Thursday, November 19, 2009

Power of the Pedal

You might not think that a person could haul over 800 lbs. of produce, pies or party supplies, on a bicycle but you'd be wrong.

In an age dominated by "light trucks" and SUVs you'd be surprised by what we can haul around on a trike (thats bike slang for tricycle). The CS Monitor reports on a growing service in Boston that's taking the pollution out of delivery.
In a city choked with diesel-spewing delivery trucks, the fledgling New Amsterdam Project (NAP), a Cambridge-based cargo-hauling company, is pedaling toward profits aboard an emissions-free fleet of urban “cargo trikes.”

China, India, and other developing nations have long utilized bicycle-based delivery for many goods – but are shifting toward engine-powered vehicles. Across North America, bicycle delivery services exist in several cities. Yet pedal-powered hauling for cargo has been largely a no-show in the United States.

Times are changing. The NAP is at the front lines of a industry spreading across major urban areas in the U.S. Trike delivery services are springing up in New York , Berkeley and here in Burlington, Vermont. UPS, in a experimental holiday season test-run, ran a trike delivery program in certain Vermont townships to deal with the holiday freight rush.

You can trace the beginnings of the trike delivery service to examples like the British Royal Mail service which worked with Britain-based cycle company Cycles Maximus to develop the electric-assist allowing even the most frail person haul over 800 lbs. uphill.

The growth in bikes as a form of transportation continue to be reflected not only in the growth of the bike messenger services in cities like New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and Portland, but also in the sudden interest in bike commuting among America's urban dwellers.

New York has reported a 26% jump in bike commuting after safer bike lanes and streets were created. That effort alone has removed over 15,000 commuters from NYC. San Francisco saw a 43% jump in city-wide ridership between 2006 and 2008 (PDF of survey performed by the SF Metro Transportation Authority). Chicago saw a 30% jump in peddle pushers between 2005 and 2008 again thanks to new bike lanes, high gas prices and general interest. And nationwide, bike commuters grew by more than 43% since 2000. Heck, in the American Northwest, bike commuters outnumber farmers. Even in Afghanistan, citizens created a bike messenger service to avoid complete poverty.

I think its safe to call that a trend.

So, is Boston's New Amsterdam Project ahead of the curve? Perhaps, but there's still much to be done, including re-educating the American public on the perception of peddling in our culture. New Amsterdam Project's co-founder Andrew Brown understands that:

Whether delivering pies, chocolates, organic produce, or green building products, NAP’s ultimate motive is to show people bicycles are a great way to stay fit, as well as break the internal-combustion stranglehold.

“It’s almost like cars are the sea within which we live and we’re so attached to them, it’s so habitual,” he says. “We are trying to lead the way, to set an example about how to get away from cars altogether..." Brown admits there is “a huge cultural hurdle” to overcome in the land of the pickup truck.

“People do laugh,” he says. “They can’t understand how a bicycle can possibly function in a way commensurate with an automobile, much less a light truck.”

And business, while certainly not booming, does have incentives that clients are willing to endorse. More and more consumers are concerned with their carbon footprint, and that includes analyzing the products they purchase on a daily basis.

So, whether you rely on four wheels or three, the future is ripe for the urban cyclist.

Keep pedaling.

Saturday, August 01, 2009


Recently, I joined the ranks of the unemployed. It's nice to know that I'm not alone. Its a first for me, and the experience has forced me to look beyond the fragile facade that screams to settle for any job anyplace to make sure the spending habits of my lifestyle go unchanged. Instead, I'm looking at my spending habits and forcing them to adapt in this new situation.

"Employment" as defined by the folks at American Heritage is:
"(1) The act of employing. The state of being employed. (2) The work in which one is engaged; occupation. (3) An activity to which one devotes time."

Its odd to think of employment as anything but your job or what you do to pay the bills. Going the definition above, one is always employed save for those of us who lie on the couch all day watching daytime soaps. Your employment could be whatever you are currently engaged in at the moment.

So the next few weeks, while I am looking for ways to make a little money and pay the bills, I'll also be doing things I haven't had a chance to do in a long time: finding my green thumb, cleaning out my material possession locker and seeing close friends and family I've missed in the past. And you can bet I'll be fully employed in those endeavors.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Rev. Lowery's Inaugural benediction

One of the best benedictions I've ever heard.
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, thou who has brought us thus far along the way, thou who has by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path, we pray, lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee, lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee. Shadowed beneath thy hand may we forever stand -- true to thee, O God, and true to our native land.

We truly give thanks for the glorious experience we've shared this day. We pray now, O Lord, for your blessing upon thy servant, Barack Obama, the 44th president of these United States, his family and his administration. He has come to this high office at a low moment in the national and, indeed, the global fiscal climate. But because we know you got the whole world in your hand, we pray for not only our nation, but for the community of nations. Our faith does not shrink, though pressed by the flood of mortal ills.

For we know that, Lord, you're able and you're willing to work through faithful leadership to restore stability, mend our brokenness, heal our wounds and deliver us from the exploitation of the poor or the least of these and from favoritism toward the rich, the elite of these.

We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that, yes, we can work together to achieve a more perfect union. And while we have sown the seeds of greed -- the wind of greed and corruption, and even as we reap the whirlwind of social and economic disruption, we seek forgiveness and we come in a spirit of unity and solidarity to commit our support to our president by our willingness to make sacrifices, to respect your creation, to turn to each other and not on each other.

And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.

And as we leave this mountaintop, help us to hold on to the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family. Let us take that power back to our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our temples, our mosques, or wherever we seek your will.

Bless President Barack, First Lady Michelle. Look over our little, angelic Sasha and Malia.
We go now to walk together, children, pledging that we won't get weary in the difficult days ahead. We know you will not leave us alone, with your hands of power and your heart of love.
Help us then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid; when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around -- (laughter) -- when yellow will be mellow -- (laughter) -- when the red man can get ahead, man -- (laughter) -- and when white will embrace what is right.
Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.

REV. LOWERY: Say amen --
REV. LOWERY: -- and amen.
AUDIENCE: Amen! (Cheers, applause.)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Coal comes home to roost

Just when we were all beginning to warm to the idea of "clean coal" and a modern energy future that even the Jetsons would marvel at, King Coal goes and ruins it.

Within the last month two significant highly toxic waste spills have wrecked parts of the southern Appalachia and Tennessee Valley. The waste is what the coal industry calls "coal ash" and "slurry." Coal ash is a toxic sludge that contains high levels of mercury, lead, and arsenic -- all of which are known carcinogens. A slurry, in the case of the second spill in Alabama, is less toxic than coal ash, but does contain high levels of boron, cadmium, molybdenum and selenium that are way above safety standards.

The spills are yet another result of Bush-era deregulation. While the coal industry is far from the scandals of Wall $treet, both lack the watchdogs necessary to keep the rest of us from paying the brunt of the cleanup -- be it a government bailout or an emergency cleanup crew funded by our tax dollars. To date, there exists no federal regulation on how coal companies store this highly toxic waste.

The first spill occurred at the Kingston Fossil Fuel plant that sits on the Tennessee River forty miles west of Knoxville. The earthen dam holding the toxic pond dumped over a billion gallons of coal ash across 300 acres of Tennessee and causing yet-unknown damage to the water supply and ecology of the region. From the NYT:
The inventory, disclosed by the Tennessee Valley Authority on Monday at the request of The New York Times, showed that in just one year, the plant’s byproducts included 45,000 pounds of arsenic, 49,000 pounds of lead, 1.4 million pounds of barium, 91,000 pounds of chromium and 140,000 pounds of manganese. Those metals can cause cancer, liver damage and neurological complications, among other health problems.

Obviously, not your average concentration of toxic substances. Its no wonder that cancer rates are higher among people living nearby coal and oil power plants. In 2007 the EPA put together a study showing the damage coal and oil ash waste sites have on our water supply.

The second spill occurred just downstream on the same river, a few miles over the Tennessee-Alabama border. The Widows Creek Fossil plant dumped over 10,000 gallons of its own slurry into the Tennessee River.

There is something revealing about these eco-disasters occurring so closely together, both in time and geography. That is, that "clean coal" no longer is on the table. Clean coal was about being able to burn coal while releasing less global-warming gases into the air. Yet here the underbelly of the coal industry, one of its many dirty secrets, blows up in our faces. Its not just the air we breathe that the burning of coal contaminates. These two spills could contaminate the drinking water of the region, not to mention the untold impacts they will have on the surrounding environment.

Meanwhile, hundreds of other slurry ponds sit waiting to be dealt with. True, some of these ponds, like the one in Alabama, can eventually be used as an additive to industrial processes like manufacturing sheetrock. But to pretend that these pools of toxicity are not dangerous to our children, communities and local wildlife is akin to arguing that cigarettes couldn't be related to lung cancer.

The worst part of all of this is the blatant cover-up by the Tennessee Valley Authority. This from the NYT:

For days, authority officials have maintained that the sludge released in the spill is not toxic, though coal ash has long been known to contain dangerous concentrations of heavy metals. On Monday, a week after the spill, the authority issued a joint statement with the E.P.A. and other agencies recommending that direct contact with the ash be avoided and that pets and children should be kept away from affected areas.

Residents complained that the authority had been slow to issue information about the contents of the ash and the water, soil and sediment samples taken in and around the spill.

“They think that the public is stupid, that they can’t put two and two together,” said Sandy Gupton, a registered nurse who hired an independent firm to test the spring water on her family’s 300-acre farm, now sullied by sludge from the spill. “It took five days for the T.V.A. to respond to us.”

It seems we heard the same thing after Katrina. Simply insert FEMA for T.V.A. in the quotes above and there seems to a lot in common.