Green Transportation
Moving toward a transportation system that fuels healthy people and a healthy planet.

Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro Area Leads on Progressive Bike Policy

Painted Cycling Lanes City Street

The United States, along with much of the developed world, is struggling with rapidly rising rates of chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease. Lack of exercise is a frequent culprit, but many Americans struggle to find time for the 2 hours and 30 minutes of physical activity that the CDC recommends [1] adults get each week. Most of us already spend well over 2 hours and 30 minutes commuting by car or bus each week, however, and by making the shift to bicycle commuting, we stand to greatly improve our health along with reducing traffic and emissions.

There is already an abundance of research that links bicycle commuting and good health, and in Minnesota, the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area — home to about 3.5 million people — has taken notice. It’s been about 20 years since communities across the metro began implementing progressive bicycle policy and infrastructure in earnest — and the results are extremely promising.

Preferences Suggested for Off-road Trails

Minneapolis began rapidly increasing its bicycle infrastructure in 2000, especially its off-road trails linking primarily residential areas with job centers. A 2017 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity [2] found that this increase was matched by a sharp increase in bicycle commuting. The study suggested that off-road trails may be preferable to bike lanes, which can be intimidating and difficult to use.

Overall, over the course of the study, the total increase in bicycle infrastructure in Minneapolis was accompanied by a doubling in the number of bicycle commuters as a portion of total commuters, from only 1.8% in 2000 to 4.0% in 2010. Shifting demographics may also have contributed to this trend, but overall, this increase in infrastructure appears to have been a resounding success.

Bike-sharing Services Expand Ridership

Other services have sought to increase people’s access to bicycles, which can be expensive and daunting to maintain for new riders. In 2010, Nice Ride MN [3], a bike-sharing service, launched in downtown Minneapolis. Their model allows users to grab a bicycle from one local station and drop it off at any other station in their Twin Cities network, a boon for people who either can’t or don’t want to own and store a bicycle at home. They offer monthly membership for frequent users along with 24-hour passes and one-time rentals that are often used by tourists.

Nice Ride MN began as a local nonprofit movement that has grown enormously in recent years, serving as a proof of concept for similar local bike-share services.

Further confirming the importance of policies that promote bicycle use, a 2017 study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion [4], conducted in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, found that commuting by bicycle was associated with a lower chance of obesity, high blood pressure, and high triglycerides (cholesterol), even in adults who made as few as three bicycle trips per week. This result, study authors write, “provide[s] empirical support for the promotion of active transportation as public health policy” — an exciting finding in an era when public health policy is being recognized as just as, if not more, important to people’s health as advances in biomedical science.

Issues of Equity and Access

A persistent criticism of bicycle policy in the Twin Cities, however, has been its unequal implementation. Wealthier, whiter neighborhoods tend to have better access to this infrastructure while poorer, primarily African-American, Latino, Native American, and/or Asian-American neighborhoods tend to have less access.

A 2017 study published in the Transportation Research Record found that lack of access to bikeways in disadvantaged Minneapolis-St. Paul neighborhoods not only impacted residents’ ability to bike safely, but could also limit their career options by unfairly limiting their commute. Several local bicycle advocacy organizations, including Our Streets MPLS [6] and the Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota [7], have raised awareness of the issue and are placing pressure on the city to promote progressive bicycle policy for all.

As more and more people become aware of the health benefits of bicycle commuting — along with the community-wide benefits of reducing pollution and traffic — progressive bicycle policy will only grow in importance. The Minneapolis-St. Paul area is blazing trails for the rest of the world by exploring and testing exciting new options for its citizens.

If you currently live in an area with weak bicycle policy and poor infrastructure, stay tuned for the next post in this series, which will explore ways that you can advocate for progressive bicycle policy in your community!

References

[1] “How much physical activity do adults need?Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

[2] Hirsch, J. A., Meyer, K. A., Peterson, M., Zhang, L., Rodriguez, D. A., & Gordon-Larsen, P. (2017). “Municipal Investment in Off-Road Trails and Changes in Bicycle Commuting in Minneapolis, Minnesota Over 10 Years: A Longitudinal Repeated Cross-Sectional Study.” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

[3] Nice Ride Minnesota [bike-sharing service].

[4] Berger, A. T., Xinyi, Q., & Pereira, M. A. (2017). Associations Between Bicycling for Transportation and Cardiometabolic Risk Factors Among Minneapolis-Saint Paul Area Commuters: A Cross-Sectional Study in Working-Age Adults.” American Journal of Health Promotion.

[5] Wang, J. & Lindsey, G. (2017). “Equity of Bikeway Distribution in Minneapolis, Minnesota.” Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board.

[6] Our Streets MPLS [bicycle and pedestrian advocacy group].

[7] Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota [African-American bicycle club].

Maggie Tiede is a researcher and writer interested in public transit infrastructure and how it relates to health and sustainability living, especially in harsh climates, such as Minnesota’s, and with other types of green transportation infrastructure, including sidewalks, bike lanes, and electric car chargers. Connect with her at MaggieTiede.com and on Twitter.


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Bike Breakthrough: Connecting Neighborhoods with Low-stress Routes

Protected bike lane in Austin, Texas, draws families. Photo by Places for Bikes

For me, a good bike ride is both relaxing and stimulating — a chance to revel in the passing scenery as I feel the wind blow across my face. But I never expected to experience this in New York City. Navigating Brooklyn and a bit of Manhattan on two wheels for the first time was a sublime surprise. Instead of constantly peering over my shoulder fearful of cars speeding toward me (as I expected), I actually savored the street life all around while pedaling through town.

What made this ride so pleasurable and surprising is a well-connected grid of safe and comfortable bike routes featuring protected bike lanes on busy avenues and painted lanes on quieter streets. Built over the last decade as part of a methodical plan to improve biking in New York, this network explains Brooklyn’s doubling of bike commuters over just five years, 2009-2014.

Those 10,000 new bike-commuting Brooklynites, not to mention the tens of thousands of others in the borough who now bike for shorter errands and social trips, are more than a trend. They're a model.

“The next big idea for biking in the U.S. is building complete, connected networks of comfortable places to ride,” says Martha Roskowski, vice president of local innovation for the national bicycling advocacy coalition PeopleForBikes. “Most communities have bits and pieces of good bike routes. Maybe a nice pathway along the river, some quiet side streets, perhaps a few good bike lanes. But they’re pretty disconnected in most places, so people still don’t feel safe on bikes.

“When cities link bikeways together, it’s transformative,” she says. “You see a lot more people on bikes, and more women and kids, not just those who are brave or who have special biking skills.”

For New York City, the payoff has been huge: new bike commuters in Brooklyn alone over five years are enough to jam 50 subway cars or pack the Brooklyn Bridge with autos for an hour straight.

Taking the Stress Out of Biking

This new focus on filling in missing bikeway links — and, therefore, on the people who aren't currently biking — has been spreading across the country.

“It’s really exciting for us to be knitting a bicycle network together to create more options for people of all ages and abilities to get to work, school or stores,” explains Laura Dierenfield, active transportation program manager in Austin, Texas. “Our planning strategy is less about what we can do for bicycling, but what bicycling can do for a safer, more affordable and more sustainable Austin.”

“Increasingly, people are stepping up and saying, ‘I never ride a bike — but my kids do, or my neighbors do, or the people who work for me do, and I want them to be safe,’” says Roskowski. “We hear from business leaders who want their communities to be more attractive to employers and visitors. We work with neighborhood leaders who see biking’s potential as low-cost transportation and a good way for kids to get to the park.”

Roskowski's group PeopleForBikes recently launched what it calls the Big Jump Project to help ten neighborhoods around the US show what’s possible when people on bikes experience the same level of comfort and ease that drivers have long enjoyed on American streets.  The idea is that creating and promoting less stressful networks will trigger sizable increases in bicycling in these neighborhoods over the next three years, and offer practical models for cities everywhere to do the same.

Austin is home to one of the 10 Big Jump neighborhoods. Another is in Fort Collins, Colorado.

“Our goal is to make our bike system more accessible for people, a low-stress network that is family-friendly,” adds Tessa Greegor, manager for the bike program in Fort Collins.

To accompany the Big Jump, PeopleForBikes and the planning and engineering firm Toole Design Group have teamed up to create a new procedure, called the Bicycle Network Analysis  that looks at the location, connectivity and quality of any city's biking network to measure its strength.

This information will help answer many of the key questions about the future of biking. Which cities have the best networks? Which cities' long-term plans have the most potential? And, most importantly, if a city wants the biggest biking boom for its buck, which missing links should be its top priorities?

"Take a typical suburban residential neighborhood as an example," said Spencer Gardner, a planner for Toole Design Group who co-created the measurement tool. "Most of it is actually pretty comfortable for biking. But generally there are a few locations in the road network that are really important — meaning that they make connections possible from one place to another — that tend not to be very comfortable for biking.

"Those couple miles of arterial roads are the most important piece of the network for making it possible for people to bike around your city," Gardner said.

Biking grows in Brooklyn thanks to safer streets. Photo by Planetgordon

A Giant Leap for Communities

Biking experts agree that building complete networks (by closing missing links) and measuring them (with tools like the Bike Network Analysis) is essential. But they also agree it's not enough. After a century of building cities around cars, people need to be exposed to the idea that bikes can also be a practical, pleasant transportation way to get around.

“What drives people to bike is how well the bike network is integrated into the life of the community,” says Kyle Wagenschutz, who manages the Big Jump project for PeopleForBikes.  “Our work is not just to put in bike lanes, but to help transform local landscapes by linking bikes to community-driven initiatives and programs that support more vibrant and sustainable neighborhoods.”

Prospects for  better biking across America look promising to Gil Peñalosa — a globe-trotting advocate for creating communities that work for people of all ages — based on what he saw happen in Seville, Spain. “Like in the US, people there said ‘we will never bike because we love our cars too much’. But they went from 0.6 percent of trips by bike to almost seven percent in three years by building a connected grid of 100 miles of protected bike lanes.”

Turns out it was not love of cars (or even the city’s scorching summer temperatures) that prevented people from biking, Peñalosa says. It was “poor connectivity in the street grid for cyclists. If people have safe, easy access from their house to where they want go safely, they will ride.”

Peñalosa also points to Bogotá, Colombia — where he was parks commissioner in the 1990s and his brother Enrique is now mayor — which boasts one of the world’s most extensive bike networks with 250 miles of protected bikeways and another 250 miles under construction over the next three years. Around 400,000 bike trips are made around the city each day, significantly increasing traffic capacity on the city's streets.

Closer to home, Calgary, Canada, offers a shining example of how connected bike networks can bring change fast — even in a sprawling city in a province whose oil and gas industry sometimes earns it the title “Texas of the North.” In 2014, the city council narrowly approved plans to create a 4-mile network of protected bike lanes on four downtown streets all at once.

Within three months, bicycling on those streets doubled. Within a year, overall bicycle trips downtown soared 40 percent. City data found that the ratio of women biking downtown rose eight percentage points, while the number of people biking illegally on the sidewalks fell 16 percent. Delays for people driving was no more than 90 seconds, even during rush hour. A year after the network was built, two-thirds of all city residents supported it, and the city council voted 10-4 in December 2016 to make the changes permanent.

“As we look at the data, more people are cycling, we’ve lowered the percentage of injury collisions throughout the core, and we’ve had pretty minimal impact on automobile traffic, so I’m quite pleased,” announced Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who noted he himself does not ride a bike.

Last fall, Edmonton — Calgary’s rival in NHL hockey and many other things — launched a similar project for its own downtown.

The Building Blocks of Great Biking

Key elements for creating low-stress bicycle networks are:

Protected bike lanes. The number of bike lanes where riders are physically separated from motor vehicles has skyrocketed in the US since 2009. There are more than 400 today in 82 cities across 34 states, with more being built all the time. Chicago alone has built 32 projects, and protected bike lanes are also appearing in suburbs like Hillsboro, Oregon, which features three routes, and smaller communities like Springdale, Arkansas, with two.

Numerous studies document that protected bike lanes increase the rate of bicycling by an average of 75 percent, reduce bicycle and pedestrian injuries, relieve stress on the streets for drivers and spur economic growth in the neighborhoods where they are constructed. They generally are built along busy arterial streets, giving people safer access to businesses and other popular destinations.

Neighborhood bikeways. Also known as "neighborhood greenways" or “bicycle boulevards,” these are low-speed side streets where biking and walking are given priority over driving through a series of design, engineering and landscaping measures that calm motor vehicles and discourage non-local auto traffic on these streets.

Vancouver, British Columbia now sports more than 20 neighborhood bikeways, part of a 100-mile network that will eventually reach within a ten-minute bike ride of every resident. Portland, Oregon has built more than 70 miles so far, and Austin and Tucson are working on extensive networks of their own. Seattle took a step in this direction by lowering speed limits to 20 miles per hour on 2400 miles of residential streets across the city.

Shared-use paths. These are off-road paths, such as rail trails and waterfront parkways, that are increasingly common for recreational riding across the country. Dayton, Ohio, for instance, boasts more than 330 miles of paved bike paths. Fayetteville, Arkansas, spends $1.5 million each year — 6 percent of its entire capital budget — to continually expand its 40-mile trail network. These trails play an important role for transportation, too, especially when they are well-linked to protected bike lanes and neighborhood greenways.

Safer intersections. Most bike/car crashes happen where streets meet. Intersections can be made safer for biking, walking and driving with innovations such as special bike signals (which often give bikers a few seconds' head start so turning drivers notice them) and green painted bike lanes (which remind everyone that the intersection is shared space). At particularly dangerous crossings, another solution is to build underpasses that allow bikes to skip the intersection altogether, which Fort Collins is doing as part of its master plan to triple bikes on the streets by 2020.

Salt Lake City, Austin and Davis, California (where bikes make up 20 percent of local traffic) have recently built the nation’s first protected intersections, which make a few  design tweaks that rearrange traffic flow so people on bikes and in cars don't have to look over their shoulders for one another.

New York on Two Wheels

“If I make it there, I’ll make it anywhere,” goes the old song “New York, New York.” And this is true for bicycling, too.

America’s biggest, most boisterous and densely settled city shows the important role bikes can play in 21st century life. On a typical day, close to a half-million bike rides are taken around the city, and more than 775,000 New Yorkers cycle regularly. The number of people riding bikes daily rose 80 percent from 2010 to 2015 — the period when major bike improvements began appearing on the streets. The city’s growing network of connected bike routes accounts for these surprising numbers.

Parts of Brooklyn offer a glimpse of what biking could feel like in the future. Never once did I feel threatened by traffic throughout my three-hour ride in and around Brooklyn — which covered the neighborhoods of Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Williamsburg, the green expanses of  Prospect Park, the old Navy Yard, into Manhattan on the Williamsburg bridge, around the Lower East Side and Chinatown, back over the Manhattan Bridge (where we ran into a bike traffic jam) then on to DUMBO, downtown Brooklyn and Boerum Hill.

“Some of the sense of security comes from the neighborhood itself,” explained my tour guide Jon Orcutt, former policy diretor of the New York City Department of Transportation and now advocacy director at TransitCenter.  “The network of bike lanes has made drivers in this part of Brooklyn more accustomed to looking out for bikes.  In many cases they’re bicyclists themselves.”

“The key to a good network is to put the lanes where people want to go, not just where it’s easy to build them,” Orcutt said.

“The real beneficiaries of all this are the kids, who now have a place to ride, and the older people, who feel safer now that most bicyclists are off the sidewalks,” he added.

“In Brooklyn what you see is the explosion of a demographic — younger people and young families — that are really into bicycling and a city government that is responsive to that,” says Randy Neufeld, a longtime Chicago-based bike strategist and director of the SRAM Cycling Fund. “But pretty much every city has neighborhoods with those same elements.”

“Yet it’s important to remember,” he continues, “that it’s not just hipsters out on those bikes, but also people like a 50-year old cleaning woman riding to work.”

Jay Walljasperauthor of the Great Neighborhood Book and Urban-Writer in Residence at Augsburg College in Minneapolis — consults, writes and speaks about creating stronger, brighter communities. His website is JayWalljasper.com and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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An Ode to Small Pickup Trucks

 

Wood worker and boat builder Bill Thomas had had it and finally located a 1980s VW Bus/Syncro (bullet hole-free) pickup in Bosnia and had it shipped to England, where it traveled via freighter to Maine. After a total rebuild, he had a vehicle with an 9-foot bed, fold-down sides, and a capacious lockable storage compartment underneath.

 My cabinet- and guitar-making buddy Jim is nursing his elderly Ford Ranger long bed — fun to drive, efficient, maneuverable and very fuel-efficient with repair parts and tires quite reasonable. Whenever I have to haul a heavy boat out up a steep ramp, it’s my 1954 Willys pickup I go to: It's heavy duty, low range and collectively, offers 42 leaf springs in the suspension. It’s tougher than a boiled owl and reliable.

So what is this passion for elderly trucks? Nostalgia?

No, rather it’s the undeniable fact that in the nation that developed the utility, myth and mystique of the small utility truck, manufacturers have now decided to discontinue building them and to throw the working person who depends on these unique vehicles over the rail for profit.

Where Have All the Work Trucks Gone?

That’s not to say those vehicles aren’t out there in the rest of the world. On every continent outside of North America, you can still find real “work” trucks. Efficient, reliable tools that make their owners money. But here, alas, we are forced to select from a profit-enhancing array of lookalike, jumbo versions of a small child’s Tonka truck. Big-wheeled, rotund pickups equipped with more bling and easy to break distractions than used to be found in a pink 1955 Cadillac Seville with white leather seats driven by a pearl-wearing, silver-haired dowager named Maude.

Even the venerable and utilitarian Jeep has developed a middle-aged paunch rivaling in size of the Rubenesque Hummer — ready to be dolled up with available snorkel, winch and industrial jack for those dangerous missions to the mall.

But what of all those plain but hard-working imported cousins that used to be ubiquitous: the VWs, the Toyota Hi Luxes, Isuzus, Ram 50s and Datsuns? Alas, all were collateral damage of the infamous “chicken wars”. In 1963, the United States under Lyndon B. Johnson, reacting to European countries placing tariffs on U.S.-grown chicken, enacted a 25-percent tax on brandy, dextrin, potato starch and pickup trucks.

Over the years, most of the “chicken tax” tariffs were lifted — with the noteworthy exception of those on imported pickups — much to the delight of American builders who feared competition in the American market. One has to wonder why it is possible for Australian drovers, Guatemalan revolutionaries, Central African missionaries, and even ISIS can get a reliable small pickup and we can’t.

In Search of the Elusive Small Pickup

In many ways, it has all been a conscious attempt by corporate managers to eliminate an entire class of vehicles to enhance their bottom line. Manufactures croon — “But American consumers don’t want small trucks!” Not so, Pilgrim!

In reality, it’s that their simple and single goal was to dissuade consumers from even considering a small truck. There's big money in big trucks. While there might an advertising blitz for the manly F-150, the robust Silverado or the Godzilla Ram there was rarely seen a TV or print ad for a sporty Ford Ranger or S10. Indeed, when I shopped for my current Ford Ranger, one dealer didn’t even have a single one on the lot to test drive. The next dealer asked, "why would you want one?"

Next it was argued, "you don’t want the base model, you need the FWD with the big engine". After ordering, I was told the model I wanted didn’t exist anyway but they would gladly sell me a more expensive one. In short order, I found the one I wanted online and told the salesman if they didn’t bring it here at their own expense, they would never see me again.

 

VW with flowers. Photo by Bill Thomas

Of course, there was a bit of collusion with motor reviewers who would bemoan the horrifying notion that the small vehicles looked, and worse, rode like trucks and lacked the power to accelerate as quickly as a BMW to get onto the parkway. Purple prose on color schemes, Bluetooth connectivity, finely color-coordinated interiors and the size of the knobs on the on board entertainment system carry the day. Not so much ink spilled on utility and reliability.

Advice for Truck Manufacturers

It doesn’t have to be this way. Not every innovation is bad. All manufactures need to do is actually have someone on their advisory panel who actually works (or at least knows someone) in the trades to get the design team back on track. The components are there — all that is lacking is the will.

A few recommendations for our benighted but short-sighted manufacturers: Today’s engines are far more reliable with less required maintenance. But one does have to ask, what’s with the giant engines that now come standard with every suburb-bound pickup? Not everyone needs the fuel-guzzling power necessary to haul a trailer filled with 40 head of well-fed Holsteins over the great divide in a blizzard. Keep the standard transmission. There are still many of us who actually like driving a vehicle.

Today’s brakes are far superior to those in the past! Airbags really work and I am glad for them. And I don’t want to go back to vacuum-driven windshield wipers. I wouldn’t mind a return of fly window ventilation though (losing those little vent windows was a setback for civilization).

That said, enough with the bed that’s only big enough for two bags of dog food and a sack of “weed and feed”.  Bring back the long bed. It is disingenuous to claim that no one wants a long bed and then offer (at extra cost) a “bed extender”. The frame is obviously there — now just used to accommodate the little-used club cab. Bring back exterior tie-down hooks on the bed — they are successfully used all around the rest of the planet. We should have them here.

Galvanize the frame! What good is a spiffy aluminum body on a rotting iron frame? Do we really need expensive headlight arrays that rival the landing lights on an Airbus that only serve to annoy oncoming drivers? I think not.

Lose the valueless $300 "smart keys” that everyone hates. Studies have shown, even today, Americans are still capable of inserting and turning a mechanical key that takes$2 to reproduce at the hardware store. And deep six the goofy, blacked-out stealth paint packages that only have appeal for Darth Vader wannabes. That Latin American death squad look is so 1980.

I believe the nation that built the navies of Liberty ships, the Interstate highway system and put a man on the moon also has the ability to build a hard-working small truck that can handle bales of hay, lumber, and bags of concrete. You can do it! It’s great to keep building the Mucho Gordo Grande El Camino, Ranchero Forrestal and the Dodge Hindenburg for the Scarsdale and Levittown crowd, but don’t forget the tradesmen, ranchers, fishermen and farmers who brought you to the dance.

And it might just be a good business strategy. After all, the manufacturer of Bill’s Syncro had pretty good luck taking on Big Iron and gas guzzlers in the 1960s with a simple slogan: “Think Small”.

Family With Modified Old Pickup

Photo by Bill Thomas

Greg Rossel builds and repairs small wooden boats in Troy, Maine. He also teaches boat building, writes about it for several magazines, is the author of Building Small Boats and The Boatbuilder Apprentice and produces a weekly two-hour world music radio program on WERU-FM  which (thankfully) has nothing whatsoever to do with boats.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Mother Earth News Fair in Oregon and Our Solar Bus

Hello Mother Earth News people.  I am proud to announce that we made it to the Albany, Oregon Mother Earth News Fair! Better yet, we made it with the Solar Electric VW Bus!!!!

 Mother Earth News Fair, Albany, Oregon

As you know we added a new bank of Lithium Iron Phosphate cells and added another 1000 watts of solar power in the form of an awning. With 45kw-hr of storage, and 2200 watts of tracking solar we headed for Albany. We had hoped to leave by Thursday night as we needed plenty of charge time during the journey.

However, Thursday night I was literally still in the process of finishing the 1000 watt flexible solar panel frame. The 1000 watt solar array consists of a 35 lb aluminum frame and five 200 watt flexible solar panels.  With the panels weighing just 7 lbs each, the total array comes in at 75 lbs. This array is powerful, lightweight and quite rigid.

Building the frame

Thin film panels from the underside 

After  finishing the mounting brackets at about 4 am, me, my wife, and my two children left for Albany. Much to our delight the bus did the 100 mile runs between Ashland and Albany Oregon, with ease. Doing 70mph on the freeway in a VW bus is quite the pleasure.  Although I had plenty of power and speed to climb mountains, I choose to use the RV and truck lanes whenever I could to ease up on my energy usage.

It is perfect writing about the second solar array and the new batteries now, since it has been months since our Albany trip and other trips as well. Now, I can give accurate feedback on performance. Thanks to Thunderstruck motors I have an awesome Battery Management System to keep an eye on all my cells.  The cells balance automatically as they come to full charge...nice. 

In the next blog I'll be able to share the installation of a Thunderstruck motors display screen. Like gauges in a regular car, it  displays the state of charge, temperature, etc.

Survey Says.....

The bus is a "hundred miler!"  With 45kw-hr at 150 volts nominal, we did some 120 mile runs and discharged only to 3.00 volts per cell.  The deeper you discharge the shorter the lifetime.  We are trying to keep our batteries alive as long as we can.  The batteries can go as low as 2.5 volts per cell.

 Using power to cook, heat, cool etc. brings the range down to a steady 100 mile expectation even with mountain climbs provided you are not a lead foot! The second solar array after months now of tossing it about, is doing great.  It has one obviously cracked cell, but continues to put out power equivalent to the other 4 panels! The flexible type solar panels never seem to put out quite as much of their rated power as do the hard framed panels.  Perhaps the flexible panels cannot get rid of heat as fast as the framed panels can....just a theory.

I saw 5 amps or 75% of the total 1000 watts of power during the Mother Earth News Fair.  Combined with the other 1200 watt array we saw up to 12 amps of power at 150 volts....about 1800 watts actual.  I wasn't able to move the van to track the sun at the gathering, or I would have charged even more.  I had the opportunity to grab a 110 volt charge from some friendly neighbors and took the plug!  So, I didn't finish the test at the Faire.....but I did make it to the coast after! I did however get some good solar-only results at a gathering called Burning Man!

Burning Man

Again I could not move the bus, lowering my daily harvest and a fine Playa dust at this gathering settled on the panels and only allowed half of my solar output.  At the gathering I charged full in 7 days.  This means at full solar output I would charge in right around 3 days in summer sun.

What we have is a 100 mile range Solar Electric Vehicle capable of pulling 30 miles per day most of the summer.

On the Agenda.............

My goal with this vehicle is to go 100 miles every two days in the sun. This will require one more 1000 watt array of the same design as the previous flexible,  self-framed panel.  This arrangement seems to be quite durable and very manageable due to its light weight.  So I will do one more! Then I can have 3kw of solar in the sun all day long. This will require 7.5 charging hours at 3kw per day for 45 KW-hr of fun in two days.

Stay tuned as I build the last array and go grab the performance!

Photos by Kira Belan

Brett Belan lived off-grid in California for a decade before he and his family moved to Ashland, Oregon. There he co-founding Apparent Energy, an engineering company dedicated to improving our electrical systems. He spends his free time building electric vehicles and converted a 1973 VW bus to a fully electric, solar powered vehicle. Find out more at: Solar-Electric VW Bus. Follow Brett on Facebook and Instagram, and read his article in Home Power magazine. Read all of Brett’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Walkable Communities Find Their Stride from Coast to Coast

 

Photo by Johnny Silvercloud

Few things in life relieve stress, instill creativity and boost health and more than taking a stroll. “Walking is a man’s best medicine,” Hippocrates declared in the 4th Century BCE. “To solve a problem, walk around,” St. Jerome advised during Roman times. “When we walk, we come home to ourselves,” observes Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.

This ancient wisdom is now backed up by modern science. A flurry of recent medical studies document the physical and mental health effects of walking as little as 30 minutes a day.

“The human body is designed to walk. Humans walk better than any other species on earth,” explained George Halvorson — former CEO of the  healthcare network Kaiser Permanente — at the 2017 National Walking Summit in St. Paul. The three-day events was organized by America Walks — a non-profit group encompassing more than 800 state and local organizations.

“We get less disease when we walk. We recover from disease sooner when we walk,” he said, noting half of all US healthcare costs stem from chronic diseases, which walking helps prevent and treat. “We can save Medicare when we walk.”

The Summit — which attracted more than 600 community leaders, health professionals, planners and public officials from 45 states — celebrated the growing public awareness of walking’s many benefits. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy urged Americans to walk more in a Call to Action in 2015, and the National Association of Realtors reports that “places to take walks” are the #1 quality home buyers look for in a neighborhood. Recent research also links walkable places to economic opportunities, social equity, stronger communities and a cleaner environment.

Is Everybody Welcome to Walk?

But Summit goers were reminded there’s a long way to go before walking is safe and convenient for all Americans — a point highlighted at the opening reception by St. Paul deputy mayor Kristin Beckmann, who announced that a 7-year-old girl and a 91-year-old man had been struck down by hit-and-run drivers in the previous 24 hours. The girl suffered a broken leg and the man a concussion in a city ranked relatively high for walkability, according to Walkscore.

Pedestrian death and injuries are rising across the country at an alarming rate, as part of an overall spike in traffic crashes, noted many speakers at the conference. Speeding and drunk driving (which frequently involves speeding) are the chief culprits. The influential National Transportation Safety Board recently targeted speeding as an overlooked and deadly problem in America.

Younger and older Americans are not the only ones at risk. The summit focused particular attention on challenges people on foot face in racially and economically disadvantaged communities, as well as rural areas.

“African-Americans are more likely to not live near good places to walk and bike, and more likely to be hit by a car or stopped by police while walking,” noted Rutgers University transportation researcher Charles Brown.

Tamika Butler, director of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, pointed out that people of color often are left out of walkability plans. “We’ve been walking for a long time — to school, to work.   But one no seems to think about making our places more walkable until other kinds of people start moving in.”

Unwelcoming streets that deter walkers can become impassable roadblocks to the 54 million Americans who live with disabilities. “I walk when I drive my wheelchair,” said Maryland activist Juliette Rizzio. “So I proudly stand with you to promote inclusion. Walkability. Rollability. Possibility!”

Tyler Norris, CEO of the Well Being Trust, remembered civil rights activist Shavon Arline-Bradley asking a pointed question at the first Walking Summit in 2013: “Is everybody welcome to walk?”

Charles Brown offered an answer at the closing session of this year’s Summit’s.  “I see the support, the commitment here to equity,” which he described as an understanding that communities suffering historic disinvestment need help to catch up.  “This is the beginning of a movement.”

The Path Forward

The first-ever report card on walking and walkable communities was announced at the Summit, underscoring the importance of the emerging walking movement. The United States as a whole gets a failing grade in the following subjects: 1) pedestrian safety; 2) pedestrian infrastructure; 3) walking opportunities for children; 4) business and non-profit sector policies; and 5) public transportation, which is a key factor in walkable communities. We earned a D for public policies promoting walking, and a C in walking opportunities for adults.

A collective gasp swept the audience as the grades appeared on a screen. Russell Pate — one of America’s leading experts on physical activity — provided some context. “We know these are better than they would have been 10 or 20 years ago. Millions of people met the standards and so did some communities.”

Pate and colleagues at the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health oversaw a committee of scholars from numerous fields to assess the state of walking today as part of the National Physical Activity Plan Alliance.Rather than deflating Summit participants, this poor performance review fired them up to learn as much as possible from one another about how to improve walking in their hometowns. Here’s what’s happening across the country.

Fresno, California. At a packed workshop, Esther Postiglione of Cultiva La Salud shared tips about what worked to boost walking in Latinx communities around Fresno: Walk to School Days; walking clubs (Pasos a la Salud); Open Streets events; and community workshops (providing childcare and food) so people can express what they want for their communities.

“When some city officials told us that people in Southeast Fresno don’t want to walk. Our answer was: That’s not what we hear,” Postiglione recounted. “This shows why it’s important to meet people where they live, play and work.  Not expect them to come to City Hall.”

South Dakota. The state’s most remote counties are particularly afflicted by conditions linked to inactivity such as diabetes and obesity. Ann Schwader of South Dakota State University Extension identified and trained “walk coaches” in four rural  communities, who organized local walking campaigns.  Schwader will offer another “Everybody Walks! SD” training next February to bring additional communities on board.

Boston. The city is designating “slow zones” where speeds are capped at 20 mph as part of its Vision Zero commitment to sharply reduce traffic deaths among walkers, bikers and drivers. Forty-seven neighborhoods across town applied to be part of the program, notes Wendy Landman, director of Walk Boston.

“The surge of interest by the public to make their neighborhoods safer stunned the city.”

Valley Hi — Sacramento. This mixed-income, mixed-race neighborhood suffered a 50 percent higher rate of emergency room visits for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and asthma attacks than the Sacramento region as a whole, and 36 percent of its residents were obese. One reason was that walking was stymied by unsafe traffic conditions and crime at the local park. Neighbors, churches and institutions — organized by the Health Education Council — worked to reclaim the park by adding a crosswalk, stepping up law enforcement, increasing recreation activities and launching a weekly walking group, Walk With Friends. Use of the park rose by 274 percent —and the Walk With Friends idea has been picked up in three other parks around Sacramento.

Decorah, Iowa. Pedestrians are plentiful on sidewalks and trails in this town of 8,000 near the Minnesota border until the snow flies and the Upper Iowa River freezes. To keep folks moving December to February, local groups sponsor the Beat the Blues Winter Marathon encouraging everyone to walk, cross-country ski, snowshoe or bike 26.2 miles. “You can take two weeks or two months. You can do two, three or more marathons over the winter,” explained April Bril, one of the organizers.

Rondo — St. Paul. A freeway tore through the heart of St. Paul’s African-American community in the 1960s, destroying 687 homes and more than 100 businesses even though an alternative route one mile away would have followed a largely vacant rail corridor. “All my friends just went away,” remembers Marvin Scroggins, who grew up in the once bustling Rondo neighborhood.

Many Rondo residents now propose to heal some of the lingering wounds by constructing a half-mile long land bridge over the freeway, creating new space for parks, housing and businesses which can reconnect the community. Local foundations and the state department of transportation are showing interest in the project. “It’s more than a bridge,” explains Darius Gray of the Friendly Streets Initiative, noting that land bridges have been built in Duluth, Minnesota, as well as Dallas, Seattle and Columbus.

Jay Walljasper — author of the Great Neighborhood Book and America’s Walking Renaissance — writes, speaks and consults about creating healthy communities. Read all of Jay’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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What It’s Like to Drive a Chevy Volt Hybrid-Electric Car

 

In this guest series, former hot-rodder and mechanical engineer David Borden offers advice for first-time electric-vehicle drivers by reviewing the 2017 Chevy Volt Premier. Read David’s additional notes here, including advice to first-time EV drivers, keeping Volt batteries charged, and range issues.

Driving the Chevy Volt car is a pleasant experience and can be best summed up with the two “Qs”: Quick and Quiet.

Most of my driving has been done using the electric motor, and it is a very satisfactory performer. The motor generates max torque at stall speeds, and it is very easy to break traction when first starting (c.f. “laying a patch”). Mildly embarrassing for a responsible senior citizen, but pleasantly erotic for a recovering hot-rodder!

It is responsive and entirely satisfactory in the urban, suburban, and interstate traffic I normally encounter. Merging into expressway traffic and keeping up with traffic on the Interstates was never a problem.

Again, throttle response was immediate and it is very quick, encouraging dicing in and out of traffic. Tire noise from the low-rolling resistance, low-profile Michelins is excessive and intrudes into the cabin — or is it that the cabin is so well insulated and sealed that the only sounds you hear are tire noise? Probably that.

The tires are not that much different from any to be found on a modern car, but the drive train is nearly silent and wind noise wafting around the aerodynamic body is very low, putting normal tire sounds into prominence. Conversations at normal levels can be enjoyed while driving at speed, and the radio is again enjoyable (I have the “Bose stereo in my car and I recommend it highly.)

Notes on Chevy Volt Interior Features

The car seats four in heated leather comfort, and one “frienemy” on the central hump in the rear. The two front seats are manually adjustable for height via a ratcheting lever (anybody else remember “Bumper Jacks”?). Tilt — and fore and aft adjustments on the steering wheel — meant that it was easy to find a personal “fit”. Headrests (safety restraint devices?) are easily adjustable to prevent whiplash, in the event.

The heated seats and heated steering wheel make much sense, in that it is easier and more economical to directly heat the occupants rather than the entire cabin enclosure. Probably safer, too, in that cooler air temps discourage nodding off while behind the wheel.

And there are four cup holders and many cubbies to cache your gear. A nice touch is the sun-glass holder recessed in the central tunnel next to the shift lever, making access convenient and immediate.

Volt Automation and Sensor Technology

The car comes with traction control, automatic headlights ON and DIM, an automatic rear-view mirror DIM, and the most interesting feature, a forward crash avoidance system. As I understand it, the car has a TV Camera near the rear-view mirror, which senses a car in front of you. A little icon on your dash illuminates to inform you of that fact and that your own personal Big Brother is watching them also.

If that lead car starts to slow down precipitously — putting you in danger — there are flashing lights and blaring horns alerting you to the hazard, and I am told that the system will start braking for you. I haven’t had to try the auto-braking feature out (I don’t think), but the warnings have saved me twice in the accordion that is Southeast Distressway Traffic.

That ability to sense and monitor the traffic ahead of you leads naturally to another unique and great feature: cruise control, which holds a constant following distance. In addition to the now-normal speed control, you can set a following distance and the car’s computer will maintain that distance, adjusting power and braking as required. Perfect Interstate tool — if you drive long distances, this avoids the usual cycling of ON-OFF-SET-ON as you encounter traffic.

The technical wizardry doesn’t stop there. The car “looks” for cross traffic and sounds warnings. It will auto parallel park with a minimum of human input. It offers: Navigation, “On-Star”, Traction Control, Compass, OAT, WiFi, USB Ports, 5-day weather forecasts, traffic accident warnings, hands-free cell phone coupling, plus you have the ability to access the car’s computer and program in unique features, attuned to your sensitivities.

One I particularly enjoy is to use the fob (there is no conventional key) to remotely lower all the car windows on a hot day. (Still trying to figure out why you can’t remotely close all of them during a sudden shower!)

Again, earlier automotive process control computers were aimed at improving engine efficiency. This latest iteration works to integrate the car with the driver, and they with their environment, moving you through distance safely, economically and in great comfort. I like the car and find it to be very “user friendly”. It is a driver’s car.

Ground Clearance and Handling

One complaint — and which for someone who lives in the snow-belt or does a lot of urban parking or transiting over potholes, is a major issue — is the low ground clearance. This is not improved with the addition of passengers and payload, but could be solved by adding air ride.

This is not an implausible suggestion. Chevrolet has had air suspension offered on their cars as far back as 1958, and Tesla offers such as a modestly priced option. Ride adjustable as to height and perhaps even automatic with body position normally set “high” and lowered with speed for aero efficiency would benefit the car greatly.

Air ride would also help with the bump harshness — in combination with the high-pressure, low-profile tires, the suspension telegraphs every pothole, drain connection, and surface seam into the structure. In such an otherwise fine car, it is objectionable. Also (discounting any income realized from snow plowing driveways), there is the potential heavy cost for replacing damaged bumper covers to be considered.

I enclosed a photo in my previous post to illustrate the parking lot problem where the car is close to a standard parking lot berm. (They used to be known as wheel chocks, which is no longer appropriate, since getting into a position where the wheels were against this berm would do several thousand dollar's worth of damage to this car.)

Again, I like the car well enough to have bought one, and I have recommended it to several friends, but there are limitations to be considered if you are “going Green” with a Volt. I hope you’ve gained a better understanding of the vehicle through sharing my impressions.

There are many State and Federal incentives available which appealed to this frugal Yankee, and which can be found with an Internet search. (In Massachusetts the best new car prices are quoted and rebates listed under “Drive Green” programs.) Many are also expiring, so time truly may have a cost if you delay.

I enjoy my “starter vehicle”, and I hope you find my experience helpful in making your choice of a next car.

Read David’s additional review notes here.

Dave Borden is a reformed hot-rodder with an abiding interest in things mechanical and “Green”. He has been a “Mother’s Lifer” for 40 years. He was trained as a mechanical engineer, but never let that restrict his curiosity, enjoying careers in turboshaft engine design and development, before acquiring his MBA and working in small business consulting and mortgage banking.  His hobby has been construction for many years, and he lives on Boston’s North Shore with his wife of 50 years and a dedicated Dachshund in a south-facing house he built with the help of many excellent friends.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

3 Green Transportation Options for City Living

 

When I made the move from a small family farm to an urban university, I thought I’d landed on another planet. I loved the noise, the bustle, and the people, and knew immediately that city life was for me. I also knew that I still needed to find a way to make my city life match my eco-conscious, DIY values.

My step one? Figuring out “green travel”: ways to get around without excessive driving and pollution. According to Scientific American, cars are among the worst culprits in causing man-made climate change, something anyone who’s been stuck in a haze of traffic fumes could guess. It’s also important to think about green travel as holistic, going beyond a commute to work or school, in all aspects of your life. If you’re looking for advice on how to cut down on driving, reduce emissions, and get some healthy exercise to boot, I’m here to share my top three strategies with you!

1. Learn public transit—beyond just schedules.

Public transit is one of the best methods of green travel. Many buses are hybrid or reduced-emission models, you’re sharing the ride instead of traveling by yourself, and electric light rail and subway trains run very efficiently. Unfortunately, public transit can also be intimidating. That’s why I recommend new users pay attention to more than a schedule while learning to ride.

Your first public transit trip should be to an event without time pressure—definitely not work. Tools like Google Maps or transit system websites often have trip planners, allowing you to keep directions with you. Arrange a back-up ride in case of emergencies. Once you’re on the bus, observe! Are there stop announcements to alert you when to exit, for example, or do you need to watch for cross streets? Don’t be afraid to ask questions—transit people, from drivers to riders, were certainly much friendlier than I’d expected.

By starting with low-stakes trips—to a farmer’s market, for example—you’re setting yourself up to succeed. You wouldn’t try highway merging on your first day of Driver’s Ed, so don’t try the equivalent on public transit. You’ll be surprised at how natural it becomes with practice.

2. Make necessary walks instead of walking on the treadmill.

I live in a so-called “bad neighborhood,” where there’s higher-than-average crime and poverty. I also live in Minnesota, where winters are brutally cold and summers are brutally hot. I still hold that walking to necessary places—instead of only walking on a treadmill—is easier than our car-centric society would have you believe!

Wear appropriate clothes, shoes, and weather-related items like sunscreen, and bring a grocery cart or backpack so you can carry items effectively. Be sure to plan a walk that’s appropriate for your fitness level—pushing yourself might be okay at the gym, but for everyday travel, it’s important to pick a sustainable destination. I built up to walking 2-3 miles a day for work, errands, and recreation in combination with public transit. The healthy exercise feels fantastic and it’s nice to think of how many miles of driving my pedestrian habit has saved me.

As for staying safe in an “unsafe” area, the most important thing is to stay alert! Don’t wear headphones, walk with someone else if you can, and be aware of detours you can take if you see something you don’t like up ahead. I also recommend being aware of the time and day of the week—I avoid walking on Friday evenings when there might be more drunken passerby, for example.

3. Carpool for more than just commutes.

“Carpool” has become synonymous with rush hour commutes, but I think it’s underrated as an everyday tool for errands. I often coordinate shopping trips with friends when buying heavy items I can’t take on public transit—even better if you have like-minded neighbors! Garden soil and seedlings, backyard chicken supplies, bulk food buys, and more could all be reasons to coordinate trips to reduce emissions and gas costs.

Carpooling is also a good way to take long, gas-guzzling trips out of the city to expos, rodeos, and other special events. Split costs and share good times with friends while knowing you’re participating in green travel at its best!

Green travel is a huge part of a sustainable life, and it looks different in the city than it does in a small town. Now that I’ve experienced both, I’m glad I could share my strategies with you!

Bio text: Maggie Tiede made the move from small-town Minnesota to the Twin Cities in 2014 in order to attend college. She majors in public health at Hamline University and will graduate in December; in addition to being a student, she works as a writing tutor, public health researcher, and freelance writer. Find her blog on life, health, writing, and reading at www.maggietiede.com.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.