Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Festival Promotes Human Power

Burlington Free Press
By Lauren Ober
October 3, 2008

Phil Hammerslough wants you to stop thinking of bikes as sporting goods and start thinking of them as the most efficient way of getting from here to there.

Hammerslough, 65, began biking year-round about 40 years ago and hasn't looked back. He pedals himself through rain, wind, sleet and snow and looks at his bicycle as a vehicle, one that is human-powered.

Helping people see bikes as a viable transportation option has been Hammerslough's goal for years. This weekend's Human Powered Vehicle Burlington Bikefest is largely a result of Hammerslough's enthusiasm and advocacy.

The festival, which runs today through Sunday at locations around Burlington, seeks to introduce people to human powered vehicles including recumbent bikes, trikes and velomobiles -- a single-passenger bicycle with a full fairing, seen mostly in Europe. There will be demonstrations of human powered vehicles, as well as lectures, bike tours and a trailer pull.

Hammerslough points to the downturn in the economy as a reason for people to start biking rather than driving. Becoming fuel-independent can make a huge difference in people's lives, Hammerslough said.

"From an economic standpoint, biking is a fabulous concept," Hammerslough said.

One of the festival's other organizers, Stu Lindsay, said the event is a way to celebrate human ingenuity while showing people how accessible biking for transportation is. The velomobiles might look space-age with their aerodynamic shells, but they are no more complicated than a regular bicycle and are better for riding year-round.

Lindsay, who builds specialty bikes for people with physical disabilities, thinks it's possible for people to bike year-round, if only cities were more accommodating. Burlington isn't a bad place to commute by bike, Lindsay says, but "we are one of those cities that could do an awful lot more."

Lisa Aultman-Hall, director of the Transportation Research Center at the University of Vermont, agrees that Vermont is doing a pretty good job accommodating people who cycle as a primary means of transportation. Aultman-Hall will speak tonight at City Hall's Contois Auditorium on the 10 biggest transportation myths and the reality behind them.

"Given our constraints like winter and the hills, we're doing pretty well," Aultman-Hall said. "I think it's exciting that our advocates and leaders want more."

From a transportation and congestion standpoint, Aultman-Hall said human powered vehicles should be a big part of the discussion. Not everybody needs to ride a bike, she says, but if some people ride instead of drive, the roads are better for everyone.

That is Hammerslough's overarching goal, to show people the benefits of human powered transportation.

"If I can get people to ride one more week a year, I've accomplished something," Hammerslough said.

Contact Lauren Ober at 660-1868 or

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