Wednesday, April 23, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Bike commuter, nonprofit group show how to trim transportation footprint

The road stretches out ahead of Diane Swann, who pedals her electric-assist bicycle from her home in Davis to her workplace in Sacramento three to four times each week. She is being honored with a Cool Davis 2013 Eco Hero award. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

Join the fun

What: Earth Day celebration/John Muir’s 175th birthday party, featuring a slide-show talk by author Kim Stanley Robinson of Davis and presentation of Cool Davis’ 2013 Eco Hero and Climate Solutions Awards

For kids ages 4-10: An adventure outing with Nature’s Theater, plus birthday cake and party favors

When: 3-5 p.m. Sunday, April 21

Where: Davis Community Church, 412 C St.

How much: A “birthday gift” of $5 to $10 per person is suggested

By Stacie Frerichs and Judy Moores

Each year, Cool Davis recognizes visionary Davis residents who model how to incorporate sustainable practices into their civic and everyday lives. The organization seeks to honor some of the hidden heroes among us who are forging and implementing new ways to live lightly with less impact on the environment.

Acting out of personal conviction, they are just doing “the right thing” for themselves, their community and their planet. This year’s Eco Heroes are Dani Lee, Robyn Waxman and Diane Swann. Climate Solutions Awards, which go to local businesses or organizations for exemplary efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, will be presented to the Davis Bike Collective (Jason Moore), the Local Government Commission (Judy Corbett) and the Davis Flea (Lauren Norton).

Today’s profiles focus on our transportation footprint and how to reduce it.

Diane Swann

One of the Cool Davis 2013 Eco Heroes, Swann sets an example through her quiet pursuit of a low-carbon lifestyle. Like many people in Davis, she works out of town and knows that a large percentage of her carbon footprint comes from her commute.

In the mid-1990s she rode her bike to work in Woodland. When she transferred to a Sacramento job, the capital region seemed out of reach for daily bicycling, and she commuted on Yolobus. Once Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor schedule increased, Swann took the train and enjoyed biking to and from the stations in Davis and Sacramento.

By 2011, Swann started riding her electric-assist bike to work once a week; the bike uses a rechargeable battery to assist in pedaling and consistency. Even on the windiest days she manages the 18 miles in just over an hour.

Two things happened that changed her commute and increased her advocacy. First, a fellow cyclist challenged her, “You have that bike. Why don’t you ride every day?” Swann replied, “It’s still kind of hard.” The stranger prompted, “But that’s what you want!” She admitted he was right and now she rides three to four times a week. Recently, her son gave up his car and occasionally, he and her husband bike to Sacramento to meet Diane for lunch.

Secondly, Swann discovered the more dangerous parts of the ride: the frontage road between the railroad tracks and the Yolo Causeway. This two-mile stretch has bike lanes too narrow for the high-speed car traffic. Cyclists passing other cyclists are forced into the traffic lane where passing vehicles pose a hazard.

Last September, Yolo County closed the road to car traffic for repaving. The car-free week inspired Swann to gather commuters to work on a solution. She believes that “once intercity infrastructure improves, more people will commute by bike.”

In the short term, she is working with Yolo County to make the road temporarily more inviting for new commuters during May is Bike Month, hoping to build county support for a permanent solution. So far, she has this section of the bike route listed as “needing improvement” in the city of Davis’ Beyond Platinum Plan and Yolo County’s Bicycle Transportation Plan.

Swann is no stranger to charting a course to a greener lifestyle. She and her husband John live in Village Homes with natural cooling, no air conditioning and only one car. In 2001, she read an article in The Enterprise about solar photovoltaic panels. She and John began the process of installing PV panels and encountered many challenges, including a lack of experienced contractors, equipment problems, and — as the first household to install them in Village Homes — opposition within the community.

Her research led her to write a guide to help other interested people navigate the process. The Swanns’ efforts were rewarded by having their electric bills reduced to zero (except for fixed charges). They also were chosen as a stop on a Nor-Cal Solar Homes tour, at which several hundred people toured their home to learn about the benefits of solar power.

Swann is a naturally quiet, unassuming person who inspires others by her actions. She doesn’t think of herself as a role model, just as someone who is trying to reduce her impact on the Earth. She has done this through many small steps and encourages all fellow Davisites to take their own next step toward a greener lifestyle.

Davis Bike Collective

While Swann shows the path of one individual, the Davis Bike Collective models how an organization can work with people from different parts of the community, teach them to repair their bikes and even customize their bikes for personal needs. With their sliding scale, the collective’s workshop, Bike Forth, is affordable to all.

The Bike Collective began early in 2005, when Ted Buehler and Chris Congleton, who came to UC Davis from other universities that had similar organizations, saw a need for a place at UCD where students could get help repairing their bikes. Buehler and Congleton soon recruited others and started a “Bike Church,” named after the one in Santa Cruz, where students and other residents could get help maintaining and repairing their bikes several days a week.

While the pair have since finished their graduate work and left Davis, the Bike Collective, including some of the early members — Matt Seitzler and Jason Moore among them — survived from 2005 to 2008.

By the fall of 2008, the Bike Church had outgrown its welcome at UCD. After pursuing various alternatives, Solar Community Housing Association came to the rescue and worked with the Bike Collective to find a home (Bike Forth) at Fourth and L streets, incorporate itself as a nonprofit organization and set up a website (www.davisbikecollective.org).

The transition was a painful time for the group — all volunteers with little time to spare and more interest in “doing” than “administering” a nonprofit business. But they trudged through the process, and now Bike Forth helps a few thousand people each year.

Moore exemplifies the creative and caring people who have developed the Bike Collective. Since he was a high school student in rural Virginia where he built things such as a moonshine still, an electric guitar and various bikes, he has been a “maker.” As a new UCD engineering graduate student in the fall of 2005, Moore joined the Bike Church for balance. “I needed time to come back to reality and interact with people outside the ‘ivory tower,’ ” he explains.

Pursuing his developing interest in bicycles, he traveled to the Netherlands on a Fulbright scholarship to research how people balance on bikes. During his spare time, Moore admired the bicycle culture.

“The Netherlands changed my attitude of what bicycling can be. In the States, we either treat the bicycle as a toy or as sports equipment. We forget that it can be a very efficient, pleasant and healthy mode of transportation,” he says. “In the Netherlands, bicycles serve as transportation first, and secondarily, as toys and sports equipment. I realized that bikes were a viable alternative to cars in urban areas.”

With regard to climate change, Moore notes, “Bikes are and will be important as we all learn to live with less. Cities need to include bikes as part of their current and future transportation plans. What cities need — including Davis — is a real, old-fashioned ‘Bike Revival! Now!’ ”

Special to The Enterprise

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