May 13, 2014

Can New York City makes its streets drastically safer over the next 10 years?     Photo: Trey Ratcliffe/Flickr

NYC Plans Utopia of Traffic Safety

Takes a cue from Sweden with Vision Zero initiative

New York City: Land of blaring horns and, according to 2013 figures, nearly as many traffic deaths in one year (286) as there are homicides (333). That's in addition to the estimated 4,000 New Yorkers injured in traffic each year. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last week a $28.8 million budget with the goal of cutting that number to zero by 2024. His Vision Zero initiative shares its method and name with a successful approach from—where else?—Sweden.

The gist of Sweden's plan is that "no loss of life is acceptable," according to the country's Vision Zero Initiative website. Since 1997, a target goal of zero road deaths or injuries has been part of Swedish law. And it's working: Traffic-related deaths have fallen by more than 50 percent since Vision Zero started.

How do they do it? A key idea is designing roads and traffic systems that encourage safe driving practices while accommodating the inevitable human error. That means reduced default speed limits, automated traffic enforcement, and even potted plants strategically placed in local roads to force drivers to take extra care. "You should be able to make mistakes without being punished by death," Lars Darin from the Swedish Transport Administration told the New York Times. In fact, Swedish authorities take a very practical view of which traffic safety battles to pick, saying that pedestrian education probably won't do much to ease problems like jaywalking.

Logistics and simply a higher volume of traffic will prevent New York City from adopting all of Sweden's practices—like the heavily used roundabout. But the city's new plan does include increased enforcement (like black box data recorders in taxis), arterial slow zones where the speed limit will drop to 25 mph, and the installation of 250 new speed bumps.

In the meantime, the @VisionZeroNYC Twitter account continues to document every single traffic death and injury in the city. Considering that the feed updates multiple times every day, New York City has a lot of work to do before 2024.

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A hop cone waits its turn to be turned into beer.    

Global Alcohol Consumption Study

USA really slacking

The World Health Organization has released a report on the levels of alcohol consumption in its 194 member states with an eye on their effect on public health. Europe leads the way, sweeping the entire top 10, with Belarus in the number one spot at 17.5 liters per person per year. Globally, the average person is consuming 6.2 liters of alcohol per year. 

You might be surprised to learn, given the proliferation of Bud Light advertisements, that although the United States is above the global average, we clock in at a paltry 9.2 liters a year and are outstripped by the likes of Portugal, Hungary, and Canada (10.2). 

Even more surprising is that less than half of the world's population even drinks alcohol. Just 38.3 percent of people consume enough every year to register on the report, meaning the Coors Light bullet train is going to have to expand its service if it wants to reach the vast untapped markets of North Africa and the Middle East. 

Here are the top 10:

1. Belarus: 17.5 liters

2. Republic of Moldova: 16.8 liters

3. Lithuania: 15.4 liters

4. Russian Federation: 15.1 liters

5. Romania: 14.4 liters

6. Ukraine: 13.9 liters

7. Andorra: 13.8 liters

8. Hungary: 13.3 liters

9. Czech Republic and Slovakia: 13 liters

10. Portugal: 12.9 liters

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Getting the giggles during 420 Remedy could only improve your ab strength.     Photo: Dean Pictures/Fuse/ThinkStock

The Latest Yoga Buzz

Herb-friendly classes take off in L.A.

Hidden in the health-conscious enclaves of Los Angeles sits Atwater Yoga, a Brazilian yoga and Pilates studio where yogis are encouraged to reach even higher planes of existence.

Thanks to recent first-person narratives, the studio's marijuana-friendly "420 Remedy" class is attracting interest from beyond city limits. 

A melting pot of more than 50 students self-medicate before arriving for class—held, of course, at 4:20 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays—to find Atwater Yoga owner Elizabeth McDonald offering tea and hugs in the studio's courtyard. 

McDonald moved to Los Angeles from Brazil in 2009, a year after the city was voted "Most Stressed" by the American Psychological Association. She had incorporated substances into her practice in 2007 after realizing she couldn't connect with her body well enough to achieve certain states of consciousness—her "left brain was in the way."

"I knew these [states] were real, but they seemed impossible to truly feel," the self-described "yogangsta" told Yoga Journal's Mike Kessler. "Mixing yoga and pot took me into the next dimension." She soon began practicing "enhanced" yoga with private clients, and then with entire classes of students who don't see substances as toxins.

"Do I really want a couple of uptight conservatives in here?" McDonald told L.A. Weekly. "Ideally no, but… my business welcomes all types of people, especially those tight-asses that may need it most!"

"Some of them are so divorced from their bodies," she adds. "Some people will die not knowing how to take a full breath."

Plenty of other yoga studios offer similar classes where smoking is legal, from Toronto-based Ganja Yoga to Ganja Yoga Vancouver. Ganja and yoga share more than Sanskrit linguistic roots. The Indian god Shiva, despite being the Destroyer, allegedly practices yoga and partakes of weed-steeped bhang to improve his meditation—and Hindu deities are far from the only ones blending substances and religion. Beyond that, plant-based treatments are integral to many non-Western medical practices, and the pills that litter our bathroom cabinets are often derived from one or two of them.

"At least some of the ancient sages were probably stoned out of their minds," writes New York Times reporter Leslie Kaminoff in a profile of the studio.

There is by no means assurance that pot use will up your practice.

"I would discourage marijuana as a means to enhance yoga practice unless it's used in a sacramental or medicinal manner, and not frequently," said David Frawley, founder and director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies in Albuquerque, New Mexico. "The attaining of higher consciousness cannot simply be gained by the use of a drug."

For yoga teacher Derek Beres, it's a matter of educated use. "The real question is not what means we use, but how we use them. That someone can use yoga or marijuana—or both together—to some benefit should not be seen as weird or 'wrong.' They’re both tools, if treated as such."

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It may be centuries away, but it's gonna happen. And it will alter the shape of the world.     Photo: US Embassy/flickr

Melting of Antarctic Ice Sheet Irreversible

Two separate studies have come to similar conclusions about the melting of Antarctic glaciers: It's going to happen. For sure.

Two separate studies—from NASA and the University of California at Irvine—have both come to the conclusion that the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is now inevitable. Although glacial loss of this magnitude is still centuries away, scientists from both studies used point-of-no-return rhetoric when discussing an event that will dramatically alter the shape of our world's continents.

Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at the University of California, said, "Today we present observational evidence that a large sector of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has gone into irreversible retreat."

Although human-caused global warming has contributed to the destabilization of the ice sheet, other factors are also involved. Or, to put it differently, the effect of global warming plays out differently than many might think. Scientists have argued that the melting of Antarctic ice has less to do with warmer air temperatures than with strong winds that pull the relatively warm water from the depths of the ocean around the Antarctic continent toward the surface. Of course, global warming affects the winds in that an increase in average temperature in other parts of the world will increase the difference between the very cold and very warm areas of the planet, which leads to stronger winds.

Another study, published in Science and led by Ian Joughin of the University of Washington, focuses specifically on the Thwaites Glacier in Western Antarctica. The report also deems the glacier's collapse to be inevitable, with a gradual initial change eventually "giving way" to dramatic acceleration. "All of our simulations show it will retreat at less than a millimeter of sea level rise per year for a couple of hundred years, and then, boom, it just starts to really go," Joughin said.

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Snowbird, Utah.     Photo: Getty Images/Karl Weatherly

Snowbird Sold to Owners of Park City

Planning improvements

The majority share of Utah's Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort sold yesterday to the Cumming family, owners of Powdr Corporation and whose family flag most notably flies on the northeast side of Park City Mountain Resort.

In a joint statement released with Snowbird's Dick Bass, Powdr founder Ian Cumming spoke to the growth of his family's ski product. "We are happy to be involved at a place that has so many fond memories for our family," he said.

The list price was not disclosed, as Powdr Corp. is a family-owned, private company. Powdr owns properties across California, Colorado, and Utah. 

Powdr recently appeared in headlines after the company became embroiled in a lawsuit with Talisker Corporation, which owns Vail Resorts and a large swath of PCMR land. The parties went to trial early last month over the lease dispute, which could leave Vail in control of Park City.

In the meantime, we're still waiting to see what's in store for Snowbird after this change in leadership. Future developments could include construction of a long-discussed and controversial restaurant around the tram terminal on Hidden Peak.  

One thing is sure, at least according to the new owners. The Cummings plan to keep the resort family run. "Ian raised his kids here," Bob Bonar, Snowbird's president and CEO, told the Salt Lake Tribune. Longstanding owner Bass will remain chairman of Snowbird's board.

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