Big Ideas, season 2 preview: Transport

The Sundance Channel's Big Ideas For A Small Planet is back. The eco-solutions show tidily takes on an issue - like, say Fuel or Drive in episodes from last year's season - and finds three "Big Ideas" to discuss in a half-hour. Sometimes, the episodes are paired with a longer documentary, such as with the series opening Crude Awakening.

For season two, the format of the show remains the same. The next episode, Transport, covers topics we're all in love with here on AutoblogGreen: how to get around in a more sustainable fashion. The breezy mood of Big Ideas makes the problems seem so darn solvable, which I think is a good thing. We all know congestion, global warming, dirty emissions and high fuel prices are a pain in the rear - is it that bad to take ten minutes to imaging how great it would be to live in a bike-friendly city?

This brings us to Transport. The show's idea number one is greener public transportation, which focuses on the efforts of New York City. City planners are working on making better bus lanes (with lights that can hold off a red light to allow an approaching bus through), installing more bike lanes with better bike parking at subway stations, and implementing congestion pricing for cars. The NYC plan to charge $8 per car is still in the works, having received City Council approval in April. One of NYC's greening efforts that not many people know about is how sustainable the garage where New York's subway cars are repaired and cleaned is - rain water is collected to be used to wash the cars, much work is done using natural lighting and there is, for a reason not explained in the show, a fuel cell. Segment one also tells us that there are 500 miles of bike lanes in NYC, and another 100 are on deck for the near future. But the real Bike City USA is Portland, Oregon. Read on after the break.

Portland is nowhere near as large as New York City, but the west coast city has 265 miles of bike trails. Correction: 265 miles of heavily-used bike trails. I've ridden those lanes, and it's an amazing experience to see how bike commuting can work, even in an area known for it's less-than-perfect weather. Bike commuting works so well in Portland that six percent of the people there use a bike as the primary vehicle to get to work and back - nationally, the average is less than one percent. While David Byrne notes in Transport that hipsters in New York ride their bikes to clubs, in Portland, hipsters ride their bikes everywhere. And why wouldn't you? In Portland, bike proponents sometimes offer free breakfast on selected bridges in the city and the city organizes fun events like "bike moves" (where a squad of riders helps someone move all their stuff from an old house or an apartment to a new one) and safe rides to get kids to school. Portland excels at turning bike riding into a fun, social, and normal event.

Segment three is "Commuter Cars," which takes a look at the stackable City Car (above). While our screener DVD copy of the show got garbled and stopped playing just as they were getting to the City Car, we can look back in the ABG archives and remember that the City Car is a battery-powered vehicle that can compact the wheelbase through a folding arm that holds the rear axle and thereby save space in the parking lot. One new bit of information from the show is that the MIT team that's developing the City Car expects it to have a driving time of two hours. If these vehicles are deployed and used as expected (i.e., with pick-up stations in residential areas and near public transportation hubs where people can ride them to/from the subway or the train and then ride the larger vehicles to another part of the city, where they'd rent another City Car to get to the meeting or the store or wherever), then the two hour limit won't be an issue, especially if there is some sort of quick-charging option when these vehicles finally get out of the lab.

Transport will air tomorrow night (May 27) at 9 pm on the Sundance Channel. If you don't want to wait or don't get the Sundance Channel, you can check out a few clips from the episode on The Green website.

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