Sunday, November 29, 2009

Catching Up

I hope that everyone had a great holiday week, I know I found the break enjoyable and much needed. Figure I'll take the opportunity to perform a little blog cleaning, and by this I mean this post to catch me up on the car-free stats that I haven't posted on for more than a month.

Calculate your carbon emissions @

Week 30

Miles Biked: 57.27
Gallons Saved: 3.58
CO2 Not Emitted: 22.47 Ibs

Week 31

Miles Biked: 49.71
Gallons Saved: 3.11
CO2 Not Emitted: 19.51 Ibs

Week 32

Miles Biked: 71.65
Gallons Saved: 4.47
CO2 Not Emitted: 28.13 Ibs

Month 8

Miles Biked: 243.75
Gallons Saved: 15.23
CO2 Not Emitted: 95.67 Ibs

Week 33

Miles Biked: 30.58
Gallons Saved: 1.92
CO2 Not Emitted: 12.01 Ibs

Week 34

Miles Biked: 26.73
Gallons Saved: 1.67
CO2 Not Emitted: 10.49 Ibs

Thursday, November 19, 2009

David Orr on Post-Carbon Cities

Missoula was lucky enough yesterday to have David Orr in town. In between the meetings usual social events, there was enough time for him to give two lectures at the University of Montana.

For those of you who don't know of David Orr, he is a leading thinker and innovator environmental issues, green building, and ecological design. Within the last decade he gained national press for his effort and subsequent success in building a fully carbon-neutral building on the campus of Oberlin College which can be seen above. It integrates passive solar design by orienting the building to take advantage of the suns energy, a roof fully covered by solar panels, sustainable materials, food production in the form of a garden and orchard on the north side of the building, and environmental restoration on the wetlands immediately adjacent.

David Orr covered post-carbon cities in the lecture I attended. The scope of his talk was extensive, delving heavily into the philosophy behind green building/urban design. What resounded with me was his call to take a systems approach to issues. He blames academia for the tradition of reductionist thought that breaks issues/objects into components without concerning itself with how the whole works or interacts with the world. He used the example of optimizing the Hvac system of a building without also optimizing the insulation or materials used in the building.

By taking a systems or wholistic world view we can come to better understand the world and the interaction between our actions and the environment. This is true of economics - which as a student of economics I fully agree with - where one doesn't pay the full cost of any product. Externalises exist everywhere and with every purchase; a vehicle doesn't really cost only $20,000 if you include the pollution from its manufacture and operation, the cost of the roads it travels, and the cost of disposal, etc. If all these costs where taken into affect, our world would be a much different place. There would be no coal fired power plants if the coal industry had to directly pay for every death caused by the pollution it creates.

Back to post-carbon cities. David has an ambitious goal of turning Oberlin into a carbon-neutral city, starting by redeveloping the downtown area to be an eco-village. He is taking a ground up approach by gathering support and investment from within the community. This seems like a much better approach for such a project than the one taken by Saudi Arabia and China in attempting to build their own respective eco-cities, both of which after years of being in the design and planning phases have gone nowhere.

Of course, building a fully carbon-neutral town is a big challenge, as not only do the buildings have to be redesigned, but people's behavior's have to radically change and a whole new local economy built from scratch. If David Orr has any misgivings about such a project, its is that he doesn't know whether people are willing to do what needs to be done to create such an ecologically friendly future.

He is optimistic in terms of having all the tools ready and at his finger tips. David talked of how over the last thirty years scientists and entrepreneurs have developed the tools to create such a future and now everything simply has to be brought together and integrated. Social awareness has also progressed enough to allow the building of such a future. This is especially true within professions that can move something such as eco-cities along. Daniel Narrin over at Discovering Urbanism illustrates this point in a recent post. Having found a planning text book from the early 1990s, he was surprised to see how far the profession has developed in two decades, having found that the book never once mentioned pedestrians or cyclists and describes environmentalists only as obstructionists against progress.

It now seems very possible that the environmentalists so reviled by many only two decades ago will be the ones innovating and creating our future as it has gone from a movement of obstructionism to one of practical application and problem solving. Best of luck to David Orr and his vision of a carbon-neutral future, I hope to experience it one day.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Book Review: After The Car

Full Disclosure: I received a free copy in return for this review

Despite the provocative title and front cover of the book, After The Car by authors Kingsly Dennis and John Urry, there is little radical thought or ideas that give a blueprint on how our society will organize after the decline of the personal automobile. That said, if you are new to how personal transportation issues relate to global climate change, economics, social organization, and urban design, than this book gives a short and concise summary that provides a good overview of all these issues. Overall After The Car is a well-written and well-thought out book that is concise and covers a lot of ground in a very small package.

At a mere 164 pages, After The Car, takes the reader through a handful of today's most pressing issues. The first chapter quickly explores the situation we find ourselves in today, including climate change, peak oil, the growth of the Internets, and the supremacy of urban areas. This quick overview sets the stage for the rest of the book and for how we got to the situation we find ourselves in today.

The heart of the book delves into how the car came to completely reshape our lives. At one time the automobile was a new and disruptive technology. At the beginning of the car's history it transformed the lives of millions of people and led to a huge leap in productivity. But after a century of the car's dominance it has come to signify, "...many of the most troubling aspects of human civilization."

The authors take the view that the dominance of the car is thanks to the convergence of various trends such as allowing for freedom of mobility, the huge increase in economic productivity it allowed, and the complete seepage of car culture into the fabric popular American culture. But this wholehearted acceptance of the car has led to unintended consequences. The car system's full adoption by society has come to mean high levels of pollution, possible climate change, economies that are held back by the maintenance of sprawling transportation networks, and the adverse social affects that come with being so spread out and disconnected from one's neighbor.

As for my aforementioned disappointment, once the book finally makes it to a diagnosis for our future, there is very little in the way of new thinking and rather mostly a simple summary of current trends that might come to partially supplant the current transportation system. The trends covered include denser living through new urban design, rapid personal transit, electrical vehicles (EVs), and green cities. The authors express great hope in the idea of green cities such as Dongtan China, even though most of the over hyped green trophies are still just nice drawings on some government official's desk.

The criticism I can't get out of my head is talk of how EVs and biofuels will be a part of the solution. For a book entitled After The Car it seems a bit of contradiction to propose that EVs and biofuels will really change anything. How many trillions of dollars will ultimately need to be spent on infrastructure to build generating capacity just to power our EVs and how little will that investment reduce our green house gas emissions? This is a question that the authors simply gloss over.

Overall, After The Car, does an excellent job of giving a concise overview of many of the issues that will shape our new century and how that could affect our transportation system. But there is little revolutionary thought held within the pages of the book, and despite the title, there is almost no vision of our future after the car.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Complete Streets WIN

Complete Streets policy has been spreading for some time now thanks largely in part to groups like the National Complete Streets Coalition and local advocacy groups like Missoula's own BWAM and MIST. For the uninitiated, complete streets is a concepts and policy goal of designing streets that are accessible to all populations. This means a de-emphasis on moving at high rates of speed and making infrastructure improvements that make safety for pedestrians and bicyclist more of a priority.

Check out this map of America showing where complete streets are taking affect. And for those interested, Transportation for America has an online petition that asks DOT head LaHood to emphasize pedestrian safety.

And now it appears that we have some evidence that complete streets design is actually helping to make our most abundant of public spaces safer. Transportation For America recently released a long worked on report, Dangerous By Design, that highlights street design failings and success.

Columbia, MO seems to be a shinning example of complete streets policy at work.

This from an article at by Josh Frydman:

In 2004, Columbia passed a complete streets ordinance, which specified how streets should be designed. This included five-foot sidewalks on all streets as well as bicycle accommodations on certain streets, and that sent a very clear signal that Columbia is serious about encouraging people to walk and bike in Columbia.

Columbia's Pedestrian Danger Index scored four times lower than the national average. Columbia reported just two pedestrian fatalities from 2007 to 2008, and just 3.8% of the total traffic deaths during that time were pedestrians.

This is just a portion of the rethinking of street design that is slowly sweeping across our country. After more than half a century of placing almost all our efforts into moving more cars and seeing this strategy fail over and over change is finally snowballing. Bike paths/lanes, mass rapid transit, sidewalks, green streets, and the redesigning of intersections are the new fashionable strategies in many cities for dealing with transportation.

We are even importing a few good ideas from the Europeans, GASP! Hans Monderman's design concept of shared space is replacing the idea of traffic control with controlled chaos. This can be seen in the growing number of roundabouts and uncontrolled intersections that force different modes of transportation to actually interact and be cautious towards one another.

Each roundabout or transportation plan that includes complete streets is only a small step, but a decade of small steps takes you far from your starting point.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Carfree Fail

Its been about 7 months of not having to worry about traffic, gas prices, car insurance, or car payments. In that time I have found life without the use of a car to be pretty easy. A few times I have hoped in a car to carpool places outside of Missoula or to go to Costco with Ashley, but for the most part its been smoothing sailing, until this weekend when I made fairly extensive use of a vehicle.

I had an art show displaying my photography for Missoula's First Friday Art Walk. Time was short to get everything organized and buy the refreshments (booze). Making the trip over to Costco and the Orange Street Food Farm for supplies in the time frame before the show just would have been impossible on a bicycle. Of course, I could have spent more time planning and gotten everything I needed the day before, but I didn't. And that is the lesson really of trying to be carfree, everything takes a little more thought, planning, and time to get done.

Instead Ashley saved my ass and helped me out getting everything I needed. Without her the First Friday event wouldn't have been a success. While carpooling doesn't go against the rules I set for myself over this year, this instance was different because the trip was something that I created, Ashley never would have run those errands, and she did so only because I needed the help.

The second instance of using a vehicle this weekend involved driving my '83 Toyota Landcruiser. Its been parked on the street for awhile now and had become a place to store things. I've had it for sale for a little over a month; I figure if its just going to sit there and its not going to fit into my lifestyle I might as well get rid of it.

Someone finally wanted to take it for a test drive on Sunday, so there was a mad dash to get it cleaned out and make sure it was running fine before the test drive. While I have been in cars since trying to be carfree this was the first time I have driven, going about two miles to get rid of a few things in the back of the cruiser. The test drive was successful and within a week I'll be rid of the Landcruiser. So, while I used a vehicle a lot more this weekend than I should have, in the end I'll be freeing myself from a vehicle and someone else that needs it will be able to use it.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Monday, November 2, 2009


Last week I wrote about how to get younger people to shift from our dominate car culture to alternative modes of transportation and I have been thinking a lot on the subject since. For the most part I feel like a lot of my people understand the connection between things like environmental change and personal consumption levels. Every day, even in cold winter weather, I see a lot of people my age out on their bicycles.

But I must step back and remember that Missoula is a college town and has a unique culture that is not easily duplicated in other communities. It seems that more and more people are making shifts in their daily behavior and these small changes aggregate into numbers that can actually matter.

But how do you get people to go from shifting personal behavior such as their mode of transportation to actually becoming actively involved in a wider movement or organization? In Missoula the people that are personally involved in advocating for alternative transportation and complete streets are not people of my age group. When I show up to a meetings or work on non-profit projects, the people sitting across the table from me are usually 20 to 30 years older than me.

Of course generation Y is well represented at any event where music and beer are present. Events such as Missoula's Bike, Walk, Bus Week and Pedalfest are important in fostering community and spreading ideas, but fall well short of building momentum for sustained change or wider engagement.

Hell, I'm right in the middle of generation Y and I have no idea of how to actually get my friends involved in advocacy work and a lot of times people's eyes glaze over when I talk to friends about some project I'm working on.

My gut tells me that the answer lies in building a vibrant community and maybe Missoula is just not big enough to support something like what I am envisioning. Strong non profits are another important part of the mix and people within those organizations that can really push to organize and do creative things are a huge asset. But how did the Obama campaign capture the energy of my generation so well? I know more than a few people that worked within the campaign at various levels as either volunteers or paid organizers. I'm not trying to compare Obama with exciting world of alternative transportation, but just using his campaign as something to contrast against.

Maybe I'm off base with my concerns, but my generation is full of people that have the energy, creative thinking, and new approach to challenges that non-profits pushing for social change can really use and if those talents go uncaptured it seems like a shame.
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