Yesterday we at TRANSPORTland, along with sponsorship from several companies and in collaboration with several relief organizations, the City of Portland, and some great HAM radio operators put on the Disaster Relief Trials. You can find more details about the organization of the event and the individual participants over at TRANSPORTland, here I’ll talk more about the event as it happened yesterday.
The idea was this – in the event of a major natural disaster, it is entirely likely that our infrastructure may be compromised to the extent that many places will be inaccessible to automobiles. We may have gas shortages, so rationing available gas where it is absolutely needed would be important. Therefore, it is likely that cargo bikes could play a vital role in getting support and supplies to people who need them.
This event was staged essentially as a race, where riders start at one spot and have 7 set checkpoints over a 30-mile course of city streets. They may follow any path to get to the checkpoints, but must hit the checkpoints in order and complete the task assigned at that checkpoint. They will pick up different cargo (totaling 100lbs at the end) at some checkpoints, and have obstacles to pass at other checkpoints. Some of the riders are also given messages or packages to deliver to people at some of the checkpoints.
My wife and I volunteered to man the last checkpoint, at the American Red Cross, where the participants were required to pick up a box of “first aid supplies”. We were well-packed ourselves, with a couple of folding chairs, some food, books to read, camera gear, and umbrellas, just in case of either hard rain or hot sun.
We had two volunteers manning the HAM radio operations relaying messages from the central communications control, as well as reporting rider times as they passed through the checkpoint. As the Zombie Apocalypse Ride was the same day, we had frequent updates of zombie activity around the city, but never saw any ourselves. We were advised by central communications, upon asking whether we should abandon our post in case of Zombies, that we should instead stay still and try not to move, as Zombies are sensitive to movement and would be more likely to attack if we cause a ruckus.
As we were the last checkpoint, we had to wait a while before we saw anyone, but we heard updates from the first three checkpoints as riders were passing, and checkpoints 4, 5 and 6, which didn’t have HAM radios, were sending text message updates as the riders passed.
The first rider to pass, Matthew Sullens, on a Metrofiets long-john, was about 10 minutes ahead of the next closest riders by this point, and easily finished first.
After that, we started getting more riders in clumps of two or three at a time, and it was pretty interesting just to see all the different types of bikes and how people creatively strapped the often awkward and unwieldy items to their bikes.
Part of the challenge was to be able to carry oddly-shaped and unwieldy objects, such as a barrel full of water, which is heavy, round, and sloshes as you’re riding, creating a back and forth momentum while riding.
There were all manner of bikes, from long-johns, to trikes, to long-tails, to ‘regular’ bikes with trailers attached, to a recumbent, and even a tall-bike.
We even had some audience throughout the day.
There were some guys following some of the riders filming the ride.
Not surprisingly, Jonathan from Bike Portland was running around taking photos at each checkpoint.
And some of the riders took a few moments to rest and have a snack after loading up their cargo.
It turned out that the last rider had skipped our checkpoint, so we had one box of supplies left over, which the trailing rider graciously accepted to cart back to Velo Cult for us.
After the event, we packed up and headed back to Velo Cult to turn in our results, and found a nice poster and stainless steel pint cup waiting for us, in thanks for volunteering.
We got some tacos from the cargo-bike based Taco Pedaler, had a couple of beers, watched as people tried out the bikes on display, and chatted with some friends we hadn’t seen in a long time, who happened to be around for a completely different reason :)
All-in-all, I think it was an enormous success. It took a ton of planning to pull everything together, and the organizers did an amazing job. The riders all seemed to really be into it, and most of them seemed to be having a great time.
Besides that, I think it really is a reasonable show of how a range of cargo bikes could feasibly fit into, in this case, a disaster scenario, but also just how they can really fit a niche of utility within the city, being able to haul quite significant amounts of cargo well, over some distance, with minimal resources necessary, and how they can be useful in situations where an automobile would really honestly be stuck, or where automobiles aren’t allowed (or desired). It’s yet another step to integrating bicycles into everyday life in a way that makes our city better for all its citizens.