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A few Saturday mornings ago I was biking to meet a friend when I saw a wonderful surprise. Atlantic Avenue, one of the most dreadful car-centric stretches in the entire borough, finally had a protected bike lane!
I rode it for three blocks both ways and it was a perfectly lovely and functional protected bike lane. Just like that, Atlantic had been transformed from a bike no-go zone to one of the best crosstown routes in the borough.
Except, it hadn’t. It was a police barricade set up in advance of DMX’s funeral.
I make a living writing about how a lot of the world, especially when it comes to transportation and infrastructure, is often more complicated than it seems. And I enjoy learning about that aspect of the world, too. If you’re like me on that, I highly recommend this post by Uday Schultz on the challenges facing American passenger rail to speed up on the conventional rail network, with a special focus on conflicts with freight rail.
But bike lanes are the rare case where the more I learn the more I’m convinced it’s even simpler than it seems. Just put up a bunch of barriers to block off a lane of traffic and if aggro drivers knock some down put them back up.
This Atlantic Ave pop-up bike lane was my favorite example yet of something I’ve come to call accidental urbanism, or when good urbanist infrastructure or policies are uintentionally implemented. If you have experienced accidental urbanism, no matter how big or small, I’d love to hear about it.
I know a little something about fans. I started my journalism career as a sportswriter, then I wrote about the New York City subway which has as intense of a fan subculture as anything else I’ve ever encountered (they are called railfans). I then worked for the website Jalopnik, a hub for automotive enthusiasts that attracted both virulently pro and anti-Tesla voices. Through those experiences, I’ve learned the difference between supporters and fanatics, advocates and cultists. Supporters and advocates use their knowledge and outsize influence in their subculture to demand better, while the worst types of fanatics blindly defend everything their favorite team or company does.
In fact, we’re currently witnessing an historic moment in the differentiation between these two types of fans, as soccer supporters across Europe right now demand a cabal of billionaires not ruin their favorite sport. But I’ve seen this in other places, too, when railfans organize and petition for better transit service or fan groups advocate for a more inclusive stadium environment free of fascist groups or anti-LGBT sentiments.
Fanatics and cultists do the opposite. They demand nothing of their obsession except to cater to their need for belonging. They just want a mythology to buy into and enemies to rally against.
If the U.S. commercial aviation became completely carbon-free it would be equivalent, in terms of CO2 reduction, to reducing passenger vehicle emissions by about 11 percent. (Source: EPA)
This is Minerva Grey. She is very old. We don’t know how old, but about a year ago she decided is was time to live on the porch of a house on my block. The owner put out this weatherized orange box for her and Minerva Grey lived there ever since. Almost every day I would see her sunning herself on top of the box.
Her name is Minerva Grey because my wife and I named her Minerva and then when we talked with the house’s owner one day she said she had named the cat Grey. I never met Minerva Grey up close, but she was a constant waypoint on my pandemic walks. At a time when I was hardly seeing any creatures human or otherwise I came to think of her as a kind of friend.
The owners of Minerva Grey’s house also have a dog, a white three-legged dog with pointed ears. The owner told me that, somewhat inexplicably, Minerva hates all other animals except for this dog. She will happily lay on the porch sunning herself with the dog just a few feet away. I never got a photo of them together because I usually don’t take my phone when I’m out on my walks. But they were quite the pair.
According to the owner, Minerva Grey doesn’t hear very well and appears to be a very old street cat who, no doubt, has seen some shit. A Brooklyn street cat does not make it to Minerva’s age without living a life of combat, resourcefulness, and determination.
I admired Minerva’s life and her genteel retirement. Minerva, through her squinted gaze and calm demeanor, had a worldly wisdom to her a thousand sages could never match. Either that or she was a decrepit and profoundly deaf street cat waiting for the end. I know which one I prefer to believe.
Like a doofus I would say hi to Minerva Grey as I walked by every day, even though I knew she couldn’t hear me and even if she could she is a cat. But we have to believe in things, often very silly things, to help the days pass.
One day Minerva Grey wasn’t there. Then another day. And another. Then the orange box disappeared. I have seen the owner on her porch a few times since then, smoking a cigarette or drinking a hot beverage. I cannot bring myself to stop and ask her what happened to Minerva Grey, so I just say hi and keep walking. I prefer to believe Minerva Grey chose another porch to retire on, perhaps one that gets a bit more sunlight or has a little more straw in the box.
Whereever she is, I miss her. I enjoyed seeing Minerva Grey in part because I liked the idea there is a nice, weatherized orange box with a door, food, and plentiful sun waiting for us all when we get tired of things. At least, it is nice to think so.