There are some bikes everywhere now.
What is not there, are fully weather protected, stable and comfortable, up-to-date trikes. If vehicles are light enough, human power is relevant, and by using solar/electric assistance, travel can be pleasurable and healthful too. Until all of the relevant technologies evolved to this point, motors, batteries, controllers, etc., this advance was impossible. We have the tools now, to bring our bloated urban transportation systems, down to the Human Scale, to take a giant leap into a survivable future, and a much more beautiful and visually arresting place.
Most public spaces around the world have, historically, been monopolized by dangerous, oversized vehicles. The relevance of minimal transporters is now being acknowledged by City governments everywhere, and most of the public too. Whereas cars are too big, it is also true that hoverboards and scooters, even bikes, may be too small. They are all used, almost exclusively, only in fair weather. This is understandable, since cold can be magnified when you are moving, and rain is not much fun, and it makes pavements slippery and radically lowers visibility for drivers in dangerous, nearby cars. If every place were Copenhagen or Amsterdam this would matter less. Here and elsewhere, we have accustomed ourselves to a very high level of physical comfort though. We need vehicles that can be enclosed when necessary, and open when not, evolved designs that allow for group riding instead of just solitary, and as much artistry, creativity, and ingenuity put into these protective vessels as humanly possible.
Just as important as making it, is making it to last. There is a challenge, to make these things so they can well withstand the wear and tear of riding on rough roads, and that multi-person use of something is going to inevitably entail. There was a time when it was understood, that you made something to last as long as possible. Following that we had “planned obsolescence”, and trivial design changes to remain the “latest”. Now we need to go back to the original idea. Trolley cars lasted decades, even as they were updated and improved. Durability, especially when you are being punished by imperfect conditions, is crucial. It will also matter to have facilities that are able to provide repairs and improvements to a growing industry.
Safety matters greatly. Nobody should be expected to be harmed by the use of your product. Smooth loading and unloading of passengers must be assured. While in transit, users must be provided with comfort and ways of securing themselves to maximize their pleasure in this passage. No sacrifices are being asked for here. The point is to raise quality, access, and affordability, all at the same time by bringing things down to our “Human Scale”.
The street is also a theater. Sidewalks are full of audience members, and customers as well. Those operating these vehicles are putting on a show in which they are the star. The object is a stage and also a prop, a costume, and a statement. It cries out for lights and bright colors, to be as fantastic as it is practical. If it has been hired for a child’s birthday party it might assume one shape, if they’re for a wedding, something else. Have a Winter guise and a Tropical, a somber mien and a celebratory one.
An organization is being formed, which is intended to act as an expeditor, to instigate this activity everywhere, and help to expand the influence of this work. This effort is intended, partly, to ratify the good sense of using a kind of International Cooperative, as a model for taking action on urgent matters such as Extreme Weather. It is a way of exploring the energy that can be generated, by identifying one another, according to our interest in, and participation in, a relevant aspect of our common lives. This can be done by breaking down geographic and other nominal and irrelevant barriers to a peaceful, well-fed, and dignified population, able to move about freely and fully acknowledge each others’ humanity.
Along with agriculture, transportation has been scaled up, such that the consequences of the few players’ policies, are invisible to these immensities. Economies of scale can benefit us sometimes, but can also give all of the discretion to the largest factors, who will do anything to secure their status. A successful effort to radically improve the terrible working conditions under which those in this profession ordinarily endure may also help to make it possible for other groups, who are currently at the lowest end of the occupational ladder, to mobilize themselves, to generate the resources needed in order to improve their common lives.
The Big Fleet
The ultimate goal of this undertaking is the widest proliferation possible, the soonest, of the most environmental, healthy, unique, beautiful, and practical, human/solar/electric-powered vehicles. Some of these would be for-hire, passenger, and wheelchair-carrying models. Others would be intended for personal use, and still, others are designed to be used, primarily, to move goods. All of this is most suitable for dense urban environments since their speed would need to be limited, to maximize their safety for users and others. Making them no larger than they need to be, will permit more valuable space to be provided on often congested and crowded streets.
The expectation is, that as the public becomes completely comfortable with this needed transformation, the continuous acceleration of the process to replace the existing system, with one that is so much better, is assured. The durability of the objects produced must be of dependable and remarkably high quality. Their popularity, and the pleasure they provide, will make certain that nobody even pretends that they miss the old, deep-fake “ideal” system, that we had been convinced was our only alternative.
There is not enough room for the unlimited multitude of enormous trucks, buses, limos, delivery trucks, and private automobiles that jam urban spaces everywhere currently. Even if many of them were essential to our survival, they deny, rather than affirm, life. Adding fees has had a minimal influence on the volume of traffic. Even if some provide for needed services, while also representing a huge investment by their owners, they are, by and large, alienating, dangerous, bullying, toxic, homely, oversized, and out-of-place. To an infantilized population, all that activity may be fascinating and titillating, but the insanity of it is drowned out by its sheer volume and the zombie-like acceptance of all of this by the masses, propelled by media, all of which are addicted to the income earned by pushing consumerism.
The amount of time being wasted, the out-of-proportion helpings of food, and continuous noise, meld together and help to justify one another, to convince us that this is the only way. The disorientation that is the ordinary response to overloads of change, is to be expected. AI and the Pandemic are not just moving the goalposts, they are moving the poles. Horse stable owners at the turn of the last Century had the same problem. One had to do with sanitation, which biology rendered unsolvable. The other crisis had to do with the rapid increase in the scale of everything. Three-story buildings turned into 13, then 30, now 100+ stories. The success of cities is based on their ability to grow infinitely, giant black holes swallowing nearby stars, appearing to be inevitable. Unfortunately, this can fail to take into account the effect of all this change on ordinary people
Now that the effects of our common lifestyles are revealed to have been earned at the expense of the possibility of risking our survival on this planet, while also making an infinite number of other people miserable, recognition of the extreme danger that this distressing realization affords, is much closer. The remedies being offered to provide relief for this serious malady are very few and most are without sufficient effect to offer any hope of avoiding the worst of the looming alternative disasters. If the forests continue to burn, floods and droughts multiply, and the permafrost delivers enough methane to poison our atmosphere and render it unsurvivable, will the raising of MPGs by 2050 really matter? Even if it were 2040 or even 2030, this is the use of an umbrella in a hurricane. If there is a remedy here, it is going to have to arise out of the desperation of those many who realize the gravity of our situation and decide to devote some portion of their energies to meeting this serious challenge to our very existence.
There needs to be a wholesale re-evaluation of many aspects of our society, such as food, but the most pressing one is transportation, with its dramatic effect on our climate crisis. Soon, a fortune will be spent upgrading some transportation facilities, but almost all of it will be an effort to fortify existing bad habits while comforting the voting population that they will not tumble off their bridge any time soon. The amount devoted to supporting meaningful change in our behavior, which might provide us with some relief from the onrushing catastrophe that we are facing, will be minimal. There is no lobbying group with any major influence, that is asking the public to give anything up. That is not how you gain people’s support.
For that reason, the idea of generating an entirely new urban transportation system, based on lightweight, human, and solar/electric power, and, most importantly, creative energy, is so important. We are born ingenious but discouraged from employing this faculty or even appreciating it in others. Everything we would ever need is already here, we are told, and our role is merely to be a proper user, if possible by employing no more than a finger or two. We need to be careful that the new medium of virtual reality doesn’t become the final nail in our coffin, as we are convinced to abandon this imperfect plane, for one filled with ersatz majesty and unlimited possibilities, no matter how unreal.
Getting two hands and two feet fully back into the picture at this stage will not be easy. Designing and making things that work, especially at the highest level of the craft, requires serious effort. Few people have the personal freedom to simply devote themselves to creating something, no matter how important it might be, and neglect their other responsibilities. Help has to be found to provide some assistance to those endeavoring to do this. This project needs a framework, to encourage the artists, engineers, mechanics, and others who can contribute to this process to step forward. Putting up rewards, prizes and the potential for acknowledgment will be needed, to gain attention and motivate participants. This must be done, hopefully, without selling the “branding” opportunity that supporting this project might provide, especially to those with sketchy environmental credentials, who could use this for the purpose of Greenwashing their ordinary activities. That “help” would undoubtedly trivialize this quest, even negate it.
If this all can be financed and promoted by individuals, genuinely interested, preferably smaller, businesses, groups, and relevant non-profits, even enlightened Transit Agencies, it can happen now, in many places at the same time, and be both serious in intent and joyous in spirit. It is notoriously difficult to launch efforts of this magnitude, without the cooperation and financial support of some large entity. The likelihood that it will be misdirected or exploited increases considerably though when there is an “overseer”, especially when the intent of this program is to initiate the widest assortment of designs and approaches, rather than consolidating influence and rewards in any one place. It might be somewhat more difficult to utilize a bottom-up strategy to gain needed support, but this is the same energy direction that a human-powered device like a bike uses, and maybe it should also be the one that propels the movement to expand its growth and impact.
The Pedicab Project
Bringing Pedicabs into the 21st Century, all the way from the 19th must involve a complete re-conceptualization of this opportunity. Factors include urban transportation, localization, entrepreneurship, and information. There is no historical model for this approach, and to some extent, it is now possible only due to recent advances in technology. In New York City, and in many places with similar density around the world, there is a need for the creation of a service such as this. It would:
Call for the construction of vehicles, fully accessible to wheelchairs, no larger than the 120” x 54” limits now in effect in NYC regulations guiding pedicabs. These conveyances would be fitted with movable solar roofs and wall panels which can be consolidated, when the weather permits, allowing the vehicle to be completely open to the outside, like a bike. At other times, all of these clear windows will be closed to provide for the comfort of riders.
Allow the use of these vehicles to be varied in the course of the day. There would be two or three operators of each vehicle since it would be operational during a long day. It would be available for very profitable tours, private passenger or package delivery, while a portion of the time, it would ply an established route. These 20-60 minute circuits would take it to local transit locations and other important features of their neighborhood. A serious attempt would be made to hold to an approximate schedule. Locals would come to expect this service to be available on a regular basis. Depending on the neighborhood and the desires of the operators, this would happen five times a day or 35 times.
Although it increases the complexity, the most beneficial use of this opportunity would involve vehicles plying regular routes, during part of the day, while providing a host of other helpful transportation and other services at other times. There are other informational and community-based assets that could be enhanced this way, through the design of appropriate vehicles and the establishment of the resources necessary to educate, orient, and deploy local entrepreneurs as specialists in public information. If you have the latest and best information as regards living and working spaces, especially shared ones, you are entitled to use this information to provide you with some income. The same goes for local jobs, services, and educational and entertainment connections. There needs to be a legal framework designed and implemented, a way for charges to be billed, for instance, a way to track the location of vehicles on missions, etc. These resources need to be put into place, to provide operators, everywhere, with the tools needed to fulfill these tasks, as part of a non-profit cooperative. A corresponding digital, online reference point, must also be put in place, to expand the reach of these activities. In time, this element could become one of the most important and profitable ones.
It is expected that local travel, on its regular route, could be offered at no charge, although tips would be invited. This unusual arrangement is possible if the earnings from real estate, jobs, advertising, private transport, and other activities turn out to be sufficient, to provide for a very substantial livelihood. This does not take into account the other potential ways, in which involvement in this profession could enhance lives. Becoming a relevant part of an ongoing community can open up other avenues, social and business connections, and access to positive situations and possibilities. One can become a roving, but also fixed, element of the surroundings. In fact, some time should be spent, by each vehicle, at suitable locations within their routes, so that they might be accessed by locals who want to provide them with relevant information or access it. This provides for a rest period, perhaps a snack, and closer interactions with the rest of the local community, including the provision of free terminals. Some literature can also be available, and some resemblance of this phenomenon to the city’s historic network of local newsstands can be established. Any local publications can be provided with an outlet, including some of the more esoteric, art, poetry, literature, etc.
It is understood, that operators would need to be helped to master the skills needed to make this a very profitable and satisfying way to make a living. They would also need to perform their duties to a high standard of excellence to be enabled to continue their efforts. The plan here is that successful operators would need to agree to spend a certain minimal amount of time orienting new operators and helping them succeed. The intention here is to form a community of operators, who will democratically establish the means to guarantee the high quality of these activities, while expanding the operations continuously, in order to enable more people to craft these meaningful opportunities, to improve their own, as well as everybody else’s, lives.
It is expected that those involved in this program would begin their careers as operators, after appropriate orientation, etc. to determine whether they enjoy and are suited for this work. Once they are established, it will be possible for them to begin to earn ownership of the vehicle and the business associated with it. Over time, the multiple operators of each location will have an agreement among them that outlines their responsibilities and possible rewards. This requires a high degree of responsibility and maturity and will need to be guided by a set of mandatory practices, and a process for dealing with situations where these regulations are being ignored. Without one fully-operational example of this actually working, it may be difficult to convince anyone that all of this is possible. Granted, there are many unique, and therefore as yet unproven, elements here, and the right individuals will need to be recruited, initially, to maximize the possibility that it will work well, but the quality of this opportunity is such that it should attract the best candidates to take it on.
This will be organized as a profit-making venture, partly under the jurisdiction of a non-profit entity. It is a business that, along with being profitable and relatively trouble-free, also has the goal of humanizing this activity, aiding the urban environment, and providing a full measure of dignity to those engaged in the enterprise. It is being designed to do this, while also helping to enable local communities everywhere, to find their own voices, and generate the best available means of providing the essentials of life to all of their inhabitants. One feature here is in the form of an ultra-local, Craigslist-style resource, that can guarantee that unwanted resources can find a home, and would be welcomed by everyone.
The Half is an NYC legal pedicab, designed with some of these functions in mind. Regardless of its excellent suitability, it is hoped that, over time, other highly individuated and attractive designs for these vehicles will emerge and be put into use. If created with respect for the unique surroundings that it plies, these designs can come to represent their individual streets and neighborhoods, their history, and special assets. As well as being the most useful objects imaginable, they could also become some of the most distinctive and beautiful ones as well.
Small-scale transportation, like bikes, is becoming more popular and, it is increasingly realized, essential, all of the time, especially for use in crowded urban spaces. Here though, instead of a 21st Century masterpiece of a people-carrying vehicle, we have an enlarged baby carriage. Along with the outdated, Colonial Era, humans as draught animals, and equipment, we have archaic laws to go with them, and practices as well. This type of vehicle has the capacity to be the most desirable, sensible, environmental, friendly, and appropriate form of short-distance urban travel possible, so it needs to be encouraged in every way possible, not subjected to crippling, senseless restrictions. While conditions vary in different places, needed changes in New York City include:
Small, clean, and quiet electric motors, must not be prohibited as a matter of humane working conditions. There is extreme, unhealthy difficulty in pedaling around with human cargo that could easily reach 500 pounds. Preventing access to this modest improvement is inexcusable. Besides, in spite of their being prohibited technically, 95% of New York City’s fleet of these three-wheeled vehicles already employ them.
There is an unfair and unnecessary limit to two or three passengers. If they are to be part of the transportation system, rather than a service limited to deep-pocketed tourists, it must be made economical. (The Boston system is currently free-of-charge and tips are sufficient to keep drivers happy.) It is possible, given the additional power available with the use of these small electric motors, to sensibly and safely convey 6 individuals.
More than one person should be able to supply energy to the battery/electric system at the same time. There are many riders who might enjoy the opportunity to get some exercise while riding along. Fitness means healthfulness and needs to be encouraged. If rewards can be provided to those putting in the energy being used to move ahead, that would go a long way toward motivating this activity. The current prohibition was initiated as a way to prevent “conference” bikes with a half dozen riders from operating in a dangerous fashion but was mistakenly applied to all other bikes as well.
If we are only moving at 15 MPH or slower, standing should be permitted. It is fine in trains and buses that go three or four times faster. Appropriate handholds and specially-designed places to lean can provide safe transport. In fact, many people would prefer to be somewhat upright, if given the opportunity, to feel stable and comfortable, and as an added advantage, it is economical of space. Security belts can be available and provided to those desiring one.
It must be unacceptable for drivers to get soaked or be frozen, while working, or otherwise subjected to dangerous and unhealthful conditions. They must be given proper cover and reasonably comfortable surroundings. People can not be regarded as “Coolies” or treated as draught animals.
There should be no limits on the lighting of the vehicles. Except for classic Yellow Cabs, no other means of transport is forbidden or required to look a certain way. Individuality and diversity need to be encouraged and owners should be helped to become positive contributors to our visual environment.
Not being able to pick up different persons, en route, prevents this service from realizing its most beneficial identity, as a form of public transportation that also does work as livery and for private purposes sometimes
Mandating a “Unibody” construction for pedicabs makes no sense, especially since cargo bikes are utilizing all forms of trailers and, are now proliferating through every city. Their ability to lessen the burden of too many oversized trucks clogging streets is being seen as a potential boon to urban traffic flow, and that goes for pedicabs as well.
Given that these vehicles are also a form of public service, and are relatively small and unobtrusive, they ought to be allowed to park overnight along suitable curbs in some selected places, to help enable their widespread and convenient use.
In order to lessen concern that drivers will rampage down streets using motors, a voluntary speed limit of 15 MPH may be agreed upon by all of those in the industry, to eliminate the need for regulation. The safe operation will be enhanced this way.
At least some of the fleet must be made wheelchair-accessible. One result of this would be the same vehicles that carry persons could use their design to also accommodate cargo easily and expand their money-earning possibilities and overall utility. Besides, it is the law that at least a portion of any fleet works to expand handicapped access. An entire fleet of wheelchair-accessible vehicles could be deployed citywide this way as a serious improvement to the current access-a-ride system.
One use of this opportunity, perhaps the most beneficial, would involve some vehicles plying regular routes during part of the day while providing a host of other helpful services. There are other informational and community-based assets that could be enhanced through the design of appropriate vehicles and the establishment of the resources necessary to train and deploy local entrepreneurs as specialists in public information regarding employment, real estate, education, and entertainment activity.
Failure to display rates properly should cause you to lose your permit if done more than once. Negotiated prices must be permitted but accompanied by a clear understanding of potential charges. The good reputation of this industry must be restored.
Eventually, there will need to be a great many more of these vehicles, preferably scattered throughout the five boroughs. This should happen once the existing regulations have been modified in order to make them as fair and beneficial as possible. This can be thought of as an important early step in the urgent need to re-frame urban transportation, down from the industrial to the human scale.