The limits of personal action

I’ve realized recently that it is becoming difficult for us to continue marginally increasing the sustainability of our household.

Pasadena has a relatively enlightened “pay as you throw” garbage collection service.  You can choose one of three different sized garbage cans depending on how much trash you generate, and the smaller ones cost less.  Both the front house and the back house have the smallest size (32 gallons).  Last week when I wheeled the garbage out to the street for pickup one of the two containers was empty, and the other was only half full.  The previous week there had been no garbage whatsoever in the bins.  In two weeks, between two houses, we’d managed to half fill one container, and it was already the smallest size the City could imagine one house filling on a weekly basis, meaning we generated something like 1/8th as much garbage as we were “supposed to”.  Instead most of our refuse ends up either getting composted or recycled.  If only we could cancel the garbage service for one of the houses, or have them come only once a month.  Thankfully Pasadena does actually have a stated goal of zero waste-to-landfill and incinerators (by the year 2040), as does San Francisco (by 2020) and Vancouver (no firm date for zero yet… but a 40% reduction from their current, already low, levels by 2020).  Last year we “diverted” 66% of our solid waste as a city, and both the total amount of waste landfilled, and the per capita amount have decreased over the last several years (as reported in the 2009 Green City Indicators report), though as I’ve noted before “diversion” means some strange things in this context.  The city currently considers it likely that we will achieve this 2040 goal.  I wonder if the economic downturn has meant less purchasing and discarding of disposable crap.  It’s almost certainly responsible for much of the recent reduction in vehicle miles traveled.  I’m not sure what additional waste-reduction incentives have been put in place (but then, I’m clearly not the target audience… so maybe I just haven’t noticed).

Another similar strange experience recently was realizing that our natural gas usage, which goes exclusively to heat domestic hot water (we refuse to turn on the furnace in this fine Mediterranean climate…) hardly varies at all with our water usage.  The difference in our gas bill between both of us being here and neither of us being here is less than 10%.  About $1 out of $15 goes to heat in the water we actually use.  $14 out of $15 goes to heat that escapes from the water heater into the air in the crawlspace under the house.  Sadly, it was replaced two years ago (after the bottom of the old tank rusted out… that replacement dropped our monthly bill by 2/3, as leaking hot air is a lot better than leaking hot water!) and it could have been replaced with a European style tankless water heater like we had over winter break in the Earthships in Taos, where it’s just a backup for the solar hot water heater on the roof which would also work wonderfully here in SoCal.

I think there are about 6 big things you can do on your own, if you’re at all serious about sustainability:

  1. Have fewer than 2 offspring.
  2. Eat a vegan diet, or close to it.
  3. Don’t own a car, and dramatically reduce the number of miles you drive.
  4. Avoid flying.
  5. Live in a small, durable, energy efficient dwelling.
  6. Stop buying things that will eventually be sent to a landfill or incinerated.

If you’re not doing any of them, I don’t really see how you can say you care about sustainability with a straight face.  But what if you’re doing all of them?  And also volunteering for organizations that try to promote these behaviors in general?  And donating money to others, in a similar vein?  And writing your elected officials about the things you care about?

I’m not trying to go off on some holier-than-thou trip here: I haven’t really committed to stop flying (it’s just an idea at this point, one that Amtrak might well talk me out of), and I certainly enjoy eating an omnivorous diet (with the animal products coming as much as possible from discarded food).  I’m just saying that I’m starting to feel a little limited.  To go much further than the above list, infrastructure and society itself have to start changing, in North America anyway, and that’s an entirely different kind of problem.  An interpersonal problem, with which I’m much less comfortable.

Pasadena Bicycle Master Plan Meeting October 1st

Message from the City below, linkage courtesy of yours truly.  Unfortunately I’ll be out of town, so hopefully others will be able to attend and take notes and post them on the web, as I have done here, and here, and here (okay, actually that third link goes to a rant…).  I’m posting the info here because strangely, it does not seem to be posted anywhere on the City’s website.  Funny that.

Ryan Snyder Associates, consultant, will provide a progress report on the development of the City’s new Bicycle Master Plan. An open forum will be held to gain public comment on the proposed improvements to the current bikeway system.


Thursday, October 1, 2009 – 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.


Jackie Robinson Center
1020 N. Fair Oaks Ave.
Pasadena, CA

Hosted by Department of Transportation and
the Bicycle Master Plan Advisory Committee

More Info:

Contact Rich Dilluvio at (626) 744-7254 or

An updated plan will look at the full range of actions (PDF) Pasadena could take to improve conditions and encourage bicycle riding

Links for the week of August 20th, 2009

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Links for the week of Aug 14th

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Will there be no more public Pasadena Bicycle Master Plan meetings?

That’s what the advisory commission rumor mill is saying anyway.  I hope we can ensure that the gossip is wrong.

In February the Pasadena Department of Transportation said that we would have four (count ’em: 4) public meetings or workshops throughout the spring to get input on the Pasadena Bicycle Master Plan, and that a draft would be finished by around June.  I posted a summary of the meeting.

We have so far had one workshop, in May, which many people felt was not adequately publicized beforehand (the City did not, for instance, send an e-mail to the list of interested parties it had collected at the first meeting, which it did use to get more than 1000 responses to the online Pasadena cyclists survey).  At the workshop we were told that a second draft of the new plan’s goals, objectives, and actions would be posted on the web within one week, incorporating our feedback from the workshop.  I posted the first draft of these items with commentary.

No Cars In The CityNo Cars in the City (CC-BY Zane Selvans)

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Shared Links for Jun 26th – Jul 7th

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What kind of bicycling should Pasadena support?

On Fri, May 29, 2009 at 5:36 PM, Sims, Brian wrote:

Zane and Rich,

During our last BMP meeting we discussed the idea of the City sponsoring more biking related events.  I was over at Pasadena PD today dealing with my stolen and then recovered bikes and saw this flyer. This is exactly the type of events we were discussing.  This also ties in nicely with our BMX track idea.

I certainly don’t see anything wrong with a BMX track as a city recreation facility if there’s demand for it (especially if it means less conflict between BMX riders and those would would prefer that they not practice elsewhere in the city), and it may well be a good Police fundraiser, but I don’t see this kind of event as particularly constructive in the context of getting people to consider bikes as a viable means of transportation within the City, because it focuses on bicycles as a means of sport (over function) and on experts (rather than everyone).  Which isn’t to say that bikes aren’t sport — of course they are — but training and competition amongst the elite is very different than active and inherently non-competitive transportation.  The Tour of California falls into the “elite” category too: it’s spectation, vs. participation.

photo by Incase Designs on Flickr

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Pasadena Bicycle Master Plan Workshop #2

Update August 4th, 2009: The BMP revision is taking longer than initially planned. See this post and the comments from Rich Dilluvio for more information.

After voting to bankrupt California, Michelle (here’s her take on the workshop) and I headed over to the Pasadena High School cafeteria for our second civic duty of the day: the 2nd Pasadena Bicycle Master Plan Workshop.  Ryan Snyder (the consultant drafting the plan) and Rich Dilluvio (Pasadena DoT) claimed that at some future date a revision of the BMP “Goals, Objectives and Actions” document (which I have transcribed below) would be posted on the web somewhere, but no timeline for that was suggested, and given that in February they said we’d have 4 public meetings before the draft plan was finalized in June, and we’ve only just now had the first one, and the first bicycle traffic counts were promised 6 years ago and still haven’t happened, I’m not going to wait on them.

The Pasadena Bicycle Illuminati

Continue reading Pasadena Bicycle Master Plan Workshop #2

Notes on Biking in Pasadena

Here’s what I sent to Ryan Snyder, regarding my routes and destinations.  Send him your routes too!  (update 2009-02-26: my emails to this address have been bouncing, others have not had problems, but another address for Ryan Snyder is: ryansnyder [at] ca (dot) rr (dot) com.)

As several other people also pointed out, a big problem with Pasadena’s bikeways currently is that they pay very little heed to which roads are actually pleasant and safe to ride on.  Here are some notes on the routes I use, and avoid.  I’m an experienced cyclist, and have always used a bike as my exclusive mode of transportation (didn’t get a driver’s license until I was 25…).  I live at 200 S. Parkwood Ave. (near the intersection of Del Mar and Allen).

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