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Cover your Cough to Save Lives (COVID-19)

March 15, 2020

UPDATE: all my recent posts are out of date and inadequate, the most recent with an update to reflect the latest is:
This is a necessary result of the urgency of giving out better information as it arrived.

Original article:

We are inundated with messages to wash hands as if it were the most important measure we can take — yet little is said about the risks of coughing.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) makes clear that the novel corona virus (COVID-19) is transmitted “mainly from person-to-person…through respiratory droplets when somebody coughs or sneezes.” (Source:


In addition a recently submitted paper (March 8, 2020) from Wuhan University and other scientists in China found the COVID-19 virus in the air in hospitals. (Source: We already known flu virus is found in the air.

CDC further states “It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.


Yet the world is being told to wash our hands and rarely told the importance of covering our coughs and of avoiding areas where people are or have been coughing.

What’s more there is evidently no proof yet the virus can be passed by hand-to-face contact. The primary receptors are in the deep lung (ACE2) and our fingers don’t go there — how does the virus get there? Small particles get there all the time, however — whenever we breathe. Many particles are emitted when people cough.

Moreover, it is coughing and sneezing that most likely deposits the particles we are trying to wash off. Don’t give up on washing hands – it’s important for many reasons – but it’s long past time to emphasize people COVER THEIR COUGH so those particles don’t get all over and onto our hands and bodies in the first place.

SELF-QUARANTINE if you are coughing and AVOID people who are coughing. Unfortunately, covering a cough is at best partially effective.

I have family friends who have been washing their hands so much that their hands are cracking and bleeding. For all we know this could be another source of infection by the virus, theoretically it could be even more dangerous than touching the face – we don’t know yet. It could help explain why some people get diarrhea along with COVID-19 (two major areas for the receptor cells are in the deep lung and the intestines, so the bowels could get sick as well from the same virus — for example if the virus enters the cuts in the hands, spreads through the blood, and then somehow enters the receptor cells).

My hunch at this point given everything is that small particles are a significant source of COVID-19 infection, possibly the major source. Small particles by their nature typically stay airborne for long periods of time. In this case presumably they would be emitted primarily by coughing, then by sneezing.

Please alert anyone suggesting that hand washing is the answer, especially organizations doing outreach, to start emphasizing the key source of the virus. Teach people to cover their coughs as if lives depend on it – they do.

Meggs holds a Master’s in Public Health (Environmental Health Sciences Division) from the University of California at Berkeley.


March 13, 2020

UPDATE: all my recent posts are out of date and inadequate, the most recent with an update to reflect the latest is:
This is a necessary result of the urgency of giving out better information as it arrived.

Original article:


The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) makes clear that the novel corona virus (COVID-19) is transmitted “mainly from person-to-person…through respiratory droplets when somebody coughs or sneezes.” (Source:

In addition a recently submitted paper (March 8, 2020) from Wuhan found COVID-19 virus in the air in hospitals. (Source: We already known flu virus is found in the air.

Yet the world is being told to wash its hands and rarely told the importance of covering their cough and of avoiding areas where people are or have been coughing.

What’s more it’s possible that the virus is not passed by hand-to-face contact, possibly making the widespread fear of touching the material world an unnecessary limitation on movement and action, an unnecessary stressor at a time that we need our bodies’ defenses to be optimal.

If anyone can demonstrate any evidence that the virus passes by hand to face contact and can explain how it then arrives in the deep lung please do. Until then it appears the hand washing mania is a dangerous misinformation which imparts a false sense of security (and misplaced stress and fear) on top of the failure of leadership, from Berkeley to the White House, to emphasize the danger of this pandemic. People should be isolating and anyone coughing even the slightest should be completely covering their mouth.

Some ideas (questions) for how the virus could possibly get from the face to the deep lung where ACE2 receptors are located in case anyone has any knowledge to share:

Could it be that:

1. There are cells with virus receptors in the oronasopharynx? The virus replicates in those cells, is released and makes its way into the bloodstream, and is carried to the alveolar region where it somehow connects with alveolar receptor cells?

2. There is a small amount of fluid in the throat that regularly makes it way past the glottis into the trachea, and somehow virus in the trachea makes it way down to the alveolar region?

3. There are macrophages in the oronasopharynx that pick up the virus, either because they have virus receptors or simply scavenge, and these macrophages migrate down to the alveolar region?

4. Given that a single virus is a nanoparticle, a virus physically navigates through a capillary wall in a mucous membrane in the oronasopharynx, enters the bloodstream, and is is carried to the alveolar region where it somehow connects with receptor cells? (I believe that at least some nanoparticles can pass through capillary walls.)

5. Particles with the virus attach to the face by contact or deposition from people coughing, and are then somehow released to the air and aspirated to the deep lung? (Added 3/14)


Thus far to my knowledge no biological explanation has been given for why hand washing would help. POINT IS HAND WASHING IS NOT GOING TO PREVENT THE PANDEMIC. STOP EMPHASIZING THAT OVER PROTECTION FROM COUGHING!

To be absolutely clear, of course hand washing is still important, if only to prevent other illnesses when health care services may be overwhelmed, so those with COVID-19 have more chance of living. Slowing the infection rate so health care resources are available to those who are sick makes a huge difference in the death rate. Also to be clear, yes it is certainly possible that hand-to-face contact might cause COVID-19 infection in at least some cases, evidently we don’t know yet. But ignoring the respiratory transmission is a deadly mistake.

My hunch at this point given everything is that small particles are a significant source of COVID-19 infection. Small particles might stay airborne for long periods of time. They are emitted primarily by coughing.


CDC is admitting they don’t know enough yet and again that the virus is thought to be passed “mainly from person-to-person…through respiratory droplets when somebody coughs or sneezes.”

CDC further states “It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.


Please alert anyone suggesting that hand washing is the answer, especially organizations doing outreach, to stop giving a false sense of security and misplaced fear. Teach people to cover their coughs as if lives depend on it – they do.

Meggs holds a Master’s in Public Health (Environmental Health Sciences Division) from the University of California at Berkeley.

Bicycle Safety: Recommendation to Uber (dooring)

November 1, 2019

Recently I was struck by an Uber door in Washington, D.C. It sent me spinning not only across the asphalt and into a parked car, but on an odyssey to consider what Uber and other automobile-based rideshare services can do to eliminate dooring.

Attached is the policy recommendation document I sent to Uber today: memo-to-uber-bicycle-safety-passenger-doors-jason-meggs-01november2019


More details of my injury, how to avoid dooring, why dooring is never the bicyclist’s fault, and what to do if you are hit by a car door, may be forthcoming but for now the focus is on changing the big players who have greatly increased injuries to bicyclists with unmarked cars making frequent passenger pick-ups and drop-offs.

I want to be clear that this advice is important for any rideshare company, not just Uber and not just in D.C. – and much of it is applicable to any passenger vehicle including personal/private vehicles, vans and taxis. Moreover certain issues are NEW to rideshare and as of Jan. 22, 2020 Uber and Lyft have NOT replied.
Please share.


In Celebration of Slugs

July 2, 2016


Your Agent Meggsy (YAM i am) was enjoying a morning walking meditation in nature at a birthday retreat near the Pacific Coast south of San Francisco. Behold, what have we here? A slug! A big slug! A banana slug! We drew closer, intrigued by the fascinating intensity of this big beautiful slow-sliding slug.


Have you ever watched a true slug in action? They are miraculous, gently, slowly, steadily moving forward. So vulnerable. What is their role in nature? How do they survive, being such a giant treat exposed like this, moving so slowly? Surely there is some secret brilliance to their existence.

As we marveled at the slug for some time (during which friend slug made many centimeters of earnest progress), YAM realized that slug is often used as a derogatory epiphet. A “slug” is a term slung at a “slow, lazy person” perhaps because they constantly let others down. But whyever wouldst one malign the slug, who is clearly doing a lot of work here, out of frustrations in these heady human affairs?

Why, for that matter, why would we call someone a “bastard” to say they are wilfully harmful? Is there really any link with people who don’t know who their father is?

And what about all those body parts that are equated by anthropomorphized anger’s assignment? Is there really something so despicable about the anus? And so on for a thousand terrible terminological temper tantrums ad terminum.

Pondering this I peered over yon slug and noted some droopy flowers hanging above, truly a tiny stage set of languid torpor. Woe be to flowers that don’t perk up and entertain us!


Rather than calling someone who lets us down a slug, we might more accurately (but not more moreso) call them a DROOPY FLOWER in grave enmity!!! ARGHHHH! DROOPY FLOOOOWERZZZ!!!

Yet it was so green, and so natural, even this seemed a bit…comical. And ineffective.

Now true, there are those who are fearsomely – phobically – phantasmagorically – terrified of slugs. Particularly big ones like these dear banana slugs. And at the other extreme, there are those who make much of them (such as the Banana Slug mascot at UCSC).

For me today, just to appreciate the peaceful, gentle, determined spirit of the slug exactly as it is, will do just fine, thank you.

Besides, they’re probably reducing carbon emissions — next up, air lifting beavers to save the climate!


[Update May 1, 2018: To see magical slugs-in-action check this video piece: ]

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/Nom
Its/Hers/His Ahz

Update January 2021: Realizing “nam” is pronounced similarly to “nom” and the etymology is supportive to change the spelling (name => nomenclature).

Also realizing pronunciation wasn’t provided previously:

  • Na is spoken /NAH/, similar to la in la-ti-do;
  • Nom is spoken /NAHM/, rhymes with freedom; and
  • Ahz is spoken /AHZ/ almost the same as Oz.

Also cognizant that a/o have gendered meaning in romance languages. “Nam” backwards interestingly is “man”, which fits my own feminist intent to a point but is not gender neutral in that sense, just a partisan flipping of the coin; and “nam” may remind some of the Vietnam War. For all these reasons “nom” seems a better long-term choice than “nam”.

Not having started a true campaign for this set of pronouns, it’s not too late to switch. Input appreciated – for now both are options and feedback is welcome but for now nom is presumed the winner.

Although “na” also has an open/short/o-type sound to it,  “no” obviously would be problematic and noh seems unecessarily long and might encourage pronunciation creep toward “no”.

Playtest, please!

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/Nom/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 nom.

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.

If one is used to using the plural “they” to indicate a singular being without specifying a singular person’s “gender”, either word flows similarly (they/na) and, “them” is very similar to “nom” (them~nom). Although interestingly “if they want to” changes to “if na wants to” (adding an es to “want”).

Testing further, assembling words that began or ended with similar sounds to na/nom/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 and haven’t seen a better one.

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 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 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!

Instead of “they’re cutting wood” in plural form, erroneous for a singular person/being,we would say “na’s cutting wood.”

Is there evidence that this language openness in Finnish 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 close friend’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 no longer 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”.

P.S. You can use Mx. instead of Mr. and Ms., is that cool or what?

Updated with minor edits/additions January 2021.

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.