Car-free

  • Emily

    Go read about the awesome Finch family at BikePortland.org:

    Photo by Jonathan Maus, BikePortland.org
  • Car sharing: the barely hidden bikey agenda

    Bikeportland.org reported Monday that bill 3149 has passed the Oregon house and looks likely to pass in the senate. “The bill would allow a car owner to rent out their car to friends or neighbors through a car-sharing service without fear of increased insurance rates or loss of policy.” This isn’t just neighbors tossing the truck keys over the fence for the occasional brick haul in exchange for beer or flowers. This is peer to peer car-sharing companies being able soon to roll out smart booking, billing, access and security systems for the 92% of cars that nobody happens to be actually using right now, as long as their owners are interested in letting them out. For money. Why wouldn’t they be?

    Need a car? Pull out your internet device in a couple of years, and instead of Zipcar’s 1-2 choices today, maybe you’ll get 10 choices within a 5-minute walk or 1-minute bike hop. All classes of vehicle. Different rates and availability periods. Veggie-diesel schoolbus? Minivan? Convertible? Hypothetically insured electric-assist cargo bike? Select. Walk. Drive. There will come a time, or tipping point, when all but a few exceptional households realize that owning a car in cities like Portland, developed before they became “necessary,” is simply a waste. Or at least owning without sharing, when the opportunity costs of not doing so, together with fuel well north of $5/gallon, will be compelling. And then there will be 20 choices.

    And then perhaps, finally, the 20th-century automotive bubble will pop. Look down any neighborhood street in Portland. What I see are linear parking lots, public-subsidized storage facilities for idle private cars — massive overcapacity — whose ownership and operation represents an ongoing massive extraction of local wealth. With available motor vehicles in oversupply city-wide, their numbers will drop dramatically to meet something closer to real demand as bike numbers continue to climb. (This assumes the value of owning a car is entirely utilitarian, and that people are rational, which isn’t the case. But really, among young people, are cars cool? Time’s on our side, and accelerating.) In North American cities where company-owned car sharing has been implemented, every shared car has already been shown to replace 6-23 unshared ones.

    Falling and being pushed

    Now, if car owners are letting their vehicles out, deriving income, should the city still permit them to be stored free in the public right of way, while simultaneously subsidizing yet more parking through mandatory spots in building codes? Recover the high cost of free parking! Or perhaps it could swing both ways in the form of a city incentive to share vehicles: shouldn’t only shared vehicles be permitted to park free? Maybe 2-3 free spots per 10 households: remember 92% are idle now. After all, the local economy stands to benefit by driving cars off the streets altogether even more than from parking fees, by hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Not just streets: deny permits to tear up curbs, transect sidewalks, lawns and gardens to install driveways and garages where it hasn’t already happened on historical preservation grounds.

    However it rolls, a huge reduction in the number of cars in the city will restore its neighborhood streets to something like their designed, mostly pre-1920s character. Healthful, quiet, safe, social. More people, fewer machines: streets as public space for child’s play, walking, biking, and the local efficient movement of freight from burgeoning rail and crumbling highway terminals. Moving a couple kids or sacks of groceries in 2-ton motorcages that can do 120mph? Not so much!

    If it’s not a moot point by then, the question of where to put separate bicycle infrastructure becomes less vexing: it’s already there, where the cars used to be! Make the bike boulevard network of neighborhood streets effectively car-free or “local access only” by making them one-way for cars, with the direction changing every block. You’re exempt if you have sirens or some other urgent exceptional need.

    Portland will feel like Sunday Parkways 24-7-365, except with most everybody actually going someplace, and without the abnormal police presence making it feel like an illegal dream. In 2030, revive Sunday Parkways as an iro-nostalgic festival where motorists are encouraged to drive around at giddy lethal speeds up to 25mph in a predefined circuit of child-free streets, with heavy bicycle police escort, ending in the giant weedy parking lots at the edge of the Urban Growth Boundary, where lifestyle motorists and collectors store their excess vehicular tonnage at lower than the urban rate. Next to the recycling yards.

    With far fewer cars than households, what will happen if suddenly for some reason everybody needs to drive at once? The interstate highway system, after all, was conceived and promoted alongside personal bomb shelters as a response to the threat of nuclear attack from the communists. “The great dangers are jam-ups and bottlenecks.” The H-bombs would be bad enough, but who wants to get nuked while fleeing at anything less than 90mph? I stopped living in that century in about 1979; some are slower to let it go. We’ll all manage.

    Car sharing in my life

    My household has never owned a car — never saw how that wouldn’t result in less bike riding? — but my driver’s license hasn’t lapsed in the 30 years since I first got one. Martina my wife and Clever partner has never actually driven at all. While bikes were plenty for us in the first 15 years of our togetherness in Frankfurt, Annapolis, Boston, Brooklyn, and San Francisco, when we got pregnant 9 years ago, we signed up for San Francisco’s then-new City Carshare, “just in case” this car-free thing turned out to be as exotic-in-a-bad-way as most of our peers seemed to think. We used it for the first time not on the way to the hospital to give birth, but taking our baby home nearly a week later, when the hospital refused to release our own child to us without us presenting an approved car seat. He escaped with his foreskin, but not without incantations of danger and safety in mandatory induction to the national religion that kills more children than anything else. Seven years later, these guys did it right.

    We’ve used a shared car in conjunction with a Brompton folding bike 3-4 times a year ever since, and sometimes a traditional rental for longer trips out of town. Always a luxury, never a necessity. Our boy has traveled by bike hundreds of times farther by bike — on our bikes — than any other mode save air. He could patch a flat before he could fasten a seat belt. He knows that we can use a car any time we want, but that we choose bikes. Thanks to car sharing, he knows there’s no point in owning one.

    By never owning a car, by AAA cost estimates, we’ve saved a cumulative $240,000 or so since learning to drive. Priceless are the intangible benefits of eschewing habitual car use. But still, that’s a lot of bikes, with plenty left over to help us climb out of our $40K liberal arts student loan debts, and even buy a house, and then some. And so, we quit our day jobs and opened a bike shop that doesn’t carry sporting goods or car racks, to share the good news that bikes are enough in the city, even for families, almost always. For everything else, there’s car sharing.

    Our business partners Dean and Rachel, with 4 children, own 1 car because Zipcar doesn’t have nearby choices that seat 6 with restraints, and even our biggest bikes aren’t quite up to the task of transporting them all together comfortably in any season, anywhere in town or beyond. O, they’ve tried! Their car sits mostly idle. They’ve already signed up to share it as soon as a local sharing service gets rolling.

  • Fiets of Parenthood: how we roll

    After a long, cool, wet Spring, finally the sun came out in all her fierce blazing glory to bless the first inaugural Fiets of Parenthood Pedalpalooza event Saturday, along with everybody else on a bike this weekend in Portland.

    FoP

    sarah gilbert and boyAll during Pedalpalooza, there are multiple bike events going on at almost all hours, light and dark. Conflicts are inevitable. The problems we have, right? The fact that FoP conflicted with the the established family ride portion of Cirque du Cycling disappointed a few. This was an accidental oversight. But if it wasn’t, FoP would differ from other events in its tight focus on Portland’s growing everyday normality of raising children on bicycles, for all the ordinary, non-freakish tasks of getting from A to B as a family, hauling stuff, without a car. As a shop, as parents and citizens, this cuts close to who we are. That’s why we were especially proud to host this event. Lots of people contributed to the realization of Totcycle’s vision, but everybody knows that our customer Sarah Gilbert did more than anybody else — maybe everybody else combined — to make it happen. Thanks Sarah!

    There are several great Flickr sets up documenting the event. I made a gallery of my favorite shots from three of them:

    This, too, from Team CarFreeDays, in which no children or animals were harmed (do note evidence of training at 1:24):

  • Bike camping at Stub Stewart State Park with kids

    Last weekend, the first truly great weather of the year here in Portland, we took a bike ride. Yes, a recreational jaunt, not something we often manage. We rode from our door to MAX light rail, took it to the end of the line west, continued through farmland and forest 22 miles to Stub Stewart State Park, stayed there in comfortable cabins, and back the next day. It was delightful. This is something many Portland families can enjoy, so here’s the story.
    farmland

    My boy and I started preparing only a couple hours before we left. We packed sleeping bags, some extra clothes, tools, food and water in the front basket of our Workcycles Oma. This bike is about 50 pounds of lugged straight-gauge steel, shod with fat tires, built for hauling in comfort instead of speed. We also considered riding a Brompton folding bike with its child seat and awesome touring pannier. These are the two bikes we go about our business around town with more than any other these days. farmland Either way, we wanted to keep things simple, in part to make the point that you don’t need expedition-class, Stokemonkey-equipped cargo bikes like we took on last summer’s adventure just to go camping nearby with your kids.

    I admit that our bike was operating near the limits of its capabilities with heavy, high loads both front and rear. It’s the least stiff of bikes we carry in this class, so irregular surfaces and higher speeds or higher pedaling power would occasionally get it shimmying in a way that required a lot of steering input to hold a line. I’d choose it again, though, because it’s comfortable and fun to watch people’s reactions as I pass on my granny bike with big-ass wicker basket, wooly neo-Mennonite getup, big smile, cheery klang of brass bell, and the boy waving off the back. I might as well be on fire.

    Dean and his two older boys took a tandem with Burley Piccolo attachment:
    train

    I’m a little bit skeptical of how meaningful is the real locomotive assistance provided by most young kids (and sometimes adults!) in arrangements like this. The strongest rider ends up doing far more than their fair share. That little man off the back? Thinks the pedals are foot rests. Dean is strong! My boy had actual footrests, but for all his excited jiggly fidgeting he might as well have been pedaling.

    getting on MAXWe rolled out early in the afternoon to catch MAX downtown. In retrospect, that wasn’t the best place to board, as the train was a bit crowded there in the fareless square and our jumbo bikes wouldn’t fit in the small spaces allocated for bikes on each car. We split up to board at separate doors. We managed with assiduous bike-shifting not to hinder anybody.

    Riding out, I was reminded of the last time I rode this train this way, in 2000, on my way down the coast to then-home San Francisco. I reflected on all that’s changed and stayed the same these nine long years. Same: practical bikes as instruments of bodily, social, civic, economic, and spiritual reclamation, integration. Different: almost everything else.

    Once out in Hillsboro, we relied on the cue sheet. Suburbs faded to farmland soon enough, with its quiet narrow roads and open vistas. And what a day!

    In Banks we stopped to eat and get our bearings. The cue sheet would take us the remainder of the way to our destination via Highway 47, which we preferred to avoid. 5 wheels 5 peopleWe asked at a gas station about the fabled Banks-Vernonia trail parallel to 47, and got directions to the trailhead just a hundred yards away. Attendant said it was rough for a ways but then got better. What it was was abandoned railway, “closed”, overgrown with brambles. But far in the distance it looked like it got better, so over the ties we pushed, maybe half a mile. We wondered whether the attendant was amusing himself at our expense, or had never come this way himself, or deemed any length of the highway unsafe for our passage. I worried about the tires on the thorns. When finally the way improved, there was a short path directly to the highway. Next time we’ll know better. At least the kids got to carry their weight a little ways.

    The trail proper is very nice. Free from the threat of motor traffic, I put in some earbuds and enjoyed the latest David Byrne & Brian Eno [coming to Portland!] collaboration for the 1,234th time approximately, slapping the bars giddily in time as we shuttled along:
    banks vernonia trail

    The last six miles or so were uphill, gentle railroad grade, as we entered forest. Mr. Byrne was crooning something about his neighbor’s car exploding up ahead when on my left Mr. Todd Boulanger appeared astride his Batavus. He had raced ahead of his family to greet us, so we stopped and chatted about our day. Just as we were about to get going again, my front tire began hissing. Fiddling with the valve stem, it seemed to me likely that the tube had failed at this very point, which filled me with dread because while I had brought patches and pump, I neglected foolishly to pack a spare tube. We’d be stuck if the valve had failed. I’d investigate in camp, ideally, before dark. I decided to sprint as long as I had any pressure remaining, not wanting to push too many miles.

    On Dutch bikes like this, the bars are so close that you can’t stand up to get more power. But you can rest your elbows on the hand grips and grasp the bars near the stem to brace your upper body and put your back into turning the pedals. Think Amish triathlete. So we powered our way up as I kept an eye on the bulging sidewalls of the front tire, stopping several times to pump a few more pounds of pressure in, thankful that it would hold air for half a mile at a time at least. Todd B. passed me at one of these top-off stops, offering that he had packed a tube just in case. He also offered to check us in at the camp registration site in case they’d close at five. This set my mind at ease in equal measure as it drove home my stupidity in not being prepared. What if he gave me a tube and then he or a family member had an irreparable tube failure?

    Near the park entrance, the last mile, the way becomes quite steep. I stopped to ask an older fellow on a mountain bike to confirm that the camp was up the hill. Without answering, he flagged down a truck driver of his apparent acquaintance and announced that we needed a lift up the hill. “No, no, we’ll be fine thanks — just wanted to know the way!” “But it’s a LONG way!” he said. “We came from Portland!” I offered half-truthfully. Incomprehension. “Thanks!” I grunted up the hill. Pushed maybe half a mile, half from steepness of grade, half from flatness of tire. A nice cool-down in lovely late afternoon light. We made it.

    The cabins were quite luxurious: electricity, heat, ample insulation against sound and cold, vinyl-clad futons, wood tables and chairs. Not really like camping at all! Separate bathhouse with free hot showers.

    Team Boulanger put us to shame for thematic consistency with sweetly atypical touring bikes (for this continent). Their astonishingly well-socialized older boys, witty and vegetarian, each rode scaled-down versions of my bike. I think Todd B. prepared at least a 5-course dinner on his gas stove with elaborate nesting titanium cookery. I might have seen an apron. There was whiskey late and mimosas in the morning. And French-press coffee. Todd B. even fetched firewood for us after showing us how to operate the cabin keyboxes. (I promptly locked myself out.)
    boulanger camp

    Meanwhile in Camp Schlub, our kids dropped TJ’s wieners into the firepit, incinerated marshmallows, and threatened to put each others eyes out with pointy smoldering sticks. There was much coughing and beating of fly embers. I whittled something that could be useful in case of attack by giant marauding boars, snarling through their cruel sallow tusks, but dangerous in all other cases. Dean brought a Hobo Pie press which, filled with gobs of TJ’s pizza dough, produced excellent panini-esque Hobo goodness. That’s right, Mr. B, grilled panini: think European hot-pocket, only lacking any kind of filling or even salt. Mr. B. sent over some late-harvest estate-bottled Tuscan EVOO to keep them from sticking and turning to charcoal, as well as one of their leftover sauces for dipping.
    hobo pie

    My flat turned out to be the normal kind, a thorn, easily reparable. I was able to relax after fixing that. In the morning, Dean found his rear tire flat, too. Patching that, we chided ourselves for pushing our luck by not packing more contingency supplies.morning light We know better, but it seems running a bike shop has engendered in us an excessively casual approach to these things. Cobbler’s-children-go-barefoot syndrome? That and the iPhone, which can’t yet be used as a wrench, but did spare us from the horrible bother of a paper map. At least Dean packed a first-aid kit!

    The morning light was beautiful. For the first time this year I left off the wool long underwear. The ride home was fast and easy down the long railroad grade. Too fast for Oma, it turns out. The trail is punctuated with many bridges. Many of the bridge transitions are sharp. I hit one at about 10 MPH, and the upward jolt caused my basket to fly open and my camera to tumble down a steep embankment. I had been looking for it for a few anxious minutes when along came none other than Mr. Todd Boulanger, who bounded down the slope and fetched it in no time. My camera now has a photo taken by Todd of the boy and me peering helplessly down at him, expertly composed I might add.

    A few miles on, I swallowed my last shadow of pride and borrowed Todd’s hex keys to adjust the child seat that the jolt had shifted. Thanks man! I owe you.

    .

    THE END

  • A new sobriety

    simplicity
    Via Copenhagenize — too good not to share! Art by Nick Dewar.

    I’ve long loved the ephemeral art of the period between the first and second world wars, particularly Europe’s constructivist and the United States’ Works Progress Administration related work. With a deepening world economic chasm opening, and President-Elect Obama’s likely stimulus scope beginning to resemble FDR’s, there’s a certain bracing smell on the wind, and artists are beginning to respond as they did before. Notice the palette used in this and the New Yorker cover, below? You can even get an Obamafy plug-in to simplimify the process.

    And of course, the bikes! Sensible city and cargo bikes with dynamo lights and fenders. Like we stock, starting around $400. That’s right folks, load up on all your depression survival supplies right here while stocks last so shiny.

    Pet peeve: the light on the bicycle above is angled too high; dazzling the eyes of oncoming riders more than lighting the way. Most lights of this style have a front piece, or cowl, whose top edge is meant to be further forward than the bottom edge. The seam of this piece with the rest of the lamp, in red above, should generally be vertical or angled downward a bit.

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