Tuesday, September 28, 2010

iPhone App for Cycling Turns Cell Phone Into a TomTom

bike hub app image

I was very excited when Google finally released a Bike There feature on Google Maps, where a cyclists could pick the best route for pedaling from place to place. Now there is a new free iPhone app that turns your iPhone into a cyclist's version of a TomTom or Garmin GPS navigator. The app shows the best bike-friendly routes to get from here to there, and displays a map for you to check during your journey. It not only keeps you on bike paths, but also shows you short-cuts that can trim time off your ride. And it has a whole bunch of other handy features that are cool.


According to the press release, the app from Bike Hub suses satnav-style routing that has been engineered specifically for cyclists. It keeps you on bike-safe paths and streets, and arranges your route to minimize up-hill cycling. You can even pick if you want the quietest route, the quickest, or a balanced route.
The cycle routing is done via CycleStreets of Cambridge, a community-based group working on a not-for-profit basis. Cyclestreets uses mathematical graph theory algorithms to quickly work out bicycle-friendly routes. Mapping is provided by OpenStreetMap, the 'wikipedia of maps'. OpenStreetMap is a community of 300,000 map enthusiasts worldwide who collaborate to produce the most up-to-date maps available. Changes made by members of the OSM community can be available online within hours.
Other features we like include a "bike shop finder," a listing of bike-friendly events, and a listing of laws associated with cycling in that area.
bike hub app image
There seems to be some room for improvement according to a review on the Guardian:
One that will be particularly noticeable for anyone who has used satnav before, is that the app's map doesn't have a little dot tracking your progress. Also, the map doesn't scroll automatically as you move, or call turnings. If you want to know where you are, you need to click the target icon. You'll get a lovely big purple doughnut on the screen to show where you are, but it doesn't hang around long. Similarly it won't tell you how fast you're going. Overall, if you're expecting satnav for your bike, you'll be disappointed. To their credit, the makers actually call it "the nearest thing to satnav for bikes". It would have been nice though ...
Another problem - one that goes for all bike apps on iPhones - is that battery life isn't good for longer trips, especially if you want to keep the screen switched on.
Even with these issues, the reviewer gave it a very high recommendation. If you try it out, let me know what you think!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Biking in Florence Italy

I am going to report on my Italy trip in the order that we visited and saw things. There really wasn't any city that was that much better than the others and they all had good and bad policies and habits being practiced.


Florence is a college town so it had the most visible number of bikes parked on the street and number of cyclists riding bikes for commuting and recreation. The city of Florence had implemented separated bike lanes on the major arterial streets that fed the city and bidirectional, colored bike lanes on many of the secondary streets. Most of the secondary streets were paved with cobbles so the smooth bike lanes encouraged use and directed bikes through the heart of the city with little interaction with automobiles.

Florence was the first place that we saw that had bikes sitting around unlocked or just locked to themselves and leaned against shops and buildings. They also used the flimsiest cable locks and chains to secure their bikes. After renting bikes and doing a Tuscany bike tour, I found some inside information about their locking practices. Our guide Bill, from I Bike Italy explained that bikes in the daylight were fairly safe and a small chain was sufficient to detour theft. Night time was a totally different situation. He said that no bike lock was big enough to secure nice bikes so there wasn't any sense in spending the money on a fancy lock just to have it all gone the next morning. He said they just bring their nice bikes indoors and it has been such a part of the routine that they don't think anything of it. He also said that the city has been known to change bike racks without any notice and they would go through and cut all the bikes free, move the rack, and the bikes would either be confiscated by the city or by thieves.

Florence didn't have a sponsored bike sharing program, but had several private bike rental companies. It was very reminiscent of New York's bike rental system and the streets were full of tourists that rented bikes by the hour and see the city from the perspective of 2 wheels.


The bike clubs and athletic groups that bike were very active in the area, since you could ride 5 miles outside of town and be in some pretty fun/steep, rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside. Clubs seemed to be very similar to the ones here in the states and they all appeared to be doing their typical weekend warrior rides or people just out cruising through the field of vineyards and olive groves.


Overall Florence had the best on street bike facilities. Very hip bike culture and commuting. No helmets to be found anywhere, but that is true all over Europe. Very pedestrian friendly with several bike and pedestrian only streets.





Sunday, September 26, 2010

Brooklyn's Prospect Park West Bikeway Accepted and Working



In my recent time up in New York, one of the areas of the city that I wanted to see was Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Up until this summer, speeding was apparently the norm on Brooklyn's Prospect Park West. With three wide lanes inviting motorists to hit the accelerator, it was a street monopolized by car traffic. That changed in a big way in June, when NYC DOT converted one vehicle lane to a two-way bikeway separated from traffic by the parking lane. Physically separated bike lanes are making New York safer for cyclists and pedestrians wherever they're installed, and this one is no exception.

The new lane feels safe and comfortable to ride on, no matter how much experience you may have as a cyclist, and it's attracting riders of all ages. For everyone walking to and from Prospect Park, the street re-design means slower cars -- compliance with the speed limit is up by a factor of five, according to a study by Park Slope Neighbors -- and safer crossings at intersections.

The transformation has been dramatic, and like any major change to the street, this one has attracted some vocal critics. While some opponents contend that the lane has been installed without public input, the truth is that community groups have been calling for traffic calming and safer biking on this street for years. Watch and see how the new Prospect Park West has made good on those demands.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Italian Bike Culture

What I saw on my trip to Italy  has to be broken up unto a few posts. Not only because of the amount of things that I saw and experienced, but because of the different things that each city had.


Italy seemed to be like many places here in the US or other cities in the world. They are facing an increased number of cars and multiple modes of transportation on their roadways. Unfortunately for them, most of their roads are 100s if not 1000s of years old and right of ways are designed for horse and cart and not large automobiles. Italy has done like many places in Europe and developed the use of smaller cars and vehicles and really embraced scooters.


A few cities that we visited are pushing their new infrastructure and transportation policies toward livable transportation initiatives. Cities like Rome, Florence, and Milan have implemented colorized bike lanes, tons of bike parking, and bike sharing programs. They also seemed to have a culture in place that embraced cycling and automobiles gave cyclists and pedestrians the courtesy they deserve and gave them priority on the roadway.

By talking to a few of the locals and doing a couple of rides out in the country, I found a few things that weren't apparent at first glance. Just like it is here in the US, bike theft is a huge problem and any bike that you want to still have in the morning, you have to bring it inside. Bikes during the daylight hours were safe with a small cable lock or even just leaned up against the wall outside the store you may visit. Bike helmets were only worn by road riders in spandex group rides. There were no laws regulating them and commuters didn't even consider them. E-bikes are very prevalent and seem to be making the jump into the mainstream much faster than they have here.


These are just some general observations from the few weeks that we were there. I am going to break down a few of cities into more detail on future posts, so look for those this week.



Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How many cyclists are really using bike lanes in Montreal?

Below is an interesting article that is pretty self explanatory. It is just more evidence that tends to back the theories behind the use of separated bike facilities in high traffic, urban areas. They provide safety and comfort for riders, and in turn increase ridership dramatically.

Check out the linked article and video that has a pretty cool helmet cam video from a Montreal bike courier. I won't vouch for his safe riding techniques, but his heart is in the right place. Couriers tend to ride like taxi drivers drive, but my hat always goes off for both. They focus on speed and efficiency and not so much on personal safety and road etiquette.

CTV British Columbia - How many cyclists are really using bike lanes? - CTV News

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Senate Candidate Killed While Riding Bike

Natasha Pettigrew Killed Bike AccidentA Green Party candidate running for U.S. Senate in Maryland has died after being hit by an SUV while riding her bike. Maryland State Police say 30-year-old Natasha Pettigrew died early Tuesday. She was hit by an SUV in Prince George's County early Sunday. Police say the woman driving the Cadillac Escalade that hit Pettigrew kept driving nearly four miles to her home, even though the bicycle was still lodged underneath the vehicle. Police say the woman thought she hit a deer or a dog and didn't want to stop in the early morning hours. When she and her husband found the bicycle under the SUV, they called police.

In cases like this, you never know what the circumstances were about the crash. Was she not riding with lights or reflective clothing? Was she wearing a helmet? Was she riding on the shoulder, bike lane, road...? Was the driver of the Escalade texting, eating breakfast, doing her makeup, sleepy...? We may never know many of these answers.

The main question to ask after this tragedy is; what do we do to help prevent these senseless crashes? The more I see other examples of cycling cultures, and the way that people address cycling and safety, the more I have to think that controlling vehicular speeds, increasing the number of cyclists on the roadways through various methods (facilities, bike sharing, education, marketing, etc), and cracking down on driving with distractions and following proper cycling rules, are the best ways to help protect cyclists and create a balanced/livable transportation culture on the roadways.

Cyclist crashes are never going to stop happening, just like car crashes are never going to go away. Crashes like the tragedy above will hopefully draw attention to these issues and their deaths won't be in complete vain.

Monday, September 20, 2010

DC Gets Bikeshare

Bikes
Gettin' on the bikes



I am gone from the US for 2 weeks and I get back and DC is sharing bikes! What a pleasant surprise. I had a great time in Italy and will be sharing bike stories/info about each city that I visited and there were some good and bad things to take away from the trip about their bike culture compared to ours. I have to get the pictures downloaded and culled out, before I can post about what I saw. Below is some details from DC's Bikesharing grand opening that occurred this morning.

I can’t think of a much better way to spend a gorgeous Monday morning than showing up to an event where several hundred spiffy new red bikes are lined up outside the US Department of Transportation headquarters ready to be ridden. Today was the launch of the Capital Bikeshare program – DC’s long-awaited expanded bike sharing program that will have 1,100 bikes in 100 stations around DC and Arlington. On hand for the launch was outgoing DC Mayor Adrian Fenty, DC delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Arlington County board member Jay Fissette, and the USDOT Assistant Secretary for Transportation Polly Trottenberg – and of course they all had glowing things to say about the project. Which was a good thing because the BIXI public bike folks from Montreal were also there in force. Roger Plamondon, chairman of the board for the Public Bike System Company spoke about the impact of such programs on people in cities around the world.

Then they got to ride! In a cunning plan, the organizers had convoys of riders deliver bikes to the stations around the city. The people from BIXI shared what they have learned about the impact of having 3 million trips on the Montreal system this year (incredible); the feedback they are getting from riders (fantastic); and the interest from cities around the world (phenomenal).

The Bixi staff


Carly and Darren

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Small Break In Posts

I am leaving tomorrow for Italy for a long needed vacation. I hope to have internet access in some of our hotels, and I will update my status if I get the opportunity. I will be looking for cool European bike stuff, so definitely look for some new posts in a few weeks.

Ride On! Ride Hard!!!