Archive for January, 2008

Generation WiFi

Monday, January 28th, 2008

Wireless hotspots, once a novelty, are becoming an expected service at cafes, hotels and other businesses.

Top Photo

Paris Achen

On a cold weekday morning, patrons drift into Mix Sweet Shop on the Ashland Plaza to sip some coffee and log onto the Internet from their laptops.

“This is my morning ritual,” says Ashland resident Barb Street, a retired audiologist. “I walk up from my house and come here to get a cup of coffee, review my e-mail and read the newspaper.”

Welcome to the age of wireless.

A year ago, wireless access in the Rogue Valley was a novelty, something businesses could use to set themselves apart from the competition. Increasingly, however, the quick prolificacy of portable computers has made wireless an expected service at cafes, hotels and some other businesses.

In Ashland, signs heralding the presence of wireless are largely absent. Wireless has become so commonplace many businesses have stopped advertising it altogether.

“People usually assume we have wireless,” says Mix barista Leah Westreich.

Other parts of the Rogue Valley, however, have lagged behind Ashland and metropolitan areas such as Portland in the availability of wireless hot spots.

Jacksonville, Phoenix and Talent each have their signature coffee shops with wireless. Out in Eagle Point, White City and Gold Hill, the public libraries are among the few wireless hot spots.

Compared to urban areas availability “is slim to none down here,” says Medford native Jason Rosendaul, who travels all over the nation selling pharmaceuticals. “In metropolitan areas, there is a bigger demand for it.”

Wireless has prospered in the small town of Ashland largely because the business community made a concerted effort to bring it to downtown, believing it would attract more customers and better serve tourists, says Jim Teece, president of Project A, an Ashland software company.

“Wherever you go in downtown Ashland you can get wireless,” Teece says. “What that does is create an expectation.”

When Rosendaul is in Medford, he connects to the Internet at Starbucks Coffee shops, probably Medford’s best known wireless hot spots.

Unlike most of the locally-owned coffee shops, such as Mellelo Coffee Roasters, Starbucks charges customers to connect to the network. A day pass at Starbucks costs about $10.

“One way local coffee shops could be more competitive would be to offer free wireless,” says Ashland resident Dan Altman, as he sipped coffee and soaked up some sunshine outside Starbucks at Biddle Road.

It’s just a matter of time before wireless hot spots are as prevalent in Medford and surrounding areas as in Ashland, says Altman, who used to design software for Microsoft Corp. “More and more people are getting laptops.”

Indeed, U.S. sales of laptops and other portable devices are one of the driving forces behind the spread of wireless hubs. Laptop sales are forecast to surpass those of desktops this year, according to IDC, an international market intelligence firm. The growth stems from consumer hunger for the convenience and mobility of wireless Internet, falling prices of laptops, longer battery life spans and lighter weight notebooks, says Richard Shim, an IDC analyst.

This year, the average price of a desktop worldwide will be $718, compared to $1,078 for a laptop, according to IDC.

Mark Dewey, a Medford real estate broker, carries his laptop to clients to show photos of properties and property values to his clients.

Dewey used to live in Portland, where free wireless was available almost everywhere.

“That’s the problem here: we need more free wireless,” Dewey says.

One frustrating aspect of wireless Internet is keeping a connection from one place to another.

“It would be nice to be able pull into any parking lot and get online,” Rosendaul says.

In the near future, Rosendaul’s wish could become a reality.

Wireless connections could become continuous through the use of satellite, a technology known as WiMAX, says Bill McKenzie, spokesperson for Intel in Hillsboro.

Speeds are expected to be similar to DSL or cable and faster than using a cell phone service to connect.

The Oregon Travel Information Council hopes to eventually establish a chain of wireless networks along Interstate 5, so travelers could connect to the Internet at stops from the Washington border to the California border, says Craig Tutor, the council’s marketing manager.

The council first installed wireless in 2005 at seven rest areas and state parks as a way to better serve tourists, Tutor says.

Since then, the number of rest areas and state parks with wireless has grown to 10, including Valley of the Rogue rest area and state park in Gold Hill. The council plans this year to double that number to 20.

In most cases, visitors have to pay a small fee for wireless Web surfing at state rest stops and parks. There’s no cost when visiting Web sites for the Oregon Department of Transportation, Travel Oregon, KGW News in Portland and Intel. A day pass to visit other Web sites costs $3.99.

In the past year, overall usage of the council’s wireless network has increased from about 12,555 hours in 2006 to 20,250 hours in 2007 statewide.

The Valley of the Rogue logs the second-highest usage because people coming up from California often stop there and check the weather and traffic conditions on the Sexton Pass, Tutor says.

Texas and Washington state also offer wireless, and several more states are considering or installing wireless at their rest areas.

“Louisiana in particular after Hurricane Katrina realized quickly if it had had wireless at rest areas people could have used it as they were evacuating to tell their families they were OK — instead of tying up all the phone lines — or as a way to find a shelter,” Tutor says.

Evacuees could have even made telephone calls over the Internet to reach their family members.

Ashland resident Lisa Majchrzak, Altman’s girlfriend, makes free telephone calls on her laptop using software called Skype.

Paired with a Web cam, the software allowed Majchrzak’s 9-year-old niece in Poland to see her family in Ashland open presents on Christmas, including her dad who was visiting from Poland, her grandfather who was visiting from Indiana, and Majchrzak’s 12-year-old son.

“We all just gathered around the laptop with a Web cam,” Majchrzak says. “My niece had headphones on so she could hear and see everything. It was really fun.”

Skype is only a few years old, but millions of people log on at any given time.

In the near future, mobile wireless connections are expected to gain prominence, possibly with a presence on airplanes and automobiles, says Mark Anthony, owner of Wi-FX Communications in Ashland.

Wi-FX Communications, an Internet and cell phone vendor, operates an Internet cafe inside a Vespa scooter dealership at the Ashland Plaza. The company rents out a mobile Wi-Fi unit, a former Rogue Valley Transportation District bus that sends out a 1,000-foot signal for large events such as rodeos or weddings.

Other trends include more mobile PCs, smaller, thinner and lighter laptops with the same functions as the larger versions, and multi-task devices such as the BlackBerry, which include a phone, camera, video, Internet, GPS and multimedia capabilities.

The smaller sizes could make it easier for Olivia Clark, a senior at Crater High School in Central Point, and her classmates to tote their laptops to school.

Some students already use their laptops to type notes during class, Clark says.

“It’s convenient to be able to just go wherever you want and get online,” she says.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or


Sunday, January 27th, 2008

Wine has created plenty of destinations and jobs, and a few trappings of city life

Sunday, January 27, 2008DANA TIMS

The Oregonian Staff

I n less than four decades, Yamhill County has evolved from an undiscovered viticultural testing ground to one of the world’s most acclaimed hot spots for pinot noir grapes.

Ask any noted wine expert to name the top three or four places on the planet capable of producing the delicate, marvelously food-friendly red grape, and Yamhill County invariably will be listed alongside California’s Carneros region, the Marlborough district of New Zealand and, of course, France’s Burgundian hills.

Wine-country tourism is big and growing bigger, with tens of thousands of oenophiles annually trekking to Dundee, Carlton, Dayton and beyond in search of their favorite wines.
The industry is creating thousands of jobs and generating millions of dollars for local economies. With downtown Portland less than 40 miles from the Yamhill County seat of McMinnville, tour operators say it’s now common for jet-setting Australians, Japanese and Europeans to land in Portland, hire a town car at the airport and head straight for big-name wineries such as Archery Summit, Domaine Drouhin and Domaine Serene.

But all that popularity comes with a price.

Growth pressures and traffic jams are increasing. The cost of living is rising, driven in large part by Portland metro-area residents spilling outward, bringing their willingness to pay more for housing with them. And land-use conflicts, pitting the potential vineyards of the future against scores of subdivision claims, seemingly are everywhere.

While agriculture continues to be the county’s principal industry, one-fifth of the nonfarm work force commutes to jobs outside the county every day. Toss in the number of pass-through motorists on their way to the coast and elsewhere and it’s hardly surprising that traffic slows to a near stop through the choke point of downtown Dundee during morning and evening rush hours.

As more visitors discover each year, the county’s 718 square miles — stretching from just west of Portland to Willamina in the Coast Range — contain far more to see and do than simply sipping world-class wine and gazing at rolling rows of emerald-green vineyards.

The county features two of the state’s top-10 tourism draws. One is the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde’s Spirit Mountain Casino in Willamina, which lures more visitors than any other attraction in Oregon.

Just behind is the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, home of Howard Hughes’ fabled Spruce Goose airplane. The craft, designed to lift troops and tanks over the submarine-laden oceans in World War II, flew only once, when Hughes surprised onlookers by pulling the throttle back for a one-mile flight over the Long Beach harbor in 1947. The plane, with a wing span longer than a football field, has plenty of intriguing company. It is surrounded by more than 80 other vintage aircraft and historical exhibits, the state’s largest three-dimensional IMAX theater and will be enhanced further by the opening this year of a new museum wing dedicated to spacecraft.

The variety of fairs and festivals staged annually is equally varied.

The International Pinot Noir Celebration, held each July in McMinnville, gathers the world’s most prominent pinot aficionados. Or if the entire family is looking for something to do, there’s McMinnville’s Turkey Rama, a fun-filled remnant of the early 1960s, when Yamhill County produced more turkeys than any other place in the nation.

For sheer otherworldly audacity, it’s tough to top May’s UFO Festival, commemorating the evening in 1950 when Yamhill County farmer Paul Trent grabbed his Kodak Roamer camera and photographed what appeared to be a shiny metallic disc flying over his property.

The arts are flourishing. The annual Art Harvest Studio Tour of Yamhill County welcomes visitors from throughout the United States to see where artists work, to watch demonstrations in a variety of media and to buy artwork.

Both Newberg and McMinnville have monthly art walks, with businesses featuring the work of regional artists. In Carlton, a “Walk in the Park” each August draws musicians, artists, regional winemakers and brewmasters to a day in Wennerberg Park.

An array of fine-dining possibilities, many of which are regularly written up in national travel publications, has sprung up in recent years, tracing a growth arc roughly parallel to the wine industry’s. The Joel Palmer House in Dayton, The Painted Lady in Newberg, Nick’s Italian Cafe in McMinnville and Red Hills Provincial Dining, the Dundee Bistro and Tina’s, all in Dundee, are just some of the eateries that fill to overflowing most weekends.

Recreational opportunities are just as plentiful. Trails lacing through numerous city and county parks give hikers myriad choices of scenic, challenging routes, while the area’s many quiet back roads are ideal for the surging numbers of bicyclists.

The county is also home to two higher educational institutions, Linfield College in McMinnville and George Fox University in Newberg.

Valentine’s Day Jupiter Hotel

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Thursday is Valentines Day and for all you progressive
procrastinators out there, spare the generic heart shaped necklace and
treat your special someone to a romantic evening courtesy of EcoShuttle
and the Jupiter Hotel. Couples and singles are invited to enjoy the
intimate warmth of cozy spaces, eclectic music, full bar and decadent
northwest food, and desserts all for just fifty dollars per person
including socially and environmentally responsible door-to-door taxi service from
EcoShuttle to the Jupiter Hotel.

Sales of locally grown biofuel highlight Oregon’s alt-fuel push

Monday, January 21st, 2008

Sales of locally grown biofuel highlight Oregon's alt-fuel push

By Jeff Jaeger and KATU Web Staff

PORTLAND, Ore. – Local officials and fans of alternative energy sources say the sale of locally produced biofuel is a huge step forward for the fledgling plant-based fuel industry in

Oregon .

The state could be on its way to giving big oil a run for its money as

Oregon’s first locally produced biofuel officially went on sale Thursday.

Anytime drivers fill up using pumps at Jay’s Garage on Southeast 7th Avenue and Morrison, city officials say they are they are helping to fuel the movement to free the U.S. from dependence on foreign oil.

“We’re supporting a local company which is always a good thing,” Janna Collingwood, a local business owner said. She said she only uses biofuels.

The locally grown and refined biofuel is now sold just down the street from her southeast Portland tobacco shop.

“There’s an old axiom that says ‘think global, act local.’ This is a living example of that,” Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard said. He was on hand for the ceremonies at the station.

Oregon’s “oilfields” – acres of yellow flowers signifying canola crops – are now used solely to make

Oregon biofuels.

But some drivers are concerned more crops for fuel will mean less acreage will be used to grow food.

Biodiesel driver Alison Reddy was concerned about the trade-off. “It’s an agricultural product,” she said. “How does it play in the global economic spectrum with food?”

Canola farmer Kent Madison did not share her worries. “The fuel market gives us an alternative for ground that is of poor quality and yield,” Madison said, “and makes that ground profitable and brings profitability back to Oregon

’s agriculture.”

Madison said he’s proud to sell his crop locally. He said he used to export it to

where his canola crop was used for food-grade oil. “It’s nice to see that fuel that we’re producing being recycled in Oregon’s economy and keeping those dollars in Oregon’s economy,” Madison added .


Oregon has a local fuel industry that could become politically as strong as big oil. “This is a direct threat to big oil, so if you really want to stick it to the man, come to Jay’s and buy a gallon of biofuel,” Commissioner Leonard said.

Oregon is big oil’s enemy,” Leonard added.

Leonard also said there are plans in the works to try and build a large biofuel refinery in

Portland, though the details have not yet been made public.

Wave energy firm makes pitch to port

Monday, January 21st, 2008

By Elise Hamner, City Editor | Sunday, January 20, 2008

COOS BAY — The guy from Ocean Power Technologies Inc. came to town with a wave energy sales pitch.

They all did.

The commercial fishermen, the longshoremen, the anti-liquefied natural gas folks. The port did, too.

It was OPT representative Steven Kopf who claimed the most attention. He stood for about an hour and a half before the commissioners who govern the Oregon International Port of Coos Bay on Thursday night. He touted the possible benefits of building a wave energy project off Coos Bay’s North Spit.

It will be an experimental site, he said. The technology is in its infancy. But these buoys would be bigger and better outputwise than the wave riders proposed offshore of Gardiner. The new design would not require the buoys carry oil, compared to the 400-gallon oil-packing devices proposed to the north.

For Coos Bay, initially there would be 20 buoys planted in the ocean 2.5 miles from shore, with the anchor gear at 40 to 45 fathoms, he said. At full build out, the site would cover three-quarters of a mile of sea somewhat northwest from the Horsfall Beach parking lot, according to Kopf’s map.

“We’re not looking for marine reserve-sized tracts,” he said.

The electricity-generating machines would go in the water in 2010 if Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permitting goes as planned.

And, he said, Coos Bay has one big benefit.

“We want a deepwater draft port.”

New Jersey-based OPT would build the devices here and export them to other places on the West Coast some day, he suggested. Although, Kopf stressed that right now Portland’s Oregon Iron Works is getting the business on building the first 10 buoys. There aren’t any steel plate-rolling facilities on the coast. But as the technology matures, he said, the company would like to have production at the deepwater port, he said.

Kopf’s talk never touched on specifics, as far as dollars or jobs that might be generated for the local economy.

“If there isn’t any industry, I can tell you how many jobs we’ll create  — none,” Kopf said.

But that comment came in contrast to fishing industry anti-wave energy testimony in the meeting’s first hour. Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission Executive Director Nick Furman stood up and spoke all about economics.

Fifty-seven of the 433 boats with crab permits in Oregon are based in Charleston. Those boats over the past five years brought in $44 million of crab. Doing the math that spins those dollars through the community, it’s been a $132 million contribution to the economy.

Furman said fishermen aren’t fearing the 10- or 20-buoy experimental wave energy parks. It’s the full build out to 200 buoys off Coos Bay that terrifies them.

“That’s the fear … coupled with an undefined amount of marine reserves … has the potential of putting this industry totally out of business,” Furman said.

Kopf said that despite all the fear he doesn’t see wave energy occupying much space along the entire Oregon Coast. He doesn’t think buoys for all future projects would cover more than 6 miles of area coastwide. His company believes Oregon can’t use or send out more than 600 megawatts of power. Just for comparison, the Lincoln Public Utility District’s total power use now, with all its customers, is 400 megawatts, he explained.

But Kopf didn’t do all the talking.

At one point, port commissioner Caddy McKeown spoke up, seeming confused with the port’s involvement in all this.

“What role do we actually play here, Jeff?” she asked of the port’s Executive Director Jeff Bishop.

“I don’t know that you have a role to play. It’s a FERC process just like the LNG process,” Bishop said.

The port has no special standing, but it does have infrastructure of special interest to OPT. And that’s the ocean outfall pipe. It formerly piped treated wastewater from Weyerhaeuser Co.’s long-gone containerboard mill out to sea.

OPT wants to run its cables from the buoys through the pipe and onto the spit. That way the company wouldn’t have to trench through the surf and sand at a cost of $1 million per mile.

That wish had a note-scribbling Bishop seeming concerned at first. Kopf assured him the cable would take up only 5 to 6 inches of a 36-inch-diameter pipe. It wouldn’t rot in salt water.

Bishop’s interest was piqued.

Kopf suggested the power would go to California, but Bishop went fishing. He wanted to know if OPT would use a North Spit power substation. He wanted to know if the power quality would be consistent. He wanted to know if power generated during peak wave action could be stored and dispatched for constant flow.

Bishop’s quizzing linked back to comments he made in the meeting’s first minutes. During his monthly report, he updated commissioners on fizzling and sizzling ideas. The railroad closure caused two companies considering biodiesel projects to look elsewhere. But the port is seeking a state grant to work on developing a wind turbine development on the windy spit. And more, the port staff has dreams of enticing a polysilicon manufacturer to the old Weyerhaeuser mill site to build photovoltaic cells for the solar power industry.

“We recognize there’s a huge potential market for photovoltaic cells,” Bishop had said.

And those kinds of plants need monster amounts of power.

In response to the Trib’s article…

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

I just wanted to personally thank Lee Williams and Katie Hartley for riding along with me during Eddie Creech’s party! Not to mention they wrote an excellent article on us: Powered on fry grease, ready to roll.

I’ve had a good reaction from friends and business associates alike who have told me that the article hints that our company is a pioneer for transportation in the NW. I like how Lee mentions the other green transport companies out there. It’s good to have a comparison of competitors, and hybrids still have the same issue with the fluctuating costs of gasoline, and oh yeah, the fact that they are fossil-fuel derived.  Sure, the mpgs are greater , but our fry grease is cleaner burning, biodegradable and renewable.


Northwest Pipe will relocate to Vancouver

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

Headquarters – A Portland city official said the company’s reasons were an expired lease and shorter commutes

Wednesday, January 09, 2008RICHARD READ

The Oregonian Staff

Northwest Pipe Co.’s plan to move its corporate headquarters from downtown Portland to Vancouver is “a minor disappointment,” a Portland Development Commission official said Tuesday.

Erin Flynn, PDC economic development director, was reacting to news that the manufacturer of large steel pipes would move about 50 employees across the Columbia River in March. The publicly traded company is the ninth largest by stock value in Oregon or southwest Washington.

“Portland is losing Northwest Pipe,” Flynn said. However, “The region is not losing Northwest Pipe, either as a headquarters or as a manufacturer.”

The company, based since 2000 at 200 S.W. Market St., is moving to the Tidewater Cove building at 5701 S.E. Columbia Way in Vancouver, The Columbian newspaper reported Tuesday. The Nasdaq-traded company, founded in the Portland area in 1966, has been at several sites in the metro area.

Company executives told PDC their lease was up and workers’ average commute times would be shorter. They did not express frustration with Portland’s business climate, Flynn said.

Corporate relocations became an especially sensitive topic in 2001, when Columbia Sportswear Co. moved its headquarters from Portland to unincorporated Washington County. Tim Boyle, Columbia’s chief executive officer, subsequently criticized Portland as an unfriendly place to do business.

Northwest Pipe, with $347 million sales in 2006, employs more than 1,200 at 10 sites in North America. Its shares closed down 2 cents Tuesday at $36.12.

Off-reservation casino in Oregon survives…

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

… Interior Department cut


WASHINGTON – The federal government has agreed to hold five more public hearings on a proposal by an Oregon tribe to build a Las Vegas-style casino in the Columbia River Gorge.

Four hearings will be held in Oregon – in Troutdale, Cascade Locks, Warm Springs and Hood River – and one in Stevenson, Wash., officials said. Dates and times have not been set, but officials said they are expected in a few months.

The announcement from the Interior Department keeps alive the longstanding proposal by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs to build a casino complex in Cascade Locks, about 40 miles east of Portland.

Supporters cheered the news, which comes as federal officials have rejected nearly two dozen proposals for off-reservation casinos – including three in Washington state and one other in Oregon.

“All we were asking for is a hearing on the merits of the case,” said Chuck Daughtry, general manager of the Port of Cascade Locks, a primary supporter of the project. “It’s a big step.”

In rejecting 22 of 30 off-reservation proposals, the Interior Department said for the first time it will study commute times as it considers whether to approve new off-reservation casinos.

As distance from the tribe’s reservation increases, greater scrutiny will be given to benefits of the planned casino, said Carl Artman, assistant secretary for Indian affairs.

Officials also will give greater weight to concerns raised by state and local governments, Artman said in a Jan. 3 memo widely considered as a tightening of federal guidelines for off-reservation casinos.

The day after Artman’s memo, the Interior Department rejected plans for 22 off-reservation casinos across the country.

Fourteen were on land that is at least 100 miles from the reservation where tribal members live, with some as far away as 1,000 miles, said Shane Wolfe, a spokesman for the Interior Department.

Among tribes that were rejected were the Muckleshoot, Colville Confederated Tribes and the Lower Elwha in Washington state, and the Burns Paiute Tribe in Oregon. The Interior Department said applications by the four Northwest tribes were incomplete.

Rollin Fatland, a spokesman for the Muckleshoot, said the tribe had no active plans to develop a casino on land it owns that now is the site of the Emerald Downs racetrack in Auburn, Wash.

The tribe submitted a land-in-trust application to meet an April 2006 deadline set by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was then chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Fatland said.

“The tribe submitted an application to preserve its options,” Fatland said.

The Colville proposal called for three allotments of land in Wenatchee, Wash., while the Lower Elwha plan included 16 acres in Port Angeles, Wash.

The Burns Paiute proposal called for a 42-acre site in Ontario, Ore.

Opponents of the Warm Springs proposal, which include the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, say the new federal guidelines dim chances for the Cascade Locks casino.

“It’s a 230-mile round trip” between Warm Springs, where many tribal members live, and Cascade Locks, said Dan Lavey, spokesman for an opposition group called Coalition for Oregon’s Future. “That’s not exactly a practical commute.”

Distance is a major factor in whether to approve an off-reservation casino, according to the new guidelines.

If a casino “is not within a commutable distance of the reservation” many tribal members would either not be able to get a job there or would be forced to move off the reservation to work there, Artman wrote. “In either case, the negative impacts on reservation life could be considerable,” he said.

Len Bergstein, a Portland lobbyist and spokesman for the Warm Springs tribes on casino issues, downplayed the commuting problem. The actual distance between the reservation border in central Oregon and Cascade Locks is less than 40 miles, Bergstein said. Tribal members commute much farther than that for jobs and school, he said.

“We’ve never been concerned about that as something that would disqualify us,” he told The Oregonian newspaper.

Supporters say the proposed casino resort would create hundreds of jobs and pump much-needed money into the Cascade Locks economy. Opponents say it would degrade the gorge’s environment and increase traffic along heavily traveled Interstate 84.

Once the hearings are completed, the proposal heads to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne for approval. As Idaho governor, Kempthorne generally opposed off-reservation casinos.

Portland, Ore., Acts to Protect Cyclists

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

Published: January 10, 2008

“Ghost bikes,” riderless and painted white, were placed at two busy intersections in Portland, Ore., last October, makeshift memorials to two bicyclists killed when they were hit by trucks in accidents that month.

This spring, at those same intersections and at 12 others across the city, “bike boxes” will be laid out on the roadway to provide a clearly designated place for cyclists, in front of and in full view of drivers, to wait for traffic lights to change. The boxes will be marked with signs and wide stripes alerting drivers to stop behind them at red lights.

Portland, which has a higher percentage of people who bike to work than any other large American city, is already considered one of the country’s most bike-friendly urban centers. But the boxes, believed to be the first such to be put to use by any city in the country, will make cyclists even safer and more comfortable on the street, biking advocates and transportation officials say.

“It’s something the city has been talking about for a long time, but these two deaths have certainly given an added sense of urgency,” said Jonathan Maus, whose is a focal point for Portland cyclists. “The community has just made it so clear that this is very important, that they’re very concerned following these fatal crashes that things need to change.”

By allowing cyclists to wait in front of motorized traffic, the bike boxes are intended chiefly to reduce the risk of “right hook” collisions, the kind most frequently reported in Portland, in which a driver makes a right turn without seeing a cyclist who is in his path. Drivers will not be allowed to pass through the bike box to turn right on a red light, although many right hooks now occur after the light has turned green, when traffic quickly accelerates.

Right hooks were what killed the two cyclists in October, a college student and a bike racer hit by large trucks. The drivers say they did not see them.

“In a lot of people’s minds they weren’t doing anything wrong and they were just run over,” said Roger Geller, bicycle coordinator for the Portland Office of Transportation.

Another feature of the new project is that on the approach to an intersection with a bike box, the bicycle lane will be the same color as the box. “We want them to have that visual cue to take a look over their shoulder,” Mr. Geller said of drivers, “and we want cyclists to know this is an area for potential conflict.”

The city will spend about $150,000 on the bike boxes and also plans to pay about $50,000 to retrofit larger trucks in the municipal fleet with new mirrors to reduce blind spots and with guard bars to prevent cyclists from falling into the trucks’ big wheel wells.

The trucks involved in the October collisions were not city vehicles. “We’re just setting a good example,” Mr. Geller said.

There were six cycling deaths in Portland in 2007, an unusually large number, though Mr. Geller and others say that with bicycle use up fourfold since the early 1990s, the rate of collisions has actually declined. Mr. Geller credits driver awareness.

While the city is installing the bike boxes at certain busy intersections, it is also trying to shift more riders away from bike lanes on busy streets to what it calls bike boulevards, quieter streets with less potential for collisions. The city is weighing a proposal to spend about $25 million over 10 years to designate 110 additional miles of bike boulevards, for a total of 140, and make other improvements for cyclists.

About 4 percent of Portland workers already commute by bike, and city officials and biking enthusiasts say they believe the number can rise much higher.

“Bike advocates around the country are looking to Portland to create a model of how an American city can be a bike-friendly city,” Mr. Geller said. “We feel that, and we take that seriously.”

Powered on fry grease, ready to roll

Tuesday, January 8th, 2008

EcoShuttle offers transport using 100 percent biodiesel


(news photo)



EcoShuttle driver Jesse Yun gives holiday party-goer Jason Jensen a ride on a recent Saturday night. The EcoShuttle is the city’s first 100 percent biodiesel-powered transport.

Near 11 p.m. on a recent Saturday evening Jesse Yun revs the V-6 engine of the EcoShuttle van up a steep hill in Northwest Portland.

At 6 p.m. Yun started picking up guests – 35 revelers dressed in their best holiday sweaters, ties and velvet gowns – from various parts of Portland and its suburbs, for a private party in the Forest Heights area.

Now, an early guest is ready to take his partying to the next level. He’s headed for a bar on Southeast Powell Boulevard, and Yun, one of the four founders of the new environmentally friendly urban transport business, is on the road again.

It’s an uphill climb, but he’s got plenty of steam. In the case of EcoShuttle, that steam is 100 percent biodiesel-powered.

Biodiesel – vegetable, animal oils and/or grease – burns cleaner than gas; some argue it burns virtually pollution-free.

Launched July 4, EcoShuttle is Portland’s first intracity transport to run on biodiesel. It may be the country’s first as well, since the few similar shuttle services in other cities use electric-gas hybrids.

“We’re classified as more a limo service, less a shuttle,” Yun says. He, along with co-founder William Sampson, are the two who drive the shuttle.

And on this night their 10-seat Dodge Sprinter is providing door-to-door limo service for its biggest private function to date.

EcoShuttle’s green-minded clients so far have ranged from corporate names such as Regence Blue Cross to entertainment powerhouses, including the Waterfront Blues Festival.

Organizers of the Hot July Nights music festival tapped EcoShuttle to transport artists (including the Doobie Brothers) to and from Vancouver, Wash. Jacques Cousteau’s son, Jean-Michel Cousteau, rode the EcoShuttle to the Muddy Boot Organic Festival this fall.

The shuttle also has ferried bachelorette partiers, pub crawlers and wine tasters, but for this job, Yun notes with a sigh after dropping a partier at his pub, “we need that second shuttle.”

Yun says EcoShuttle wants to add another van, a 20- to 25-seater, in the next two months.

National trend hits home

“We knew we didn’t want people drinking and driving, so then we thought about the bigger picture,” says Eddie Creech, who is hosting tonight’s party in Forest Heights with Michael DeAngelis. “And these guys were locally owned and environmentally responsible.”

The rate for EcoShuttle hovers around $55 an hour, comparable to the base rate for a limousine.

Like other businesses, limo and shuttle services are feeling the effects of increased environmental consciousness.

Most of the half-dozen green-minded transport companies around the country employ hybrids.

The oldest and largest so far, PlanetTran, launched in 2003 in Boston, has expanded to shuttle passengers in San Francisco. PlanetTran launched with one hybrid Toyota Prius. It now has a fleet of 35.

Six months ago Dwight Ledford bought his first Ford Escape, a hybrid SUV that launched Go Green, his eco-friendly shuttle service in Charlottesville, Va.

“Two months later I bought my second,” he says.

It’s been a bumpy ride, in “a town dominated by mom and pop taxi services,” Ledford says, but business overall is doing well, with a flow of steady clients from private schools in the area, and staff and students from the University of Virginia.

Go Green has a fleet of four gas-electric hybrid vehicles now, including a newly purchased Toyota Camry Hybrid sedan.

Ledford may be a bit green with envy, too, considering his Northwest counterparts.

“Biodiesel is the way to go, but there’s only a few places you can go to fill up around here,” he says.

Fleet’s set to expand

Sampson says EcoShuttle is looking to purchase a Prius or two, to run individuals, say, to doctor’s appointments, when the larger shuttle wouldn’t be necessary.

EcoShuttle’s overall goal, however, is to operate vehicles “that use the best fuel systems that are available, when they come to the forefront,” Sampson says. They’ll never use gas or ethanol, he says. And hydrogen “isn’t yet feasible,” he says.

EcoShuttle is working on partnering with another startup, Portland Biodiesel, to run the shuttle completely on reclaimed cooking oil.

“Basically french-fry grease,” Yun says, that’s been recycled from local restaurants and through community drop-offs.

EcoShuttle’s founders are hoping that commuters realize their lunch could provide fuel for their travel to work each morning, too.

The company’s Environmental Commuter Options program is geared toward employees currently using TriMet who may have to transfer two or three times to make their way to work.

The shuttle offers commuter-friendly Wi-Fi, places to plug in laptops, and table trays. Employers can take advantage of a federal tax incentive offered to companies that take part in a travel reduction program as well as the Oregon Department of Energy’s Business Energy Tax Credit, a deduction for using less-polluting transportation fuels.

Several of tonight’s party guests work with DeAngelis at Intel Corp. or with Creech at Epic Imaging. Working is about the furthest thing from their minds during the ride, though.

Sheila and Mike Matragrano, two revelers from Hillsboro, were grateful for the extra environmentally aware effort their hosts made this year.

“This is our contribution to the greener holiday,” Sheila Matragrano says.

While environmental changes and issues have made headlines this past year, Yun realizes that action – including difficult changes of habit – still has to follow.

“It’s the hardest thing for people to do, I think – give up your automobile. But if you have two cars, all we’re asking is, maybe just use one car,” he says.

Driving back to the party to wait for the rest of the guests to take their leave, Yun adds with a weary but firm smile, “This was just the year the environment really hit some people’s consciousness, and it’s only going to grow.”

Which could mean a smoother ride ahead for the french fry-powered fleet.

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