- The Problem with Sustrans: How a Grassroots Phenomenon Has Turned Into a Private Unaccountable Corporation
- Anti-Car (not anti-driver) and Proud
- On the Level Blog on Temporary Hiatus to Fight 'Smart' Meters
- Bristol to Tokyo Plane Free!
- A New Generation of Cargo Bikes: Hauling with Human Power in the 21st Century
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Category Archives: Transport Planning
By the way, I’m wearing the facemask and keffiyah to protect against all that pollution on Fell St.– any resemblance to an anarchist is purely coincidental.
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.
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.
Almost a year and a half after I posted it, Sustrans has still not publicly or privately responded to my article, The Problem with Sustrans: How a Grassroots Phenomenon Has Turned into a Private, Unaccountable Corporation. The piece generated thousands of hits and dozens of readers from all around the UK have chimed in and confirmed my observations. My friend Chris Hutt- one of the original founders of Sustrans and an incredibly knowledgeable bicycle advocate, sadly died without warning a couple of months ago, and had this to say as part of his Sustrans Sussed post on the Green Bristol Blog last year:
“The current wave of criticism is not merely negative carping. It is a vital part of the dynamic environment within which we all function and will in due course bring about change. How quickly we see the necessary change depends on how far gone Sustrans is. Will they bury their heads in the sand and carry on currying favour with those with the money bags or will they recognise the need to re-engage with their core constituency, Britain’s cyclists?”
Sustrans started as a grassroots DIY organisation- people from the community getting out there with a shovel and pickaxe and restoring a neglected rail line between Bristol and Bath into a linear green haven. This bottom up effort came from visionaries who believed they could change transport. Back then with a tiny budget and a rebellious attitude, Sustrans accomplished some amazing feats of engineering and land preservation for which we should all be grateful.
Now though, there is growing concern about the direction of the UK’s “leading sustainable transport charity.”
The questions people are asking about the organization haven’t gone away, but have only intensified in response to Sustrans’ reluctance to engage, particularly glaring after they refused to even acknowledge questions posed two weeks ago on the Guardian’s You Ask- They Answer series.
Common threads to what people are saying are:
-Sustrans has become self-serving and opaque, often failing to work with and empower local people and local ideas.
-Sustrans spends millions of public money with inadequate public oversight.
-Sustrans has compromised its original vision of a high quality UK cycle network, settling for long detours and steep hills just to add mileage.
Sustrans is hardly unique amongst charities (on either side of the Atlantic). Many have adopted the worst characteristics of corporations- cozying up to the government agencies they are meant to influence, and bickering with each other for increasingly scarce resources. While Sustrans absorbs millions of pounds from concerned people in the UK to (not) campaign for a bicycle network, organizations like NRDC and EDF convince well meaning American environmentalists to support the Kerry-Lieberman climate bill backed by big oil, coal, and gas and the Nature Conservancy takes millions from oil companies currently wiping out sensitive wetlands. As the title of Nick Seddon’s 2007 book asks after looking at the state of charitable organisations in the UK, “Who Cares“?
Here is a sample of comments received on the original article:
“Like you Josh, I applaud a lot of what Sustrans has achieved. But they know nothing about building links with other cycling orgs or engaging with the cycling community. Sadly I think they’ve become very arrogant, remote and self-centred.”
” I know they have a job to do and that their projects are their priority — but honestly, their degree of self-interest is truly staggering. In many years of cycle campaigning I’ve never seen Sustrans try to work with other groups or simply to give something unconditionally.”
“Perhaps the charity commission needs to look into Sustrans (if it has jursidiction)?”
“Tell me it’s not true! Quite a read, even a year on, it has the ring of truth about it…..
Democratic process is by now long passed. When an unelected, charitably constituted organisation can hold a whole village to ransom, what hope is there?
“Sustrans is no different to a whole host of NGOs charities and non profit making organisations who may establish themselves with altruism to meet a particular or perceived need but then find themselves as part of the establishment and find it difficult to separate social responsibility from self preservation.”
-Alan Gillard, architect, Cardiff
“Glad to see this finally come out – they have had far too easy a ride, and boy do they love riding roughshod over people.”
“Sustrans most certainly aren’t a campaigning charity. I found my local sustrans office in Newcastle rather unsupportive when I started a campaign to improve cycling in Newcastle’s city centre (which is in dire need of improving). I have now cancelled my monthly donation with sustrans, written to sustrans’ chief exec to describe my disappointment and become a CTC member! Visit http://www.katlayout.co.uk/ for more on the safe cycling petition.”
If no change is forthcoming from the charities that are meant to be bringing about the change we so desperately need, perhaps the best solution is for all of us to pick up a shovel and start digging. As Virgil said:
“They can do all because they think they can.”
It’s time for all of us to start believing another world is possible. It is.
By sheer coincidence (or perhaps divine intervention) the “Navigating the American Carbon World” Conference — a schmooze-fest of oil executives, bankers, offset dealers, and green(wash) groups flown in to- essentially- carve up and sell the sky, perpetuating our addiction to fossil fuels- is- at this moment sharing the San Francisco Marriott Marquis with (are you ready for this?)—– the annual meeting of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
So, at the protest today organized by the Mobilization for Climate Justice- West , we thought, why not merge the conferences? Get the psychiatrists to treat the carbon trading carbon addicts. The real victims, the ones in denial, who believe we can just ‘offset’ the damage like a papal indulgence to guilty pleasures- and we know where that leads.
Denial– a common symptom of addiction- is widespread. We bury our heads in the sand against the looming climate devastation and energy crash- Can our system’s habit be treated by the latest in addiction therapy before it’s too late? Right now we’ve got the top addiction experts in the world sharing the same hotel as the Shell executives, the Bank of Americas that fund them, and the Terrapasses who pardon the sin– there’s really never been a better opportunity to admit we have a problem and enter recovery.
So we’ve created a public open letter to the American Society for Addiction Medicine, calling upon them to treat our friends the fossil fuel addicts at the carbon trading conference. Sign our letter today! We’ve never needed a shrink like we do today.
So last night at a cocktail party at 111 Minna for conference attendees put on by Brighter Planet, an offset company looking to open up west coast markets, I posed the question to Patty, the Executive Director of Brighter Planet who was on the panel…
“given that the carbon trading and offsetting industry are increasingly in disrepute over a number of scandals and abuses, such as the multi-million euro carbon trade scam uncovered on Tuesday by the Spanish authorities and given that James Hansen, one of the world’s most respected atmospheric scientists is now saying that carbon trading and offsets ‘are designed to perpetuate business-as-usual and squander the precious time needed to prevent the crossing of disastrous ‘tipping points’.’
Given all that, what is Brighter Planet doing to transition away from the sale of offsets?”
They didn’t like that question. I mean they REALLY didn’t like that question. The moderator tried to rip the microphone out of my hands, and got all flustered.
Much hostility from the audience, including the drunk carbon traders on the floor who were rudely yelling over the panel discussion. This guy Trevor from Barclays capital became agitated and walked away when I offered to sell him “Cheatneutral infidelity offsets.” Maybe he has guilt issues around his fossil fuel cheating. Who knows.
Then today during the MCJ Demo on the first day of the conference, people unfurled a large banner in the middle of 4th St., temporarily blocking traffic, gave speeches and street theatre, and disrupted the conference a number of times inside including an announcement on a live mic at the luncheon that “history will spit” on those who delay emissions reductions.
Anyway, no doubt more fun tomorrow at the Offset This! protest outside the Marriott Marquis- 4th and Market- at 8am tomorrow (friday). We’re headed for climate chaos, and we have a message for the bankers, oil executives, greenwash groups, and politicians who profit from delaying the inevitable weaning:
The Sky is NOT FOR SALE.
I’ve finally done it. I’ve left the city. Moved out to a cabin in the woods in rural West Marin County north of San Francisco. I am now subsisting on wild greens and breathing blissfully clean air. For many years I tried desperately to maintain the charade that I am a “city person.” Yet I noticed that I would flee with my bicycle and sleeping bag into the countryside at every opportunity. I am now at age 34 finally accepting the truth. I value a dark starry night over the bright city lights. A quiet dawn over the honking of the car horn. A small social town over a bustling anonymous metropolis. And I suspect I am not alone amongst city dwellers. Cities have the potential to become healthy habitats for human beings- indeed they must if we are to turn the tide on climate change- but we’re not there yet. And I for one am getting sick of waiting around for the transition.
The evolution of cities from a series of noisy, dangerous, and anti-social traffic sewers into green, friendly, and safe public spaces is certainly not being held up by the majority, who continue to clamor for quality urban environments. Who could stand up and say that the tantalizing visions of a garden city depicted in the illustrations and murals of Mona Caron would not be healthier for our children– not to mention a far more pleasant place to live? Yet the people who we allow to remain in power continue to design cities from behind windscreens- the machine retains priority. How did we get to a point where human beings have designed habitats that are hostile to human beings? What kind of psychotic system has allowed these things that go against our very nature?
There is no doubt that human beings are healthier in a natural setting. On an evolutionary- even a molecular basis we are drawn to riparian zones, where we are more likely to find sustenance. Studies show we heal faster in hospital when there is greenery outside the window (1). Kids even concentrate better in the classroom after they’ve been amongst the trees. (2)
The truth is that we are starved- nearly to death- by a profound lack of connection to the rest of life on the planet. The massive popularity of the film Avatar- the highest grossing film of all time- is a wake up call that human beings are desperate for a deeper connection with the natural world- even if that means you have to drive to the multiplex for a 2 (okay, 3) dimensional imitation of the real thing.
In fact, it’s not surprising that people have reported depression after seeing the complex diversity of life and landscapes and then comparing the fantasy life to their own bleak, traffic-dominated worlds.
So, my plan is to capitalize on the success of Avatar- adding a new natural theme and design to my blog, which will appeal to all you poor nature deprived sods out there while generating billions in revenue! Since green is the new black, I’m going full on green in 2010. I’m taking an ecology class at Audubon Canyon, spending a ton of time in the wilderness, and attempting to document what I see and learn here on this blog. Become more acquainted with what is at stake and get inspired to save it. Or appreciate it all before it vanishes. Depending on my mood.
Why is a blog ostensibly focused on transportation policy suddenly going feral? Talking mushrooms over mass transit, herons over highways, bobcats over buses? Why? Because we need to acquaint with and love all that is at stake on our beautiful planet if we are to get inspired to change business as usual. And despite grim news stories and climate warnings, there is still much to love. If we don’t want to see the disappearance of the Monarch butterfly, the redwood tree, and the California newt, and even worse get blamed for their disappearance, we need to harness the passion of John Muir. We need to leave fossil fuels in the ground. And believe me that’s not going to happen. Unless we kill capitalism. Unless we throw the sons of bitches out. Unless we stop being selfish and learn to stay in one place. Unless we realize that saving individual parcels of land from development while the skies are set ablaze ain’t gonna save paradise.
You know that feeling of butterflies in your stomach- when you realize that the Earth is far more diverse, interconnected- even wiser than you ever thought possible? Maybe you don’t know what I’m saying. (If not you should get out there and spend a night in the forest…believe me the suburbs are far scarier.) Anyway I had a moment like this the other day when we came across a pond with newts embracing each other in amplexus. The romantic amphibian dance that has kept the whole thing going. Did you know that we don’t know how long newts live- the oldest ones in captivity are over 30 years old! They’re definitely wiser than you or I!! So, even though it’s not really that type of blog, I’m posting some porn for your viewing pleasure. I hope it will give you butterflies as it did me.
1) Ulrich, R.S. 1984. View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224: 420-421.
(2) Wells, Nancy M. (2000). At Home with Nature, Effects of “Greenness” on Children’s Cognitive Functioning, Environment and Behavior, 32(6), 775-795
(3) Stamets, Paul. Mycelium Running