Cary, NC — I slept in a cardboard box overnight. Read More…
Cary, NC — There has been a lot of discussion at the Council table, online and in the papers regarding the proposal for an updated Golf Course Noise ordinance. Read More…
Cary, NC — One of the best things about our Cary community is you. Really. I’m not blowing smoke here. Learn how you can start volunteering in Cary right now. Read More…
It’s Budget Time
For a vote on Wednesday, June 17, 2015. That’s right. The very next day.
Yes, a FREE MOVIE. And now that I have your attention ….
In case you didn’t know it, March is Women’s History Month – a time to recognize the important contributions that women have made to us all; to pay tribute, and to also understand the sacrifices that many have, and continue to make, on our behalf.
The Town of Cary, along with the National Foundation for Women Legislators will show the movie “Iron Jawed Angels” starring Hilary Swank, Anjelica Huston, Patrick Dempsey, and many more. … all to celebrate Women’s History Month.
This film follows the women’s suffrage leaders Alice Paul and Lucy Burns in their struggle for a constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote. After the showing of this award winning movie, a panel of female elected officials will be on hand to answer questions from the audience, and share their unique experiences.
- – Elaine Marshall – NC Secretary of State
- – Jessica Holmes – Wake County Commissioner
- – Jennifer Robinson – Town of Cary Councilmember, District A
- (and me)
Why focus on Women now?
In the last year, we have seen a number of news stories that highlight the continuing disparity between women and men in the workforce and in public service.
A recent report, called “The Status of Women in North Carolina Politics” finds “that when women seek and serve in political office – elected or appointed – they are as successful as their male counterparts. Yet women remain severely underrepresented in North Carolina political offices.
The report goes on to highlight that although women make up over 54% of the registered voters in the state, they hold less than 25% of all appointed and elected offices.
- ▪ 27% of all elected officeholders in the state are women, while women are 51.3% of the state’s population
- ▪ Out of the 100 counties in NC, in 44 of them, there are no female county commissioners.
- NC is not unique, in the US senate, it’s 20% women, 19.3% in the US House, 10% of governors, and 13% of Mayors of the 100 largest cities. And the numbers are even more strikingly bad for women of color and women in rural communities (6.2% are women of color, and 5.3% of state leg.)
Not just an issue in Public Service
It’s not just a phenomena in Public Service. Women are underrepresented and discriminated against in Silicon Valley, where a recent Newsweek article points out that women are less likely to receive funding for their ideas, and many of the misogynitic ways of the old boys club still endure.
- ▪ Venture Captalist typically fund women at the lowest levels, $100,000
- ▪ Non of the TOP FIVE VCs have a single female senior partner
- ▪ Only 14.2% of the top 5 leadership positions of companies in the S&P 500 are held by women.
- ▪ 4.6% of the CEO in the S&P are women
- ▪ Women earn 78% of what males earn in 2015 (up from 62% in 1979)
- ▪ There are no US holidays named after women, no women on US paper currency, and fewer than 25% of US postage stamps honoring people feature women.
From Catalyst 2015, McKinsey & Co – Women Matter
None of this is surprising, but what is notable is that finally we are seeing more focus on bringing these numbers to light, but also bringing them to the forefront. Patricia Arquette did a phenomenal job calling out the inequities as she picked up her Oscar and said, “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all.”
There IS Good News, Though
Research shows that the main reason so few women are in appointed or elected office is not necessarily overt discrimination – but that so few women actually seek these offices. There are many reasons for this, whether it’s lack of belief in their ability, concern of the toll it might take on their family, or lack of perceived experience. However, when they DO run, THEY WIN. From the report mentioned above, 25% of the candidates across North Carolina on the ballot were women, but 63% of these candidates won their races.
Women are underrepresented in government, this is clear. And if a representative democracy should look like it’s population, we have a while to go before we get there.
And here’s how and why….
1. We need to get young women involved early. Having them aware of their impact and the important voice they have in the process of democracy is crucial.
2. Women are role models for other women. They are an inspiration, mentors, and confidants, and they want to help – just reach out and ask.
3. Women have a valueable voice to provide – they can offer a fresh perspective and a different approach to seemingly intransient problem Studies show that when you have a diverse group of people attacking a problem, you can find new ways and solutions than you would ever have considered before.
4. Women are a majority – a voting and buying block that can’t be ignored. Women spend 58% of online retail dollars, they make 80% of the Health Care decisions, and 85% guide and/or make purchase decisions in their household.
So, where do we go from here? Well, it’s time to have this important conversation where-ever and when ever we can.
I’m glad to see more women involved in Public Service at the local level, and girls and young ladies taking on careers that used to be thought of as “male only.” We need to continue to support programs for Girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), such as the National Girls Collaborative Project.
We can all learn more about the important contributions women have made – and, you guessed it, there’s an app for that! Using Google’s Field Trip App,
If you haven’t used this app, check it out! When you are logged into Field Trip and switch on the SPARK: Women on the Map history notifications, you will receive an alert when you are near a place where a woman made history, and then you can read more about her and her accomplishments.
And finally – we need to get young women involved by inviting them to apply and be appointed for local boards and commissions, and finding new ways to encourage women to run for office, start businesses and spread their wings.
And sometimes, taking them to a movie about the Women’s Suffrage movement, and showing them the strong shoulders that we all stand on, is a great place to start.
Hope to see you at the movie!
Hi, I’m Lori Bush and I’m a techie. (Sounds like I’m in a 12-step program, doesn’t it?)
And, being a techie, I sometimes assume that folks “get it” when I start espousing the virtues of some new technology. Thankfully, I have great friends and neighbors that remind me that these high tech concepts and ideas aren’t self-evident, and that often, concepts like Open Data or the Internet of Things, are harder to understand. So, let me try. ☺
As an example, let’s talk about the Internet of Things, or the Internet of Everything. What does it mean, and why should we care?
Well, let me try to explain.
What is the Internet of Things?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a concept that says that any electronic device can be connected to the Internet, and (potentially) to each other. With the increasing reach of the Internet, and with more and more devices having wifi and radio frequency ID (RFID) connectivity capability, as well as the decreasing costs of these devices – more and more of what we use everyday connects to the Internet, and shares information with it. In fact, according to a variety of sources (Gartner, Cisco and others), more than 5 Billion devices are connected to the internet today – some say it will be 25 billion by this year, with 75 billion by 2020.
Yes, this is happening now. You know it is, because you probably have a smartphone that is connected right now. But what you might not realize is that there are a slew of other devices connected, as well. From a toothbrush that can watch to make sure your children are really brushing their teeth well, to a voice-activated smart outdoor grill that will notify the user when their food is ready, to even a sensor loaded and connected tennis racquet (promoted by Rafael Nadal) that is said to improve your game by providing information on power, strokes, and more. This is just the beginning.
What you may NOT know, is that companies of all types are using it to improve their services – from UPS who is using sensor data from their 80,000 vehicles to provide information on the speed, miles per gallon, number of stops, etc – to save money and improve delivery routes. By using this data effectively, they have saved more than 39 million gallons of fuel through route optimization and reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the number of miles and idling time.
Just think about Disney, the mecca of great customer service (and Mickey Mouse.) Disney World is now using the MagicBand, which I would say is the new height of IoT. The MagicBand is a wristband that is not only a key into your hotel room, but also provides you access into the park(s), as well as allowing you to buy food and merchandise. On the back end of this system, Disney is using this data to track visitors throughout the park, knowing proactively where visitors are, and thereby able to support more visitors, and to better staff rides and restaurants. Not only that, but kids and adults can personalize their wristbands to make them their own.
Why do we care?
So, this is all great information – but really, why should we care? Well, for lots of reasons.
FIRST – it can mean big life changes are in store.
How? Well, just take my little FitBit, for example. A few years ago, in order to improve my commitment to my health I made a decision to wear this little guy everyday. The FitBit counts my steps, my activity, and even the number of stairs I climb. The information is automatically sent to an app on my phone, as well as the “cloud” (just a word that means the Internet repository for this data) and it tracks my trending data. I can even set it up to track my sleep patterns. More importantly for me though, is that I’ve set it up to send this information to my company’s health and wellness program.
Why would I do that? Because for every 30 min of exercise I track per day, my healthcare incentive plan PAYS ME $5/day to my Healthcare Savings Account (up to $800/year.) The device costs less than $100. So, that’s a win of $700/year, just for me! It’s also a win for my company, because studies have shown that even 30 min of activity a day reduces healthcare costs. That’s a personal decision, for sure, and the connection to my device isn’t a requirement – but it saves me the time from going into the tool and self-reporting my exercise everyday.
Healthcare is just one industry looking at this phenomenon– from wearable fitness devices like mine, to special GlowCaps that fit prescription bottles – reminding people to take their medication; to wearable alarms for aging family members, this is just one industry poised to take the IoT to a new level.
SECOND, it can improve productivity, while also reducing costs. For real.
Here’s another example. You may have read about our new Solar Trash Cans made by Big Belly. This trash compactor, powered by solar energy, uses the internet to let our Public Works department know when it’s full, reducing the need for our trucks to drive around and waste time, gas and people to empty partially filled trash cans. The power of the Internet is saving us money, reducing our carbon footprint. And, keeping analytics on these activities will continue to allow public works to improve their services, over time.
At home, you can use all types of IoT tools to help defray costs and improve your own productivity. You might have heard of NEST – the smart thermostat that monitors the actual activity in your home during the day, while also watching real-time weather forecasts – to reduce your energy usage (saving you money), and to moderate the temperature in your home.
And have you ever wanted to better manage your irrigation water usage? I have a friend who uses the Rachio smart sprinkler, to be able to control his water irrigation system, from anywhere. The system knows about the changes in weather, adjusts the watering to the seasons, and manages his irrigation dependent on his own lawn’s needs, rather than being on a “set schedule.”
Don’t forget, Town of Cary water customers also have a tool at their disposal today. Aquastar will allow you to use data to manage your own water usage. (Read my blog post here.) By reviewing your water usage data, as well as setting up alerts in Aquastar, you can tell if you have a leak, a toilet running, or see your trending water usage, even when you aren’t there.
And THIRD, this is just the beginning.
More and more of our world and devices are being connected. Sure, there are refrigerators that will send you an email when you are low on milk, (yeah, that’s an old example), but there are also scenarios that can really change your life, such as the air quality sensors that are located all around Boston. Just think of the opportunities for folks that have asthma – with the Internet of Things sensors, folks with severe asthma and other respiratory issues can connect their smartphones to this network, and then proactively receive messages when the air quality is bad, and be able to track how often they use their inhaler. These kinds of IoT advances can absolutely improve their quality of life.
In fact, just doing a search online at Thingful.net ( a search database of Internet of Things, across the globe) I found that there are a number of sensors by my house, from weather stations, to air quality stations.
In Cary – a Connected Bench?
Recently, the Information Services Advisory Board (ISAB) took a look at a new bench-type IoT product recently installed in Boston. It’s called the Soofa – is a place to sit, but so much more. It’s a public space styled bench, solar powered that charges smartphones, while also collecting real-time data about its surrounding environment. The data collected can be air quality related, or noise, and that data can be provided back to the cloud for analytics. There are already 6 of this installed in various locations around the Boston area. At this point, it’s very new technology but is making waves, and something to consider over time.
What else do I need to know?
The key word is knowledge. Now that we know that more and more of our devices will be on the internet, and communicating information about us, we need to be aware and make a conscious decision whether this is data you want to share, or not.
I share this with the kids in my Internet Safety classes – YOU choose what data you make publically available. If you don’t want people to know where you are, don’t turn on “location services” on your smart phone applications, or disable geotagging on your iphone, to remove location information from your pictures. Always be aware of your data and who has access to it.
Yes, it’s true that this is an extra step you have to take, but it’s up to us to ensure that the privacy settings that are on our devices reflect our respective privacy priorities. Just like you should be putting anti-virus software on your computer – the best defense is a good offense. Know what data the device collects, and what it shares is key. This is still an emerging technology, and as such, be aware, and always proceed with your eyes wide open.
For me, my first set of experiences using these technologies has been life changing. Using the FitBit has provided me with a tool that reminds me of my commitment to my health. The capability to “compete” against friends and family online in FitBit challenges and steps keeps it fun and engaging for me, while the extra monetary incentive provided by my employer keeps it relevant. Sometimes, money does talk.
I’d love to know what Internet of Things experiences and tools you have and use, and what you see on the horizon!
Feature photo from IBM, and www.comsoc.org/blog
I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in a phenomenal program for about 5 months now, called the Friday Fellowship. If you haven’t heard about it, it’s called the William C. Friday Fellowship for Human Relations, named for our great leader and head of the UNC system for 30 years .
The Friday Fellowship goals are to create a space to grow a statewide network of leaders to take “courageous action on NC’s most pressing issues, through civil dialogue and by engaging across differences.”
For me, it means learning the skills needed for us to move this state forward; being able to have the difficult conversations while valuing everyone’s skills, experience, and viewpoint. Being able to listen with heart and head, and moving forward together.
There are 19 of us in the program today, from across the state, across all types of backgrounds and experiences. I am blessed to be among this great set of amazing leaders as part of this 2 year program, and after every meeting I reflect on how this experience is making a difference for me.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the program, if you would like to learn more, check out this great interview by the Executive Director Minda Brooks. Jump to 17:20 of this video.
A Visit to the Museum
As part of our long weekend of training, we had an opportunity to visit the Greensboro International Civil Rights Center & Museum. If you haven’t been there, it’s absolutely worth the trip. Since I was at Dreamfest here in Cary, seeing the A.D. King documentary, and listening to Naomi King, MLK Jr. sister-in-law, it is an amazing continuation of my journey to learn more about the Civil Rights movement.
Greensboro Four and Museum
I had heard of the Greensboro Four before, had even seen what I was told was the Woolworth counter they sat at, at the Smithsonian. But I had no idea of the phenomenal cascade of activity that those four 17 year-old freshmen had created, and the social transformation that it had on the rest of the Civil Rights movement.
As many municipalities do, Town of Cary elected officials and staff go off once a year to plan for the upcoming year and have time to discuss procedural issues or concerns, and to just reconnect in a less formal environment. In general, we have had these retreats outside of Cary, so that we aren’t distracted from our work and home life while focusing on our Town jobs.
Since I’ve been on Council these “retreats” have been planned to be in areas where we can learn from the local experience. For instance, when we went to Winston-Salem, we spent time with the local folks getting a sense of what it took for them to revitalize their downtown. What did they do? How did they do it? What would they NOT do again? ☺ The idea being that we could learn so much from others who have attempted much of the same thing.
This time, our retreat agenda was focused on exactly THAT – but in Charlotte. We know we aren’t Charlotte and folks would probably say that we don’t want to be Charlotte, but there are always things that we can learn from another municipality that has, and is, facing similar issues and struggles.
Since I know that Councilman Frantz is posting HIS feeling on our trip, I’ll try not to cover what he did, and focus on what I learned during my “sick stupor” in the Queen City. (Yes, it’s true that I was sick during the whole trip – my biggest worry was that I didn’t want infect anyone while there.)
When we were first discussing Charlotte as a location, I asked if we could take the train, and what a great plan that was. The trip was fantastic – a real opportunity to use our transit system while having time to connect with staff and other council members. We had lunch on the train so that we could hit the ground running when we arrived.
We were lucky enough to have our own train car for our group of folks. After settling in we had several presenters from Amtrak that provided us with background on the Piedmont Improvement Program underway. This program’s goal is to make the train more reliable and safer, and the results are pretty impressive. The Carolinian (train from Charlotte to Raleigh and the return) has gone from a 4 hour 20 min trip in 1990 to a 3 hour, 10 min trip now. With their safety awareness outreach programs, they have seen a reduction in fatalities on the tracks as well.
Here are some interesting stats:
• Travelling at 55 MPH, it takes a mile for a train to stop
• Trucks are involved in 10 times more accidents than trains
• It is illegal to walk on the railroad tracks, they are private property
• Amtrak in NC also allows you to check a bicycle as luggage for free!
• Because of the increase in interest and ridership, a new midday service has been added between Raleigh and Charlotte
• The Cary Amtrak Station received an award from OneRail for being a National Example of Success
• The Cary Depot is the 4th busiest station in NC with 89,000 passengers
• The Cary Depot is the 2nd in the nation for customer satisfaction with a 94% customer satisfaction rate
• NC Train volunteers all over the state act as good will ambassadors – and they volunteer their time to help passengers. A number of Cary citizens are volunteers, including the president of the Train Volunteers, Bob Warner, who was on our trip
• The NC Train Volunteers are having their annual meeting in Cary this year, to be held at the Cary Theater!
Sometimes I think I am one of the luckiest people in the world. And that’s true for this month.
I’m a Lucky Girl
As part of the Cisco Social Ambassador program, I was chosen to join the “media day” for Bold Alligator 2014. Bold Alligator is a 12 day joint Navy and Marine exercise that showcases the capabilities of what is called “seabasing” and the full range of amphibious operations all while responding to multiple crisis and responses. This year, more than 19 nations and 19 ships participated in the exercises that spanned the eastern seaboard from Washington DC to Florida, to as far inland as Indiana. The fourth Bold Alligator, there were more than 450 planes and 17,000 service people are involved, taking 2 years of planning. Our group of media folks – from bloggers and tweeters to journalists, were there to get a glimpse of what our amazing servicemen and women are doing, day in and day out.
But basically, it means that I was able to spend a day watching and interacting with these phenomenal military folks. Oh, and I was in a Seahawk Helicopter, on an aircraft carrier, but more on that later.
Let’s Get Started
The day started at Cherry Point, Marine Corp Air Station. I was about to take a picture of the front of the Station, when I saw a fellow blogger getting pulled aside and questioned by some Marines, so I thought I would just wait for our escort. ☺
We headed for a briefing at Bogue Field, where we learned more about the operation and the day’s events. Although a joint operation, we were escorted by folks working mostly with the Marine Expeditionary Brigades (MEB). These forces are set up to be be agile and nimble, and to support the fleet’s war fighting operations. At first I was initially surprised at the number of terms used by the Marines that are also used by our product development teams and engineers, again demonstrating the need for us to continue to hire and leverage veterans with great skills and experience.
The Treasure Coast
The exercise uses a fictional Treasure Coast complete with a history of countries shown on a map on top of the US map. The complex scenarios outlined in the exercise focus on background provided about these countries. What we learned during our briefing is that “the emerging democracies of Amber, Amberland, Amethyst Island, Mica and others are improving, while relations with Garnet are deteriorating. Pirate attacks plague the area while humanitarian aid to Amber, Amberland and Pyrope are hampered.”
Command and Control
Starting a Bogue Field, we drove through barbed wire fencing checkpoints to review the Navy Expeditionary Force and Marine Wing Support Squadron operations. Think of it like the biggest tent you ever saw, with rooms upon rooms that emanate from a large center tent. We had to put down our cameras and phones for this part of the tour.
We entered the tent from a grassy and tree lined area, directly into a monitored and guarded cell phone/camera drop area. The tent had air conditioning, a metal floor, lighting, networking operations, huge screens, and, I was glad to see Cisco phones all over the place. These tents are erected in hours not weeks, and it was nicer than some conference rooms I’ve been in. The situational awareness room (my words, not theirs) reviewed chats, and incoming intelligence from various sources.
After that we toured an area set up to show us the various disciplines in use – from Explosive Ordnance Disposal (ok, bombs) via robot, and this bomb suit, below. (Gulp!) One of the folks in our group asked how someone gets that job…you know, the guy the gets to wear the bomb suit. “He must’ve drawn the short straw.” The soldier corrected him immediately. “No sir, the person in THAT suit has the MOST experience.” Makes sense, but reminded me of the sacrifice our military folks make everyday.
I also met several entomologists. Yep, the Navy has entomologists – otherwise known as bug people. There are 38 entomologists currently serving on active duty supporting the marines throughout the theatres – from malaria control, pests on ships and they work to identify possible other issues as well. The folks I met had just caught several Black Widow spiders in the tents just deployed, and they wanted me to see it up close. Ummm, no thank you.
After that, we headed to the Bogue Air Field, to see field operations. Did you know Marines can put down a runway or air pad in just hours? And put together a runway that will support a Harrier aircraft in just days? It’s a key component in their rapid deployment, agile system. The other equipment was just as impressive, such as the fire truck and runway cleaner.
Next Stop, USS Kearsarge
After lunch at the Officers Club, we headed to the USS Kearsarge (KSG) via helicopter. Putting on the cranial helmet (perfectly named), as well as the life vest, we loaded up the Seahawks to head out for a 40 min flight to the carrier.
Getting buckled up in my 4 point harness, sitting backwards, while not being able to easily look down (with that huge helmet on my head) was a trip. It was a little bit of a bumpy ride, but absolutely exhilarating. Landing on the KSG was crazy – just think about landing a bird on a moving target, that is moving up and down at the same time. These pilots are so well trained, they made it seem like parallel parking. (Still difficult for many without the backup camera. ☺)
The USS Kearsarge, a small aircraft carrier, is officially called an Amphibious Assault Ship. It supports V/STOL – (Vertical/Short Take-Off and Landing) planes, and helicopter aircraft. It’s 846 feet long – think 3 football fields, and normally houses 29 aircraft. (There were 18 birds on board that day.) Some of them are not on deck, as you can see here.
Next was a meeting with Major General Richard Simcock and Rear Admiral Cindy Thebaud. We got a run down of the partnership between the Navy and Marines, or what they call, “putting the blue and green team back together.”
The KSG was like a mini-city, with our tour we saw much of it – from the gym, to the decks, to the ward room and eating bay.
Birds Eye View
A quick trip to the bridge, to get a view of one of the highest points we could go, was a thrill. And, the most swaying part of the trip. The bridge is really the ship’s command center – where the captain controls the movement of the ship.
Get a look at these guys. Young, huh? The fine young man on the right is 19 – and he’s driving the ship. The gentleman on the left, he’s 20 something, and he runs propulsion and it takes about 5 miles to actually stop the ship. Yes, about 5 miles.
The navigation team of 3 sailors were also under 21, and all with significant experience and presence. If the captain says they can do this job, I believe him.
Next was a quick trip to the secondary bridge, where we could get a really great view of the ship. There the captain shared some great stories and more about the USS Kearsarge’s capability to do replenishment at sea, how tension lines for fuel and cargo make the job easier, and his longest time consecutively at sea without a stop at a port, 142 days.
Finally, we headed to the deck – to get up close and personal with the flight operations. Donning a float jacket and my favorite headgear, we headed up. At first, I couldn’t believe we would be this close while helicopters were taking off and landing. But, we were.
I followed our escort, and ended up stopping short of the destination as a Seahawk made its way to land right across from me. That was my opportunity – I grabbed my camera and decided to get some video – without really noticing all the Marines planting themselves perpendicular to the landing spot. Then, the prop wash of the roters hit, and I almost lost my balance. That’s why they planted themselves. Duh. I got a better view when I moved further up the deck. (Check out both videos below) The Seahawk must’ve made no less than 15 landings – back and forth, some of that for us, I’m sure, and some as training. The whole operation looked highly tuned and organized.
First attempt at recording,below.
Much better second attempt.
We made our way back inside, to catch our own flight back to the Base. Right before us, however were several dignitaries, we were told they were Retired Generals. The custom is to set out a red carpet and then sailors, called side boys, would arrive to flank the entrance area to form a passageway at the gangway. The number of “side boys” there is dependent on the rank of the Officer and they stayed at their post and saluted the dignitaries as they left.
As we took off quickly from the USS Kearsarge, I looked back at the ship – knowing that I now have some lifelong memories, an amazing experience and a huge appreciation for all of our service men and women in the Armed Forces. To all of our veterans and active service members, thank you for your service. I couldn’t have asked for a better day, than to spend it with you. We are all in your debt.
I would like to thank Dennis Hall of the Avere Group, and the Cisco Social Ambassador program. The Social Ambassador program recognizes employees and contractors who have adopted social media as part of their job and/or would like to expand their skill set. Over 1,000+ members all over the world are currently participating in the program. Dennis and Cisco – thank you for making this the Best Day Ever!
My participation in exercise Bold Alligator 2014 is the outcome at the outset of a pro bono relationship between Rachel Bakker, Cisco Systems Social Media Manager and Dennis Hall, founder of Avere Group, LLC in California dating back to 2011. Dennis Hall has nominated community leaders on a pro bono basis to the military for public affairs embarks for over 22 years, including employees of Cisco Systems before the collaboration. He is neither an employee nor contractor of the military.
You may have seen this strange little green vehicle on the road around Cary. In case you were wondering who’s in that thing, it’s me.
Meet my ELF – my new bike. Yes, it’s a bike. On steroids.
What’s an ELF?
It’s basically a bike, with a cover, and a bit of electric power to help – a cross between a car and a bicycle. (You may have seen them in Durham, that’s where the company, Organic Transit, is located.) (ELF stands for Electric, Light, Fun)
The bike component of the ELF is a recumbent bike, meaning you are sitting closer to the ground with your feet in front of you to pedal, rather than upright and straddling a seat. With 3 wheels, (2 in the front, one in the back), it also has gears (a continuous gear train) and handle-bar brakes.
On the car side – add a mostly enclosed cab (with a spacious lockable trunk), an electric assist that is powered by a rechargeable battery and solar panel, rear view and side mirrors and you have the hybrid picture.
Questions, I get questions
The most common questions I get are – “How fast can you go?” and “How far will the battery take you?”
How fast can I go? As fast as my little legs will carry me! If I just let the battery pull me, (meaning no pedaling) the ELF will speed up to 20 miles per hour, but I have gone faster, especially downhill. ☺
How far can the battery take me? Well, if I were to ONLY use the battery, no pedaling, the battery I have should carry me about 15 miles. (Although there is an upgrade available that will go 40 miles.) The solar panel on the roof can trickle charge the ELF when we are in the sun, fully recharging the battery in about 6-7 hours. Or, for a faster recharge, I can carry the small battery inside, and fully recharge it connected to my standard outlet in about 1.5 hours. Unfortunately, the pedaling that I do does not recharge the battery, although I understand that will be an option on future ELFs.
Why an ELF?
So, why an ELF, you might ask? Let me explain. It was the year of my BIG birthday, and I was looking for new ways to get exercise that was a little more fun. I love riding my bike, but found that I was mostly riding at events, or on the weekends. At the same time, I was noticing that many of my trips around town, were under 10 miles, one way. Although I had ridden my bike to work before, I would always feel the need to take a shower after I arrived. (Carrying my laptop in my backpack, with other items in my panniers, would definitely make me “glisten.”)
I was looking for a way to ride my bike that would get me a more “perspiration free” trip. The ELF gives me that! I can use the power in the battery on the way to a meeting, insuring a mostly “sweat free” appearance (minus the bike helmet hair) and then I often change to more comfortable biking clothes in order to get a better workout, and do more pedaling on the way back home.
I’ve driven it to council meetings, to the Cisco office, to meetings around town, to the coffee shop and even grocery shopping. (The trunk will hold about 5 or 6 bags of groceries.)
Although the ELF weighs about 160lbs (without me in it), I’ve found that it’s pretty easy to pedal, except up some BIG hills when I’m glad to have the use of the “power assist.” I’ve driven it on the road (it’s a bike!) and on the sidewalk and greenways.(Always wearing a helmet.) Riding it all around town, at all times of the day, part of the fun is seeing the looks I get from folks as they do a double-take; smiling, pointing and taking pictures. So far, people are genuinely kind and move over into the other lane when I am on the road, even when I am far to the right in the bike lane.
Although I was concerned about night-riding, I’ve been told that we are very visible on the road at night – with my bright CREE headlights, turning signals, and brake lights. (I’m thinking of adding more reflectors, but so far, it’s just the base Elf.)
Fun and Useful
At the end of the day, with Elf-aba, I feel like I have the best of all worlds. I’ve been able to add additional exercise to my routine, I’m still able to get around town, but by using less non-renewable energy, and still enjoy the outdoors and our wonderful community. All in all, it’s been one of my favorite benefits of reaching that BIG birthday milestone.