Sunday, October 31, 2010

Renewable is clean, right?

Ahh. Ride our bikes to work. Drive a hybrid. Put solar panels on the roof and a wind farm on the ridges. Fill up the blue recycling bin instead of the black garbage can and eat low, and locally, on the food chain. All good stuff. Pat ourselves on the back for being proud stewards of the environment. Um...what was that rattling around in the closet like Jacob Marley in his chains?Could it be the sound of our future, having taken advantage of all those Chinese miners and factory workers providing us all those renewables? We should worry, and not just because of the plight of that Chinese miner.

The recent Chinese "embargo" of rare-earth elements (REE) to Japan, and therefore to the U.S. and the West, has caused quite a stir. As has China's attempts to gobble up ownership of REE abroad, including both mining and manufacturing, in the US and Australia.  REE, aside from their critical use in geochemical modelling (which is why I know just a little bit about them), are critical chemical components in a lot of renewable and "green" energy projects such as solar panels, wind farms, and hybrid cars and are therefore a clean energy and a national security issue. For example, a Prius gobbles up about 10-15 kg of REE, according to this source.

Once again, we are beholden to China, which produces over 90% of the world's supplies (see links above and the figure caption below). So why does China control the market? According to the Christian Science Monitor, "Although the US and other countries served as major sources for rare earth minerals for 50 years, China's low labor costs and lax environmental rules allow it to produce both raw and refined minerals at much lower costs than elsewhere."

So once again, we have traded energy security and jobs for cheap prices. It is apparently OK to build bicycles and mine REE in China, allowing Chinese air and water to be polluted and Chinese miners to die, as long as we can save a few bucks in the short run. In the long run, we lose further ground in high technologies and eventually become utterly vulnerable to economic blackmail. That's pathetic.

So I guess China will force us to mine REE here at home, assuming they don't buy up our mines before we even put a shovel in the ground.... But mining REE is not pretty, which is why some so-called "environmentalists" don't bitch too loudly as long as it is done in China. I can hardly wait for the environmental protection lawsuits to begin once we start digging up and processing those Thorium and Uranium (gasp!) bearing REE deposits here in the USA.

You want clean energy? Someone's gotta do the dirty work. If the benefits of a REE mine and processing plant in the US outweigh the costs, it needs to be done. I think those costs are worth paying. The alternative is a once great nation with an economic, and eventually a literal, gun to its head.
Rick Sixberry, operations general foreman at Molycorp Minerals Mountain Pass rare-earth element mine in Mountain Pass, California, surveys the open pit August 19, 2009.
Photo: David Becker 

Mountain Pass Geology explained here.

CMR-R Project, NEPA, and Bicycling

I'm not taking a public position on the issue below since I work at LANL (not to mention, I'm Chair of the County Transportation Board), so am festooned with conflicts of interest. I am, however, purely as a courtesy, forwarding a message from Diane Albert below without further comment or personal opinion. Diane is an attorney and President of the Bicycle Coalition of New Mexico. Contact her for more information.
(Diane Albert, attorney at law) is involved in a NEPA lawsuit against LANL and UC, regarding their refusal to update the EIS that was finalized in 2002. In the meantime, a seismic analysis was performed and due to the results of that seismic analysis, the project design was completely changed, but no new EIS was done.

(Albert et al) are preparing a motion for a permanent injunction on the project and need affidavits from concerned persons. (She is) hoping that bicyclists who ride on the roads in LA County or Santa Fe county might write a letter on this topic describing the harms one would experience due to the tens of thousands of truckloads of materials trucked up on the county roads.
Please contact Ms. Albert (see below) with any questions.

Diane Albert, PhD

Registered Patent Attorney
The Law Office of Diane Albert
2108 Charlevoix St NW
Albuquerque, NM 87104
505.842.1800 phone  505.842.0033 FAX
cell 505.235.2277


NNSA extends scoping period for CMRR study

Public now has until Nov. 16   Read the SEIS Notice of Intent

NNSA has added another two weeks to the public scoping period for the CMRR supplemental environmental impact statement. Comments are now due on November 16. In October, NNSA held scoping meetings in White Rock and Pojoaque seeking public input on what should be studied in the new environmental document. About 50 members of the general public attended and 14 submitted written or audio-recorded comments.

Written comments may still be submitted

Written comments may be submitted to:
Mr. John Tegtmeier
CMRR–NF SEIS Document Manager
U.S. Department of Energy
National Nuclear Security Administration, Los Alamos Site Office
3747 West Jemez Road
TA–3 Building 1410
Los Alamos, New Mexico, 87544
Fax to 505–667–5948 or e-mail at

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

You could be in Paradise...

Enough of the bike politics. This video, on the Hawaii Bicycling League website, was shot by HiRoad at the Fall Honolulu Century Ride. The Century starts in Waikiki (Kapiolani Park), goes around the southeastern tip of the island heads about two thirds of the way up the Windward side (to Kaaawa) before turning around and retracing its steps.

With the days growing shorter and colder, that sure looks nice and brings back some really wonderful memories of my 14 years there. Mahalo to HBL for the hard work, and Ride Aloha!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

League petition drive comes up short of 5%

As some of you know, after being rejected to run for the LAB Board by the LAB Nominating Committee, and not getting any reason why, I considered my options carefully and decided to exercise the petition option  with two other League Cycling Instructors, John Brooking and Eli Damon. The current  League board chose not to nominate any of the three of us (i.e., allow us on the ballot) on the basis of our applications, but has never told membership why, in detail, it chose who it chose and rejected who it rejected. That fault in governance, i.e., transparency, is my single, overriding criticism of the League. As I said, if we treated our national elections this way, citizens might as well stay home and leave Congressional appointments to Congress and their lobbyist backers. Opaque or even translucent elections are excellent generators of mistrust. We have to do better.

My decision was not made lightly. Don't worry. I don't claim to ride on water nor am I probably the worst possible candidate either--apparently over 400 members didn't think we were too shabby either. The bottom line is members, not the existing Board, should decide such things.

LAB Reform, long critical of the League's Board election policies, helped us with the petition drive. We needed to form an alliance because frankly, the League has made it a herculean task in time, effort, and money, to mount a petition drive.  Since 2003, the League's bylaws have required signatures from 5% of the League members to put a candidate on the ballot via petition (around 800-1000 signatures).  Until 2003, it took only 50 signatures to get on the  ballot by petition. According to LAB Reform, most of the directors who pushed this change through did not even need members' votes for their seats but were themselves appointed (I doubt any of them know 5% of members).  I further surmise that the current League Board's philosophy is increasingly that a "corporate" style board vetted from the top  is better suited to running the organization than a grassroots, membership-elected board. I have no problem setting high standards for Board membership, but the details of how candidates are chosen need to be more transparent and member-friendly. Presently, the system has resulted in serious disagreement on the state of LAB governance; solutions need to be worked out.

Eli and John spearheaded this drive and I thank them for their efforts. They found the League board and management frustrating to deal with.  Further, LAB Board members ignored my request for information on the vetting process and my suggestion for a more transparent system (note added 10/26/10--I had a long and fruitful conversation with Governance Committee Chair Tim Young tonight). Nonetheless, it seems LAB interpreted  requirements to our disadvantage, and, when time was running short, refused to allow an email announcement to members on the grounds that it was not an option explicitly spelled out in policy, despite the fact that it was known to be technically feasible and that frankly, the LAB Board adjusts both governance and policy to its own goals and objectives. For example, changing the ratio of appointed to elected Board members, and the total number of board members, without membership approval. Shades of FDR's Court-Packing Plan!

In addition, this year's election will be conducted entirely electronically, and obtaining petitions is a long-established part of the election process. So why did LAB refuse to allow us to send a petition request--that they would approve in advance--to all members for whom it has email addresses, as it's apparently been done for candidates in the past few elections? I think that is a rhetorical question but welcome a response here. Therefore, our appeal was limited to lists, clubs,  instructors and individual cyclists we know or for whom we could find addresses. One of my comments to LAB is that LAB ought to cooperate with members in a petition situation so it doesn't seem like we are bitter adversaries, thus fanning the flames of disengagement, but instead that we are colleagues with honorable and negotiable disagreements.

Some of whom we contacted told us that they could not sign the petition because they had quit the League due to concerns about its current management practices. Despite these limitations, we ended up with about 400 valid signatures.  We think this is considerably more than the number of ballots cast in any recent LAB election. A large portion of the signatures are from LCIs. Many are from life members, former directors, and even former League presidents and current director nominees. These are among the League's most active and valuable members. By signing the petition, they have voiced their displeasure over the election process.

We (i.e., the three of us, petitioners, and LAB Reform) have been discussing tactics to follow up the petition. Some who signed the petition have suggested forming a new organization to take up the causes the League has abandoned or in some of our opinions, has given inadequate effort. 

The League (that's supposed to be us) may wish to consider whether we want to stay in one big tent--I think we do. Forming a separate organization is a huge challenge and one has to ask what we would accomplish fractured that could not be accomplished better with all of us speaking with a common, if sometimes discordant voice. But the alternatives to reform are to see yet more people drift away from LAB. Individual League memberships are estimated to be less than 20,000. Membership peaked at over 100,000 a century ago in a much smaller nation but at a time when cycling was in its heyday. Isn't it supposed to be in a heyday again? The turnout to the League Rally, held in Albuquerque last summer, was disappointing. Albuquerque is a great place to ride. Where was everybody**? Have individual members decided that the League is now a house organ for the money players in DC, i.e., the bike industry and urban planners? I hope not.

We thank all those who signed and especially those who helped us collect signatures. Please check back for future news about the reform campaign, and please let us know if you have any thoughts or ideas. Frustrating as this is, let's stay optimistic about the future of the League.  There are good programs, and others which if improved could be outstanding. The LCI network is LAB's crown jewel and needs to be nurtured--LCIs donate a lot of time and sweat equity to the League's core missions. Every quality cyclist, every police officer, and every government official positively influenced by an LCI is a huge contribution to the future of cycling and to cyclist's rights. Furthermore, integrating the LCI network into the Bicycle-Friendly Community program, with power of veto over the application (Local LCIs including me reviewed Santa Fe's recent application) would make that an outstanding program. The recent fiasco with Reed Bates aside, the League is starting a legal defense program according to a recent League statement. Finally, we need to do more fun stuff to raise membership. League rallies and bennies bring in customers. When I was President of the Hawaii Bicycling League, we knew the best way to raise member numbers was to put on great rides and offer great rider benefits. All other activities rode on top of that.

Although staff administers programs and is held accountable for operations, the Board is responsible for the overall strategic tenor of the organization. That's why members who want to have any real power to influence LAB need to be more than a passive rubber stamp during Board elections that largely decide themselves in a closed, smoke-free room.

Let's keep plugging away. I still advise folks to join the League, but also tell them to write the League and demand that members be far more empowered in the governance of the organization.

If you got this far, thanks for reading. If you have two cents to put in to LAB, contact Exec. Director Andy Clarke or Board Chair Hans vanNaerssen

For LAB Reform, you can contact Fred Oswald at

For Eli Damon's extensive timeline of this process, go here.

Keep the rubber side down,
Khal Spencer

** The League reports from The 2002 National Survey of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Attitudes and Behaviors that "...approximately 57 million people, 27.3% of the population age 16 or older, rode a bicycle at least once during the summer of 2002..."  But there are less than 20,000 individual League members, or less than one tenth of one percent of that total. By contrast, the AAA claims about 50 million members. Looks like we need to be far more relevant to the everyday cyclist.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Utility bike

I've been trying to avoid getting into an automobile lately. When Amy saw the two suitcases I had to bring in to work this morning she suggested we just take the car, but I wanted to see how it would go on the bike. It was a little wobbly but not bad once I got used to it. I really appreciate the low gearing that my New World Tourist came with. I can't do my 35mph runs in front of the high school any more, but I can't say I really miss them either.

Los Alamos Food Co-Op: Distinctly bicycle-unfriendly location

I rode my bike out to the Co-Op yesterday for the "Meet the Manager" celebration. It is a 7.5 mile ride from our house on North Mesa. Most of the ride is quite acceptable but I really wonder how many people are going to be willing to ride down NM 502 all the way to the co-op. Especially if they need to shop during periods when commuter traffic is both heavy and fast on this main drag into town and LANL.

The worst cycling location is only about an eighth of a mile or so long, but in that location near the airport and East Gate Pool, one runs out of what is otherwise pretty decent shoulder and is "hourglassed" into traffic that is speeding up to 50 mph as it leaves town, or slowing from 50 while entering town. I was riding my commuter bike unladen and for me, no big deal.. Doing this on the way home with a cart or panniers full of groceries will intimidate some and certainly not make me happy since traffic is having to slow from 40-50 mph behind some guy trundling a load of groceries on a two-wheeler.

I asked those at the get-together to consider expressing their opinion on providing safe crossing of NM 502 for those who would use the new paved, multiuse Canyon Rim Trail as an alternative to riding down NM 502. A tunnel would be ideal and was, I understand, once considered but cut out of the budget. Since Councillor Gibson recently expressed an opinion on using alternative rights of way instead of roads for cycling transportation, this is a perfect example of why historically, its a tough sell to many cyclists: we build recreational paths and do not connect them from our homes to our destinations. Lets face it, those who would choose to ride on the Rim Trail to work in the new County offices at the Airport Basin site, or to a food cooperative or the Holiday Inn, are probably not going to be too keen to ride or walk their bikes across a 50 mph heavily trafficked state highway without any crossing protection. These incomplete facilities become automobile trip generators. This is a bright, shining example.

NM 502 itself is under the jurisdiction of the NM Dept. of Transportation, not our progressive county government, so be prepared for more than the usual amount of frustration in addressing this problem. Whoever wins the election for our state senate and representative districts should get a raft of phone calls and letters about this road. It is a far cry from ideal, and will create some animosity if we increasingly ride bikes to County destinations in and around the Airport Basin. As Patrick O'Grady reminds us, in addition to sharing the road, we need to "share the love"...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Beware of false dichotomies

The proposition made by some (see Paul Dorn comment at this link) that breaks us down into vehicular cyclists or paint and path advocates is a false dichotomy (or false dilemma, if you prefer). Sure, lacking cycling specific facilities, we must ride vehicularly. But in that parallel universe, even the best separated cycling facilities in urban areas have to cross intersections sometimes, and cyclists will at some point have to behave as traffic, even if only to avoid crashing into other cyclists. Cyclists, all cyclists, need to know how to ride in traffic, whether they are sharing general-use lanes or whether riding in a separated cycletrack. Intersections are intersections and traffic is traffic.

I recieved a chilling email this morning from a scientific colleague and friend here at LANL who cycles a lot. Joe just got back from some work at Palo Alto and was riding to work in the Canyon bike lane, headed for Diamond Drive. He merged left into the dedicated left turn lane and waited for the left turn green arrow.

Luckily, he checked traffic before he fully committed to the turn. A few seconds after my friend got the green left turn arrow, a motorist on Diamond ran the red light at high speed. If my friend had not looked, he would probably be in bad shape or dead.

Meanwhile, this morning I observed a different cyclist riding on our recently added bike lanes. I first saw him riding on the sidewalk headed south towards Diamond/Arizona. He rode through an unprotected crosswalk without looking for traffic. He then rode diagonally through the Conoco Hill intersection and ran a red. As I closed on him, he ran another red light at Diamond and Trinity so I never did get to talk to him.

In one case, good vehicular cycling skills may well have saved a rider’s life. In another case, the rider is playing with fire and we may eventually read about him in the paper. Both using the same bikelane system.

Let’s stop screwing around with artificial distinctions, and just do good work for cyclists. The reason LAB has an education program is that it takes resources to design, organize, manage, and indemnify and it clearly fits within a mission of serving the best interests of, and keeping cyclists alive out there.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Black Hawk, CO bike ban being challenged in court

This is why all states need strong state and local advocacy groups, backed up by a national organization (LAB) that brings more money and political firepower to bear on these cases when needed. Read more about this case here, including links to all the legal briefs.

The motion to dismiss is here.

The city’s attorney has filed a brief in response posted here. The defendants have now filed their reply brief and a hearing is set for October 20.

Wish our side luck. Bike bans could happen anywhere, and at a low level, have been surfacing.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cut Carbon Rally and Bike League Petition

I figure the best way to cut carbon is to not go to the rally today, which would be a double century if done by bike and I've let my training slide since the Red River Century. Instead, I'll try to do some required shopping on the commuter bike.

And, if you have not electronically signed our LAB election petition, please consider it.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Welcome home, Brother Smith...

Link to an obituary from the St. Petersburg, Florida Times.

"He was a quiet guy. He was easy to be around, just did his job,"  --David Rupp, a manager at The Crab Shack.

"About 11 p.m. Sept. 12, a car struck Neil Alan Smith and threw him off his bicycle on Fourth Street N. The car didn't stop. Mr. Smith, who was pedaling home from his (minimum wage) job as a dishwasher at the Crab Shack, struck his head on a light post. He was taken to Bayfront Medical Center. He died there six days later. He was 48..."

A few years back, cycling authors Dan Koeppel and Patrick O'Grady both wrote about the plight of the invisible cyclist, that low-income guy on a cheap bike who doesn't quite make the cover of Bicycling Magazine or the American Bicyclist, but who depends on his bicycle more than any in the lycra-wearing crowd ever will and who is compelled to ride, day or night, on whatever road or walkway can get him to work. He has few options.

Mr. Smith fit the bill. And like most of the invisible cyclists, he only achieved recognition in death because of the cruelty and heartlessness of those still left alive, such as the hit-run motorist who left him to die, or those who see so little value in the Mr. Smiths of the world that we ignore their needs through our actions (DWI, texting, speeding) or inactions (not providing decent infrastructure, not giving a damn). We have built our transportation infrastructure for those who can afford cars. Many cannot, and many struggle to drive cars because they feel this is their only choice in a world where a guy riding his bike to work instead of wrapping himself in an SUV sometimes feels like he is destined to be roadkill. Don't lecture me with statistics, either. I'm talking about perceptions. They probably influence the lion's share of people more than statistics ever will.

Koeppel's story: L.A.'s Invisible Riders
O’Grady: Outerbiking in Las Vegas

What is especially cruel is the statement of the SOB who opined, in the St. Pete's online newspaper, that Smith’s life was worth so little. The obituary excerpted above was not the original story of this crime.  It was a followup obituary written by newsman Andrew Meacham after an unnamed commenter wrote, in response to the original story,  "A man who is working as a dishwasher at the Crab Shack at the age of 48 is surely better off dead.". An outraged Meacham decided to put Mr. Smith to rest with some dignity. Mahalo nui loa, Mr. Meacham.

But perhaps in a nation which is fast losing its heart and soul, there is some brutal truth to that cynical statement. Life is increasingly cheap, even when lived in dignity, at the low end of the status pool.

If there is a personal God, and I've not made my mind up on that one, I am sure such a God was waiting those six days at Neil's bedside. I am sure He was ready to greet Neil Smith, two Budweisers and a portable radio in hand, and tell him "Welcome home, Brother Smith. You won't ever have to ride home in the dark again."

I'm not so sure about the greeting awaiting the rest of us.

Photo of Neil Alan Smith from the Tampa Bay Online (re-used in the Atlantic Magazine, where writer James Fallows commented on this sad death.).
 I should say that my very first job, as a janitor in a hotel, paid ten cents above minimum wage. I got to the hotel by riding my Sears bicycle or on the city bus. But that was a 7 am to 4 pm job.