Doctors with Email

I wanted to get my first medical checkup since arriving in California, so I asked a friend for a referral. The doctor herself seemed fine, but:
* they required two appointments to get a checkup, since so many patients bail before the appointment (this in retrospect was a bad sign)
* they required a second visit for routine blood tests, and there was a 45 minute wait to get blood drawn
* when I called to make the real checkup appointment, I spent over 30 minutes on hold, and then gave up
That was enough. After some research, I found that the Palo Alto Medical Foundation has a service where you can make appointments and review test results online. That sounds perfect — no time on hold. They also have a nice online physician lookup service so you can find doctors who are taking new patients.
Thank you PAMF, this is customer service for the 21st century.

Tour de Menlo

So, I’m signed up for the Tour de Menlo, and I’m a little nervous about it. I’m planning to do the “tame” 30 mile route, not the 50 mile killer-hill route. Pluses:

  • Local community races are fun (have been to many 10K running races, this is the first bike race I’ve been to).
  • I know I can do the route: I biked a superset of it last weekend.


  • Maybe I’ll be the slowest person on the course.

I ride on some popular routes in the area, and oodles of people pass me. The worst case scenario is that it’s a fun ride on a beautiful day, I get a t-shirt. Not so bad.
Update: I finished the race, climbed the biggest hill without walking (but did stop a few times), got to the rest stop and finish before they closed, and got the t-shirt.

Consumer environmentalism or system change?

Are Menlo Park willing to make the changes required to really mitigate global warming and peak oil? The city has signed onto the US Mayor’s Climate Change agreement, vowing to reduce greenhouse gases, and has city staff and community members engaged in efforts to identify ways to get greener.
It seems like the most popular tactics are green buying on behalf of households, businesses and the city. It’s a fairly wealthy community, and people seem excited by the prospect of solar roofs and pools, greener lighting, cars and driveways. These things aren’t trivial. New technologies and processes need early adopters. It’s great to be in a community that’s willing to experiment.
But will people really get behind the lifestyle and land use changes needed to make the biggest dent in fossil fuel use? As in, drive less. Cars are the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, and the biggest consumers of oil. In order to really mitigate global warming and peak oil, people need to drive less, and that means less sprawl and better transit.
Infill development and public transit are much more controversial. For a newcomer, it’s hard to tell how much is sincere concern that useful changes won’t be a bad deal for neighborhoods, and how much is just plain nimbyism.

The bridge across the bay

Last week, I went to the Menlo Park city council meeting that covered Caltrain’s plan to extend commuter rail across the San Francisco Bay. Trips to the East Bay represent the largest share of miles that I drive. I probably go to SF more often, but take Caltrain a decent share of the time. I never take public transit to the east bay, because of the “you can’t get there from here” factor. It’s physically possible to do it, but it takes about twice as long, so someone who has another option wouldn’t do it. A good proportion of Bay Area Socialtexters who have convenient access to public transit get to work by train or bus, or bike, and we have a couple of employees who live in the east bay who might take public transit if it was more convenient. So a train across the bay sounded like a pretty good idea to me.
The council meeting was educational. Dozens of people came out from the neighborhood that would be affected by the train, who were either concerned or adamantly opposed. They didn’t want a train through their backyards; and funding for features like grade crossings and sound barriers weren’t clearly available. People were seriously worried that the plan was a stalking horse for freight rail. Apparently, Southern Pacific has the legal right to take freight trains across the bay if the tracks are upgraded to handle freight. For people who live near the tracks, a freight trains running all night long would be horrid. The projections of commuter ridership didn’t do a lot to dispel the fear that commuting wasn’t the main purpose of the program.
The ridership estimates were low — only about 6,000 passengers per day, about 10% of the car traffic across the bridge. The Caltrain did not seem to have end-user benefits as clear priorities, with only six rides per day. Options to cut costs in various ways would cut connectivity as the first resort to cutting costs, dumping passengers in Newark, without a train connection. It was not clear why the ridership estimates were so low; perhaps because the proposed service is not very convenient.
Some city council members and community members are pushing for a bus rapid transit option instead of the train. This could be more convenient, cheaper, and less noisy. I got up and spoke in the interest of people who would benefit from better cross-bay commuting, even though it was scary to speak amid the parade of people arguing vehemently against the route.
The meeting was an excellent education on the the difficult dynamics of regional transit in the bay area. The transit agency representatives sounded more interested in upgrading their trains than serving commuters, or making sure that people who lived by the tracks would still have livable neighborhoods. The room was full of people who didn’t want a train in their back yard; and there was only one speaker (me) providing personal testimony about benefits.
Given the risks to the oil supply and global warming, I think we are going to very badly need improved regional transit. Right now, organizational dynamics make it harder to do.
p.s. As far as I could tell, the Almanac and the Palo Alto Daily didn’t cover the session. There is no local media to be found.

Menlo Green

Last Wednesday I went to the first meeting of the Menlo Park Green Ribbon Citizen’s committee, a group convened by mayor Kelly Ferguson to help Menlo fight global warming. The group will present recommendations to city council later in the year. One role model is Palo Alto, which organized a similar task force which issued a Report last December with propsoals for Palo Alto.
Attendees at the Menlo meeting included people involved in green businesses, environmental organizations, developers, chamber of commerce folk, neighborhood group reps, and others. At the first meeting, the group brainstormed dozens of ideas, ranging from the practical and locally focused — accelerated permitting for solar, efficient street lights, improve bike paths, solar thermal for the town pool to the, er, ambitious, “ban the internet”, and “ban lawns”. I’m curious about how the group will take the brainstorming start and turn it into practical proposals. And to see how bringing together folks with common interests might catalyze civic organizing outside of the structure of this groups.

The Bay Area with climate change: drowning and thirsty

At the first meeting of the Menlo Park Green Ribbon Commission, city council member Heyward Robinson showed slices from a presentation on the impact of global warming on the Bay Area. I’d already seen the picture where SFO is under water, and the neighborhoods east of 101 swim with the fishes. Another dramatic slide showed the impact of global warming on the snowpack that feeds the Hetch Hetchy reservoir. With a 3-5 degree increase in average temperature, we could lose 30-60% of the snowpack. And that’s the optimistic scenario.

Slide sharing courtesy of Slideshare. Thanks Rashmi and Jon!

Tree maps and bike paths

Spinning Crank is 12-page newsletter published by the Silicon Valley and Peninsula bicycle coalitions. Town by town, the newsletter reports on actions to build bridges and bikeracks, expand trails, and improve intersctions for cyclists and pedestrians. The members attend meetings, dog the details, and make sure that cyclists are represented in road design.

Another artifact of local culture: this map of a neighborhood I bike through on the way to work has native Redwood, Coast Live Oak, Alder, and adopted Hawthorne, Magnolia, and Mayten trees.

Coast Redwood (Native) Mayten Tree (Chile)

The city of Palo Alto clearly values its trees enough to have a complete inventory of them; residents value them enough to go on “tree walk” tours, and there was enough interest to publish the tree walks on the net.
Hmmm… this really wants to be a Google mashup for a walking map or gps tour, with added photos…. So many hacks, so little time.

Welcome to camellia country

I’d never noticed Camellias, because I’ve never lived in Camellia country before. The northeast got too cold and austin was too hot. Camellias are pretty, hardy, and popular garden flowers have networks of fanciers like roses. It’s february, which is the local season for apple and cherry blossoms, magnolias, dogwoods and camellias. The magnolia blossoms are already past their prime.
Yesterday, I cycled to the Elizabeth Gamble gardens to see how Palo Alto interpreted the February spring. Turned out that Camellias were the main attraction.