All posts by forestm

The Downside Of Cycling

A brief overview of some negative outcomes of urban bicycle infrastructure.

Since being in Europe I have noticed that bicycles, perhaps over all other means of transportation, are favored. It doesn’t seem to matter where you go, you will see some hint of bicycle infrastructure, and while this development is impressive and positive towards the end of reducing CO2 production, there are two issues I would like to bring up. The first is regarding the significant portion of the population who is completely left out of this transportation mode altogether: the physically and mentally disabled. The second surrounds the relatively inefficient use of road space that bicycles occupy compared to public transportation such as busses and trams.

It is easy to see how bikes are practical only for able-bodied people. Individuals with even moderate physical or cognitive handicaps are often unable to operate them. These citizens then must find another means (usually via shared public transit) to achieve mobility.

There’s no getting around the fact that someone with any sort of significant mental or physical handicap is left out of the bike discussion entirely. Most of these individuals are not able to operate any form of personal transportation (assuming motorized wheelchairs are not considered serious means of transportation). This means that they are one of the most vulnerable segments of the population when is comes to mobility insecurity. As one cannot live without effective mobility, the growing predominance of bicycles presents an existential threat to this community. With increased adoption of bike infrastructure taking up space on streets, there is less room for car-sharing, buses, trams, and other forms of transportation which would be accessible to someone in this position. That brings me to my second point: the inefficient use of road space by bicycles.

While bikes may be significantly smaller than cars or buses, their fluidity on the road means that, even in cities where space is allocated for them, most of the time bike traffic moves in clumps, over occupying their appropriated space, or in single-file lines, under occupying the same space. If the goal of a city is to increase the quality of life of its inhabitants, one of the first issues it must face is eliminating or slimming down existing street cover. This is a necessary development, but it also means that there is less space for remaining roads. With bikes occupying at times half of the road, it’s easy to see where the conflict arises. Instead of continuing to pursue this carbon-neutral form of private transportation which excludes handicapped individuals, I recommend that cities put more energy into designing minimal roadways which are intended only for maximal-occupancy public vehicles such as car-sharing schemes, buses, and trams. These solutions can be made electric or otherwise innovated in order to achieve carbon-neutrality, but this is the direction we need to move in.

While a robust and versatile mode of transportation, bikes represent an amorphous and inefficient use of road space. Here, a line of bikes skirts between parked and moving cars, endangering not only the cyclists themselves, but also giving motorists less freedom of motion, making it difficult to drive safely.

To conclude, I must admit that I see why bicycles appear to be the answer of today. They are cheap, small and do not produce CO2. I personally enjoy the experience of cycling and fully recognize its attraction to consumers and city-planners alike, but the reasons I have enumerated here still carry more weight than the positives of bike ridership. Mobility is requisite for a comfortable life and the exclusion of those who cannot operate bicycles makes their predominance unacceptable. I believe that the path towards a smarter tomorrow in cities will be paved through the complete elimination of private transportation vehicles which occupy street space.

-Forest Schweitzer

Water Works

How The Dutch Utilize Their Overabundance of Dihydrogen Monoxide

Today we visited the historic Kinderdijk project in South Holland, NL. Kinderdijk is a system of windmills which have (and continue to) pump water up and out of a floodplain in order to make the ground their arable and habitable. Begun in the first half of the 18th century, the windmills (molen in Dutch), 20 in total, were constructed in a pattern of rows flanking a submerged parcel of land along the banks of the Maas river. The molen are ordered such that there is a sort of staggering in height as the water progresses through their ranks. The first set, a set of three mills, takes the water from where is naturally lays and pushes it through a turbine, stepping it up a degree in height. From there, the water enters two taller channels where 17 mills (16 of which still remain) bring the water from these channels one step further, pushing it into the neighboring Maas river.

An impressive view of several Kinderdijk molen (Dutch for “mills”)
A look inside one of the Kinderdijk windmills. The mills housed not only the machinery for the turbines, but also the millers themselves, who lived and worked in small rooms like this one.
The Erasmus Bridge which crosses the Maas River in downtown Rotterdam.
A view of the “Net Kous” (Net Stocking), a metal, tube-like structure which surrounds the Randstad Rail line in front of a business complex.

After visiting Kinderdijk we took a waterbus to Dordrecht. Before speaking on the latter, I would like to spend a moment discussing the integration of multimodal transportation across the Netherlands, as I have seen it. To get to Dordrecht, we had to switch vessels, take land and sea-faring means of transit, and interacted with a variety of differing companies along the way. All of this was done seamlessly by way of the OV ChipKart and its component scanning devices, which allow riders to slip between bus and bike, train and tram, and even waterbus, without ever having to deal with tickets or cash. By simply holding the card (after having made sure it is charged with enough money to cover the cost of transit) up to a scanner, the rider is allowed to enter and ride, checking out when they exit. The simplicity and well-oiled nature of this system is evident every time we travel in NL, but especially today, when aquatic vehicles too were involved, did it really strike me how messy such a process would have been if we had been traveling in, say, the US.

Looking out the back of the waterbus we took from the mediary dock (featured in the previous picture) to Dordrecht. This was the largest and fastest boat we rode on while staying in The Hague.
The gang hanging out on the back of the Drechtsteden, a small, ferry-like vessel which took us from Kinderdijk to a mediary dock, on which we caught a waterbus to Dordrecht.
Waiting on the platform of the Metro station directly below the Grote Markt, in downtown The Hague.
Moving sidewalks in the Rotterdam Central station, heading towards the river Maas.

We finished up the day in Dordrecht. The city did not possess much in the way of Smart development or Renewable Energy adoption, but another theme of urbanization was present. It was obvious that the town was dying, slowly but surely. Infrastructure, very well maintained everywhere else we had visited, was failing. Graffiti was visible everywhere, and though there was not an overwhelming homeless population, on Monday afternoon there was hardly a soul out on the streets. It was not until we reached the train station that real signs of life were present. So it is back in America as well, that areas on the periphery of growing cities languish in their shadows. Dordrecht proves that this is a global phenomenon, and thus a problem that we must face together.

An empty side street in Dordrecht. Lonesome views like this were common there, betraying a town in decline.
The Dordrecht mascott, a sheep, featured here all-dolled-up in a shop window.

-Forest Schweitzer

Green Goes Far

When Community-Supported Agriculture and Idealism Intersect

We began the day with a presentation focused on the development of Garden Cooperative Freiburg, a CSA located in the Rhein Valley which sets as its primary goal the farming of organic produce for stakeholders. Each family is given the same level of influence and voice regardless of how many shares they possess, representing a departure from more conventional shareholder models. We learned how the cooperative began, how it has grown, logistics behind its current operations, and challenges faced along the way.

A slide used in the Garden Cooperative presentation showing their somewhat unique business model. A key feature of this model is the fact that, unlike in a traditional market economy where the farm works for the customers, here the customers work for the farm.

The Garden Cooperative seeks to provide for its members a wide variety of organic produce, and this entails beginning from pure, unhybridized seeds. This is crucial as, even though the latter possess more attractive features for a traditional market setting (pest-resistance, homogeneity, drought resistance), the former are often tastier and more enjoyably consumed. With this in mind, the Cooperative accepts that some crops will fail, and take each failure in stride as an organization. Just as failures are shared, in times of bounty produce is shared evenly amongst members without preference being given to more financially solvent individuals.

Farmers are the most vital element to the success of a farm, and Garden Cooperative Freiburg was very lucky when it came to farming talent. Many youth who grew up in the valley had a wealth of knowledge concerning the maintenance of a farm, but did not think they would ever be able to afford land themselves. These were some of the founding members of the Cooperative, which needed talented and hardworking individuals to get it off of the ground.

Another integral element to the Cooperative’s model is the mandated work which each stakeholder must do on the farm each year. For each share, the shareholder(s) have to volunteer five times throughout the year. If the shareholder is a family with multiple people in it, each individual can fulfill one of those commitments. For instance, if your family has five able-bodied members, they may all head down to the farm one weekend and knock out the entire year’s worth of work then and there. While much of the more skilled labor is still performed by the full-time employees, these volunteers are shown around the area where their food is grown, instructed on how to go about basic tasks and put to work for several hours. Older people who may not be physically capable of completing manual labor may work in the kitchens to cook the communal lunch.

Being competitive in the market has never been an aim of the Garden Cooperative Freiburg. Their business model is inherently placed outside of normal capitalist exchanges, with the entire cycle of production and consumption regulated by a group of private stakeholders who are all held as equals in the eyes of the Cooperative. This model may be difficult to scale up, but it was never intended to. Unlike other solutions we have seen in Germany, this CSA is not looking to solve the world’s problems. They are merely trying to supplement their diets with healthy produce while simultaneously lessening their ecological footprint.

These cubes are comprised of compressed cardboard leftover from incoming product shipments. Since investing in the compactor, Rinklin has increased its recycling capacity from 2 tons to 20 tons of cardboard per week.
One of Rinklin’s shipping trucks. This particular truck is part of a new section of their fleet devoted to sustainability. The truck has solar panels on the roof which keep its contents refrigerated while en route.
Our group sitting down to a meal at Rinklin Distribution. The meal was made using some of the products that Rinklin houses.
The entrance to a refrigerated hallway inside the Rinklin Distribution warehouse. One third of all Rinlin products need to be refrigerated, but that one third accounts for 75% of the company’s total revenue.

-Forest Schweitzer