Tuesday, June 12

Bicycle Permaculture

Permaculture has been around for quite awhile. Originally it was "permanent agriculture," a movement to mimic nature in agriculture, the antithesis of industrial agriculture.

The movement evolved to a more general concept of "permanent culture," the idea of taking responsibility for yourself, your family, your community and beyond. The movement was still focused on food production, because lets face it, food is what it's all about. Without the continuous need to feed ourselves there would be little reason to organize into social frameworks.

Pondering these things I began to see how bicycling fit into the overall picture of permaculture and the Transition movement. choosing the bicycle over petroleum powered vehicles is a way of taking responsibility for your own mobility needs, the impacts of your needs to your community, and reducing dependence on a system that is beyond individual, familial or communal control.

Since permaculture is really about designing systems it seems to me that bike/ped planning could become a relevant component of permaculture. Transportation binds our communities together within and to other communities without. Trade is fundamentally based on transportation. Even local trade is about moving goods from one place to another.

How do we mimic natural systems on a bicycle? In one sense, the bicycle enhances the mobility of bipedal beings without overstepping the natural balance of the local ecosystem. That's not to say bicycles have no environmental impacts, but the scale of bike use is much, much less than that of motor vehicles and even draft animals. Clearly, the widespread use of bicycles would be far less impactive than our current transportation paradigm.

Bicycles don't wear down travel surfaces as fast as motor vehicles or animal-drawn conveyances. They are slower, take up less physical space, and keep things at an individual human scale. With less weight and area, bikes free up more space on existing travelways and they just don't degrade the surfaces like other vehicles. Direct communication between other travelers is more facile, and I believe, therefore, cuts down on road-rage issues when the travelers are all cyclists. Rudeness can be called out instantaneously. There is no anonymity on a bicycle. But that is a good thing for community building.

The required infrastructure for bikes alone can be very minimal, with significantly reduced construction and maintenance costs, and much less intrusive to the built environment and to nature than the current scale of modern transportation infrastructure.

Good bicycle infrastructure design would take advantage of the existing landforms and not drastically change the face of the earth. Cycle paths can take advantage of otherwise difficult to use topographies. Floodplains make fantastic corridors for multi-use trails through existing communities. Bike facilities can take advantage of very narrow corridors and locations that would be far to restrictive for other modes of transportation.

Being the most efficient mode of transportation ever conceived of by the mind of man, bicycling can become a value which can make human culture sustainable. The act of bicycling is an extension of the sustainable capture and release of energy. It is an element of transportation that helps us save energy and resources. It can even be an element to produce energy if we let it.

Bicycling is a neutral resource. The use of the bike leaves the bike unaffected energetically speaking. There is the same amount of energy in a bicycle before and after a ride.

Embracing the bicycle helps us refocus on community and our local culture and economy. It is a small, slow solution to many of our individual and cultural problems. The bicycle, to quote cellist Ben Sollee, is a beautiful limitation. It allows us to beautifully and elegantly self-regulate while accepting feedback.

To me it's seems that to truly embrace permaculture, you can't ignore the bicycle as a crucial transportation component. And while I know that many would begin to argue about the perceived limitations of the bicycle, let me remind you that the idea that every adult individual in the country should have instantaneous access to an SUV at all times is relatively new in the history of the world. Such freedom of mobility, with the capability to haul large amounts of weight, is not he historical norm for the average human being.

I could focus on many of the various different aspects of permaculture, but in closing I just want to illuminate the basic ethics of permaculture. These three ethics are central to permaculture: care for the earth, care for people and fair share.

They are very similar to the three pillars of sustainability: people, planet, profits. Except if you'll notice, profit has been replaced with a second people. But then again, fair share really is about a balance of abundance and an equitable distribution of resources in moderation.

Ack! I know, I sound like a socialist. I'm not.And so what if I were?

By choosing a bicycle for your transportation and mobility needs you are caring for the earth, caring for the people around you, and creating a wealth of abundance by limiting your own consumption of resources. Utility cycling truly does fit within the aims of permaculture and can be incorporated into permaculture design. More on that down the road...

This is an idea I want to develop. I'll try to address it with more clarity in the next installment.


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