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Touring the Tidy World of Scandinavia

The sun stays up a lot later in Scandinavia... this is Stockholm around 11 pm on June 20.

Just finished 17 days of family travel in Denmark and Sweden, visiting the prominent locales of my mother’s youth around Copenhagen, my father’s family in rural western Sweden, and a long list of castles, museums, gardens, and restaurants. We ate ridiculously well and spent many nights in fine hotels, all thanks to the generosity of my dad, who decided to throw caution to the wind and make this trip a memorable blow-out. Adriana and I, my parents, and Francesca managed to share a small-ish station wagon and two hotel rooms in various configurations during these two weeks and it went about as well as any of us could have hoped. That said, it was also occasionally claustrophobic, and everyone spent at least a day being rather irritable and grouchy. Still and all, we did quite well!

My mom grew up in the building behind, top floor just to the left of the yellow awning...this is in Klampenborg, Denmark.

A quick tour on day in Copenhagen on their free public bike.

I took hundreds of photos along the way, and realized as I was going that I wasn’t going to be able to blog daily, partly because when we got to the end of each day I was always pretty tired (jet-lag is a bitch, and driving most of the way also took its toll). Also, we had such a crazily intense push to finish “Shift Happens! Critical Mass at 20” before we left that I was quite spent and just needed to be on vacation. So here instead is a long entry full of photos and captions to capture some of the experiences I had along the way.

It is endlessly satisfying to arrive in Copenhagen to the seas of bicycles everywhere! Here are countless bikes parked outside the main train station.

Routine bike traffic on Norrebrogade.

I was reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest novel “2312”, all 561 pages of it, during these days and it was somehow quite a good complement to the tidy landscapes, the endlessly satisfying design that shapes everything about life in Scandinavia, from bathrooms to bike lanes to museums and public squares. Robinson’s book, titled with the date 200 years in the future, is broken into many short chapters, some of which are lists and fragments and excerpts from ‘future histories’—I liked them as much as the actual story (itself divided into multiple threads). One short side chapter was on a future historian’s analysis of the epochs that start more or less now, and reach to the period two centuries later when she was writing. I thought labeling the period we’re in now, starting more or less at the dawn of the 21st century and carrying on until about 2060 as “The Dithering” was probably spot-on, though a bit discouraging too, realizing that if accurate, I’m only going to see things keep deteriorating over the years I have left… of course another great concept in Robinson’s book is that longevity has been greatly extended, so characters are living between 130-200 years pretty routinely, all taking various hormonal and other therapies to arrest the aging process. Turns out in his future that bisexuality and balanced gender hormonal complexes are key to life extension. He does a pretty interesting job of creating characters outside of the usual boring gender binaries that dominate science fiction, and puts these newly complex possibilities into a larger scientific revolution of life extension.

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Spring Cleaning

Wow. It’s been months since I got it together to blog… if you’ve been waiting, my apologies. Basically I’ve been working on a new book “Critical Mass at 20: SHIFT HAPPENS!” I’m glad to say it’ll be great, but it’s been a lot more work than any of us knew it was going to be… It will be out in time for the 20th anniversary in September 2012. Though I haven’t found time to blog, I had lots of ideas and many photos piling up during these past months so I thought I just throw a bunch of unrelated things up as a kind of “spring cleaning” to make way for more regular posts again. (I also did a huge spring cleaning on the mold in the bathroom, but that was already 7 weeks ago!)

Sunday Streets May 6, 2012, on Valencia looking south from 17th Street.

Sunday Streets last weekend was a huge success again, and it will be repeating on the first Sunday of each of the next three months here in the Mission (the neighborhood where it is most loved)…  Here’s a few more images, kids and musicians enjoying the respite from the omnipresence of automobiles… When will San Francisco finally start closing streets permanently to cars?

Cuban drummers getting down...

So many kids having so much fun!

Buye Pongo, they were really rockin' it!

Last week was May Day… A bunch of us got together back in 1998 to “Reclaim May Day” so I’m delighted to see it has taken on a major life of its own. That said, this past week’s “festivities” seemed rather anticlimactic. Partly because the union bureaucrats pulled the plug on the growing excitement that might have drawn several thousand to a morning blockade and closure of the Golden Gate Bridge. When the union leaders backed off, occupiers and other supporters dutifully followed suit. That led us in the Bike Cavalry to change our plans from riding out towards the Bridge at 7 a.m. and instead we headed downtown to support the Inland Boatman’s Union picket line behind the Ferry Building. When we got there we found our friends in the Brass Liberation Orchestra, and a fun and photogenic kayak picket line in the water.

Kayak picket line during morning IBU action on May Day 2012.

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World Bike Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil

It was a wonderful four days in Porto Alegre, February 24-27! I met hundreds of people, was wined and dined, interviewed nearly 20 times in local and national Brazilian media (including a bit for their equivalent of ESPN, SportTV!), and got to ride in two big rides including the largest ever Critical Mass in Porto Alegre.

The Gasometro, a former powerplant on the tip of Porto Alegre's coast, is now a cultural center and was host to the World Bike Forum. Very cool inside, 6 stories high and lots of open spaces to use for meetings and discussions, though we were mostly on the ground floor.

The view looking down at the ground floor from about 4 floors up inside the Gasometro.

One year ago, a madman (who is also a vice-president of a local bank) decided he wasn’t going to be delayed by a bunch of cyclists in the road. They had just departed from their customary starting point, turning onto an avenue adjacent to the plaza, and this guy accelerated his car through a block and a half dense with bicyclists. People went flying, bicycles were crushed, and dozens were injured. By some strange miracle no one was killed, but rarely could you find a more obvious case of attempted mass murder. For most of the year since, the local press and population felt sorry for the cyclists and saw them as victims. Meanwhile, hundreds of people started bicycling during that year, some in solidarity and others because it was just so outrageous that it was a way for them to respond directly. (On Critical Mass a young woman I spoke with explained how she started riding after that event, and now had become a daily cyclist. “Since I started bicycling, I’m just happy all the time!”)

About two months ago local cycle activists were worried that the tone in the local media had changed, with bicyclists being accused of being too aggressive, being out of line, being threatening and causing chaos. They decided to organize the first (as far as they knew) World Bike Forum (one might note that there has been a lot of other gatherings of cyclists over the past two decades, from the “Towards Car-Free Cities” conferences to the commercially-minded “VeloCity”; in the U.S. we’ve had the gathering of bicycle cooperatives called Bike!Bike! going on now for a few years). That’s how I came to join them, since they reached out to me to see if I would come and when I said yes, as long as they’d cover my costs, they organized a crowd-funding campaign and over 120 people contributed to my airfare and the costs of the conference.

What's a Bike Conference without a 19th century Boneshaker?!?

The many workshops brought together folks around different aspects of cycling culture, from tourism to teaching kids to women’s self-organized cycling, and more. Folks from Caracas Venezuela came, one guy from Chile, a woman from Holland, me from the U.S., and mostly the rest were from around Brazil, including Manaus in the Amazon, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, Curitiba, and a fair number from small towns in Rio Grande do Sul, the state in which Porto Alegre sits. There was a bunch of films screened on the last day too, and they showed “We Are Traffic!” on the walls with Portuguese subtitles many times during the conference.

Critical Mass, February 24, 2012, Porto Alegre, Brazil, minutes after beginning... check out that wheelie!

The Critical Mass was truly epic. They had their biggest ever Critical Mass after a long day of workshops with hundreds in attendance. About 1700 riders, way over their hoped for 1000…. perfect weather, fantastic spirited participants, whenever we stopped people would clap their hands over their heads, a lot of chanting along the way: “Mais Adrenalina, Menos Gasolina” (more adrenaline, less gasoline) or someone would yell “Bicicleta” and the crowd would roar its answer “Um Carro Menos” (BICYCLE! … One Less Car!)… We rode for about 3 hours all over the city, including up and down main avenues, through the heart of downtown, up and down hills, overpasses and freeway-like ramps (there don’t seem to be any actual freeways here) and through two tunnels, which drove the riders crazy with excitement since they’d never been able to visit these spots by bike before. More »

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