Monday Roundup: More e-car skepticism, parental sprawl, and more

Welcome to the week. Here are the most notable stories our writers and readers have come across in the past seven days…

King too green: Portland bike parts manufacturer Chris King Precision Components has left the B Corp certification program because their factory waste and emissions are so low the certification process has failed to establish a fair baseline to demonstrate improvement. (Bicycle Retailer)

Cars are the problem: It has taken way too long for major environmental advocacy groups to jump on the e-bike bandwagon; but hopefully now they are ready to move beyond their car-centric positions. (Slate)

E-BIKE Act, II: The support mentioned above comes just in time for the return of a new and improved e-bike rebate bill that has been re-introduced by Congress. (The Verge)

Second thoughts on EV cars: I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but new research makes it clear that we risk great peril if we simply switch our gas-powered car system for an electric-powered car system. (Energy Research & Social Science)

Raising kids without cars: Nice to see a national publication draw a direct line between sprawl and how it limits our ability to choose transportation modes other than driving cars (and the cameo from Sam “Coach” Balto was a nice surprise). (Romper)

Good idea: The thing I love most about this article that makes the case for regulating big SUVs out of existence is the publication it appeared in. (Financial Times)

‘Train daddy’ on the inside: Seems like great news that a guy who’s beloved by passenger rail enthusiasts just got a top job at Amtrak. (NY Times)

Public spaces and bureaucracy: Portland is way behind when it comes to being flexible with the activation of public spaces, so maybe it’s time to send a delegation of city planners to Viet Nam to see how they manage alleys. (SF Chronicle)

Remarkable feat: 310 miles every day for seven days: that’s what it took for Belgian Matthieu Bonne to break the official world record for the most miles ridden in a week. (Escape Collective)


Thanks to everyone who shared links this week.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Watts
Watts
11 months ago

I think most folks here would agree that sprawl is bad. Not building more of it is one thing (and even that seems unachievable at the moment), but given how much sprawl is already baked into the system, if we want to reduce car use, we really need to think about how to unbuild a bunch of it. I’ve never heard anyone seriously consider how that might happen.

PS
PS
11 months ago
Reply to  Watts

It’s hard when the places derided as “sprawl” have just about everything relating to creating a society and community more together than the places where density, decay and despair reign.

Dwk
Dwk
11 months ago
Reply to  PS

Yeah, people who live in Beaverton are really anxious and feeling left out that their city does not look like Portland….

blumdrew
blumdrew
11 months ago
Reply to  PS

Right, which is why it’s so affordable to buy property in the densest cities in the country. Manhattan is famously filled with decay and despair. San Francisco famously has no community or society. Portland isn’t the nexus of culture and industry in Oregon, Happy Valley is.

PS
PS
11 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Haha, yes, the cost to live somewhere is certainly the way to know the quality of life is great and not an indication of herd mentality, marketing and artificial scarcity at work. Of course all of those places are just so fantastic that nowhere with better schools, higher incomes and higher quality of life exist in their periphery, right? What’s funny, is the nexus of industry (if you mean for profit enterprise, not Healthcare systems) for Portland is in the sprawl so derided here. As far as culture goes, I must be getting old because rapid delivery of hard drugs is not a big feature for me.

blumdrew
blumdrew
11 months ago
Reply to  PS

Cost of living is indicitive of how many people want to live in an area – what you call herd mentality, I call an interesting place to live with a lot of different people. Of course high income places exist in the periphery – and city living isn’t for everyone. But especially in terms of cultural institutions (museums, theaters, sports venues, etc.) cities have suburbs beat by a country mile.

Concerning industry – 20 of the top 30 employers in the region are in Portland. Sure, most of the top ones are hospitals but it’s more diverse than the suburbs. There are major trucking, manufacturing, and finance companies with offices/operations in Portland still. Intel and Nike are of course massive employers in the suburbs – but at least Nike is there blatantly for tax avoidance purposes (they blocked an attempt for Beaverton to annex the area it is in – despite surrounding it on all sides).

dwk
dwk
11 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

If you want to use the affordable metric, Los Altos is more expensive than San Francisco is and Laguna Beach is more expensive than Los Angeles… Both “Suburbs” BTW are way nicer places to live….
If Portland in 2023 is your definition of culture and industry OK, you probably should get out more….
Any School in the Suburbs is more diverse, the industry of the area is mostly in the burbs..the parks and Public spaces are mostly well kept which is the metric I would use for progressive success…
US cities built in the 19th and 20th centuries are not exactly what we should be striving to fix and defend, IMO.

blumdrew
blumdrew
11 months ago
Reply to  dwk

If Portland in 2023 is your definition of culture and industry OK, you probably should get out more….

I get out plenty thanks. I’m not saying it’s New York or anything, just that it’s the highest concentration of jobs, people, and cultural institutions in Oregon. Which is unambiguously true.

Any School in the Suburbs is more diverse, the industry of the area is mostly in the burbs..

No it’s not. 20 of the 30 largest employers in the region are in the city of Portland. And I know I’ve seen you spout the “suburbs are more diverse here” line before and I know I did a whole lot of research into the racial demographics of every incorporated city in the Portland area in a prior comment on this site. Portland is a very white city, surrounded by (mostly) whiter suburbs. Beaverton and Hillsboro have roughly similar racial demographics to Portland (Cornelius is more diverse), while every other city is more white than Portland. More white than the whitest city over 500k in the country. I can guarantee you that Lake Oswego HS is less diverse than Cleveland HS too.

the parks and Public spaces are mostly well kept which is the metric I would use for progressive success…

That’s a useful metric. Good thing Portland has easily the most park acreage of any city in the region, and last time I went to Forest Park it was just as clean and lovely as usual. Ditto for Mount Tabor. And Brooklyn Park. And Washington Park. And Oaks Bottom. And Marquam. Portland has great parks, and despite what you may read in the news they are almost always pretty clean and well loved (especially the big nature ones). Maybe you need to get out more…

US cities built in the 19th and 20th centuries are not exactly what we should be striving to fix and defend, IMO.

Nearly every city in the country west of the Appalachians was founded in the 19th century. Including all of the Portland region, and most of its suburbs (some are from the early 20th century). What else is there? I mean I can start talking about how Portland should be more like New York, Boston, Philadelphia or Baltimore but I’m not sure that’s the point you are trying to make.

dwk
dwk
11 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

LOL, Cleveland high school is 69% white, Lake Oswego is 72%
Beaverton high school is 44% white….
Basically about the same aren’t they?
If you want to defend how clean and neat Portland is, go ahead….You are a better defender of the city than Wheeler is, I have to say so props for that.
I think continuing to make downtown the transit hub of the area is dumb mistake for transit and livability.

blumdrew
blumdrew
11 months ago
Reply to  dwk

Well liking Portland more than Ted Wheeler is pretty easy to be fair.

Roosevelt is 31% white, Parkrose is 25% – so there certainly are more diverse high schools than Grant and Cleveland in Portland. I was looking more at population of the cities at large (previously) than high schools specifically. Intra city racial dynamics in Portland are certainly subject to a whole separate discussion though.

I don’t think Portland is “clean and neat” per se – just not as dirty and dangerous as the pearl clutching media would have you believe. Though the transit mall is pretty dilapidated these days – especially since almost all the big towers sit mostly vacant down there. But Broadway is still nice, since it generates a more diverse (in terms of uses) clientele than 5th and 6th do.

Transit hubs are fine, and downtown is a natural choice for one (even these days). Better crosstown service is still needed though, and more transit overall as well.

dwk
dwk
11 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Gresham high school is 44% white.
Southridge in Beaverton is 50% white.
Grant high school in Portland is 69% white…
I would go on except you already did extensive research on demographics…..

PS
PS
11 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Would you let your wife walk through Oaks bottom at night by herself?

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  PS

PS, come on, update the phrasing. I don’t need my husband’s permission to go places, even Oaks Bottom at night.

PS
PS
11 months ago

My apologies, please see below for an update:

Blumdrew,

If your partner (legally bound or otherwise (not that otherwise would denote inferior, just not bound by the laws of the state in which the union was set or you currently reside)), whom I hesitate to speculate, is statistically female due to your avatar presenting as male, wanted to explore Oaks Bottom at night, would you be indifferent to her doing so? Note that the indifference to her doing so must comply with the opaque consideration that, most certainly, it could not be construed as your providing of permission for her to do so, but in this commenter’s experience not be too indifferent as well?

Or would the part of your brain that accumulates data and conducts risk analysis determine that the benefit of that walk could be offset by an encounter with a resident of the forest who is statistically male and in an altered mental state due to a self induced intercranial chemical disturbance or one that is naturally occurring give you pause?

Given this, the risk this interaction could more quickly devolve to a physical altercation given the statistically significant reality that males are considerably more prone to violence, which based on the aforementioned assumption that your partner is female and at a statistical physical disadvantage to the forest dweller, is not zero.

This is coupled with the knowledge of the data around the limited number of police in the city and considerable lag time to not only speak with a 911 operator, but to get a response by emergency personnel, you realize that you could end up being her best hope for protection against such a encounter.

This is further enhanced by an emotional response in her presence (physical and mental) that could best be summarized as “love”, and your realization that she is your better half, the mother to your children, and vital to the continuation of both you and her, together, so you don’t want bad things to happen to her and may place the relative return on investment of this walk very low when compared to walks in other locations and at other times of day.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  PS

Touché! I’m glad you put some effort into it, PS, and hope you had some fun. Don’t expect a cotw though.

PS
PS
11 months ago

Haha, no problem and in all sincerity, thanks for the reminder.

Jimbo
Jimbo
11 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Huh, did you not see the news about the changes in zoning law? Or tolling? Or parking minimums? If sprawl was a result of rules and regulations, which I believe it was, then we are on the path towards increased density in our suburban areas. Oregon is kind of really ahead of the curve in America.

It’s not going to happen overnight and there is still a lot to do, but a lot of seeds have been planted in the last few years. We won’t see the effects for 10 or more years, but that is a good speed for society to change.

Watts
Watts
11 months ago
Reply to  Jimbo

we are on the path towards increased density in our suburban areas.

I think you highly underestimate the magnitude of the task. In 20 years, the Portland suburbs are going to look more or less like they do today. They’ll probably still look that way in 50 years.

If we’re still relying on today’s transportation technologies, then the transportation patterns will be the same as well.

Jimbo
Jimbo
11 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Well, we will see. Major road blocks have gotten out the way. Everyday on Nextdoor I see people bemoaning new development and questioning how it will affect traffic. I mean, Beaverton got the Round and Tigard is densifying it’s downtown area. I live in Tigard and I have a 15 minute city by bicycle. I am seeing ADU housing pop up everywhere – and hopefully in a few years I’ll start to see some middle housing pop up. These barriers for densification were just removed in the last 4 or so years. You look at the local suburb level construction projects – and they often center around walkability and active transit. Urbanism advocacy groups like Strong Towns have had their mark in Tigard (Jeff Speck spoke in Tigard in 2015), and it seems like city employees have a pretty good understanding that once it can’t expand anymore its going to go bankrupt quickly. It’s mostly USDOT, ODOT, and the County level institutions that seem tooled specifically for car dependent infrastructure and unwilling to change to anything else. The unincorporated areas of the suburbs that are managed at the county level are real sticks in the mud.

I am often a negative nancy, but dang, you have me beat.

Watts
Watts
11 months ago
Reply to  Jimbo

I am often a negative nancy, but dang, you have me beat.

Perhaps so, or maybe just realistic (I think overall I have a more positive vision of the future than most people here). When you look at the numbers involved in beating back sprawl, just adding some apartment buildings or some Airbnb units to Beaverton and Tigard gets us nowhere near where we need to be to make widespread reliance on transit feasible.

For that we need many fewer of those not-very-dense outlying areas that are impossible to serve with the current models of transit. That means lots of people need to give up the suburban homes they love (which would require someone to buy them out), and be happy to move into a small urban apartment/condo.

Look at the numbers and do some math, and try to be realistic about the rate of transformation society is willing to undergo and the amount of resources we’re willing to spend on a project that most of us don’t want to do at all, and what the opportunity costs would be.

50 years ago, our cities looked more-or-less like they do now. The same will hold true 50 years from now.

Jimbo
Jimbo
11 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Huh? Who airbnbs in Tigard?

We won’t reach the density required for public transit by building apartments or middle housing? I mean, you literally could not build middle housing in places like Tigard until recently – it was against the law. Lots of people, myself included, would love a smaller house and lot – this is a lot to manage and maintain. But it’s not there, we didn’t build it, because we made it illegal. I had to buy too much house because I didn’t have a choice.

Our cities, like Portland, look the same as 50 years ago? What?? It looks pretty different from 20 years ago when I first visited Portland. Tigard looks way different than 6 years ago. And when we talk about this kind of change, we are talking in decades anyways.

Watts, what? How do our notions of reality differ so much?

Watts
Watts
11 months ago
Reply to  Jimbo

We won’t reach the density required for public transit by building apartments or middle housing?

Not in any meaningful timeframe.

Look at Portland’s R2.5 zoning; it’s been legal to build higher density basically forever, and it’s mostly indistinguishable from our R5 zones. And when people do build, they often build a giant ugly duplex with a Airbnb units on the ground floor. It doesn’t feel sustainable in any sense.

In the areas that already support transit, a great many people don’t ride it. I know it can work, for some people at least (when I lived in Boston, it went where and when I needed it, mostly, because I was able to structure my life around the Red Line), but even there the streets are filled with cars because our current model of transit, largely unchanged since the 19th century, does not serve people very well. (Most of my friends there drove basically everywhere except work.)

And yes, large swaths of Portland look essentially the same as they did 50 years ago. Some streets, like Division or Hawthorne or Williams have changed pretty radically, and the Pearl is very different, but those are tiny slivers of the city. There’s been infill and the suburbs have expanded, but the basic city structure is pretty much the same. With land costs so high, and fewer empty lots around, I think it is highly likely the rate of development will slow.

And while there are people whose dream home is a condo in the city, I believe that they make up a relatively small share of the population.

Go out to Powell or MLK or 82nd or whatever your local variant is some time, and just watch the traffic for a while. Think about what it would take to get all those folks out of their vehicles in a meaningful timeframe. Do you really believe middle housing and apartments will do it?

JimboTigard
JimboTigard
11 months ago
Reply to  Watts

What is your definition of a meaningful timeframe?

Watts
Watts
11 months ago
Reply to  JimboTigard

meaningful timeframe

I generally think of it in terms of climate change, so, let’s say 2050. Beyond that, all bets are off.

That, and the pace of technological change makes anything beyond that pretty much speculative. The future will be pretty radically different depending on whether some of the new energy efforts pan out or not, and the urban landscape could look very different if robot cars realize their promise.

blumdrew
blumdrew
11 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I’m not sure unbuilding suburban sprawl is practical or necessary. Cities should focus on being unabashedly themselves – and the perverse incentives that the US uses to continue prioritizing suburban places over urban ones should be rolled back.

Just off the top of my head:

  • removing the mortgage interest tax deduction (since most cities consist of more renters than owners, this would reduce the financial impetus to buy any house you can afford – which is often a large sprawl generator).
  • tolling more freeways, especially bridges. There are an obscene number of freeway bridges that will need to be rebuilt in the next 25 years. Toll all of them, and create laws to give some % of revenue to transit providers (like what the MTA does in NYC), and keep the tolls even after the cost of the bridge is repaid.
  • allow for state gas tax revenues to be spent on mass transit. Transit is more popular and more financially sound in dense cities, and allows people to get around more efficiently (from a roadway wear and tear and capacity stand point especially).
  • allow much denser housing in cities by right. Portland gets a lot of credit from online urbanists for allowing duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes and cottage clusters. But FAR, too low of height restrictions, and other parts of the zoning code should be revised to allow for more urban development standards. Doesn’t have to be Manhattan levels of density, but 3 stories and no FAR (but still some max lot size – it’s good to have space for trees, etc. still in a city) are things I’d like to see personally
  • crack down on suburban counties using tax incentives (and on corporations abusing the tax code – ever wonder why Nike is in unincorporated Washington County and not Beaverton?) to lure major employers out of cities.
  • rolling back design codes that require developments to do things like traffic studies for cars – but not for any other mode.

I’m sure many other people have more ideas. I wouldn’t advocate for “unbuilding” any place. Home is a sacred place to people – and any attempt to remove someones “home” will be looked at as an attack on that and will be difficult at best to do (if it’s even worth doing at all).

Watts
Watts
11 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

If you don’t unbuild, our urban areas will remain sprawling indefinitely.

blumdrew
blumdrew
11 months ago
Reply to  Watts

It’s better to focus on making cities more livable – and to attract people through economic, cultural, and social means – than it is to literally destroy peoples homes.

Watts
Watts
11 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

I totally agree*, though it still leaves us highly dependent on cars for transportation. I just think we should acknowledge that.

*Assuming “livable” is defined by those who live here.

Pockets the Coyote
Pockets the Coyote
11 months ago

18 hours at ~17.23 mph average, without accounting for any stopping, only two hours of grace during his 20 hour days on bike time, and 4 hours “off bike” between days.
Absolutely stunning.

math for some other averages that would have given more time for rest. I can only begin to imagine holding any of these paces that long.
16 hours moving time at ~19.38 mph
14 hours at ~22.15 mph
12 hours at ~25.84 mph
10 hours at 31 mph

Jimbo
Jimbo
11 months ago

I completed my first 200k rando just recently and was feeling pretty stoked. Now I feel a bit silly

Pockets the Coyote
Pockets the Coyote
11 months ago
Reply to  Jimbo

Nonsense Jimbo, we all ride at our own pace. 200k is still massive, congrats and well done.

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
11 months ago

Someday look up Maria Parker’s solo RAAM run. Given that she lost 24hours in Arizona when a distracted driver took out her chase vehicle, it’s *really* impressive.

Pockets the Coyote
Pockets the Coyote
11 months ago
Reply to  Trike Guy

Thanks for the suggestion. Just read part one of Jim Parker’s account, it is impressive indeed. Hard to say if I would have chosen to stay or DNF after both sickness and the crash. Having a crash occur directly where I’m riding has definitely been something I’ve feared the few times someone has followed me at reduced speed in the lane, they are very lucky to have had minimal and non-permanent injuries sustained. I look forward to reading the other parts.

blumdrew
blumdrew
11 months ago

It’s such good news that Byford is at Amtrak. He did such good work at Transport for London (including opening the Elizabeth Line!) and made such massive improvements at the MTA (including finally opening part of the Second Ave Subway). His position is HSR focused, so presumably the crux of his work will be outside the PNW – but hoping there will be at least some work put in for the Cascades corridor.

X
X
11 months ago

Second thoughts on EV cars:…trigger warning for the USA, you probably don’t want to read this. There’s something in it to annoy almost any faction.

Watts
Watts
11 months ago
Reply to  X

From the abstract:

The strategy of private automobility electrification does not look beyond the problem of tailpipe emissions and hence cannot eliminate [a whole host of problems not related to emissions].

From the abstract, and the opening paragraphs, this article appears to be arguing that electrification will not cure all automotive-related social ills. That is, of course, completely true, totally obvious, and not a particularly interesting point.

Damien
Damien
11 months ago
Reply to  Watts

From the abstract, and the opening paragraphs, this article appears to be arguing that electrification will not cure all automotive-related social ills. That is, of course, completely true, totally obvious, and not a particularly interesting point.

To folks invested in the subject as I would assume the vast majority of BikePortland readers are, perhaps – but to an un-invested general public, politicians looking for politically easy answers, and an industry looking to keep the unsustainable gravy train going as long as possible, this point needs repeating. Over and over again.

Watts
Watts
11 months ago
Reply to  Damien

It’s in an academic journal (though it reads in places like an editorial), so won’t be read by the public or politicians.

Damien
Damien
11 months ago
Reply to  Watts

It’s in an academic journal (though it reads in places like an editorial), so won’t be read by the public or politicians.

Aye, hence the value in repeating it here on BikePortland and, hopefully, by its readership to those who won’t read it here either.

Watts
Watts
11 months ago
Reply to  Damien

Which brings us full circle where I called it uninteresting and you agreed that it was for “folks invested in the subject as I would assume the vast majority of BikePortland readers are.”

Jimbo
Jimbo
11 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Watts, honestly most of the time I don’t get anything out of your posts except you really like to be contrarian. There is a serious lack of substance to your posts. I honestly don’t know what your stances are on like anything. Are you just trolling BP?

John J
John J
11 months ago
Reply to  Jimbo

I enjoy Watts’ POV and value his posts. They provide a needed balance and there’s nothing wrong with challenging the conventional wisdom. Your critique of his posts is personal at best and lacking substance at worst. Just because you don’t agree with or enjoy his posts doesn’t make him a troll.

Watts
Watts
11 months ago
Reply to  Jimbo

Let’s be frank. As an academic paper, this one is pretty crap. It basically argues against a straw man, and is in many ways more editorial than research paper. You yourself called it biased and lacking evidence. I think most people already know that electricrifying cars won’t stop them from crashing and won’t relieve traffic congestion. I ended up reading most of the paper and it was just tiresome.

Does pointing that out make me a troll?

I have (and attempt to express here) a coherent world view that is well considered, internally consistent, and based on a small number of political axioms that I think would be generally accepted among the readers here. I have a low tolerance for bullshit and fantasy (my views on robotic cars not withstanding), which I think is where I diverge from some readers. I think solutions need to accept the world as it is, be well rooted in the art of the possible, and should be compatible with our democratic norms. I believe in science, am swayed by data and analysis (I’ve changed some of my views based on engaging in this forum), and I have an optimistic view of the future despite a clear-eyed view of the challenges we face.

[I feel like I just wrote a dating profile that would lead to a small number of awkward first dates.]

I am sorry that you think my posts lack substance. I disagree. I think you just don’t like my views.

Jimbo
Jimbo
11 months ago
Reply to  X

I liked it. Confused that is it in a scientific journal when the bias is so strong and the empirical evidence so little, but other than that it didn’t trigger me. I saved the link. Some terms such as structural violence and private car fetishism may even make it into my everyday vocabulary. The emphasis on pm from car tires being greater than exhaust is something I am glad to see more of.