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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Getting There: Ever wonder how Santa logs all those miles in a night?

A reindeer sporting the GE9X— the world’s most powerful jet engine. 
(Not to scale) (Spokesman Illustration)

Christmas is upon us, and on this eve of all eves, there is just one question on everyone’s mind: What kind of rig does the man in red drive?

The North Pole keeps its secrets, so no one really knows, but what if? Is there any type of known vehicle that could carry him the distance, and at the speed necessary to deliver gifts to the world’s children? Some sort of souped-up F-16? A sleigh outfitted with a few GE9X engines, the world’s most powerful jet engine? Reindeer raring to go on Red Bull?

No, no, no. But then again, no one’s ever set foot in the workshop to observe the magical, elfish know-how.

So let’s just pretend.

First, some numbers. There are 1.9 billion children living on Earth right now. That means, in the 24 hours Santa has on Christmas Day to fulfill his duties, he’d have to visit 1.3 million children per minute. Since there are 74 million kids in the U.S., he has about 56 minutes to cover the country.

No problem.

Larry Silverberg, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University, is a Santa math specialist and his calculations were shared some years ago in Popular Science.

According to Silverberg, in order for Saint Nick to get to the all the good kids in one night, he needs to travel 5,083,000 mph. This is 130 times slower than the speed of light, so it’s possible.

The fastest object ever made by humanity is the Juno spacecraft, a NASA craft currently orbiting Jupiter. Before it reached Jupiter’s orbit, it was going 165,000 mph. Nowhere close to the speed Kringle needs to reach.

Since we’re talking outer space, Santa’s speed is greater than the speed of the Milky Way galaxy, and about five times faster than solar wind.

Why doesn’t Santa just hire a fleet of reindeer and Claus lookalikes? If the imposters are good enough for the mall, they’re good enough for freight. All the jolly old man would have to do is nick the system developed over the past two decades by Amazon, which has built warehouses in 30 states and has perfected the one-click (and patent-protected) shopping experience.

Need a new sleigh? One click and two days later, it’s at your door. Free shipping.

Of course, there’s a simpler approach to all this. According to the New York Times, the typical American lives just 18 miles from his or her mother. Santa may know when you are sleeping, when you’re awake, if you’ve been bad or good. But Mom knows best, and that’s really the most important thing when it comes to presents. And she’s right around the corner, no magical elves necessary.

Word of the Year: Murder strip

Merriam-Webster recently announced its word of the year: justice. The dictionary publisher chose that word, it said, because it was “at the center of many of our national debates in the past years.” It also had been looked up 74 percent more often this year than in 2017.

The Flemish have a different take on the year that was. Van Dale, the leading dictionary of the Dutch language, let the people of Belgium vote on 18 words, and the winner was “murder strip.” In Dutch, that’s “Moordstrookje” and it basically means a painted bike lane on a busy street with fast-moving vehicles.

Here in Spokane, and in most of America, we simply call that a bike lane, and cyclists are told to just be happy they’re allowed to be on the roads at all, let alone ask for safe bicycle infrastructure.

Calling it a murder strip would surely stir trouble, as it did in Belgium when a member of the Green Party, Björn Rzoska, uttered it in the Flemish Parliament, earning swift condemnation from Prime Minister Geert Bourgeois.

Rzoska acknowledged his words were a bit harsh, but said the danger of such bikeways was real. “I may have been a bit too fast, I may have formulated a bit too sharply, I would have put it in a better way, but we have to solve this problem,” he said.

But as the Flemish daily newspaper, De Standaard, wrote, Bourgeois’ point of view was not shared by all the Belgian word voters.

“The word ‘murder’ means that you very consciously kill someone. As if the road manager or motorists who were not careful, very consciously endanger cyclists and let them perish,” the paper wrote, as translated by Google. “In any case, the word shows how the Flemish people who took part in this poll think about road safety.”

Regardless, the Flemish are on the right track. A 2012 study published in the American Journal of Public Health showed that risk of injury drops substantially if the bike lane is protected from traffic by a raised curb or row of parked vehicles, findings buttressed by a similar study done in 2017. Not only that, but a 2014 study out of Portland State University found ridership increased up to 170 percent on protected bike lanes.