Archive for the 'transportation' Category

Possibilites of Cycling

Not right now for me, since my bike is still stuck on my balcony.  It will be unstuck soon- has to be, I’m moving in a month- and I’ll be riding it.  There have been many new cycling developments in the last few weeks.  For instance, Biking Person, my new landlord, has already shown me (threatened me with) the best cycling route to our current workplace.  This was aided by Google maps, which now has a filter to show you the best biking path from place to place.  It’s not right as often as driving directions and I find that “bikable path” is a highly subjective term so grain of salt and double-check.  I’d die on the path he showed me though.  I’m terrible at cycling on real streets.  I don’t know what to look or listen for, and I’m constantly nervous.  But he also pointed me to a free class by the Washington Area Bicycle Association, on exactly that- beginner and intermediate cycling on real streets.  The next one is Saturday at 1, and then again April 15th at 6.

Great idea, hunh?  And I’m finding out just in time.  But DC is trying to make it easier for cyclists in the city by opening larger bike lanes soon, on some major thoroughfares.  Check it- the link gives you maps and some renderings. The first one down Pennsylvania Ave.’s median should be done in May.

Biggest news, though- the Secretary of Transportation announced last week that walking and biking are just as important kinds of transportation as driving a car, and that his department will treat them as such, from now on.

Take a minute to consider that.  Some people just live too far from their destinations to have the option of foot or bike transport.  But most of the time, it’s just not safe to get on the roads where cars have all the power and space, even if the grocery or work aren’t that far away.

According to that Wired article, it means that federally funded projects- with stimulus money, that’s lots- have to include many modes of transportation.  That’s bike access and crossing points, safe spaces for pedestrians, new bikeways…

Where would you not drive if you could walk or bike safely and conveniently? I’d like to be able to bike to the metro.  Right now it involves several rough intersections, crossing under a highway, and no bike lanes on any available road.  It’s much easier (though with the bike path assaults, not safer) to bike to the metro 40 minutes away than the one that should be 10 minutes away.

All these changes aren’t getting my bike off the balcony, though.  Dah.

Plane Tickets: Putting the Guilt to Use

While sick and babbling at you the other day, I mentioned my tickets to New Zealand.  Not just the ravings of a madwoman:  I have plane tickets to New Zealand.

I’ve always wanted to get out and see the world, but I wanted to pay my own way, and go in as untouristy a manner as possible.  So I waited, saved, and assumed a better time would come along.  It didn’t, but now I have a passport and a twenty-fifth birthday approaching, and it’s now or never.  Well, probably not ‘never’, but definitely later.  I emailed an old friend in NZ for some advice a couple weeks ago, and, having been promised hiking and penguins, bought the tickets Sunday.

Let me digress for a moment to direct you to the new link, Cr!key Creek.  It’s my kiwi friend’s blog on water issues- focus on NZ, but he gets around.  Along with all the other parts of this trip I am completely excited about, hanging out with a  dude who’s done so much work on sustainability ranks pretty high.

But see, now I have a dilemma.  I’m flying halfway across the world twice.  This is a big ol’ suckerpunch to my environmental changes.  According to Terrapass, by flying roundtrip from Washington to Auckland, I’m responsible for 7,120 lbs of carbon emissions.  That’s like driving my car (Civic Hybrid) around for a year (also according to Terrapass).  Actually, hey, I thought it was going to be more like driving a Hummer to the moon.  Not feeling quite so guilty now.

Well, either way, that’s a pretty big negative impact on the environment, which I need to do something about (blog being all about channeling the guilt to environmental use, yup yup).  But what!?

Rhetorical, I’ve already decided what I’m going to do.  But first let’s talk about the “not going” option.

The simplest way to not rack up this carbon guilt is to not go to New Zealand.  Stay home, find some pictures of it online, and email the kiwi when I want to chat.  Going to New Zealand to bum around and walk on mountains is purely a privileged, selfish act.  Money would be better spent donating to local food shelters while I spend the two weeks volunteering to muck out the Anacostia.  This is all true.  But I don’t feel guilty about that at all:  I’m stoked about every part of this trip.

Mine is not an abstemious sustainability.  Perhaps you guessed from the frequent Salvation Army trips.  I want to do as much and live as well (according to my idea of well) as I can with as little as I can manage it on.   I get that lots of environmentalists aren’t comfortable with that balance, and why, but I am. So let’s recap the guilt nuances:  trip to NZ, sweet, impact of ghg emissions, lame sauce.

Here’s how I’m going to use this:  first, I’m going to offset my carbon.  Yup, can’t buy a green conscience, but if I can afford the tickets, I can afford to support serious emissions-reduction programs.  I will look for programs that actively remove emissions and donate enough to cover my flight.  I’ll report back, of course.

Second, my time in NZ will be spent environmentally.  Start with supporting the local economy- no chain hotels or restaurants, no ‘Made in China’ junk for the folks back home.  I’m researching B&B’s to stop in along the way.  I’ll tread lightly on the mountains- pack in, pack out, pat the trees soothingly, etc.  I’ll use public transport as much as possible (apparently they have a great national bus system, so no need to rent a car).

And third, I’m using the promise of this trip as a carrot for my efforts.  Literally.  I’m going vegetarian, starting as soon as I’m done with the Sha Cha chicken delivery leftovers, until I get on the plane.  Doesn’t seem so daunting now- though I will draw a line at pizza (I’ll try for all-veg but if it’s plain cheese or pepperoni only, like I’m locked in a room for 12 hours with nothing but a cheese pizza and a pepperoni pizza, I’m eating the pepperoni, but it’s not going to come to that), and food other people make for me in good faith.  If I go home and Dad cooks me shrimp, I’m having some shrimp.  (Dad cook me veggies.  Mom will help.)  But I promise 98.9% vegetarian intake, at least.  It’ll be easier with a reward at the end.

So that’s how I’m going to deal with that.  For the interactive part of this feature:  whatcha think?

OH Also I Took Pictures at the DC Auto Show

A preview:

tesla roadster

The Tesla Roadster was there, in clothed and naked editions.  Enjoy!

PS. Nice enough to bike to work Friday, eh?  24 degrees, so never mind.  Monday, perhaps.  Weather.com gives me a good feeling about that.

Suits and Cars

Last week, I received an invitation to have dinner with some nice people from General Motors, and to attend the Media opening of the Washington DC Auto Show.  I am not one to pass up an opportunity of this nature, especially involving a free dinner.  And yes, I think GM just got bailed out once or twice, so thanks, taxpayers, and let me know when I can get you back for your 1/300millionth share of my fish and chips.

It is encouraging to see the auto industry try their darnedest to understand why Americans are upset at them, why we generally consider them incompetent and obstructionist, especially when it comes to green innovations.  Somehow, lobbying against CAFE standards during $4 gas and an environmental crisis then blackmailing the country with the loss of millions of jobs if we don’t give them cash does not breed respect.  By highlighting their environmental progress at the Auto Show this week, especially to interested politicians, they hope to fix that.  I saw a congressperson!  Not sure which one.  Also Colin Powell totally walked right past me.  Closest I’ve ever been to famous, unless you count the time I chatted with Freeman Dyson by a buffet for a half-hour, but that only makes me cool in certain circles.

An entire exhibition floor at the auto show is dedicated to more or less green car models.  Lots of things plug in these days, and if you drive a Prius, you can bump that baby to 120 mpg with a plug-in battery for a $10,000 investment at Fitzgerald Toyota in Gaithersburg, MD.  A few cars weren’t even totally car-like- they had a smart car and a glorified bike-thing, too.  But really, it was mostly just cars running on not-gas, or not-as-much gas.  The larger exhibition hall in the lower level had a Tesla display and a few hybrid models- but mostly conventional gas-powered cars.

By meeting with bloggers, too, these guys are really trying to figure out how their message is going wrong.  The execs described to us their efforts to reach out to consumers, their frustration with the misinformation about the industry out there, and we explained to them how blogs work, and how they might use new media to help themselves out.  There was also an amusing interlude wherein the concept of trolling was explained.  Our generational divides were showing.  But really, there are bigger issues than just their ability to communicate.

It was evident at the car show that the American auto industry is trying it’s best to get alternative fuels out there.  It’s sponsoring competitions, it’s looking into hydrogen and battery technologies and all sorts of new ideas.  I worry, however, that their best attempts at green cars are still too much just cars.  Big hunks of stuff that we’ll sit through traffic jams in, no matter what they burn to go when they can.  We’re at a crossroads here.  We get to redefine transportation now- infrastructure needs and environment and quality of life concerns all indicate that we’re not doing well with a car-based country.  There are better uses for our space than parking lots. I don’t think the auto industry is looking beyond their cars to see how we can link up to the trains or bikes or buses or subways or jetpacks we’ll use to get around more efficiently- for them it’s about autos, it’s not about transportation.

I want to see more imagination in their plans.  I want them to think beyond cars.  I think that will save their industry, and it could literally get us where we need to be in 50 years.

The DC Auto Show is a laudable effort on the industry’s part, but it doesn’t begin to address the deeper issues of what moves us.

I got some cards, and I’ll be sending a few thank-you emails for the chance to chat.  I’m hoping I can get some of the participants here for a little to talk with you all, so tell me what you think of my observations, the car companies, hydrogen, whatever, and we’ll get up a little dialog at least amongst ourselves.

Meanwhile, look like it might be nice enough Friday to bike to work…


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virescent.blog (at ) gmail.com

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