Category Archives: Nature

A New Generation of Cargo Bikes: Hauling with Human Power in the 21st Century

Halloween ride from Menlo Park to Santa Cruz on my new Frances tourer, with Pass and Stow and Bruce Gordon racks- sure beats Highway 17!

The new Make Magazine is out on the streets, and with it, my article on cargo bicycles, entitled Cargo Bike Power: Car-Free Carrying Makes a Comeback.  In the course of my research, I interviewed innovators and relatively new entrants into the industry, like Josh Muir and Saul Griffith as well as legends of cargo bike applications and design like Erik Zo and Stephen Bilenky.

I was so impressed with Josh Muir’s Frances Cycles (I mean it’s hard not to pant and drool over the beautiful bikes on his website) that I ordered my own custom, all around touring bike, which arrived a couple of months ago.  I’ve done a couple of long rides on it, including from Santa Cruz to San Luis Obispo along the Big Sur Coast (below) and a Halloween ride from Menlo Park to Santa Cruz via the Ridge Trail (above).  It’s so nice to have a large front rack- perfect size for a medium pizza or 12 pack of beer!

I just love a bike that you can take on and off road, that is light enough for a pleasurable roadie rec ride, but is substantial enough that you don’t have to worry about breaking it if you hit a pothole.   If you’re going to own one bike, I’ve found that a touring bike is the most practical.  Of course, you’re not going to want to leave this on the street unattended for any length of time, so a beater bike is also essential if you are living car-free.

It was exciting to learn more about, and share the innovations going on in the bicycle industry.  It is likely that as the economy continues to slow, we will see more bicycle manufacturing return to the US, where labor isn’t as expensive as it once was.  The most exciting, high quality framebuilding is happening in small batches in backyards throughout the country.   From Josh Muir, the framebuilding artisan who takes a stylistic page out of the early years of bicycle building, to Saul Griffith, whose Onya Cycles attempts to replicate the abilities of a car, with CAD design and electrical assist, there is a noticeable level of new energy in designing personal mobility that does not rely on internal combustion.

Need a new bike?   Consider a cargo carrying variety!  Or simply modify your existing steed and bring out the inner hauling beast!  Need to move that mattress across town?  You haul not U-Haul!

Even heavy, bulky and awkward loads can be carried by bike! (2004, Haight St. SF)

PG&E Hiding From Smart Meter Protests

Mercury Found in SF Water Supply

Crystal Springs Reservoir: Pristine Looking, But Contaminated with the Toxins from our Excess Consumption

I read this article in the Chronicle about a month ago, and its been festering in the back of my mind since then.  I didn’t want to let it pass without mentioning it on my blog.   Essentially- if you haven’t heard- scientists recently sampled fish living in Crystal Springs Reservoir, the source of drinking water for much of the San Francisco Bay Area, and they found some of the highest levels of mercury- a powerful neurotoxin- in any body of water anywhere in the state.

They suspect that the mercury is being carried from Chinese coal fired power stations by clouds across the Pacific, where it is deposited across California in the form of rain, leaving a toxic residue across the land, where it builds up in bodies of water, including reservoirs, and bodies of fish and other animals (like us).

It’s pretty clear that our attempt to distance ourselves from dirty manufacturing by offshoring factories in places where poor brown people live has been a tragic, shortsighted failure.    We live on a small planet, and we cannot run from the effects of our excess consumption.

What I’m having a hard time understanding is this:  when a multinational corporation wants to set up shop in 100 different countries, getting a permit to operate, citing its factories where labor is cheap and selling its products where the money is, there is no problem.   But when it comes to enforcing international environmental issues like toxic mercury pollution or climate change, we are told we are powerless.

According to Tim Ramirez of the State’s water board, “if it’s airborne pollution from a global source, that’s going to be hard for us to do something about.”

I beg to differ.  We can begin to charge corporations the real price of manufacturing their products in a filthy, irresponsible way.  We can force them to pay for the externalities that they impose on the rest of us with impunity.

And individually, we can stop buying cheap plastic crap that we don’t really need.

Stop PG&E’s Wireless Assault

I’ve settled down with my honey in the Santa Cruz Mountains now, and helped to start the Scotts Valley Neighbors Against Smart Meters (SVNASM).    We are a resident-led local organization fighting PG&E’s plans to force inaccurate, potentially health damaging meters onto the nice people of California. If you haven’t woken up to the health impacts of cell phones, wifi, and now smart meters, now is a good time to start asking questions.  I was truly appalled after reading the health studies over the past couple months.

On July 21st 2010, we successfully lobbied the Scotts Valley City Council to sign on to official petitions to the CPUC demanding a moratorium on the installation of smart meters.  Listening to reason and evidence, the City of Capitola joined us the following evening.

Around the state of CA, there is a growing rebellion against these plans that- for a $2.2 billion project- don’t seem to have been all that thought through.  We’ve been speaking out, highlighting the connection between SF’s recent cell phone radiation right to know law and the new wireless (not so) smart meters.  Some awkward truths coming out for sure.

Read about PG&E’s illegal activities in Scotts Valley and take action.   Come to the protest Aug. 12th 1pm at the CPUC in SF at Van Ness and McAllister.

Talking Surface Travel with KPFA

I was on KPFA’s Terra Verde show hosted by Adam Greenfield last Friday. talking about surface travel, the Arco/BP protests, and what regular people can do in the face of environmental collapse.  Listen here:

http://kpfa.org/archive/id/62134

If anyone finds out what the past tense of ‘dive’ is, please let me know ;)

Cats

Donald Appleyard always used to say that the measure of a livable street was if a cat could lie out in the middle of the road.   Chances are it was a good habitat for humans as well.    When Andrew Lloyd Webber adapted Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats into Cats the following didn’t make the cut:

“Old Deuteronomy sits in the street,

He sits in the High Street on market day…

The cars and the lorries run over the kerb,

And the villagers put up a notice: ROAD CLOSED-

So that nothing untoward may chance to disturb

Deuteronomy’s rest when he feels so disposed

Or when he’s engaged in domestic economy…”

The people in my study who lived on 20,000 car/ day Muller Rd. in Bristol didn’t let their cats lie out in the road.   In fact, virtually all of them had given up owning pets entirely.   The heartbreak of losing them was just too much for them to bear….

Plug the Holes or We Won’t Go

[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zIxlsDZOmM]

We will return to the Arco station every week to peacefully block the Fell St. entrances until BP plugs the holes in the Gulf and until the City plugs the dangerous driveways on Fell and makes it safe for people to live less oil dependent lives.

Fridays 5:30pm-8:30pm Fell and Divisadero San Francisco

Special thanks to Janel Sterbentz for producing this video- if the BABC won’t put her talents to use then we certainly will!

Full text of speech available here.

Fell St. ARCO Closed For Total Rethink

What an incredible, inspiring protest yesterday in San Francisco.   Truly in awe at the raw energy from the neighborhood residents who have clearly had enough of this dangerous and awful situation that the city has failed to correct- where cars lined up for cheap (BP) gas obstruct the only level east west bike lane in the city, forcing cyclists directly into speeding traffic.   It would be hilariously ironic if it weren’t so tragically awful.  We got a ton of media responding to our press release, including all the local TV stations, SF Weekly, the Guardian, Streetsblog, Indymedia, SF Gate, KPFA (starting at 13:50), Pirate Radio, and others.   Video will be up here shortly in the next couple of days.

People are discussing coming back and shutting the entrances every week until the holes are plugged- both the one in the Gulf, and the entrances on Fell St. that drive the fear of cycling and demand for oil.  Updates will be posted here.

Here is a copy of my speech yesterday, with the help of El Arbol, Fossil Fool‘s amazing pedal powered mobile sound system:

Thank you to everyone who showed up today, and to those who spread the word and made this happen.  This was truly a grassroots effort, not organized by any official non-profit organization, just a few of us from the neighborhood concerned about the way things are going.

We have succeeded in (at least temporarily) shutting down a toxic business that threatens the neighborhood, threatens the Gulf, and ultimately threatens the world.   The presence of this Arco station endangers cyclists on Fell St. and finances a criminally negligent corporation.

Before we go any further, let’s have a moment of silence to remember the victims of this terrible catastrophe.  The eleven men who were killed on the Deepwater Horizon and their families.  The millions of Gulf residents- both human and wild who are suffering as we speak.

As we remember these victims, let’s not forget the other victims of car culture- those motorists who do not have viable alternatives to driving alone, and whose health is suffering as a result.  People on bikes, on foot, and in cars who have been seriously injured or killed by cars- over 1.2 million of us throughout the world every year.

Let’s not forget all those elderly people living out the last of their days in isolation because their streets- streets like Oak and Fell have become nothing more than traffic sewers.

We must remember all those children growing up deprived of any connection to the natural world, surrounded by speeding steel and asphalt, getting to know the world only from the backseat of a car.

Now I am not pointing the finger or blaming those who drive cars- for many years I was one of them, and occasionally still am.   Drivers are as much victims of this inhumane system as the rest of us.

Somehow, we need to rethink our cities as safe and pleasant habitats for human beings.   The fact that they are NOT is an indication that something has gone deeply awry with our culture.

These days, cars are supposedly such a part of our lives that we are not allowed to question their dominance.   But when California’s cars are the number one source of carbon emissions.  When our cars are the number one killer of our children.   When our thirst for oil drives the kind of disaster we are seeing in the Gulf, I think we need to begin to ask questions.  These realities point to the fact that we are dangerously, hopelessly addicted to our motor vehicles.

We now know that over ONE MILLION gallons of toxic crude are leaking into the Gulf of Mexico every day.  An Exxon Valdez of oil every 8-10 days.

The most advanced technology humans have is INCAPABLE of stopping what our technology has unleashed.

Just as if we continue to emit more than 5 BILLION tons of greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere every year we will be incapable of closing the Pandora’s box we have opened.

The oil companies and the government have reassured us they have the situation under control.  They say “TRUST US” we know what we’re doing.  Well you know what?   We DON’T trust you anymore.

If the United States government, controlled by multinational energy giants- continues to undermine climate justice on an international level and endanger the future of life on this planet for selfish, short term profits, there will be social unrest like we have never before seen in this country.   It may be next week.   It may be in 20 years.  But I cannot accept that the people in this country will accept the sacrifice of this planet without a fight.

From individual citizens reporting what is happening in the Gulf, we know that BP IS STILL IN CHARGE, despite what Obama says.  BP defies the EPA,  pumping tons of chemical dispersant into the sea, not to reduce the environmental damage but to hide the extent of the spill from the public- to keep the damage UNDERWATER away from the lens of the media.

According to the New York Times, BP is ordering the US Coast Guard and local police forces to keep the media away from areas filled with dead and dying wildlife, bagging the bodies and stashing them out of view the same way we do with the bodies of civilian casualties in Iraq.

Today in San Francisco, we say NO.  WE WILL NO LONGER BE SILENT IN THE FACE OF THESE BRAZEN ATTACKS ON OUR HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT.

Today, we bear witness to the connection between unsafe cycling conditions and our own fatal dependence on fossil fuels for transportation.

Future generations will learn about how our society treated people who opted out of car culture- how we continue to design streets that cause deaths and injuries of vulnerable road users- just to maximize traffic flow.   Streets that scare people into lives of inactivity and oil dependence, and they will recoil in horror.

In response to the mentally ill man who mowed down four innocent people on bicycle the other day, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition tells us that “OUR STREETS ARE SAFE.”  Well you know what? THEY ARE NOT SAFE.   And they are very rarely pleasant.   Riding a bike in the city could be paradise.   But right now, for most of us it is a scary experience.

Instead of giving us tired old platitudes, they could have used this horrific incident to condemn the countless acts of intimidation of people on bicycles throughout the city every day, people who use cars as deadly weapons to threaten vulnerable road users, revving their engines like a predatory animal.   Incidents that the San Francisco Police Department responds to only with a nod and a wink.

Our fossil fuel dependent society is neither advanced nor civilized.   All the luxuries and unrestrained mobility that we take for granted are an historical anomaly made possible by a finite supply of cheap oil.

We are literally being kept alive by large multinational corporations like BP and Safeway.   When the cheap oil runs out as it inevitably will, our civilization will collapse as surely as those human civilizations of the past have done.

BUT TODAY WE STAND UP TOGETHER AND REJECT THAT FATE.   We know that another world is possible.  A future of humans living in a reciprocal relationship with nature, not an exploitative one where we take and take and take.

A future where health and the environment are prioritized over profit.  A future with networks of safe green routes for walking and cycling, lined with trees and plants, connecting the whole city, the whole bay area.  Where clean, quiet, and frequent public transit connects cities.

Where we have leisure time to spend with our families and friends and we are no longer forced to waste our lives under fluorescent lights at jobs we hate just to keep ourselves and our families alive and feed our cars.

A sane world where we can feed OURSELVES without resorting to factory farms, tortured animals, poisoned fields, and genetically modified crops.

A world where we are reconnected to our fellow human beings and to the natural world.

Money is NOT REAL.  It is a construct- ultimately only paper and metal.  What IS real are plants, human beings, and other animals.

The love between a mother and her child.   That is real.  We must build a new world based on that, or we will end up destroying this beautiful planet and the living beings who inhabit it.

If any good can come out of this catastrophic situation in the Gulf, it can be an OPPORTUNITY for people to come together and start building a better world, the way we have built up this little green park here today.

Power is not taken- it is given.  And if the powers that be will not face up to their historic responsibility to quickly wean us off fossil fuels, we will have to STOP GIVING THEM OUR POWER.

We solved this longstanding neighborhood problem here ourselves.  We didn’t ask the government to do it for us.   We didn’t give money to a non-profit to lobby for us.   WE JUST WENT OUT AND DID IT OURSELVES.

It really IS that easy.

“Duckling Delay” on Caltrain

With all the terrible news coming out of the Gulf and the distressing dysfunctionality with which humans are relating to other species on the planet, here is a nice respite.

I was on Caltrain yesterday travelling with my bicycle from San Francisco to San Jose and overheard a conductor telling this story.

A few days ago, the train was stopped at Hayward Park in San Mateo, and the engineer gets out of his compartment- extremely rare for them to do- walks down the stairs, and tells the conductor that he needs his help- something unusual had arisen.

They open the doors, walk out in front of the train and there are a handful of ducklings stuck between the rails.   They can’t get over the other rail by themselves and the mother duck is quacking with great alarm as this huge diesel train is stopped right above them.

The engineer, refusing to proceed over the ducklings, lifts the beleaguered ducklings across the other rail with the help of the conductor and the ducklings waddle away to freedom following the grateful mother duck.

They radio to central rail control in San Jose and report that they have experienced a ten minute “duckling delay.”

TOP KILL: SHUT DOWN BP/ ARCO IN SF THIS FRIDAY

Is your car REALLY worth this?

This is a protest I’m helping to organize with some friends.  If you are in the Bay Area, come join us this Friday.  And SPREAD THE WORD.  Link to Facebook page here.

TOP KILL: PARTY TO SHUT DOWN BP/ ARCO IN SF

DON’T BOYCOTT BP- BOYCOTT ALL OIL

Friday, June 11th 5:30pm Arco station Fell and Divisadero

Are you as frustrated as we are about the ecological crisis in the Gulf?  Watching powerless as oil coats countless birds and marine mammals- who did nothing to deserve the pain and suffering that is being inflicted on them by big oil.    When it comes down to it, the corporations responsible for this mess care as much about wildlife as they do about you and I.

Even with the best minds and technology on the planet, humans are powerless to cap what has been unleashed.  And we will be similarly helpless in the face of a planet warming dangerously out of control.

All anyone can do in response to such a horrific situation is to plant the seeds that might lead to a better future.  This is a call out for people to plant those seeds in San Francisco on June 11th.

In San Francisco, the cheap oil at the Arco station (owned by BP) has been luring drivers for years, creating long queues of cars that obstruct the Fell St. bicycle lane, the only level cross town bicycle route, endangering people who have chosen a more benign method of transportation.  On Friday, we will turn a hostile place into a safe green pocket park.  But we need your help!

Bring along a potted plant, old tires, a tree, a bench- anything to create a green and safe space where now cyclists fight for their survival every day.

The corporation cares as much for the suffering of the birds of Louisiana as it does about the cyclist who faces injury or death having to swerve around cars lined up for cheap gas in the bike lane.  On Friday we will stand with the pelicans, turtles, and dolphins being hurt by the spill, realizing that if we fail to stop our fossil fuelled nightmare, that we will not be far behind them.

The corporations are the criminals, but we are the addicts that perpetuate the damage. It’s time to shut down BP here in San Francisco and send a message to the government, the corporations and well-meaning people who don’t even realize they are addicted to oil.

Enough is enough.

DON’T BOYCOTT BP.  BOYCOTT ALL OIL COMPANIES!

NO MORE SPILLS. NO MORE CLIMATE DAMAGE.

ALL YOU ABLE BODIED PEOPLE RIDE A FREAKIN BIKE ALREADY.