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

Phase 2 and Solarrolla

The times they are a changin... Since my last blog I have fully dedicated my life to the advancement of solar electric vehicles.

I had talked about the test results of the lithium batteries as well as the result of adding another 1,000 watts of solar to the VW bus in the form of an awning.  Maybe more importantly I was able to test the flexible, much lighter panels, for performance and durability.  Check!

At this point our experience is a 120 mile range and 30 miles per day solar input.

I'm happy the flexible panels worked out since they are 7 pounds compared to almost 40 for a glass framed panel.  Time to phase out the glass....and the weight.

Without the glass to worry about the panels are safer too.  Flexible panels have been advantageous on boats for years now and are making their way to RVs worldwide due to this lightweight, flexible and conforming design.

We promised phase two of the solar electric vw bus would include the lithium batteries and 3,000 watts of solar.  I will hold up my end!

I took an intermediate step in adding just one more 1,000 watt array for  a 2,200 watt total.

And now ladies and gentlemen....It's time for whole enchilada....and a twist of fate that we all will be enjoying this summer and for years to come!!!! I currently have 36 flexible solar panels on the way!  Get ready for the completion of the solar electric VW bus. Using the 3.2-3.4 watt sun power cells sandwiched in a flexible polymer sub-straight, and utilizing the available surface area of a VW transporter roof I can get 1,200 watts.  Now we will have 3 times this! 3,600 watts split up into a center array and two awnings will be fully track-able and give us a potential 100 miles in a little over 2 days.  The awning will need to retract of course during driving...this is the real innovation.

The bus with the second awning

Are you with me?  Well....there's more! If you get a chance take a look at my last blog.  In the picture of burning man you will see a funny looking vehicle with a solar panel on the front of it. I was fortunate to make it to “burning man” this year with my wife.  We took the Solar bus and had an amazing time.  I was thinking before we left for the Nevada desert that it would be fun to have a small electric vehicle to spin around the gathering with....the next day a friend dropped off a scooter that he "thought I could do something with."

"I can and I will!" I replied. I added the 4 extra lithium cells from my bus project, a 100 watt flexible panel on the front and headed to Black Rock City. I didn't have time to get a charge controller on the scooter.  I thought it would take a long time to charge and figured I would just keep an eye on it. The storage turned out to be around 900 watt hours.  As it turned out on the flat the scooter pulled just a few hundred watts. It turned out to be more juice than I could use! During the day the juice went right back in!

I quickly realized that I had something special.

The scooter that started it all...

When I got home I drove it 20 miles and saw it charge right back up in a few hours....what a form of transport!!!!!!!!

I started ordering parts and built my own version of the scooter from the ground up calling it the "Solarrolla". It's made out of an aluminum frame, 3-wheels for stability, a 100 watt flexible solar panel and  comes complete with a waterproof  Bluetooth speaker and phone holder and charger.

Everyone needs a “Solarrolla.”   The scooter is a way I can offer the solar driving experience without all that is entailed with the something as large as the VW bus. I realized the scooter could replace motorcycles in sunny 3rd world countries where pollution is a real problem.  Also the scooter is a quite viable source of energy for lights, music, cell phone charging laptop use and anything else electric.

Get more info at:

The Solarrolla

So stay tuned for the completion of phase 2 of the solar electric VW bus and the development of Solarrolla! Wanna see even further into the future check out the Estar page on our website!

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 builds electric vehicles and converted a 1973 VW bus to a fully electric, solar powered vehicle. He's working on a project now called Solarrolla, a solar powered electric scooter. 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.

How to Advocate for Progressive Bike Policy and Infrastructure in Your Community


Progressive bike policy offers a number of benefits to personal, environmental, and community health; in my last post, I put the spotlight on Minneapolis-St. Paul, one of the most bike-friendly metropolitan areas in the world that has already reaped the benefits of greater bike utilization and bicycle commuting. But what if your community isn’t so bike-friendly yet? 

Biking alongside traffic can be dangerous even for experienced cyclists, and it is certainly intimidating to those new to biking. Biking on the sidewalk is illegal in some jurisdictions, and it is actually linked to more accidents than road biking, according to the League of American Bicyclists [1]. The Washington Post reports that cyclist-automobile accidents and air pollution can create real dangers that are mitigated by progressive bike infrastructure such as dedicated bike lanes and trails [2].

To recap the community benefits of biking, the United States and much of the developed world is struggling with rising rates of illnesses related to poor diet and lack of exercise. Biking—especially bicycle commuting—is a great way to get your CDC-recommended 2 hours and 30 minutes of weekly exercise [3], and good infrastructure also benefits community members who may not be able to afford a car: The Simple Dollar, a financial planning website, featured an excellent breakdown of the comparative costs of driving, biking, and walking, which also accounted for time and health costs and benefits—and biking was the clear cost-effective winner [4]. Bike infrastructure is also enormously beneficial to local economies, the American League of Bicyclists outlines in its 28-page report on the link between bicycle advocacy and the economy [5].

The benefits of bicycling may not be in question, but local government’s willingness to improve bike infrastructure often is. Here, I’ve collected three community organizing strategies to ensure that your politicians are serving your best interests and the best interests of your community.

Connect with or Start Local Bicyclist Leagues

In addition to providing strength in numbers, bicycle leagues like the League of American Bicyclists often offer toolkits for local activists, and may provide funding and a body of research to help you persuade local politicians. Local leagues may offer even more targeted assistance, including help with interpreting local laws. The League of Michigan Bicyclists even offers an easily generalizable advocacy toolkit [6]! There are also special-interest bicycle leagues, such as the Major Taylor Bicycle Club in Minnesota, for African-American bicyclists [7].

If you don’t have a local league, first check for other types of advocacy organizations. For example, Our Streets MPLS is a Minneapolis-based advocacy organization that supports both pedestrians and bicyclists in advocating for safer infrastructure [8]. If you find that there are no relevant local organizations, consider starting one! The League of American Bicyclists offers a helpful guide on how to do so [9].

Conduct Studies

Local politicians often will not act unless you can provide a plan to reach your goals and concrete evidence to support it. Having a summary of potential costs and benefits at hand can only be an asset to your efforts! Local universities and colleges may be able to help you conduct policy analyses (and are also a source of student volunteers). Think about what types of progressive bike infrastructure would benefit your community most: bike lanes? Off-road bikeways? A bike-share program? Factors such as local climate, average income, and population will all influence the effectiveness of infrastructure.

The University of Kansas’s Community Tool Box program offers an excellent guide to community-based participatory research that will give you a head start on study design, statistical analyses, how to increase participation, and more [10]. Less-formal measures like community surveys, town halls, and focus groups can also help you to determine the needs of your community and the best way to advocate for them.

Hold a Letter-Writing Campaign

While tactics like rallies are also highly effective, I have chosen to highlight letter-writing campaigns because they can be less daunting for new community organizers and involve less of a time commitment from community members. Be sure to enlist as many community members as you can in your campaign: a handful of rogue letters isn’t likely to be taken seriously.

Keeping your campaign focused on a clear “ask”—requesting bike lanes on a certain avenue, for example—is the key to success. Letter-writing campaigns usually involve letters both to news outlets (especially letters to newspaper editors) and politicians. Create a template and a list of addresses for community members to use when writing in, and encourage people to add their own comments about how progressive bike policy would benefit them personally. Consider holding letter-writing events in conference rooms—often available to rent cheaply at local libraries—and provide stamps, envelopes, and other materials. Posting flyers in community centers, places of worship, libraries, schools, and other communal spaces is one way to drum up interest. Letter-writing campaigns can also be coordinated via email.

Letter-writing campaigns can be held at multiple stages in the advocacy process. One campaign might be held at the beginning to request research into better bike policy; another one might be held once all research has been completed in order to spur politicians into action. Letter-writing is often done in conjunction with petitions. The League of Michigan Bicyclists has even more information on organizing successful letter-writing campaigns in their toolkit [11].

The tide is turning towards better bike policy worldwide, and I hope that you can use these tools to bring those policies to your community.

For more information on the benefits of progressive bike policy, see the previous post in this series, “Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro Area Leads on Progressive Bike Policy.”

References and Further Reading:

[1] “Bike Law University: Sidewalk Riding.” League of American Bicyclists. Retrieved from

[2] “How safe is bike commuting? Perhaps less than you think.” The Washington Post. Retrieved from

[3] “How much physical activity do adults need?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from

[4] “Walking, Bicycling, Driving, and Cost-Effectiveness.” The Simple Dollar. Retrieved from

[5] “Bicycling Means Business: The Economic Benefits of Bicycle Infrastructure.” League of American Bicyclists. Retrieved from

[6] “Advocacy Toolkit.” League of Michigan Bicyclists. Retrieved from

[7] Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota. Retrieved from

[8] Our Streets MPLS. Retrieved from

[9] "How to Start a Bicycle Club or Advocacy Organization." League of American Bicyclists. Retrieved from

[10] “Community-based Participatory Research.” Community Tool Box. Retrieved from

[11] “Letter Writing Campaigns.” League of Michigan Bicyclists. Retrieved from

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 Surprising Future of Bicycling: 12 Reasons Why Its Popularity Will Continue to Soar

Maria Contreras Tebbutt teaches bike safety in Woodland, Calif. Photo by Kate Hoff

The following is from the report The Surprising Future of Bicycling in America. A fundraising campaign is underway to expand the report into a full-scale book.

For too long biking has been viewed skeptically as a white people thing, a big city thing, an ultra-fit athlete thing, a 20-something thing, a warm-weather thing or an upper-middle class thing. And above all else, it's been seen as a guy thing. But guess what? The times, they are a changing. More than 100 million Americans rode a bike in 2014, and bicycles have out-sold cars most years in the U.S. since 2003.

Actually, Latinos bike more than any other racial group, followed by Asians and Native Americans. African Americans and whites bike at about the same rate.  Actually, most bicyclists are from low-income households, according to census figures — as many as 49 percent of bike commuters make less than $25,000 a year.

As for other misperceptions, keep in mind that Minneapolis (in chilly Minnesota) and Arlington, VA (in suburban Washington, DC) rank among America’s top towns for biking. And the one place in the U.S. where bikes account for more than 20 percent of traffic on local streets is Davis, CA (pop: 65,000).

Slowly but surely, more U.S. communities are realizing that the future of mobility is bigger than cars. Biking is seen as an attractive, cost effective, healthy and convenient way to get around. Bike commuting tripled in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington DC, Minneapolis, Portland and Denver from 1990 to 2012, and doubled in many other cities.

This success is changing what people see as possible for life on two wheels. There’s a new push is to make bike-riding more mainstream by creating low-stress routes that conveniently take even inexperienced bicyclists to the places they want to go on networks of protected bike lanes (where riders are safely separated from speeding traffic) and neighborhood greenways (residential streets where bikers and walkers get priority).

But the culture shift in biking is about more than infrastructure. “It’s the transition from a small group of people who strongly identify as bicyclists to a bigger, broader grouping of people who simply ride bikes,” explains Randy Neufeld, a veteran bike activist from Chicago. The music star Beyonce has been known to pedal to some of her own concerts, for example, and the NBA’s Lebron James bikes to his games.

People who don’t ride are perplexed by this boom in biking. But it comes as no surprise to those who do — they know how good it feels to whoosh on a bike, wind in your face, blood pumping to your legs, the landscape unfolding all around. You feel fully alive!

How We Got Here — and Where We Want to Go

“If you look at the bike infrastructure we had 20 years ago and what we have today, it’s mind-boggling,” says John Burke, president of Trek Bicycles. “But we still have a long way to go to make a bike-friendly America,” Burke admits. “This is important for everybody because the bicycle is a simple solution to climate change, congestion and the massive health crisis we have in this nation.”

A quick glance at other nations shows what’s possible. Across the Netherlands, 27 percent of all trips are made on bike — double the rate of the 1980s. Even Canadians bike significantly more than Americans. Montreal and Vancouver are arguably the two top cities for bicycling in North America despite freezing temperatures in one and heavy rainfall in the other. Why? The prevalence of protected bike lanes and other 21st century bike facilities.

Megan Ramey and her daughter Annika ride on a protected bike lane in Boston. Photo by Kyle Ramey

12 Reasons Why Bikes Will Grow in Popularity

Expanding Diversity Among Riders. People of color and riders over 60 are two of the fastest-growing populations of bicyclists. This is a clear sign of bicycling’s shift from an insider club of Lycra-clad hobbyists to a diverse cross-section of Americans who ride for all sorts of reasons — from getting groceries to losing weight to just having fun.

Safer Streets for Kids. In 1969, 40 percent of all children walked or biked to school — by 2001, less than 13 percent did.  Over the same period, rates of childhood obesity soared. That prompted U.S. Representative James Oberstar of Minnesota to add $1.1 billion to the 2005 Transportation Bill to promote Safe Routes to Schools, a variety of projects and programs in all 50 states to make biking and walking less dangerous and more convenient for students K-12. By 2012 (latest figures available), the number of kids biking and walking to school jumped to 16 percent.

More Women Becoming Bike Advocates. Despite biking’s macho man image, almost a third of all trips were taken by women, according to 2009 Federal Highway Administration. That number is very likely to rise in the upcoming count, thanks to streams of women becoming bike advocates — as grassroots activists, transportation professionals and bike industry leaders. One telling statistic confirms this trend. In 1990, about 10 percent of the crowd at the influential Pro Walk/Pro Bike/Pro Place conference were women, remembers Wisconsin bike advocate Kit Keller. At the most recent conference, women outnumbered men in both the audience and among the speakers.

Comfortable, Convenient Bike Routes. Expanding access to biking means moving beyond from stand-alone bike lanes to connected networks that give bicyclists the same ease of mobility that motorists enjoy on roads and pedestrians on sidewalks. That’s how many European nations have achieved big increases in bike ridership over recent decades. This vision — being jumpstarted in the US by Big Jump Project — can already be glimpsed in certain neighborhoods of Brooklyn, Indianapolis, Austin, Calgary and Fort Collins, Colorado.

Bikes Available When You Want Them. Bikeshare systems — where a rental bike is yours at the swipe of a credit card or clicks on a smartphone — have swept across America since 2010. Eighty eight million rides were taken on 42,000 bikes in the 55 largest systems last year, evidence that bikeshare is changing how people — including many who do not own a bike — get around town. Meanwhile in China, a new kind of bikeshare, where bicycles are available everywhere on the streets not just at designated stations, is resurrecting biking on a dramatic scale.

Renee Moore learned to ride at 25, and then Bicycling and the City to get more women on bikes in Washington, DC. Photo by Rakiya Moore

Riding Boosts Our Health. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 30 minutes of moderate physical activity like bicycling five days a week based on medical studies showing that it reduces your chance of dementia, depression, anxiety, diabetes, colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and other health threats by at least 40 percent. Enough said.

The Dawn of E-Bikes. This technological innovation — in which riders’ pedaling can be boosted by a rechargeable battery — answers many of the excuses people have for not biking: hills, long distances, sweaty clothes, strong winds, hot weather, cold weather, and not being able to carry things due to weight, says bike activist Randy Neufeld.

Growing Clout of Grassroots Activists. Neighbors across the country are rising up to have a say about the future of their communities. Sick and tired of planning decisions that favor automobiles over people, they advocate solutions that promote biking and walking such as Complete  Streets (roads designed with all users in mind) and Vision Zero (a strategy to eliminate traffic fatalities). Many bike advocates are also expanding their vision to emphasize social justice.  “We must also talk about public health, gentrification, people of color, women who feel harassed on the street, older people,” urges Tamika Butler, former director of the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition.

Curbing Climate Change. Almost daily headlines remind us that climate disruption is a problem we must fix now. Transportation makes up the second biggest source of greenhouse gases. Seventy-two percent of all trips three mile or less are made by motor vehicles today, the vast majority of which could be biked in less than twenty minutes.

The Rise of Autonomous Vehicles. Sooner or later driverless cars will dominate traffic on America’s roads, which could result in a surge of bike riders. Research shows 60 percent of Americans would bike regularly if they felt safer on the streets and this new technology can dramatically reduce crashes. Also, autonomous vehicles require far fewer parking places, opening up space in the street for state-of-the-art bikeways.

“It may be that only every third street has cars allowed on it,” muses Gabe Klein, former transportation director in Chicago and Washington. “The choices we make about how autonomous vehicles are regulated are crucial. If we get it wrong, the future is grim for any not in a car,” cautions Andy Clarke, Director of Strategy for Toole Design Group.

The Emergence of Bike Planning and Advocacy as a Profession. Thousands of professionally-trained people are now employed by government, private business and nonprofit organizations to improve biking in America’s communities.

Better Communities — Even for Those Who Don’t Bike. When National Geographic magazine and the Gallup organization recently rated the 25 happiest cities in the US, the article’s author Dan Buettner noted, “There’s a high correlation between bikeability and happiness.”

Even people who never hop on a bike benefit from bike-friendly improvements — a safer environment for walkers and drivers, less traffic and more vital neighborhoods and business districts.

Jay Walljasper, author of the Great Neighborhood, consults, speaks and writes about how to create stronger, brighter communities. Find him on The report was created with Melissa Balmer and Pedal Love with support from Bosch eBikes Systems Americas.

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.

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!


[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 and on Twitter.

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.

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 and read all of his 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.

Learn about the allure and utility of a small pick-up truck. Nowadays, it seems auto manufacturers have forgotten the use of a simple, well built, machine.


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 makes his home in Troy, Maine, where since the late 1980s, he has been an instructor at WoodenBoat School teaching lofting, skiff building, and the Fundamentals of Boatbuilding. He is a contributing editor for WoodenBoat, and Maine Boats Homes and Harbors magazines, and is  the author and illustrator for Building Small Boats, The Boat Builders Apprentice and co-author with Ted Moores of Kayaks You Can Build: An Illustrated Guide to Plywood Construction. Tune into Greg’s world music radio program on WERU-FM and read all of his 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.

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.

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

Money-Saving Tips in Every Issue!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters

click me