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Bicycles: Machines for disaster recovery

Posted in Models, Sustainable Cities by Kate Archdeacon on November 30th, 2012

Source: The Atlantic Cities


Photo © Sarah Goodyear

From an article in early November by Sarah Goodyear, talking about Bicycle Habitat’s emergency supplies deliveries around New York after Hurricane Sandy:

New Yorkers are learning things from this storm, and from the relief efforts that are ongoing even as another weather front sweeps through this afternoon, forcing another round of evacuations. Practical things. They are learning where to go for help, and how to help each other. They are learning how to get around when the transportation system fails, and the importance of redundancy and resiliency in all kinds of infrastructure. They are learning what you really need to have on hand when supply chains are disrupted, and what you can do without. They are learning how to assess the accuracy of information, and how to spread it. They are learning that individual efforts, pooled together, can make a substantial material difference in a crisis.

Bicycles are part of all this. In the early days after the storm, when the trains and buses stopped running, bikes were one of the few reliable ways of moving people, objects, and information around streets choked with debris. They don’t require the gasoline that people are still lining up for hours to get. They don’t need to be charged up – just add some basic food to a human being, and you can power the legs that turn the cranks.

Many of those of us who use bikes for transportation in better times knew their potential to help out in disaster already. Bikes have been part of my family’s emergency plan since we first made one in the wake of 9/11. After we had a kid, we planned for his bike needs at every stage, from a seat on the back to a bike trailer to a tandem to his own solid ride that would go any distance. A friend suggested on Twitter that the Office of Emergency Management should encourage bike tuneups as part of basic disaster preparedness measures, like a go bag or stockpiles of food and water. Yes to that.

Sure, there are lots of things that bicycles can’t do, or that motor vehicles can do better, if they’re available. Some Bicycle Habitat customers drove heavier donations, like bottled water and canned food, out to the Rockaways to supplement the bicycle effort.

But as I pedaled along the streets of the peninsula, my panniers filled with hand warmers and tampons and energy bars, I was struck again by the power of the bicycle. It is a machine that is uniquely able to leverage and amplify human effort. And this is precisely what we have seen all over the city in the days since the storm hit: The humble work of individual people, harnessed to simple mechanisms, can gain strength exponentially. And move a city forward.

Read the full article by Sarah Goodyear.

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