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Portland, Oregon's Annual Disaster Relief Trials
July 21, 2014 6:45 PM   Subscribe

150 pounds, 35 miles, 4 eggs, dozens of cargo bicycles, and one skateboard trailer

- the bicyclists & skateboarder
- more reviews and photos
posted by aniola (28 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Man.

I do not get bike culture.
posted by indubitable at 7:05 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


My friend (from Portland, natch) was reading this book about ecological city design, (Ecocities, if you're interested) and, opening to a random page, I found a passage suggesting a roller-skating EMS service, and building the walkways in these proposed multi use buildings on a curve, in the style of the Guggenheim, so you could roller-skate to your medical emergencies and then to the eco-hospital. I appreciated the imaginativeness of the scheme but was unable to control my laughter at the total absurd impracticality of it all. However, looking at these photos, which show a similar absurd proposal in action, I'm actually more convinced of the utility of this wheeled response proposal. An interruption of the petroleum distribution chain for example is a scenario that is pretty easy to imagine, and while bikes are slower and smaller than trucks, they will function when the cars don't and even if the roads are super shitty, so fuck yeah rolling emergency response!
posted by latkes at 7:16 PM on July 21 [2 favorites]


What's not to get? This is awesome.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:16 PM on July 21 [5 favorites]


Think "Urban Iditarod"
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:19 PM on July 21


Whenever I think something seems too insane to exist I remember parking lots exist.
posted by srboisvert at 7:42 PM on July 21 [6 favorites]


So THAT'S what that was! I spotted the dude with the truck bike while driving around--it looked like they were doing something interesting, now I know the whole story.

Doesn't the Urban Iditarod involve a lot more drinking?
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 7:46 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


The Idiotarod involves a lot more drinking.

This is frigging great!!
posted by beefetish at 8:17 PM on July 21


This is very neat.

It hadn't occurred to me before this that, if necessary, I could use my jogging stroller to transport my small kids and some supplies somewhere. I feel pretty good about that.
posted by bq at 8:38 PM on July 21


Also, my mom had a cargo bike instead of a car when my parents lived in Denmark near a train station. She would tool down to the corner store with her trailer several times a week. It was good exercise. And Denmark is flat.
posted by bq at 8:39 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


I'm glad you posted about this! I have a friend who was doing some volunteer radio work for one of the food pickup spots, and all day she kept posting these pictures online, until finally I had to admit I didn't know what was going on and do some research. This may have started as a "bike culture" thing (but how is that a bad thing?), but it's also a fun way to do some disaster recovery awareness- that is to say, think about how you're going to get around Portland if something were to happen to our normal infrastructure and communication. It's the sort of thing we geology students like to ponder sometimes.

(Although did anyone address the idea of swimming across the river with their heavy cargo bike?)
posted by Secretariat at 8:43 PM on July 21 [2 favorites]


I didn't read anything addressing the river with this event, but Pedalpalooza does have an annual Paddlepalooza event in which bicyclists bike their kayaks down to the river and then kayak around.
posted by aniola at 9:22 PM on July 21


After filling five-gallon buckets with water (weighing about 45 pounds) from the Willamette River near the west end of the Hawthorne Bridge

That would not be my first choice for drinking water, though it is much cleaner than it used to be...

They all looked like they were having fun, so nitpicking the unreality of it would be unkind. It's an awesome event and I'd love to see it in person.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:33 PM on July 21


But! It would be my first choice for a mock emergency, since it's not wasting potable water.
posted by aniola at 9:40 PM on July 21


This is my dream race. My only bike for the past 6 years or so is a Kona Ute, which has served me well in the 10,000km I've put on it, but it's not meant for the long rides I put on it. Plus for once I would not be the biggest bike on the road!
posted by Lemurrhea at 10:26 PM on July 21


Having worked in disaster zones, and being a fairly hardcore cyclist, the first thing that I looked for in this write up was checking to see if the contestants had to navigate a course littered with broken glass, nails, metal fragments and ceramic shards. Because nothing kills one's dreams of being a totally mobile, self-sufficient urban cowboy than having a flat tire. And flat tires happen a lot in destroyed urban areas. I'm a little disappointed that this race doesn't have that, and wouldn't reward enterprising riders who'd choose to ride with Pugsleys or other bikes with super hardcore bulletproof tires; but then I get that it's partially silly at its root and tilted in that "bikes are awesome" vein.

But seriously, high on the shopping list of any bike-enabled doomsday prepper is kevlar tires and a ton of spare inner tubes and patch kits. Take the number that you think you'll need and double it.
posted by bl1nk at 11:23 PM on July 21 [9 favorites]


The Bike Snob is going to have a field day with this.
posted by Aizkolari at 11:49 PM on July 21


Having worked in disaster zones, and being a fairly hardcore cyclist, the first thing that I looked for in this write up was checking to see if the contestants had to navigate a course littered with broken glass, nails, metal fragments and ceramic shards.

I can't seem to find a list of the checkpoints for this year, but the events I've seen in the past did at least simulate some tough conditions.

There may be a bike lift, where you have to carry your bike and cargo over obstacles like a jersey barrier, there is usually a tire changing event, navigating deep water with a fully loaded cargo bike, off-roading through a field, etc.

I mean, sure, it would be entertaining to litter the bike path with caltrops and await the tire carnage, but I think of this stuff more like ham radio events, it's more about getting your equipment in order and meeting other like-minded folks _before the event hits_ than it is about exactly reproducing conditions.
posted by madajb at 12:04 AM on July 22


From the website:
The DRT Course is designed to simulate a supply run on day four after a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake. Riders are responsible for choosing and navigating their route to each checkpoint. The circuit features challenges that test the rider and her/his bike or trailer. These will include at least one shallow water crossing, a one-meter barrier, and an off-pavement section. At various checkpoints along the way, cargo items will be picked up and carried by the rider.

Riders on the DRT can expect to collect up to 100lbs of cargo at checkpoints. The nature of the items can vary from small fragile items to large heavy items. The rider and platform’s ability to carry and secure a wide range of payloads, sometimes simultaneously, is a hallmark of the Disaster Relief Trials. Riders are encouraged to objectively assess their bike or trailer’s ability to carry a wide range of cargo, and plan/modify accordingly. Riders should bring appropriate lashing materials.
And of course, in a real disaster the road would have loads of foreign material on it. But that's understood, and it wouldn't be a very fun event if you had to spend all day fixing flats.

I kept an old pair of hiking boots under my desk when I lived in Seattle because I knew I might have to make my way home from work after a quake. A single snowfall was enough to gridlock the city, so I used them a few times. (When I lived in Portland I wore hiking boots or runners all the time.) I don't quite get why anyone thinks this is so outlandish.
posted by gingerest at 12:40 AM on July 22


I briefly thought about adding a bakfiets to the stable, and then I chatted with the lovely woman who owns this store and she mentioned hers weighs 100 lbs empty. Getting it up and down the stairs to the basement might be a bit of a challenge.

As it is, my daily rider can carry everything I'd ever need - I've done 45 lb bags of cat litter strapped to the rear rack, and there's enough bag space to haul a case and a half of wine (don't ask me how I learned this). I suppose if I ever need more carrying capacity I can get a trailer.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:46 AM on July 22 [1 favorite]


I don't quite get why anyone thinks this is so outlandish.

I've worked in a few post-disaster situations, and the idea that the day will be saved by some cargo bikes is if not outlandish at least unlikely. Anything is possible I suppose, and like I said above the event sounded like serious fun which is reason enough in itself, but this is in no way preparation for a real disaster situation.

I have no actual use for one (because I can walk to the grocery store and I have a truck for actual cargo), but I've had an irrational desire for a cargo bike for a long time now, and these photos just make me want one more. I have been hoping for them to get more popular so the prices can start to drop, but they were mostly still at the artisanal hipster pricing level the last time I seriously looked.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:58 AM on July 22



I think of this stuff more like ham radio events, it's more about getting your equipment in order and meeting other like-minded folks _before the event hits_ than it is about exactly reproducing conditions

Right on, daddio, that was my first thought; it's like the transportation complement to Field Day:
. . . an annual amateur radio exercise . . . encouraging emergency communications preparedness among amateur radio operators.

. . . using emergency and alternative power sources are highly encouraged, since electricity and other public infrastructures are often among the first to fail during a natural disaster or severe weather. . . . there is an integrated contesting component . . . to contact as many stations as possible in the given time period . . . contest points are awarded for experimenting with unusual modes, making contacts via satellite, and involving youth in the activity.

Field Day stresses emergency preparedness. . . . The contest portion . . . demonstrate[s] the group's ability to plan operations . . . [and] the technical proficiency of the [temporary] station . . . [And] Field Day is used to attract publicity for amateur radio . . .
Amateur Radio often provide communications support for bicycling events like this one, and to bring things full circle, when I participated in Field Day back in the 1970s, we'd get extra points for making contacts using equipment powered by a bicycle-powered generator.

"E-bike rider Abraham Sutfin straps on the plank as FEMA volunteers look on."

I think I saw that film at a stag party once.
 
posted by Herodios at 7:01 AM on July 22 [1 favorite]


I have been hoping for them to get more popular so the prices can start to drop, but they were mostly still at the artisanal hipster pricing level the last time I seriously looked.

The front-basket cargo bikes continue to be silly expensive, but in terms of 'buying a new bike,' we found the xtracycle edgerunner to be pretty reasonable. I mean, they are indeed more expensive than a regular bike, but that's because there's just more bike.

We load that thing to the hilt. We have it set up more for furnace.kid carrying, but I've hauled a fair amount of oversized, bizarre things on it (like the free smoker my kid found on the side of the road, a whole week after we bought the bike). Since they're all one piece, instead of the conversions to a longtail, they're much more stable. They're also noticeably lighter and easier to ride than the wheelbarrow front bikes, but they're not nearly as aesthetic.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:05 AM on July 22 [1 favorite]


I have an Xtracycle and it's fantastic. I've been using it for 100% of my groceries for the past year. Overall cost was $90 bike and ~$700 cargo attachment plus random parts.
posted by migurski at 10:22 AM on July 22 [1 favorite]


It's not that weird; I was in Seattle during the Nisqually earthquake, and most of the major streets in my hilltop neighborhood were impassable due to pavement cracks, downed trees, and fallen masonry (including some from then Amazon.com building's fence; the building's lawn and parking areas were littered with yellow bricks from the tower). Parts of Seattle could not reach others due to closed bridges and viaducts. I had to get down to the USCG radio dispatch on the waterfront for emergency service, which I have also done on X-C skiis during snow crises! I used my '77 BMW R100 with knobby tires and high ground clearance to do it, with 10 days' necessities in the bags and my Klein off-road bike strapped to the tailrack (since I didn't know what the fuel situation would be and the bike's 25l city gas tank wasn't full). I had to hop several sections of pavement buckled around traintracks, and toppled jersey barriers and 2' wide pavement chasms under the WA SR 99 viaduct to get into the USCG base main gate (praying the visibly cracked columns of the viaduct wouldn't collapse on me in the few minutes it took to get under it - there was no easy way around in that landfill area). I went around downtown and on the USCG harbor patrol boats with my Klein and its rackbags with radio gear, cameras, water and food, for 3 days. I think the Klein w/gear was about 70lbs.
I think cargo bikers with practice for disaster response are a great idea.
I wish the (low-speed) puncture-proof tires had been available for motorcycles as well as bicycles.
posted by Dreidl at 5:48 PM on July 22 [3 favorites]


Dip Flash: "I've worked in a few post-disaster situations, and the idea that the day will be saved by some cargo bikes is if not outlandish at least unlikely. (snip)

I have no actual use for one (because I can walk to the grocery store and I have a truck for actual cargo).
"

This isn't about general disasters, though - it's explicitly about the concern that the cities of western Oregon and Washington have to their vulnerability to a big earthquake along the Cascadia subduction zone. I-5 goes over a lot of bridges and flyovers in and between Seattle and Portland, many of which will need to be closed and checked for structural soundness after a big quake. With I-5 closed, Portland's gas supplies will limited and might be rationed for at least a couple of days, and emergency response and relief workers will be prioritized over just-regular-folks, but the latter will still need to cover broken windows with plywood, clear debris out of their homes, and so on. Portland's Neighborhood Emergency Teams have been planning around using cargo bikes.

A big part of the point of the DRT is to draw attention to the fact that seismic disasters restrict moving passengers or cargo around in gas-powered vehicles, and to get people thinking about their alternatives. Obviously, a cargo bike isn't a solution for every household, but if you want to be in a position to help your neighbors, it's another thing you can do to prepare. Even the homeland security industry's biggest online daily says so!
posted by gingerest at 9:51 PM on July 22


With I-5 closed, Portland's gas supplies will limited and might be rationed for at least a couple of days, and emergency response and relief workers will be prioritized over just-regular-folks, but the latter will still need to cover broken windows with plywood, clear debris out of their homes, and so on.
I don't think this situation is unique to the theoretical "Great Big One". Gas rationing was an aspect of post Sandy New York City when storm damage forced the city to go into gas rationing for 3 weeks. This theoretical gas-scarce situation that you describe has happened, and you know what? You do still need trucks and heavy vehicles to respond to these emergencies effectively. I mean, yes, cargo bikes as a long\medium distance replacement for the humble wheelbarrow are worth considering as one component of a multi-faceted disaster recovery plan, but especially at scale, they aren't a sufficient replacement for a pickup or a flatbed.

When I was working as a volunteer in storm and flood hit places like New York or the Gulf Coast, a large part of what we had to do in the immediate days after the disaster was survey neighborhoods to assess damage and collect information on residents. That can totally be done by bike, and in certain communities and scales, would be superior to a car when it comes to dealing with obstructed roads and gas-poor circumstances. Once residents recovered from the initial shock, their first steps towards recovery was cleaning out the debris from their house. This could be as simple as disposing of broken plates and household items, but it can frequently require removing destroyed appliances and furniture. Can that be done by a fleet of cargo bikes with a hitched up flatbed trailer? Sure, given infinite time. Can it be done more effectively by a dumpster hauled away by a garbage truck? Always, yes.

I mean, certainly, educate local residents that they should have a bike for getting around a city when disaster strikes and the roads are blocked. Use it to check in on friends and see if they need assistance. Use the bike to get to community relief hubs and info distribution points to let others know what your community needs. Gather supplies in the same fashion as you would for running your daily grocery errands. But disaster response planners should always hinge their relief and distribution plans around the idea that supplies for an affected community have to be brought in by truck, train or air, and staged in a location that can be reached on foot. Cargo bikes as a credible solution to the last mile of logistics will be a nice to have until they get cheaper or more ubiquitous.
posted by bl1nk at 11:17 PM on July 22


Amateur Radio often provide communications support for bicycling events like this one, and to bring things full circle, when I participated in Field Day back in the 1970s, we'd get extra points for making contacts using equipment powered by a bicycle-powered generator.

The DRT event I worked had a checkpoint powered entirely via bicycle generator.

The course participants had to hop off their bikes, hop on the generator bike and charge some batteries for us.
posted by madajb at 11:51 PM on July 22


The course participants had to hop off their bikes, hop on the generator bike and charge some batteries for us.

Now that -- that is a beautiful thing.

It'd be great if every event had a similarly built-in tangible way for participants to give a lttle back to the volunteers who do all the work.

Frinstance, I'd love to see marathoners 'policing' the empty water cups and 'gel' sachets from the course after the event.

At our house if you don't cook, you clean.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:53 AM on July 23


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