Kent's Climate Tour

My solo bike tour exploring climate change solutions

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Climate activists rally in Santa Cruz


I returned to Santa Cruz this past Saturday so I could be in town for a climate action rally. On Sunday a crowd of over 150 marched from downtown Santa Cruz to San Lorenzo Park for this event to raise awareness about global warming and draw attention to the upcoming climate talks in Paris.   
As the marchers made their way down Pacific Garden Mall their placards drew attention to a host of interconnected issues and perspectives: divestment from fossil fuels, the folly of widening Hwy 1, the need for locally grown food, putting a price on carbon, stopping fracking, adopting renewable fuels, support Bernie Sanders, etc. One even warned of the danger of angering St. Precaria (?).

  At San Lorenzo Park, above, Santa Cruz’s Mayor Don Lane led off the afternoon’s speakers with a proclamation from the City Council urging strong action to avert climate change and pledging the city to do its part. In fact the city is already doing a lot as I learned when I spoke with the Mayor later. I’ll be exploring their many green programs in a later post.

Prof. Rick Nolthenius (above) who teaches climate science at Cabrillo College sobered the crowd up when he explained that even stopping carbon emissions won’t be enough to stabilize the climate; we must also find ways to pull carbon out of the atmosphere if we are to avoid the devastating impacts that we are on course for. (I sat in on one of his classes last night where he discussed the implications of polar, glacial and tundra ice melting around the world at an accelerating rate.)  

 The last group to speak were students from the Fossil Free UCSC group who are urging the university to divest its holdings in fossil fuels. These investments still represent about $3 billion of the school’s portfolio according to the speakers. They expressed anger and disappointment that they have not been able to participate in any of the meetings where these matters are decided, despite repeated requests.

 The rally participants were diverse and eclectic, reflecting Santa Cruz’s unique culture and long history of political activism. It was heartening to see the many young people taking a lead on this issue which will surely have a dramatic impact on them as their lives unfold.

As the date of the UN climate talks in Paris approaches, rallies will be held around the world this coming Sunday, the 29th, including a big one at City Hall in Downtown LA at 1PM.


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San Francisco bikeways

I think I was the 2,368th eastbound cyclist on Market street yesterday.  The city has an impressive volume of cyclists which really picks up during the evening commute, below.   

Market Street’s bikeways were recently upgraded to a variety of buffered and pigmented lanes.  Private vehicles are still allowed though discouraged from the red zones reserved for trains and taxis. 

In other stretches bikes share the space with cars, below. 

In some places bikes can bypass right turn lanes… 

 .. in other places they share them with cars.  Here that’s seen with a speed restriction posted (though neither cars or bikes seemed to abide by it). 

Polk Street (below) is a one-way street that comes into Market that recently got a contra-flow bike lane.  Here it is even protected with a narrow island. 

Closer to the City Hall it is just striped and equipped with bike-specific signals. Note the back-in angle parking on the far side, a nice way to orient parked cars so drivers have a direct view of cyclists as they prepare to pull out. It looks like the parking access lane runs opposite the main traffic flow, which seems odd to me but I’m glad to see that the city is willing to try unique solutions.

Bike boxes are sprinkled throughout the city where needed.  They allow cyclists to position themselves at the head of the line so they can make a safe start when the lights change.   

The one below is designed to facilitate a two-step left turn. 

Yep, the city has bike share, apparently well used, judging from this near-empty dock area along Market, below. 

Below you can see the density of docks throughout the downtown area. 

This bike corral is protected with very beefy bollards, a much different approach than the plastic, deflectable bollards that Santa Monica uses around their corrals.  

Below, a clever high-capacity bike rack integrated into a parklet in front of Four Barrel Coffee on Valencia.  Not compatible with my Brompton, but I just brought it in with me as usual. 

 Elsewhere in the city the bikeways inevitably encounter hills,

  Useful wayfinding / route markers, below. 
 I didn’t go out of my way much to avoid the hills.  In my limited explorations I didn’t find them to be insurmountable.  I did see some electric bikes, too, a good strategy if you need it.  Here’s a classy example, the Faraday, seen at Huckleberry Bikes on Market Street.   Batteries concealed in the down tube, belt drive, integrated lights, fenders and a frame-mounted front rack.  About $3500.


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Bikes on board in Bay Area


 Bound for the Bay Area from Santa Cruz, I took the Highway 17 Express bus from the Santa Cruz Metro Center to Diridon Station in San Jose. From there I took the Caltrain (above) to San Francisco. This is a well established commuter rail system that serves many of the penninsula’s cities from San Jose to San Francisco. It’s been in operation since 1987, is 77 miles long, has 32 stations and sees about 58000 boardings a day.  
 I had been hearing about the bike cars on Caltrain for years but this was my first chance to use them.  Initially, they just removed a few seats to make room for bikes.  They eventually dedicated a whole car to bikes, then two cars and now have custom two-level cars for bikes and their owners.  You can see the seating area above the bike storage space in the above photo (there are about 20 seats on the upper level and eight on the bike level).  
From the upper level you can keep an eye on your bike (look closely in above photo).  There’s a capacious luggage tray between the two rows of single seats. Very clever use of space.

Out the window as we went by the Palo Alto station, below, look closely and you can see a lot of bike parking, including lockers.  Sure hope we’re able to add more bike parking to the Expo Line stations if a need like this arises over time. 

  Google bike directions indicated Cesar Chavez (below) was a good route to get from the 22nd St. station to my destination. Sure enough, it had buffered bike lanes in the first stretch, an extra margin of safety for cyclists in this industrial area with lots of trucks.  
Below, a separated bike path and bridge provided a safe undercrossing of the 101 freeway, a welcome facility for what is often a treacherous place for cyclists to navigate.


  Above, extensive wayfinding signage at an important fork in the road, a bit hard to see though.

Nice seating in this generous curb bulbout at the foot of Van Ness at Cesar Chavez.

 I needed to use my lowest gears but made it to my friend Paul’s in Noe Valley.  Tomorrow I visit the folks at Bike East Bay.


On the rails north

I decided to leapfrog the fierce Central CA headwinds this time of year and take Amtrak to the Bay Area Monday.  This part of my tour will demonstrate how well a folding bike can work for multi-modal travel.   

 I jumped on the #10 Big Blue Bus (above) with my gear to get Downtown.  Bike goes under the seat, no worries about the rack on front being full.  

 At Union Station I walked my bike and luggage through the lobby…   

 …and onto the train platform.  If I had a full-sized bike I’d have had to box it and send it as checked baggage on the Coast Starlight train (Pacific Surfliner allows bikes to roll on but it only goes to San Luis Obispo).  With my folding bike I just bring it on board and put it in the luggage area of my car.  Then I relax for a very civilized journey up the coast.  

Chatting with fellow travelers can make train travel a very social experience.  This woman runs a whale watching tour out of Santa Cruz.    
We get a rare view of the front of our train as we climb inland east of San Luis Obispo.   
Hwy 101 and the Cuesta Grade come into view, above.  As I was enjoying this lovely sunset vista I was startled to see what looked like so many dead oak trees on the hillsides.  Look closely: over half the trees are brown.  If this is tree die-off from the drought, it looks pretty serious.  Gov. Brown has declared a tree emergency, calling this “the worst epidemic of tree mortality in modern history”.  Among other things, he is encouraging utilities to accelerate contracts for bioenergy projects that can use forest products, presumably dead trees.  Better to use them for fuel in a controlled combustion process than to see them burn in a wild fire.

I got off the train in San Jose around 9:30PM and caught an express bus to Santa Cruz then rode my bike with luggage to my destination.  That’s two bike rides, two bus rides and one train ride to get here.  It all worked very smoothly.  I’ll set off to San Francisco Wednesday with plans to visit the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and Bicycle East Bay.  

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Gyre: the plastic ocean


  While I was back in LA I visited the Gyre exhibit at USC’s Fisher Gallery.  All the pieces were either constructed from plastic debris out of various oceans or inspired by this growing calamity.  While not a direct contributor to climate change, the scale and impact of this phenomenon is another striking example of how human activity is profoundly altering our world.  A lot of the objects were retrieved from beaches in Alaska, inspiring this piece below.


According to the docent explaining the exhibits, all of the debris seen in the above photograph was found in the belly of a shore bird.  They think it is food. 


The exhibit runs through Nov. 21.

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LA Climate Day conference

My timing was good as I swung back through LA on my way north from San Diego.  A few hundred community and organizational leaders assembled Friday (Nov. 6) for Climate Day LA at the LA Cathedral’s conference center. Organized by Climate Resolve and ecoAmerica, the purpose was to mobilize participants to advance their piece of the climate solution movement and encourage collaboration with colleagues in other fields. An impressive lineup of speakers updated us on recent climate policy developments and the latest thinking about bringing our message to a wider audience. Throughout the day we learned about the wealth of activities going on in our area and across the nation to address climate change and the huge challenges we face addressing this unprecedented emergency. Some highlights follow.

Climate Resolve Exec. Dir. Jonathan Parfrey led off with the encouraging news of President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline and described the work his local organization is doing.

Alex Hall from UCLA summarized recent studies that his team has done to identify the impacts of climate change on specific areas of Southern California.  This includes detailed heat maps of our region (below).

ecoAmerica’s Bob Perkowitz summarized their 13 principles for communicating about climate change, excellent guidelines to help us avoid some of the pitfalls when communicating about climate change. Their research suggests that most people take their cues on issues like this from their “tribe”, so a good strategy is to bring our message to the leaders of various groups.

He also reported the promising news that PG&E is on record supporting the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan

Bob Swords described the LA Clean Tech Incubator, a top-rated facility of its type in the nation with state-of-the-art facilities in Downtown LA supporting small business clean tech ventures, including the advice of executive mentors in residence.

Councilmember Laura Friedman from Glendale and CA Air Resources Board member Hector De La Torre stressed the absolutely essential role that advocates play in lobbying for and supporting climate action policies. Opponents are so well-funded and well-connected that our voices must be strong and persuasive to counter their business-as-usual agenda.
Several speakers reminded us of the strength that comes from diverse fields working together to promote climate solutions, including health care, business, academia, local government, environmental groups and the faith community. A LA Declaration on Climate Action was proposed and we broke into the above groups to refine the document, the final version of which should be viewable here by Nov. 16.  I was in the group representing environmental organizations, ably facilitated by my old friend Ron Milam (below).

The procedings culminated with directing our attention to the UN Climate Conference in Paris coming next month, encouraging us all to go to #EarthToParis to send messages to the world leaders who will be convening there.

Here are some solutions heard in the course of the day:

– Transportation is SoCal’s single biggest contributor to CO2 emissions. We need to embrace the expansion of public transit, biking and walking. Sales tax measures (Measure R2) being considered for the 2016 ballot could prove instrumental in accelerating the expansion of our transit systems.

– The University of California system has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2025.

– Dignity Health Care (320 facilities nationwide) has committed to ambitious carbon reduction goals.

Senate Bill 350, signed into law earlier this year, requires that California produce 50% of its utility energy from renewable sources by 2030.

– The City of LA now requires that new and refurbished roofs in Los Angeles be “cool roofs” which have multiple benefits for both building occupants and the planet.

Divest Invest is a movement that encourages investors to divest from dirty energy and invest in clean sources. 430 institutions and 2,040 individuals representing $2.6 trillion in assets have committed to divest from fossil fuel companies.

I’m glad that I was able to participate in this timely event.  It brought together a talented, committed community of groups and individuals working on the cause and inspired us with mryiad opportunities going on all around us.  As I prepare to set off north to explore what the rest of the state is doing I am proud that my home city is showing so much leadership!