Friday, July 27, 2007

taking action against BP

I was glad to hear about State Representative Harry Osterman’s proposed HR 626 urging Congress and the U.S. EPA to put a stop to BP’s plan to increase ammonia and sludge discharges from its Whiting refinery.

"Our beaches are precious and the water of Lake Michigan is transported and used by people all across our state," Osterman said. "It's important for the federal EPA and Congress to take a stand when a body of water that is shared among several states is threatened by the actions of one. I will continue working to make sure that protections of Lake Michigan are upheld in the future and no backsliding is allowed."

He encouraged Illinois residents to join in the petition campaign to show local opposition to the higher pollution levels that will result from BP's refinery expansion under the current plan.

Please visit the Chicago Park District web site or Environment Illinois to show your opposition or get more information.

on a lighter note....

Tourists fined for cycling nude in Serbia. TGIF...

Thursday, July 26, 2007

$54M pants (and a few friends) to the rescue

The now infamous pair of pants was featured at a 7/24 Washington D.C. fundraiser. Proceeds from the fundraiser will help pay the legal bills of Jin Nam Chung and Soo Chung, owners of the dry cleaning business that misplaced and later found the pair of pants. Roy Pearson brought in the pants and filed suit over their loss, originally demanding $67M, and later dropping the demand to $54M. To make it worse, this jerk plaintiff is a judge. When the Chungs found his pants and offered to return them, he refused, saying it was too late, and continued with his lawsuit.

The Chungs won the lawsuit. The judge ordered Pearson to pay court costs. However, the Chungs also incurred about $100K in legal fees. The American Tort Reform Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform help the fundraiser to help the Chungs cover their legal costs. They raised over $64K, and pledges are still arriving. The groups advocate for tighter guidelines for filing lawsuits, hoping to eliminate frivolous suits like this one. They hoped that the fundraiser would help publicize their mission to reform tort law, especially in the light of cases that unjustly attack small businesses.

If the Chungs’ motion for legal fees is granted, forcing Pearson to bear the costs of his ridiculous suit, fundraiser proceeds in excess of the family’s costs will be donated to charity. I hope that Pearson gets his arrogant a$$ nailed when the judge in this case makes a ruling on the Chungs' Motion.

If he had asked them to reimburse the cost of the lost pants, it would have been reasonable. To force them to bear the stress and financial burden was far from it. It would be poetic justice if he gets taken to the cleaners.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Tour de dope(s)

The news from this year's Tour de France has me shaking my head in disgust. Many cycling fans became increasingly cynical after last year's stunning victory by Floyd Landis was tainted by charges of illegal testosterone use.

This week has been a continuing implosion of the credibility of professional cycling.

Yesterday Alexandre Vinokourov was booted from the race after testing positive for an illegal blood transfusion, and his Astana team withdrew from the race, taking Andreas Kloden out of contention.

Today was Cristian Moreni's turn, this time for illegal testosterone use. His team, Cofidis, is out of the race with him.

The kicker was the news late in the day that Michael Rasmussen, the current leader of the race, was fired by his team (Rabobank) for violations of team policy related to drug testing.

I keep wondering who will be next and how they can take such a huge chance, given the extensive drug testing programs now in place and the sophistication of today's lab tests. Is there a cure for the disease of corruption afflicting professional sports? I hope that professional cycling will be able to rebuild from the wreckage of this year's Tour. If not, can we ever believe that future victories are legitimately earned?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

an independent sells out

I was disappointed to read the news that the Chicago Reader has been bought by a Tampa-based chain. I can only hope that they won't mess with the product. It's such a quirky-good mix of features.


You're gonna love this one. I was talking to a police officer friend who works in the 18th district (the station on Division just east of the river, among the remnants of Cabrini-Green). He says the station is infested with mosquitos. The front desk now has its own bug zapper and citronella candles. One of the desk sergeants was joking that the candles create a special ambience for yuppies brought in after being arrested. One joker suggested tiki torches, but that was vetoed as a fire hazard.

Note: the 18th district station is recent construction, about 5 years old. If it has enough of a water leak for a mosquito population, we're talking some fine construction. ;)

Monday, July 23, 2007

it's not just about the southwest side

Last week's alarming news story about the fight in Durkin Park and slow emergency response is about a lot more than what's happening on the southwest side. Twenty six minutes is a long time to wait for emergency response in a potentially lethal situation. One boy was beaten into a coma. Eight were struck by an SUV driven into the crowd by a 15-year-old boy. The 911 center received 51 calls from the time the fight started around 10:19 p.m. until police dispatch was notified 26 minutes later. No squad cars were actually dispatched until an officer working in another district got a call from his son at the scene and then called police headquarters.

In the words of one officer: "the incident started when a group of white teenagers who were drinking in the park, decided to chase a black teenager but was unable to catch him. Then the mob turned their sight on another black teenager who was walking with a girl, they chased, caught and beat him until a resident came to his aid."

Wednesday night's community meeting at St. Bede's drew an enormous crowd of neighborhood residents. Racial tensions have been brewing in the neighborhood for years, and smaller incidents have happened before. This problem did not appear out of nowhere.

One of the major issues here is a dirty little secret that is off the radar of most folks who are not police and are not involved in CAPS: our police department is seriously understaffed. I've been hearing this from a number of police officer friends for years, and the situation is getting worse. Classes of police academy recruits are nowhere near large enough to replace the number of officers who retire or otherwise leave the job each year. Administrative snafus have cost the department potential recruits. I know 3 young guys who actually took the entrance exam for the police academy but were never notified of their test results. They know a bunch more who got the same non-response.

In 8 and many other districts, too many beat cars and rapid response cars are often not on the street or are one-person cars because there are not enough available officers to staff the cars. A one-person car is limited in its effectiveness, because many types of incidents need two officers to ensure safety, both for the officers and for civilians on the scene. One officer I know, who works a rapid response car (dispatched to specific incidents in progress rather than assigned to patrol a specific beat) often works alone because no one else is available for the car. As he puts it, "if it's a domestic or bar fight or any kind of violent incident, I can't go in there alone. I have to wait until at least one more car shows up, otherwise the situation could get even worse." Note: this officer works in the best staffed district in the city.

Many police are less than thrilled with the operations of OEMC (Office of Emergency Management and Communications), which handles 911 service, traffic management, etc. It sounds like there are procedural issues that need to be ironed out between how 911 calls are prioritized, how they are dispatched, and how communications are handled between OEMC and CPD. The OEMC web site has a notice to the effect that the actions of the dispatchers handling the Durkin Park 911 calls are currently under investigation and that the dispatchers involved are on leave pending the outcome of that investigation. I'll be curious to hear the results. These blog items give the dispatchers' side of the story.

There's been a lot of discussion on the Second City Cop blog about manpower and procedural issues, with follow-up today. Some of this is accessible to anyone, and some won't mean much unless you're familiar with CPD and police jargon. A police officer friend who took his entrance exam 10 years ago said that over 20,000 took the exam that year and that it was the last large (10,000+) group. That was the year that the city started requiring at least 60 college credit hours as a prerequisite for entrance into the police academy and stopped accepting applicants who were military veterans but did not have college credit. There has to be a way to balance the need for a more educated police force with a method for getting enough recruits. When a test group might be as small as 1,000 and fewer than 10 percent of those actually get through the process of becoming officers (entrance exam, physical exam, drug testing, psychological screening, background check, police academy), it's a drop in the bucket compared to what the city needs.

CPD is supposed to have 13,200 officers, if all positions are filled. Depending on whose numbers you want to believe, the number of sworn officers is around 9,900 or 11,000. Either way, that's a bit of shortage. For comparison, NYC has a population around 8 million and 41,584 officers. Chicago has about 2.9 million population and let's say 10,500 officers (split the difference on the numbers above). Los Angeles has about 3.8 million population and 18,000 officers (combining LAPD and sheriffs - structured a bit differently than here. They also have a much larger geographic area).

Another sore point among police is the number of officers faking illness or injury to collect $$$ while sitting at home, or doing anything but their jobs. I can't verify the accuracy of the following quote. If it's halfway accurate, it could explain part of the big picture. "We hire and train 50 officers a month on average. We have over 700 officers on medical leave or light duty on any given day. Those officers alone collectively represent the 3rd largest police department in Illinois, behind the CPD and State Police. ... Cracking down on medical abusers alone would greatly reduce our manpower shortage."

The 8th district, where the Durkin Park incident happened, is geographically larger than many suburbs. The northernmost point is around 37th St. The southern boundary is 87th St. That's 6 1/4 miles. East-west, the northern half of the district (which includes Midway Airport and some industrial areas) runs from just each of Western to Harlem Ave., also 6 1/4 miles. It contains populated areas interspersed with some large industrial areas, connected by major streets that are sometimes serious traffic bottlenecks. Many officers feel that redistricting to improve police coverage and response times is long overdue. I think it's an issue worth examining.

Some officers are on regular detail watching aldermen's offices, aldermen's homes, the mayor's home, the cardinal's home, park basketball tournaments and other events. These officers are not sent to emergency jobs, no matter how busy it gets in their districts.

Where's the media coverage on these issues, folks? Is this incident enough of a wake-up call, or do a bunch of people have to get killed for police issues beyond the rogue cop incidents to magically appear on the public radar?

save our lake

Campaigns are popping up to fight Indiana's approval for BP's expansion and increased dumping of ammonia and sludge into Lake Michigan.

Click here for the Chicago Park District's web page and petition.

The Illinois Coalition for Peace and Justice also has a web page and petition on the subject.

It's no big surprise that BP's faux environmental image ("green" image logo and yellow ad campaign) is greenwash. The real plan: expansion of the Whiting refinery to process heavier, dirtier crude oil from Canada's tar sands (article 1, article 2).

The fact that oil companies are desperate enough strip mine vast areas and spend big bucks to develop refinery capacity at a much higher cost per barrel should be a wake-up to a gas-thirsty America. It's time to say enough.

Time to reduce consumption, folks. How about increased CAFE standards and a carbon tax? This affects much more than Lake Michigan water quality.

Oil companies are making record profits and should be required by law to invest more in reducing pollution of all types. Letting them produce more pollution is not an acceptable option.

Is Blago in the house?

Is Blago in the house? Inquiring minds want to know....whether he'll get down to business and actually act like a leader by setting a responsible example, or keep wasting the money of Illinois taxpayers indefinitely.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

BP is such a lovely neighbor

Why should Indiana be able to okay increasing pollution from BP's Whiting oil refinery that is likely to affect Illinois and Michigan much more than Indiana? The planned BP expansion may help ease ease the supply crunch for the special gas blend required here to lower air pollution, possibly lowering gas prices down the line. However, that does not justify the fact that BP did not give any advance notification to city of Chicago officials, who read about it in last Sunday's Tribune.

I'm glad to hear that our elected representatives are taking action to get Indiana to reconsider this environmentally costly decision. I have to wonder why the EPA ever approved this. Oh wait, this is the EPA under Shrub....

rabbits rabbits everywhere

I noticed an item in today's Sun-Times about this years rabbit population explosion. It gives some interesting theories that may explain why so many areas are seeing many more rabbits than usual.

I can tell you from my own experience that hardware cloth (heavy wire mesh) makes an effective rabbit barrier. I used it to build a cafe around my tiny Japanese maple when rabbits started eating it this spring. There is a similar product labeled "rabbit fence" which has the wires more closely spaced near the ground, also very effective. I used that around my veggie garden. Now I'm enjoying the veggies instead of the rabbits.

BTW, there is an effective repellent that the Sun-Times article doesn't mention: predator urine. This stuff isn't cheap, but it works. I picked up a container of coyote urine in a concentrated crystal form at the garden center and sprinkled it around planting areas that were not fenced off (didn't want to look at fences everywhere>. Every so often I reapply it. The rabbits are staying away.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

bagging it

The other day I was got lunch from Sopraffina and noticed something different. Instead of the usual petroleum-based plastic bags, they had cornstarch-based, biodegradable plastic bags. I hope that we'll be seeing more businesses offering these in the near future.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

if it's Wednesday, it must be Falun Gong

One of the perks of working in the Loop is all the free entertainment available at lunchtime. I'm not just talking about free concerts at Daley Plaza, the Cultural Center or other places. There's plenty of entertainment to be had thanks to all the political demonstrations at Federal Plaza, Daley Plaza and Thompson Center. Sometimes it's just goofy. Sometimes it's educational.

I work near the Federal Plaza. Over the last few years, I've seen demonstrators for Falun Gong nearly every Wednesday year round. It's usually a small group of demonstrators handing out literature, holding signs, doing slow tai chi to gentle music. It tends to be one of the mellowest protest groups.

I've seen Israelis vs. Palestinians out there. Needless to say it is anything but mellow. Falun Gong draws no police attention. Israelis vs. Palestinians gets a large police presence with barriers. When the Enron/Arthur Andersen debacle was going on, I remember looking out the windows onto Dearborn to see thousands of Arthur Andersen employees pouring out of their office building, across the street from ours, filling the street and shutting down traffic in a large area of the Loop during lunch. Even if you weren't watching, it was hard not to hear the sounds of 6,000 voices.

Aside from political demonstrations, another form of lunchtime entertainment is media campouts around City Hall, the Thompson Center, and the courts at the Daley Center and the Dirksen Federal building. There's been a lot of action lately, with the Conrad Black trial and the Family Secrets trial.

Things have quieted down a bit since most of the action is done with the Black case. Looks like they're waiting for more action in Family Secrets today. I was amused by the appearance of one press photographer, with two enormous Nikons sporting giant telephoto lenses and flashes and two camera bags, all slung across his body, making him look like the photo bandito.

Ah, what entertainment will tomorrow bring?

save the car kabob

If you remember, I wrote recently about the possibility that the car kabob in Berwyn could disappear. The Berwyn Arts Council has a petition on its web site to save this landmark of kitsch.

the buzz about bees

There's been a lot written recently about mysterious die-offs of honeybees. So far, it sounds like Illinois honeybees are doing okay.

I know of a few locations within Chicago where bees are kept. Some folks in Logan Square have started a blog about their beekeeping. I've met a guy in Pullman who has kept bees and produced honey for years.

Another writer speculates that the problems affecting bees may be a bit of Darwinian natural selection in action. I guess we'll have to wait and see how the story evolves.

whale watchers see boat his whale

A news of the weird item from New Hampshire.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

not getting things done

Check out this excellent article on how to tackle the reasons why getting tasks from the TO DO list to the DONE list can be so tough.

gun turn-in day 7/21

The city of Chicago is having a gun turn-in day this Sunday 7/21 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Please click the link above for more information, including a list of locations.

Dragon Boat race

Here's a cool event happening next Sunday 7/21 in Chinatown. The Dragon Boat race was started in 1999. Many different teams (including Chicago Police Dept., Fire Dept., Citibank and others) compete in rowing races on the Chicago River at Ping Tom Park (300 W. 19th St., viewable from the south side of the 18th St. bridge). Opening ceremonies start at 8:30 a.m., and the races happen between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.

There will be acrobats, live music, food booths, bubble tea, Indian dance, caricature artists and other activities at the park.

Good cop, baby cop

Here's another silly Will Ferrell video.

Boss/kid alert: lots of 4-letter words

Monday, July 16, 2007

transit and leadership

Could Pace officials consider setting an example and make decisions based on experience and actually ride their buses once in a while? And what about our governor and other elected officials?

It would be refreshing if they actually saw the inside of buses and trains once in a while and could make informed decisions about the transportation that is so critical to our region.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

micro beans

If you want to see what the giant beans in yesterday's post look like as tiny baby beans, check this out.

The flowers have just fallen off of these, so they're a day or two old. The longest is about 1" long.

cell phones in bathrooms

I commented on this a while back.

Reading this article gave me an idea. Perhaps the next market for JC Decaux is public cell phone booths. These could be similar in design to the bus stop shelters - clear glass on 3 sides (one being a door) with advertising on one side. They could charge a quarter for 15 minutes to give people a place to take a phone call in places that are otherwise too noisy and/or crowded for it. Think there's a market for this?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

update on internet radio

Here's a bit of encouraging news about the negotiations on internet radio royalties. I hope that they can resolve the issue and that all the fine internet radio that currently exists will not be lost.

one day's harvest

I had no idea how prolific these green bean plants would be. To give you a sense of scale, the longest beans in these containers are 11" long. No lie. The interior of each container is 6" wide.

In the picture below, the 1" white PVC cross-piece at the bottom of the picture is 4' above the ground. The top of the pole that the bean stalk is climbing is about 7' off the ground. I think I'm going to be freezing a LOT of beans.

Fake cop stops wrong car

This guy was definitely in the wrong place when he decided to do something stupid.

What's in Beverly?

The Sun-Times ran a nice feature yesterday listing a selecton of what can be found here in the neighborhood.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Chicago's mail delivery woes

A few months ago, Chicago's new postmaster pledged to fix our broken system and return us to reliable, prompt mail delivery. Well, that hasn't quite happened. Here's a 4/17/07 NPR audio story and a 3/11/07 Sun-Times article on the subject.

I've heard reports from some neighborhoods of very late delivery - as late as 11 p.m. I've heard about and experienced very slow delivery - sometimes 3-4 days or more for mail within the city of Chicago. I've had a lot of experience with non-delivery of forwarded first class mail and heard about that problem from all areas of the city, not just the long-time problem zip codes (60640 and 60626). It's not unusual for me to get mail for someone who lives on the next block.

I have made many phone calls and sent many faxes to the carrier supervisor at the post office, with no results. Other folks I know have had the same experience.

To satisfy my curiousity and test the system, I've sent 6 pieces of mail over the last several months in various envelopes (plain white #10, bright red #10, business letterhead #10, and greeting card). All of these were going to the same Chicago address, used varying return addresses and should have been forwarded. One of the six was actually forwarded and arrived in about 2 weeks (bright red #10 envelope). One was returned to sender (plain white #10 envelope, Evanston return address). Four are MIA - all with different Chicago return addresses, either in plain white #10 envelopes or greeting card envelopes.

*sigh* Yet another reason to be a squeaky wheels, folks. It's gotta be better than this.

Shrub parody

Here's a low-key parody starring Will Ferrell as Shrub.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

positive expression

I saw something on the red line the other night that gave me a smile. I noticed a woman sitting near me on the train. I'd guess that she was 35-40ish and a cancer patient. Her bare scalp (sprouting new hair stubble) had that look. You know how kids will write on a friend's cast when the friend has a broken arm or leg? She had doves, flowers and other positive images drawn in marker on her head. After some heartbreaking experiences with friends and family who died of cancer, seeing someone who looked like she was beating it and feeling good about it made me happy.

CTA working on rail slow zones

It's about time! This is some welcome and long overdue news.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

RIP Doug Marlette

I've always enjoyed Doug Marlette's "Kudzu" cartoon and his editorial cartoons. I will miss his wacky sense of humor.

back again

Cicadas are back, but of a different variety. The annual cicadas that usually arrive in August are not as intense an experience as the 17-year brood we just experienced. I wasn't expecting to see the annual guys for a few more weeks, but discovered a newly emerged one in my garden yesterday.

And on an odd, related note, I saw something online about cicada ringtones for cell phones. Is it just me, or is the while ringtone thing getting a little too strange?

man disguised as tree robs bank

This is a true story from Manchester, New Hampshire. Suitable "news of the weird" item for today. I guess he decided to leaf no stone unturned, branch out a bit.... Ah, the pun-sibilities here are endless.

The Landlord

If you're looking for something silly to watch, you might be amused by this silly Will Ferrell video. FYI - The little girl is Pearl McKay (daughter of Shira Piven and niece of Jeremy Piven).

Boss/kid alert: Plenty of 4-letter words

car kabob going away?

A bizarre local landmark may bite the dust - if the nascent campaign to save it doesn't succeed. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

garden moment

Ah, coreopsis - a bit of summer sun come to earth...

green choices - garbage

The Tribune Home & Garden section ran an excellent article about reducing household waste on Sunday. Well worth a read and some thinking about garbage we don't need to generate.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

more on biofuels

Here's a new Slate article continuing an idea from a previous post.

green choices - manufacturing

Today's Sun-Times has an interesting article on one possibility that could be good for Chicago economically and environmentally: green manufacturing.

I've got some related links here: Solargenix Energy, Chicago Center for Neighborhood Technology, and Chicago Center for Green Technology.

Friday, July 6, 2007

old-fashioned entrepreneur

The other day I was home during the day - unusual for a weekday. Contractors were working on the house across the street. I heard a ringing bell, similar to what I've heard on ice cream pushcarts. A short time later I heard it again. It was an old timer with a pushcart, but no ice cream. He had a pedal-powered grinding wheel to sharpen tools and knives and was making the rounds, offering his services to contractors working in the neighborhood. Now that's the ultimate green small business: keeping tools useable longer and doing it in a way that generates no pollution and gives him exercise in the process.


If you're looking for a bit of physical stress relief this weekend, perhaps Sunday's car smash at UIC might be right up your alley.

report from Cicadaland

The cicadas are gone now. The other day I heard one buzzing along Damen near 96th, but that had to be one very lonely cicada. I guess that guy missed the party.

It seemed like the city's mother lode was here in Beverly. A co-worker who lives around 98th & Lowe had none near her. A friend near 121st & Western (Blue Island) also had none. It was the same with many friends in different neighborhoods around the city.

The Tribune still has their cicada map online, linked to this story.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

no penalty for taking 8 lives

What incentive is there to drive responsibly if a careless driver who kills 8 people can get off with no charges at all? If this type of stupidity can't be charged as reckless driving, perhaps our lawmakers should be revising a law or two. How can this non-response possibly represent any kind of justice? The Amish families who lost 5 of their own may find forgiveness in their hearts, but I find it difficult to excuse this guy's carelessness.

green choices - sharing transportation

Happy Independence Day! Here's an item from Paris about one more way to declare our energy independence.

Paris Set for Bike-Share Scheme to Cut Congestion
by Alexandra Steigrad

PARIS - It's summer in Paris and the French capital is preparing to offer bikes for anyone who wants to take a ride.

By July 15, the city plans to park 10,648 bicycles at 750 stations and nearly double that by 2008, with riders able to take bikes from one station and drop them off at another.

Work on "Velib'" (short for 'free bike' in French) is just starting, but it is already sparking enormous interest.

The concept evolved from utopian bike-sharing programmes in Europe in the 1960s, aimed at reducing the use of cars and cutting down on traffic congestion and air pollution.

The most famous case was Amsterdam -- a flop because bikes were either stolen or too beaten-up to ride.

Now, many cities are giving it a go again by partnering up with advertising firms that will provide bikes equipped with anti-theft systems in return for city-wide advertising opportunities.

In the residential 15th district in southwestern Paris, a parking spot next to a corner cafe is being adapted to become home to a fleet of sleek, grey bicycles.

"I think the programme is a good thing, and it will help reduce the number of cars on the street," said Jean-Michel Bourdet, who owns a nearby video store.

"I used to ride bikes all the time, but they all kept getting stolen. Now I'm going to start riding again," he said.

In an effort to prevent thefts crippling the network, Velib' bikes will be equipped with a lock and an alarm that will sound if the bike is not returned to a station. There will also be a security deposit that riders will lose if their bike vanishes.

Velib' is part of a wide-ranging plan drawn up by Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe to encourage residents to leave their cars at home and reduce both the pollution and the gridlock that often snarls the city's broad boulevards.

"We hope car use will diminish and that people will opt to take a bicycle or the bus," said City Hall spokeswoman Gwenaelle Joffre, who is overseeing the project.


She said Delanoe's plan was aimed more at locals than tourists looking to take a ride along the banks of the Seine.

"Our programme is for people travelling short distances, from point A to point B," Joffre said. "It's for people who don't want to take the bus. They'll take a bike instead of taking the metro and transferring."

Renting a bike is simple: cyclists choose a bike and insert a pre-paid card or credit card in a terminal to unlock it from the station. When they are done, they lock it up at any station.

If a bike is used for less than 30 minutes, the credit card will not be charged. Every half hour after that costs 1 euro (US$1.33). Weekly rentals cost five euros and yearly rentals just 29 euros.

To help riders navigate the streets, maps and safety manuals in several languages will be available at every station.

How Paris will cope with this flood of new bikes is not clear, but Joffre saw no problem because the city has 371 km (230 miles) of cycle paths.

Raphael Bohkobza, a salesman at Au Reparateur, a popular bicycle repair shop that sells used and new bikes in the centre of Paris, wasn't so sure.

"It might be a big mess," he said, worried that there could be a jump in road accidents and noting there is no law in France forcing riders to wear helmets.

"Normally, bike rental agents are people. Now it's machines. What if people are drunk and are renting bikes? It can be dangerous," he said. "Also tourists who don't understand the system might cause problems."


In 2006, France was the fourth largest cycle-buying country in the world, according to the National Council of Professional Cyclists. Part of that may be a "Tour de France effect"-- long-distance bicycle riding is a popular sport here.

But many French also took to cycling during a crippling month-long transport strike in 1995 -- and the habit stuck.

Velib' is paid for by JCDecaux, Europe's largest outdoor advertising firm, in return for more advertising around the city.

It first launched the programme in 2002 in Vienna and in the Spanish cities of Cordoba and Gijon. Today the service can be found in cities such as Brussels and, since 2005, Lyon, France's second largest city.

"Lyon began with 2,000 bikes and we'll be increasing to 4,000 bikes," said Agathe Albertini, JCDecaux vice president of communications. Other cities such as Mulhouse, Aix-en-Provence, Marseille and Besancon have signed up and more are watching.

But the Paris project is very ambitious and will show whether major cities are ready for a two-wheel revolution.

"It's very impressive," Joffre said. "Paris will become the first world capital to have so many bicycles freely available."

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Apu comes to Chicago

Well, not quite, but it's an amusing marketing tie-in to promote "The Simpsons" movie. And here's a San Francisco story on the promotion.