A while back, I stumbled across a Kickstarter project to fund the manufacture of a quality bicycle bell and decided to participate. It took a while for the project to be completed but the designers at Spurcycle did a good job of keeping everybody up to date on their progress as they refined the design and manufacturing process. I shot a video describing the bell and demonstrating the sound it makes shortly after I installed it last March. I can report that the bell is still working well and is worth considering if you need a bell for your bike. You can get more info or purchase one here.
One potential issue with widespread adoption of electric cars is increasing peak electricity use. Imagine driving home on a hot summer day and plugging your car in to charge at the same time you turn on your air conditioning, start cooking a meal in your electric oven, and watch TV while surfing the Internet on your computer. All that electric load has to be generated, in real time, by a power plant somewhere on the electrical grid. To meet that load, utilities employ a combination of base load, load following, and peaking power plants. The precise mix of electricity sources depend on the power plants available to your utility, the current weather, and customer consumption patterns. But, in general, utilities will use their least expensive and most efficient power plants first, followed by ever more expensive and dirtier plants as power demand increases. Armed with this knowledge, and the knowledge that my utility has a significant number of power plants that burn fossil fuels, I try to shift electricity consumption to off-peak times, typically by running my dishwasher or charging my PHEV at night. These are easy changes and help my utility burn less natural gas – the fuel typically used for peaking power plants.
After I installed an eGauge home energy monitor I noticed that my Ford C-Max Energi draws approximately 70W for the entire time it is plugged in waiting to “Value” charge at night. (It’s called “Value” charging since some utilities offer significantly reduced night time rates.) I then ran comparisons between energy consumed during a full “Value” charge cycle vs simply charging immediately when the car is plugged in and found a dramatic difference in charge efficiency. (The car always reports using less energy than the energy monitor shows the car consuming from the electric grid. Up to this point, I have assumed that this difference is the result of power lost during the charging process.)
The graph below is from a series of trips that consumed 3.5kWh according to the car vs. 4.99kWh according to the energy monitor for a resulting charge efficiency of just over 70%. I have seen charge efficiencies as low as 52% when the car was plugged in for a very long time before the “Value” charge started. I regularly see charge efficiencies of around 80% when not using “Value” charging.
Given what I have observed so far, it seems clear that “Value” charging on the C-Max Energi is only useful if you have steep discounts for off-peak energy use and will actually increase your overall electricity consumption. I’ll continue to gather data but for now, my “value” charging days are over. The best I’ll be willing to do is plug the car in before I go to bed or possibly just charge it when my solar panels are generating power.
My last inbound trip on RapidRide Friday was stuck in heavy traffic on 3rd Ave. It turns out the cause was one of our trolley buses stopped on 3rd after hitting the door of a parked car, presumably after the driver opened it without looking to see if the lane was clear. (This is known as a “Door Prize” and is, sadly, quite common)
I made an announcement to inform my passengers of the reason for the delay and used the opportunity to provide advice on how to avoid such a collision: open your car door with your right hand and check the oncoming traffic before opening it. This advice is so simple and easy and yet it commonly goes unheeded. Interestingly enough, the Washington State Driver’s Guide informs prospective drivers “If parked at a curb, look before you open any door in the path of a car, bicycle, or pedestrian”. This information is contained in the “Space for bicycles” section, but easily could be part of a general safety tips section. After all, buses, trucks, and other cars travel next to parked cars – all of which can do a lot of damage. Checking the oncoming traffic won’t just potentially save a cyclist’s life, it may also save your fingers.
7W for a doorbell transformer, replaced with 9V battery – savings: ~61kWh per year. Bonus: It makes the doorbell sound better which makes even Leslie happy about this efficiency improvement. (Translation: High Spouse Acceptance Factor)
6W for our irrigation system controller. Savings: ~52kWh per year. We water manually and infrequently, so the controller doesn’t need to be plugged in 24 hours a day. It’s easy to plug it in when I actually set the controller to water.
These two items bring our home’s “idle” energy use down well under 100W. The remaining loads are things we want on 24 Hours a day, the Internet modem and router for example (~20W), and things I don’t want to spend gobs of money to replace with higher efficiency appliances. (Garage door opener, 5W and Microwave, 10W – Newer models draw <1W each)
These savings are relatively minor but also pretty painless. To put it a different way, these two minor efficiency improvements will save enough energy each year to drive my car 450 miles in EV mode or ride my E Bike over 6500 miles. Yay, efficiency!
For those interested, you can check out a Kill A Watt energy monitor from the Seattle Public Library.
I had the unique pleasure of being at the center of one such incident on Tuesday when my E Line RapidRide bus decided to pop out of gear at the worst possible time: Driving up Aloha St toward Aurora Ave. At the time, Aloha street was being used by SDOT to reroute Aurora Ave traffic during Highway 99 construction. The bus wouldn’t move and restarting it wasn’t helping. Worse, each attempt at getting it into gear resulted in the bus, still full of passengers, rolling back down a steep hill. I was done trying to move the bus without assistance from Vehicle Maintenance. Cars were able to squeeze by my immobilized bus, but all buses that use Aurora Ave had to be rerouted which compounded already substantial delays.
This blockage made an already bad situation worse. I was following the Blanchard/7th Ave/Dexter reroute that all Northbound Aurora Ave buses were using. It was frustrating to see cars parked on Dexter and Blanchard Streets where ad-hoc bus lanes could have been created to give buses priority. Instead, buses were routed into a single lane of traffic with cars and left to sit. Delays were so bad at one point that the control center gave me permission to reroute an E Line trip via Elliott Ave, 15th Ave NW, and N 85th St. (For those keeping track, thats basically the same as driving almost the entire D Line route through Ballard and then using 85th to access Aurora Ave – A very long reroute) Several passengers commented this route was much faster than the previous day’s commute. (And even with a 23 minute wait for the next Southbound bus, was likely faster for passengers making their way to points between Lynn & 85th Streets) As I made my way southbound from Aurora Village Transit Center close to 7:30, I saw a steady stream of E Line coaches making their way north after likely breaking free from the Blanchard/7th/Dexter reroute bottleneck.
In short, this 4 day Highway 99 closure seems like a good case study for how our transportation system breaks down under extreme pressure. Hopefully, we can learn from it.
Recently, the company behind Strava, an app designed to track running and cycling activity for individual athletes and bike commuters, released “Strava Metro”. The idea behind Strava Metro is to aggregate individual runs and bike rides into a product that transportation planners and advocates can use in active transportation planning. On the surface, the heat maps Strava produces are impressive, if not mesmerizing. The chief complaint I have with Strava, however, is that it requires active intervention by the user to collect data. This skews the data Strava collects toward bike “roadies”, “mountain bikers”, and long distance commuters rather than utility/cargo/last miler cyclists. My personal experience with Strava reflects this as I’ve long used Strava to track my bike commutes but often don’t bother to track my short ride to the Park & Ride or the two mile ride I make to the grocery store. Strava also makes no attempt to include walking data which is a huge omission, especially when the goal is to remove impediments to active transportation choices. All this means that Strava’s heat maps are, at best, a flawed and impartial view into how people choose to get around their city.
A better alternative would be an app that tracks all activities throughout the day without intervention by the user. The tracked data would be anonymized, aggregated, and published in maps useful for active transportation planners and advocates. While I have yet to find a source as well presented as Strava’s Heat Maps, a close second can be found in Human Co’s city ranking site. This site presents aggregated movement data for users of Human, a simple app designed to encourage users to move at least 30 minutes a day. The data gathered by Human is still skewed toward a demographic that includes smart phone users and would need to be used with caution, but at least it makes an attempt to gather data on ALL of the ways we move around our cities, including motorized transport. The biggest surprise I found: Washington DC ranks higher than New York in “Active Transportiation” (Non-motorized trips) as well as walking trips.
Let’s hope that Human Co enhances this data and encourages more data collection, beyond their current targeted demographic of people trying to move at least 30 minutes a day.
For anyone undecided on Prop 1, I urge you to look at Seattle Transit Blog‘s coverage, especially if you’ve been reading the Seattle Times editorials on the subject which are weak, lazy, and simplistic. The writers at STB have done the digging and hard work to understand how to make our system more efficient. They’ve been doing this for years and have had a great number of successes. Improvement has been a continual process, which accelerated during the funding crunch that started in 2008 due to declining sales tax revenue.
The funding package is regressive and, frankly, terrible, but it’s the only funding tool currently available to Metro, short of further fare increases. (Which are also regressive, have been done several times, and is also part of this package). Even if the system doesn’t work for you, and it won’t for a great number of trips, please know that the vast majority of buses I drive typically become full, or often overloaded, at key chokepoints. The system really works to keep a lot of cars off of the roads, especially at key chokepoints. Even the (decreasing number of) “empty” buses that critics like to gripe about contribute to the cause, although that is a more complicated discussion (see below).
If anybody has questions about how Metro has been improving efficiency, what changes are coming, and the political roadblocks that are beyond Metro’s control, I am happy to sit down over coffee, beer, or hard liquor to explain what I’ve learned over these years at Metro. (Hard liquor is for the discussions of political shenanigans that arise every time Metro proposes changes to the system – Don’t worry, we don’t need to drive afterwards – I know how to get virtually anywhere in the area by transit )