Friday, September 28, 2012

Carmageddon 2: A Time To Celebrate

On the eve of the second coming of (non)Carmageddon, Wolfpack and friends have put together an all city ride to celebrate. It's not a race against a jet this time, but instead a ride to bring people together from all over LA to go see the 405 in all it's empty glory, and go party at Dockweiler Beach. The organizing for this event is rather last minute, which feels familiar, but it should be a fun time.

Numerous other rides and events are going on, some hosted by bike advocacy groups like LACBC and CICLE, and some events having nothing to do with bikes, all in the new trend that major freeway shutdowns in the capital of freeways are a time to have fun. I love it! So there are a variety of events and rides at different times, places and distance levels to choose from. Don't stay home, go out make fun happen by bike & Metro. Let's show Los Angeles it doesn't need cars to have a good time.

I'll be hosting a ride to the Expo Line from the Santa Monica pier (at the cannon) at noon (11:30 meet up, rolling at 12:00pm sharp), to make our way out to meet up with the main group if anyone wants to hop along. The plan is depending on group size we hop train, or if that is too unmanageable, some of us will ride and some can hop train if they want to.

Also feel free to join along the route if you don't want to start at the pier, we'll be doing one loop through the Windward Circle for those wanting to jump on in Venice, and we'll be taking Fiji way to the creek path through Marina Del Rey, following the path to the La Cienaga Expo Station. For full details on everything check out the links below, and if you come along, I recommend bringing plenty of water and a few snacks. This won't be a Wolfpack pace, but it is shaping up to be quite a few miles, so stay hydrated and get your calories, yadda yadda yadda.

The main group will roll out from LA City Hall in front of the new Grand Park, with rides converging there from 1-2pm, and a last call roll out time of 3pm from Downtown LA.

Details:
MR Event Page: CARMAHEAVEN ALL CITY BICYCLE RIDE
MR Thread: Carmageddon
MR Thread: Westside Feeder Ride
Facebook Discussion: Main Event Thread



The full map is below (centered on the Westside feeder route), and may feature changing details or new feeder routes as things get nailed down.



View CARMAHEAVEN ALL CITY LA RIVER RIDE in a larger map

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilization."



"With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilization. May be that they won't add to the beauty of the world or the life of the men's souls, I'm not sure. But automobiles have come and almost all outwards things will be different because of what they bring. They're going to alter war and they're going to alter peace. And I think men's minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of automobiles. And it may be that George is right. May be that in ten to twenty years from now that if we can see the inward change in men by that time, I shouldn't be able to defend the gasoline engine but agree with George - that automobiles had no business to be invented."

- From the Orson Welles film, "The Magnificent Ambersons" (1942)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Hit with a mind bomb, my first Congress for the New Urbanism


I just got back to the cool breezy air of LA and Santa Monica yesterday after a week in the tropical climate of South Florida for the 20th annual Congress for the New Urbanism in West Palm Beach. The wealth of information I learned from both speakers and the rich dialogue with fellow attendees has left me feeling like a I've come back to California with a whole new brain. A feeling that is quite impressive to me given that I had already read many works by those involved in the New Urbanist movement.


I was also a little surprised at how many people there recognized who I was without introduction and despite this being my first time attending. I guess my blogging and twittering is really starting to get around. Although it was my first time, it also felt good to be able to have a unique perspective and add to the discussion with my own insights. It was not a one way relationship of absorbing information, and that is part of CNU's strength, it's a culture of back and forth that encourages everyone to share what they have to add.

Prior to CNU, and now immediately following, I am in the trenches of overtime hours at work, so my time to share more details are limited. However as soon as I am able to I'll process some of my detailed notes, audio recordings, and photos, and share more highlights here. My update for LA Streetsblog this week, written after day 2 of the 4 day conference, includes my initial impressions from CNU20.

It was an absolutely incredible week, and my thanks to the organizers, the speakers, and everyone who attended and who were so ready and willing to discuss ideas. From the almost legendary architects and urban designers that have written numerous books, to the humble first time attendee, everyone was approachable and willing to chat, and all had valuable and unique insights to add. Getting some one on one time with some authors who have been very influential to my thinking in recent years was alone worth the trip, but that was only a fraction of the value I got out of the experience.

There is nothing else like it that I have ever attended, and I'm sure I'll find my self drawn to CNU again in the future. Forget the left/right political divide, perhaps the best hope for our civilization's future can be found in the broad vision of principles and practices advanced by the New Urbanists.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

WalkLAvia

CicLAvia Lemonade
Delicious homemade lemonade with fresh mint that I purchased for a dollar from an adorable little girl who set up a lemonade stand.
I decided to leave the bike at home this CicLAvia, and see the event by foot for a different perspective. I was inspired by the revived pedestrian advocacy of Los Angeles Walks and Tom Vanderbilt's recent series on walking in America. Life is busy for me this week so I have not gone through my full set of photos, but I'll post them up here soon. In the meantime, I did a quick write up for Streetsblog on a little of my experience as a CicLAvia walker.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Motorist Group Boycotts Traffic In Santa Monica Today, Local Traffic Congestion Clears

The SMCDFC (Santa Monica Coalition for a Driver Friendly City) group, known largely for opposing new developments in the city on the basis of traffic concerns, has rallied with other groups in an unprecedented boycott today. The coalition managed to gather almost the entire population of Santa Monicans that have complained about traffic, either at public meetings, or in letters to the editor in local papers, in a traffic boycott. Individuals that signed the SMCDFC pledge, have agreed to not drive anywhere today, except in absolute emergencies (or picking up friends or loved ones from LAX). Though it is expected only a fraction of those who signed the pledge will stick to it.

The SMCDFC steering committee has put out a statement today sharply critical of city policy, and outraged at "...the daily traffic nightmare, and unrelenting wave of apocalyptic destruction that new development is having on our former beachside hamlet community."

Google Traffic Report For April 1st 2012 In Santa Monica
The amazing thing though, is that with so many of the people who complain about traffic not driving, congestion in the city has almost entirely vanished. Every road in the city is flowing without disruption or back ups. Local traffic engineer Samson Mortely, confirmed using new intersection monitoring equipment recently expanded across the city, that today many intersections rated D's by Caltrans LOS (Level of Service) standards, were today operating as A's and B's.

Empty Lot In the parking front, the Trader Joe's parking lot appears as though it will not need an orange vested traffic wrangler at all today. Not since the 1979 oil crisis has the Santa Monica Trader Joes parking lot had entire rear sections of the lot unoccupied. The store manager has called today "a parking lot miracle". And despite the reduced parking demand, she said sales were "largely unaffected". An outcome believed to be the result of people living within a quarter mile radius walking to the store instead of driving 3 blocks, and increased ridership on the #7 bus line.

Talking to a few bike riders around town, there was a palpable celebratory enthusiasm. Many streets normally congested with drivers upset at life while behind the wheel, and who ordinarily might honk or yell at those on bikes, were no where to be found. Talking to some of the drivers still out and about, some were in shock, and wished that everyday could be like this.

Final figures of just how many participated in the boycott is not yet known. However as I rode around to various neighborhoods, it was apparent that while many were in fact still driving, simply removing a modest percentage of the most frustrated drivers is sufficient to alleviate the typical gridlock hotspots. I think the lesson we can take away from all of this, is that if the people who complain about being stuck in traffic, simply take the logical step to boycott traffic all together, their chief complaint ceases to exist.

Monday, March 26, 2012

LA Streetsblog Fundraiser At Library Ale House (Tuesday Mar. 26th)


I've mentioned on twitter a few times, that LA Streetsblog is having another fundraising event at Library Ale House on Main St. in Santa Monica, but realized I hadn't put up here on the blog yet. 10% of the proceeds for all food and drinks for the day and evening go to L.A. Streetsblog and there are special raffle prizes (including a whole bike) that will be up for grabs for those who buy tickets.

I made it to the evening portion of the same event last year and it was a great time catching up with other advocates and plan nerds of various stripes in LA. This year is of special significance for me, because I'm getting paid to write for Streetblog now, covering Santa Monica. This event will be pitching into the fund that is allowing LA Streetsblog to hire additional writers like myself to broaden their coverage.

So if you've appreciated the content I've been writing here and elsewhere over the years, stopping by the Library Ale House tomorrow is one way to support my writing pursuits. Hope to see some of you there, and I'm planning to be there most of the later evening.

And while you're there, you can check out the new permanent bike corrals installed on Main Street. Santa Monica is plowing ahead with it's new bike plan and it's really showing in the past few weeks.

More info on LA Streetsblog
Facebook Event Page

Library Ale House
2911 Main St, Santa Monica, CA 90405 (map)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Interview With Russ & Laura Of The Path Less Pedaled

(Photo by Path Less Pedaled)
Over on LA Streetsblog, my third post for the Santa Monica column is an interview with Laura Crawford and Russ Roca, the bicycling touring duo from Long Beach, with the awesome bike touring website The Path Less Pedaled. I've been fortunate enough to become friends with the two of them, and when they came back to L.A. from their recent New Zealand adventure, I caught up with them about their recent travels, and asked a few bike tourism questions related to Santa Monica.

If you are at all a fan of traveling by bike, you should be following what Path Less Pedaled are up to. The full interview is up here on LA Streesblog.

In order to keep the word count a little more manageable I didn't end up including every question and answer, but I'll post up a little bonus material here.



Gary -- In-between other adventures you appear to be gravitated toward staying in Portland Oregon now. What is the draw of Portland that keeps you going back after seeing and staying in so many other places?

Laura -- the biggest draw for me is that Oregon is home. Its' where I grew up and I always wanted to go back. We used to spend a lot of time traveling there for vacation and wondered what it would be like to live there.

Russ -- The real active bike scene. It's kind of the epicenter o biking in so many ways, and it is appealing to be part of that. On this break we really want to explore the concept of bicycle travel and tourism and Oregon seems to be the  most active place in the country that i is actively promoting bicycle touring. They're launching a bicycle touring program that is trying to make Oregon one of the top cycle touring destinations in the country.

LC -- The coffee and the beer are the icing.

RR -- But not the rain. You have to come back to Southern California every few months or so for the sun.

LC -- There are two coping strategies. 1) Leave every once and awhile for the sun. 2) Realize there is no such thing as waterproof, you will get wet. Bring a change of clothes. Also the coffee and beer of course.

(Following the questions I planned for the interview, Russ and Laura also went a little further into thoughts about the Otago Central Rail Trail. A long decommissioned rail corridor that was converted into a bike trial, that was one of major highlights of their trip, and a great example of bikenomics in action. -GK)

RR -- We're also working on a new presentation on bicycle touring and travel. New Zealand was kind of a fact finding trip to see what works as far as encouraging bike travel and bring some of those ideas back so bike advocates here can be inspired.

The rail trail was kind of an ideal example where bikes helped rural communities in a tangible way. It wasn't theoretical at all. When you say that in the United States, things are on such a large scale, it isn't as obvious there are communities thriving on bike paths. 

Ironically we talked to the woman who was the chair of the rail trail trust which was put together 18 years ago, and the reason she joined the trust originally was because of a rail rail in the United States she saw in a National Geographic Article. She said the funny part was it was almost complete except for one mile that went through a farmers property that wouldn't let it go through. So she kept all the New Zealand farmers in the loop so they wouldn't feel left out.

LC -- The thing I liked the most about the Otago Trail is that when they started it nearly 20 years ago it wasn't from a lets make money off of cyclists angle, it was looking for something that was worthwhile for people who live out here. They had no idea that people would come out there and ride it. It has taken everybody by complete surprise. So they're even more grateful for the way that it has positively affected towns in the whole area. 

It was an incredible feeling that everyone wanted to do it because it was the right thing to do for the community. The financial benefits of it were a fantastic after-effect that was not the motivating factor. Its' not that it cant be the motivating factor but there's something nice about how everybody is so honest in their appreciation of you being there.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I'm On The LA Streetsblog Team As A Santa Monica Columnist

Santa MonicaLast week marked the beginning of my role as a Santa Monica columnist for LA Streetsblog if you haven't already heard on Twitter or seen the first post. I meant to get the news up here earlier and got sidetracked as I dealt with some horrible illness all last week and am now finally feeling better.

This is an exciting new opportunity, and LA Streetsblog has always been a vital source of information for me concerning LA transportation issues. Santa Monica is a unique city with it's own local government and politics, and hopefully my coverage will help fill in with much greater detail what's going on over here for the broader Streetsblog community and readership.

My first story for the Santa Monica column is a feature on the new buffered bike lanes on Bicknell, and the climbing lane and descending sharrows on Arizona Ave. at the East end of town.

The financial support to fund this weekly column comes from new LA Streetsblog advertising for the Santa Monica Bike Center and funds raised at LA Streetsblog fundraisers like The Library Alehouse event coming up on March 27th in Santa Monica. Which I highly recommend participating in if you'd like to support this endeavor and all things LA Streetsblog.

Most of my energy will be going into the Streetsblog updates, but I'll be keeping this blog around for  updates or thoughts that go beyond the scope of what I write for LASB.

If you're interested in checking out just the Santa Monica content on LA Streetsblog, produced by myself and occasionally other contributors, the smstreetsblog.com address will take you to the Santa Monica filtered page.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Officially Appointed To Expo Line Phase II Bicycle Advisory Committee


By a narrow margin in a field of highly qualified candidates, I was selected last night by the Santa Monica City Council for the 2nd of two available positions to represent the city in the Expo Line Bicycle Advisory Committee. Longtime resident and bicycle advocate Barbara Fillet was selected for the first Santa Monica position and we will together represent Santa Monica alongside other committee members representing other communities along the phase II route. We will be overseeing the bikeway connectivity and other other bike facilities being developed in conjunction with the pending rail line, providing feedback and recommendations.

This is my first time serving on a public committee body, and I'm sure there will be a little bit of a learning curve to how this whole process works, but I am excited and honored to be selected. It is my intention to represent existing and future bicyclists and transit users to the best of my ability. I'm a strong believer in rail transportation and bicycling, and that the two modes compliment each other in a way that builds a system greater than the sum of it's parts. Let's make it happen!

I also want to make myself available to anyone, to answer questions and solicit feedback and concerns as the design and build of this project develops.

I can be reached via "gary rides bikes [A]  g m a i l  DOT com" and for twitter users, I am fairly active on there as @garyridesbikes.

Monday, February 27, 2012

My Summer Forecast

This chart of LA area average gasoline prices over the past 12 months, taken from gasbuddy.com, is one of many pieces of data I've seen suggesting this is going to be a big summer for bikes, and a huge bummer for car culture. In 2011 the highest absolute prices of 2008 were not exceeded, but it was a year marked by the highest annual U.S. expenditure on gasoline ever recorded. Averages remained high throughout the year and the peak in May was the highest since 2008. Prices tend to peak going into summer, but as we can see above, this year we are still in February and have surpassed the peak of 2011, with the usual "peak driving season" still several months away.

Predicting commodity markets, especially commodities dependent on a resource as volatile as oil in recent years, is difficult and prone to error. However it's looking clearer and clearer everyday from the data available that there is a potential for a run up in prices surpassing the 2008 spike.

Now separating the present facts from my own conjecture, it is my own opinion that in 2012 we will see new records set for gasoline prices. Well in fact we already have, since no prior January or February months have been as expensive before, but I think we will see new all time highs and will likely surpass the 2011 record for highest annual spending on gasoline.

This process will likely shake off some people on the edge of affording their commutes, and if we do not adapt to facilitating economic activity with less fuel dependency, this could stop the fledgling economic recovery in it's tracks. A slow down or halt of economic growth, or worse a full on dip back into recession could drive gasoline prices back down, but the new low would likely remain far above the crash in prices in 2009 following the 2008 recession.

If things get really hairy we could see the U.S. and it's allies tap their strategic reserves to buffer the oil market, which happened last year in response to the disruption to oil exports from Libya. However a release just to bring down prices, and not address real supply shortage emergencies, puts us in a more vulnerable position should real shortages occur later.

The U.S. strategic petroleum reserves, the largest stockpile of emergency crude oil controlled by any government, at 727-million-barrels, is when combined with our domestic oil production, only about 2 and half months worth of supply at our normal consumption levels. If we tap the reserves to any significant degree and prices remain fairly elevated from historical averages, refilling them to capacity later will cost a lot more than what we paid to fill them. In any case, we have reserves sufficient to bring down prices in the short term, but doing so can only delay the problem, but not address root causes.

There are fundamental forces at work tightening the oil market with growing demand in the developing world, especially rapid fuel consumption growth in China, growing domestic demand in exporting nations, and stagnating global oil production despite record oil drilling investment. So despite U.S. driving being in decline (see here & here), and production of oil here has getting a little bump from more offshore and shale oil development, growing consumption elsewhere means what America does is no longer driving the market.

I intend to dive a little deeper into the root causes for fuel costs and the global oil market in future posts and another up coming project. But for now I think a key take away here for the bike movement is to realize that auto-centrism is, I believe, going to be knocked up against the ropes more frequently, and with harder blows, as time goes on. We have to be ready to rise up and articulate a new path forward, because if we don't, the crowd that wants to keep the cars all running and gas cheap no matter what, even if their aims are not sustainable, will scream and shout for policy choices that will only make a necessary transition away from oil dependency more painful later.

US Crude Oil Field Production & Net Crude Oil Imports Cumulative Stack ChartUnashamed lairs like Newt Gingrich are already spreading disinformation, claiming we can just tap a few more holes in our country and we'll be well on our way to energy independence with cheap gas brought back like a phoenix. Before you believe any of the hype about America becoming energy independent, check out the chart I made from data provided by the US Energy Information Administration. We have a mountain of oil debt, that is simply not going to be brought down without massive conservation efforts, no matter how much new drilling was opened and natural ecologies ruined to fill our tanks.

When figures like Newt Gingrich claim we can chop fuel prices nearly in half while simultaneously championing suburban auto-centric sprawl and sneering at rail transportation and smart growth development that is pedestrian and bikeable in scale, they are full of BS. He is suggesting we can have our cake and eat it too. We simply cannot.

The summer of 2008, with skyrocketing gasoline prices, was a big shot in the arm for the move toward bikes in Los Angeles. It was also around that time that I was getting even more serious about bikes and riding frequently. In the aftermath of that summer in 08, I finally got rid of my car for good. Bicycling was attracting press in a very different light as motorists were agonizing for high prices (that are some of the lowest in the world by comparison to other nations).

I believe this coming summer can far surpass that growth for bicycling, and we should be ready to promote culture change at a time when much of our culture may be confused and frustrated. We have to counter the liars that would have us stay in denial and have us believing a car dependent mode of living can be sustained.

We must also not back down if a recession or other traumatic event does provide temporary relief in fuel prices. The long term trends that will transpire in the decades ahead demand that we must lesson our economy's dependance on oil now. The longer we put off meaningful action, the harder the future will be, and the greater the risk of suffering more at a later date. We cannot kick the can down the road anymore. If we were smart, we would be taxing fuel heavily like the Europeans do (gasoline is about $9/g in the Netherlands) , to ensure prices are consistently high and thus promoting reduced waste regardless of market swings. Higher fuel taxes would also provide revenue to keep transportation systems funded and maintained, something we now struggle to do in the United States.

Perhaps I am reading too much into the possibility for gas price hysteria and economic fallout this summer, but I think it is better to be prepared for the possibility than to ignore warning signs. 2008 was a dress rehearsal for major gas spikes, and perhaps enough Americans have now learned to make other arrangements in response to price rises. Maybe we can go through a record summer without our economy hitting a wall this time. However car culture is deeply embedded into modern America, and we may still have some ways to go before we're really ready for our new energy reality.

However events play out, I do think this will be an interesting summer to say the least, and one which I think will strengthen the case for bikes and see ridership hitting new highs. A new vision for transportation in Los Angeles is possible, let's make it happen.

CicLAvia  10-9-11

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Colorado Esplanade Design, With New Bike Route Proposals, Moves To Council Tonight


Several weeks ago I attended a community meeting soliciting public input on design proposals for the Colorado Esplanade, although I had not yet blogged on this specific project until this post. For those unfamiliar this project proposal, it is a project to reconfigure and re-envision the approach into Santa Monica heading West from the future Colorado and 4th Expo line station, which will be the end of the line. The full staff report with more details can be found here on the agenda, item 4-A. The City Council will be giving it's direction on the project tonight, Tuesday February 14th.

Currently the proposal is to broaden the sidewalk on the south side of Colorado substantially, which will be much needed with hundreds of pedestrians coming off every train, and add bike lanes to this stretch as well. In order to do this and still have room for automobile access, it is proposed to make this 4 block stretch one way Westbound for drivers, which has a secondary benefit of reducing the crazy intersection movements at Main and Colorado, and making Main and 2nd flow into each other more nicely. The traffic study concluded this would improve traffic flow on the connecting streets and thus would have minimal impact for motorists despite the loss of Eastbound traffic flow for the westernmost blocks of Colorado.


2 different configurations were shown for the bike lanes [PDF version here]. In one proposal a bike lane exists going each direction on opposite sides of the street, but with a concrete separator in-between car traffic and contra flow bicyclists going Eastbound. In the second proposal, which seemed to be the most popular at the meeting, both bike lanes where on the South side of the street, with 2 bike lanes of opposing direction adjacent to each other, but separated from traffic by infrastructure.

Ordinary I am not a big fan of cycle track concepts which put opposing bike traffic directions adjacent on one side of the street. I prefer bike lanes to be on opposite sides of the street so opposing traffic flow is never in close proximity, and thus reduces the risk of bicyclists colliding with one another. Our beach bike path places opposing bike traffic flow together, and that generally works alright, but it does have it's own mishaps and close calls. However in this particular context, I can see a big advantage to keeping the bike lanes together and on one side of the street, because it avoids the mall parking garage entrance on Colorado near Main.

New Bike Facilities 2nd StreetAs I pointed previously in the problems with the 2nd street bike lane heading Northbound from Colorado, bike lanes and mega-capacity auto parking garages with high turn over don't mix very smoothly. In the first configuration, Option A, the Westbound bike lane would in practice be broken constantly on busy days by drivers turning across and queuing up into the garage. If we are trying to create facilities anyone can feel comfortable using, and not just the ride anywhere anytime folks like myself, I do not think such a bike lane will be sufficient.

The second configuration with the cycle track all on one side of the street also presents it's own challenges as well that will need careful consideration. Primarily the challenge of movements into and out of this facility and provisions for safe turning at intersections. Special consideration will be most critical at the intersection of Colorado and 2nd, not only because that will be the junction of 2 significant bike routes, but the placement of the Santa Monica Bike Center at the corner opposite the side of the street with the 2 way cycle track. Planners should anticipate that many people will be riding to and from that bike center, and if the resulting facility is not well suited for this and self explanatory, they should not be surprised when bike riders make up their own creative ways of bridging that connection.

In conclusion, of the 2 alternatives presented, I support the 2nd configuration, option B in the diagram, but with the reservation that it will require more thought out intersection treatments than are presently accounted for in the initial diagrams shown. I could write a lot more about possible proposals for dealing with the intersection issues, and other related way-finding issues on other routes that would connect to this new facility, but for the moment I am constrained for time. On the whole I am very excited to see this all happen, and every time I see images of what the Expo Line will look like in Santa Monica, I want it to be done yesterday.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Turtle Meets Bike


I'm currently helping take care of a turtle for a friend out of town, named Funky Pajamas. He mostly hangs out in the water in his aquarium, but we recently let him outside for a little adventure and exercise.  He immediately took to wanting to climb all over our bicycles. So I pulled out the phone and snapped some silly video and a few pictures. Turtle and bicycle, together at last.

Turtle Meets Bike

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What Does Bikenomics Mean To You? (Zine Giveaway)

zinePrizePackFollowing up on the topic of bikenomics this week, I'd like to hear what it means to you. Everyone who contributes a brief comment of their own personal story, data point or other interesting thought on the role of bicycling in the economy, will be entered into a random drawing to win a copy of Elly Blue's zine Bikenomics: How Bicycling Will Save The Economy (If We Let It) and a copy of volume 3 and 4 of her collaborative quarterly zine Taking The Lane (which can also be purchased here). Elly was generous enough to give me a few extra copies of some of her work when I recently visited Portland, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to share them with my own readers.

The winner will be announced next week, and prizes will be given out in person for those in the immediate area, or who can get over to Santa Monica (preferably without a car or personal jet [so we don't disturb the SMO neighbors]). If you would like to contribute to the discussion but exclude your self from the drawing, let me know at the end of your comment.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Elly Blue's Bikenomics

Elly Blue - Bikenomics

Within the world of bicycle writers, there are few figures that have been more influential to my own thinking and writing than Eleanor Blue, based in Portland, Oregon. Elly was a long time contributor to the Bike Portland website, has written a number of column pieces for the popular environmental website Grist, and contributed to a number of print magazines like Momentum, and non-bikey publications as well like the feminist magazine Bitch. She has also become a creator of her own zine publications and is now pursing book projects.

Eleanor Blue Of BikePortland.org, Portland Oregon
(Elly Blue giving a keynote speech at LA Bike Summit)
My engagement in the world of bicycle activism and advocacy really took off around the time of the first LA Bike Summit (now the LA Street Summit) where Blue was a keynote speaker. I think everyone who made it out to that summit can attest to how transformative a moment that was for the growing LA bicycling community.

Since that point I have gone through a breadth of reading, writing and research that has been radically expanding my horizons and world view on bikes, urban planning, transportation, and more recently global energy issues as they relate to all of the above. Along the way there were moments where ideas had loosely come together in my mind, but somehow Elly would often write what I was thinking more clearly than I had been able to yet.

The concept of bikenomics, a phrase Blue coined and used in a popular series of posts for Grist, put a laser focus onto the role of bicycling in economics, but in an accessible style unlike so many drab data reports put out by consulting agencies and advocacy groups. Preceding the bikenomics series, Elly's first column for Grist explained why placing an additional road tax on bicycling would be unfair, which is a must read rebuttal for a very common argument lobbed at bike riders.

Reading of the failings and slow going of bicycle advancement of years past, it occurred to me that bike advocates where not emphasizing the right things to break ground politically. As I came to understand the inherently cost inefficient nature of automobile oriented development versus communities better suited to biking and walking, it started to click. Discussing bicycling as a tool for local economic development might be the clearest way into the hearts of politicians and businesses that care more about the green of dollar bills, than going "green" for the planet or improving health.

Often times I feel people in various advocacy movements shy away from discussing money issues, although the Occupy Wall Street movement has started to bring finance back to the center stage. I think some of this reluctance comes from the guilty baggage of money being used as a corrupting or corrosive force in society when greed gets out of hand. But money is simply a tool representing value, and what we do with that value can be bad or good or somewhere in-between.

If we want our money to be spent wisely and humanely, we need to get in the trenches of discussing how and why we invest our society's money and resources in some ways and not others. We have to reveal the externalities, subsidies and trade imbalances that drain value out of our communities for the benefit of automobile and global oil company interests. We need to illustrate the power of bicycling to save government revenues, boost local scaled economies, and create new business and job opportunities.

Bikenomics - Car Parking Versus Bike Parking
(My photo contribution to the bikenomics presentation)
Using the power of twitter hashtags, Elly also turned #bikenomics into an online community exchanging ideas. Launching the hashtag into greater prominence, she hosted a live, if somewhat chaotic, online conference and Q&A over Twitter. Taking the idea from online to offline, bikenomics became a talk shared in communities across the country as part of the Dinner And Bikes tour. This event hosted by chef Joshua Ploeg, publisher and filmmaker Joe Biel, and of course Ms. Blue, hit Santa Monica last year. Her next adventure in talking bikes over dinner is being organized now, and will hit the American south this time around.

Collaborating with Joe Biel, founder of Microcosm Publishing, Elly spun off the bikenomics concept into a print zine, a predecessor to bigger ambitions for a book. The zine, Bikenomics: How Bicycling Will Save The Economy (If We Let It), serves as a great primer to the subject of bicycling and the economy, and should be read by anyone passionate about bikes and strengthening the economic resilience of our communities in a time of great financial uncertainty.

bikenomicsZineInside

By saving the economy, Elly is not necessarily talking about preserving the scale of our economy as measured in the flawed metric of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). She is talking about bicycling as a component in improving the qualities that really matter to our lives. Improved health, ecological sustainability, greater social interaction, and a scale of business and commerce which is local and enduring, not big box and throw away.

Further out on the horizon, Bikenomics is to become a full fledged book. I can't wait to read it when it comes out, and expect that it will flesh out a few gaps in the existing literature on bicycling. The vast majority of books on bikes seem to focus on the individual learning curve and motivations to ride, or the athletic and physical side of bicycling. We need more literature placing bicycling in larger sociological and economic contexts, and Elly Blue is just such an author with a fresh perspective to help do the job.

Having met Elly a few times in person now, I can attest that in addition to being a talented writer, she is also just an awesome person. I wish her all the best on her present and future endeavors. If you aren't following her work already, I highly recommend you start. Her blog is Taking The Lane, which is also the title of her collaborative quarterly zine, focused on the intersection of bikes and feminism.

You can help support Elly's next batch of zines on Kickstarter, nabbing some for yourself in the process, and generally keeping her employed contributing awesomeness to the bikey world. Her zines can be bought individually or through subscription on her web storefront as well. Support the makers and doers pushing the bike movement forward, and it benefits the bike economy for us all. Now that is bikenomics.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Santa Monica Patch Posts, A Year Of Writing

My new bike at the mustache bridge:
In other news, I got a new bike! It's pretty.
As I was writing columns for Patch, I'm sure those readers that have stuck with this blog even in times of drought, have no doubt noticed a lot less material posted here. Well my first professional writing stint, for Santa Monica Patch is over, so I will try and get some more original content up here again. I'd also like to remind any blog readers that don't also follow me on the twitterverse, the Twitter is always a good place to find me. I try to keep regular bit's of micro blogging happening there regularly as well posting material I find interesting or links to where else my writing can be found.

To conclude my contributions to the Santa Monica Patch column Green City, I'd like to post up links to the series in it's entirety for anyone interested in the content. Items are posted in order of last to first.

One of my favorite parts of writing this column, titled Green City, was seeing some direct impact in the community because of my writing. The post SMC's Bike-Parking Problems in particular. It got picked up by Santa Monica College students, who rallied around needing more bike parking. A dedicated group formed a committee on the subject, my article was placed on the first agenda, and now a few months later the school is on the verge of instigating a new bike parking master plan and new funds are being allocated. I'll have more details on that if the plan passes, which I hear also includes some provisions for skateboard parking, awesome!

It's kind of a mind trip looking back at the material, especially the first few posts, it feels like ages ago now, and some of my thoughts have evolved since then. If you have been reading along, you've probably also caught some increasing concern and awareness on the connection to all of these topics to world energy issues, particularly oil supply.

This line of thought has been influenced by a lot of reading material I've been going through in the past year, and it will continue to shape my thinking and writing going forward. I have come to the conclusion our energy problems, in transportation primarily, are going to get a lot worse, a lot faster than most people were thinking or preparing for (including myself from a year ago). There will be more on that later, but here are the posts:

Green City (official page does not include link to my last post, Bike Action Plan & Energy Resilience)

Bike Action Plan & Energy Resilience
Reimagining Lincoln Boulevard
Overcoming Jevons Paradox
Alt-Car Alternatives
SMC's Bike-Parking Problems
Taking the Bus: Why It Matters
Bike Action Plan Enters Home Stretch
Pedestrians First
The 'Carmageddon' Transportation Showdown: Lessons Learned
City 2.0
Santa Monica Has New Bike Racks but Proper Locking Technique Is Key
Taking the Sustainability Message Across Party Lines
The Food Truck Revolution
Finding New Spaces for Community Gardens in Santa Monica
How SM Could Become the Cycling Envy of the Nation
Counting Food Miles
The Deeper Problems Behind the Rising Gas Prices
Why Bike Racks Matter to Santa Monica's Buy Local Efforts
The Shared-Use Revolution
Road Rules: Addressing Traffic Safety in Santa Monica
Living Car-Free in Santa Monica
Debunking the Myth That Downtown Needs More Car Parking
Lessons Learned from Long Beach's Bike Planning
Would Bergamot Village Be Well-Suited for Sustainability?
City Aims to Spur Bicycle Use


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

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