Alan Durning

Alan Durning directs Sightline Institute, a Seattle research and communication center working to promote sustainable solutions for the Pacific Northwest.

Designed to Obstruct, US Senate Erodes Public Trust

Last time, I illustrated how the un-democracy of the US Senate hogties the Pacific Northwest. It radically underrepresents the most-populous, diverse, and innovative parts of the country, making it exceedingly difficult for the nation to adapt to the demands of a radically new global era by, for example, adopting sweeping new approaches to energy and climate policy. Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the negatives emanating from the design of the Senate. Senate-induced gridlock in Washington, DC, erodes the public’s confidence in their ability to act collectively through institutions of democratic self-rule and to rise to the great challenges of …

The body electric

What can China teach us about electric bikes?

In part 2, I described the extraordinary growth of electric bikes in China, which grew from novelty items in 1998 to almost one e-bike per ten people today. What caused this growth? What can we learn from China about overcoming the Northwest’s four barriers to e-bikes? The economic context of e-bikes is radically different in China than in the Northwest. In China, most buyers of electric bikes are stepping up in vehicular speed and comfort from heavy, low-performance bicycles. They are opting for electric bikes not in place of cars but in place of bicycles, motorcycles, or scooters. In the …

Circuit breakers

Four obstacles facing electric bike popularity

In part 3, I promised to describe the obstacles that are keeping electric bikes from taking hold in the Pacific Northwest in the way they have in China. Here are four. 1. Immature technology As BikeHugger’s master blogger (and e-biker) DL Byron points out, electric bikes may be past the garage-tinkerer phase of development, but they’re still complicated, imperfect devices, plagued with breakdowns and performance issues. Battery care, for example, is still challenging, though it’s vastly simpler than it used to be. 2. Bike culture Photo courtesy Looking Glass via FlickrIn Asian and northern Europe cycling cities, bicycles are ubiquitous …

Flipping the Switch?

Should electric bike sales be subsidized?

Photo: Flickr via Imnop88aAs I argued in part 2, electric bikes could be forerunners for electrifying the whole transportation sector. They’re sweeping into urban areas in China by the tens of millions. New technologies are improving e-bike performance. And powerful institutions are aligning to speed battery innovations. Many observers now believe e-bikes will grow rapidly in North America, including in the Pacific Northwest. Colorado-based market analysts Pike Research, for example, predict that U.S. sales will quadruple from 250,000 e-bikes in 2010 to more than 1 million in 2016, as shown in the chart below. (Asia is left off the chart, …

Un-democracy and the US Senate

This series is about flawed institutions of governance. Notice the word “governance”—not “government.” It’s not about inadequate or wrong-headed laws and policies. Nor is it about heroic, passable, or ineffectual leadership. Such things are the normal stuff of public debate, and we write scores of posts each year about them here at the Daily Score. Instead, I want to talk about design flaws in the way public policies are made: constitutional provisions, legislative processes, electoral rules. I want to explore the rules of the game; the lawmaking procedures. It may sound tedious and arcane, but it’s a vitally important subject. …

charging up

Three trends that favor electric bikes

Photo: Sightline DailyIn part 1, I described the appeal of and demand for electric bikes, and mentioned that three trends bode well for them in the Pacific Northwest and the rest of North America. Battery-juiced two-wheelers could finally break out of their current status as transportation novelties, helping us rise to challenges as great as climate change, oil addiction, and recession. In this post, I detail these trends. Technology, overseas markets, and political trends all bring good portents for e-bikes. Trend 1. Technical innovation keeps improving electric bikes. The latest Giant, with lithium ion batteries, reportedly has a real-life battery …

Juice Hawgs

The parable of the electric bike

Brynnen Ford carpools kids to school in her Madsen electric bike.Photo: Brynnen FordMmmm. An electric bike. Zipping through the city. Surging up hills without gasping for breath. Riding in business dress and arriving fresh and dry. Healthy, moderate exercise. No traffic jams. Free parking. Huge load-hauling potential. Near-free fueling. Zero emissions. Breeze in your face. Appealing! So why haven’t e-bikes caught on (yet)? Especially in the Pacific Northwest, which is brimming with well-heeled tech enthusiasts? What’s stopping electric bikes from devouring automotive market share the way DVDs killed VHS? At least in good weather? Why aren’t they as commonplace on …

Sixty or Fifty?

60 or 50? So much depends on those numbers. The news went barely noticed a few weeks back: almost every school district in the state of Washington that put a levy or bond measure on the February ballot won voter approval. Despite the worst recession in decades, citizens stood behind their public schools and agreed to tax themselves about $6 billion—more than $900 per resident of the state. An extraordinary story of the public coming together during hard times? Not really. Instead, it’s a story of a successful game changer. In 2007, Washington amended its state constitution to eliminate the …

Climate and Race

A boycott in Montgomery, Alabama; a march on Washington; “I Have a Dream;” a bridge in Selma; a Nobel Prize; a balcony in Memphis—the flaming arc of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life is now inscribed in American mythology. But in December 1955, when King was an unknown 26-year-old Baptist minister first thrust into leadership, the issue at hand—the particular cause—in Montgomery was African Americans’ right to sit with equal dignity on city buses. The tactical brilliance of the Montgomery bus boycott was not in sit-ins or freedom rides or marches. Those would come later. It was simply getting all of …