Safe Streets DB

Safe Streets DB

We’ve all had near death experiences due to bad drivers, but there is little we can do about it right now because the police are not able to handle the reports properly. Basically, if a police officer didn’t see it, then it doesn’t really count, is what I have found in my experience.

Its the 21st Century where smartphones with video cameras and GPS are ubiquitous, and there’s an app for everything, except one that can really help make our streets safer. Its also the tail end of the Great Recession where cities are facing huge budget shortfalls, that could be narrowed with fines collected from dangerous driving offenses.

The solution is technologically simple; a central website and a smartphone app where users can submit videos of bad drivers with a little bit of information of what happened. Since there is bound to be all sorts of videos submitted, where some of them don’t really qualify as dangerous behavior, there has to be a volunteer citizen’s review where a few people must vote to approve a video before it can be submitted officially to the police. The number of citizen’s votes can also help police prioritize offenses, when they are overwhelmed by the quantity.

The police could treat the submitted videos the same way as red-light or speed cameras, where a police officer just has to review the tape, and enter the offense in the database, which will automatically mail a fine to the registered driver of the vehicle, using OCR to read the license plate. Aggregating the data can show the police the hot spots where they need to step up street patrols.

It’s really a win-win for the community and the police, because the community becomes a safer, more livable place, especially if part of the fines are used to fund traffic calming measures, and the police are freed up to handle other offensives that are plaguing our communities, like property theft.

by Dmitriy Zasyatkin

 


Resources & Further Reading

CRASH stories NYC

Leaving Suburbia to Save my Child’s Life

Leaving Suburbia to Save my Child’s Life

IMG_1509As a parent who grew up in Suburbia, I think the best thing that I can do for my child is to move to an urban bike-friendly city, because the number one cause of deaths by far for teenagers in the US is motor vehicle crashes.

“In 2010, seven teens ages 16 to 19 died every day from motor vehicle injuries.” – CDC

In 2012 we took a long road trip through the most bike friendly cities in the US, and settled on Portland. Our first choice was actually Vancouver, BC but its hard for American citizens to emigrate there unless you have a sponsor.

We considered staying in Atlanta and fighting for the type of changes it needs to become a real livable city, but ultimately we decided that it wasn’t worth risking our lives and that our energy could be much better spent cultivating the critical mass needed to reach a tipping point in Portland’s low-car lifestyle.

Even though Portland is considered America’s most bike-friendly city, with one of the highest percentage of trips taken by bike, its no Utopia for cyclists. The majority of people still use a car for most of their trips, which causes strife because a city has to curb car amenities in order to create more livable streets. So, car-centric people fight back to hold on to the status quo, and that’s where cities need families like us to tip the scales in favor of a multi-modal transportation system.

One of the beautiful things about a movement is that once it reaches a critical mass, its growth changes from linear to exponential. So, once there is a critical mass of people living a low-car lifestyle in a city, it becomes the norm and inspires the rest of the citizens.

I think that there is still a place for cars in the future, like in rural places; they just don’t belong in a densely populated urban environment.

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Jekyll Island GA Family Cycling

Jekyll Island GA Family Cycling

IMG_0691Jekyll Island is a really friendly and serene setting to go biking around with the family. The entire island is a State Park, which can only be 60% developed and costs a little to drive onto, so there are few cars. But, you don’t have to worry at all about cars most of the time because there is a multi-use path along most of the island’s perimeter.

Plus, there are miles of unpaved trails within the island, some as sandy as Florida’s beaches.

Cycling on the hard packed beach at low tide was our favorite part, but be prepared to encounter some obstacles if you start before the tide has gone out far enough. We had to squeeze the bike trailer under a fallen tree on the beach, that gave just enough clearance, but only after having to take a wheel off! Our son slept soundly through the whole ordeal inside the trailer. Good times.

We rented a VRBO and spent Christmas week there and felt like we had the beach to ourselves most of the time.

 

How to Build a Better Block

How to Build a Better Block

This TED Talks is one of the most inspiring speeches I have ever heard about how a dedicated individual can inspire so much change in a city. We need more people like Jason Roberts in every city to help transform our cities into livable, cultural and social centers.

Please check out his organization Better Block for more great information.

The more I consider cities, the more it seems like anyone who deeply cares about social causes has to move out of suburbia and  into a real city, whether its thriving or languishing. A great migration back to the cities would force the suburbs to go through the same type of decline and rebirth that occurred in the cities after WWII.

A wave of urbanization seems inevitable with the rising oil and energy prices. I just don’t understand why so many rational people are in denial about this upcoming lifestyle change, and why our leaders are still designing transportation around the personal automobile.

No matter how many new lanes you add, you will still have traffic at rush hour, because there will still be bottlenecks. Some progressive cities have already realized this and have invested heavily in public transportation. Some cities are even removing highways to create public parks and greenspace.

America’s biggest hurdle to creating livable cities is the entitlement that drivers demand. It will take time for the culture shift to reach critical mass, but fortunately, there is overwhelming economic and health evidence for Bike Lanes, Road Diets, Highway Removal, and other anti-car improvements. Basically, when you make an area more pedestrian and bike friendly, which means less car friendly, business goes up for the surrounding shops, property values rise and people become healthier from the additional exercise of just getting around. So, its a win-win.

by Dmitriy Zasyatkin

Find Your True Home

Find Your True Home

IMG_1439For most of us of North Americans, suburbia is where we grow up and that’s were end up living most of our adult lives too. Its only natural to stay in your comfort zone, but that’s exactly whats keeping us back from experiencing more of the world and finding our true home for that point of your lives.

There is so much fear poured into peoples psyche about “job security”, “personal safety” and “missing your family”, that it takes enormous amounts of courage for an someone to head out in the world and settle in a new place.

From our travels, I have discovered that each city has its own personality that makes it unique, but suburbia is the exact opposite. “Anytown USA” is a good way of describing the monotony that suburbs create. You can’t tell one town from the next because they have the exact same chain stores and cookie cutter houses.

Urban living isn’t for everyone, and after watching “Braving Alaska” I am awed by the “bush families” living of the land in remote parts of Alaska.

We all need to take more time to visit the cities and wild places of our world, and find the one that best suits them for now. Release that fear of moving to a foreign place and relieve the baggage that we’ve built up from living in one place too long.

Life is too short to worry about what could go wrong if you listen to your heart.

by Dmitriy Zasyatkin

The Importance of Travel to Education

The Importance of Travel to Education

From our travels, I have found that everyone sees the world differently. Its a pleasure to hear people speak about their cities, but you have to experience them for yourself and you have to really spend at least a week exploring the neighborhoods, parks, and local restaurants by foot, bike or public transportation to get a true feel for what it would be like to live there.

P1010860If you only spend a few days in city, its like a taste test, where something might taste really good in that small quantity, but you get sick of it when you try to eat an entire bowl full. Or it can be like an acquired taste, where you have to give each part of the city a chance to fully understand all the flavors involved

We hope to live in many different cities throughout the world in our lifetime, spending only 5 to 10 years or less, in each city. Allowing the Universe to guide us to the next place with the subtle hints we perceive.

The more that I reflect on the public education that I received, the more that I am compelled to spend a significant amount of time traveling abroad and teaching Ethan through new and unconventional approaches. Online schools, like the Kahn Academy, are revolutionizing the traditional classroom, making them almost obsolete for the bright kids with a thirst for knowledge. Now even world renowned Universities, such as MIT, are giving away most of their knowledge for free to anyone with an internet connection.

While the Kahn Academy seems to have the thoroughly covered all the topics taught in traditional schools and universities, I have yet to find a curriculum that is bold enough to address the really important things about life. The parts that the public schools wouldn’t dare touch on, and always give the same answer as to why not; “Its up to the parents to teach such sensitive topics”. Bullshit, I exclaim! How will the world progress if children only have as much knowledge as their parents? Thorough education, where all sides are equally presented, of topics such as happiness, religion, and wealth are long overdue.

I think that the importance of traveling, not tourism, for personal development is best summed up this quote from Mark Twain:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

PS
I would like to thank coffee for the creativity and energy to pour out my thoughts in what currently seems like such an eloquent narrative.

by Dmitriy Zasyatkin

2012 Family Road Trip(s) Conclusion – The Most Family Bicycle Friendly City

2012 Family Road Trip(s) Conclusion – The Most Family Bicycle Friendly City

In 2012 we were fortunate enough to visit so many bike friendly cities and each city had something to offer. We were searching for the perfect city to move to and we found that there is no such thing as the perfect city that meets all your requirements. There is always a compromise that you have to make.

Out of all the cities that we experienced, there was one that just felt so right. Portland really lives up to the hype about its biking culture. Its big enough to offer many amenities, like lots of parks, museums, and restaurants, but small enough to feel comfortable biking through their downtown towing your kid.

Portland Riverfront BikingIt was amazing to experience a Sunday Parkways event where we saw more families and kids biking in one day then we saw in all the other cities combined! We also met some really cool families who had all moved to Portland after living in some great cities; they all loved Portland and gave a lot of compelling reasons to move there: skiing at Mt. Hood, Oregon Coast just 1.5 hours away, and tons of hiking trails just to name a few.

We spent a week in Portland and only drove our car once, but we could have easily gone the whole time without ever using our car. We never even used the Public Transportation, which I really like there, because we were able to get around so easily on our bikes.

In addition to meeting the family bike friendly criteria, Portland also has a lot of character as a city. People there actually seem to support the local stores and restaurants instead of trying to save money by shopping at the big box chain stores and fast food chains.

Portland Fernhill Park Mural My theory as to why Portland has so much culture is that its due to their weather; you have to really like the city in order to put up with 8 months of gray. So, I think a lot of native people move out and a lot of really progressive people are drawn to it. From what I understand from the locals, the summers make up for gray winters, and I can attest that we really enjoyed the weather during our stay in Portland. The morning were nice and cool, but the day warmed up to just hot enough.

There are few other cities that I left a piece of my heart in. This is our favorite family bike friendly cities in order:

  1. Portland, OR
  2. Albuquerque, NM
    The Southwest is a desert, but its charmingly beautiful in a way that I had never imagined.
  3. Madison, WI
    A charming little town, with the biggest and best farmers market that we have ever been to.

by Dmitriy Zasyatkin

Fort Collins, CO – Memorial Day 2012

Fort Collins, CO – Memorial Day 2012

The drive between SLC and Denver is really exciting! Only 30 minutes outside of SLC, we drove through gusty snow and ski towns. Who knows how long after, but we crossed the Great Divide.

Our first stop was in a mini town named Green River, WY for a playground. We stopped at Island Park, a park/playground on an island surrounded by none other than the Green River. This was a very well maintained park with a few bridges, good play structure, restrooms, a lot of historical markers and even a spray park. It was really windy and frightened EZ, so he stayed close and we crossed the bridge for a short walk to the other side to munch on some banana bread. We selected a drive-thru espresso shop for java before we continued en route. We were greeted by a funny woman with a wide gap toothed smile. As we put in our order, hail/snow pellets began to pour from the sky and the woman said she was “Living in Hell.”  This comment brought up stories of her childhood in Monterrey, CA, which in comparison to this city would agreeably seem like hell. As she talked, Ethan burst into a devilish laughing outburst and we decided it was time to hit the road. Best Sumatra with espresso this side of the Rockies!

Next stop:  Fort Collins, CO a little town suggested for us to get a look see. We arrived in mid-day in the midst of Memorial Day celebrations by many families in their City Park. We noticed immediately that this city had and wanted to maintain a small town air. Small homes, big yards and old trucks lined the main strip we drove in on. Always a cool sight: families biking in the direction we were headed.

We pulled into a space near the playground and to Ethan’s delight because there were children everywhere. He jumped out of the car and sprinted to a decommissioned WWII artillery being scaled by several children. The park was filled with people sharing yoga, a game of volleyball, tight rope practice, football, soccer and playing on the swings. Picnics were going on and there was a satisfying sense of peace and happiness as we all came together to enjoy the beautiful afternoon.

When we had our fill, we packed up and took the scenic route through town. It took about 4 miles to get to the other side of Fort Collins. Once we got outside the downtown, things started to look a lot like home, suburban sprawl, fast food and big name storefronts, but it’s true, that’s everywhere. It seemed a cute, little university town with a segregated white/hispanic population.

Leaving, we drove past amazing red rock that would be a blast to come back and explore.

by Dmitriy Zasyatkin & Stefanie Zasyatkina

Salt Lake City – Surrounded by Mountains

Salt Lake City – Surrounded by Mountains

We planned on camping at Antelope Island State Park, a mountainous island filled with wildlife in the middle of Salt Lake, and skip right over Salt Lake City, but the high chance of thunderstorms and ominous clouds looming over us caused us to stay at another interesting Airbnb. Luckily, we made it into Salt Lake City early enough to cruise through the city and enjoy a hilltop park with beautiful views of the mountains. The hill-top homes surrounding the flat city are apparently out of the price range of most families because there weren’t any kids at this park.

After getting some energy out at the park, we split a delicious Thai red curry meal at Sawadee, which had a beautiful view of the mountains. After our fine dining experience, we headed back up the hills to our host’s grand house. This turned out to be another Airbnb bargain; staying at a million dollar home with one of the best views in Salt Lake City for only $85.

Our host definitely made our stay very interesting. (The house rules were over a page long, which is a good indicator of the conversations to come.) He had a great love for SLC and tried to convince us that Salt Lake City was 30% Mormon, and 70% Liberal. (But according to Wikipedia, within the city limits its at least 45% Mormon, and the state is 75% Mormon.) Apparently, the locals identify themselves with “I am not with the empire here”, as we experienced when we met a man who was originally from Macon, GA.

The gorgeous views of the mountains and the city were well worth the awkward interactions with our host. The way SLC is nestled between two mountain ranges, made it one of the most beautiful cities we’ve seen, especially at sunset.

Led by our host, we walked about 5 blocks to a park with playground, track, soccer field where practice was taking place and cyclists were turning tricks. When he was ready to return, we followed the little man back to his house for light conversations until EZ started to touch too many things (rubbing the big screen with something) and Dima took him to bed. As night fell, the windows began to sparkle with the lights of the city.

We rose early with the sun and ate breakfast at Blue Plate Diner before starting the 9 hr journey to Denver. SLC is a great vacation spot for skiing and romantic evenings overlooking the mountains.


by Dmitriy Zasyatkin & Stefanie Zasyatkina