Published Somedays

Wilmington has a choice

(updated: Sep 9, 2007)

Build more of this:

Photo: JJ Pearce Photography

and this:

or build more of this:

Based on what I hear at county meetings and on local blogs, people here think they don't have a choice. They think that things have to keep going the way they have been, with more cars, more roads, and more poorly planned car-only development. They have resigned themselves to thinking that that's just the way things will be forever. But first of all it doesn't have to be that way and secondly it can't continue this way regardless and anyone that thinks it can needs to go back to school and study math and science.

The statements made by some of these folks on the Porter's Neck Growth blog really drove home the fact that none of these people can think beyond the automobile. Outside the box thinking for them means building yet another road. As a result, alternative transportation is not even considered because it is inherently assumed that it cannot work. Why would anyone consider it? It is not considered a solution because they assume nobody would use alternative transportation. It would be a waste of money and thus a ludicrous proposition.

That may be the case today because oil, autos, and roads are subsidized in some form or another. It's too cheap and convenient to drive. People who bike or walk actually subsidize those who drive. Parking is also subsidized.

However, tomorrow is going to paint a very different picture. We are halfway through global oil reserves. Production will not increase anymore, ever. Yet demand is growing insatiably, especially overseas in developing nations. Countries that have oil. Countries that will be unlikely to export that oil to the US and prefer to use it internally. Countries that are not very friendly toward the US. Hence the coming net decline in exported oil presents a grave threat to our way of life.

"80 per cent of existing oil production will need to be replaced by 2030 to maintain present supplies with additional production required to meet increased demand."
- US National Petroleum Council

Our idiot president said, "The American way of life is non-negotiable", possibly one of the stupidest things ever said, just behind this one he said to the terrorists, "Bring it on". So what does non-negotiable imply? That we will destroy the world to get what we want? We'll invade other countries, dig up Canada, level the rainforests, all so we can keep driving? Then what? Then it's over. End of story. WWIII. Armageddon. Back to the stone age and foraging for scraps of food. Check out this month's Dirt Rag mag with the knights on bikes comic defending what's left of the US (I guess that means the Knights of Sir Bikes-a-lot will be in charge). Or maybe watch The Postman.

So what can we do? Cars are so ingrained into the fabric of society now that it would be like taking away electricity or indoor plumbing. So the only solutions that people can come up with involve how to keep all the cars running. Switch to ethanol (a horrible solution). Switch to electric vehicles and nuclear (it would take 20 - 30 years to implement. Too late now). All more of the same. I'm not advocating more fuel efficient, hybrid, or fully electric cars as a solution, because it implies we can just make an easy switch and it's like nothing's changed. People are going to realize this one day. What I am saying is that alternative transportation needs to be taken into consideration in the planning and development process now just as a start. Adding ways to get from your home to shops and work other than in your car is what has to happen.

And the best way to do this is to design it in from the start. Then people have a way to walk and bike and interact socially. As a result we can make a better community and healthier people.

Things have gotten so bad here. I urge you to just take a step back and look at the picture. Cars have so dominated the landscape and consume so much land that a person walking or biking looks out of place. As an experiment, just try to walk along any major road, such as Market St. or anywhere really, as I recently did. What does it feel like? I felt out of place walking. There's something really wrong with that.

I also recommend traveling (while you still can) to other countries to see how other people live. When you come back you won't view this country the same way I promise you.

I'm trying to warn people, maybe to wake people up. This country is asleep. There is an energy crisis coming that few appear to be talking about. Why is that? Even the oil industry is warning us as well (see The Oil Drum). People need to start paying attention instead of covering their ears and singing la la la.

The energy crisis will likely start in 2009 - 2010 in the form of declines in oil exports to the US. These declines will create gasoline shortages and the price of gas will skyrocket. The US economy will be unable to emerge from the recession it is currently heading into and will no longer be able to grow, and may even collapse.

"The biggest oil basin we will ever find now is called conservation."
- Matt Simmons

We have squandered a precious resource. People in the future (if there are any) will look back at us and think we must have been absolutely fucking retarded. The government is partly to blame. They subsidized large vehicles for years, giving people no incentive to conserve. Low interest rates caused people to borrow too much and think they could get something for nothing. Furthermore, the US has no energy policy or plan. Consequently, we are way behind where we need to be. And now, with a recession looming, and right after that an energy crisis, we may not have the resources and time to implement alternative energy. Thus we will be caught in a perpetual economic quagmire because the bill for our excesses must be paid. China will easily surpass us in GDP. Furthermore, we will have the consequences of runaway global warming to deal with. At some point, we will have to face greatly diminished quality of life in the US.

All of it could have been avoided if we had had a better leader at the helm, instead of a lying moron and his corrupt snakes running amok. We need a real leader to steer the country through the painful times ahead. It may very well turn out that Bush & Co. triggered the avalanche that will flush this country down. As the movie The Matrix foretold, "1999: the peak of your civilization."

You know how your parents told you in the old days they used to have to walk to school, uphill, both ways, in the snow? And how everything was a lot harder, implying that we have it so much easier today. That may be true, but what they may not realize is that you CAN'T walk to school anymore. You can walk to the store, to the bank, to the post office. You can't leave a kid alone to wander around and explore anymore. I grew up in Winston-Salem, and we used to go all over the place, on our bikes, too. You can't do that today. Cars dominate the landscape, making it unsafe to go anywhere outside of it.

I think how easy it is for me to run my errands at Porter's Neck on my bike. If it weren't for the insolent motorists buzzing me, or honking, it would be a total joy. But now with the planned Lowes shopping center development and Market St and widening to seven lanes along with the Porter's Neck extension will make it that much harder to ride my bike there. There are no bike lanes in the plan despite the fact that North Carolina supposedly has a Complete Streets Program. It is simply being ignored here.

But even if there was an off-road bike path all the way up and down Porter's Neck and Market St., only a small fraction of people would use it, even though it would be really safe and convenient. People are just stuck in the car mindset and will never be free until they are forced to by market conditions (which will be happening very soon). Then, I fear, a lot of bad things are going to happen. People will steal, rob, and possibly kill over gasoline. Others may simply lie down and die rather than give up their car or ride a bike.

I've already seen evidence of a slowing economy here and it's aftereffects. Twelve cars were broken into in my neighborhood two nights ago. I expect that crime will start rising again in correlation with a stalling economy. Evidently they will be needing that jail expansion after all.

So it's really up to us to do something about it. All it would take to get started is an hour of your time to write letters and start sending them to our local and state leaders. Maybe they won't listen, but if enough of us do it, then we might get a response or a meeting out of it. All we need for success is to get our leaders to start thinking about it. And I think we can do that. We can make a difference. Start by contacting our local leaders and telling them that alternative transportation is important to you; that we need to take that into consideration in the planning and development process; that we can build in resilience to handle the severe energy shocks that peak oil will bring; that developments such as the new Lowes and the infrastructure of suburbia have no future. We have to act for ourselves and we have to act now. Before it is too late.

"Politicians are like's up to us to make the wind blow."
-Bill McKibben, Step It Up 2007

Let's make the wind blow.


Links to NC government leaders to write to:

County Commissioners

City Council Members

Governor's Office

New Hanover County State Representatives

And here's the letter I sent recently about the Porter's Neck area. I'll be writing another one and sending it out soon.

TO: County Commissioners - Wm. Caster, R. Greer, T. Davis, Wm. Kopp, Jr., N.Pritchett
RE: Development of Porter's Neck Area: Lowes Project
DATE: September 4, 2007
FROM: Erol Caglarcan, Concerned Resident of the Porter's Neck Area

I am writing to you concerning the planned development of the Lowes and other retail space behind the Porter's Neck shopping center. I'm sure you hear a lot about the lack of a second entrance to the area, the only entrance being the extension of Porter's Neck Rd. Now I understand you will vote on a revised proposal which includes widening of the Porter's Neck Rd stub and adding more lanes to Market St. However, I would like to emphasize a different issue, one I feel is much more important than dealing with traffic issues related to yet another poorly thought-out development.

That issue is that alternative transportation is not even being considered in this process. What makes this issue critical is that the world is beginning to consume more oil than it can supply. We need to move from 85 million barrels a day of worldwide production today to an expected demand level of about 120 million barrels daily, all in just the next couple of decades. Yet we have consumed about half the total crude oil on the planet, which means that production will start to slowly and irreversibly decline. This phenomenon is known as Peak Oil, and its implications are grave. You will be hearing a lot more about Peak Oil and declining exports in a few years. In fact, I believe it is the single most important issue of our time. Any supply disruptions could have near catastrophic economic impacts to our region and our country which is so heavily dependent upon cars, impacts from which we may never recover. And developments such as Porter's Neck only make the problem worse by further cementing our reliance on automobiles.

One example I find especially egregious in the Porter's Neck area is the housing development being built right behind the Harris Teeter Shopping Center. There is no way to get from the development to the shopping center except by car. The entrances are less than 100 yards apart, but you are forced to get in your car and drive for probably less than 1/4 mile. This is absurd.

40% of all trips are two miles or less. Many such trips could easily be replaced by bike. The bike uses no gas, creates no pollution, and makes the rider healthier at the same time. In our car-based society today, with obesity, traffic congestion, urbanization, and environmental degradation spiraling out of control, bikes offer a good solution.

Bikes also help make a real community where people interact positively as opposed to being isolated in a car. It would not cost much to accommodate cyclists. It really only comes down to incorporating it into the planning process. But bikes are not even considered in the process, which is a shame.

I am not saying that everyone should all start riding bikes everywhere. What I am saying is that from this point on, we should accommodate biking and walking in the planning and development process. If done up front, the costs are minimal and the benefits are dramatic.

The types of developments such as the Lowe's which continue to be built simply do not make sense in a situation where oil prices are going to rise dramatically in the next few years. They are only going to make things worse for us. Other cities are realizing this and creating task forces and special committees to find ways to plan better, incorporate alternative transportation, and thus reduce oil consumption and pollution.

If you truly care about the future of this community, please form a special task force to study the problem and come up with solutions to how we're are going to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels at a local level. It can be done. It must be done. The first step to stop framing everything in terms of cars to free ourselves to think of sustainable solutions. At the very least, we should start including alternative transportation in the planning process.


Erol Caglarcan
Bicycle Advocacy Chair
Cape Fear Cyclists

Filed Under: General Entries > North Carolina > Wilmington


1. Sir Bikes said...

Lest anyone think that we can continue to find a way to run all the cars and avoid making any real changes, consider the destruction being wrought in Canada with the tar sands and in Indonesia with the palm oil plantations.

A primeval boreal forest the size of Florida is being utterly destroyed beyond repair, while highly toxic sludge ends up in gargantuan tailings ponds.

A palm oil plantation being grown in place of a rainforest. Indonesia's rainforests
are currently being cleared at a rate of 300 football fields per hour
(UN Report 2007). Palm oil is used to make biodiesel.

Sep 9, 2007 @ 3:34 PM

2. levie125 said...

I rode my bike to school the other day here in Morehead City, and I had three people ask me if I got a dui when I came riding up. Unfortunately, that is the attitude that most people have.
The current crime problem you have been receiving in your neighborhood is not from our declining economy but from thieves finding new territory. When I lived in Wilmington I had several things stolen from me including a bike. May he or she rot in hell for that one or at least get a flat tire. What pains me most is the fact that my bike was probably spray painted in chrome. Believe it or not, I come from rural area with a pretty much middle to lower class residency and a lot of crime. Theft is the number one crime because people are too ignorant to realize that they are easy targets, as I am sure most people in your neighborhood felt until recently.
Your letter to the county commissioners was great but in my opinion you should probably not give them the doomsday approach. Even though I think you are one hundred percent correct! These retiree's and other members with affluent incomes and backgrounds will write you off with your warnings because they are too severe. Most of all always give alternatives too current problems in development which you do quite well.
I am transferring to UNCW in the spring for my Environmental Science major so I will have great resources at my disposal. I will be writing several letters to different officials over the next few months and even years and I would like your seal of approval before I hit send. I think you have great ideas for your community and the whole coastal environment. I will work on getting some links to you for volunteer opportunities around your area. Getting people involved is the hardest part but once their eyes are open to our local problems they are hard to shut.

Sep 9, 2007 @ 4:57 PM

3. Sir Bikes said...

Thanks for your suggestions. I don't know how else to put it - the situation demands urgent action; it's a time bomb waiting to go off. I think some states/cities are at least trying to do something about it but the attitude they have here is complacency, a leave me alone, I'm retired kind of attitude. Are there any real leaders anymore?

Maybe I should just quit trying to make a difference and just sell everything and buy gold and alternative energy funds.

Sep 9, 2007 @ 6:16 PM

4. levie125 said...

Do you remember when they made it illegal to ride in a car without wearing a seatbelt? I was young and I still recall hearing people whine and complain. Of course, if you look at the stats it has saved thousands of lives since it's passing. My point is the average U.S. citizen will not do anything to better themselves or the world unless big brother uncle sam makes them do it. It is sad but true, I'm not a fan of big gov't but I am for it in that instance. I think most folks would agree us on that issue. I hope they ban smoking too because I'm tired of hearing people whine about their huge medical bills because they have lung cancer, etc. Thats my rant for the day.

Sep 9, 2007 @ 9:16 PM

5. Sir Bikes said...

One more thing... are you familiar with the term feedback loop? In the case of the earth a small increase in temperature caused by increased CO2 levels reaches creates a critical threshold and a runaway feedback loop occurs. The higher temps lead to CO2 outgassing causing temperatures to go even higher, which causes even more CO2 to outgas, etc. You reach a new equilibrium in short order. It's not like the slow continuous process people think. That's the real danger of not being severe enough. If you just wait and see, or get it all mired in politics, or whatever, then it's too late. It requires a big change, i.e., a change in our lifestyles, something most people are unwilling to do. I think the change will result in a vastly improved quality of life. I'd like nothing more than to see more people riding bikes and eating healthier.

Since this is also black noise phenomenon, you need to take data over a long time period. However, by the time you realize that, yes, it's actually happening, then it's too late. So the biggest risk is to wait or do nothing.

The problem I see is that as oil exports start to decline, instead of moving to renewables such as solar, wind and nuclear, we are going to the dirtiest methods - coal, tar sands, and rainforest biofuels. So we will actually be making things worse.

So it's off into the pit of fire with us. We are following a perfect mathematical equation, the same one that governs yeast in a petri dish. Even with higher intelligence we can't seem to escape the math.

Sep 9, 2007 @ 9:32 PM

6. tarheeltri said...

Just discovered your blog. I moved to Raleigh from Virginia (near DC) a few years ago. Man... I couldn't believe the lack of paved trails and sidewalks in the neighborhoods here. I used to ride to work everyday on a trail that now reaches 100 (maybe more) miles from DC into the suburbs. I'm lucky if I can find a 2-mile trail that starts and end nowhere. Why are we one of the fattest states in the nation? There's no place to walk or ride. Great post.

Sep 17, 2007 @ 4:13 PM

7. Sir Marks Alot said...

This is an interesting topic, there are issues like this one cropping up all over the ever-expanding Wilmington area. A positive example of this would be Mayfair. There is adaquate bike paths and even a pedestrian sidewalk, all very well planned except for in front of the movie theater, to much parking lot and to little road, more than once while riding through there I have been squeezed off the road.

On the flip side, another example of poor planning is Middle Sound Loop Road. The loop road was semi-recently repaved throughout and it even has some hills, all and all a nice 6-ish mile loop. BUT the hardest thing is getting there. If every road that comes in has no shoulder and the main enterence is a blind curve. A NIGHTMARE, again, even on a road bike, I ride on the grass. There is even a new path going in next to Military Cutoff Road, right off a connecter to MSL. The connecter is a suburb so that isnt bad, but it's the little section, less than an eighth of a mile, that is the major problem. POOR PLANNING.

But we as a bicycling community should try to make improvements, or at least persuade thoes who can. Enough of "All talk, no action," we need to speek out about these cycling no-nos, like Porters Neck Rd and Middle Sound Loop Rd.

Sep 17, 2007 @ 7:42 PM

8. Typical Wilmington Resident said...

Cycles? What are you talking about? I thought everyone drove an SUV ... you mean to tell me there is another source of transportation available? That's news to me!

Guess I'll have to get on the CB in my Ford F-950 and let my fellow rednecks know. Thanks for the heads up!

Sep 22, 2007 @ 4:08 AM


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