The idea is seductively simple: Most of us use our cars just a tiny fraction of the time. Why not make a little money by renting out the neglected speed racer, rather than just leaving it sitting in the driveway, or worse, racking up bills in a parking garage?
"Rent your car, get paid." That’s how one car-sharing company, RelayRides, puts it on its website. "Earn up to $1,000 a month sharing your vehicle." Steve Webb, RelayRides’ press guy, tells stories about car owners who have given up their day jobs to become “micro-fleet managers.”
You might be tempted to think like Erinn Hutkin, a Chicago journalist who was laid off from her job at a suburban newspaper in January. She saw an ad from RelayRides while looking for work online and thought, "Here's a way to make some extra money by not doing much of anything."
But if all this sounds a little too much like one of those “make $100,000 a year working at home” schemes, surprise: You are right to be a little skeptical.
Their days of seafaring plunder are over, but Danes are still the happiest people in the world, says the U.N. How do they do it? With sustainable development, a sane workweek, and umbrella drinks, for starters.
The news comes from a new United Nations report [PDF] attempting to measure the happiness factor of countries around the globe. The world's people are feeling decidedly “meh,” according to the report, released Monday by the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network: "On a scale running from 0 to 10, people in over 150 countries, surveyed by Gallup over the period 2010-12, reveal a population-weighted average score of 5.1."
But the mood in some countries is downright giddy: The U.N. calls them “happiness hot spots,” but you can just think of them as the Earth's erogenous zones. Topping the list? Denmark, which scored a 7.693 on the happiness scale.
In an age of booming cities, rising temperatures, and vanishing wildlife, there's at least one critter that's doing just fine: the humble crow. But if it weren't for us, they wouldn't have it nearly so good. Find out why in this video:
If there’s any doubt remaining in your mind that climate change is a plague on humanity, Linda Marsa will take care of that for you. Marsa is a longtime medical writer. She’s made a career as a muckraker, taking on the pharmaceutical industry and dispensers of scientific snake oil. And she’s recently turned her attention to how our warming of the planet increases the chances for a wide array of epidemic illnesses.
“I’ve done some important stories, but nothing compares to the magnitude of this,” Marsa told us during a recent visit to Grist HQ. “Because this threatens civilization, this threatens us as a species.”
Here's a little more of what she had to say. Goodbye now. We're all moving to Canada.
This is the final piece of a short series about bicycles in Copenhagen. Read parts 1 and2.
During my short trip to Denmark last month, I spent a good amount of time on a heavy, black cruiser bike rented from my hotel, exploring the city of Copenhagen and surrounds in search of lessons in bike culture, infrastructure, and policy that I could bring back home to the states. Some of my most productive time, however, was spent out of the saddle sitting at sidewalk cafés, talking to designers, planners, and policy wonks. Also, I spent loads of time drinking copious amounts of beer and/or coffee, and watching the beautiful people pedal by -- most of them on “granny bikes” like mine.
I spent an entire afternoon at one café with Mikael Colville-Andersen, the CEO of Copenhagenize Design Co. Colville-Andersen makes a living as a provocateur and a preacher, spreading the gospel of biking to cities around the world. He makes a strong case that we should take our streets back from the traffic engineers, and instead design them with people in mind. He also says Americans need to take bicycling back from the bike tribes -- the hipsters, speedsters, and bike messengers -- and make them as ordinary as the black granny bikes on Copenhagen’s streets.
“Subcultures are actually a hindrance to building cycling,” Colville-Andersen said. “From an American perspective, I think you need to get the subcultures to shut up.”
This is part 2 of a short series about bicycles in Copenhagen. Read parts 1and 3.
As an American on my first visit to Copenhagen a few weeks back, I was whopperjawed by the bicycle traffic on the “bike tracks” that swallow up a lane on each side of many city streets there.
Particularly mind-blowing was the cavalcade of bicyclists that charged across a certain bridge just a few hundred feet from my hotel -- a bridge that, I later learned from city officials, probably sees more bike traffic than any other in the world. Queen Louise’s Bridge (Dronning Louises Bro to the Danes) carries over 40,000 bicycles each day. For perspective, that’s more than twice as many people as bike to school or work each day in the entire city of Portland, Ore., which is roughly the same size as Copenhagen.
Standing on Queen Louise’s Bridge at rush hour, you watch the crush of bike-riding humanity riding past. The riders queue up at the stoplights at either end of the bridge, and woe be to the pedestrian (or driver, for that matter) who gets in their way when that thing turns green. It's such a spectacle that, since the city widened the bike tracks and sidewalks about five years ago, the bridge has become a popular hangout and people-watching spot for young Copenhageners. Some have taken to calling it the "hipster bridge."
More than a third of the residents of the Copenhagen metro area -- 36 percent, by the city’s count -- bike to school or work each day. That blows away any city in the U.S.: In Portland, top among U.S. cities, only 6 percent of commuters go by bike. And a whopping 75 percent of Copenhagen cyclists ride year-round, despite the fact that the weather in this city, which is at roughly the same latitude as Juneau, Alaska, was described by almost every local I spoke to as flat-out “shitty” (imagine Seattle, only darker in winter).
Copenhageners are proud of their biking habits. “It’s like brushing your teeth -- it’s something everyone does,” says Marie Brøndom Bay, a representative of the city’s bicycling division. But those numbers have been hard-won. And to Brøndom Bay and other city officials charged with minimizing car traffic and air pollution, and promoting public health, even a third of the populace on bikes is not nearly enough.
This is part 1 of a short series about bicycles in Copenhagen. Read parts 2and 3.
The first thing that struck me, climbing the steps from the train station into the city of Copenhagen on a recent Wednesday morning, was the great abundance of bicycles. The street outside the train station had been converted into a chaotic, open-air bicycle parking lot, with bikes stacked on double-decker racks. Bikes lined every sidewalk, stood two- and three-deep against the old stucco and brick facades, and leaned against every lamp and signpost.
The second thing that very nearly struck me was someone riding a bike. I was crossing a square en route to my hotel, lugging my bags, when I heard, behind me, the jolly “jing, jing!” of a bike bell. Back home in Seattle, bike bells are quaint -- a pleasant way to give fellow bikers and pedestrians a gentle “heads up -- coming through.” Not so much in Copenhagen.
As the cyclist swerved around me he muttered something about a “bike track.” A second bell rang behind me and I realized, suddenly, that I was walking in a bike path that cut through the square. I shuffled as quickly as I could out of the way, realizing that here, a bike bell should be taken as seriously as a car horn.
Such was my introduction to Danish bike culture. I was in Copenhagen for four days with a group of travel bloggers, the trip paid for by Denmark’s tourism bureau, which is trying to promote Copenhagen as a destination for bike tourism. (I generally avoid such junkets. They make me feel dirty. But this one seemed too good to pass up, and with a little arm-twisting, my editor consented to let me go.)
I wasn’t the first bleary-eyed American to nearly get mowed down by a bicyclist upon arriving in one of Europe’s bike capitals. Pete Jordan describes a similar experience in the opening chapter of his book, In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist. Nor was I the first American to be blown away, befuddled, or generally wowed by the number of people who ride bikes in these cities. Jordan (you may know him as Dishwasher Pete) reveals that we Yanks have been ogling European bike culture (and the toned legs of European bicyclists) for 100 years or more.
But there’s no shame in that. The ogling is good here! In a jetlag-induced haze, I spent my first day in Copenhagen wandering the streets, swilling espresso at sidewalk cafes, and checking out the bikes and the people who rode them. I learned a few things in the process.
We humans are choosy about the company we keep, particularly when it comes to animals. We'll share our homes with dogs and cats and guppies and gerbils -- and occasionally make space in the backyard for a chicken or two. But the rest of the Animal Kingdom belongs Out There, in Nature.
In fact, there's a movement afoot to make more room for the wild and wooly in our increasingly urban world. Conservation groups are turning toward cities as a new frontier, and academics and educators argue that connecting people -- kids in particular -- to the natural world right where they live can not only instill a desire to protect big-N Nature, but make them happier and healthier as well.
That's why we decided to dedicate the month of July to exploring the "urban jungle." The messy thing that we like to call civilization is actually more like a coral reef, crawling with nocturnal and avian invaders who make a pretty good living on our scraps and in our architectural nooks and crannies. Those creatures, and natural spaces like parks, can have a profound influence on our lives and our urban culture, too.
The air-conditioning compressor: Sounds harmless enough -- another of those little metal widgets bolted under the hood of your car. But under the right circumstances, it can be a killer. I know. It offed my car-sharing experiment.
If you’re just joining us, last winter, my wife and I decided to rent out one of our cars as a way to cover some of the costs of owning it -- a decision I wrote about in the first story in this series. We listed the car through RelayRides, one of several new companies that facilitate this sort of “peer-to-peer” car rental.
Our first transaction went smoothly. John, the guy who rented the car, brought it back right on time, gas tank full, and not obviously any worse for the wear. He’d had it for two weeks, and put 500 or so miles on it, and we had a cool $246 to show for it. (John had paid more than that, but RelayRides takes 25 percent off the top to cover insurance and other expenses, plus a handy profit, I’m sure.)
It was a decent start, but it wasn’t even a third of what we’d spent to prep the car for renting ($775 on a full tuneup and deep clean). It would take a lot more renting before we covered our start-up costs and started to chip away at the $860 a year we pay to keep the car registered and insured. Our dream of making enough to buy a cargo bike seemed a long way off.
Shutterstock I’ll say this about “sharing” my car: It seemed like a good idea at the time. My wife, Tara, and I own two cars. One is a little fuel-efficient city car, a Honda Fit, that’s good for 95 percent of what we need a car for: shuttling the kids to and from school, running out for groceries, weekend trips to the islands or woods. Bikes and buses have their place, but we use the Honda just about every day. Our second car, a Subaru Forester, takes care of the other 5 percent of our automotive needs: bombing through snow …