Category Archives: automotive

Eye in the Sky

There are security cameras everywhere these days. That may not seem like a big deal today, but wait a few years. Even if you are a fine citizen with nothing to hide, I guarantee that cameras will eventually feel intrusive as marketers add them to the tools they use to target your behavior.

I know that sounds slightly crazy, but mark my words: it’s coming.

Despite these reservations about constant surveillance, I can get behind Albany’s plan to use red light cameras.

green streetI drive a stretch of Green Street in Albany every day, and I slow down and look both ways at every single corner. Why? Because people have so little regard for stop signs and red lights. On that .45 miles of road, I’ve seen more people barreling through intersections in the past six months than in my entire life of driving combined.

What is it that makes people think that the rules do not apply to them?

In my neighborhood I drive ten miles per hour below the speed limit because I know there are kids around. I stop at stop signs in the middle of the night when there isn’t another moving vehicle within a quarter-mile. I scrupulously keep it between the lines, even when driving through parking lots.

If you’re going to drive, you’ve entered into a social contract with the rest of us on the road — and those who think the rules don’t apply to them make the road unsafe for everyone.

Booting Up

You should always try to park legally, feed the meter, and be responsible about where you put your car. If you do get a ticket, just pay it promptly and avoid further aggravation. I haven’t always been perfect on every one of these counts, but we’re all a work in progress, are we not?

However,  if you spend any time in Albany, you should closely follow my advice.

Writing parking tickets in downtown Albany has become a big, huge deal. An army of parking enforcement officers roam around hunting for expired meters and cars parked where they don’t belong. I have even see them pull out a measuring tape and check how far vehicles are from the curb. Just doing their jobs — and it’s not a job that makes you any friends.

But in case you have neglected tickets, you must see this: parking agents now drive around with license plate scanners like the ones on police cars.

boot patrol

Note the scanners on the roof.

This means if you’re on the naughty list — or more accurately, the naughty database — you’ll get caught more easily than ever before. And unpaid fines may get you booted. Pretty soon, they’ll probably use the technology to enforce the new residential parking permit system.

Not making excuses for people with outstanding tickets here, but this is certainly another example of how we’re being monitored in our everyday lives. Some people say that being watched all the time makes for a safer and more orderly society. I say it’s a slippery slope.

I Bark for No Apparent Reason

A lot of you have probably come out from running an errand and found your dog sitting in the driver’s seat. Hahaha… look at the dog. He’s driving the car! That’s hilarious — but what if your dog really was driving?

Well, New Zealand has stopped talking about this and finally done something:

Actually, this is just a stunt to raise awareness about dog adoption. There’s no way New Zealand would allow dogs to actually drive a car. For one thing, they drive on the left there, and as it says on their tourism site:

We have a good motorway system but weather extremes, the terrain and narrow secondary roads and bridges require drivers to be very vigilant.

Just in case, if you ever go to New Zealand, keep your eyes open.

Yes, We Have No Bananas

Aside from assorted roadkill, the things I see most often along the road while running are banana peels.

banana peelThe banana is a great snack for drivers: a piece of fruit encased in a disposable wrapper with a built in handle. It’s not a great idea to let a banana peel fester in your car, even for a few hours, so many of them go out the car window.

I think motorists who throw garbage out their car window are dirtbags, but something biodegradable? That’s not so bad — but folks, can we please try and pitch them off the pavement?

There are two reasons for this: the first and most obvious is the hazard they present to pedestrians, because everyone knows that people slip on banana peels. The other is that I suspect things like apple cores and banana peels may be attractive to critters. Could this be related to the roadkill? Very possibly.

MythBusters explored the banana peel question with mixed results:

Four Tips for Young Drivers

It’s always exciting to have a new driver in the house! Honestly, I didn’t expect it to come so soon, but it seems the road test examiner took a shine to our young man. I’m not saying she overlooked his weakness in the area of parallel parking — it’s possible she did not notice he was four feet from the curb — but either way he has his license.

That said, I offered three bits of advice:

1. If you get pulled over, be certain the reggae or Grateful Dead station is not playing on the satellite radio. This alone gives the officer probable cause to take a very close look at you and the car.

2. Do not return home if you damage my car, but if you must, do not claim that it happened while unattended in a parking lot. I was born at night, but not last night.

3. Treat every other car and driver as if they are out to kill you. Don’t trust anyone behind the wheel of another vehicle and just assume they are drunk/high/stupid/crazy/elderly or some combination of those.

4. See number 2.

How Planet Fitness Made Running Dangerous

I’ve been running for years — almost always before dawn and on the road. I’d never see many cars along my route, and when one did approach I turned on my headlamp so they would notice me. Some mornings, out along the road at 5am, you wouldn’t pass a single car.

Then everything changed.

Suddenly there was a steady stream of traffic between 5am ands 6am. I wondered where they all came from — but soon realized that it wasn’t where they came from, but where they were going: Planet Fitness.

The populist mega-gym moved from the other side of town to a grand new location — and brought with it a throng of early morning exercisers. Suddenly there was an influx of vehicles — not exactly like rush hour, but by 5am standards it felt like the Northway.

The interesting thing is that these people seem less mindful of a pedestrian on the side of the road. In the past almost every car would give me some leeway when they saw my light and reflective vest. Now? Not so much. These people on their way to exercise can’t be bothered with… someone exercising.

This is a great example of how a tiny change can alter traffic patterns. It’s just one more of a hundred things that have made where I live more crowded and hectic. I used to see deer and hear the turkeys off in the field before dawn. Now there are just more cars.

Lot Filled?

Most of you don’t lay in bed at night worried about where state employees park, nor should you. I bet if I stick my head out the window right now, I’d hear you shouting,“Screw them!”

Understandable, but bear with me.

State workers know that Downtown Albany parking is notoriously scarce — and many of them are on waiting lists for spaces with hundreds and hundreds of people in front of them. Rather than pay for a private lot or garage, lots of them take to the streets — something that’s led to Albany’s push to restrict on-street parking to residents only.

But if there are so few parking spaces available, how come this state employee lot routinely gives space to shows visiting the Times Union Center? This week, half of the Grand Street lot was blockaded so Rascal Flatts could park their trucks there.

The next day the trucks were gone and the spaces empty — except for a few bags of garbage they’d left behind in the rain. I guess that’s their way of saying, “Thanks, Albany.”

Holiday Hero 2011

Hats off to Andrew Caswell of Greece, NY! Last week the upstate man struck a deer with his car, and valiantly attempted to save the animal by packing it in his vehicle and taking it to the hospital — a people hospital.

Unfortunately, while en route, Mr. Caswell was stopped by police and arrested on charges of driving while intoxicated. According to a story in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle:

Police Chief Todd Baxter said while he sympathizes with trying to save a deer during the holiday season, “driving while intoxicated will not be tolerated.”

The deer did not survive. Nobody’s perfect, but here’s to you Andrew Caswell, our Holiday Hero of 2011.

The Jesus Limo

It turns out I’m not the only one who’s seen the “Jesus limo” — and today it showed up in front of my office downtown.

The white stretch limousine belongs to the Eternity Church on Clinton Avenue in Albany — and it’s not just to get people thinking about religion. Minister Ivan Shkinder told me that while some churches have a bus or van, his uses the limo to help people get around town to jobs, appointments, or the doctor’s office.

Yes, I peeked in the back. No, Jesus was not in there — but considering how they use car, maybe he really is riding along.