Skip to content

Gender-Neutral Pronouns, Please!

October 15, 2015

Have you ever wished you could speak about another person without specifying his or her or its [some would say “their”] sex (aka “gender”)?

Frustrating, isn’t it? Certainly in the various dialects of English. Perhaps even moreso in the many languages that demand a gender for each noun; some may even have a completely different conjugation for each person, depending on “their” biologically-defined identity.


Desde eso

“Enough already!”  Isn’t it universal by now that people by nature don’t want to be stereotyped, limited, judged, and stuffed into a box?

Once upon a time, Your Meggsy sought to set this matter straight. After many inquiries with sympathetic individuals, some soul-searching and analysis, This Agent settled on a set of gender non-specific pronouns for use in English, “The Nas”:

It/She/He Na
It/Her/Him Nam
Its/Hers/His Ahz

To test this new proposal, we (at least, all those who entertained my determination, that is) created a looong list of example sentences, substituting The Nas for sex-con-straints-as-usual to see if using “Na/Nam/Ahz” would be awkward, ambiguous, or otherwise difficult for usage.

Example: She will take her high-frequency analyzer to verify its calibration and send an update to him.

Becomes: Na will take ahz high-frequency analyzer to verify ahz calibration and send an update to nam.

While gendered pronouns can help disambiguate assignment (and personifying an electronic instrument may be objectionable especially if it isn’t a cute droid like R2-D2), we were unable to break the new proposal in any tests in terms of spoken disambiguation and awkwardness, perhaps because of the linguistic similarity of both the beginning and ending of the new pronouns to the sound of the status quo’s existing options.

Even if we use the plural “they” to indicate a being without specifying a singular person’s “gender”, the word is similar enough to “na” (they~na) and likewise, “them” is similar in sound to “nam” (them~nam).

Testing further, assembling words that began or ended with similar sounds to na/nam/ahz still failed to create conflicts or confusion; certainly there were no more difficult situations than the many wacky and ambiguous possibilities English is already so famous for, and its lending to alluvial alliterations’ deluges of delusions. 😉

This testing was admittedly not nearly exhaustive as the process used for verifying the Loglan/lojban language(s)/project(s) to verify ahz/their lack of audiovisual and isomorphic ambiguity (despite my having used Lex and Yacc and a li’l bit’o Bison in mah day, e.g., to construct a JAVA compiler in old school (thus being one presumably more immediately able than most to conduct more rigorous testing). But it seemed unwarranted. Just use it. I didn’t “care” anymore; I wanted an option.

The world needed an option!

This was a personal imperative. I’d already identified a great wall of impassibility/ineffability falling from the fallacious fallibility and facetious faux-fascism forcing ferociously these lamely illuminary limitations of language.

While studying Loglan/lojban as a teenager, spending the nocturnal hours learning the first 1,000 words and ahz grammar in hopes of being the first fluent Loglan/lojban speaker in the world, my inspiration stemmed in no small part from frustrations with language itself, at least in my experience (primarily with various forms of American English). The promise of being free to express any concept was compelling.

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (from which Loglan begat) spoke to me deeply: the question of whether language restricts culture, or culture restricts language. Of course, like “Nature v. Nurture”, this was a conundrum limited by the narrowness of the times, yet critical to our evolution as a species capable of consciousness. It occurred to me that English and other major languages simply by virtue of their having overrun other languages were arguably languages of conquest and that peace would only be possible if we could find ways to communicate the many concepts that had been otherwise precluded — like a prison upon our consciousness — by established and royally- and culturally- and religiously-restricted/redacted languages.

Only much later, in the search for partnership, did Your Agent Meggsy learn with awe, admiration and joy, that some languages were long free of these chains.

Even later, much less joyously but no less in awe, a friend heard this concern about languages of conquest and confided cynically yet with compassion: “conquest is the language.”

“Conquest is the language.”

Yet examples exist!

Finnish, for example, to draw on personal experience, is a language I’m assured is free of compulsively-sex-defining pronouns. While acclimating to Finnish language and culture, in seek of partnership, some summers ago, Your Agent was most impressed to learn that in Finnish, one must actually do extra work to specify the sex of a person! Huzzah!

Essentially, in Finnish, all actions and actors are presumed equal across “genders” until specified otherwise, and thus all pronouns are by nature non-specific to gender. And “believe you me”, in Finland you would not assume that a “man’s job” couldn’t be done by a woman!

Cutting wood? Add in a “she” if you prefer. Or a “he.” Or nothing at all. We’re only talking about cutting wood, so it’s immaterial whether the person is biologically male or female. How refreshing!

Is there evidence that this language openness has led to societal openness? The leadership by women in Finland certainly supports the hypothesis that such freedom from self-fulfilling prophesies inflicted by “natural” language have important effects on socio-political outcomes. Finland was first country in Europe (and before the U.S., of course) to realize women’s suffrage, and first in the world to recognize women’s right to office.

My stay in Finland was full of tales of strong women; in one dramatic example, my prospective partner’s grandmother, at age twelve, climbed a grain silo and waited with but a shotgun to dispatch Russian warplanes should they pass overhead. (But then the sad legacy of war is invoked and the terrible trauma of losing half a population to the merciless onslaught of empires.) 

Did empowered women in Finland free the pronouns, or did the freed-up pronouns empower the women?

Does it matter? “Chicken and egg”, “nature v. nurture”, main thing is move forward.

Moving forward is possible; just recently Finland’s nearby neighbor, the country of Sweden, announced a “fresh infusion of 13,000 new words” to the dictionary of the Swedish Academy, including the adoption of a gender neutral pronoun (hen).

We all must know how bent-out-of-shape so many English speakers can get if deprived of sex identification of children and infants. “Is it a boy or a girl” seems the first question so many impose. With some attention and skill, when speaking of anyone doing anything, one can meander through the language omitting clues as to the sex of the subject(s) spoken of. Just see how the sexual unknowns tension builds then!

The urge to know and to classify can be so strong, but is it necessary? Is it innate?  True this is seen in many other aspects of existence as well. Where people are “from”, their “age” in annums, their calculated class, rationalized race, etc,. become major sticking points to communication and commonality in such a system of conformity and categorical closure. To hold the space for possibilities can seem difficult or even tortuous to so many people in so many situations. Why is this? Does it need to be? Can it be challenged, changed, transcended? (Trans-gendered, haha?)  Erk, sawwy. Back to theeewiusss:

There are so many examples where people have released these chains and accepted open possibilities, that evidence associates such freedom and acceptance with a healthier, more honest, and more harmonious society.

It still seems self-evident that without the means to communicate concepts, culture is constrained, and our potential to evolve our consciousness is curtailed, and may wither, atrophy, and die on the many fruited vine. Whoever or whatever takes our means to speak, does so to subject and even enslave us. What took our freedom of thought, our freedom to be?

For we yearn to be. Just as nature, requires nurture. 😉

Next stop on the linguistic sub-series: how to write about yourself and your experience without saying “I”.

Bees v. SUVs!!!

June 12, 2015

[About seven hours and seventy-seven minutes ago I realized it’d been about seven years and seven days since I posted this wacky article, the debut of the “Meggs Report” concept. Republished here now.]

Bees swarmed an SUV in front of Boalt Hall School of Law on Sunday, June 3, 2007 in hopes of mobilizing immediate action by the human species. (Video, linked from youtube to save bandwidth here, is 6:26 in length.)

(Berkeley, CA) Calling for an end to “mean ag” and car culture, and seeking that the human species join a growing planetary alliance for the protection of mother earth, bees swarmed an SUV parked in front of Boalt Hall in hopes of securing legal and policy help for their cause.The bees, singing love songs for planetary harmony, announced a new era: “No More Mrs. Nice Bee.”

Bees are refusing to pollinate crops until their demands are met. The recent disappearance of bees, they sang, is in protest of increasingly harsh conditions imposed upon them by corporate agriculture, and a growing concern that a wave of mass extinction will only accelerate in the near future without an immediate and drastic change in course. The bees put the blame squarely on the heads of humans, who they say have exhibited astoundingly poor planetary citizenship for over 2,000 years.

“We got the idea from the Rand corporation report on swarming, which focused on Critical Mass bicycle rides as a military tactic,” said a cluster of buzzybooz. “We felt that if bicyclists are willing to brave offering an alternative in the face of, that we certainly can.” The bee troop noted that groups of bicyclists are gathering to protest in opposition to the G8 this coming Friday in towns around the world.

“Immobilizing this SUV may seem insignificant,” they admitted, “but it is a small taste of what is to come,” referring to the overall bee strategy for compliance from Homo sapiens.

“Next we will target gas station pumps and even refineries and oil tankers,” stated a spokesbee. The bees hope to leverage their potential impact by targeting particularly sensitive weak links in the petroleum-dependent “System of Destruction.”

North American bee colonies have converged for the first annual “Sting the System Honeyfest” Apiary Action Camp, which kicked off with a tribute to Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume, a novel in which bees hold the City of New Orleans captive in an allegorically similar, timeless drama of survival. “That guy understands us,” said the Queen Bee, who hopes that more humans will obtain consciousness.

“Well, that’ll keep me away from a car,” admitted one passing American consumer.

“Good plan,” said another passerby.

The Bush administration is expected to respond by issuing a code red terrorist alert, with the president vowing to see through new tax cuts for pesticides, sting-proof suits, and total eradication of the entire superfamily, Apoidea.

“I din’ like bugs to begin with,” he said.

Local sustainability advocates decried the Federal approach, saying it would lead to endless famine and suffering. “Like Einstein said: Without bees, we are lost. It’s time to face the music and own up to our responsibility to earth,” said Professor Buzz.

“They really are sweethearts. Just be nice to them. Seems like a reasonable request. Creatures treat you as you treat them,” said Dotty Tomorrow, 6, of Berkeley, who hopes to be able to live on planet earth in the future.

For more information about modern carfree cities, visit and more information about bees, take a moment to appreciate flowers and the foods which fruit of them.

Caution: this story contains satire and artistic license. The video has been edited. The bees really are pissed, though.


by Jason Meggs Monday Jun 4th, 2007 3:46 PM


by Jason Meggs Monday Jun 4th, 2007 3:46 PM


by Jason Meggs Monday Jun 4th, 2007 3:46 PM


by Jason Meggs Monday Jun 4th, 2007 3:46 PM


by Jason Meggs Monday Jun 4th, 2007 3:46 PM


by Jason Meggs Monday Jun 4th, 2007 3:46 PM


by Jason Meggs Monday Jun 4th, 2007 3:46 PM


by Jason Meggs Monday Jun 4th, 2007 3:46 PM


by Jason Meggs Monday Jun 4th, 2007 3:46 PM


by Jason Meggs Monday Jun 4th, 2007 3:46 PM
640_img_0142.jpg original image ( 2272x1704)

Rinpoche: The World is Unsavable

August 30, 2013
Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche states: “The World is Unsavable.”

Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche states: “The World is Unsavable.”

(Berlin) In May this year I had the unexpected opportunity to hear Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, speak about the important and timely topic of Green Tomato and Red Chilli, a whimsical title belying serious intent, honoring the intractable with joy and mirth.

“Of course, I did not come here to speak with you about green tomatoes, and red chillis,” he said slowly, eyes beseeching our understanding, with the profound deadpan only a Buddhist monk can summon, a rising welter of laughter trailing along before his German translator took a turn.

The talk was irreverent, compassionate, challenging and thought provoking.

At one point Rinpoche stated in an off-hand manner, with palpable resign:

“The World is Unsavable.”

This came as a shock and posed a real paradox for your Agent Meggsy; Buddhism seems focused on saving the world if anything.

Given the general agreement that exponentially increasing anthropogenic activity poses an ever-increasing challenge to our collective survival, and that many experts now consider it too late for sustainability and too late for sustainable development, does Buddhism remain detached, and turn away as if to give up? Sleeping giants may lurk in the arctic and the EPA has just released a report stating that climate change is already having large impacts on California, but would spiritual guidance suggest abandoning hope? Do we not rely on spiritual guidance to continue in the face of great odds?

While the situation may seem bleak, with carbon emissions steadily rising — despite runaway climate change holding the theoretical potential to wipe life completely from planet earth — is it consistent with Buddhism to say that earth is unsavable? Is this a turning away from engagement?

When question time came Your Agent Meggsy was one who took the microphone, voicing just this concern. “If Buddhism is devoted to liberating all sentient beings, and if our current course is one that threatens to literally end all beings, would we not try? Is there truly no hope?”

A large crowd congregates to hear Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche in Berlin, May 19, 2013

A large crowd congregates to hear Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche in Berlin.

Rinpoche’s answer focused primarily on the greed in human nature, and the potential for India and China to consume ever more, particularly to consume transportation fuels at the level of the Western World. The first thing a person does when the money is enough in India, Rinpoche said, is to purchase a motorcycle. When there is more, then a car. For status alone, this is done, whether or not the vehicle creates more convenience.

This same, surprisingly helpless attitude has been heard from top transportation professors at UC Berkeley as well:

“Who are we, having enjoyed this lifestyle, to tell others not to copy us?”

In these cases, a response was not always possible, but the response can be made now: Why would anyone having made such a terrible mistake not warn others to avoid making the same mistake? Organizing life around the automobile was not necessary, and is not sustainable. Petroleum is precious to life, yet its use threatens all life; to waste it on vanity transportation is reckless at best, murderous at worst.

Yet individual motorized transport continues to be the primary growth sector for carbon emissions, overrunning gains in all other sectors. Is a spiritual awakening the key missing element to adopting another way of life? To simply “wait until it breaks” and correct for crisis appears to be a market/social failure of a catastrophically colossal scale.

In the skies above Berlin, a helicopter and the moon vie with spires for the heavens.

In the skies above Berlin, a helicopter and the moon vie with spires for the heavens.

Proposed: The Controversy Index

August 30, 2013

Many an index has surfaced in recent years. Indicators and scientific approaches to making use of the bounty of data available, and to make sense of the world in new ways, have appeared in everything from a plethora of financial indices; various Happiness Indices (particularly as a counterpoint to GDP, most famously the GNH from Bhutan); sports, wine and other specialty indices; numerous health indicators, such as WHO’s Children’s Environmental Health Indicators; and of course we planners have an impressive slew of urban indicators, such as UN-Habitat’s, and in the world of transportation alone there are many, such as the U.S.-based BTS indicators, sustainable transport indices from VTPI and performance measures from the EPA, of course the various walkability indices including the online Walk Score, and for bicycling, in the BICY Project we developed several, and a tip of the hat is due to the Copenhagenize Index.

One of Your Meggsy’s personal favorites is the Corruption Perception Index or CPI, one of numerous commendable analysis offers from Transparency International, aiming to daylight and address corruption in the international arena.

In the realm of truth in science and media, however, there seems to be a dearth of investigative power brought to bear. Noam Chomsky famously counted lines of copy in newspapers for various issues to indicate the degree to which stories were given more or less exposure and public value, a promising experiment.

Only recently have scientific journals begun to make a more concerted effort to simply ask and report funding sources for published papers, and more rarely to ask disclosure identifying more broadly, any conflicts of interest from authors.

More recently in this Web 2.0 world, popularity indices have erupted wherein crowd sourced rankings are collected from those motivated to provide them, usually resulting in an average represented on a 5-star scale.

But what happens if there is controversy over a given online subject, such as a book or video, and an organized opposition emerges which votes based not on the quality of the writing but on lines of political disagreement?

In this case of a vote war we would expect to see a split vote, with many low rankings, few average rankings, and again a spike for positive rankings. Yet the typical representation by hosting websites would be an average, showing something in the middle.

Why not provide a Controversy Index, to flag and quickly identify, search for, and organize those issues where an online battle is taking place? A simple statistical analysis on the inversion of the expected normal distribution should suffice in those cases; simply being able to view the histogram of voting could go a long way. (Your Meggsy has in fact repeatedly written online crowd sourced media giants such as YouTube and Amazon to suggest such features.)

In the world of scientific literature, it appears there is still no established effort to measure and report controversy. It’s well known that for many years, the tobacco industry funded scientific studies, resulting in a split body of literature where side by studies found opposite results. There are many areas of research where large financial interests, and/or strong ideological forces, might influence results, and certainly there can be found more lines of research with a split literature.

Indices to identify and monitor these trends in truth-swaying would be very useful, simply to increase the public awareness of and dialogue about how trustworthy scientific findings are.

Proposed: The Controversy Indices, a suite of metrics for gauging the likelihood of bias and distortion in the public discourse, from online media to scientific literature. A summary index, The Controversy Index, could be a vital new force for the public interest.

Do Bikeshare Systems Hurt Bicycling?

July 23, 2012
A woman using the Bicing bikeshare system in Barcelona, at a diamond-shaped intersection

A woman using the Bicing bikeshare system in Barcelona, at one of many large diamond-shaped intersections. Did this system hurt bicycling in Barcelona? (Photo, Jason Meggs)

Much debate and many growing pains have accompanied the fanfare around the rise and rapid adoption of bikeshare systems such as Vélib in France and BIXI in Montréal. A recent article appeared critiquing the Bicing system of Barcelona, and by coincidence it came to my inbox (and was published) on the day of my first ever arrival in Barcelona. It took me more than a month to respond, but am glad to have done so. My commentary is published below, with my qualified conclusion in this case: no, it has not hurt bicycling!

The original article was here:

My commentary (soon to add photos, perhaps video too!) is here:

Thank you for looking at the big picture.

It was very interesting to receive this article because on that day, the day it was published, I had actually just arrived in Barcelona for the first time, and was in the process of analyzing the relationship between infrastructure and cycling in the BICY project ( So it gave me a much appreciated puzzle to work on while in the area.

I spent several days pondering this during my visit, and even did some traffic counts and tours of the bikeways as well as cycling to the outer limits of the city to get a better understanding of the bicycle situation there.

First I must say that bicycle data is notoriously unreliable and collected in inconsistent ways, making it further unreliable or incompatible to use for analysis and comparison. It can also be quite political, and I’ve heard from people from other cities who do not believe the figures for cycling in their cities, because funding is sometimes allocated based usage.

Given this and my first impression, I was initially skeptical about the low cycling rates reported, particularly as in certain areas of the center one sees many bicycles. In fact the relatively low rates for everything but walking (45.5%!) presented a challenge.

However, having taken a further look, it’s quite likely these numbers are reasonably accurate. Barcelona, like Paris, is one of the great walking cities, and high cycling in one area does not translate into high overall cycling.

The low rates of cycling are also predicted by our model developed for cities in Central Europe, based on the amount of infrastructure present, although we would have estimated 4% not 2%, which given the many factors and the uniqueness of the city is still quite close.

The unique diamond intersections where cyclists must made several rapid sharp turns were fun in a race course sort of way but struck me as dangerous and inconvenient, due to poor sight lines, tight turning, and unexpected conflict zones, although adaptation may reduce that risk considerably. However it probably further discourages cycling.

Interviewing residents I heard repeatedly that the frequent stopping for red lights creates even more frustration, and leads to dangerous and aggressive behavior. We saw this repeatedly as drivers peeled out with screeching tires after waiting at red lights, even if cross traffic of pedestrians had not yet cleared.

I had to wonder why not turn the diamond intersections into circles, probably removing some or all parking in the process), with many net benefits in noise and air pollution reduction, traffic calming, reduced wear and tear on the entire system (infrastructure and vehicles), and collision reduction, while presumably making it a more free-flow and bicycle-friendly environment.

Aerial view of the unique diamond-shaped intersections of Barcelona.

Aerial view of the unique diamond-shaped intersections of Barcelona. (Source, Google Maps)

Observing the use of Bicing bikes, I noted they made up more than 50% of bicycle traffic in some central areas, at some times of the day, but in other areas made up much smaller percentages (and in large areas of the city that are not served, zero). Traveling with a group I saw how local Barcelona residents used the bicycles, in these cases enabling groups to travel together when some didn’t have bicycles.

In the end I certainly didn’t have time nor resources to conduct a full assessment, and respect the analysis in this article and the city’s publications. However I would like to put in some words of consideration in defense of the Bicing system:

1. Cost justification

While the system may cost a tiny bit more than the Metro or bus per trip, this is not a reason in itself to discontinue the service unless the Metro and bus systems should be discontinued as well (which, by the way, would be expected to increase bicycle use a lot, but likewise would increase motor vehicle use – the good news is bicycling has much more room to grow than car use, the bad news is motor scooters are almost as unlimited in their potential to increase, and carry worse emissions and noise pollution than cars for the most part). A bicycle trip has many benefits that a public transit trip does not, it deserves an even higher subsidy if need be. If we develop an ideal for traffic in Barcelona (choose your favorite), surely the total investment in cycling is much lower than it should be.

2. Political avoidance of building bikeways

Given that investment in cycling facilities is too low, the concern that the Bicing system is being used as an excuse for preventing development of a true and quality bikeway network is serious, and something raised other places (I’ve even heard officials in Montreal voice this regarding the BIXI system, for example).

However, the fact that many times more are invested in Bicing does not have to mean nothing for infrastructure. There should be more for both.

The kind of analysis presented here is a first step to action for an increase of funding for and implementation of infrastructure including secure parking.

But the situation is not so bad: it is very encouraging that based on the official report, infrastructure increased 8.3% 2009-2010, and has steadily increased since the system opened after a long plateau last decade.

Yes this needs to be much faster, but is better than many cities and increasing, and going in the right direction. Also good news, parking has increased a great deal since 2007, suggesting Bicing was related to increased bicycle parking (p. 57). Again too little but in the right direction.

3. Suppression of cycling

First I have to question that Bicing reduced cycling. If you look at the graph of bike trips per day, they nearly doubled when Bicing was introduced in 2007, and have only fallen slightly since then (see p. 55 of the 2010 report).

Discussing with people in Barcelona about the concern that the system led to lower levels of cyclists and is contracting, local residents told me that the surge and contraction of membership had to do more with the promotions and newness at the beginning (many people encouraged to try and interested to try) coupled with the glitches in the system at the beginning (people encountered major system unreliability being unable to obtain a bicycle, and then unable to leave it, so gave up). These aberrations are normal in a new system, the thing to look for is the long-term trend which seems stable with higher ridership since its introduction. In fact the report supports this, particularly looking at the first two years.

Whether there are more negative effects of a bikeshare system on ridership for some people, or on long-term growth potential, is of great interest, but needs more clear evidence.

One bike rental operator told me he thought the system had increased private bicycle ownership and boosted bike shops, by allowing new cyclists to try bicycling and then realize having their own bicycle was better. (At the same time, he was deeply concerned about opening the system to tourists, because many bicycle rental businesses would collapse.)

Regarding the slight decline of bicycle use in the one-year span 2009-2010, this seems troubling but is actually small, and may be a statistical anomaly. There is error in modal split surveys, which appears more exaggerated for small numbers (the same error in walking would not be noticed, like a regressive tax the minority is hit harder). It’s even possible the true number increased. Certainly it is possible the Bicing system encouraged some people to give up private bikes, because it was easier to use the bikeshare occasionally for them, but on balance many more people are cycling since its introduction. The problem is this is still far too small for the potential.

It is also heartening that the total trips in Bicing, which should be a very reliable number, have increased by 377,744 2009-2010, although the rounded number for the higher 2010 figure suggests it’s approximate with unknown error.

4. Bicycle behavior

I did not see much evidence of bad cycling behavior during my stay, but it was a short stay. I don’t assume all non-bike lane trips are on the sidewalk, however; certainly I used the streets often, as in any city, and saw others doing so. (I’m also skeptical of any figure that attempts to know where all cyclists are, it’s not an easy task as recent GPS-based studies of just a fraction of cyclists attest.) However, there is a learning curve in any culture adopting cycling, and public support for education of cycling skills as well as sensitivity and awareness from non-cyclists should be added to the imperative goal of increased quantity and quality of infrastructure.

My conclusion: cycling in Barcelona is on the rise. Bicing is not causing harm, it has overall helped. However, it must not become a barrier to major actions to increase cycling.

The Copenhagenize Index recognized this by allowing it to score highly despite having very low cycling overall and a relatively poor network.

Next steps are to consider the relationship of Bicing to bicycling (because scaling cycling begs for scaling Bicing, or changing its use), and to re-envision the relationship of all bicycling to the public transport system, as bike trips can be more direct, reliable and cheaper and will be preferred if people feel safe and accommodated to do so.

A truly bicycle-friendly Barcelona would mean a shift from all other modes: motor vehicles as well as from public transport, and even a decline in walking. For this case, Barcelona must choose to be a bicycle city.

Certainly from a public interest perspective the argument is strong: The money saved on more expensive modes more than justifies the investment in cycling; the cost is less to begin with, even before the tremendous benefits (health benefits, boosts to the local economy, and more, including tourism).

Meanwhile, consider conversion of traffic signals where possible, particularly in the diamond-intersection areas, and installing roundabouts and shared space/slow zones in large areas of the city, hand in hand with new bicycle infrastructure and an array of new restrictions on driving both private cars and motor bikes (motorcycles and motor scooters).

Picture this; if you like it, make it your goal; it can happen very quickly.

A final note: this data is now almost two years old. It would be good to know the latest developments now that the system, and the public, have had more time to adjust. (And speaking of delays, my comment has been delayed first because I wanted to do more research, apologies for the time lag.)

Presentations from Velo-city Global 2012

July 6, 2012
A slide from the Rolling Stops presentation: some of the many ways to minimize the impact of stop signs on bicyclists, for whom they were never intended.

A slide from the Rolling Stops presentation: some of the many ways to minimize the impact of stop signs on bicyclists, for whom they were never intended.

Dear all,

Thanks to many requests for these presentations I’m posting them online. This will also help assure their availability long-term; I do not know when presentations will be posted on the Velo-city Global website (and the stated plan is to remove them after one year). There were also many problems with the presentations from 2011 not being online.

PRESENTATION ONE: IDAHO LAW. meggs-jason-velo-city-2012-idaho-stops-law-srv2

PRESENTATION TWO: BICY PROJECT. bicy-velo-city-2012-meggs-schweizer-srv2

Please let me know if you have any problems or need any further information. There have been several problems (unusual!) with the PDF version of the Idaho Law presentation posted earlier. This one is slightly updated as well.

I hope to publish an extensive article about the entire experience soon, time permitting. There was much to see and do at Velo-city Global 2012! Many wonderful people and their projects came together to share.


The Idaho Law: allowing safer choice and happier travel

September 29, 2011

The IDAHO LAW: legendary in U.S. cycling circles. The 1982 “Idaho Law”, I.C. §49-720, allows bicyclists to slow and safely choose whether to yield to stop signs and red lights. (Since 2005, cyclists must stop before proceeding straight through a red light, but may still yield on right turns.)

How did just one state achieve such a progressive approach to bicyclists and traffic controls? Great topic, important topic; its importance for active transport is not to be underestimated!

I was involved in a study of the Idaho Stops law at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health.

This included visiting Idaho, numerous interviews with key stakeholders, a survey, and video data collection, as well as comparing city traffic safety data with other cities.

There was absolutely no indication that the Idaho Law had caused any harm.

Boise was compared with the very similar Sacramento, and found to be much safer (62-76% safer for commuters, with no fatalities). Boise has the Idaho Law, Sacramento doesn't.

Boise was compared with the very similar Sacramento, and found to be much safer. Boise has the Idaho Law, Sacramento doesn’t.

The most substantial piece of that study was a comparison with Sacramento, a city which is surprisingly similar in many ways.

Sacramento appeared to be much more dangerous for cyclists than Idaho by all comparisons, with at least 30% (or 60%, depending on definitions of injury) more injuries per bicycle commuter, and regular fatalities each year, whereas Boise had NONE, year after year.

This surprising difference year after year, from such similar cities, certainly dispels any “sky will fall” assumptions about the Idaho Law and lends strength to the supported hypothesis that the Idaho Law actually improves safety for all roadway users, and increases cycling. Other cities were also compared, and like Sacramento, all fared worse than Boise.

In fact, quite a list of apparently attributable benefits for the Idaho Law were found. Increasing cycling, increasing cycling safety, increasing safety for all roadway users, and reducing the risk of injury including repetitive strain injuries, were among the benefits. One of the largest benefits of all is political; across the USA political opposition to bicycling is vehement, even violent in many cases many of you have heard of, in attempting to control and contain cycling for “flouting” the law. But whenever a law has such near universal non-compliance, by everyone from grandmothers to police officers, and especially grandmothers who are police officers, we owe it to all to revisit the law.

The assumption that bicyclists follow all laws intended for motor vehicle users is highly flawed. No “warrants” (e.g., informed criteria) for cyclists to be held to stop signs and signals were developed in that broad sweeping legal measure (adopted by many states 50+ years ago, after the bicycle had been prominent in ground transport for about as many years without such control). Bear in mind that stop signs and signals would not exist as they do today, but for the motor vehicle.

In fact, many stop signs and even many signals are what traffic engineering would call “unwarranted” for motor vehicles; they are used solely for traffic calming. Ironically, this occurs intensively on what many if not most consider the ideal cycling routes, quieter streets parallel to arterials (e.g., bicycle boulevards). Thus to stop cars from using residential cycle routes, we’ve en masse hurt cycling on those very routes. Adding stop signs can more than double a cyclist’s time spent, and more than triple the energy spent. No fun. It discourages cycling. Add to that the evidence that stop signs actually increase injuries, and the call for relaxing stops for cycling seems imperative.

We don’t require walkers, runners, push-scooter operators, skateboarders, inline skaters, or electric wheelchair users to stop, yet those modes are as a strong general rule, much less able to avoid collisions…If we don’t require those active transport modes to stop, why would we ever require bicyclists to do so?

We don’t require walkers, runners, push-scooter operators, skateboarders, inline skaters, or electric wheelchair users to stop, yet those modes are as a strong general rule, much less able to avoid collisions. In general their operation has a longer stopping distance and a larger turning radius, and a reduced ability to see and hear. If we don’t require those active transport modes to stop, why would we ever require bicyclists to do so?

A major distinction must be made between choosing when to yield for safety, and taking right of way over all other users. There is no reason to believe that the Idaho Law increases disrespect for pedestrians, which is best addressed by other means than a mismatched stopping law. If anything, proper respect for bicyclists (including proper education and training) will help reduce conflicts and create a friendlier culture of inclusion. The Idaho Law allows prosecution of any cyclist who violates the right of way of not only a pedestrian, but other cyclists and motorists as well.

I’m happy to provide the draft study and a policy document based on the study, and certainly welcome any help in completing and publishing the study. An earlier version of the paper is available here: idaho-law-jasonmeggs-2010version-2.

Perhaps the most informative for a quick look is an even earlier presentation, available here: idaho-presentation.

Presently I have an outstanding request for more data to the Idaho OHS, and a multi-city follow-up survey in the works. Your Agent Meggs has been asked to provide testimony to a number of states and cities considering adoption of their own long overdue version of this important, inexpensive, and broadly beneficial measure. In recent years numerous places in the U.S. have considered, and in some cases even introduced legislation, to adopt an Idaho Law, including Oregon, Arizona, Virginia, California, and Washington, D.C.

An example policy letter to share with decision makers can be found for download here: idaho-letter-jmeggs-20090627. I’m happy to also write a short letter introducing the latest version of my study, such as this one, available for download here. In addition to written testimony, I can be available for in-person oral testimony in support of legislation.

In the meanwhile, you may enjoy this very clear and helpful video from Oregon:

Bicycles, Rolling Stops, and the Idaho Stop from Spencer Boomhower on Vimeo.

There’s a new legal situation for cyclists in France, with a test rolling out in Paris. Despite a lot of confusion on the topic, Paris militants à vélo, Mieux se Déplacer à Bicyclette (MDB), assure me this article is “not totally false”:

and that “this possibility is not only for Parisian cyclists, it is a nationwide law. For instance, in Nantes, the experimentation started one year ago without problem so it as be decided to make more” as discussed here: href=”

And quite a perspective and discussion on the topic at the emphatically energetic On the Level Blog.

As a result of attending Vel Read more…

A Quick Meal with Meggs

August 15, 2011

The MeggsReport is cooking up a storm.

We’ve been encouraged to self-report on personal cooking theory and practice; “not many people cook like you do.” Part chemist/alchemist, part traditional foods enthusiast (especially merging Chinese food theory with more universal traditions), this might seem a bit odd to most in the USA.

So as a first glimpse, let’s take a quick look at a quick recent meal, noteworthy as it was made while traveling, yet adheres to principles usually used at home.

Watch as Meggs magically transmogrifies available goodies into a pile of tasty sustenance, in short order, each element cooked to perfection yet in the same pot, served hot with not a BTU of energy wasted. Colorful and tasty, prepared with a select combination of health and sustainability guidelines. All with a minimum of clean-up!

Fifteen minutes from first thought to table; Voilà!

Meggs prepared this dish in under 15 minutes, following principles of health and sustainability.

Voilà, a quick meal with Meggs! Meggs prepared this dish in under 15 minutes, following principles of health and sustainability.Meggs prepared this dish in under 15 minutes, following principles of health and sustainability.

The day in question, Meggs was traveling, staying with friends in Philadelphia.

Principles followed:

1) Sourcing. Goal of eating whole foods. Organic/local/free range/live/sprouted/traditional foods. Minimize processing including cooking; cooked (or not) as appropriate for the type of food and the needs of the individual.  Sprouted grains possible thanks to specialty breads (e.g., Ezekiel, and other(s)) available in freezers at many stores. (At home, sprouted grains such as brown rice would be used.)

2) Cooking order and cooking intensity.  Stalks and dense/root vegetables cut smaller and cooked first and longer, in a minimum of water (so material on bottom boils, material on top steams).  Ginger was used for its health benefits and flavor, added first to cook longest, finely chopped. Leaves of greens tossed on top at the end as a secondary lid to absorb heat and retain heat, as the flame was reduced or turned off, so they cooked least; lightly cooked. Egg added for nutrient density and animal proteins and fats, placed directly onto cooking vegetables when almost done. Egg yolk is important to eat raw. Whites one might minimally cook to destroy avidin (that reduces uptake of biotin, a B vitamin) so some would say the ideal is soft poaching, although others say the biotin in egg yolks make up for the avidin, and cooking destroys important complex nutrients. But here a partial cooking: the whites cook from the hot water a bit similar to egg drop soup but no stirring. Stirring destroys complex proteins.  The vegetables were cut in the order of cooking, added as they were ready, so cooking/cutting times closely corresponded.

3) Energy savings (“Not a BTU wasted”). Bowl for eating first used as lid, warming it up, so bowl will not sap heat when soup is served (eating hot food is a goal too, and a cold soup is a let-down). Bread thawed/warmed in lid (serving bowl used as lid for pot) while food cooks, and/or placed around edges to steam thaw. (Toasting avoided due to acrylamide and nutrient destruction.) Bread placed at bottom of bowl when serving to ensure not frozen, and also thus made softer and easier to eat by absorbing the liquid. The liquid contains important extracts (e.g., vitamins and minerals) essential not to be wasted. Not to mention, that just in time cutting method.

For additional flavor, spices and garlic can be added as appropriate. Garlic would be added near end to prevent cooking out healing properties. For saltiness and more fermented content, miso can be stirred in after boiling. To minimize disruption to the layered mix, pour off some hot liquid into the hot bowl, smash the miso with a spoon, then add the rest on top. Cayenne increases circulation and aids respiration, and good for certain conditions.

Served in one motion by sliding out of the pan into the hot waiting bowl, preserving the pile; thus the presentation in the photo.

Philosophy stems from numerous sources:

Guidance from Chinese Medicine, particularly Paul Pitchford’s book, Healing with Whole Foods, and a nod to emerging trends: certainly the Traditional Foods Movement, public health issues (consideration for those intolerance to gluten and milk; diabetes epidemic; carcinogenicity of pesticides and some packaging and processing; strong association of processed foods with degenerative diseases; etc.); healthy and more sustainable sourcing (pesticide free/Bio/Organic, homegrown or local if possible, etc.). And of course, the Pollan-ization.

“Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” –Michael Pollan, a Berkeley southpaw of note. :p

Not mentioned: the ease of sprouting while on the go, even while backpacking.

Problems, anyone? 🙂

Knowing that vegans may find the Mmm-eggs photo objectionable, apologies; in another tale I might discuss my own history with veganism and vegetarianism. (An interesting broader inquiry, for this Report or another news venue, would be: why so many longtime vegans and vegetarians, including outspoken organizers, in the San Francisco Bay Area/Berkeley (an epicenter) have quietly or not so quietly given up that practice.) Vegetarians as well as vegans may have issues with the Traditional Food movement, and related emerging trends like the Paleolithic Diet.

An excellent resource for vegans and vegetarians which attempts to harmonize veg practices with traditional foods principles is found here.

Surely some will also question raw eggs. The risk of salmonella, while real, I understand is extremely low if organic/pastured eggs are used, and even quite low if the riskiest, factory-farmed-torture-swill eggs are used. Two commercial sources that seem good on why raw eggs are highly beneficial to eat this one and this one.

Thanks! We hope this is helpful. Your Meggsychef hopes to share more on dietary examples and perspectives in the future. Remember, everyone is different, there’s loads of info out there, and quite a lot of conflicting advice and opinions. This information is provided here to help you make better choices, not to tell you what to do. More sharing planned for the future on the Meggs Report.

Updated October 11, 2012 due to changing information in the wiggly web world: folic acid reduction from uncooked egg whites no longer appears to be a concern, however now finding that biotin is said to be at least partially cancelled by avidin when whites are not cooked, e.g., here.

“Americans are sicker than ever.”

August 12, 2011

A report from the Emergency Room, with a compassionate and accomplished doctor I’ve known a long time.

“Americans are really sick. Sicker than ever. And the emergency rooms are really getting hit. Diabetes epidemic, obesity epidemic, the asthma epidemic, congestive heart failure, more and more renal failure from the diabetes, and then the psychiatric stuff. What’s really getting bad is depression. With psychotic breaks, they end up in the emergency room too. It’s all tied together.

“By law, the ER must treat you before they ask your insurance status. So it’s not a bad law; it saves lives. But, it’s an unfunded law. And more and more people can’t pay. So the insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid are cutting back reimbursement, so we ER docs are working harder and harder for less and less money.

“Nationwide, admissions to emergency rooms are growing at 5% a year. Some hospitals are going out of business, and some are closing their emergency departments. And it’s not only that people have no place else to go, it’s also because there’s no place else that’s appropriate for them to go.”

Save Italia: l’attacco di estetica

April 18, 2011

Landing in Bologna, my new home in Italy, I was not sorry that the plane was delayed for several more spins around the city.

Mesmerizingly, from the air Bologna appeared as a medieval medallion on a tapestry of felted jade. One could almost pick it up from the fields and study its impossible intricacies. I watched in wonder.

As if by a miracle, the city sported an abrupt urban growth boundary, immediately surrounded by what appeared to be family-based farmlands, a small collection of cultivated fields to each home. Where is the urban sprawl that houses the rest of the 400,000 some people of this metropolitan region? How did they maintain such a strong urban growth boundary? How promising! I looked forward to seeing the intricacies of that amazing-looking center below.

A bird's-eye view of the beauty of Bologna. (Source, Tango7174, wikipedia commons.)

A bird's-eye view of the beauty of Bologna. (Source, Tango7174, wikipedia commons.)

After several days here in Bologna — the second largest medieval city center in Europe (after Venice, and also once a city of canals) — one would hope il Dott. Meggs would be in love with the beauty and delighted with this way of life.

After all, the expectation indicators are strong for a place of paradise. Your Benevolent Meggsy is here at the oldest continuously operating university in the world, expressly to research and determine urban policy and actions to increase healthier, more sustainable modes of transport, and in large part thanks to my association with the World Carfree Network. Is it unreasonable to assume an enlightened, livable, relatively carfree place?

One would eagerly anticipate this jewel of the Renaissance to be an urban paradise, particularly in Italy, the land of art and culture.

Not so!

Terribly, after a short time here, my only lasting impression of place was the rumbling, droning daily earthquake, the flood of hell and metal, the charge of deadly steel ripping around each corner, charging through each tiny path, defiling every space: the endless antagonistic automobiles; the torrents of motor scooters; the deluge of diesel buses; the putrid stench of their unmitigated effluence.

Like a freight train crashing through church, like war at a wedding, attacking mercilessly; savage sloughs of speeding steel sewage spewing determined disrespect, a dragon’s blast of deadly noxious vapours; a poison cloud which lingers long after each platoon hath passed. Each CC sip of air inescapably stinking, a VOC coctail, a benzene and all admixture as if face full of a petrol pump; the explosive noise echoing cataclysmically; every air molecule buzzing stunned after shotgun blasts; as if the city were one giant, hyper raceway; as if a jackhammer the center of every living room.

How can anyone accept a life like this? Particularly here, in a paradise of urban form!

Worse, the aggressive disregard for the human being; the horn, the aggressive thrust and shove to prevent our crossing. Wouldn’t a civilised culture, one reputedly relaxed and sublime, rather roll down a window and ask politely, “scusi?” — not shoot us with the noise cannon, at point blank range? Wouldn’t its drivers choose a sensible speed, or better yet, an entirely more enlightened alternative?

Yet another speeding car cuts off a baby stroller.

Yet another speeding car cuts off a baby stroller. (Source: Jason Meggs)

True, once a platoon has passed, there can be sweet silence in these Renaissance canyons, affording enough repose to gather a very different sense of place, where the ornate beauty emerges with that temporary peace.

High above on a roof, a tree. Gently noticed, the chirp of birds. Ponder the play of light and its architects’ intent so many centuries past.

But this is mere deception, an invitation to a trap. Perhaps you have enough moments to gaze down at the patterns of stones carefully laid as pavement, swirling arches suggesting a care for beauty, if distorted from the incessant attack of…


And then they are upon us again. The people who dare venture by foot in this city, which was once a great gift for pedestrians, are now second and third class, subordinate to the mounted knights of petroleum. The men, women and children walking appear frightened, dazed, shell shocked, and hug the walls, waiting to pass, sharing but a narrow channel protected by steel posts as the raceway rules supreme.

A mother has just squeezed past a man in the narrow the walking gutter. The cars are the kings and queens here. (Jason Meggs)

A mother has just squeezed past a man in the narrow the walking gutter. The cars are the kings and queens here. (Jason Meggs)

An older couple starts on a new street, feels the sunshine on their faces, appreciates the rare quiet as the arterial they’ve left falls away, seducing them into a false sense of safety. They walk in the street away from the constricting steel posts for the sun, thinking they can share the way which is wide enough for a car to pass. Think again.

Deceptively calm, it was but a moment’s reprieve on the new street before the next attack. Without warning, without mercy, a car careens upon them and rushes to a stop a mere meter from their bodies, and promptly blasts its horn: piercing, shrieking, surely above 130 dBA, resounding off the sharp walls on every side. Hateful it seems; intended to harm. Harm it does.

I spin on my heels as if to defend and see the poor older couple hobbling to the edge of the road, their peace shattered, their place stolen. The perpetrator writhes agonised: A 40-something woman with gold hair gripping at the wheel, gnawing at the air, face contorting with ugliness, screaming to herself inside her car, eyes wild with shrieking. As soon as it’s clear she rushes past without apology, a child’s tantrum runamok as gold-encrusted spectre, roars away followed by the rumbling of more monsters, new arrivals backing up behind her box, the endless insistence without reprieve. The raceway resumes.

Look around: the walls of this ornate city are stained black from pollution, like a den of smokers, like the walls around a coal furnace.

How can this be?

Immediately my response to this assault on life is to analyse each small street in light of what I have learned: Why is there traffic here? What can be done about it? Who makes these decisions, what data is available, what policies in place?

I take a quick traffic count and estimate. This narrow alley must see more than 10,000 vehicles per day!

As a city the cumulative effects on health of such high volumes in a dense population center are staggering. Cancer, chronic stress leading to disease, hearing loss, curtailment of public freedom; and I’m told a recent inquiry estimated that the rate of injury and fatality is much higher than one would anticipate, despite the seemingly ubiquitous protections for pedestrians here including reportedly 40 km of porticoes — gorgeous covered walkways protected from traffic by stone columns and grade separation — and alleys like this one, lined with protective barriers. After all, a field lined with trenches and foxholes does not indicate a safer soldier; it indicates war.

The devil is in the surprises at intersections, explained one transport professor at DICAM Transport Engineering Group, my new workplace. Without warning, a fast vehicle will shoot around a corner; there is no way for a pedestrian to react in time. Having seen a few days’ egregious misbehaviour, and many close calls, I believe it. Is there a solution?

    Appeal to culture, pleasure, tradition.

The culture of Italians, I’m told, is aesthetic. Art dances with and seduces, bypasses reason. This is the global allure of Italy. Yet here one wonders if the Italians have lost their senses, their culture to the automobile.

Is there hope?

    Beauty is alive, resistance is smiling kindness.

Fortuitously, my first day on the town I came upon a symbolic discovery: a sidewalk vendor of historic Bolgnan treasures offered a classic book on display, carefully packaged in a protective sheath: Uomo o Automobile? (Man or Automobile?), a 1968 compilation of writings about the car and its effects.

What a find! Relatedly, there was an engrossing book on the local antifascist resistance, WWII…I’d like to read both, but is it worth 13€ to me today? (My bank was not allowing me cash, incidentally.) I ask for a discount, 10€ for both, and the vendor, an old man, smiles and objects. No, he explains, I must take them both for 8€, not my 10€ offer, let alone the 13€ posted price.

It’s a sign of hope that the power of community and the aesthetic potential of Bologna is yet alive despite the hostility of the traffic.

Then there’s the news that the EU plans to ban combustion cars from cities by 2050, grand news, although that is just a partial action on a long timeline.

How about a program to transition the motorized two-wheelers, which are arguably the biggest air and noise pollution problem, to battery and bicycle on a much shorter timeline?

How about a community-based initiative to assess the streets and propose new protections and new policies for handling traffic flow?

In any event, you couldn’t hope for a more prime natural candidate for a Carfree City, something the world is increasingly ready (and long overdue) for.

Other signs of hope: a network of trolleybuses, my favourites! — although they are a tiny minority of the many buses; but many buses means frequent transit options, even late at night; and there are occasional carfree alleys and shopping areas, where motor vehicles are finally escaped; and even some brave souls who dare ride bicycles — in fact, the mail is delivered by bike! (See photo, below.) Then there is the fresh produce from local farms, the secret spaces from centuries past (catacombs included, both below and above ground) and the friendliness of those you meet — in public — those who are not grimacing at the wheel. Oh, and much of the sprawl is in dense corridors, although it continues to grow. It just wasn’t apparent from the plane that morning.

Mail is delivered by bicycle! (Jason Meggs)

Mail is delivered by bicycle! (Jason Meggs)

Local produce in markets near the grand plaza (Jason Meggs).

Local produce in markets near the grand plaza (Jason Meggs).

Meggs ponders the relative peace of a market alley. (Jason Meggs)

Meggs ponders the relative peace of a market alley. (Jason Meggs)

Stay tuned as Your Meggsy investigates and considers solutions to make this diamond in the rough the happy, healthy gem it could be.

Lastly, for the “bicycle crazies,” you might enjoy this article (translated and original).