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Green Tuesday: the grass is greener

This week’s Green Tuesday post is really a simple reflection on urban design…

When I first started cycling for recreation, I felt my urban utopia would be a place with miles of smooth-as-glass roadway for my cycling pleasure – the ultimate and never-ending century ride if you will. In Phoenix, I certainly have miles of roadway, but it is cracked, overcrowded, and leads to nowhere except the next Starbuck’s. Having a comfortable surface to ride a bike on is nice, but too often I feel I get spoiled when I have smooth and safe roadways – that is certainly not the overall reality of American urban infrastructure.

The cycling community is faced with a paradox – we want safe thoroughfares, but so long as we have to share them with cars, safety will be minimal. However, the cycling community does not exert enough influence (read: $$$) to have cycling/pedestrian-specific infrastructure built into our cities. It seems any time you hear a city touting some new cycling infrastructure, it is a few miles of narrow pathway through a park or affluent area of town – nothing that is ultimately useful for utilitarian purposes. Sure it stands to offer moments of happiness and recreation to the American family, but that happiness is gone as soon as one gets back into their automobile and sits through hellish traffic.

American cities are not designed to support infrastructure apart from automobiles. We spread our cities out farther and farther because our stores and homes need more and more room. Phoenix is currently considering a proposal to develop state park lands in order to build ANOTHER freeway to help alleviate traffic problems. That makes me sick.

We keep trying to put layer after layer of band-aids/duct tape over our gaping wounds of urban infrastructure, when we could solve the problem by enduring a brief moment of pain and ripping all the old junk off and stitching the wound! We need to revive our urban environments that already exist and push for more centralized and sustainable communities. And that is why I love Richard Register and the Ecocity Builders.

We are a non-profit organization dedicated to reshaping cities, towns and villages for long term health of human and natural systems. Our goals include returning healthy biodiversity to the heart of our cities, agriculture to gardens and the streets, and convenience and pleasure to walking, bicycling and transit. We visualize a future in which waterways in neighborhood environments and prosperous downtown centers are opened for curious children, fish, frogs and dragonflies. We work to build thriving neighborhood centers while reversing sprawl development, to build whole cities based on human needs and “access by proximity? rather than cities built in the current pattern of automobile driven excess, wasteful consumption and the destruction of the biosphere. [text and photos from ecocitybuilders.org]

And there are other people that think the time is right to rip off the band-aid. From Alex Steffen’s essay “My other car is a bright green city:”

Generally, we think of cars as things which are quickly replaced in our society, and buildings as things which rarely change. But that will not be the case over the next few decades. Because of population growth, the on-going development churn in cities (buildings remodeled or replaced, etc.), infrastructure projects and changing tastes, we’ll be rebuilding half our built environment between now and 2030. Done right, that new construction could enable a complete overhaul of the American city.

While I don’t know the exact method of accomplishing a task like this, I trust that the more people are aware of the possibilities, the better off we are.

Besides, now that I think about it, I would much rather ride my bike to work on a decently maintained dirt (or even grass) pathway through a naturally landscaped pathway, enjoying all the fruits of nature, instead of sharing 3 lanes of traffic with speeding SUVs whose drivers are sipping a grande double mocha frappacino latte while talking on their cell phone and looking for a Target.

Safe riding to everyone – it can be a nasty place out there. But does it have to be?…

[Author’s note: one of my favorite blogs covered the very same essay this morning and has a very interesting list of thoughts/reactions – check it out on the No Impact Man blog]

Dang, I hate it when that happens

I hate it when I use my nether-regions to adjust my bicycle seat…just plain dislike the very essence of my saddle shifting out of it’s highly physically-resistant placement by nothing else except my bike-short-chamois and 180 pounds of Jeff.

I did it twice today.

So in what, to me at least, is a very natural progression of logical thought, I wondered to myself:

Have clipless pedals ever acted as a theft deterrent? Has someone ever tried to steal a bike and been so rushed to pedal away – whether because the bike owner was chasing the thief, or the thief was just plain scared – and had their feet slip off the clipless pedals, resulting in the agonizing pain of groin meets top-tube?

I am sure someone out there has a story, or knows someone who has a story…

Your mom must be so proud

We all fall victim to ranting in the passion of a moment, and this is just that. Call it a flaw of the internet for providing instant information and access to an audience.

I caved in and drove to work today – the first weak moment of the day (writing this being #2). I am not one to make excuses, but here are my excuses: I rode an extra 10 miles yesterday after work to get to a starbuck’s “jam session” with a friend, then continued on to church, then back home (at 8:30 pm). I had a long day yesterday, and it was cold this morning (for Phoenix at least). Moving forward…

As I am driving home this afternoon, I am cruising along in the middle of 3 lanes, approaching a stop light. A beat-up GMC Jimmy (missing one side-view mirror) speeds past me on the right, and the guy was obviously not paying attention to what was happening in front of him – 6 or so cars were stopped as the car at the intersection was waiting to make a right turn. The Jimmy on my right notices that the cars in front of him are not moving, slams on the brakes and cuts in front of me at the same time. All of this happens within inches of my precious hood. The guy proceeds to swerve around a bit as he settles into this lane, then resumes driving like a moron. Thankfully, no physical contact was made, aside from my hand on my horn.

As we approach the next light, I am still in the middle lane, and this guy has moved over to the far left lane. Cars come to a halt, and I notice that I will be pulling up right alongside the guy. I can see him edging forward as much as possible to prevent us from being right next to each other. No such luck for this fine gentleman. His windows are down, and a similarly aged female is in the passenger seat, seemingly oblivious to all that has taken place. This was my first real look at what this guy looked like. Late 20s-ish, smaller guy – I could take him if I needed to (although I like to think of myself as non-violent).

As I come to a stop, I simply stare to my left, and the guy is glancing out of the corner of his eyes, then sort of turns his head a bit more to me – all the while one hand is providing him some sort of false sense of security. Then it happens…

He flips me off.

He, flips ME, off.

I was caught so off guard by this gesture that I started laughing. The light turned green and the guy quickly accelerated out of view.

He flipped me off.

The guy has the nerve to cut me off because he doesn’t pay attention to the 3000 pound hunk of crappy American steal he controls, and then give me the universal sign of “go F- yourself.” I was stunned. I still am.

the classic

Thanks Moe for reminding me about the “classic” image.

I am disappointed, because this brief interaction with a stranger has left me wondering where all the civility has gone? The fingers can be pointed in many directions, but I won’t do that just yet. I hope that occurrences like these are rare – but I cannot say that for sure. I have yet to have a similar interaction while riding my bike, so maybe this is just one more reason to stay out of the car.

Green Tuesday: When Less is More

Last week I started what will hopefully be a regular occurrence: the Green Tuesday post. It is good to know that there is a wealth of information out in the web-o-sphere and it would take a long time to sift through it all. In the meantime, I will continue to come across some really neat stuff.

A lot of the fuss being made over “green living” these days involves one paradoxical element: consumption. Green cars, green fashion, green home products – a lot of the “green” trend is simply advertising and marketing that is trying to sell you the trendiest product, or the trendiest way to carry your product (designer shopping bags, anyone?…come on!).

While many efforts have been made in the means of ecologically sustainable or less-ecologically destructive production methods, almost anything you buy at the store (and yes, that includes your LBS) had to be produced somewhere and somehow.

video homework
If you have the time on your hands, I highly recommend watching a short film (20 minutes) that has recently been making it’s way around the internet – the film is called the Story of Stuff and it examines modern production methods, from raw materials to production to distribution to consumption to disposal. The production and presentation of this film are really neat – with elaborate illustrations and a friendly presentation style. It is a very eye-opening and intriguing examination of western material production and consumption. If you don’t happen to have 20 free minutes, first of all, thanks for spending your precious time on this site, and secondly, here are some key stats from the film:

  • In the past 3 decades, one-third of the planet’s natural resources have been consumed
  • Forty percent of waterways in the US have become undrinkable
  • The US has 5% of the world’s population but consumes 30% of the world’s resources and creates 30% of the world’s waste
  • The average America now consumes twice as much as they did 50 years ago
  • National happiness in America peaked around the 1950s

I do not intend to be an alarmist, or scare everyone into thinking the world will end soon. But I strongly feel that our habits of consumption are in great need of change.

when less is more
I will admit that I love bikes, and I just don’t feel that I can get enough of them. Thankfully, bikes and their toys are not as sizable or production-intensive as other transport vehicles (read: Hummer H2), but they still require raw materials and energy to be produced.

One topic that came up in response to last week’s post was the local bike co-op. Bike co-ops are member-owned, not-for-profit organizations that have one sole purpose: get as many people on safe bikes as possible. The means through which they do this vary, but most will include educational opportunities about bike maintenance, as well as free use of tools to work on your own bikes. Most will take donations of used parts, and sell these to cover operating costs. All in all, a bike co-op is a place where people come together to learn from and teach each other about bikes, maintaining them, and safely riding them (depending on how many hipster kids go there to find old road frames for a fixie conversion).

I have yet to find a web resource that highlights bike co-ops in various places, but chances are (if you live in a sizable city), there is one nearby. Ask around at your LBS – maybe they know.

The point is: there are tons of used bike parts floating around in our cities, and you can find lots of useful pieces in a local co-op, which is simply a method of “recycling.” I encourage you to explore your local co-op and be more aware of our consumer habits as cyclists. Just because we may not drive a car, doesn’t mean that our actions do not have an impact.

extra credit
If you find yourself intrigued, and want to learn more, there is a plethora of resources on the web to guide you in your quest to live a more environmentally friendly/sustainable life. While a list that provides the best sites to visit would stretch way too long, I will leave you with my 3 favorite websites:

  • CoolPeopleCare.org – CoolPeopleCare exists to show you how to change the world in whatever time you have. One minute? Five minutes? An entire day? Whatever you have, they’ll help you spend it wisely. In my mind, it is the epitome of community service.
  • No Impact Man – Last year, Colin Beaven aka No Impact Man, committed he and his family (wife and 4-year-old daughter) to live a “no impact” life while living in Manhattan. This meant no electricity, no buying new products, and many other things. The tales from the year are incredible, and crazy. That year is over, and Colin and his family are now exploring how to remodel their lives. Today’s post was brilliant and quite inspirational.
  • The Good Human – The Good Human was born out of one man’s idea for a website that can encourage people to be better humans…whether through working to clean up the environment, being active in political issues that mean a lot to you or just being more aware of your life and surroundings. From a post today:

When you carry out your trash at home on the next collection day, you’ll be sending more trash to landfills than the entire Subaru manufacturing plant in Lafayette, Indiana.

Again, bikecommuters.com in no way is trying to tell you how to live your life. We merely report on the things we like or find important.

It’s easy to get sucked into the “green is better” frenzy, but being more eco-friendly is definitely a good idea. Hemp is a great renewable resource that creates strong, durable products, like hemp clothing and jewelry. You don’t have to be a member of the “drug test crowd” to benefit from hemp, either – hemp is an amazing family- and earth-friendly resource.

Green Tuesday: On Being an Environmentalist

In the 6 months that I have been bike commuting, I have driven about 1800 miles less than I would have otherwise, and spewed about 38,000 fewer pounds of CO2 into the earth’s atmosphere.

Whether we know it or not, we – the bike commuters – possess the mental and psychological seed of being environmentalists. Whether we mean to or not, we are taking a stand against the pollutive presence of automobiles. Whether we act on it or not, our utopia is a pleasant and safe place to enjoy the glory of two-wheeled, pedal-powered exhilaration.

And if so much can come from unconscious or non-deliberate action, imagine what our bike commute can be like when we mix action AND thought.

Enter: environmentalism.

The sometimes trustworthy source, Wikipedia, defines “environmentalism” as:

Environmentalism (sometimes ‘ecologism’) is a broad philosophy and social movement centered on a concern for the conservation and improvement of the natural environment, both for its own sake as well as its importance to civilization.

While it is wise to be wary of Wikipedia definitions (especially for your Master’s thesis), this one contains a beautiful sentiment that may be overlooked by those who are not so green-inclined: it aims to conserve AND improve the environment for its own sake AND for the sake of civilization. So you see, in my opinion, those who take on the moniker of “environmentalist” truly aim to better the world for all who inhabit it and rely on it for life. Not such a bad thing, don’t you think?

And we, as bike commuters, fit into this realm in our attempts to:

  • secure safe places to ride with supportive infrastructure
  • spread the joy of bicycling bliss
  • decrease the number of cars on our roads and subsequently reduce their toxic emissions
  • increase the quality of life by ridding our lives of vein-bursting traffic jams…

And that list could go on. But I want you to take note of something: not once have I mentioned “global warming” or “climate change.” My argument does not rely on a scientifically proven change in global climate – it relies solely on quality of life. Whether or not the earth is heating, cooling, convulsing, or just plain chillin’ – I would argue that the efforts of environmentalism truly offer benefits beyond the status quo of consumption. If nothing else, the aim is as much positive impact on the earth as possible, and the least amount of negative impact possible.

Now, please entertain me as I attempt an application of rhetoric:

Roughly based on the logic of Pascal’s Wager, we are faced with a situation: life on earth. During this life on earth we will ultimately either act in a way that is beneficial to life (B), or we will act in a way that is not beneficial to life (N). Now if we behave like B, and it turns out that our material consumption truly does have an effect on the “earth’s health,” then we will not get ourselves into trouble. If we behave like N, and it turns out that our material consumption truly does have an effect on the “earth’s health,” then we will get ourselves into trouble. If we behave like B or N, and it turns out that our material consumption does NOT have an effect on the “earth’s health,” then we truly gain or lose nothing in the end.

While I dimmed the argument in the sense of final outcomes, the basic logic implies that there is a certain risk that comes with inhabiting a living environment (earth) that could (potentially) drastically impact ALL of life. Personally, that is not a consequence that I choose to take lightly, and while I have a long way to go, I feel it is important to do the best I can to not “make the earth cry.”

That is one (of the many) reasons I have become a bike commuter. And while not all bike commuters are bike commuters for the same reason as me, I think deep down we all want the same thing (see bullet points above), and therefore being a bike commuter and being an environmentalist can easily go hand in hand, and are mutually beneficial. So why not kill two birds with one stone?

In the coming weeks, you will see more “Green Tuesday” posts that aim to provide information on issues related to bike commuting and the environment. Some will (attempt to) contain arguments of logic as this one did. I am not an expert on the subject, and am not always sure that what I write makes sense or is in fact, true. But the ultimate goal is to spark thought and discussion, because the world can become a better place when thought and action are combined.

[photos courtesy of Cicleliciousness]