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

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.

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.

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

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.

The Chevy Volt: The Belt and Suspenders of the Automotive World

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. Watch the Green Transportation Blog for David’s additional notes.

In keeping with my cautious and frugal Yankee heritage and senior status, I am slowly transitioning to a single car. As an interim step, I bought a 2017 Chevrolet Volt Premier with two optional safety and convenience packages, and these are my initial impressions.

I would have liked to have made the change directly to a single fully-electric vehicle, but the limited number of charging stations available today, and the time required to recharge, meant compromises were in order. The majority of my trips are urban short-haul in nature, but I still need the occasional run across several states to visit friends and family, so jumping to total electric power was not prudent. I needed range which was not limited by the current availability of plug-in recharging stations.

The Volt met that criterion: As long as the propulsion battery is charged, it will function as an electric car — for a guaranteed 53 miles — and then transition to a gasoline-powered hybrid, using the propulsion battery as an energy buffer. With that capability, range is extended by several hundred miles and only limited by the availability of gasoline, hence the Chevrolet name for the IC Engine, “Range Extender”.

Advice for First-Time Electric Vehicle Drivers

If you haven’t driven an Electric Vehicle (EV) before, it is a new experience. Different, but similar enough so that transition from a “normal” car is easy. There is no key; slip the fob provided into your pocket, slide behind the wheel, buckle up, and “boot-up” the computer …

Wait, wait, come back! No need to be scared of it, because the command is transmitted through a normal-looking, large, blue button on the dash labeled “Power” — a starter button just like Grandad had in his 1950 Ford. Push the button (with your foot on the brake), and both screens flash and all manner of icons illuminate as the computer awakens and checks the car’s systems for correct function.

The screen in front of the driver is circular, reminiscent of every analog speedometer we’ve ever viewed, and has two large arc gauges displaying fuel levels and digital readouts of estimated range remaining. Speed is displayed digitally. This pod also displays alerts affecting safe operation and is directly in front of the driver; it comes easily to eye while driving. The large centered screen to the right answers to commands and displays “nice to have” information and the rear-view TV image.

The point is that modern cars, like our driving environment, need to be and are necessarily complex. Small process control computers integrated into the auto now help us master modern driving.

Keeping Volt Batteries Charged and Issues of Range

I use the supplied 110VAC Charger to keep the propulsion batteries charged.  It is a simple matter to pull into my parking spot and plug-in, letting the vehicle charge overnight or until the next time it is used. The on-board computer controls the charging cycle, and no other input or action is required. (I don’t know if keeping the batteries continually “topped-off” has a beneficial effect, or if the computer considers my typical driving cycle and weather, but as of late the charged range estimate shown on the instrument panel is between 68 and 70 miles! Actual use tends to confirm this.)

For the first 1,000 miles, I have driven predominantly on the stored battery power — I have only needed the Range Extender twice, and I have used less than a gallon of gas. Repeat: Less than a gallon of gas in the first 1000 miles! (I anticipate receiving “Get Well Soon, Dave” cards from Texas and Saudi Arabia!)

When the propulsion batteries are drawn down to a pre-determined level, the Range Extender fires up automatically, and will propel the car until all gasoline is used.  Since there are gasoline stations available on most corners, there is no such thing as the oft cited and feared, “Range Anxiety” with this car.

All design involves compromise, and cars are a great example of the various trade-offs that are required to produce a marketable product. The choices Chevrolet has made for the Volt are excellent. There are a whole series of excellent videos on YouTube made by Chevrolet Engineers, which go into great detail about the power plants (there are two) and transmission wizardry, and the tremendous technology we as customers are getting. Accepted.

But, my analogy is, “If I’m buying an axe, do I really care about where the shaft wood was grown, and how they forged the head”? No, what I care about is how it works, and this car works well. Some may think that’s lazy, but I depend upon market forces in this emerging market segment to drive the technology. True competition is a lovely thing for us consumers!

Chevy Volt’s ground clearance

Notes on Volt Body Design

The first compromise is in the shape of the car. For efficiency, today’s cars must pass through the air easily, which results in the “Melted Lozenge” designs which characterize modern automobiles. Smooth, aerodynamic lines with heavy wind-tunnel influence — the ideal shapes that every fifth-grade boy intuitively knew were correct and filled his copy books with.

The front, a bullet nose flattened and shaped to enter still air smoothly and guide it around, under, and over the car. The rear, faired to pass the air on with minimal effort and truncated in a flat surface as dictated by Dr. Kamm.

Windshield and rear window glass heavily sloped to cut aero losses and sealed flat with the surrounding bodywork. A four-door because the market segment the car is aimed at are families, and it has a hatch back and foldable rear seats for access and utility, again to meet a family’s needs. Sounds great — until we get to the compromises.

Design Not Without Compromise

First, you are now sitting deep in an enveloping structure. Safe, secure, womb-like, but the old ideal of seeing all four fenders from the driver’s seat is only a hazy memory in this car. Chevrolet apparently recognized this shortcoming and has utilized emerging technology (from autonomous car development?) to help the driver.

For 30-plus years, engineers have been using computers to optimize engine performance, sampling variables and using on-board control to limit fuel consumption and maximize horsepower. Now, this car’s computer also supplements the driver’s field of vision with a series of sensors around the waist of the car intended to warn the driver of objects that are too close, fore and aft. It warns of cross traffic, overtaking vehicles and idiots lurking in your blind spots.

And, to help with a reduced rear view, the car has a TV system which displays guide lines on the central screen indicating distance to objects and field of travel. The wizardry includes “Path of Travel” adjustments to the guide lines — while in reverse gear, turns to the steering wheel bend and curve the guide lines on the TV to indicate course of travel. Neat solution and confidence building.

The platform is stiff and rigid, giving a road feel much like much heavier luxury cars of the past. Kudos to those who designed the unibody structure and worked out the joining techniques; the car plays well above its weight class.

There are costs to obtaining that stiffness: The side sill step-over is wide, and the rear hatch lift-over height is very high. Upon reflection, both are acceptable. The sill width is easily made familiar, and the rear hatch lip is no higher than an average shopping cart; most grocery shoppers won’t be troubled by the height.

The doors shut with a satisfying “thunk”, which I associate with luxury cars costing much more than this. I think Harley Earl and the boys at Fisher Body would approve of the quality feel. Similarly, the application of power is smooth and continuous, and I’m sure the GM designers who labored long and hard to design and build smooth automatic transmissions — the fellows who developed “Hydramatic”, “Dynaflow”, and “Powerglide” — were they to come back and drive this car would all say, “Yeah, that’s the stuff”.  A nod also to those responsible for the Front Wheel Drive Geometry. The car has a very tight turning radius, and displays no “torque steer” under acceleration.

Door weight may be due to side beams — the car is highly rated by independent testing labs in collision tests. It’s rated a safe car. By my count, there are no less than nine airbags within the cabin, which is a very good thing. But it comes with a cost: The space above the two front doors where once there would have been an assist handle is now occupied by an airbag. I have enough personal frame impairments to miss having the handle and find myself reaching up onto the roof and grabbing the drain channel to aid egress.  (Can’t help but wonder how I’ll fare come the first snowfalls.)

Also, my same physical problems require a modified entry method: I back up to the car’s door opening, bend forward and sit on the seat, bring my frame erect within the cabin, then turn, swinging my legs into the car. Until I got used to the low door opening height, I bumped my head on the frame — and I still do occasionally.

It must be noted that the “B” pillar immediately behind the driver is substantial, and looks to give great roof support. Gone are the days of structurally weak, four-door hardtops without a “B” pillar! Good riddance! I would expect this car to perform well in side-impact and rollover testing, and real-life situations.

The rear seats fold down in what looks to be a 60/40 split, and the hatch opens wide, increasing the usefulness of the car. It is obviously not a light truck or a 1970s station wagon capable of carrying sheets of plywood, but it handles modest items and sacks of groceries, feed and fertilizer quite nicely. We found that with the rear seats upright the trunk accepted a notoriously bulky item, a folding Travel Wheel Chair, easily.

There is a side panel cubby for charger storage, and the car came with a fabric luggage cover to hide trunk contents. The hatch has a convenient hand grab to allow it to be easily closed and has pneumatic assist cylinders for easy opening.

Stay tuned in about one week for additional notes in Part 2.

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.

Solar Electric VW Bus: Phase 2

Good Clean Fun!

First, I must apologize for not blogging sooner….  I have been deep in fabrication of phase two of the solar electric VW bus.  Phase two for those just tuning in, includes replacing a lead acid battery bank with LiFePo batteries of much great capacity for extended range.  Also, phase two includes the addition of more solar power to gather more charging sunlight. Unfortunately, I did not have time to run a crowd funding campaign and was forced to come up with the money myself to procure phase two.  But...

The show must go on!

Currently I am fitting 192 Calb Cam72 Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries.   These batteries will increase my storage capacity by almost 4 times and reduce weight by 200lbs!  Taking it easy with the 10kw-hr lead pack, I could go 50 miles.   Now with 44kw-hr of storage and 200 less pounds compared to my lead pack, I will be inching towards the 200 mile range mark.  I go slow.  50 mph is where the wind resistance starts to really deplete energy.  Also the bus is a 1973 and going much more than 60 feels a little hectic anyway.  It is an RV and for me and my family slowing down and connecting with nature is our aim.

Lithium Iron Phosphate Batteries Are Different than Other Lithium Batteries

Lithium Iron Phosphate based technology possesses superior thermal and chemical stability which provides better safety characteristics than those of Lithium-ion technology made with other cathode materials. Lithium phosphate cells are incombustible in the event of mishandling during charge or discharge, they are more stable under overcharge or short circuit conditions and they can withstand high temperatures without decomposing. When abuse does occur, the phosphate based cathode material will not burn and is not prone to thermal runaway. Phosphate chemistry also offers a longer cycle life.

I could have had about 66 kw-hr of energy storage instead of just 44kw-hr for the same price weight and size.  But, the LiFePo cells last significantly longer.

My decision, however, was first about safety.  The LiFePo battery is actually much safer and more environmentally friendly than the lead acid batteries I previously used.  Without the need to vent the LiFePo pack I can use my battery box vent system now to cool the LiFePo bank.

Secondarily, the toxicity concern is also addressed.  LiFePo batteries do not contain any heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, or any other corrosive acids.

Lithium Iron Phosphates Are Definitely the Eco Choice

I used a BMS, or battery management system from Thunderstruck Motors.  I will recommend all to this on line store since it has very knowledgeable and helpful people working there.

The BMS system monitors every battery to ensure if a cell fails it is known and doesn't affect safety or harm any others cells.



More Solar Power!

I purchased 5,200 watt flexible panels from Jack Rickard of EVTV.  I will mount these in an aluminum frame.  When it's all said and done, the array will weight just under 70 lbs.  It should be quite easy to maneuver.   For a 1200 watts array using conventionally framed, glass topped solar panels, we are looking at nearly 200 lbs. 

I will have a nice, light 1000 watt awning to keep me in the shade and 2200 total watts of solar including the 1200 watts I currently have up top.

solar panel

My goal is to go 200 miles and charge up in two days.  I would like to hop between national parks and other American splendor….silently and with very low impact.

Comfort, space, and clean remote energy harvest…..SAY HELLO TO FREEDOM!!!

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.

Pair a Tesla with Solar Panels to Shrink Your Carbon Footprint


The world has been keeping a close eye on Elon Musk and his innovative "cleantech" ventures. Now that Tesla and SolarCity have combined forces, even design-conscious homeowners can pair electric cars and solar panels to wage a war against grid reliance and energy dependence. Here's how pairing your Tesla with solar panels can help shrink your carbon footprint.

How to Charge a Tesla with Solar Energy

Electric vehicles like those manufactured by Tesla can actually serve as a form of battery storage for solar energy. The process is simple:

1. Install solar on your roof to generate electricity by harnessing the power of the sun

2. Take that photovoltaic energy and use it to charge your Tesla Model S or Model 3 when your solar panels are producing more electricity than you need to power your home

That one-two punch is exactly what Elon Musk had in mind when his company moved to acquire SolarCity. Of course, this was this all possible before the Tesla-SolarCity merger – a Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf owner didn’t need Elon Musk’s “master plan” to realize that electric cars can be paired with solar energy. However, Musk’s latest move targets the layman homeowner, extending beyond the early adopters of clean energy who paired their Leaf or Volt with home solar panels years ago.

By bringing two of the world’s leading solutions to emissions reduction under one roof, Tesla can cut operating costs in development and installation, helping homeowners to understand clean energy financing options as a combined cost rather than trying to conceptualize the headache of multiple individual energy investments. In a sense, Tesla is making clean energy simple because it needs to be simple.

Now that millions of homeowners are considering the prospect of a zero emissions home, a number of questions are arising in the renewable space. How do you connect solar panels to an electric vehicle? How long will it take for solar panels to charge a car? How many panels will you need to charge your car in the first place?

How Many kWh Does it take to Charge a Tesla Model S?

In order to understand how solar panels and Tesla vehicles complement each other, we first need to understand how electric cars are charged rather than fueled. And because solar panel systems are sized based on the expected energy usage of a household, a homeowner would need to take into account projected energy needs from his or her Tesla in order to get a solar panel system that can generate enough electricity enough to meet that combined demand.

The metric to use here is the kilowatt-hour (kWh), which represents the one unit of electricity consumed. In order to compare electric vehicles (EVs) to automobiles, the EPA uses the amount of kilowatt-hours required for an EV to travel 100 miles as a "miles per gallon equivalent" (MPGe).

According to, the 2016 Tesla Model S requires 34 kWh per every 100 miles, giving it a fuel economy rating of 98 MPGe. If the ultimate question is how many kWh you need to power your Tesla, it depends on the distance you plan to travel. A short trip 25 miles each way would require roughly 17 kWh of energy, while the energy needed to run errands around town might only require 2 or 3 kWh.

How many solar panels does it take to charge a Tesla?

Once you establish how many kWh you need to charge your Tesla, the next step is to calculate how many solar panels are required to provide that charge. Solar panel electricity production is dependent on a few different factors – to keep it simple, we’ll use an example homeowner who already has solar and is adding additional panels to supply energy for a 2016 Tesla Model S. Let’s call her Barb.

Barb has a 5 kW (5,000 watt) solar system, the average system size for the U.S. residential solar market. She lives in Cleveland, Ohio where solar is not unusually cheap or particularly expensive. In Cleveland, the average annual energy production for 5kW solar systems is 6,071 kWh.

Assuming Barb’s system uses standard 250-watt panels, we then also know that Barb’s current solar array has 20 solar panels (250 W x 20 panels = 5,000 Watts). This means that each of Barb’s panels produces just over 303 kWh of energy in a year (6,071 kWh ÷ 20 panels). Let’s think of this number as Barb’s annual energy production for a single panel.

How Much Will it Cost to Charge a Tesla with Solar Panels?

As we learned above, Barb’s new Tesla Model S has a 34kWh/100 MPGe rating. If we assume she will be driving 25 miles a day, we know that her Tesla is going to be using 8.5 kWh a day (3,103 kWh per year). Assuming each panel produces approximately 303 kWh per year, Barb will need to add roughly 10 more solar panels to her system in order to supply fuel for her new Tesla.

The next question might be “how much does it cost to charge a Tesla with solar?”, or in other words, how much extra will Barb need to pay for those 10 panels. If we assume an average price to install a 250W panel is $185, charging Barb’s brand-new Model S will likely tack on another $2,000 to her solar panel system costs.

Compare that to total money spent at the gas pump every year and we start to see why pairing a Tesla with solar panels makes sense. In the long run, Barb will see concrete energy savings on multiple fronts, and will likely break even on her solar panel investment in seven to 10 years. 

How to Find the Best Deal on Solar

If you're planning to go all in on clean energy, hopefully this breakdown helped you to envision the integration of solar and EVs. The next step towards zero emissions is to begin searching for the right EV and start comparing quotes for a solar panel system. The EnergySage Solar Marketplace allows you to compare real pricing data from homeowners in your area and review various financing options for free. For those looking for a personalized instant estimate for solar, try our Solar Calculator.

Vikram Aggarwal is the founder and chief executive of EnergySage, the online solar marketplace. EnergySage simplifies the process of researching and shopping for solar. By offering shoppers more choices and unprecedented levels of transparency, EnergySage allows consumers to select the solar installation quote that provides the best value for them, quickly and easily. Read all of Vikram's 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.

Transportation and Traveling While Living Off-Grid

Since my father was told to walk the Trail of Tears, our family has traveled 14,000 recorded miles through 24 states by foot and by horse. This journey started when my dad wanted to understand being American Indian (or Native American, as said today) and talking with my great-grandfather who said pointing out his door in Cherokee North Carolina, walk the Trail of Tears and then you will know somewhat what it is like to be Indian.

Leaving with myself (9 months old in a kid's carrier backpack), my mom and our horse, Prince Hussein, a retired Thoroughbred race horse packed with our minimal goods, we started the walk, which took 14 months helped and inspired by the good will of the people. Whenever we needed food or anything, dad would offer to do a work exchange and, since he was multi skilled laborer, there was always work to be had.

This trip started a 20 year odyssey of travel by horse. Over the years, we acquired three more kids, more horses, and a couple of wagons. Our first upgrade was a loaner of a couple of mules and a wagon, which we used for about a year. Than we got a two-wheeled buggy (our chariot) that was pulled by Prince, which had Amish wooden wheels with a metal band around them and we made a cover using bent willow branches and canvas. We used that for quite a few years until we got our Cadillac wagon.

This is a 4 rubber tired wagon, which is made using the straight rear axles from a Cadillac. Such a smooth ride, though we did get the occasional flat. We pulled the old, two-wheeled buggy behind with our supplies in it. Going by horse has its disadvantages: averaging 5 miles an hour or under 30 miles a day, although our record is 76 miles on a cold upper state NY winter day when Prince just wanted to run all day; and advantages: no cost grass powered.

wagon 1

wagon 2

Sung to the clippy clopping of the cadence of the horses hooves:

The bull was looking through the fence,

He says; I seem to have lost my sense of sight,

I think I see a wagon, coming down along the road,

Sure looks like they have an easy load.

Ol’ Prince is clippy clopping

And ol’ Smokey just ain’t stopping

And we thank you Lord for an easy load

wagon 3

 I also put together this kids ditty was I was super young and remember it for some reason:

Popcorn popcorn road, Popcorn popcorn road, I like the popcorn road

Zoom zoom road, Zoom zoom road, who likes the Zoom zoom road?

Not the Destination but the Trip

I have heard many people say and lately have read many memes that have some version of: It is not the destination, It is the trip.

This is definitely how we went. Although we mostly went back to Alabama, or Tennessee, or once to Israel in the winter to rest up and not travel in the cold weather, we also did travel through Connecticut and New York in the winter. One Christmas, we camped out on the green in New Haven Connecticut and we created a real life nativity scene next to the normal one. That was fun as I had lots of kids to play with.

I remember once on my birthday in January, we were snowed in somewhere in our buggy and I was crying; this my birthday and I have stuck in this little 5 foot square with nothing to do all day. Somehow in the midst of the windy snowstorm, someone saw our tiny 5-foot-square buggy with our horse hunkered down nearby and knocked on the canvas. I don’t know if it was when dad went out to check on and feed Prince or not, I just remember being invited to a stranger’s house for what turned into my birthday party.

Up to that day I had not liked carrot cake but when they provided me a carrot cake with candles my joy overwhelmed my dislike and I like carrot cake to this day some 30 years later. Reflecting on this miracle, I am truly amazed by the kindness of strangers.

We usually didn’t have a problem finding a place to camp, whether is was just the side of the road or in a church lot. When we wanted to rest up or stay in an area for longer than a few days we carried with us the Directory of Intentional Communities and Alternative Schools. These people always seemed up to doing work exchange for us to stay for a week while we looked for more permanent work.

When we hunkered down for the winter in Tennessee, we had a truck for hauling wood but mostly for hire. We would haul, transport, drive to work in it and go to town once a month to buy food and do laundry. I got my first full-time job “baby sitting” or being basically a servant to an eldery man and used the truck to get to work. My first real part-time job ( I was making minimum wage of 3.25) helping Bob, a great handicapped man, with his house and raised bed garden. Since that was only 3 miles away I rode my bicycle there.

In Tennessee, we were near a bicycle factory that made low quality department store bicycles and since many people in the area worked at the factory there were tons of these bicycles around. I got highly skilled at repairing them, using only the tools I had, which were a screw driver and an adjustable wrench, as they were such low quality they constantly had to be repaired.

Years later, this skill came in handy when I become a manager of the Bike Surgeon bicycle shop where I was the Bike Doctor ( I make house calls) and later when I started my first full time business Alternative Transportation and Energy. Who knew that the hassle of constantly repairing low-quality bicycles would lead there? Now living in a smaller University town I find it easier and faster to get somewhere on a bicycle especially if you have to find parking. In the winter when I ride or walk to gym I always find it funny to see my neighbors who drove to the gym.

Breaking from Car Culture

We and our society are very car dependent. I got my first car, a ’64 Plymouth Valiant, when I was 14, which I loved to drive around our farm and I fixed up to sell. Growing up in rural Tennessee I was driving tractor, raking hay when I was 8. The hard thing is to try to break free from our dependence on the car to try to realize it is just a tool, not a lifestyle or whatever is marketed to us.

I “love” my Subaru and at least once every 3 months (used to be every month) I love going on a high speed jaunt. I do tend to not use my car in town but rather walk or bicycle which is why I bought a small 300 square foot house downtown. I bought a house in town when I found myself driving to town 2 or 3 times a day almost every day for work or meetings. How can I be Living Off Grid, Really?!?! with solar for my electricity but be fuel dependent and waste all that time ( 2 or 3 hours a day) driving?

I am trying to reset my mind that the car is to be used only for travel outside of town or for on a rare occasion hauling a bunch of bulk goods. This is how I grew up but after 10 years of becoming addicted to the car it is difficult to break the addiction. My dream is to live somewhere with a lifestyle that doesn’t need the cost and hassle of a car! The challenge, joy and speed of riding a bicycle around town is becoming as addicting.

I look forward everyday to the interactions I have on my Living Off Grid, Really!?!? Facebook page and hope you will join the discussion there.

Aur Beck has lived completely off-grid for over 35 years. He has traveled with his family through 24 states and 14,000 recorded miles by horse-drawn wagon. Aur is a presenter at The Climate Reality Project, a fellow addict at Oil Addicts Anonymous International  and a talk show co-host at WDBX Community Radio for Southern Illinois 91.1 FM. Find him on the Living Off Grid, Really!?!? Facebook page, and read all of Aur'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.

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