Too Many Oranges, Too Much Milk


It's not only Californian orange growers who must, from time to time, to maintain the strength of their market, bulldoze oranges into the ground, bury them under the brown earth. It's possible that they do something there to enrich the soil, give it some needed nutrients and organic material. On the other hand, the amount of vitamin C that a bunch of schoolkids or older folk could squeeze out of that fleshy mess would be enormous and not without substantial benefit. Farmers in Valencia Spain, home to what many regard as the sweetest of these fruits anywhere, can suffer the same fate, their acidic bitter skins and sumptuous flesh crushed and mashed into a relatively useless lump of protoplasm all due to the same economic forces and their insane consequences.


While the bulldozers and their delicious cargo blur into a swirl of colors, which might look quite pretty in the hot noonday Sun, the practice is not dissimilar to La Tomatina, overripe tomato fights, thoroughly-wasteful revels with distinct sexual overtones and a thin crust of innocent fun. It may be hilarious, and a tribute to the remarkable fecundity of the soil and this tropical fruit's production, at times, but it sends a powerful message, we are the masters of nature. Meanwhile the masses are fed sugar and salt, addictive as heroin and cocaine, transparent and colorless substitutes for real nutrition and life-sustaining fiber.  


How we define what is real may be the issue. For example, the difference between an “Electric-Assist Cycle” and an “ebike” is considerable, yet invisible to the press, politicians and the public. The latter term has become the common one and the inability or unwillingness to make these distinctions is sowing confusion. Even in China, where they are universally popular and 120 million of them live, high speeds and heavy weights have contributed to some official unhappiness with them.


Any vehicle which does not require you to pedal in order to be able to use motor power is a moped by most US laws. Some of these so-called “ebikes”, which can weigh up to 300 pounds, use the Federal law from 2002, HR727, to claim that they are bicycles under the loose definition provided there and this has hastened the proliferation of these relatively heavy motorbikes, which can not be pedaled. Compounding the injury, many salespeople and manufacturers are happy to lie about the laws. The Federal law is used by some to claim legality and the most recent law passed in NYC, while mistakenly portrayed in the press and elsewhere as a total ban, actually differentiates between cycles based on whether they are pedal-activated, as real electric-assist bikes must be, or not. Still, this regulation prohibits them all for now, based on lack of a State statute allowing for them.


With luck, maybe the new State law will sensibly separate the real from the pretend. It is important because there are a host of immense vehicles filling the public spaces and one of the only ways to reduce this paralyzing congestion is to replace most of them with minimal substitutes, that sacrifice no creature comforts or maybe even upgrade those comforts, while removing huge quantities of “stuff”, cars that weigh literally 100 times as much as they need to in order to do their task, and trucks that can multiply that outrageous waste and danger by a factor of 10. We have scaled a mighty mountain of material, seen far into the future from that elevated perch, and realized that we had better formulate a plan for descending from this exalted altitude back into the arms of a loving but scolding Mother Earth, who doesn't want to hear some story about “I didn't know what time it was.....”



Twenty years ago a friend and myself brought the first 20 pedicabs (I prefer to call them PedalCabs) to New York City. There are now 850 here. When the regulations governing them were passed they included a prohibition on motors, even 1HP electric-assist models. This cruelty, along with a host of other unreasonable and unfair restrictions and requirements, was imposed as a favor to the taxi industry who would prefer not to have any more competition thank you. As a consequence, this is an almost all-male profession, clearly at odds with both the fair employment practices law as well as the modern elimination of single gender professions which has been ongoing. Older folks and those not at the pinnacle of health are also precluded from considering working in this trade. Another result of not allowing this activity to take advantage of current technology is the greatly increased risk of damage to knees from intense strain over a period of time.


It becomes impossible to provide your customers with the creature comforts that they expect and deserve without a little help from a motor, since each feature adds some weight. There has to be some rationale to justify such a policy but none has ever been presented. If the fear is that this will enable these vehicles to go careening down the street at 20 MPH and be a hazard to pedestrians and others, the industry has recently come together to agree to a voluntary speed limit of 9 MPH, much slower than even ordinary bicycles travel, in order to ally any fears of this kind and to accompany a plea to remove the current ban. These would only be 1 HP electric-assist motors, so the drivers would have to pedal in order to move regardless. They would still be bikes. The taxi industry, along with other elements of the Autocracy, will oppose this strongly and it will be necessary to gather a wide variety of supporters from many areas. Environment, health, elder rights and transportation groups will have to create a chorus of reason to bring forth the cause effectively,  to combat the inertia provided by the status quo.


New York State will need to do the right thing during the next session also. This will be difficult but not impossible. The two branches of the legislature will need to agree, a sometimes rare event. Last session they both brought their own electric bike bills through the “third reading” ready to be voted on. Then, some say due to meddling by an influential Republican Mayor from NYC, the bills never were brought up for a vote by the full bodies and the difficult process of reconciling these two very different bills was never engaged. Hopefully, the improved prospects for this industry which result from greater public exposure to its products, at shows and from friends who have purchased one, and recent positive press from many quarters, will very likely parallel what has already happened in Europe and Asia. New regulations have curbed the bad habits of restaurant deliverers, lowering the heat on them and new companies are forming daily to take advantage of the upcoming popularity of a device that combines the healthy exercise of the bicycle with the heavenly sensation of being carried along by stored energy. Imagine riding your Ipad.


Overcoming entrenched interests is never fun. This is especially true if your adversaries see their extinction ahead and can only focus on their own survival and your destruction. This face-off is taking place in many areas of our lives. While localism is on the march and farmer's markets and appreciation of natural processes is leaping ahead, the ubiquity of chain store operations and the poor economic health of downtowns is endemic. People can't afford to support local businesses when the cost differential is so severe. Finding ways to encourage stronger communities and local economies is crucial to us though, and elusive, especially when conditions are tough, but we can't afford to not to do so, or we are sunk.


Email: MeetMe@TheAutomat.com | Tel.: 212 431 0600