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.