Portents

  • 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.

  • Hope

    spring in portland

  • 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.

  • Lo, a sign

    newyorker

    Hat tip: BikePortland.org

  • 4 November 2008

    There are fireworks, shouts of joy, and strangers embracing in the streets of Portland tonight.
    first family in portland

  • Vote

    Do it. If there are lines, stay in them. Assume nothing. Own this.

  • Elsewhere

    In anticipation of some free money being sent to most Americans to try to shake the US economy back into fizziness, we were joking in the shop with lines like “Save the economy: buy a Chinese plasma TV” or “Rescue America: buy a Dutch bicycle!” We think the last one, while ironic, at least wouldn’t represent blowing a bigger bubble as, for instance, the “patriotic” gas-guzzler buying spree that followed 9/11, back before oil had hit $100 a barrel and sprawled-out housing valuations tanked harder than urban. Well, then we saw an incoming link from peak-oil writer and subsistence farmer Sharon Astyk, to whom we have linked once before. Item #17 in Sharon’s Economic Self-Stimulus: Ideas for One Last Financial Orgasm amounts to “get a Dutch bike.” So get busy, consumatrons!

    In the comments to Sharon’s post are a couple suggestions to get an Xtracycle instead. Same difference: we love them too. I’ve said before that dollar for dollar, pound for pound, inch for inch there’s no better way to carry lots of stuff or people on a bike than with a longtail like an Xtracycle. The word continues to spread. In Portugal, at a clever new bike business called Cenas a Pedal co-founder Ana Pereira has written the most comprehensive overview of longtails I’ve seen, tying it back in the end to Dutch tweelingfietsen. I don’t read Portuguese, but Google offers an intelligible translation. Good luck, Ana!

  • Elsewhere

    This post is completely derivative and maybe a bit stale if your reading list looks like ours, but lately there’ve been too many good things written elsewhere not to call them out:

    • Biking rate in Portland continues to soar — We’re so happy and proud to live here in the midst of this. We’re especially happy to have just opened a bike shop at the foot of the Hawthorne bridge which is seeing a remarkable 18% of all vehicles — nearly 15,000 daily — being bicycles. At this rate Portland will look like Amsterdam before the twenty-teens. Especially if Commissioner Sam can walk the talk after he’s elected Mayor. If there’s a downside, it’s that we’re losing touch with the conditions faced by most of utility biking America. So sell your cars and move to bicycle la-la island already; the rain is warm.
    • Get your jet pack — I like the sociological content of this commentary on biking in London as much as the celebration of folding bikes in particular. “I have never in my life owned anything so remotely cool.”
    • More sociology: Ride a bike? You must be rich. Indeed. There are of course many kinds of riches. This and the preceding item courtesy of Andrea at Velorution, a prominent model for Clever Cycles.
    • The greatest traffic-calming device of all time: women on bikes. Confident, slow, bareheaded women on city bikes with baskets and so on. Sexist? Lecherous in a platonic way, sure, but why sexist? Don’t miss the related links: The Spokes-Models and the latest addition to my bike-porn feedlist, Copenhagen Girls on Bikes.
    • “Free” parking — nicely sums up my feelings on the subject. Clever Cycles, with the help of the City of Portland, is working on displacing a bit of car parking with covered, on-street bicycle parking near our shop. The difference, of course, is that you can park a dozen bikes in the space required for just one car. Can you imagine your town with a 12-fold reduction in available parking space? Hold that thought.
  • Can Cascadia join the wheel world?

    Good awticle:

    Via the BTA.

  • A fresh assault on car culture

    That anarcho-pink rag The Wall Street Journal is using that phrase not in alarm, but as a challenge to join in, on bikes. This story is getting lots of play in the feeds I follow, but I can’t not link to it. Here’s my fair-use excerpt to leave something useful after the link expires in ten days:

    Bike-friendly cities in Europe are launching a new attack on car culture. Can the U.S. catch up?
    By NANCY KEATES

    May 4, 2007; Page W1

    COPENHAGEN – No one wears bike helmets here. … People bike while pregnant, carrying two cups of coffee, smoking, eating bananas. At the airport, there are parking spaces for bikes. … In Amsterdam, 40% of commuters get to work by bike. In Copenhagen, more than a third of workers pedal to their offices. … A major thrust is a host of aggressive new measures designed to shift bike commuting into higher gear, including increased prison time for bike thieves and the construction of new parking facilities that can hold up to 10,000 bikes. … Worried that immigrants might push car use up, both cities have started training programs to teach non-natives how to ride bikes and are stepping up bike training of children in schools. … The programs for non-natives target those who view biking as a lower form of transportation than cars. … Officials from some American cities have made pilgrimages to Amsterdam. But in the U.S., bike commuters face more challenges, including strong opposition from some small businesses, car owners and parking-garage owners to any proposals to remove parking, shrink driving lanes or reduce speed limits. Some argue that limiting car usage would hurt business. “We haven’t made the tough decisions yet,” says Sam Adams, city commissioner of Portland, Ore., who visited Amsterdam in 2005.

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