DIY Ecology: Transportation

Transportation in DIY ecology involves more social interaction and new ways of travel that do not rely on the current system of fossil fuels. I am not talking about new hybrid cars, solar powered vehicles, or electric vehicles coming out on the market. I am talking about things like converting used oil into car fuel, localizing businesses and services, and a surge in the use of human powered transport.

The cut back on car usage is the first phase of this transportation shift, mostly due to rising gas prices. For the society around during this time, the near-depletion of fossil fuels became a reality, rather than something far off in the distance. With less and less of those fuels, several things happened.

Carpooling. People start getting together to drive their friends and family to and from. It comes to a point that you rarely see people driving alone. Great networks of travel are established, and through these carpooling networks friendships are created. People who carpool to work soon get together for leisure trips.

People recycle oil for fuel. People recycle motor oil more often, but what gains the most popularity is the conversion of cooking oil into car fuel. People do DIY conversions, or go to people who offer conversion kits and other accessories to turn cars with diesel engines into vehicles that can run on this fuel. People make deals with restaurants and other businesses to buy fuel or get fuel for free by being a patron for the store or making a trade. When veggie oil powered vehicles become commonplace, restaurants sell unfiltered oil at a price.

Human Powered Vehicles

In  DIY Ecology, the city boundaries  “break down” to reduce commuting distances. Residents in counties of large cities seek independence to become their own “city” or community. This focus on smaller communities brings about a need for basic centers to be localized. There’s an increase in neighborhood markets (and keep in mind that in DIY.E Societies, people grow most of their own food, which cuts down the need for markets), as well as health clinics and small k-8/k-12 “community schools.” The goal of schooling is no longer to get a job to compete in the “global economy.” There is an increase in apprenticeships, unschooling and homeschooling circles. Large high schools are converted into age mixed schools, libraries, and cultural centers. This high localization means that it is not even necessary to get in a car to run errands. The following are the most used vehicles in DIY.E Society.

The Bicycle. There are also tricycles, recumbent bikes, and tandem bikes. They can be fitted with carrying racks, panniers, baby/toddler seats, carts, and passenger carts for any people or things that need to come along for the ride.

The quadracycle, or surrey bike. This is comes in two-seater or four-seater designs. I first saw one of these while I was visiting a friend in San Diego. In the Balboa Park pavillion and museum grounds, you can rent one of these and travel through the area with them. This is a human powered option for families. The customization with bikes like this are numerous – they can even be outfitted with solar panels and motors. Do you like to be big and flashy with your vehicles? Well look no further than what I call the hummer of human powered vehicles.

There are many brands of quadracycles, and people can even build their own out of pvc piping.

HumanCar (R). This is a four person human powered crank car. Type this into youtube to see a video of it in action. It is quite fast with four people and it is “street legal” today. Here are some alternate “body” options and ideas:

Skateboard, Longboard, or Cruiser board. These are really simple one person vehicles, and they are not good for carrying anything, but they are still human powered.

Homemade Ripstick (

Then it gets more obvious and simple with scooters, roller blades, and skates. And let’s remember – WALKING! What is “DIY” about these things?

  1. Many of these vehicles can be repaired are fixed by people without a large top-down intemediary. Most of what is required is a learning curve and teamwork. The human car might be the only exception cecause it is manufactured with special parts that are hard to find elsewhere or substitute.
  2. These items (the ripstick is an example) can be built by people with the right tools, help, and guides.
  3. The veggie oil cars come with DIY kits, or people often get together to learn about the system, purchase and gather the materials, install it, and even create fueling stations out of defunct water heaters. I hope that it would be hard to set up company-owned veggie oil stations when it is possible to create your own and teach others how to do it.
  4. Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle comes back into play, because older diesel engine cars can come back into use.
  5. Widespread use of various human powered vehicles would keep the cost of used cooking oil vehicles low. Therefore, these innovations are inexpensive.

I argue that fixing and using these vehicles creates a more open and resourceful society.

Some top-down innovations that could be implemented in DIY.E are

  1. increase in public transport with electric/solar/hybrid trains and buses and cabs.
  2. right turn only street efficiency
  3. Using electric/solar/hybrid vehicles for Para-transit and school busing

Why [I Assume] this is Unrealistic

The private, gas powered car, with it’s ease of travel, flash and daring sounds, is a great treasure in the United States. In all of the first world (with the exception of Amsterdam) this is also the case. One sign that a third world country is “developing” is if there is a large amount of people using gas powered vehicles (or at best electric vehicles). Human powered cars don’t go as fast as gas-powered cars (the solar powered quadricycle that I linked to only goes 14 mph, the non-motored HumanCar goes 25-30 mph top cruising speed – and that seriously depends on the stamina and health of the riders). These vehicles are not as good looking as the cars we have today because they are bodyless (human car is an exception).

It is possible to ride bikes in rainy weather (a great book on the subject is Urban Biker’s Tricks and Tips) – but people are not going to do that.

People seem to believe that things that aren’t private and in the control of important companies and government agencies are part of some State socialist scheme to control everyone.

As a nation leading in obesity rates and sedentary lifestyles, people do not like the idea of having to use their own energy to get from place to place. The main point of owning a car is to avoid physical effort. Just imagine the energy it would take to ride from central Los Angeles to the beach in a surrey bike or HumanCar – you would be really tired by the time you get there. Although if  DIY.E society was real, I would hope people would be smart enough to use something like the veggie oil car or public transport for long trips.

DIY is tedious and most of all, intimidating. It requires a major change in that way you live and interact in life.

Posted on August 17, 2011, in Ecology, Grassroots & Open Source and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Thanks for contributing to a higher quality of thought. Clearly your heart is in the right place.

    Regarding HumanCar design philosophy, not every trip to the opera should include a full body work out. That’s why the vehicle has been created with the ability to operate entirely on electric power, or entirely on human power, or on any combination of the two.

    This, combined with a safety perimeter metal shell and storage space, may help to make it become a practical alternative transportation system for some people.

    We will interested in your comments after you get a chance to operate the new sedan model.

  2. I appreciate your comment Charles. You are right about the electric option – I did notice a solar panel on the orange body model. I too hope that it becomes a viable option of transportation for people, especially in developing nations where the people still have a chance to integrate sustainability early on into their society.

    I would definitely like to buy one of these cars (or something similar like the American Speedster) someday as my first car. I hope that more people can hear about these things.

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