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Car-Free Austin
alternative transportation news & views

Sept. 21, 2001
Email | BicycleAustin.info
Read Back Issues

Editor: Michael Bluejay   Contributors: Amy Babich
Research/Tips: Cedar Stevens, David Baker, Roger Baker, Texas Bicycle Coalition




  What to do if you got two copies of the newsletter

  Ben Clough's killer sentenced: No fine or jail time

  Bill which would have limited cycling dies


  Bike Safety Bill passes

  Arrest of a Bicyclist, and Local Band Names

  Hyde Park activist killed by car

  Freebird's World Burrito


  Chevrolet brags about wasting fuel?

  Lithuania offers free bikes to fight traffic congestion

  Amy Babich quote


  The end of oil?



From the Editor

Still breathing. Sorry there hasn't been a newsletter for a while, but I still put them out when I find the time. Since you last heard from me, I cycled from Austin to Baton Rouge, LA with a friend, and was interviewed by KEYE-42 about why head injuries are going up even though more cyclists are wearing helmets.

Did you get two copies of the newsletter? If you got two copies of this newsletter, send a blank email to austin-bike-news-unsubscribe@topica.com. That will remove the duplicate subscription, so then you'll only get one copy in the future.

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Random Bits

Arrest of a Bicyclist, and Local Band Names

Yesterday at the peace rally at the Capitol, we witnessed a woman being arrested by Capitol police, for an unknown reason. (The officers wouldn't tell us why, the Statesman didn't cover it, and when we called the Capitol Police office they said they had absolutely no record of it.) Perhaps the officers were concerned by the sticker on the woman's bicycle, which read "This Bike is a Pipebomb". Though it may sound threatening, the sticker is in fact the name of a local band. Obviously, actual terrorists do not usually advertise their intentions quite so blatantly. (Note that the aircraft in last weeks attacks were NOT emblazoned with the message "This plane is going to crash into the World Trade Center.") Anyway, someone in plain clothes, possibly an officer, took a photo of the bike sticker during the arrest, for good measure.

Speaking of local bike/traffic bands, the Austin Chronicle reviewed the album of a local band called Swearing at Motorists in March. Other bike/car bands and music are listed at BicycleAustin.info.

Freebird's World Burrito

Here's an Austin-style food shop for you. Their menu has a list titled Things We Do, which includes "Support cycling in the community" (#4), which is right after "Provide a smoke-free environment", "Prepare all ingredients fresh", and "Recycle". There are other pro-bike declarations (like "Donate new bikes to disadvantaged individuals"), which you can read on their PDF menu. There's lots more that's just right about this place, such as the fact that tax is included and they round all prices to the nearest $0.25. (Why doesn't everybody do that?!) Naturally, they have plenty for vegetarians and vegans. Freebird's World Burrito, 41st & Red River, 451-5514

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Chevrolet brags about wasting fuel?

Maybe you caught the TV ads for the Chevy Suburban SUV. Pandering to local pride is nothing new in advertising, but even we were surprised when they seemed to suggest that it's patriotic to waste a lot of Texas oil: They bragged that the Suburban has "moved 10 million gallons of Texas tradition". Talk about gall.... By the way, Chevrolet would not respond to our requests for clarification, and they don't list fuel economy for the Suburban anywhere on their website (or if they do, it's well-hidden). A trip to the EPA's FuelEconomy.org reveals that the Suburban's gas mileage is exactly as pathetic as you'd expect.

[Note: After this article was published, reader Lee Wilson wrote: "I think the 'moved 10 million gallons of Texas tradition' comment is referring to 10-gallon hats, as in 'on the passengers.'"]

Amy Babich quote

We rarely excerpt any of Amy Babich's anti-car tirades from the Austin Chronicle, because the Chronicle is freely available, and also because there's no way we could keep up with Amy's output. But here's one gem you might have missed, since it came from a smaller publication:

"Austin is a car-based city, in the middle of a car-based state. Cars may once have seemed a boon to Austin, but now there are so many of them that they are a plague. The new cars are big and getting bigger. Curbs don't stop the big cars. One hundred people per day move to Austin, and most of them bring big cars." -- Amy Babich, Wheatsville Breeze, March/April 2001

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State & Local

Easy Street Recumbents

Austin's first and only recumbent-only bicycle dealer. Free test rides by appointment, 453-0438, near Hancock Center. Visit easystreetrecumbents.com   Tell them Car-Free Austin sent you.
Ben Clough's killer sentenced 

After a year and a half of delayed trial dates, the case against the motorist who ran a red light and killed bicyclist Ben Clough is over. Prosecutors reduced the charge against Lauren Robishaw from Criminally Negligent Homicide to simple Reckless Driving, in exchange for a guilty plea. Robishaw was sentenced to community service, and will be required to visit the site of the crash scene monthly for the next two years. Ben's friend Dave Baker points out that since Robishaw now lives in Houston, ironically she will likely be doing even more driving now if she drives from Houston to the crash scene in Austin every month.

It's important to note that Robishaw was never charged with running the red light in the first place. Many Austin bicyclists pay fines or go to jail for minor traffic infractions, even though they didn't kill anyone. But according to the Statesman, Robishaw paid no fine and never saw the inside of the jail for running the red and killing Ben. (She wasn't arrested at the time of the crime and made to bail out, as might have been expected.)

It's not that we want the system to be punitive, it's just that we can't help but point out the disparity between justice afforded to motorists vs. cyclists. Perhaps a solution could be for the code to prescribe penalties other than fines and/or jail, such as suspending the driver's license of anyone found to be at-fault for killing another road user. Of course, that would require a group to lobby for such a change, and in this session the Texas Bicycle Coalition had its hands full with other bills. (See stories below).

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Bill which would have limited cycling dies in committee 

The bill which would have banned cyclists in groups of three or more from riding on FM roads with unimproved shoulders, forced riders to be single-file in all circumstances, and required riders to wear the slow-moving traffic emblem on all roadways, died in committee, thankfully. Thanks to the Texas Bicycle Coalition for their work in opposing this bill.

Bike safety bill passes 

Governor Perry signed a bike safety bill into law in earlier this month. The gazillion provisions originally submitted were whittled down to a small handful by the time the bill made it to the Governor's desk, but at least this is several steps in the right direction. The item we were most disheartened to see axed was the one that would have specifically criminalized throwing an object from a car at a cyclist. (One wonders why legislators thought keeping that in was a bad idea). Anyway, here are some of the items that did make it in are:
  • Creates a Safe Routes to Schools program in TxDOT to review, plan and implement changes to create safe ways for children to walk or cycle safely to school.
  • Clarifies that a bicyclist can "take the lane" in a lane that is less than 14 feet wide.
  • Requires DPS to track bicycle accident reports that include death, injury or property damage to cyclists. (Still requires cyclists to file the reports.)
  • Defines electric bicycles as those that do not exceed 100 pounds and can not exceed 20 mph unassisted.
  • Allows the use of a rear red light instead of a rear red reflector for riding at night.

Kudos to the Texas Bicycle Coalition for shepherding this legislation into place.

Hyde Park activist killed by car

Ironically, cyclist Debra Prokop was killed by a car in May, mere days before she was supposed to speak to the Planning Commission about improving traffic safety in her Hyde Park neighborhood. (more)

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Lithuania offers free bikes to fight traffic congestion 

VILNIUS (Reuters, June 8, 2001) - The tinkle of bicycle bells in Lithuania's capital on Friday rang in the launch of a municipal plan to fight traffic congestion with bright orange bikes.

Vilnius, a city of ubiquitous car alarms and picturesque but narrow cobbled streets, decided to offer the use of 500 bicycles free to anyone in the city from dawn until dusk, when they have to be returned.

"This is a way to solve traffic congestion and parking problems in the city center... where the bicycle travels faster than a car,'' said Mayor Arturas Zuokas, at the launching of his ''The Bike's Invented, Ride Orange'' campaign.

Skeptics said the free bike campaign will be a bonanza for thieves, but Zuokas -- set on making Vilnius a bike-friendly city like Copenhagen or Amsterdam -- said the move was a good test for community morals.

A similar experiment in Amsterdam in 1966 proved short-lived. Anti-establishment groups placed bikes they had painted white across the city, with the idea that anyone could pick them up for free and set them down after use.

Some were taken permanently and repainted, while the police impounded others on the basis that ownerless bikes were street rubbish.

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Feature: The End of Oil?

The world has a finite supply of oil, and when the supply gets constrained, the price will surge. Whether you believe that this will happen by 2004 or that we have until 2050, the reality is that it WILL happen, sooner or later.

When gas prices soar, we'll see a return to trains, not just to move people but also to move raw materials and goods. We'll likely rebuild the nationwide rail system, after we abandoned most of it and let all that Chinese slave labor go to waste. We can also expect citizens to scream for rail solutions in metro areas. At that point Austinites might realize that they should have voted for rail when it was easy to get federal matching funds; good luck getting that federal money once all the other cities are competing for that same funding.

When gas prices soar and the demand for alternative transportation soars with it, we'll likely see such a flurry of new trains and bike lanes that it will dwarf the efforts of transportation advocates over the last couple of decades to get these same facilities on the ground. It does make one wonder whether we should continue to bang our collective heads against the wall, since the move to alternative transport is going to happen in a big way soon, whether we're actively pushing for it or not.

Transportation aside, the impact of soaring oil prices on transportation may ultimately seem insignificant to the effect it will have on the global economy. Once it becomes way more expensive to move raw materials and finished goods around, companies will have to jack up the prices for their products. Then consumers won't be able to afford to buy as much at these inflated prices, so they'll buy less. Those reduced sales will hurt businesses, which will lay off workers, who will be even less able to afford to buy products, which will cause more layoffs, and the cycle will continue. This could mean a global economic catastrophe which could make the Great Depression seem like a trip to Disneyland. Even scarier, some experts think this is likely to happen within the next decade, as you'll see below.

Will gas lines in the coming decade make those of 1973 look short?

Review by PAUL RAEBURN, Scientific American, 2001
You have to wonder about the judgment of a man who writes, "As I drive by those smelly refineries on the New Jersey Turnpike, I want to roll the windows down and inhale deeply." But for Kenneth S. Deffeyes, that's the smell of home. The son of a petroleum engineer, he was born in Oklahoma, "grew up in the oil patch," became a geologist and worked for Shell Oil before becoming a professor at Princeton University. And he still knows how to wield a 36-inch-long pipe wrench.
In Hubbert's Peak, Deffeyes writes with good humor about the oil business, but he delivers a sobering message: the 100-year petroleum era is nearly over. Global oil production will peak sometime between 2004 and 2008, and the world's production of crude oil "will fall, never to rise again." If Deffeyes is right--and if nothing is done to reduce the increasing global thirst for oil--energy prices will soar and economies will be plunged into recession as they desperately search for alternatives.
It's tempting to dismiss Deffeyes as just another of the doomsayers who have been predicting, almost since oil was discovered, that we are running out of it. But Deffeyes makes a persuasive case that this time it's for real. This is an oilman and geologist's assessment of the future, grounded in cold mathematics. And it's frightening. Deffeyes's prediction is based on the work of M. King Hubbert, a Shell geologist who in 1956 predicted that U.S. oil production would peak in the early 1970s and then begin to decline. Hubbert was dismissed by many experts inside and outside the oil industry. Pro-Hubbert and anti-Hubbert factions arose and persisted until 1970, when U.S. oil production peaked and started its long decline. The Hubbert method is based on the observation that oil production in any region follows a bell-shaped curve. Production increases rapidly at first, as the cheapest and most readily accessible oil is recovered. As the difficulty of extracting the oil increases, it becomes more expensive and less competitive with other fuels. Production slows, levels off and begins to fall.
Hubbert demonstrated that total U.S. oil production in 1956 was tracing the upside of such a curve. To know when the curve would most likely peak, however, he had to know how much oil remained in the ground. Underground reserves provide a glimpse of the future: when the rate of new discoveries does not keep up with the growth of oil production, the amount of oil remaining underground begins to fall. That's a tip-off that a decline in production lies ahead.
Deffeyes used a slightly more sophisticated version of the Hubbert method to make the global calculations. The numbers pointed to 2003 as the year of peak production, but because estimates of global reserves are inexact, Deffeyes settled on a range from 2004 to 2008. Three things could upset Deffeyes's prediction. One would be the discovery of huge new oil deposits. A second would be the development of drilling technology that could squeeze more oil from known reserves. And a third would be a steep rise in oil prices, which would make it profitable to recover even the most stubbornly buried oil.
In a delightfully readable and informative primer on oil exploration and drilling, Deffeyes addresses each point. First, the discovery of new oil reserves is unlikely--petroleum geologists have been nearly everywhere, and no substantial finds have been made since the 1970s. Second, billions have already been poured into drilling technology, and it's not going to get much better. And last, even very high oil prices won't spur enough new production to delay the inevitable peak.
"This much is certain," he writes. "No initiative put in place starting today can have a substantial effect on the peak production year. No Caspian Sea exploration, no drilling in the South China Sea, no SUV replacements, no renewable energy projects can be brought on at a sufficient rate to avoid a bidding war for the remaining oil."
The only answer, Deffeyes says, is to move as quickly as possible to alternative fuels--including natural gas and nuclear power, as well as solar, wind and geothermal energy. "Running out of energy in the long run is not the problem," Deffeyes explains. "The bind comes during the next 10 years: getting over our dependence on crude oil."
The petroleum era is coming to a close. "Fossil fuels are a one-time gift that lifted us up from subsistence agriculture and eventually should lead us to a future based on renewable resources," Deffeyes writes. Those are strong words for a man raised in the oil patch. For the rest of us, the end of the world's dependence on oil means we need to make some tough political and economic choices. For Deffeyes, it means he can't go home again.
Paul Raeburn covers science and energy for Business Week and is the author of Mars: Uncovering the Secrets of the Red Planet (National Geographic, 1998).

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General Info: Car-Free Austin covers alternative transportation, especially bicycling. We're not opposed to cars, we're opposed to the car culture. CFA is published sporadically, and may be discontinued at any time without notice. We currently have over 600 subscribers.

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Thanks for reading this far. Ride safely! :) -MBJ-

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Another site by Michael Bluejay...

Michael Bluejay explains slot machines.  I know about more stuff than just bikes.  My explanation about how slot machines work is probably the best you're gonna find anywhere.'