My ELF

You may have seen this strange little green vehicle on the road around Cary. In case you were wondering who’s in that thing, it’s me.

Meet my ELF – my new bike. Yes, it’s a bike. On steroids.

What’s an ELF?

It’s basically a bike, with a cover, and a bit of electric power to help – a cross between a car and a bicycle. (You may have seen them in Durham, that’s where the company, Organic Transit, is located.)   (ELF stands for Electric, Light, Fun)

The bike component of the ELF is a recumbent bike, meaning you are sitting closer to the ground with your feet in front of you to pedal, rather than upright and straddling a seat. With 3 wheels, (2 in the front, one in the back), it also has gears (a continuous gear train) and handle-bar brakes.

On the car side – add a mostly enclosed cab (with a spacious lockable trunk), an electric assist that is powered by a rechargeable battery and solar panel, rear view and side mirrors and you have the hybrid picture.

My ELFaba from Lori Bush on Vimeo.

Questions, I get questions

The most common questions I get are – “How fast can you go?” and “How far will the battery take you?”

How fast can I go? As fast as my little legs will carry me! If I just let the battery pull me, (meaning no pedaling) the ELF will speed up to 20 miles per hour, but I have gone faster, especially downhill. ☺

How far can the battery take me? Well, if I were to ONLY use the battery, no pedaling, the battery I have should carry me about 15 miles. (Although there is an upgrade available that will go 40 miles.) The solar panel on the roof can trickle charge the ELF when we are in the sun, fully recharging the battery in about 6-7 hours. Or, for a faster recharge, I can carry the small battery inside, and fully recharge it connected to my standard outlet in about 1.5 hours. Unfortunately, the pedaling that I do does not recharge the battery, although I understand that will be an option on future ELFs.

Why an ELF?
My ELF around town

My ELF around town

So, why an ELF, you might ask? Let me explain. It was the year of my BIG birthday, and I was looking for new ways to get exercise that was a little more fun. I love riding my bike, but found that I was mostly riding at events, or on the weekends. At the same time, I was noticing that many of my trips around town, were under 10 miles, one way. Although I had ridden my bike to work before, I would always feel the need to take a shower after I arrived. (Carrying my laptop in my backpack, with other items in my panniers, would definitely make me “glisten.”)

I was looking for a way to ride my bike that would get me a more “perspiration free” trip. The ELF gives me that! I can use the power in the battery on the way to a meeting, insuring a mostly “sweat free” appearance (minus the bike helmet hair) and then I often change to more comfortable biking clothes in order to get a better workout, and do more pedaling on the way back home.

An Experience

As you can probably tell, I love my ELF. (By the way, I call her “Elf-aba” – a shout out to one of my favorite Broadway musicals, Wicked.)

I’ve driven it to council meetings, to the Cisco office, to meetings around town, to the coffee shop and even grocery shopping. (The trunk will hold about 5 or 6 bags of groceries.)

Although the ELF weighs about 160lbs (without me in it), I’ve found that it’s pretty easy to pedal, except up some BIG hills when I’m glad to have the use of the “power assist.” I’ve driven it on the road (it’s a bike!) and on the sidewalk and greenways.(Always wearing a helmet.) Riding it all around town, at all times of the day, part of the fun is seeing the looks I get from folks as they do a double-take; smiling, pointing and taking pictures. So far, people are genuinely kind and move over into the other lane when I am on the road, even when I am far to the right in the bike lane.

Although I was concerned about night-riding, I’ve been told that we are very visible on the road at night – with my bright CREE headlights, turning signals, and brake lights. (I’m thinking of adding more reflectors, but so far, it’s just the base Elf.)

Night Elf

Fun and Useful 

At the end of the day, with Elf-aba, I feel like I have the best of all worlds. I’ve been able to add additional exercise to my routine, I’m still able to get around town, but by using less non-renewable energy, and still enjoy the outdoors and our wonderful community. All in all, it’s been one of my favorite benefits of reaching that BIG birthday milestone.

IMG_4469

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Check your cyber security

This month is the beginning of National Cyber Security Awareness Month. It’s a month set aside by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and the Department of Homeland Security, to remind us all of our shared responsibility when it comes to staying safe online. (You can check out the Town of Cary Proclamation in support of this month.)

It’s pervasive

As we all know, the Internet is part of everyone’s life, every day. We use the Internet at home, work and at Town Hall, to conduct our business every day. At the town level we share information with our citizens, provide tools such as our online permitting application, post all of our council documents online (such as our board applications, agendas and notices) and you can also pay your bills, check your water usage, and sign up for classes online.

At home and at work we socialize, shop, stream movies or play games, and connect with those closest to us, near and far, all over the Internet.

However, being constantly connected absolutely brings an increased risk of theft, fraud, and abuse. No one is immune to cyber risks. So during this National Cyber Security Awareness Month, I hope you all will take a few moments to check in with your cyber vulnerability. Think of it like you might check to see if your door is locked at home – make sure your “cyber door” is locked, and remains so.

STOP.THINK.CONNECT

Here are a few ideas passed on from the NCSA, with a little of my $0.02 thrown in to help you do that checkup.  Hopefully you will also use these points to start the conversation at home.

• Keep a clean and updated machine: Keep software up-to-date on all Internet-connected devices to reduce risk of infection and malware. Double-check to make sure that your devices are up-to-date. (Specifically, that means making sure your virus scanning software is the latest and greatest, that you have installed the most recent patches on your Operating System, etc.)

• When in doubt, throw it out: Links in email, posts and texts are often the ways cybercriminals try to steal your information or infect your devices. Let’s just say that your bank won’t send you an email asking you to verify your email address and password, no one from Turkey or India has left you a great inheritance, and Bill Gates won’t give you $5000 for sharing a link.  :-)

• Think before you app. Understand and be comfortable with what information (i.e., location, your contacts, social networking profiles, etc.) the app would access and share before you download it. That also means you should be aware that many of the photos that you post COULD have the location embedded in the actual picture. So, a would be stalker, as an example, might be able to not only see that the picture your child is posting from the park, but that picture might also contain location information about where they are. Double check to see if location services is turned on or off, for the requisite applications.

• Use a better password: Improve your defenses by making passwords that you can remember, are hard to guess, preferably use numbers, capital and lowercase letters and symbols and are different for all accounts. If you have trouble remembering these passwords then try out a password manager like LastPass , KeePass, 1Password.

• Post only about others what you would have them post about you. This is one of the most common discussion topics at my Internet Safety classes for kids. I ask them to think about what we say and how we say things online. Why? For so many reasons, but here are just a few.

First, for young adults. Did you know that employers look on social media when they are interviewing potential candidates for a job? Yep, they do. A recent Career Builder Study detailed that 37% of employers said they used social media to screen applicants, and over 65% checked out their Facebook profiles.”

• And for kids applying for college – now schools and universities troll the ‘net looking for your online behavior. Be aware that a Kaplan survey of admissions officers showed that 29% of respondents said they had Googled prospective students, and 31% had looked up applicants on Facebook. And of those officers screening applicants’ social media profiles, 30% said they found something that negatively impacted an applicant’s chances of getting in.

More tips

Here are some great additional resources to check out, as well:

Stay Safe Online Tip Sheets

Free Security Checkups (from Stay Safe Online)

OnGuardOnline.gov – great tips for all, from businesses, to families to seniors

I hope you all will keep these tips in mind when you are online, and here’s to making sure you are all Cyber Safe.

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Disclaimer: I was a boardmember of the NCSA, and still teach Internet Safety classes for kids, schools and families. It’s a strange passion, I know. ☺

Feature photo (modified by me) – by Rachel

Downtown Cary

At our Cary Town Council work session this week, we saw updated designs for the Downtown Park and Streetscape. I love how this area will entice our citizens to come downtown with a beautiful park, a lovely street, along with our Cary Art Center and the revitalization that is occurring downtown.  With the new fountain and wonderful welcoming streets. there will be something for everyone to enjoy.

downtownstreetscape
Academy Streetscape

The streetscape project includes a number of components:

-  “Rooms” at selected locations on Academy Street
- Modification of the intersection at Academy and Dry – widening the street into the park to provide exclusive right turn lanes onto Academy when coming from Kildaire
- New light pole options (allowing flags and other hanging ornamentation)
- Street tree lighting (up lighting and string lighting in the trees.)
- Benches, with artistic components
- Electrical infrastructure locations (big power distribution boxes (4 ft tall) and smaller pedestals (18” tall)   Read More…

We need YOU!

It’s that time of the year in Cary again.  Time for us at the Town to ask YOU for your knowledge, experience, guidance and passion to continue to keep Cary as an amazing place to live, work and play. Yes, it’s that time when we accept applications for you to participate on one of our seven volunteer boards, committees and commissions.

Why Volunteer?

P&ZThese boards are an incredibly valuable resource for the Town. And, as a council member, I have personally found great value in the recommendations provided by our citizen volunteers.  From feedback received from the Planning and Zoning Board, to the incredible report put out by the Environmental Advisory Board’s Shale Gas Task Force, and also input from folks on the Public Arts Board and Parks and Rec. They are all key to what makes Cary such a great place to live.

But, it’s not just about your feedback – it’s about getting involved and truly making a difference. If you have a passion around any of these areas, please apply. Not only will you get an opportunity to help the town by providing your insights and thoughts, but also you will meet like-minded folks, interested in these topics and maybe even have FUN!   Read More…

What’s going in over there?

dev-mapp-1Have you ever driven by one of these signs and thought – “Hey, I wonder what’s planned for that property?”

Well, you guessed it, THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT! And it uses Open Data.

code-for-caryThanks to the great work done by the new Cary Code for America Brigade (read more about them at the CaryCitizen), you can now get quick access to development information around Cary by using your smart phone or your computer. This impressive project does a great job at illustrating the value that Open Data can provide to citizens, by giving you the power to see what development is occurring close to home, or work, or in your community.

 

devmapp-logo

 

 

DevMapp is a very cool application that maps development in Cary – by mashing a Google Map along with permit and rezoning data provided by the Town.

What does that really mean to you? Well, with this application you can look at its map (the app will locate where you are if you give it permission to do so) and then you can visually see where development is being planned across the town. Just “click” on those properties that are highlighted and then you can dive down and review the plans associated with that property, see the rezoning applications, etc.

A Walkthrough

Ok, let’s pick an example to walk through.  I’ve picked  one close to where I live. (Why not?) Going to the DevMapp application on my computer, and allowing it to see my location – the application shows me this map, below – after I zoom in a bit. Notice that so much of the new development is occurring on the western side of Cary. No surprise, right?  (I’ve addd the red circle to illustrate that point.)

Map of development around Cary

Map of development around Cary

Also notice that the colors of the properties on the map indicate the status of that property. That is, where there is active construction is occurring – is displayed in RED, and upcoming rezonings, in BLUE. (Note – it’s the BLUE projects that are  on the map, not the bodies of water.)

DevMapp

DevMapp

So, I click on the property at the corner of Davis & High House – close to my house. And, lo and behold, I see it’s the Bradford development. On that popup is a direct ink to the Town of Cary site and subdivision plans associated with this project. Woo hoo! Instant and easy access to what’s planned for that corner.

bradford-devmapp1

Now, let’s look at a Rezoning: This time, I’ll click on a “blue property” – this one is on High House Road. In this example, the rezoning pop-up is displayed, and also a hotlink to the Town of Cary Rezoning page. In this case, I see that the rezoning is in 2014, so I click on the 2014 rezoning page link. There, I see the information regarding this rezoning – such as the fact that it has a scheduled Public Hearing on June 26. And, finally, clicking on that link takes me directly to the Staff report for that property. Voilà!

rezoning-devmapp

How does it work?

The application takes the rezoning and permitting information about a particular property that is going through the review process or in construction, and uses that data provided by the Town and then marrying it with the Google Map geolocation information. Finally there is a bit of magic – or what we call programming,  by the team at the Code for Cary Brigade, to bring you this great application.

All of the information provided by the Town of Cary is Public Record and Open Data – and a great way to provide visibility of development in and around Cary in an easy-to-use app.  

Try it out

iphone-codeforcary-mapSo, now it’s your turn.  From your computer, if you are reading this from a PC or MAC, you can click HERE – or type in: http://www.codeforcary.org/dev.html

Or, from your smartphone – type in www.codeforcary.org in your browser, and you can check it out there.

By the way, be sure to do a shoutout to the team that did such a great job on this – either on Twitter – @CodeforCary.

Want to help out?

Get involved with the Code for Cary team. You can learn more and meet them at one of their Hack Nights.  You don’t have to be a programmer to help – lots of folks have great ideas and thoughts to improve the current application, or you may have ideas for new work to tackle.  All are welcome.

As always, thanks for listening and please feel free to contact me with any questions, comments or concerns.

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Featured photo created by me using the DevMapp application, and turning on Satellite Mode. :-)

 Updated 6/5/14 – Please note a few changes to this post:

1) Added the new DevMapp logo and Code for Cary logo

2) Note that the DevMapp application has since changed the color used for rezonings from BLUE to GREEN.  (Besides that, the function remains the same.)

3) Updated a few pictures because the CaryCitizen is too good at it and I stole their ideas. :-)

Build Your Own Street

I have been meaning to write about this really cool tool since I saw it at Code for America last year. It’s call StreetMix, and it unleashes the “inner urban planner” that is inside of you, just waiting to get out.

What is it?

StreetMix is an online interactive tool that allows anyone to build a street, section by section. It is designed to help folks create mock-ups of streets allowing them to see and engage with the design. Many citizens and governments have used this tool as a way to connect with their community about future road changes, and to gather feedback and comments.

streetmix-example

Why I like it

As a visual person, the thing that struck me about this was the way all of the technical details of a street can be translated into a picture, truly demonstrating to a citizen the way a street will “feel” based on proposed changes.

Also, because it’s so easy to use, anyone can play around with it, adding width to a sidewalk, moving bike lanes, or if you are so inclined, creating your own little “dream street.”

Streetmix Uses

There were a number of case studies presented at Code for America about the use of StreetMix with citizens and local governments. (You can also read more at their Blog.)   Read More…

Budgets and Verts

It happens every year about this time, our annual budgeting exercise. Time to discuss our next Fiscal Year (FY2015) budget that begins on July 1, 2014 and ends June 30, 2015.

Unlike the federal government, municipalities must balance our budget and go through a process by which we get public input and balance that with our current and upcoming needs, improvements, operating costs and capital expenditures. You can see what you all told us by reading the public input report.

 

I wrote a bit about the process last year, if you would like to read more

Priorities

This year, Town staff has utilized a new process called “Priority Based Budgeting.” This is a system that we used to ensure that our resources align with the priorities that Council sets for the Town. The process starts by defining the goals, then drills down into those goals, identifies the programs and services associated with accomplishing those goals, evaluating the programs, a peer review and finally allocating costs based on those priorities. Council and staff reviewed and finalized the goals at our Council Retreat in January.

Our Council priorities are:

  • Attractive Well Planned and Livable Community
  • Economic Vitality and Development
  • Effective Transportation and Mobility
  • Quality Cultural Recreational and Leisure Opportunities
  • Reliable, Sustainable Infrastructure
  • Safe Community
Overview of the Budget

Here is a quick overview of the items in the budget.

  • - No tax increase, and NO additional debt
  • - Limited revenue growth is projected in FY2015 due to the gains in taxable real estate (our main revenue source) being offset by losses in taxable public service property, personal property and vehicle. (More revenue growth is projected after FY2015)
  • - Remember, we paid a one –time $6M debt reduction payment in 2014, so there IS room for service expansion for FY2015.  (Meaning, if we NEED to borrow money, we COULD do so.)
  • - The General Fund Operating Budget is $137.3M – with is a 3.1% increase over FY2014
  • - The Utility Fund operating budget is $65M, a 4.8% increase over last year.
  • - The Capital Improvement budget at  $51.2M  (a 51% drop from last year)
  • - Utility rates will increase by 3.7% – a result of rate smoothing to pay for the Western Wake Water Treatment plan – $2.21 more per month for residents using 4,500 gallons of water.
  • - Construct over 5 miles of new water and sewer lines ($5.3 million)
  • - Additional 25.5 staff position – still keeping Cary at one of the LOWEST ratios of staff per 1,000 residents (8.2) among largest cities and towns in NC
  • - Improved public access to Town information is planned, through a website overhaul, public access to Geographical based data, and new workflow software that will allow council meeting videos to be indexed
  • Read More…

Win Some – Lose Some

I’ve often been asked, “What is the best part of being a Cary Town Councilmember?” Or, “What is it that you like about being on Council.”

It’s a hard question to answer. Not because there is little to “like” but rather, the contrary. There is so much I enjoy.

Overall though, I enjoy taking ideas I have to improve the town and bringing those ideas to fruition. Sometimes that means taking problems or issues, often brought up by citizens, and then finding various workable solutions. Or, taking suggestions from community leaders, advocates, or Town Staff, and finding new and innovative ways to implement them, all with the goal of improving our collective quality of life, and making the Town an EVEN better place to live.

There have been successes, for sure. (I’d like to think that the Technology Task Force is one of those, and I’ll write another blog post about that, this week.) But there have also been times where things haven’t gone as I had hoped. And, it wouldn’t be a “real life blog” if I overlooked those. So, here goes.

A Bike and Walkable Champion

About two years ago, I brought up the idea to council that we should be looking at ways to make our town more bike and pedestrian friendly.

1000milesAs an avid walker and cyclist, I see opportunities for improving our activities, ordinances, and vision when it comes to supporting folks that use our roads, sidewalks and greenways - not just for recreation, but for commuting as well. (I just hit my 1000 mile mark with my FitBit! Woo hoo!)

Council agreed that it was worth looking into and discussing, along with several other potential areas – such as Historic Preservation, our Senior Community, Persons with Disabilities, and a number of others.  We put them all to the side, to have a larger brainstorming session – with the goal of determining which areas we’d like to have more “citizen input.”

Fast Forward a Year

About a year later, October 2012, we had that brainstorming session, and sure enough, Pedestrian and Mobility issues bubbled up near the top.  I was glad to see that my fellow council members were looking for more citizen input, guidance and feedback.   I was hopeful.

Time to Share my Thoughts

Finally last week (more than two years after the original discussion), we had a work session on the potential of adding four new boards and commissions – a Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Council (BPAC), one for Historic Preservation, a Senior related board, and a committee for persons with disabilities.

I couldn’t wait any longer – so I made my pitch.

I had talked with cycling advocates, walkers and citizens about this idea.  I had reached out to the former head of the Durham BPAC and members of the Raleigh BPAC.  I consulted with folks that have worked with Cary staff on improving bicycle and pedestrian safety.  And I brought all that to the table.  Here’s what I said…

Why Does Cary Need a BPAC?

It’s a movement – and more and more of us are walking and riding.

There is a growing movement and population that like to to walk and bike – we should continue to find ways to make it safe to do so

  • Greenways are one of our “highest rated” and used resources in Cary
  • We need to do more to find ways to connect the Greenways, and get people to feel safe and comfortable walking and riding.
  • We need the expertise in the community to weigh in, additional advise from real users
  • Issues and concerns have been raised in the community about sidewalks that are missing on various sides of key roads
  • We need a holistic and COMPREHENSIVE review of Bicycle and Pedestrian access across all of Cary, not just NEW developments, or sidewalks.  That is, full integration of biking and walking into community transportation policies and practices
  • BPACs can review development plans and site plans which may have a significant impact on bike mobility and  transportation
  • BPACs can facilitate citizen participation with biking community

Cary is now a “bicycle friendly” area - but we can do so much more to engage citizens.

  • we could create safety programs for kids/seniors (as done in other BPACs)
  • Programs can directly attack the obesity issue: finding better ways to get kids to walk and bike to schools, safely
  • Studies show that children living near an extra-wide walking and biking trail were 3 times more likely to get vigorous exercise than kids in a similar low-income neighborhood with regular sidewalks. In other words: if you build it, they will walk, run, bike and skate-board
  • Education to the greater community – promoting bike and pedestrian education and safety initiatives – partnering with certified bike instructors, and law enforcement, and other interested groups in the community, and promote bike safety education on the “rules of the road” and “sharing the road” for motorist and bicyclists of all ages.

Outcomes from these Goals

The economic, environmental and community benefits of cycling and walking deserve our attention, and should be a vital part of our processes. Let’s face it,there are great reasons to do it – the reduction of air and noise pollution (enhancing our sustainability goals) , reducing our traffic congestion, helping to alleviate our vehicular parking demands – all while saving energy, using land and road space more efficiently, and in turn, saving our citizens money.    Read More…

Cary is named after, who?

The following comments were made by my esteemed At-Large Council colleague, Ed Yerha.  Ed has a phenomenal way of providing informative and entertaining bits of history – and at our last council meeting, he spoke of the man for who Cary is named – Samuel Fenton Cary.  He’s provided these comments to me to share, and I thought you all might enjoy the “history lesson.” I did.  (Thanks so much to Ed!)

A Brief History Lesson

This year – 2014 – marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of a man without whom Cary would not be Cary.  The 200th birthday of — no, not Jack Smith – but of Samuel Fenton Cary, the man for whom our town was named. 

Brick Homestead in Ohio

Brick Homestead in Ohio

Sam was born on Feb 18,1814  to a pioneer family on the outskirts of  Cincinnati, OH in a log cabin.  (Although it seems like everyone was born in a log cabin in those days,  it still makes for a good story.)  We’re told shortly after his birth his father built and moved the family to the finest brick home in the county.  Perhaps that’s where we get our preference for brick around here – we may have inherited it from the Carys.

Young Sam Cary

Young Sam Cary

Sam grew up in Cincinnati, went to college and law school and became known for his legal and oratorical skills and was appointed to the Ohio Supreme Court at the age of 26, an appointment he turned down.

He used his skills instead to work for the common man advocating strongly for the 8 hour work day and other labor laws.  During the Mexican War, he was bestowed the rank of general and served in various military and quasi–military roles.

He became Chief of Staff to 3 Ohio Governors and later served in Congress as an “Independent Republican” and was the only Republican in Congress to vote against the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, Raleigh’s native son.   Sam had an independent streak.

Read More…

Women’s History Month

Below are the comments I made in honor of International Women’s History month at our council meeting. (Starting at about 1:50.)

I strayed a bit from my prepared remarks, which are below.

March is International Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month – and it’s a great opportunity for us to recognize the incredible contributions that women of every race, class and ethnic background have made and continue to make, to our country and our town.

March 3rd marked 100 years since suffragists marched on Washington. It was 1946 was when Eliza Jane Pratt was the first female to represent North Carolina in the US Congress and in 2009 – Bev Perdue became the NC’s first female governor. We’ve made progress.

19th Amendment (National Archives)

19th Amendment (National Archives)

But, when the 19th Amendment came before the North Carolina legislature in August 1920, it wasn’t the first time we had considered allowing women to vote. In February 1897, J.L. Hyatt, a NC State Senator, introduced a bill for women’s suffrage. The bill died after it was referred to the committee on insane asylums.

Unfortunately, North Carolina didn’t have an active hand in the passage of this amendment. It seems like the folks in charge didn’t support women having the right to vote. In fact, NC didn’t ratify the 19th amendment until 1971, more than fifty years after it became law. (We tabled the bill in the state senate back in 1920) The only state to wait longer was Mississippi, which ratified it in 1984.

Here in the Town, we have women in all types of roles – our Town Clerk, and Town Attorney, our Police Chief, and of course, here at the council table, just to name a few. And, in fact, it wasn’t that long ago that the Town of Cary made history in NC – when we had a FEMALE MAJORITY on the Town Council, something not seen in any other Town in NC.

In Cary – about 21% of our town employees are women, and that compares to many of our respective cities, like Apex (20%), Charlotte, (24%), Winston-Salem (24%) …with a larger number of ours being in Leadership roles at the town… (about 24%) , compared to Apex (14%), Charlotte (19%), – and then there is Winston Salem (at a whopping 28%)  Read More…

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