A disaster relief drill in the form of a cargo bike competition, simulating a day 4 supply run. Your neighbors need help, do you have a cargo bike?
Reuben Deumling was the fastest male Citizen rider in DRT PDX 2012 (Picture from Event Facebook page)
This October in San Francisco an unusually well organized, thought out, and well-meaning race will be taking over the Presidio: Participants will be testing the effectiveness of their cargo bikes as a means to respond to an emergency situation, where streets are un-navigable by car and supply lines are cut off.
Mike Cobb, co-founder of Disaster Relief Trials along with Travis Wittwer and Ethan Jewett, has helped local organizers host 6 of these events in 4 cities, starting with Portland in 2012. He originally came up with the idea of using cargo bikes for targeted relief efforts after witnessing the “inadequate Haiti earthquake recovery efforts during the winter and spring of 2010″.
The San Francisco trials race might ring particularly close to home for locals, as it takes place shortly after a 6.0 quake shook the North Bay in August. It also coincides with the 25th anniversary of Loma Prieta earthquake which crippled the Bay Area and caused widespread damage.
The race itself takes approximately 3 hours. Competitors can define their own route but must stop at all checkpoints, maneuvering along the way through rough terrain, water features and physical barriers all while carriers 50kg of cargo. First place goes to whomever finishes the fastest, although there is a time penalty for breaking any of the 3 inadequately protected eggs, which represent fragile relief supplies and must remain unscathed. Visit the event’s Facebook page for more information.
The goal of the race, says Cobb, is to “show-off the capabilities of the cargo bike under post-disaster conditions” and thus demonstrate their potential as a creative solution to dealing with infrastructure breakdown and providing citizen-led relief when and if first responders are focused on priority rescue missions. The race format was a conscious choice; “I like that people have fun making a powerful advocacy statement,” Cobb adds.
The video below, which can also be found on Vimeo here, is a short clip from the 2012 Portland Race. “There seems to be a widespread belief and conception”, says a participant, “that all the real problems in the world require a truck.”
Above and Beyond the Finish Line
The event is sponsored by Xtracycle Bikes, a Bay Area cargo bike company, which has been advocating for emergency response by bike since 2002. Mike Cobb, Paul Freedman from Rock the Bike, Ross Evans and Nate Byerly from Xtracycle put their heads together and created “The Life Bike”, which Byerly described as a “cargo bike designed for EMTs”. Equipped with a backboard, oxygen, a defibrillator, and other emergency medical supplies, it was designed to provide 911 responders with a means to respond to any incident, in any way possible.
Although the Life Bike was never commercially produced and sold, the team has continued to collaborate with the WorldBike.org project, “a non-profit” Byerly wrote, “that innovates and advocates for bikes in developing world settings.”
As to which bike he would recommend in case of a large scale collapse – Byerly pointed to the Edge Runner, citing “low center of gravity, virtually indestructible small rear wheel, extensive climbing gear range, and quality components” as advantageous benefits in the Disaster Relief Trials race. Xtracycle has donated two bikes which Mike Cobb will optimize for disaster response ahead of the Disaster Relief Trials event.
Integrating Cargo Bikes in Disaster Relief Plans
In a recent blog post, FEMA underlined the need for teamwork in creating a successful emergency plan. The creative addition of cargo bikes to a plan’s toolkit seems to be an easy sell so far. As the Disaster Relief Trials event grows, and the idea of cargo bikes as an tool in times of emergency spreads, the partnership and integration of cargo bikes could become more institutionalized.
And once the value of applying cargo bikes to disaster relief is demonstrated, says Mike Cobb “the discussion of ‘how’ can take place.” Most cities have a program for citizen-led disaster response (see below for links to find one near you), which “allocate basic equipment and training to volunteer citizens who are willing to provide neighborhood-scale disaster recovery leadership and assistance. These small networks,” says Cobb, “could provide the best opportunity for cargo bike response management. I can imagine a registry of cargo bike owners who receive basic training and are willing to be pressed into service during times of need.”
Disaster Relief Trials Website
Disaster Relief Trials bring cargo-bike heroism back to Portland – Bike Portland
Going Green: Cargo Bikes Empower Portland Communities in Disaster Preparedness – FEMA
Portland’s Neighborhood Emergency Response Team page
FEMA’s Community Emergency Response page
Find a CERT near you