Traffic-snarled LA goes bike-wild with 1,600 miles of lanes

I love this article on so many levels that I am going to put the entire content of it into my blog rather than just link to it.  Maybe, just maybe, there is hope.

RIDING ONTO THE SUNSET: BY Sarah Goodyear
Traffic-snarled LA goes bike-wild with 1,600 miles of lanes
3 MAR 2011 10:32 AM

The Backbone Bikeway Network proposed by the L.A. Bike Working Group was incorporated into the city’s master plan for 1,680 miles of new bike lanes.

The cab driver who cut off Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa when the mayor was riding his bicycle last year may have done the city a huge favor.

After the incident, in which he fell from his bike and broke his elbow, Villaraigosa started talking a lot more about the importance of bicycles to the city’s future.

And on March 2, he signed a kind of astonishing bicycle master plan, which had been unanimously approved by the city council the day before. It calls for the creation of 1,680 miles of interconnected bike lanes in the city where transport has been defined by the automobile for generations. Significantly, this is a network designed not for recreation, but for actual transportation.

The plan, which was created with significant input from the city’s well-organized bicycling community, would mean 100 miles per year of new lanes over each of the next five years, and 40 miles a year thereafter. Funding will come, in part, from a half-cent sales tax dedicated to transportation upgrades, overwhelmingly approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008.

Since 1977, the city has built just 377 miles of bike lanes.

As Matthew Fleischer notes on KCET’s SoCal Focus blog, this is just the beginning. NIMBYism and bureaucratic delays could get in the way of the plan’s implementation.

But let’s put doubts aside for a moment. Think about the implications. Los Angeles — the city that has for so long defined, epitomized, and glamorized American car culture — could become a truly great bicycling city. And that could change the way ordinary people and politicians alike think about bicycles as transportation in the United States.

Makes me want to give that cabbie a nice, fat tip.

Sarah Goodyear is Grist’s cities editor. She’s also on Twitter.

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Cars…again

Just returned from a semi-annual visit with TealGreen hubby’s family in England.  Can’t help commenting on some of our observations of all things green while we were there.  The irony is that in European terms, England isn’t even at the top of the league on the environmental front – the Danes with their wind power, the Germans with their efficiency and environmental regulation come to mind first – but the English are still far ahead of us.

The most obvious observation is the cars you see on the road.  There are countless models one never sees here, smaller, but not minute and with vastly better gas, or should I say, diesel mileage.  For example brother-in-law drives a diesel VW Touran, a 7 seater, which, of course, is not for sale in this country.  WHY WHY WHY.  TealGreen sister-in-law says they chose it for its luggage capacity, relative lack of thirst and the ability to buckle in 2 extra passengers when they need to without hauling around a load of extra metal on the road when they don’t.

In case you’re thinking, OK, that’s fine, but it’s a diesel, who wants to drive that, it’s probably horrible, consider this from Motorbar, a UK car site:

  • The punchy 1.9-litre TDI engine generates 185lb ft of torque at 1,900rpm. As you increase pressure on the accelerator, the more than ample torque makes the Touran feel much quicker than the paper figures would have you believe. From standstill to the benchmark 62mph takes 13.5 seconds. Top speed is 110mph and the good news — for the family budget — is the combined fuel consumption of 47.1mpg.

Even allowing for the larger Imperial Gallon, that comes out at over 35 mpg in the USA.  That’s better than most station wagons, let alone mini-vans.  Suck on that, US market.  And then, I come home, with all these thoughts in my head and see this from Matter Network: Want the Coolest Green Cars? Fly to Europe. Well, I suppose by the time you pay off your carbon debt from the flight, it might not be worth it, but it’s worth a thought.

NEXT UP: Food and supermarkets….

One Car Challenge….fail?

I suppose in my heart, I knew it wasn’t going to last.  But we managed to get from March to nearly November  in 1 car and still maintain most of the vestiges of our suburban lifestyle.  Of that I am proud.  We proved that it can be done.  We discovered what in our hearts we already knew – that to do it took some serious compromise.

After months of angst and frustration regarding the paltry market for cars with serious mpg ratings, I came across the following which lifted the cloak of depression about what a girl should do when reality means a 25 to 30 grand Prius or VW diesel is out of her price range:

  • hybrids get great gas mileage but it takes 113 million BTUs of energy to make a Toyota Prius. Because there are about 113,000 BTUs of energy in a gallon of gasoline, the Prius has consumed the equivalent of 1,000 gallons of gasoline before it reaches the showroom. Think of it as a carbon debt — one you won’t pay off until the Prius has turned over 46,000 miles or so.There’s an easy way to avoid that debt — buy a used car. The debt has already been paid. But not just any used car will do. [Read the entire article HERE]

So what did we buy?  Well, suburban family life kept trying to steer us to a van but I just couldn’t do it.  Even knowing that buying used was a good option, I just couldn’t stomach buying something that’s rated around town at below 20 mpg. The new Mazda 5 comes in just above that, but again, that’s all very well if you’re willing to dig into your wallet for upwards of 20 grand for a new car.

So I spent weeks doing searches on yahoo cars and Craig’s list, just putting in “wagon, manual transmission.” I can tell you, that’s not a very satisfying search.  Most people don’t want to drive a stick – who knows why. Maybe just so it’s easier to drink the coffee and chat on the phone while driving (at least texting is illegal in our state now).  It came down to: Audi A6, BMW 3/5 series, Dodge Magnum, Ford Taurus, various Mercs, Saab, Subaru, Saab 93/95, VW Passa/Jettat & Volvo elephant wagon.  And realistically, on checking out the search results, most of these weren’t even sticks, they just snuck through somehow.

So how to choose?  MPG is always first on my list, but TealGreen hubby and I are, I confess, actually enthusiastic drivers and have high standards on looks, build quality and driving performance.  So out went Dodge (terrible Consumer Report reviews anyway), Ford Taurus (likewise), Mercs (too expensive and thirsty), Saab (test drove and just didn’t like the feel), Subaru (a little thirsty and feels tinny), Volvo (bad reviews from several friends).  Test drove a couple of ancient Audis.  Nice enough but not blown away and older models don’t get very good Consumer Report reviews.  So back to VW and BMW, our old friends from many years of living in Europe (the last 3 in Germany).  Still like the looks and drive feel of a VW, but feeling burnt by water issues with our totaled one, so feeling tempted by BMW.  But riddled with guilt that that’s all terribly middle class, suburban status symbol.  So keep doing the Craigslist searches and fate intervenes.  The PERFECT car comes up as a hit.  Black 3 series, wagon, sub 100 grand miles, pucker spec (leather, good sound system, yummy lights); good mpg rating (not the 40mpg of the diesel…but that’s out of our price range), and on the market within our budget (goal is sub 10 grand; substantially sub being even better).    So we pluck up our courage and decide to bite the bullet and test drive this baby, prepared for it to be not what it seems.

But it is; so far anyway.  A cream puff of a car, lovingly driven and serviced, looking pretty new even though at 90k and 10 years, it paid off its manufactured carbon debt several years ago.  And the best news: although it’s rated at 20/29, it actually is coming in at about 25 town, 30 highway, both of which are better than my Passat ever was.  So that’s the end of the car story.  A nice, nippy beemer 3 wagon for TealGreen family driving.   And it’s still rated at zero mpg when I’m riding my bike!

Fuel Economy PLEASE

The car saga continues….hubby is away this week and mother nature is in a bad mood.  Kids’ activities are taking over my life and I can’t believe how much mental energy I spend on thinking about getting everyone where they need to be, when they need to be there.  Living in the suburbs without a car is, this week anyway, really HARD.  Not that I didn’t realize it before, but there’s nothing like living it to really bring it home.

So, seriously looking at 2nd vehicle for TG household now….and came across this post on The Hill from Mindy Lubber, president of CERES.  “It’s past time. Today’s fuel economy of U.S. cars, SUVs and passenger trucks ranks among the lowest in the world. We pay a huge economic price for that daily.” The entire post is here

America’s Car Market: in a word, DISAPPOINTING

We’re 2 months in on our experiment with one car.  It’s been an interesting ride so far.  On the whole it’s working well.  I found at first that I felt very bristly about asking for rides when we need them, but the reality is that people are incredibly generous when there’s a friend in need.  And happily, the reality is that mostly, we really haven’t needed to beg many rides.  My kids and I are very able bodied on our bikes and legs and we get the car on the days when our after school activities take us further afield.  My husband is fortunate to work close to a major T/Train station and can commute by train fairly easily.  A friend drops him at the subway when it works out, and when it doesn’t, should I need the car for the day, I can drop him at the commuter train station.  We were both worried about how we would deal with the extra pressure of knowing we’d have to be more organized to coordinate shared use of the car.  Bizarrely, what I’ve found is that it’s made us closer as we’re more aware of each other’s needs and movements as the weeks go by.  We did break down and rent a car for a couple of weeks while we had family visitors from Europe.  It was a peppy little Nissan – perfectly serviceable, but nothing to write home about.  It did have disappointing gas mileage considering how small it was.

Which brings me to my thoughts for today’s post.  Why is the American car market so pathetic? I have in my possession Consumer Report’s April edition which happens to be the car issue.  Although we’ve decided to stick to one car, I can’t help looking at other options; our 2 door VW Golf can feel a little tight with two growing tweens (and one of them certainly lanky teen sized) sitting in the back.  Paging through Consumer Reports, the best option overall for us turns out to be a Passat TDi which comes in at 42 mpg and covers our requirements (in an ideal world) of: available in a stick, reasonably fun to drive, a little more head and leg space in the back seat and good cargo capacity and most important of all to me, high gas mileage.  The snag – virtually no second hand market as they’ve only been available in New England since 2009.  But what really gets my goat is what I discovered last night as my husband flipped lovingly through his Car magazine (looking at Porsches and Ferraris – full disclosure, my husband is a car nut.  But the good news is he’s a bike nut too).  Believe it or not, in Europe, there are 2, not just one, but 2 Ford vans that sit 7 passengers, that come in 35 miles per gallon and get 4 and 5 star ratings.

RANT ALERT….here I go:

Let me put that in print again – a SEVEN seater vehicle that comes in at over 35 miles per gallon.  And yes, I did account for the fact that the imperial gallon is bigger.  That’s the figure converted to US gallons. WHY CAN’T THEY SELL CARS LIKE THIS IN AMERICA?  That’s a 7 seater VAN that gets better mileage most station wagons in this country and way more than any other van or SUV.  And the Europeans drive far fewer miles.  This is just wrong.  And so intensely frustrating.

Which brings me to the end of my post because I am so despondent thinking about this that I need to go and clear my head and think about what this really means about how screwed our economy, car industry and environment is.

End of Suburbia : The One Car Challenge

Going forward:

Many of my posts are going to cover our current adventure: tackling life with an active family of 4 in American suburbia with ONLY ONE CAR.  Can it be done?  I would argue that increasingly, it has to be done, but we’ll see how it goes.  We’re lucky that we live a short distance (about a mile) from both my kids’ schools.  For us, the challenge will be the catalog of after school activities and running the household on 2 wheels instead of four or by working out a rota to share the four wheels with my husband.

How we came to be here:

It’s been on my mind to try to get our family down to one car, but just as a tickle in the back of it.  And then mother nature intervened.  Last week, New England was experiencing what we refer to as a Nor’easter (no the rabbit didn’t come).  We live just west of a major river system, which after several days of sustained torrential rain, decided to reclaim its many areas of flood plain.  In navigating one of these roads by car (when a kayak might have been a better option) I discovered that when the wave of a large puddle is washed  just the wrong way because of oncoming traffic, it can sneak into your air intake and move along to your valves and total your engine (if you happen to drive a relatively elderly car to begin with, so engine rebuild or replacement isn’t economically viable).

So here I am trying to make lemonade and turning it into a project.  Totaled car – well let’s just see if we can take the money from the insurance company and run.  Reasonably generous settlement check, refund on excise tax, refund on insurance, turn in the plates; tune up the bike, update the lights and brakes, tighten up the racks, haul out the old trailer from when the kids were young (for any hauling I need to do when it’s my husband’s turn to have the car).

The first week was great:

Mother nature may have been against me in the first place (ie the flooding that killed my car) but a week of beautiful spring weather following the event started things off well.  Even if we’d still had the car, it probably would have sat in the garage because after 6 moths of winter, and 4 days of horrible rain, it felt wonderful to be out and about on foot and bike in any case.  I did venture to the supermarket and have worked out a pretty good system with the bike trailer.  It’s not a great ride, but luckily enough, the one state highway I have to travel on for about half a mile to get there does actually have a sidewalk and I’m not too proud to use it (too many big SUVs with talking/texting drivers for my comfort).

But I have to say that on days like today where I keep looking for the ark out my window, my enthusiasm wanes.  In general, rain doesn’t really phase me – we have the full complement of rain hats, coats, boots and pants to keep us going.  But it’s also cold and windy and the day starts early.   However, today it’s all worked out well.  Although we are fully prepared to brave the torrential downpour in the morning, my husband juggles his schedule so he can drop my middle schooler on the way and another friend calls and offers my daughter a ride to elementary school.  On phoning a friend who lives nearby to find out what school bus services our road (we don’t have a bus pass but you can buy one for $2 for a single journey home, I just don’t know what number to put on the pass), she offers to pick my daughter up.  So today, everything falls into place and I am left happy to be housebound on an otherwise pretty miserable day.  I would go crazy feeling this way for more than a single day, but occasionally, enforced grounding is a welcome excuse to catch up on some reading and research.