The 200-300 Block of Tioga Street


Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak about vehicular usage of the 200-300 block of Tioga Street.

The road usage discussions have mostly been framed as the car drivers vs. the bike lobby – as if bikers are a more nefarious version of Mad Max and we want to rule the roads. What this does is it stops any real conversation, and problem delineation and problem-solving from happening … because we aren’t having an open and honest conversation.

Having accurate facts at hand is an essential  component of an honest and open conversation.  I understand and I get it that some people are scared about losing their parking spaces in front of the post office, at their lawyer’s offices, and in front of the Court House.  But bicycling is a legitimate form of transportation and bicyclers need to have safe routes through cities.  Just like cars – safe routes through cities.  When the weather is not dangerous, I bike – ebike — 100 miles a week, to and from work.  There are others who do the same.  Ebikes are coming to Ithaca because biking is the most efficient form –and did I hear the word sustainable?—and environmentally sensible form of transportation for a singular person.  Have you ever stood at the corner of State Street and Rt 13 and counted how many cars have a single occupant?  Probably 90 to 95%.  Thank you Judy S. for that fact.  And with an e-bike, the hills are conquerable. How prepared is the city going to be for e-bikers?

What if the city had a continuous bike lane through town?  From  Boynton Middle School to the Lehman Alternative School which connected other city schools?  What kind of message would that send the younger generation?  Because it’s the younger generation who will suffer or celebrate the consequences of our decisions. And what about the older generations – those in the fifties, sixties and so on? Those who may lose their convenient parking spaces?  To them, and I am part of that generation, I say, “The brain is a muscle.  The more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes.  If you don’t exercise it, it atrophies, you grow old under the weight of habit. How else can I get to that post office?  Problem-solving is a good way to exercise the brain. “

Finally, many people – of a certain age — when you mention the date, April 13, 1970 remember the plight of Apollo 13.  The whole world was watching this event.  Even, so it turns out, people in Iran.  Everyone wanted to see the astronauts come home safely.  When the explosion rocked the spaceship Odyssey, and an astronaut reported seeing the venting of a gas, oxygen, it turned out, the engineers and scientists at mission control started shouting “This can’t happen ….   it must be instrumentation.”  See no one knew what had happened, and no one would know until the LEM and Odyssey separated a few days later.  The director of Mission Control, Gene Krantz said to these engineers and scientists,  “Don’t give me your gessimtates.  Let’s work the problem, people.”

Can we work the problem?

Thank you.

Pat Dutt, Town of Ithaca


Habits of Mind

Habits of the Mind

In the winter of 1998, I was under a lot of stress and losing the hearing in my left ear.  When I decided my ear wasn’t going to get healthy on its own, I started seeing doctors – close to 10 – all had their own diagnosis but no real solution.  The last one was an Ear-Nose-Throat MD – Homeopath who thought I had a food allergy, but the only way to identify the culprit(s) was to put myself on a clean diet, e.g., eliminate processed foods,  sugar in any form, and rotate what other foods remained on a 4-day period.   I was warned that such a radical change of diet would make me feel as if I had the flu.  I was willing to try the diet because so much was at stake.   I did feel lousy for five days, but after nine days, the asthma I’d had since age 10 disappeared.  It took a while longer for my hearing to clear up, and it isn’t perfect, but it’s significantly better.

A diet is a huge habit to change, and most people who I’ve related my story to say look surprised (maybe they don’t believe me?) then say, more or less, It’s not for me.  That’s a little too radical.    I was motivated to change my eating habits because the reward – better hearing – was something I craved.

A couple of years ago I was listening to a radio broadcast about the book, The Power of Habit: Why we do What we do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg.  Duhigg says that habits “emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.  Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost anything routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often… an efficient brain also allows us to stop thinking constantly about basic behaviors such as walking … so we can devote more mental energy “ to other things.

If you understand how habits work, then chances are better that you will have success in changing a  habit.  There are three parts to what is known as The Habit Loop:  – the cue  –a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode; the routine – which can be physical, mental or emotional; and  the reward, which helps your brain decide if the loop is worth remembering.  Over time the loop – cue, routine and reward — can become automatic. (One study indicated that 40 percent of what we do is habit, not based on active decision-making.) When a habit emerges the “brain stops fully participating in decision making . It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit – unless you find new routines – the pattern will unfold automatically.”

As I’m writing this I am trying to understand how I developed this habit of biking into work because it is a long ride – ten-plus miles – and there are  long hills to climb. It’s true that I don’t want to unnecessarily combust gasoline—I do think about being a good steward of the earth — but there had to be something personally at stake.


So Long (It’s Been Good to Know You)

One of the challenges of being a car-free individual in what Monique Wittig calls the Age of High Speed Steel is cross-town friendship. Friends at great removes – distant cities, other countries – naturally expect that your dealings with them will be by post or electronics. But friendships with people living in the no-man’s land of 8 – 20 miles away, can be strained by the fact that physically getting together is not a snap.

I don’t have the luxury of empty Saturdays in which to commit to visits that could require 2 hours of commuting (there and back) on top of the visit itself. I don’t want to be the person who says, “Well, I’m not driving, but you can drive over here.” That feels hypocritical.

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Totting Up

A number of years ago in an attempt to cut back on expenses, I started riding my bike from Ithaca to Jacksonville, where I worked. In general, this made me feel pretty studly (I was 50+ at the time). Some days when I was feeling low energy, though, I would put my bike on the bus.

As I waited for the bus, I got into a habit I still have: I count the cars that go by and the number of people in those cars. Cars with a single occupant are overwhelmingly the norm. Every once in a while you see two people in a car, or a grown-up with 2+ kids, sometimes you see a bus; but the average 4,000 pound combustion engine vehicle is most frequently pressed into service by a 178 pound human (that’s the average weight of an American!) (Up 18% since 1960!) Using only these two factors, we could say that cars are 4.45% efficient, but that would be unscientific. Science says that cars are 20% efficient.

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CAR FREE or The Best Purchase a Young Urban Family Can Possibly Make To Solve Almost All The Problems Of Modern Life!!


Last summer my family packed up our bags and left our home in New York City. We left seeking a slower pace of life, more home cooked meals, more time with each other, and less non-stop working. Ithaca seemed like the perfect place to design this midlife reboot. It had many things going for it, but there was one simple thing that made it the obvious choice, our desire to be car free.

This was the single most important aspect of our lifestyle design. So before we go any further let me define exactly what this means for us, so we’re both clear. Does being “car free” mean that Continue reading “CAR FREE or The Best Purchase a Young Urban Family Can Possibly Make To Solve Almost All The Problems Of Modern Life!!”