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Monday, June 29, 2009

Conundrum


So, I worked as a parking lot attendant for two days at a sustainability conference, and the strain on my sense of irony was ... monumental.

Yes, people need to know how to make goat cheese, or beer, or do raw milk, or convert engines to run on veggie oil, or treat mild illnesses from the herb garden, but ... to drive all the way from Eugene, or Corvallis, or Roseburg, or Seattle, to learn these things on a small farm in the middle of nowhere, and then drive back? Yeesh!

Yes, I biked, but I live 2 miles down the road. Hardly anyone else did, and considering the distance from town, and the state of the road shoulders, and all the mojo-pickups with dual wheels sweeping those road shoulders at 70 miles an hour in 55 mile an hour zones, not biking was, yet again, the wise choice for most.

The railroad goes by right in front of the farm, though, and twice I watched the Coast Starlight go by, right in front of us. How hard, really, could it be, to have a charterable consist of self-propelled railcars to make the fourteen mile journey with two carloads of festival attenders? The tracks were empty across the road except for about fifteen minutes total, out of the twelve hours or so that I stood there, and this is a mainline.

A century ago, in fact, this was exactly how it was done. A hundred church picnickers would hire a train to get them out into the countryside, and at the end of the day, bring them back again. Nowadays, it seems, this can only be done on abandoned rails repurposed for tourists, at a steep price. But perhaps changes are in the wind.

I can't find it now but there was an article recently that noted that the litigious and grumptious relationship between petroleum-based cars and their manufacturers, and the oil companies (on the one hand) and bicycle commuters and makers of things like three-wheeled electric cars and Segways (on the other) is not that bicycles and such are too slow, but that the standards for convenient travel, geared toward the capabilities of internal combustion engines, are too fast. The context was the continual wrangle over bike lanes; the author felt the whole street should be safe for powering down.

I do think there is something to that. If lead-acid based systems are the only ones that will be available to us peons (those with less than $40,000 to spend on a car or truck) in the foreseeable future, then 25 mph speed limits are the only way to ensure our entry into any post-oil Great Automotive Commuter Society.

Perhaps next year the event organizers will consider chartering a bus to their event and organizing a group bike ride with a support van. Veggie-diesel support van, of course. With a hint of lavender in the exhaust.
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