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The Monday Roundup

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on October 15th, 2012 at 9:29 am

"I have news for you. We will build no more superhighways in this state. There is no room."
— Massachusetts Department of Transportation Chief Richard Davey

Welcome to Monday! Check out all the news and other links of note we came across last week...

— With rainy season upon us once again, check out what engineers in the very bike-friendly city of Groningen, the Netherlands are doing: They've installed a new bike traffic signal that turns green more quickly when wet so people on bicycles can get rolling — and out of the rain — more quickly.

— As "green" cities fall over themselves to promote and encourage electric cars, they might want to keep in mind that according to a new study from Norway, they, "might pollute much more than petrol or diesel-powered cars."

— A new FHWA report on bike share systems in the U.S. found that they are not serving low-income and minority communities as well as they could.

— Speaking of our bike share system. Have you wondered what type of bikes we'll be using? Wonder no more. Bloomberg Businessweek has a profile of the "two-wheeled tank" that will be used in New York City's forthcoming system — which is the same bike we'll get here in Portland.

— Money Magazine had a great profile of Pedal Chic, a bike shop in Greenville South Carolina that has taken the hot topic of female-friendly shops to a whole new level.

— If you love to wonk, this piece from KCET (public television in Los Angeles) is right of your alley. The author takes a close look at the Collier-Burns Act, a 1947 law that, "wound up sparking a local, regional, and nationwide road-building frenzy that began in the 1940s and `50s and hasn't yet come to a full and complete stop." Eek.

— On the other hand, Streetsblog DC says we should all pack our bags and move to Massachusetts, where the head of the State's Department of Transportation recently said at a press conference, "We will build no more superhighways in this state. There is no room.”

— Detroit's resurgence isn't a new topic for cycling and urban planning fans; but did you know that, "the two-wheel economy has reached its own critical mass in Detroit"?

— The bike economy is surging from coast-to-coast as it follows the general biking renaissance in cities throughout North America. A local newspaper in Ogden, Utah broke the news this week that component maker ENVE Composites is expanding its operations and is set to bring 324 jobs to town.

— Speaking of bike jobs, Carlton Reid of Bike Biz UK flagged a story in Business Week that, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor, bicycle mechanic is the 22nd fastest growing job in America.

— And there's even more good bikeonomics news this week: A report from Transportation Alternatives revealed that 73% shoppers in the East Village neighborhood of New York City said the new protected bike lanes on First Avenue and Second Avenue "had a positive or very positive impact on the community."

— Bike comic journalist Bikeyface had a great post about the "Myth of the Open Road" and how driving isn't nearly as fun and carefree as the billions in marketing from the auto industry wants you to believe.

— A heart-warming story about bike theft and redemption that began in North Portland has gone viral. ABCNews has picked up on the story about a thief who stole a bike from the racks at Portland Community College's Cascade campus and then returned it with a nice note and $10 cash for a new lock.

— Gas prices are spiking all over California these days, and so are the news stories about how people are coping with it. Even The Weather Channel is noticing that for some folks — including those with families — using bicycles is a very affordable and feasible option to driving in the city.

— And on the helmet technology front, new this week is a little gadget that will automatically notify the personal contacts on your smartphone in the event of a serious impact. The ICEdot crash sensor, which is in the crowdfunding stage right now, attaches to your helmet and then syncs with your phone.

— We loved this essay from Biking Seattle on how bike maps are the best kind of maps.

— If you missed the story about Ernest Gagnon when it first hit the web back in June, you've got to read his story as it appeared on NPR this past week. Gagnon is a guy who used to weigh 570 pounds and opted for cyclocross instead of surgery to slim down. Inspiring. Awesome. Three cheers for Mr. Gagnon! (And to Portland-based writer David Boerner for first writing about it in VeloNews.)

— Spacing Toronto writer Brent Toderian wrote about an argument I can definitely get behind: "We need a more sophisticated discussion about how we get around in cities, and it starts with this — it's not about loving your bike. It's about loving what biking does for cities."

— Speaking of that larger question of cities, I'm headed to New York City later this month for the NACTO Designing Cities Conference. Stay tuned for more about that on the Front Page, and of course get ready for lots of stories and photos from NYC.

— And e-bikes show no sign of fading in the U.S. On the contrary, the market is looking strong — yet still has lots of room to grow — says industry mag Bike Europe.

And now to a few videos:

— Old Man Mountain is a maker of pannier racks based in my old home town of Santa Barbara, California. They released a cool new vid showing their manufacturing process that includes some great mountain-bike camping action shots... (Disclaimer: I used to work at OMM)

— With almost 5 million views, this vid of pro rider Martyn Ashton doing all manner of crazy wonderful things on a Pinarello road bike is worth a watch no matter your cycling persuasion...

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  • John Lascurettes October 15, 2012 at 11:14 am

    Regarding the "electric cars pollute more" it comes down to the old scare tactic that it's the coal plants that produce the pollution. Well, here in the NW, we already get a lot of energy from hydro power and other "green" sources. And the main point is that it's easier to regulate and control emissions at a power plant than it is to police it over millions of individual cars spread geographically out. Even the article states that there is a measurable environmental benefit to electric cars in Europe where there is a greater blend of energy sources for their power grids. As more cars become electrified, we'll see greater public support at cleaning up our old coal habits.

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    • 9watts October 15, 2012 at 11:32 am

      I'm going to have to disagree with you on two points.

      "in the NW, we already get a lot of energy from hydro power and other "green" sources."

      (1) I too grew up thinking that we here rely mostly on hydropower, but it just ain't so. Pacific Power/Pacificorp (one of Oregon's two big IOUs) last time I checked relied on coal for 80% of it's electricity.

      "As more cars become electrified, we'll see greater public support at cleaning up our old coal habits."

      (2) Our chance to get rid of coal is now, before shifting any substantial portion of our fleet over to electricity. Increasing our reliance on grid electricity first is no recipe for phasing out fossil fuels, will only make it more difficult/unlikely/fraught.

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      • John Lascurettes October 15, 2012 at 12:13 pm

        I concede point 1 to you. We still disagree on point 2. :)

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        • 9watts October 15, 2012 at 1:28 pm

          Some folks think we need to phase out our reliance on ALL fossil fuels, not just coal, and soon. Like yesterday. This is a tall order, and will take some ingenuity to pull off in 20 years, much less 3 (which is the amount of time many now think we have to begin to reverse atmospheric buildup of CO2).
          Given that,* shifting the transport sector to electric propulsion, which in any case doesn't offer all that much of a benefit in terms of CO2 according to the article--certainly nothing like the zero emissions language suggests--is only going to make getting off coal and oil and natural gas quickly that much more difficult. Besides, building the systems, the infrastructure, the production capacity, mining the metals for the batteries on any scale is an additional burden that relies heavily on fossil fuels, further entrenching our reliance on it.
          The time to fool around with marginally better technical systems (electric propulsion for internal combustion engine), was a generation ago. We don't have the luxury of that kind of experimentation anymore. Bikes/human power may be our best (only?) shot at this late stage. That is at least what I'm betting on.

          *I am fully aware that not everyone shares this interpretation and welcome other alternative scenarios. But when the International Energy Agency says (World Energy Outlook, Nov. 2011) that we have until 2015 to reverse course I take note.

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      • My Magic Hat October 15, 2012 at 1:26 pm

        Well put on both thoughts.

        Electricity is not a power source, it is merely a means of transmitting power.

        I'll also mention that the massive battery required to power an electric vehicle does not last the life of the car itself. After you've paid the hefty sum to replace such a battery (replacements are expected to cost between $3500 and $10,000), the old one is "recycled" - whatever that reality consists of. Talk to a few Haz-Mat professionals if you really want the depressing truth.

        Amazing how some of us are so willing to delude ourselves into thinking that a self-propelled vehicle can ever be as cheap or environmentally friendly as a bicycle.

        People who ride a bike ONLY because "it's good for the environment" are completely lost.

        "If SUVs were completely emission-free and ran on smugness instead of fossil fuels these people would flock to the dealerships and proceed to run the rest of us off the road as they root around in their glove compartments looking for their "Live Earth" CDs." - Eben Weiss

        Cars are good for long trips, poor for short ones. Electric cars can't do long trips and for short tips you'll still have to find parking at the destination you should've just ridden your bike to, but at least they can still kill pedestrians and cyclists as easily as their fuel burning counterparts.

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      • Chris I October 15, 2012 at 1:44 pm

        Coal power has been rapidly declining recently:
        http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/wp/2012/07/31/the-decline-of-u-s-coal-in-three-charts/

        And PGE will be closing Boardman in 2020:
        http://www.deq.state.or.us/aq/pge.htm

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        • 9watts October 15, 2012 at 2:27 pm

          Modest declines in coal use and CO2 emissions are certainly welcome, but in the meantime Pacificorp is still at 63% coal:
          http://www.pacificpower.net/ya/po/otou/fsei.html

          Declines in coal generation due to the collapse in natural gas prices & the prolonged recession are thin victories, and should not be confused with the real thing. Besides, the story is far more interesting than simply NG vs Coal, see article:

          http://tinyurl.com/8oyksbp

          We have yet to break the link between economic growth and CO2 emissions, and the CO2 signature of fracked natural gas may be little better than coal.

          http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/14/replacing-coal-with-gas-is-no-panacea-study-says/

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          • John Lascurettes October 15, 2012 at 3:18 pm

            We have yet to break the link between economic growth and CO2 emissions

            Unfortunately, I think that will come about on a global scale when the earth starts killing us off and making way for the next evolutionary transformation. Dinosaurs > Mammals > ??

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      • Jennifer October 15, 2012 at 4:03 pm

        Not to be too nitpicky, but coal really is overall a very small percentage of our energy for electricity.

        This is a couple of years out of date but it does give a broader picture:

        http://www.eia.gov/beta/state/?sid=OR

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        • 9watts October 15, 2012 at 4:15 pm

          Thanks, Jennifer. Very helpful. I haven't seen that breakdown before. Very interesting. that breakdown (which includes transportation fuels) shows 61% of Oregon energy coming from fossil fuels, but as you note a rather modest share for coal. Very interesting.

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  • K'Tesh October 15, 2012 at 11:48 am

    Jonathan, is your site's twitter feed down? I see it hasn't been updated for days now

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  • Charley October 15, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    Regarding the crash sensor: great, now my family will think I've been decapitated by a car every time at accidentally drop my helmet on the kitchen floor!

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  • Atbman October 15, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    Don't try and do the Martyn Ashton thing unless you're riding a $16,000 Pinarello as ridden by Team Sky. Just goes to show what a good bike can do for your bike handling.

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  • Tom October 15, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    Another Santa Barbarian ? I went to SBHS and UCSB ...wish I could afford to live there now :( Saw the DOORs for $2 at LaPlaya at SBCC. (1968) , but Portland since '72 ..only small regrets.
    As I'm sure you must know ..JANDD works out of SB too.

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  • GlowBoy October 15, 2012 at 3:51 pm

    PacifiCorp may be big and dirty, but they are the #2 provider in the region. PGE is the #1 provider and is 25% coal. And if you want, for a pretty small surcharge PGE lets you upgrade to 100% renewable power. Last I checked it was still something like 8.8c/kWh.

    Electric motors are still 3-4x more efficient than internal combustion engines at converting stored energy into motion. Not coincidentally, most of the EVs being sold today are rated between 95 MPGe and 115 MPGe. That's about twice as efficient as a Prius, the most efficient internal combustion production car on the planet, and 3-4x as efficient as a comparable non-hybrid economy car. Even factoring in the losses from transmission, charging and conversion (and even ignoring the energy costs in refining and transporting gasoline), electricity is a far more efficient means of propelling a car than gasoline.

    Most reports I've seen on the impact of EVs fail to take vehicle size into account. And I agree, if we took our existing fleet of portly vehicles and converted them all to electric, the result might be questionable. But that's not the way it's going to go down. Now and for the next few years, batteries are expensive and bulky enough to limit the size of the vehicles being deployed as EVs.

    The EVs being sold today are almost exclusively small cars, and many of the people buying them (including the two Nissan LEAF owners I know) are downsizing from larger cars. The anti-car folks here will disagree, but I consider that a good thing, both in terms of environmental impact and in terms of physical impacts with other roadway users.

    I do dread the day that somebody builds a 6000 pound electric SUV, and I know it will eventually happen. But such a vehicle will be exceedingly expensive for many years to come, and the rich, smug people driving them will be few in number. Even as battery costs decline, for decades they will remain expensive enough that the mix of EVs being produced will be skewed greatly towards smaller vehicles than the mix of internal combustion cars.

    In other words, the more rapid the adoption of EVs, the more rapid the downsizing of the American vehicle fleet. That may not be the case in Europe, where small cars are already the norm, but it is true here, and it's something I've been wanting to see happen for 20+ years.

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  • Caomhinski October 15, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    See http://www.nwcouncil.org/energy/powersupply/Default.asp for the power supply breakout for the PNW. Coal is at 16.8%.

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  • dwainedibbly October 15, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    Looking at the Bixi Bike, I suppose it's a good design for the intended purpose, except for that stupid, useless rack. Also using nitrogen for inflating tires is like using snake oil for, well, oiling snakes. I do wish they had gone with more gears in the rear hub. I hope they're geareed low enough. There are hills around here, after all. I doubt anyone will be riding these up Jefferson from Naito to Broadway, for example.

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    • Joseph E October 15, 2012 at 9:02 pm

      I've ridden a 3-speed up that hill. If the bikes are geared low enough it should be fine. Though 8 speeds is nice when you want to ride up to the Zoo. ;-)

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  • Al from PA October 16, 2012 at 10:13 am

    "it's not about loving your bike. It's about loving what biking does for cities."

    Well, you've got to at least like your bike if it's going to get you around--take care of it and it takes care of you.

    You've got to know how to ride it--skill is part of urban cycling we tend not to talk about. Knowing how to ride it means liking it enough to know what it can and can't do.

    You don't ride primarily because of some charitable feeling to save the city. That might evolve eventually, but primarily one--you, me all of us--ride to get around more easily and more quickly.

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  • Ryan October 16, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    I found the article on bike sharing as it relates to minorities and low-income people very interesting. I have found that in Portland this is a no-fly-zone topic- people are just not willing to discuss it here.

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