Ah, Earth Day, that glorious time of year when we gather to celebrate the planet and recommit ourselves to its preservation - if only it weren’t for that awkward moment when we pull up in front of the flapping green banners and compost bins to park the car. An average American automobile would have pumped a pound of CO2 into the air for every mile driven. I apologize for tossing a lump of coal into the Earth Day stocking, but let’s face it, there’s nothing green about driving to the Earth Day festivities, with the possible exception of the car’s paint job.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we boycott the Earth Day banquet. But it’s a good opportunity to check out alternative methods for getting across town. Some, like public transportation or bicycle, are rather obvious. But newer clean options for personal transportation are still emerging, and are becoming more practical and less expensive all the time. I’ve rounded up a few relatively inexpensive products (and some expensive ones too funky to ignore) that could become the short-distance alternative to lugging two tons of carbon-spewing steel to a picnic, or the movies, or next year’s Earth Day celebration.
The Bicycle Electric
I’m assuming that if you’ve got a bike, you already ride it every chance you get. And yet, sometimes a bike isn’t enough – for longer distances, hills, bike-hostile roads, or when you’re packing kids.
For travelling solo, consider the electric scooter or moped. In China, where some cities have banned gasoline scooters, there is a huge market for the electric version. Now availability has grown worldwide and there is a variety of makes and styles to choose from. These plug into a normal electric outlet, get 20-60 miles between charges, and are governed to top speeds of 20 mph in order to be classified as an electric bicycle in the U.S. (In some states, including Maryland, they can be set to a top speed of 30 mph with a moped classification.) They are priced from about $300 - $3,500. (I was inspired to look into alternative modes of transportation when I read this article about an electric scooter shop opening in Baltimore. And this site reviews several brands of electric scooters available for the North American market.)
For speeds up to 60 mph you can purchase an electric motorcycle, though it will set you back about $10,000. The 2009 Vectrix VX-1 reaches a maximum speed of 62 mph and has a range of 35-55 miles on a single charge. Greenwit Technologies, a Canadian company, produces electronic scooters, bikes, motorcycles, and even skateboards under the Motorino brand.
I don’t know how to describe this thing. They call it a three-wheel “single-passenger cycle car,” but to me it looks like a toy for adults who miss Star Wars. The BugE can be purchased assembled for $8,000-$11,000 or as a DIY kit for $3,500. (Though if you’re thinking of doing the latter you might want to consult a blogger who has spent the last year painstakingly building one and bringing it up to New York State DMV standards.) Other space-age electronic three-wheelers include the Zap Xebra (which has an optional solar panel), the Aptera, and the Myers Motors NmG, though with a price tag of $30,000 the last is more concept than car (or bike, or whatever).
The Family Bike
Can’t fit two kids and a load of groceries on the back of your moped? If you can pedal to your destination, then several innovative designs will let you bring the goods home without leaving the kids at the market. Madsen Bikes offers a model with a rear bucket containing a removable bench seat with two seatbelts. I had a hard time imagining how it balances until I read this in-depth review. If you’d prefer a bike that places the children up front where you can see them, the Danish Bakfiets Cargobike is quite popular in Amsterdam. A longer version of the Cargobike fits three children and groceries and can be equipped with baby car seats. And the Xtracycle is a “longtail bicycle with a backseat and a trunk” designed for hauling loads and/or passengers.
But are these bikes practical outside of the Netherlands? Here in Baltimore they’d be ahead of the curve relative to the availability of safe bike routes, and I’d like to see their performance on hills. They might do the job in a more bicycle-friendly city, say Portland or Ann Arbor, or in a small flat town. But who knows, if a couple of families start riding them on trails, we could start a movement. Then we’d take over the streets. Eventually it would be necessary to close off a couple of lanes of highway to safely accommodate all the cyclists. And that would be a real Earth Day.
Elsewhere on the Web:
Innovations -Check out this site for some inspiring cycle technologies, including a 7-person quadricycle and a 16-passenger bicycle/bar. (The latter is Dutch of course, but you can rent one in Minneapolis.)
Hybrid Cars -The authoritative, independent source for the latest information on hybrid, electric, hydrogen and ethanol-powered cars.
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