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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

May, 2005

 

Taking I On The Road:
The Revolutionary Safetycycle!
By Stephen Simac

After reading about the horrors of depleted uranium in the Coastal Post, I could hardly sleep. I was sure I must have snorted up one of those nano- particles floating around. My brain was working oddly.
I had trouble remembering people's names. That's not so odd, but these were the people I lived with. This is not my beautiful house.
When you're having trouble sleeping anyways, why not take a road trip? Nothing makes me more cheerful than getting away. It was time for a burst of good cheer. Normally I would rather be caught gratefully dead than getting on an overnight bus to Washington D.C.
Logistically, however it was the only way I could get to the League of American Cyclists' National Bike Summit, the biggest convention in the country for bicycle safety professionals. Who better to unveil the Safety Cycle to, I thought.
You never know where a train of thought will go when I start typing. Last month I started working on traffic safety, and came up with a New, Improved SafetyCycle! that will revolutionize the world. Again.
Neither nature nor humans have ever created a more efficient method of moving than by bicycle. For people that is, not so sure of seals on bikes.
The pedi-cycle was invented around 200 years ago as just that, two wheels joined by a framed contraption you walked while sitting on it. Until you went down hill, then hang on. Didn't even have brakes.
It took a hundred years of this battering until creative tinkers came up with steering handlebars, pedals, chains and gears. Probably the French, thus derailleurs. They even called this new version the Safety Cycle, and this was before brakes.
It's all in marketing. The first Safety Cycle took the world by storm. Broke down class structures based on the expense of carriages and horses, property size based on feeding a horse or two. For the caloric value of cabbages they gave a peon the speed of a king in a carriage.
The popularity of bicycles by the turn of the 19th century gave rise to the first suburbs, paved roads, eco-tourism. Then came the cars, like soldiers following behind missionaries, relegating most bicycles to toys in the garage. Aside from various tweaking with materials, brakes, tires, wheels, seating arrangements, steering apparatus, etcÉ not a whole lot has changed since then. At least in the upright models. The diamond frame may be missing a few facets, but bicyclists today use the same propulsion system and posture as great grandaddy.
Ain't nothin' wrong with that, except for numb nuts, tweaked knees, sore hands, crunched necks, and a tendency to go face first over the handlebars on sudden stops.
Recumbents are definitely more comfortable, possibly safer if they're visible, but you die on hills. That's when the electric motor kicks in, on my new, improved SafetyCycle. To protect the rider, the bicycle is encased in impact absorbent material, preferably clear. Like pedaling a big, padded Egg down the road. (Note: research aerogel wholesale.) It's hard to perfect perfection, merely difficult though, rather than impossible. That's why I'm sure my new SafetyCycle is a better mousetrap. For one thing it really will be safer. Not to put down bicycles, but there's a lot of ways to hurt yourself on one of them. Bicycles inevitably fall over and are almost invisible to some motorists, who then squash them.
Now to get it out on the doorstep. You can't expect people to beat a path to it, if you don't have one. That's why I decided to take the mountain to Mohamet.

Didja say your name was Ramblin' Rose?
Seeing how the SafetyCycle! was more of a concept than a reality, I had to take the bus. I e-mailed the League's communications guy and lined up a press pass to get in free. He was suspicious of that scam, so I told him the Coastal Post was a heroic rooster of a paper that bravely covered the hidden truths about the bicycle scene in Marin county, California. Didn't mention our anti-semantic, mountain bike trashing reputation.
The bus ride was not something I was looking forward to, but I rationalized that once the SafetyCycle! concept sold to the highest bidder, we'd fly back, first class.
Unless I'm on some no-fly list because my name is similar to that rambling writer for the Coastal Post. That's not me, sir. Besides he's been banned. Uh, no need for the cavity search, I'll be taking Amtrak.
Don't get me wrong, I've ridden on plenty of buses. I still fondly remember an overnight Greyhound to Gainesville, when a hippie chick named Sunshine got on in Clearwater. Still, whether urban stop and go, or long haul "express", you're rarely sad to get off.
Taking a Peter Pan bus to Washington D.C. on a redeye, meant pulling into a string of small towns' rear alleys. Looking for the Lost Boys, I guess. Blame it on the long winter, but I was feeling talkative. I've learned you have to approach the people around here slowly, or they shy off. The good thing about a bus though, is it's easy to corner them.
There are a lot of cranky people on this bus, with no sense of humor, but as dawn approached I found H.S. Thompson in the back. At last someone on my own wavelength. Unfortunately, he had a good point, "This egg sucker cycle will be so damn light that when some semi- goes by, it'll squirt off the road like an on-side kick." He told some funny, crazy stories, before he got off the bus. Suddenly.
I was left to my own bleak thoughts in the back of the bus at the darkest hour of the night, rolling through miles of strip mall highways. I hate disappointment, like when reality sets in.
I knew that aerogel was going to be a problem. The good thing is the rider won't be injured, (note: make sure they float). Marketing could build that feature in, like an X-sport. More fun than riding in a clothes dryer.

In the shadows of the mountains of the moon, Terrapin Station
It was hard to stay positive, with a deflated SafetyCycle concept. My New Year's resolution was teetering. It's was as bad as the DU WMD fears. I got on a negative train of thought about the criminal quality of public transport. Those poor suckers who can't drive a car because of age, youth, impairments, enforcement, income or whatever are forced to use them.
It's been allowed to deteriorate into soot belching buses with graffiti on every surface, from little bastards with magic markers. Buses are never on time except when you're late. They invariably take at least three times longer than a trip by automobile.
There was a time when every city and most large towns had an electric trolley line or two, packed with riders. Passenger trains ran across the country with accommodations ranging from basic to baroque.
The first automobiles were just rich men's toys at the turn of the 20th century. Mr. Toad's wild rides. Within a few decades banker's and doctor's wives decided they preferred a private car over frottage with the workers on the crowded trolleys.
Public Monies went into roads, traffic management, enforcement, and parking solutions. Transportation Planners and Engineers geared entirely towards automobile/truck/bus transport. Progress.
Electric trolley lines were bought up and ripped out while bus sytems were funded or politically mandated. A consortium of General Motors, (with subsidiaries Mack trucks and Greyhound buses) Standard Oil, Phillips Petroleum and Firestone Tires used holding companies to buy up trolley systems around the country. With complicity of politicians they began tearing out the tracks and replacing them with diesel buses through the Depression and after WWII. They were convicted of criminal conspiracy in 1949 and fined a paltry $5,000. They had helped strip the country of an affordable, effective mass transit system to enrich their own special interests. The politicians were never held accountable.
Buses can be a lot cleaner if they burn vegetable oil for diesel, or use high efficiency electric motors which are already being used in Europe. Buses could provide a practical alternative to private cars for more commuters than "light rail" at a much lower price. The city of Curitiba, Brazil has figured out how to transport two million people a day on their bus system- efficiently, on-time and affordably. I read that in a book I'd brought along, Massive Change by the Institute Without Boundaries. You have to do some research if you want to solve the Big Problems of the world. With enough funding to make buses affordable, safe, on time and convenient, even in America, more people would use them. They aren't as glamorous as the retro light rails being proposed and funded across the country now. Urban bus systems are being shortchanged by funding for currently in vogue- "light rail" sytems.

Hypomanic Marin, Garcia's Grave
Once you've lost rail lines they're no longer affordable. Most modern rail transit has been enormously expensive, on a cost per passenger basis.
BART cost a billion or more and tapped out the federal budget for other mass transit projects for decades. Funding that's always been notoriously skinflint and virtually ignored bicycle and pedestrian transportation. When you ride BART you're subjected to the most irritating screeches, swaying ride and poorly maintained stations.
Marin wisely refused it then, but now wants to fund a rail system to the ferries option to get from Sonoma to San Francisco and back. A long costly trip by any estimate.
There's nothing light about these passenger trains and they are worse than boats as money drains. People in Marin support the idea because they want the other guy to use them to make their car commute quicker. That belief will prove hyper optimistic. I'm all for optimism, but Subsidizing Transit Underused by People Is Dumb.

I Need a Miracle, Every Day
As the sun rose over Washington D.C. a better idea lit up my brain, like the eye above the pyramid. A human powered light rail system would cheaper to build, healthier to use, and attract people out of their cars, so they could ride the CycleTrain!
A bicycle train on a single rail was designed and patented a hundred years ago as a prototype for mass transit. The electric trolley lines killed it as an option, before it ever got built. It was before it's time as so many great ideas are, but this new, improved CycleTrain! is right on time for solving the problems of traffic, obesity and rising health care costs.
CycleTrain!s will be powered by the riders, pedaling from a comfortable seat, teams of cyclist/commuters twiddling along, linked together to power the train, gliding along on a rail. With wind faring and a motor assist to get up to speed or for hills, they could hit speeds of 50-60 mph easily, a lot faster with a little mag-lev.
Trained bus drivers and other government workers could captain them, taking an exercise shift at the helm a few times a week. All the benefits of cycling-reduced health care costs, cardiovascular fitness, weight loss, recreation and transportation, with none of the drawbacks-traffic, steering, crashing. Elevated CycleTrain!s could run across or along highways, above traffic noise and dirt and aggressive road warriors.
Building these Cycle Train rails would cost a fraction of "light rail" estimates. (note: half is a fraction.)
They'd have reduced maintenance and cost little to run. Quiet, emission free, built above existing right of way or carve out new routes with half the right of way.
As we pulled into the capitol's downtown bus station, I had gotten through my dark night of the soul, once again. I was back to my self congratulatory self. Solved another Really, Big Problem. This wasn't so hard after all. Now to sell these concepts. Make my fortune with the magic beans.
I began walking towards the Bike Summit convention when I realized what a fool I'd been. These ideas weren't going to fly at a society of bike safety professionals. It would put them out of business.
Maybe I could use my press pass to get into the White House presidential briefing. Jeff Gannon has gone to an undisclosed location and left a hole in the toady line. I don't know if I can fill all his roles, but to take the heat off the pres, I'll suddenly announce my Safety/Train Cycle projects. See where that gets me.
Passing by the Chinese Embassy gave me pause. The Chinese are crazy about cycling. I knocked on their door and made my sales pitch. Turns out the only thing they want from Americans are nucular secrets. I told 'em I'd see what Walmart's had.
That's when I spied the American Enterprise Institute. Perfect, that's what I'm all about.


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