15 Oct

Reflections on the Shared Economy

When we talk about the ‘Shared Economy,’ lets broaden the conversation beyond the privileged, automotive, and technological. AirBnb, Lyft, and apps play important roles, but that’s a limited context.

In transportation, the roads themselves are a shared economy – we citizens pay for them. This includes all road users – drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians; and all types of parking – cars, bikes, in-street seating.

The least technological examples are the most impactful, least expensive, and have the lightest carbon footprint: co-op living, community gardens, time banks, informal bike share, and in-street plazas. These are not ‘alternative’ modes or economies but original ones. Ask any grandparent who’s an immigrant and/or living in the inner city. Lets keep this conversation down-to-earth, inclusive, and historically contextual.

That’s all folks, short and sweet.

5 Aug

Green Octopus News Updates

Hello, friends!

Green Octopus Consulting has an updated website that includes new clients, news, and a client testimonial page. Check it out!

Follow Green Octopus Consulting on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with its latest happenings and positive news from others around the globe.

A few news bites:

  • Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia's Transition Team.

    Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia’s Transition Team.

    Long Beach’s new mayor, Robert Garcia, tapped me for his transition team to help advise on active transportation and green economic development. It’s very rewarding to contribute to my hometown’s progress – and in partnership with our fantastic new leader.

  • I had the pleasure of recently visiting Canmore, Tucson, Billings, Palm Springs, and several other cities in the U.S. and Canada to help kick-start bicycle-friendly business district efforts through speaking presentations, workshops, and business outreach. I’m impressed these cities – like many of our first clients, such as Oakville – are putting ideas into immediate action.
  • The City of Calgary approved a cycle track network in downtown, and I contributed through several days of speaking presentations, workshops, and business meetings about the economic benefits of bicycling. Stay tuned for new cycle tracks coming to Calgary.
  • When the My Figueroa complete streets project hit a major road bump, I co-pitched and co-facilitated a summit to help business, civic, and transportation stakeholders hear each other’s concerns and reach a compromise. My 11th hour contribution followed years of hard work by many in the community, and we’re all happy the project’s moving forward.
  • Los Altos History Museum "Pedal Power" exhibit

    Los Altos History Museum “Pedal Power” exhibit

    The Los Altos History Museum’s Pedal Power exhibit opened a few months ago and I’m honored to be quoted about how bicycling is good for local business districts. Thank you, Los Altos! I hope to travel north soon and see the exhibit in person.

  • As a Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition board member, I’m helping recruit new board members, helped bring our Operation Firefly program to Long Beach last winter (distributing more than 100 light sets to low-income bicyclists!), and led two rides – an architecture tour and a tour of Cambodia Town and Central Long Beach. Please become a member today and/or volunteer to help L.A. County become more active and healthy.
  • I decided to donate my beloved Maxine (a retro cruiser) to a local group working with Cambodian refugees suffering from trauma, where it was given to a woman who rode a lot in Cambodia but had no wheels in Long Beach. Also rewarding was connecting the Growing Experience Farm with the 4th Street Retro Row business association for a cargo bike loan, allowing the farm to deliver produce to nearby wheelchair-bound seniors.
  • Looking ahead, I’m excited to travel to Pittsburgh in September for the Pro Walk/Bike/Place conference where I’ll give a presentation on how to win business support for complete streets; and, in October, I’ll facilitate and present on a transportation panel for the Long Beach Green Business Council.

Please visit greenoctopus.net for more information and news coverage.

I welcome the opportunity to partner with organizations working on sustainable business, urban design, or transportation. Please contact me if you’d like to work together.

Happy August!

April Economides



10 Apr

Vote by April 17th for L.A. Bike Friendly-Business Districts!


Just over two years ago, my company, Green Octopus Consulting, created the nation’s first Bicycle-Friendly Business District program for the City of Long Beach, California – a bike local/shop local effort. After its successful rollout, we started similar programs in other cities around the U.S. and Canada. Copenhagen’s bicycle coordinator recently studied our work in order to better engage businesses in his city.

Green Octopus Consulting has now partnered with the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and LA Streetsblog on an important project to increase bicycling and shopping local in Los Angeles. We’ve entered the Goldhirsh Foundation’s and GOOD’s LA2050 grant competition, which will give $100,000 to 10 projects to shape a better future for the region.

Our project, “What’s the BF(B)D? Connecting Neighborhoods through Bicycle-Friendly Business Districts” will help change Angelenos’ transportation habits and support local, small businesses. As we write in our grant abstract, “Bicycle-friendly business districts improve local economies by strengthening connections between residents and their local businesses, increasing small business revenues, and improving neighborhood vitality and connectedness, all the while improving public safety, environmental health, and GLH – Gross Local Happiness.” More about the benefits and specifics of our proposal can be read here.

We’re ranking well out of 279 entries, but we’d like to make one of the top 10 spots. Although the Goldhirsh Foundation will determine the 10 winners, public voting plays an important role in their decision.

Please take one minute to vote now and help spread the word to your networks.

To vote:

(1) Click: http://myla2050.maker.good.is/projects/BikeShopLocal

(2) Click “VOTE”

(3) If you have a GOOD account, log in and you’re done. If not, register with your email, and check your inbox for an email with a link to confirm your vote.

Please forward this story via email and post our team’s project link on your social media pages! Voting ends April 17.

Thank you! We appreciate your support.

12 Feb

Ablush In The City of Roses

Last week, I had the good fortune of visiting Portland, Oregon – a city I visit fairly often and where I lived for two years a decade ago. A leader in sustainable urban planning and transportation, green architecture, organic food and farming, and the arts, Portland’s home to a large number of down to earth, smart, and kind people, including my mom. I love the city.

Eugene bike tour and creative bike rack near the train depot.

Eugene bike tour and creative bike rack near the train depot.

I flew into town to give a Bicycle-Friendly Business District presentation and workshop in Eugene, where the City and the University of Oregon’s LiveMove program partnered to bring me into town. It was wonderful seeing Eugene’s bike infrastructure, incense-filled grocery stores, artistic lawn installations, and most of all, meeting so many terrific people from the bike advocacy community – people like Rob Inerfeld from the city’s transportation office, Alex Page of the university’s LiveMove program, Shane MacRhodes from Safe Routes to School, Paul and Kelsey Moore from Arriving by Bike, Larisa Varela of Sunday Streets, and many others. The large group of attendees came up with some great ideas of how they’ll engage the business community in bicycle and pedestrian planning and learned some suggestions of how to more fully integrate bicycling into the town’s events, promotions and operations.

Jonathan Maus and his sweet custom bike.

I added a few days in Portland onto my trip so I could see some of the city’s newest lanes and meet up with colleagues, and an hour after landing at PDX, I met with Jonathan Maus, founder and editor of BikePortland.org, a daily online newspaper highly respected by the Portland community and beyond. His office is conveniently located near one of downtown’s sharrows. Super sharp and full of integrity, it’s easy to see why Jonathan is held in such high regard. As if fantastic conversation (about such things as maintaining an independent voice in advocacy and fostering a diverse “ecosystem” of bicyclists in a city, vs. a concentration of power) wasn’t a great enough two hours, he also wrote this story about me.

The next morning I met with Mia Birk, who I’ve known for a few years and am very fond of. Somehow looking younger after having her third child, this remarkable woman is the epitome of what calm under pressure looks like. In addition to having a full family life and running Alta Planning & Design, she also heads Alta Bike Share, which is in the middle of rolling out systems in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. When I asked her how she balances this with her youngest, Levi, being only eight months old, she explains that he’s just so darn cute that he makes everything easier. Saintly talk, in my opinion. Super inspiring. And her warm personality permeates throughout the two-story Alta office, which is full of top-notch employees, kids’ tricycles, and a great vibe. Visiting Alta’s Portland office is always fun.

While I didn’t get to hang in PDX with colleagues Laura Crawford and Russ Roca of The Path Less Pedaled – because they were bike touring in California (typical!) – we squeezed in brunch the previous weekend in Long Beach. Check out this fantastic video they just produced about small towns. (For anyone needing bike tour consultants or videos, I highly recommend them.)


Portland Bicycle Tours’ soon-to-be exterior sign.

Laura suggested I meet Evan Ross of Portland Bicycle Tours and check out his new location in Old Town, one of my favorite areas in the city because of the historic architecture and pedestrian-scale streets. I was really impressed with the beautiful space as well as the care he puts into every aspect of his business. In addition to offering a creative array of bike tours (like regional wine tours and city chocolate tours), a diversity of bikes for rent, bike accessories for sale, literature, and a bike repair shop, he also offers a small beer bar, shows bicycling videos on rotation from Streetfilms and The Path Less Pedaled, and has many historic bike posters on display from his personal collection. He’s creating a fantastic exterior sign out of retro metal and custom lights that reads “CYCLE PDX” (at right). His spot’s so hip even John C. Reilly has been there.

Evan graciously offered to loan me a bike, but I ended up borrowing one from Splendid Cycles, because it’s directly across the street from my mom’s home. Although the owners, Joel and Barb Grover, had never met me before, they offered me Barb’s personal bike and even outfitted it with a cushy seat and lights! An incredibly kind and generous thing to do, to say the least. That kind of care is also evident in their cargo bike-focused shop. Selling Metrofiets and more, they do about half of their business from Portland walk-ins and half from around the country. I particularly love this artistic wooden cargo box they just received.

My first ride was from Splendid Cycles to Tasty and Sons on N. Williams to meet up with Scott Bricker, who I met through The Enclave, a group of seven of us who plan a fun dance party at the two main bike conferences every year. I’m the group’s newest member, still earning my stripes. Fellow Enclave member Robert Ping (one of the leaders at the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, not to mention an exceptional trumpet player) was unable to join us, but I’m glad I got to see him in L.A. the previous week.

Scott is the director of America Walks and Bricker Consulting and former head of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. Like Jonathan and Mia, he’s brilliant, multi-talented, and a devoted parent. We were joined by his colleague Michelle Poyourow, another talented bicycle consultant who’s doing work with Alta Planning and others. What is it with all of these brilliant people in Portland – who are also loads of fun?!

While I’ve biked around NW and SE Portland a good bit over the years, I hadn’t biked much of North and NE, which is where I did most of my riding on this trip. I rode the new cycle tracks on Multnomah, the lanes and boulevards along Williams and Going, and a host of other bike paths around the East side – and I also checked out this parklet on Williams.

The difference between riding in Portland versus most other cities is that Portland’s bike paths take care of you. When riding there, I feel safe, guided, and not isolated. I don’t need to pull out a map every mile because a path suddenly ends. Things are connected, and done so thoughtfully – down to the delightful, and sometimes surprising, detail.

My favorite example of this is the two-stage left turn at Weidler and Williams. I didn’t know it existed until I rode through it, and I found myself with my jaw dropped and then giggling after seeing that, within seconds, it did its job seamlessly. (More info on Portland’s two-stage left turns here.) It is clear that everyday bicyclists – including women and parents – helped design these paths. No, Portland’s no Copenhagen just yet, and yes, it should keep on adding and improving its lanes, but it’s the U.S. leader, to be sure.

Philip Ross

Philip Ross of Metrofiets, showing off the beer bike for rent at Velo Cult.

I loved the ride from Old Town across the Broadway Bridge, north on Williams and east on Going, as I was en route to the Metrofiets warehouse. Co-owner Philip Ross showed me around, which was a real treat, as I’ve been admiring his and James Nichols’ cargo bike beauties for years, including that they’re handcrafted in the USA. We then rode to Velo Cult, where he rents out the glorious Metrofiet beer bike. While I enjoyed trying it out, Phil clearly wins the photo contest (above)!


April, Sky and Phil in Velo Cult photobooth.

Velo Cult… man… where do I begin? Should I start by telling you how huge it is – big enough to sell lots of bikes, cargo bikes, helmets, and accessories, rent beer and water bikes, hold a bike repair shop, have a photo booth (see right), feature a long bar that serves delicious beer, and outfitted with wooden picnic tables in the middle of the space for hanging out? That Velo Cult’s so big that people hold events – even weddings – there, and that Sky Boyer, the rad owner, considers the space half bar/creative space and half bike shop? Or maybe I should tell you how the space features a salvaged castle draw bridge that serves as a stage for gold sprints and live shows. …Wha?! Yes. It is true, and here it is (drawn), with Sky in front.

That’s not all, though. Sky turned the basement into a movie theatre and retro lounge. And, after dark, the space upstairs gets even more ambiance because they turn off all the lights and light candles. …A romantic bike shop with a castle drawbridge? Am I dreaming? No, I’m just in Portland.

Before I caught my plane home, I made time to see the lovely Elly Blue, shown here in a bike box on Lincoln and Cesar Chavez. I first reached out to Elly in 2011 because of her impressive Bikenomics article series in Grist, and we presented together on the Business Case for Bicycling at the Pro Walk Pro Bike conference in Long Beach. We chatted about our participation in the upcoming National Bike Summit – where Elly’s doing a book signing and I’m presenting with Jim Sayer on Bicycle-Friendly Business Districts and Bike Tourism – as well as her newest book, Disaster!, which I helped crowdfund along with 115 other people. She gave me a copy of her other new book, Childhood, which this bike-riding mama is looking forward to reading.

There are so many bike people, paths, businesses, and adventures I didn’t have time to visit on this trip or have seen in the past, not to mention coffee shops, wine bars, galleries, and more. But I hope this sampling gives you some sense of the fantastic city where everything seems to be coming up roses.

the end.

2 Feb

Steven Chu’s Letter to the Nation


Every American should read Energy Secretary’s departure letter: http://energy.gov/articles/letter-secretary-steven-chu-energy-department-employees-announcing-his-decision-not-serve. The end of his letter is the most important. I will paste it in here for ease and hope every reader will reflect on how you can take responsibility for these actions through your personal and professional choices:

“I want to conclude by making a few observations about the importance of the Department of Energy missions to our economic prosperity, dependency on foreign oil and climate change.

  • The United States spent roughly $430 billion dollars on foreign oil in 2012. This is a direct wealth transfer out of our country. Many billions more are spent to keep oil shipping lanes open and oil geo-politics add considerable additional burdens. Although our oil imports are projected to fall to a 25 year low next year, we still pay a heavy economic, national security and human cost for our oil addiction.
  • The average temperature of our planet is rising, with majority of the temperature increase occurring in the last thirty years. During the three decades from 1980 to 2011, the number of violent storms, floods, droughts, heat waves, wildfires, as tabulated by the reinsurance company Munich Re, has increased more than three-fold. They also estimate that the financial losses follow a trend line that has gone from $40 billion to $170 billion dollars per year. Most of those losses were not insured, and the country suffering the largest losses by far is the United States.  As the President said in his recent Inaugural Address, “some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”
  •  The overwhelming scientific consensus is that human activity has had a significant and likely dominant role in climate change. There is also increasingly compelling evidence that the weather changes we have witnessed during this thirty year time period are due to climate change.
  • Virtually all of the other OECD countries, and most developing countries including China, India, Mexico, and Brazil have accepted the judgment of climate scientists.
  • Many countries, but most notably China, realize that the development of clean energy technologies presents an incredible economic opportunity in an emerging world market. China now exceeds the U.S. in internal deployment of clean energy and in government investments to further develop the technologies.
  • While we cannot accurately predict the course of climate change in the coming decades, the risks we run if we don’t change our course are enormous. Prudent risk management does not equate uncertainty with inaction.
  • Our ability to find and extract fossil fuels continues to improve, and economically recoverable reser­voirs around the world are likely to keep pace with the rising demand for decades. As the saying goes, the Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones; we transitioned to better solutions.
  • The same opportunity lies before us with energy efficiency and clean energy. The cost of renewable energy is rapidly becoming competitive with other sources of energy, and the Department has played a significant role in accelerating the transition to affordable, accessible and sustainable energy.
  • Ultimately we have a moral responsibility to the most innocent victims of adverse climate change. Those who will suffer the most are the people who are the most innocent: the world’s poorest citizens and those yet to be born. There is an ancient Native American saying: “We do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” A few short decades later, we don’t want our children to ask, “What were our parents thinking? Didn’t they care about us?””

There are many things we can do as individuals to reduce our oil use. Two biggies are to drive less (and walk and bike more) and grow our own food.

3 Sep

San Diego BID Council CEO Tiffany Bromfield Talks Bike-Friendly Business Districts

Tiffany Bromfield is the CEO of the San Diego Business Improvement District Council, one of the few non-profit business improvement district (BID) councils in the nation and the only one with paid staff. The BID Council recently invested in a Bike-Friendly Business District plan, which it’s set to implement in seven districts this fall before rolling out into all 17 districts. (Note: Columnist April Economides was the consultant hired to create this plan.) A BFBD is where merchants encourage community members to bike to area shops and restaurants – and where merchants and their employees ride, too. BFBDs integrate bicycling into a district’s operations, events, and promotions. More info is here.

April Economides: Please explain the BID Council’s role and what you are tasked to do as its CEO.

Tiffany Bromfield: The BID Council is an association of 16 business-based BIDs and one property-based BID, formed to foster collaboration between them. The BID Council acts as an advocate for the BIDs with the local municipality, state and federal governments. Additionally, the BID Council manages programs that help all BIDs or that have a citywide importance to small business owners. Finally, we’re incubating about 19  ‘micro districts’ in the City of San Diego with funding and staff support.

AE: Some BID leaders would be content to manage all of that – I know you keep very busy! Yet, you decided to invest time and money into creating a Bike-Friendly Business District (BFBD) program. Why do you see this as important for San Diego?

TB: The BID Council invests in BID-wide programs when they can benefit all of our member non-profit associations. The BFBD was a program that we could create and share with the 17 BIDs and 19 micro districts.

AE: A BFBD program seemed an easy sell to your 17 BIDs. What do you attribute to them immediately and enthusiastically adopting this idea?

TB:  We had some early adopters that were already doing bike-friendly programs, and a large concentration of our districts are in urban, bikeable communities. For example, the El Cajon Blvd. BIA already hosted a quarterly community ride called ”Bike the Boulevard” where locals biked to five locations on a Saturday. The Adam’s Avenue Business District’s local businesses already sponsored bike valets at local events, and at one of its restaurants/bars. The BFBD is a way to put some of the puzzle pieces in to fill in around existing promotions and activities to make a full picture.

AE: The plan we created together for San Diego has about twice as many ideas as what we executed during the Long Beach pilot. What elements are you most excited about?

TB: I am most excited about adding bike valet components to all of our special events. We host around 60 different events in all the BIDs over the year, so adding this component will draw new people and encourage alternative modes of transportation to the events.

AE: A year after the program’s launch, what would you love to report that it accomplished?

TB: I would like to say that we were able to encourage all of the special events in San Diego (both BID and non-BID) to have a bike component to get people to the events they host.

AE: Any words of wisdom for other BID leaders considering launching a BFBD program?

TB: A plan is a great way to get you thinking about other ways to incorporate bikes into everything you do. As we talk to the member BIDs about the plan, we’ve come up with new ideas. We left the plan broad enough that each district could put their stamp on it.

At ‘press’ time, the San Diego BID Council was about to announce its BFBD program to the public and media. Please check back here for updates.

11 Jul

Interview with Veronica O. Davis, P.E.

Economic justice, let alone environmental justice, is rarely mentioned in the bicycling scene, let alone understood, and even more rarely acted upon. So it was refreshing to hear Veronica O. Davis, P.E. speak on the Women’s Bicycling Summit panel at the League of American Bicyclists Summit in D.C. in March and talk pointedly about these issues. In addition to being a civil engineer (rare among women), a black female civil engineer (even rarer), and co-founder and co-principal of the company Nspiregreen, she’s an advocate for getting more black women in D.C. on bikes. I reached out to her to learn more about her work and, in particular, the role she sees business and economics playing in the bicycling world.

AE: How did you get involved in bicycling, both personally and professionally?


VOD: Personally, I fell into biking. Between the gas prices increasing, the introduction of the Capital Bikeshare program, and investing all of my savings into my business, I started biking to save money. I recently went car free as part of the “trade my car for a bike” at the inaugural Tour de Fat hosted by New Belgium Brewing Company. I was able to purchase a really nice bike as part of the winnings and I have to document living car-free for the next year at dizzyluv25.tumblr.com.

Professionally, I started my career at the Federal Highway Administration on the Air Quality Team. One of the programs I worked on was the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program, which provided funding for activities that got people out of their cars to reduce air emissions. Many of the programs funded were for pedestrian and bike improvements.

AE: Yes, I noticed you’ve worked for both the public and private sector. What made you decide to start your own company?


VOD: We started Nspiregreen because we wanted to work for a company that shared our core values. I wanted more control over how I spend my time. Most importantly, I wanted the freedom to be creative and innovative. Taking the leap was scary at first, but I made the right decision.

AE: What does your business do, in general and in regards to bicycling?


VOD: Nspiregreen LLC is a sustainability and environmental consulting company. We specialize in bringing the people element back into civil infrastructure projects. Three attributes that set Nspiregreen apart are: One, through the creation of our Listen, Engage, Analyze, Feedback (L.E.A.F) model, we seek to translate technical data to communities in a way that allows them to participate in a sustainable and meaningful way. Two, we integrate technical expertise with our passion for community by providing broad based strategies that are inclusive of community for the environmental and transportation sector. Three, we “Nspire” sustainable growth through our personal commitment to being good stewards of the environment and allow our walk to serve as a testimony to others who think “being green” is not attainable for them. We walk the sustainability walk through our company practices and policies. For example, we share office space with a variety of other small businesses, offer telecommuting, provide bike share as well as shared car memberships to employees, and recycle.

Related specifically to biking, we work at the grassroots level to promote biking as a form of sustainable and affordable transportation and linking it with other modes of transportation. We are developing two products. One is aimed at helping “newbies” become more comfortable with biking in DC. The other product will assist all cyclists with commuting to work. Since we are still in the development phase, I can’t go into too much detail, but stay tuned.

AE: You are based in D.C. What’s it like being a bike advocate in a city without statehood?

VOD: It’s challenging not having statehood. Congress is making decisions everyday that affect our lives yet we have no vote and we barely have a voice. For example, watching the Congress play politics with the transportation bill was very frustrating.

AE: What do you think about the bike share program in D.C.?


VOD: I love the bike share program. I have been a fan, supporter, and agitator since day one. I advocated for more stations east of the Anacostia River, which is a predominately black community. I do hope that the usage in these communities will increase, as more people understand how the program works and the connectivity benefits.

AE: What are your main goals for the U.S. bicycling movement and what type of work are you doing in this regard?

VOD: My main goal for the bicycling movement is to increase the number of black women who cycle for transportation, recreation, health and wellness through Black Women Bike founded in 2011. I really hope that black women can see the economic benefits of biking as a mode of transportation. I also hope it encourages more women of all ethnicities to create biking related businesses.

April Economides is the principal of Green Octopus Consulting. She created the nation’s first bike-friendly business district program for the City of Long Beach in partnership with four business districts, as well as “Bike Saturdays” – the largest citywide discount program for bicyclists in the nation. She gives talks on The Business Case for Bicycling and helps create bike-friendly business districts throughout the U.S. and Canada.


4 Jun

A Green Story

The following story was published in the Long Beach Business Journal on June 4, 2012.

From left: Co-Producer Dimitris Birbilis; Co-Producer John Edward Lee; Actor Ed O’Ross; Earth Friendly Products President Van Vlahakis; Earth Friendly Products Vice President Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks; Actress Shannon Elizabeth; and Director Nika Agiashvili.

Earth Friendly Products President Van Vlahakis and Green Octopus Consulting President April Economides.

On May 31st, celebrities, dignitaries, Greeks, and a diversity of Angelenos in the film industry walked the red carpet at the Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Blvd. for the opening of the 6th Annual Los Angeles Greek Film Festival. Considering the ailing economic state of Greece, the choice for the opening night film premiere was inspirational: “A Green Story,” a true and triumphant tale of an impoverished and basically orphaned young man who immigrated from Crete to Chicago in 1952 to later become the founder and millionaire behind Earth Friendly Products.

Early in his career, Van Vlahakis was let go as the top chemist for a corporation for refusing to approve toxic chemicals for use in consumer products. He met this challenge with the same resiliency, courage and determination he employed for other difficulties in his life and created his own household product company. Earth Friendly Products now has the best-selling green laundry detergent in the world (called Ecos), along with a diversity of other well-selling non-toxic items – all plant-based and free of petroleum and phosphates, biodegradable, and with a neutral pH.

The company has five plants – all run completely off renewable energy, the nearest one located in Garden Grove – and what appears to be a very dedicated and well-treated staff. Vlahakis and his daughter, Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, who now runs the company as the vice president, are green business role models who show how to ‘do well by doing good,’ as the expression goes.

But, just as Vlahakis’ life has never been only about business, neither is the film. Ed O’Ross, who portrayed him in the movie, said, while choking up, “You hear so many stories about people who come to this country…But what I was attracted to more than that was this man’s soul. …When you see what this guy went through – fighting a brain tumor, fighting big business, Nazi occupation, homelessness – I really believe his goal was to make sure his family was taken care of.”

Vlahakis was surrounded by beaming family members at the premiere. “Seeing my father on the big screen has been a tremendous experience,” Kelly said. “And I am his biggest fan.”

Vlahakis clearly views his love for his family and environmental health as two sides of the same coin, and he has dedicated both his personal and professional life to taking care of both. “We need to redirect ourselves away from a life that’s dependent on oil and think about other forms of energy like solar and wind,” he said, “…And also think not so much about wealth but sharing your money with other people.”

In the same spirit and with a nod to the film and the company’s sponsorship of the festival, Kelly said, “It is wonderful to do something positive for our homeland at this time.”

To watch the inspiration trailer and learn more, please visit http://www.agreenstorythemovie.com.

8 Apr

Waste is a Tax on the Whole People


“Waste is a tax on the whole people” (Albert W. Atwood) – a simple, profound statement that reminds me of our shared environmental responsibility.

After the Long Beach Magazine story came out, a few of you asked me for tips on living more environmentally responsibly. Since The Lorax is all the rage right now, here are a few tips on how to cut down fewer trees and send less stuff to the landfills:

  • Cut down trees to create…toilet paper? That’s a pretty sad reason to kill a beautiful, air-cleaning, climate-moderating, water-conserving, and wildlife-harboring living thing, especially when it’s unnecessary. Buy recycled TP. If every U.S. home replaced just 1 roll of 500-sheet virgin toilet paper with 100% recycled ones, we’d save 424,000 trees, landfill space equal to 1,600 garbage trucks, and a year’s supply of water for 5,000 Americans. Here’s my fave.
  • Do you contribute 365 disposable coffee cups to landfills every year? Here’s my favorite travel mug, which I use for hot and cold beverages. Unlike plastic-lined cups, which make coffee taste funny, stainless steel retains the original taste of your coffee and is healthier.
  • Break your paper towel addiction, and use sponges and cloths instead. Here’s a handy $1.69 item sold at Whole Foods.
  • Buy recycled office paper. Print less. Print double-sided. Reuse the blank backs of paper as scrap paper.
  • Eat less take-out from places that use styrofoam or plastic containers.

These are just a few examples, but important ones. In general: buy reusable instead of disposable stuff; when you buy disposable stuff, buy stuff that’s biodegradable or recyclable; buy things that are recycled not virgin; reuse or recycle everything you can; and look at what you throw ‘away’ (since there is no away) to figure out how to reduce it to zero in the future. Shop at small, independent stores and your nearest Green Festival whenever possible; check out the eco stuff at chains like Target and Whole Foods; and take advantage of the green discounts at Drugstore.com.

I applaud anyone who tries to do better, because we’re all in that boat. No one’s perfect. Sometimes we forget our travel mug, sometimes we buy bottled water. Just do your best and be happy!

…While still carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, of course. After all, as President Teddy Roosevelt said, “To waste, to destroy our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them.”

Here’s to taking personal responsibility for ensuring a prosperous planet for our children.

12 Mar

Elly Blue’s Bikenomics

Elly Blue









One of my favorite people in the bicycling advocacy world is Elly Blue, who coined the term “Bikenomics.” Her zine “Bikenomics: How bicycling will save the economy (if we let it)” is a compilation of 10 articles she wrote for Grist.org the first half of 2011, and is a delightful must-read for transportation planners and city officials – and anyone who works in the health industry, sustainability field, or who drives a car or rides a bike. In other words, everyone.

Blue, a Portland resident, co-runs PDX by Bike, a business that helps people find their way around Portland by bicycle, and the Portland Society, a business alliance for professional women who are passionate about bicycling. Her blog Taking the Lane is a blog about “bicycling, economics, feminism, and other cultural commentary.”

I had the pleasure of chatting with her recently, and here’s what we talked about:

April Economides – Q: You’re always involved in interesting projects. What’s on your plate for 2012?

Elly Blue – A: Ouf. I’m trying to pare down and focus on just doing just a few things well. Right now that’s writing and publishing work that will hopefully help keep bringing the conversation about bikes to the next level. I’m about to head on a speaking tour in the U.S. south with my partner Joe, who makes documentaries about bikes, and our friend Joshua who is a vegan chef. I can’t wait! I’m also excited to put more energy into the Portland Society. This year I’d like to keep supporting our members’ professional development and also step out into the political and civic sphere.

Q: With a clear understanding of ecological economics, yet using layman’s terms to appeal to a wide audience, in your Bikenomics zine you do an excellent job of dispelling the myth of ‘free parking’ and detailing the societal costs of car crashes, sedentariness, and urban sprawl – and then contrasting these with bicycle transportation. Few political and business leaders understand the true cost of these problems, and I’m convinced if they did, more would work to improve them and see a bicycle-friendly U.S. as a smart investment. Considering the strength of the oil lobby and their related industries, do you think this is mostly a matter of ignorance and that better education can save the day?

A: We’re in an exciting cultural moment – there is a growing climate of openness to bicycling right now, just as we are with the food movement. More and more people and communities are discovering bicycle transportation and making it work for them in amazing ways and much of it seems to be economically motivated. I’d rather talk about it in terms of inspiration instead of education. …When people work together and are inclusive and listen to each other, we’ve seen communities make huge changes for bikes, culturally and in infrastructure, in a relatively short period of time. For instance, I just spent the weekend in Seattle, which has become home to a booming bike movement in just the last decade. Their neighborhood greenways network, thanks to a powerhouse grassroots coalition, has gone from conception to implementation in just three years, which for transportation infrastructure is light speed. Within the next decade they’ll have transformed the city, and there doesn’t seem to be any controversy in store. When you build coalitions and forge ahead with determination, all this stuff really is possible.

Q: For those who have yet to read your zine, please explain what you see as the economic reasons a city should become bike-friendly.

A: Car infrastructure is expensive and creates debt and other expenses which we can’t afford, producing poverty. Bicycling, on the other hand, is a low-cost investment that pays off substantial dividends and helps everyone equally, so long as it’s done equitably, producing well-being. Also, bicycling is really fun. There you go, my entire argument.

Q: What are some economic reasons a small business would want to encourage its employees and customers to bike?

A: It depends on the business, but employees who bike are in better mental and physical health, perform better, and have fewer sick days. Customers who bike tend to have more disposable income and likely live in the community, meaning greater loyalty. And you don’t have to pay for parking for either.

Q: What are some successful examples of bike-friendly businesses you’ve seen?

A: One of my favorite things is seeing new, bike-based businesses open up. Investing in a storefront is often risky or out of reach, but a bike-mounted coffee shop or taco cart or cookie delivery service (all real examples from Portland) requires less capital – that’s one way bicycle friendly communities can create economic opportunity. Bike parking is something a lot of business owners have discovered is an effective and highly visible way to support (and benefit from) bicycling. A bike corral provides a tenfold increase in parking spots right outside your door and it’s also like a billboard for the business, especially in a place where it’s the only one. The Standing Stone Brewery in Ashland is an example. Even if you don’t know about their policy of giving employees bikes and financial incentives to ride to work, you immediately know that business will welcome you when you show up in dripping rain gear, and that’s worth a lot.

Q: In your “Who Gets To Ride?” section, you get to the heart of why women make only 24% of bicycle trips in the U.S. You acknowledge that many women in the U.S. are low-income and that, on average, we still earn 77 cents for every man’s dollar, there’s a hiring bias against mothers and pregnant women, and we have a higher burden of unpaid labor – daily housework, errands, childrearing, and caring for elderly relatives. And then you brilliantly illustrate how this affects our transportation: “These kinds of responsibilities add up to more complicated transportation needs. Women make more trips than men, with diverse kinds of trips chained together. And twice as many trips are at the service of passengers – the school drop-off, soccer practice, and the play date wedged in there between the grocery run and commute to work.” You conclude that we can reach more bicycling equity if we reach more economic and social equity and if cities improve bike infrastructure. Given that city planners and engineers are – let’s face it – mostly middle-class white men who aren’t bike commuters, how can low-income women and mothers better get our needs met?

A: I love this question, but there is no one answer. The first thing is to speak up and always keep your vision in mind. Maybe this means finding a cargo bike solution. Maybe it means renegotiating household duties within your family. Maybe it means working with your workplace or the local school to be more bike friendly, or working at the level of city government to fix a dangerous street crossing on your route to the store. On a more macro level, well, why don’t we have an ERA? Why don’t we have paternity leave in this country? Why aren’t we funding education and incentivizing neighborhood schools that kids can walk to? There is plenty to be done. But the burden for doing it should not be entirely on the under served. I do think it’s important for decision makers and activists to be aware of the privileges that might subconsciously inform their priorities and to actively seek out and listen to the perspectives of the people they’re looking to serve.

Q: What do you think the bike movement in general needs to do better?

A: The bike movement is used to being quite marginal, and I think it can be quite difficult for advocates and activists who have been working tirelessly for years at a seemingly impossible dream to suddenly have to shift gears and deal with success. We’re a bit too used to asking for small, incremental changes, not stepping on anyone’s toes. The time has come to dream big. That also means spending big, unfortunately, because we are up against some seriously wealthy, and scared, industries.

Q: What do you think is going well in the U.S. bike-wise?

A: The movement is on fire. There is so much interest and momentum it really seems unstoppable. Besides being economical, healthy, and fun, bikes are a way for regular people to engage civically without wandering into political quagmires. It’s something we can agree on across party lines. How rare is that?

April Economides is the principal of Green Octopus Consulting. She created the nation’s first bike-friendly business district program for the City of Long Beach in partnership with four business districts, as well as “Bike Saturdays” – the largest citywide discount program for bicyclists in the nation. She gives talks and develops bike-friendly business district plans throughout the U.S.

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