Saturday, April 28, 2012

San Francisco Reclaiming Streets for Pedestrians and Cyclists

This great video by Streetfilms gives a great overview of what the city of San Francisco has been doing in the recent past to make the city more people-scaled, rather than car-centric, and thus greener.

The beauty here, and what excites me about most of these so-called 'tactical' initiatives, is that they can be done quickly and cheaply, which means that if other US cities wake up and decide to commit to more pedestrian, cyclist, and transit-friendly cities, they can make a lot of progress very quickly.
I also think that dynamic parking pricing, which is being pioneered in SF, should be the norm everywhere. It just makes more sense than the flat rates that we have now; why make people pay the same thing when there's 100 empty spots as when there are 2? By making street-parking more expensive during peak time, you insure that those who really need a spot can find one, and that those who could have taken transit or walked rather than driven there will do so. The pricing mechanism allocates a scarce resource more efficiently and everybody wins.

For more details on how dynamic parking pricing works in SF, check out the official website of SFPark.

Via Streetfilms

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

New "Torch" Bike Helmet

I like to get on Kickstarter to see what innovations are happening in the bike world.  This helmet designed by Nathan Will's caught my eye, the Torch T1. It has integrated LED lights, red in back and white in front. They are much higher than they would be if mounted on the bike, and almost wrap around, giving a much wider angle of view than conventional lights. There is the added benefit that one is less likely to forget them, or have them stolen.

The helmet features front and rear lenses which the LEDs project onto. This projection method is important as it disperses the light across the lens. This creates increased visibility and brighter light from wider viewing angles. The lenses also protect the LEDs from water, dust, and debris; as you see in the video.
The only downside I see is that one is supposed to replace a helmet after a hit; it is the crushing of the foam inside that absorbs the shock instead of just transferring it to your brain. It doesn't appear to have a lot of venting either, but for city driving in most of the year that is probably not an issue.
I don't always wear my helmet, but I am crazed about lights at night. I like it. More at Kickstarter.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Pleasures of Biking Grows Beyond Point A to B

There's really no single definitive reason why more people don't ride bikes. Instead, it's a bunch of little things, all smashed together to form a fairly significant, "I just can't." You have heard it all before. There's the length of the commute, the weather, the kids and their soccer camps, the dogs and their vet visits, the groceries and their need to be bought. There's your hair and its haircut. Your outfit and its desire to arrive unwrinkled to the office. There's a lot.

But once you, the non-cyclist, gets acquainted with you, the cyclist, a slightly clich├ęd thing called "biking joy" will take over. Biking joy is a combination of relief at not being inside a car, pleasure at breathing cool, fresh air, contentment at observing all the different aspects of your surroundings you wouldn't connect to if you were driving, and satisfaction that you are getting a bit of exercise in the process of going in an eco-friendly fashion from point A to B.

And once that bike joy kicks in, you, like every other human on the planet, will want to repeat what you noticed was a pleasurable experience. And so you start trying to solve all those little problems - weather, kids, pets, and produce - that you previously thought were insurmountable, in order to be able to ride your bike.

Once you do that, you transition to bike imagination mode. Your bike-mobile is now an individualized transport device, and all you have to do is keep the tires pumped, the chain lubed, and the bell free from rust. Liberated from the tyranny of constant car, your mind is now free to roam into new creative pathways.

And that is when you start to create things for your bike to do - like haul your dining room table, carry a 6-pack of beer or bottle of wine, or move your household.

Or, like Jana Kinsman, you might start thinking of how to tend to and transport bee hives on the back of a bike custom-designed to keep those honeybees happy in their journeys around Chicago. Kinsman discovered an unexpected sense of community when she learned beekeeping in Eugene, Oregon. She wanted to combine that with her eco-friendly biking life in the city of Chicago. Her Kickstarter project Bike-A-Bee is now funded, and Kinsman is building hives and preparing her project.

Maybe bees are not your passion, and hot tubbing is. Then you think more along the lines of designers Floris Schoonderbeek and Dick van Hoff, who have created what they call the Dutch Tub, a fiberglass, brightly colored hot tub that is fired by wood and can be transported by bike (at 165 pounds, it's not heavier than taking the average adult on back). The Dutch Tub is another way to build community and happiness, especially in cool and rain-soaked places like Portland, Oregon.

And then, there's Chalktrail. Chalktrail is being touted as a hot new kid's toy, but I don't see it that way at all. To me, Chalktrail is the Kickstarter version of those instant bike trail devices that have been incredibly popular. Chalktrail had no problem reaching its $37,000 funding goal, and now the product's first production run is already sold out. What's cool about Chalktrail, aside from the instant bike path aspect, is the fact that its creators solved the problem of multiple bike tire sizes.

Last but not least, if your bike joy is big and your budget is, too, your summer bash deserves a visit from the beer bike. Metrofiets, a Portland-based company, built a beer-keg bike a few years back, and was amazed at the positive response the bike generated at events in this ale-happy city. So Metrofiets built a second bike, specifically designed for rental.

For $150, you can have the beer bike delivered to your location (beyond Portland locations require a special quote) and the next day it will be picked up again. The beer is not included, but nearly everything else you could possibly want for a portable party - two taps, a Co2 system, 100 feet of cooling coils, drip tray, full height bar top, towel holder, electric assist, rear rack and a battery-powered stereo system that you can plug your tunes into is. Summer's almost here!

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Downside for Cities that Choose Bikes

It's no coincidence that some of the cities considered 'best' to live in in the United States are also some of the friendliest to bike in. Portland, Oregon, San Francisco, California, and Seattle, Washington DC, continue to draw people to them, as do Chicago, New York, Denver and Boulder, Colorado, and Long Beach, California, among others. Some of these cities - Boulder especially - have thriving bike sharing programs. Others are planning to get bike sharing.

One of these cities, Portland, despite an incredibly long rainy season and a miserably grey winter, has an admirable bicycle mode share of approximately 8 percent. That means that of all trips Portlanders take - to work, to school, to play and to do all their errands - 8 percent of the trips are by bicycle.

That percentage is by far the best in the nation. Of course it didn't happen overnight. A series of actions lead Portland to embrace and build bike lanes and begin to encourage its cyclists. The sad thing is, is that just as agencies such as the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) start to achieve success in turning people from their cars to their bikes, they also start to suffer a funding crunch. Because much of the funding for transportation agencies comes from, yes, you guessed it, the gas tax. Unfortunately or fortunately, In Portland, and in other parts of the Northwest, driving has continually fallen in recent years. That means less money for bike lanes, and less money for routine things like fixing pot holes, and less money for big-ticket projects, too.

It's a classic Catch-22 - the more transport agencies are successful in encouraging drivers to bike, the less money from gas taxes there is in local coffers to build out the necessary bike infrastructure to make biking as efficient and universally popular as driving. So, what are bike-loving cities to do?

In the case of Portland, with its long-term goal of getting bicycle mode share to a whopping 25%, there is no easy solution to this conundrum. Raising the gas tax is one strategy (our gas taxes are low compared to countries like Denmark) but that's not popular with voters.

Continuing to fund bike/walk projects is Portland's aim, and PBOT is making an interim goal of 10% mode share to help people observe their progress. Beyond that, PBOT says that it is looking for 'new revenue streams' to fund all the bike infrastructure and education it wants and needs to do. It seems like somehow, PBOT and other transport agencies with a similar challenge have got to decouple from the negative (funding from gas taxes) and figure out how to get funding from the positive (the health, air quality, and stress-reduction) benefits people get from cycling.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

New Bent Basket

No matter where I travel, people are still a little surprised if you ride your bike everywhere. Because when it comes right down to it, how do you transport your precious cargo when you are going somewhere and can't lug a bag or mess with paniers?

Well, that might not have been exactly the problem Faris Elmasu was trying to solve when he designed the iconic (ok, if it's not an icon yet, it should be) Bent Basket.

The Bent does double duty as a lighter-weight front bike rack, and as a very handy bicycle basket/tray where you can strap on bananas, your purse, your water carrier, and oh yeah, best of all, it will handily carry fresh flowers without crushing and a 6-pack without breaking.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Fold-Flat Thin Bike

Fair Companies have released a new video in which Graham explains the thinking behind the Thin Bike.

Basically consisting of a lightweight, full-size bike frame with foldable pedals and a quick release, fold-flat handlebar mechanism, none of this is exactly rocket science. It's just a clever approach to identifying and reducing the sticking points that make regular bikes harder to carry and more of a pain to store.

The addition of a grease-free carbon drive is also a nice touch given that the bike is designed for carrying up and down stairs and on mass transit. After all, most folks don't like to get too dirty.

All-in-all a nice bike and another great video from Fair Companies. Check out @kirstendirksen and @faircompanies for more great videos, and while you are at it, why not follow Graham Hill and find out what he's cooking up next too?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

New York is Learning from Copenhagen

We all know that Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, is a world-class city when it comes to cyclists and bike-friendly infrastructure. New York City isn't quite there yet, but it's making efforts to improve and it's getting some help from Copenhagen, as you can see in this video from the "official website of Denmark".

Monday, April 16, 2012

More Bike Facilities=More Cyclists

I have been reading the book Bicycle Revolution again and love getting recharged about the idea that more cyclists=safer roads=more cyclists. It is a perfect feedback loop. Now a new study has been released that also proves this common sense theory.

Rutgers researcher John Pucher - he studies what seems like common sense in transportation, and then makes it sound good. Studying bike lanes in 90 or the 100 largest American cities, Pucher and collaborater Ralph Buehl used Pearson’s correlation, bivariate quartile analysis, and two different types of regressions to measure the relationship between more and longer bike lanes and quantity of cyclists.

Their conclusion: cities with a greater supply of bike lanes have more bike commuters. And according to the researchers, that correlation exists even when controlling for things like land use, climate, socioeconomics, gas prices, public transport supply, and cycling safety.

In addition, Pucher and Buehler found that cities with safer cycling, lower auto ownership, more students, less sprawl, and higher gas prices had more cycling to work. So, build the bike lanes and the cyclists will come.

In a city such as Portland, Milwaukee, and New York, this conclusion seems so obvious. But leave the biggest cycling cities, and it can feel like cycling is light years behind and the car the overwhelmingly dominant transport device. However, Pucher's research is welcome news in that it proves that all you really need to have cyclists and start building critical bike mass, is bike lanes.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

New York's 2012 Bike Map is Unveiled

While it's too bad that it seems like New York City has slowed down a bit the creation of new bike lanes, with 8.7 new miles of lanes added in 2011 vs. closer to 50 miles in both 2009 and 2010, it's still great to look at what the city has been able to accomplish in the past few years. All it took was some conviction and strategy, something that is sorely lacking in many big cities that could become great biking cities.

Anyway, I'm writing to let you know that NYC's 2012 Bike Map (pdf) has been released with all the details about the new bike lanes. Check it out, it's beautiful in its own way.

The PDF file is quite detailed, and as you can see above, you can zoom in quite a bit on any part of the city to see details more clearly.

It's probably not a bad idea to keep the PDF on your smartphone (if you have one) for easy access if you ever need to look up a bike path or plan a route.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Recycle Bicycles Into Art

When it comes to reducing carbon emissions, recycling and bicycling go hand in hand -- heck, they're almost the same word. So what better way to do both simultaneously than to take a bike that's seen better days and give it a new life? With that in mind, 20 Slovenian artists recently got together to transform 20 shabby old bicycles into one-of-a-kind works of beautifully rideable art. And they did it in just 10 days.

In the short clip below, produced by Multipraktik Collective, a group of artists add a whimsical touch to bikes that might otherwise be condemned to the rust pile as part of a project called The Making of Orto Bikes. What results are some of the most artful bicycles to hit the streets, crafted in just a week and a half, stuffed-animal fenders and all.

making of Orto Bikes from Multipraktik on Vimeo.
Sure, it clearly takes a bit of elbow grease to sand, paint, and prime an old junker back into a head-turner, but it's almost always cheaper and eco-friendlier to refurbish an unloved old bike than to buy a new one.