with Philadelphia City Council a few years ago. The one where in exchange for a safe streets bill the BCGP agreed to let members of the City Council have the ability to veto any new bike lanes. Without cause or reason. This is not the first time this deal has bit cyclists in the ass and it won’t be the last.

I wish I could say I was completely surprised by how this played out. I saw Councilman Johnson’s multiple appearances at various meetings for the Schuylkill River Trail Watch. He made a lot of promises and did not deliver on any of them.
At the end of the day it is clear to me that Councilman Johnson and his staff had predetermined agenda when it came to the protected bicycle lane on Lombard St.

They rigged the public opinion process to get a result they wanted. The used Councilmanic privilege to ensure that any future attempt to reopen this conversation will never happen. At the end of the day Councilman Johnson has strengthened my opinion that Philadelphia’s City Council is nothing more than a Council of Con Men.