Archive for the ‘Work’ Category

Career in Transition, pt. 3

Monday, August 13th, 2012

Well, it’s been almost five months since my last update. The Atlanta opportunity came and went. It was frustrating (and a major red flag) to hear the recruiter say, “we pay for relocation, but some people go ahead and spend the money on a flat screen.” Coming from a person in a company who makes its money by helping its clients quantify value, these words really set my teeth on edge. With perhaps one or two exceptions, it is going to cost a small dump truck of money more to pick up the family and re-settle in a new town than it would cost to get a flat screen TV. Of course, at approximately $900,000, this television would easily cover the cost of the move, plus the cost of its 103″ sibling:

That being said, I did visit the company’s office for a full day of interviews. Nice people, but they were more focused on pricing optimization for travel and hospitality, where my experience lies more in business-to-business pricing and market strategy.We just didn’t align. I could have helped them expand, but at my career level and in the current economy, most companies are looking for someone who will be “plug and play” into the existing model. So, Atlanta came and went.

A few more opportunities have flared up and died off in the interim. The most serious of which being a product management position at a pricing software company in Austin, and a general market strategy job for a large e-commerce company in Seattle. Ultimately, I did not get the job at the company in Austin because they, too, wanted someone with more operational experience in product management than I possess. This was a telling experience since product management has been one of my core positions for which I’ve been looking, but have had almost no traction in getting interviews. If a company who does pricing software won’t hire me for a product management job, then I am unlikely to get hired by other companies outside of the pricing universe for a similar role.

The Seattle job, on the other hand, is in its own form of stasis, perhaps even outright limbo. I’ve been through several rounds of interviews, all virtual, including meeting with the Senior Vice President who is the boss of the hiring manager. They’ve owed me an invitation to Seattle to come visit the office, and/or some form of outright rejection, but that just hasn’t come. Four weeks ago, the recruiter told me that I was going to be contacted by the hiring manager to schedule an office visit as the last step in the process. Then the recruiter went off on vacation for eight days.

When he got back, a second person had jumped into the interviewing queue, but at the next career level up from what I had interviewed at (Senior Director vs. Director). They indicated that they would know by the end of the week whether they were going to move forward with the other candidate at the higher level. That was supposed to be July 27th, and I haven’t heard anything much more substantive since then. The hiring manager has gone ‘radio silent’ after being fairly chatty over e-mail, which is never a good sign. The recruiter has been fantastic, keeping me up-to-date on some of the internal issues, even if the net effect of those conversations has been, “no news”. From what I can gather, it does not sound like the other candidate knocked their socks off, but they also seem to be going through some form of internal debate about the Director vs. Senior Director issue. I’d be happier with the latter title (bottom of the executive ranks vs. top of the managerial ranks), but getting across that divide also has significant organizational implications, as well.

A third option is local to Houston. A large, established manufacturing conglomerate has poured a few billion dollars into acquisitions into the Oil & Gas industry locally, and it is working on integrating the acquisitions and improving the acquired companies’ performance. Through my network, I found out about a role at one of the divisions that is right up my alley, so I have had several preliminary discussions with the person who was going to be the hiring manager — all prior to the role being formally approved and actually posted. Well, a couple of weeks ago, the role did finally get approved and posted, so my resume has been handed over to the new hiring manager (it got shifted up and over a level), and the person to whom I’d been talking assured me that I’d be getting contacted soon. However, until I start interviewing for real, it’s hard to even count eggs, let alone chickens…

Other opportunities? I went through a preliminary round with a telecom company in Denver (no news for several weeks, so it’s likely dead or passed me by). I found a company in Manchester, UK, that was looking for a pricing leader. It’s doubtful that they can a) afford me, or b) get me a visa, but it’s fun to dream. That company also has a headquarters in Seattle, and the UK-based hiring manager was going to recommend me to the US-based VP who owns pricing. And, oh, yeah, I have a possible opportunity at a large electronics retailer that has popped up, but may or may not amount to anything. There are a few more out there, but not anything worth mentioning at this point. I continue sending out somewhere between 10 – 20 resumes a week (I sent out 16 resumes in one day after I got turned down by the Austin company!). My time in Raleigh is drawing to a rapid, but still uncertain, close, so it would be nice to have the financial security of knowing what’s going on next. Oh, yeah, just for my own sanity, it would also be good to know what’s happening next!

Career in Transition

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

I had a long post here detailing the background of why I left Deloitte and where I/we stand in searching for a replacement position. I did so because some of you have seen on Facebook that I’ve had some interviews lately and have also expressed concern with how we are doing. Rather than leave up the long, rambling, fairly self-indulgent detailed explanation that read a little on the depressive side, let me give a more abridged account and focus on where we are at in the overall scheme of things.

Last December, I finished up an ugly, ugly project that was to secure the funding for my division’s outgoing CEO’s legacy project (nine figure funding request). As a result of that project, it became apparent that it was time to leave Deloitte, and my boss and I agreed that my next project was to find my next job, and we wound up my responsibilities over the remaining six months of the fiscal year. I had several discussions with local firms, but I seemed to be priced out of the local market outside of Oil and Gas, and to get an Oil and Gas job at my level, I needed Oil or Gas experience. In fact, this has been a recurring theme for a year and a half, since I originally started looking for a local job back in June of 2010. It was also a theme when I last left Deloitte back in 2005/6, bu t that’s a different story. Suffice it to say that I have not had good luck finding local, successful companies who can use and pay for someone with my skills.

That being said, I was a reasonably successful consultant, and I came across what was just about the perfect job description to “wash the stink” of consulting off of me back in late October, so I submitted a resume and a pithy cover letter, and thought little about it. That is, until the recruiter contacted me back a few days later. Whoa. I had spent the eight weeks prior to Robin’s second hospital admittance working for a computer manufacturer in Raleigh, NC, and they had wanted me to stay around as a contact employee, but this was my first nibble in a while in my “wheel house”: pricing and market strategy. Good stuff.

Except there was a hitch. Great role? Check. Successful company? $40 billion in revenue last year with almost a 10% net (after tax) margin. Check. Good location? Err, um, Glendale, Wisconsin. Aka suburban Milwaukee. Aka “Chicago Lite”. Hmm… If I’m going to entertain offers from outside Houston, how about looking in places where we might want to live (Austin, Denver, Portland, Seattle, Bay Area, Boston, etc.). In pretty short order, I was talking to several companies, though the fits weren’t as good as Milwaukee, and all but an opportunity in suburban Philadelphia have basically dropped off. I also contacted my boss/client in Raleigh to let him know that I was looking for full-time positions. He eventually got back to me that they were interested, and had a relatively meaty role. Somewhere in there, a couple of more local opportunities popped up, but one of them wasn’t a good fit money-wise, and the other didn’t even want to interview me (an oil company — go figure).

Having had a mostly good-to-great experience in the office interviewing in Milwaukee, I am hopeful that they’ll contact me with a good offer after the first of the year. I am also hopeful that Raleigh will follow-though and be able to give me a meaty full-time role that is comparable or better than my current consulting gig with them. However, if anyone hears of something in Houston, I’m all ears.

We now return you to cute girl pictures.

All aboard UP’s steam engine #844!

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

Through my Citizens’ Transportation Coalition (CTC) effort, I’ve done some work with the Union Pacific Rail Road (UPRR). This relationship recently yielded a new perq when their Public Relations director invited me to come ride their steam excursion train.

UP steam engine #844
Union Pacific steam locomotive number 844

UP has the largest collection of historical railroad equipment of any class I railroad, and engine #844 first operated in 1948. During April, the Valley Eagle traveled from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Harlingen, Texas and back. We met the train in Old Town Spring.

Get the Flash Player to see this video.

Chris and Bob by steam drive
Chris and Bob by the four huge drive wheels

Me, Chris, my colleague Ian, a couple of Houston City Council members, a staffer from the County Judge’s office, and several others boarded the train in Spring and rode back to the Amtrak station in downtown Houston.

Chris and Bob on the train
The train interior was spacious and comfy

During the ride, we visited the “dining” car to buy souvenirs, and sought out windows in the vestibule and at the back to capture photos and videos of the scenery.

Chris at the back
Chris and I took pictures out the open back door of the train

Bob concerning the conductor
Bob got scolded by the conductor to go back inside

Get the Flash Player to see this video.

I’ve ridden intercity heavy-rail trains before in Oregon/Washington, the Northeast corridor, and in France, but never in Texas. This trip reaffirmed that I’m ready for intercity rail, even high-speed rail, from Houston to Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio. I also enjoyed seeing familiar railroad sites — like tower 26 and the Englewood Hump Yard — from a train point of view. But my favorite part was spending a couple of hours hanging out with my brother.

I’ve got the Power!

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

We all know that I’ve got a bit of a toy habit, or at least we do now, so it is a little disingenuous for me to describe a PowerTap as my “Christmas Gift” to me, but that’s approximately what the rationalization was. What’s a PowerTap? We’ll get to that in a minute. First, we have the Song of the Blog:

Snap! – The Power

Like the crack of the whip, I snap attack,
Front to back, in this thing called rap.
Dig it like a shovel rhyme devil,
On a heavenly level,
Bang the bass, turn up the treble.
Radical mind, day and night, all the time
Seven to fourteen wise divine
Maniac brainiac winning the game
I’m the lyrical Jesse James

Back in December, Bob and Mom gave me a measurement package from Third Coast Training. While that was great to give me baseline numbers for how my metabolism worked in conjunction with my ability to pedal, I also wanted to have better data as I was riding to understand how I was progressing and what kind of calorie expenditure I was producing. For that, I needed a way to measure my power output, and that’s where the PowerTap comes into play. Beware, extreme cycling geekery begins here…

For those of you who have managed to put freshman physics behind you (did I mention that one of my riding buddies is Dr. Duck’s son-in-law?), here’s a quick refresher:
Force equals mass times acceleration

Work equals force times distance
Power equals work divided by time

When one pedals, the circular motion of the crank arms is turned into linear motion of the chain, which is then converted into circular motion by the rear (drive) wheel. As a result, force is applied in a constrained, pivoting plane, aka torque:

Are your eyeballs bleeding yet?

Once you get back from running away from your computer, screaming, we can get back to the narrative.

So, why all the technical stuff, and by “technical stuff”, I mean physics I’m embarrassed to admit to having had to do a bit of re-reading to refresh my understanding? Well, it turns out that the body is actually a machine! Yep, 100% full-blooded Cylon, that’s me. I guess I just didn’t know it at the time!

It turns out that the human body is somewhere between 20% – 25% efficient in converting stored energy into physical work. In other words, since one calorie is 4.184 joules, and one joule is the base unit of work, you can approximate how many calories you burned doing exercise by looking at your total work output and changing the unit of measure. Don’t forget, though, that metabolically we deal in “C”alories (aka kilocalories), so you are really comparing kilojoules (kJ) to Calories. So, if you want to know how many calories you really expended on a treadmill, see if the machine will tell you your total work output in kJ or Watts (Watt is the measure of Power, which is Work over Time, but it gets confused because the letter “W” often represents total Work in classical mechanics problems). If it tells you Calories, you don’t necessarily know what conversion process the machine is using to get to that number. Here’s one way to tell: if your Calorie expenditure seems sensitive to your weight, then chances are that the machine is computing Calories somewhat or completely independently of its power sensor. This is called foreshadowing.

So, back to this PowerTap thing. The PowerTap is essentially a torque sensor (strain gauge) built into the rear hub that transmits data wirelessly to my Garmin cycling computer. So, whenever I pedal, it sends a signal to my computer with how hard I’m pedaling for how long. The computer then aggregates the data for viewing and later analysis (I love the download capabilities of my Garmin). This then leads to some interesting possible scenarios between what the sensor says versus what some of the embedded physiological models in the computer say about how much work I’m doing at any given time.

Tri-County Hill Hopper – 2/21/2010
Back in February, I did a ride that began in Round Top, about 20 miles outside of Brenham, and that covered a bit over 60 miles of fairly rolling terrain. According to my Garmin, the 67.74 miles covered 3,165 feet of climbing and caused me to burn 6,338 Calories.
Google Maps for the 2010 Tri-County Hill Hopper

However, when I pulled the workout file into a software package that is dedicated to analyzing files from power meters, it said that I had “only” expended 3,557kJ, or approximately 3,600 Calories. Why the discrepancy? Simple, really. The calorie expenditure in the Garmin has embedded in it an assumption that all of the motion on the bike is caused by the rider (true) constantly putting power to the pedals (definitely not true — thank whatever deity you want that for very uphill there’s a down!). So, we go from “crunch all you want” to “good ride, but let’s stick to only one dessert.” Poo.

Eight days in the Pacific Northwest…

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

I sometimes joke that something hasn’t really “happened” until I blog about it, but that poses a challenge. The more busy and interesting our lives are, the harder it is to make time to blog.

During our last vacation to Cozumel, it was easy to blog early and often because the afternoons were too hot to do anything else. But the trip we took in February to Portland and Seattle was so jam-packed I didn’t even attempt to blog before we got home. Since then I’ve stayed too busy to blog. And then our blog went missing for several days. But we definitely enjoyed a marvelous trip, so here — more than a month overdue — are some of my favorite moments:

Walking and transiting all over downtown Portland. In urban planning circles, Portland is widely-regarded as one of the most walkable, transit-friendly cities in the US, with a wonderful quality of life. My friend and CTC colleague, Christof Spieler, convinced us that given a trip to the Pacific Northwest, we should fly into Portland to explore the city for a day before heading to Seattle.

Between noon Monday and noon Tuesday, we did just that. We explored downtown, parks, vibrant urban neighborhoods, and the waterfront… all without ever using a car. Portland is also bike-friendly and I’ll be sure to rent one the next time we’re there.

Pioneer Square Court House
Pioneer Courthouse Square has a marvelous pedestrian plaza

bronze beavers on transit mall
Bronze beavers play on a water feature in the transit mall

Bill and Christof downtown Portland
Bill and Christof in downtown Portland

Riding trains with Christof. Christof knows more about what makes high-quality transit service than anyone I know. Portland has invested in a lot of great transit service, and the opportunity to travel with Christof as an expert guide was both fun and informative.

In Portland, we rode the MAX light rail in from the airport and out to Union Station. We rode the streetcar south to the waterfront and north for dinner at Wildwood on 21st St. We even took the aerial tram up to OHSU for great views of the city and the Willamette River. On Tuesday, we rode Amtrak’s Cascades service up the coast from Portland to Seattle.

In Seattle, we rode Sound Transit’s link light rail to/from the airport as well as one afternoon just to explore station areas. We also rode the South Lake Union… Streetcar to explore Paul Allen’s multi-billion-dollar redevelopment effort. In both cities, Christof trekked out without us on several occasions to ride commuter rail and other services. He’s dedicated!

Bob on TriMet MAX light rail
Bob on the TriMet MAX light rail from the airport

Portland streetcar w Christof
Portland’s streetcar vehicles look happy to me

Portland tram w Christof
The tram climbs 500 feet during the 3-minute trip up to OHSU

Christof stalking Amtrak
Christof shoots more and better transit photos than I do

Bill and Christof shooting Puget Sound
Bill and Christof attempting to shoot dusk on Puget Sound

Walking and transiting all over downtown Seattle. Like Portland, Seattle, is incredibly pedestrian-friendly. Except for a day trip to Everett and Mukilteo, we explored Seattle neighborhoods via walking and transit (and Bill by bicycle, but that comes later).

Fifth Avenue morning rush
Morning rush on Fifth Avenue

Bob and Christof photographing
Bob and Christof under the monorail station

Bob and Bill at Pike Place
Bob and Bill at Pike Place


The Original Starbucks. Bill thinks he first encountered Starbucks coffee ~1996 during the Philip Morris SAP project in Richmond. During many subsequent years working in NYC, he’s consumed a LOT of Starbucks, venti iced skinny caramel Frappucinos (TM) to be specific. At home, he now favors the great local barristas at The Coffee Groundz in Midtown Houston. But given an opportunity to visit the little coffee shop at Pike Place that became a global machine, we had to go. And yes, I bought a mug. But I bought my lattes for breakfast at the Seattle’s Best Coffee further up Pike St.

Bill enters Starbucks
The original Starbucks shop at Pike Place

Boeing Everett factory tour. Bill and I have spent a lot of time in Boeing aircraft over the years, mostly 737 variations. And Jean still works for Boeing’s aerospace group. The Boeing factory where they assemble 747s, 767s, and the brand-new 787 Dreamliners is the largest building in the world (by interior volume) and we were eager to see what they do there. So we rented a car for the day to drive up to Everett for the plant tour. All photography was thoroughly prohibited, but the tour was still jaw-dropping. We also visited Snohomish County’s opportunistic Future of Flight visitor center.

Boeing's Everett factory

Boeing 747 assembly
Images courtesy of The Boeing Company.

Lunch in Mukilteo. On our way to Everett, we stopped for lunch in the old waterfront town of Mukilteo, which overlooks Puget Sound. We lingered in a charming beach park while Christof captured great photos of BNSF freight trains passing nearby. We then enjoyed a lunch of local seafood at Ivar’s by the landing where Puget Sound ferries came and went.

Mukilteo overlooks Puget Sound

Bob stalks seagull

Mukilteo ferry

My conference talk. The 9th annual New Partners for Smart Growth conference was the justification for the trip, and I was invited to present in a panel on grassroots involvement in transportation planning. The room (of 50) was packed and I knew at the time that I delivered a better PowerPoint than any of the other panelists. But over the next two days, strangers continued to approach me and say some variation of, “You gave the talk from Houston, right? That was great! Good luck with your effort…” Their affirmations were very, very gratifying.

The Hiram Chittenden Locks. Known locally as the Ballard Locks, they span the ship canal between Lake Washington and Puget Sound, segregating fresh- from salt-water. It’s both cool and vaguely disconcerting that you can walk across the top of the lock doors at one end or the other at any time. I talked with a cyclist coming across the locks who explained that he cycles across the locks from his home on the Magnolia side to his office on the Ballard side, even in the cold gray drizzle, because it would take him 5 minutes longer by car and be more stressful. I also talked with a Corps operator who explained the locks have dozens of moorings inside because, in summer, people on kayaks and jet skis use the locks, too. The site also includes a fish ladder to enable spawning salmon to traverse the locks in spring.

Bill by the Ballard Locks

Ballard lock in action
These locks operate 24/7 to keep maritime traffic moving

The Fremont Troll. North of downtown Seattle, there’s a bridge that takes Aurora Ave (WA-99) over Lake Union at the ship canal. The northern end where NW 35th St passes under the bridge structure used to be a Dark Scary Place where Bad Things happened. But the Fremont neighborhood got organized in 1990 and leveraged the fist matching grant from the City of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods to build a massive public art piece that transformed the location into a source of neighborhood pride.

Bob, Bill, and the Fremont Troll

Dinner with one of Bill’s Spectracal partners. The little software company Bill conjured up in 2005 has almost escaped mention in our blog. Nonetheless, SpectraCal has an office in Seattle where Bill’s business partners and a half dozen employees work. I got to see the office for the first time, and we enjoyed dinner twice with L.A. and his wife Gillian, once at a chic Vietnamese place, and once at their home. I managed to come home with no photos of us together, but they’re really wonderful people.

Bill outside Spectracal's Seattle office
Foil on the windows eliminates light for sensor testing

Walk audit of downtown Seattle. Thirty years ago, Dan Burden became the “Johnny Appleseed” of walkability and is now an internationally-recognized expert on how to make our cities better for people, instead of cars. On Sunday morning, Dan led two dozen of us on a 16-block tour of Pike St, Post Alley, and University St. He taught us to “see differently” and the Seattle DOT folks on the tour showed off some of their projects. I came away with lots of good ideas for making Houston more walkable.

seattle walk audit w Dan Burden
This ample Pike Street sidewalk is 22 feet wide from building facade to back-of-curb

Sending Bill to ride with the Cascade Bicycle Club. While I was walking with Dan, the Cascade Bicycle Club led Bill and a dozen others on a bike tour of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” of downtown Seattle’s on- and off-street bicycle facilities. The best part? Bill likes hills… lots of hills.

Pike Place Fish. About ten years ago, I came across a clever business book called, Fish! A remarkable way to boost morale and improve results. In it, the author describes Pike Place Fish as, “a world famous market that is wildly successful thanks to its fun, bustling, joyful atmosphere and great customer service.” I decided our trip to Seattle wouldn’t be complete without meeting these guys. When we visited Pike Place early in the week, we somehow walked right past them, so we went back on Monday before flying out, and it was worth it. I got to chat with Justin and Scott about their business and they even threw a salmon for me.

Pike Place fish
These boys visit the Fish guys every day on their walk to school

Bob and the Fish guys
Bob, Justin, and Scott at Pike Place Fish

(I’ve got video of the guys throwing a salmon for me, but we shot it in AVCHD format and I don’t have a codec to play it here yet. Humph!)

As I said at the outset, our eight days in the Pacific Northwest were jam packed. Choosing just two dozen photos to capture the experience was tough. But I’m up for the challenge of going back and trying again. :-)

Making a great impression…

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

Back in September, I spent a Saturday morning doing one of the coolest things our Citizens’ Transportation Coalition (CTC) does: leading our educational freight rail tour. We partnered with Rice Design Alliance to take a busload of urban infrastructure fans around Houston’s Fifth Ward and East End to show them freight rail like they’ve never seen it before.

This tour is the brain child of fellow Rice alum Christof Spieler, and he assembled the tour materials and delivers the running commentary. I recruit our guest speakers and make sure tour day logistics go off without a hitch. We make a great team, and we get rave reviews every time.

rail tracks
Rail tracks on the Englewood hump

tour at Tower 26
Three trains passed through tower 26 while we were there

Englewood yard tower
The control tower at Englewood hump yard

Christof, Ed, and Wade
Christof, Judge Emmett, and Wade Battles poring over a rail map

Previous speakers have included City Council members and executives from Union Pacific railroad and the Port of Houston. This time, I recruited Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. He’s another Rice alum, a former state representative, and a transportation consultant. He’s a smart guy and he did a super job on our tour.

Afterward, Ed Emmett stayed for lunch with us at Ninfa’s on Navigation. We talked through a ton of transportation topics, but he also asked me a couple of pointed questions about how I earn a living and whether I would consider working for an organization other than CTC. I knew from Christof that Emmett’s director of transportation initiatives was retiring soon, and I was positioned well to go after becoming her replacement. A subsequent email from Emmett made it clear that he was considering whether I might be the person he’s looking for.

What a quandary! I’ve no doubt that I’d be effective in that role, and I’d learn a lot from a seasoned pro like Emmett. Further, working for county government is recession proof, and I wouldn’t have to worry about fundraising anymore.

But I’d have to give up a lot in order to work for the county. As a leader of CTC, I mostly set our agenda; if I worked for the County Judge, he would. Worst, my ability to advocate against the Grand Parkway, a proposed fourth ring road around Houston through mostly vacant and environmentally sensitive land, would be compromised. The Parkway is a county project and Emmett is it’s most-vocal booster. It actually occurred to me that Emmett might be considering me solely to neutralize his opposition. Finally, I’d have to wear a suit everyday and resume commuting downtown.

I’m really gratified that Emmett was interested. It felt good to be sought! But I concluded that the drawbacks outweighed the benefits and decided not to pursue the option. This week, I ran into the guy Emmett ultimately hired: a young, eager Republican politico who’s worked for both city council members and transportation consultants. Rich isn’t as transportation savvy as I am, but he’ll fit the county culture well. Better him than me! Further, he thinks of me as a knowledgeable ally, which will serve CTC a lot better than if I’d gone to work for the man.

Seeing NYC with Amy from on High…

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

No trip to New York is complete for me without good quality time with my friend Amy, and this trip was no exception. We enjoyed lunch Tuesday at Tea & Sympathy and several dinners with Bill. But the best part was Thursday when I brought Amy along on my conference “walk shop” of the High Line.

High Line starts

Our tour was guided by Peter Mullan, director of planning for Friends of the High Line. In a nutshell, the High Line is an elevated freight rail track, built in the 1930s to get freight trains off the street in New York’s meatpacking district. It was an active freight line for fifty years, but the neighborhood changed and the last train ran in 1980. In the years it sat unused, an amazing array of foundling plants took root, giving home to birds and other critters. When some started calling for its demolition, two neighborhood artists organized Friends of the High Line to plan and fund the High Line’s preservation and adaptive reuse as a public open space. After 10 years of effort, the first section from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street opened in June 2009:

High Line users
This brand new park space is attracting lots of local users

High Line rail bed
The landscape architecture incorporates the rail tracks

High Line design
The hardscape design is incredibly fluid

High Line elevated meadow
Meadows incorporate indigenous foundling grasses

High Line at West 14th
The view of West 14th seems more panoramic from 30 feet up

The High Line actually runs right through a building that once housed the Nabisco factory where Oreos were invented. Today, its former loading dock includes open space for group programs and art projects. This installation by Spencer Finch replaced the factory’s casement windows with 700 panes of glass, each individually tinted to reflect the color of the surface of the adjacent Hudson river captured in each of 700 photos in a single day:

Hudson palette windows
Finch’s window installation captures the colors of the Hudson

Amy and I easily spent two hours ambling and enjoying this approximately one-mile stretch of park, and we enjoyed it immensely. Suffice it to say the High Line is very well done and an amenity to the surrounding neighborhood. It’s no wonder that several new residential and commercial projects have started nearby. And while it took 10 years, I’m inspired to see this neighborhood vision become reality.

Bob & Amy on High Line
Bob and Amy on the High Line

My thanks to fellow conference-goer Thomas Gotschi, director of research for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, for snapping this photo of Amy and me!

Walk21 draws Bob back to NYC…

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

I spent the first week of October in New York City for a fantastic, international conference on walking and biking. To get a sense of what I was up to, check out this 4-minute video by Streetfilms:

Walk21 is dedicated to enabling walking and bicycling as safe, affordable, sustainable alternatives to driving. This conference focused on how cities around the world are addressing climate change by systematically enabling walking and biking, and drew 650 participants from 30 countries on “every” continent. We heard about major projects in London, Stockholm, San Francisco, Mexico City, New York, and more, and shared ideas with planners, engineers, and activists from all over. I learned a lot!

I also did a little teaching. I participated in a panel presentation and discussion about how local activists are using the internet to build livable streets coalitions. (Right up my alley, no?) It was fun, and also my first time presenting to an international audience.

As a bonus, I was one of several advocates invited to come meet one-on-one with NY DOT’s bicycle and pedestrian project team. While Bill joked about what a “behind the scenes” tour of a planning office might include (e.g. “here is the desk where we sketched the 8th Avenue bike lanes, and here is the workstation where our summer intern mapped them in GIS…”), it was really a great opportunity to meet the project planners and pick their brains.

inside the NY DOT
Behind-the-scenes with the NY DOT bike-ped teams

The coolest parts of the conference were “walk-shops” each afternoon. NY DOT team members led small groups of us out to show us some of their projects and answer questions. I got to see the new 8th and 9th Avenue bike lanes, and also the High Line (more on that in another post). Getting out into the city was way better than sitting inside listening to another PowerPoint!

8th Avenue bike lane
New protected bike lane on 8th Avenue sees a lot of cyclists

One day, I had a little time to walk around the city on my own.

When I worked in Manhattan briefly in 1996, I lived in Battery Park City, and commuted through the Wall Street subway station. I hadn’t been to the Exchange since Bill and I went that fall (another of our pre-couple protodates), and I was curious to see how the area had changed in the decade since. The first thing I noticed are huge new hydraulic barricades that limit auto traffic on all the streets around the stock exchange to authorized vehicles only. The second change is there are a LOT more people in the streets. That’s partly a direct result of reduced auto traffic, and partly the result of increased residential development nearby. Jane Jacobs would be pleased.

Exchange Place barricade
Exchange Place and Wall Street have new security measures

The southern-most portion of downtown Manhattan was originally settled in the 17th century by Dutch colonists (New Amsterdam). As a result, the scale and style of the streets in the area still feel very European today. I had not yet been to Europe in 1996 and consequently hadn’t noticed.

Nassau Street
Nassau Street in the original walled part of the city feels European

Finally, I wrapped up my walk at the South Street Seaport. While the historic district is now home to a “destination” shopping mall, the pier still boasts a fantastic view of Brooklyn:

Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Bridge viewed from the South Street Seaport

Bob trying to school the folks at Reuters…

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

I’m in NYC again, this time for the most unusual speaking opportunity I’ve pursued yet. After the NY Times featured CTC’s work in March, an editor from Reuters called and invited me to participate in their 2009 Infrastructure Summit:

Thomson Reuters Times Square
Thomson Reuters’ NY bureau is at Three Times Square

The summit will be a great opportunity for you to meet with our top editors and reporters. These are unique events, lasting between three to five days, at which top executives, regulators and other major figures in an industry speak to the team of Reuters journalists who cover the sector concerned.

We expect to produce a multimedia package of 30 to 50 stories about the industry from this summit, which will touch on everything from strategies of key players to trends and the outlook for a particular industry. These stories are available to the hundreds of thousands of clients who subscribe to Thomson Reuters financial products and can also be accessed widely through, where we have a permanent summits site (please see Major stories will also be available to our wide range of media clients.

What an opportunity! While the editor proposed I talk about the Grand Parkway and federal stimulus, my friend and colleague, Christof Spieler, proposed a more ambitious goal. Let’s teach the reporters something that will cause them to think about transportation funding in a new way.

We set out to demonstrate, using two Houston-area projects as examples, that the federal government’s decades-old structure for funding transportation infrastructure is systematically funding the least cost-effective projects and obstructing the most cost-effective ones. Specifically, it’s easy to fund a new sprawl-inducing highway through an environmentally-sensitive rural area (e.g. the Grand Parkway), and difficult to fund an environmentally-savvy transit project to enhance an urban area (e.g. METRO’s Southeast light rail line). The punchline is that the federal transportation reauthorization bill, due out this summer, is an opportunity to fix the problem.

After days spent crafting the new presentation, I flew to NYC for the event. On Wednesday morning, I arrived at Reuters 30 minutes early, but the receptionist was unable to reach my contact, and I was left waiting in the Times Square lobby. While I was waiting, I heard that the building was conducting an “Emergency Action Drill” for the floor my meeting was on. Just five minutes before my session, my contact appeared and took me up to the newsroom.

Thomson Reuters lobby
I spent 25 minutes waiting in this austere lobby

Thomson Reuters newsroom
The newsroom had row after row of desks and monitors, and there were TVs everywhere

When we got upstairs, my editor contact led me straight into the “green” room, a small glass-walled cubicle adjacent to the fishbowl conference room where my session would be recorded. When I asked to set up my presentation, she said she’d “forgotten” that I had one. The lead technology person tried to insist that I would have to work without it, but they eventually got me set up.

Robin at ReutersThe hour-long session went well, and Reuters posted an article within hours. It won’t win any writing awards, it suggests that I talked about President Obama which I didn’t, and the photo they ran is frightening. But they did get my quotes right, and it sounds like they understood my message. More importantly, their correspondent for Texas seemed genuinely excited to meet me and get on CTC’s email list. So while a few aspects of the Summit experience were frustrating, I hope it will yet pay dividends.

Houston Area Survey on who supports transit

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

Rice professor Stephen Klineberg released the 2009 findings from the Houston Area Survey this week. I heard him address the Texas Economic and Demographic Association (TEDA) on Thursday.

Klineberg presents Houston Area Survey results

Klineberg has conducted this unique longitudinal survey of attitudes among Harris County voters every year since 1982. I’m especially interested in the questions related to transportation, planning, and urban/suburban issues. For example, when asked:

Which of these proposals would be the best long-term solution to the traffic problems in the Houston area: building bigger and better roads and highways, making improvements in public transportation, such as trains, buses, and light rail, or developing communities where people can live closer to where they work and shop? (TRAFFIC1)

50% of respondents said “transit” would be best, up this year from 41.6% in 2007. Further, more Houstonians aspire to use transit. When asked:

Agree/Disagree: Even if public transportation were much more efficient than it is today, I would still drive my car to work. (CARBEST)

45% of respondents disagreed, seeking an alternative to their car commute, up from 38% in 2007. Even Houstonians are coming to appreciate mass transit. That’s pretty damned cool.

One of Klineberg’s students — Trevor Gill — took the analysis further, data diving to see what transit supporters have in common. Gill used regression analysis to determine which other questions were most correlated with transit support. Here’s where things get interesting:

Do you believe that homosexuality is morally wrong or is it morally acceptable? (GAYWRONG)

People who believe homosexuality is morally wrong are significantly less likely to support transit: 43.5% vs 56.2%

For/Against: What about a true life sentence without the possibility of parole, as an alternative to the death penalty? (LIFESENT)

People who advocate the death penalty rather than life sentences are less likely to support transit: 42.6% vs 55.4%

Does the increasing immigration into this country today [rotate]: Mostly strengthen American culture; or: Mostly threaten American culture? (IMMEFFS)

People who believe immigration threatens American culture are less likely to support transit: 45.4% vs 54.7%

These three questions were more predictive than any others. Klineberg observed that what they have in common is comfort — or lack of comfort — with people who are different from oneself. People who are comfortable with diversity are much more likely to support public mass transit.

It’s tantalizing to assume the opposite, that transit opponents are all pro-death, gay-hating, bigots. But they taught us in statistics class that asserting the contrapositive is an error. But then continuing to oppose transit in an age of rising energy costs and dependence on foreign oil is an error, too. :-)

downtown Houston
Downtown Houston seen from the top of the parking garage at the Federal Reserve office on Allen Parkway, where Klineberg’s talked.