Saturday, October 14, 2006

Green Urbanism

(click on images to enlarge)

Another title for this post could be "Free Electric Bicycles".

In the book "Green Urbanism: Learning from European Cities" (see image of book cover on right) I read, among many other interesting things, of a special program in Palm Springs(California), which is funded by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (page 192-3) (Reference, via Google books).

To participate in the program, and get to use the electric bicycles for free, participants must put down a small deposit, go through a brief training program, be willing to maintain a daily trip log, and a the end fill out an evaluation questionnaire.

Here is a nice quote from the book which I would like to bring to your attention.

In adapting bicycle transport to the American scene, one potentially powerful idea is to more effectively promote the use of electric bicycles. The electric bicycle has the advantage of overcoming many of the real(or perceptual) problems of bicycle use to the United States. They would allow many Americans to overcome the limitations of topography, distance, and weather. They would provide a partial answer to the problem of those needing to wear office attire and the desire not to arrive at work as a bundle of perspiration (shower and changing facilities would also address the problem of course). Significant technical improvements in electric bikes have been made, and now several major manufacturers make them.

One of the most interesting local electric bicycle programs can be found in the city of Palm Springs, California. Here, funding for the Electric Bicycle Demonstration Program(its formal title) has come from a grant from the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Under the program, the city has made available about thirty electric bikes to residents to borrow and try out for a month. To borrow one of the bikes, a citizen must put down a small deposit, go through a brief training program, be willing to maintain a daily trip log, and a the end fill out an evaluation questionnaire. The program uses bicycles from four different manufacturers. Creatively, the city has installed four solar charging units (including at the regional airport and on the roof of city hall); thus, the bikes have become known as "solar bikes".(4)

The demonstration project has recently ended and the last group of participants finished their time on the bikes. City officials feel the program has been successful, and indeed it has already been emulated in several other places. Interest in the bikes has been high, and participants have ranged in age from 18 to 80(City of Palm Springs, 1998). Experience in Palm Springs shows that even in this very hot climate, bicycling is possible, at least with the power assist given by electric bikes. In the words of one participant: "I have a very short commute, and in the hottest parts of the day you just use the electricity and a little less pedaling" (Haberman, 1997,p.83). The electric boost helps solve the problem of arriving at work drenched in perspiration. And, it provides an important mobility option to elderly residents and those with health problems. Similarly electric bike initiatives, then, may represent an important adaptation to the American cultural context, as well as to the weather and topographic conditions in many American cities.

These and other promising experience suggest that American cities and towns can and should be much more bicycle friendly. Bicycle travel can become, as it has in many of the European cities examined, a legitimate and important mobility option and part of a sustainable healthful lifestyle.
There are other interesting stories in the book Green Urbanism of interest on electric bicycles, among other things. You can use the link above (via Google books) to explore more of the book.

It would be great to have authors of books like this one at the Santa Monica "AltCar Expo" (scheduled for December 10-12, at the Santa Monica Airport), to speak more of these and other things that they address in their book and perhaps to answer questions from audience members etc.

(click on image to enlarge.)

Related Posts:
- AltCar Expo (Santa Monica, Calif. - Dec. 10-12, 2006)

Recommended Links:
- Cycle Santa Monica! community forum
- Electric Bicycle Laws (wiki)

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