Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Too Many Bikes?!!!

Amsterdam bikes
I saw this article about the massive number of bicycles that are in Amsterdam linked on Facebook and via the New York Times, and it first made me think "Wow that is awesome!", but then after digging a little deeper, I can only imagine how inconvenient the number of bikes are for all the cyclists. Of course Amsterdam is widely considered one of the top - if not the #1 - cyclist city in the world. There are about 880,000 bicycles in a city of 800,000 people (though it's frequent for people to have more than one bike, f.ex. a cargo bike to carry heavy things and a commuting bike for everyday rides), and 32% of all trips are make on bikes while only 22% are done in cars. But now the city is running into the high quality problem of having bike traffic james and a scarcity of bike parking spots... So the question posed - Is there such a thing as too many bikes?
I don't think so. You can never have too many bikes...Right?
The real problem seems to be that infrastructure hasn't kept up with the growth in cycling. Biking wasn't always this popular in Amsterdam. Just since the early 1990s, the cycling's popularity has grown by 40%. It's no surprise that it puts a huge strain on infrastructure, even if a lot of it has been built since then. The solution is now fewer bikes, but even more bike garages (build them underground if need be), bike racks, bike lanes, etc!

The city seems to understand that quite well:
Mr. Smit’s problem is largely what keeps Thomas Koorn, of Amsterdam’s Transport and Traffic Department, awake at night. “We have a real parking issue,” he said in a conference room overlooking the IJ. Over the next two decades, Mr. Koorn said, the city will invest $135 million to improve the biking infrastructure, including the creation of 38,000 bike parking racks “in the hot spots.” (source)
Can you imagine what a proportionally scaled up investment into biking infrastructure would do to a city like New York? NYC is over 10x bigger than Amsterdam, so that would be an extra $1.35 billion invested into cycling!


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Citi Bike Takes the Pain In the Ass Test

I knew that NYC's bike share would come with people complaining and being against it just because it was new. I knew it would eventually become a normal part of NYC life since bike share, after all, is just bicycles...that people share. I consider bike sharing to be city cycling's 'gateway drug', i.e. a super effective method that eases the biking uninitiated into the pleasures and practical value of biking in cities.

Casey Neistat, a creative film maker, decided to see just how good (or bad) Citi BIke are when compared to two of his other daily transport choices - taking taxis, or riding his own bike.

In Neistat's film, taxis come out as the fastest choice (by that we mean a couple of minutes faster) but in terms of their 'pain in the ass' factor, they were the worst. At first, his own bike seemed better than a bike-share bike to Neistat because of the very high level of frustration and time-wasting he experienced going through the steps of checking out a bike at a Citi Bike kiosk.

Once Neistat realized that Citi Bike members can get a key to bypass the on-screen registration process, he pronounced bike share the least 'pain in the ass' method of transport for his own daily commute.

Of course Neistat's assessment is subjective, and his Manhattan commute is relatively short. But the video goes some way in dispelling some of the notions people might have about bike share. While there is still quite a lot of media coverage of Citi Bike's effects on the city's residents (and the inevitable report of an accident involving one of the bikes), something must be working. Look at the stats on early usage:

Average trips per day: 14,200
Total revenue thus far: $3,334,000.00
Duration of average ride: 23 minutes, 36 seconds
Most popular bike stations: Broadway and W. 57th St.; West St. and Chambers St.; 17th St. and Broadway
Citigroup’s sponsorship deal for six years, $41 million


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Indianapolis Cultural Trail Finally Getting Noticed

indianapolis Cultural Trail
I have been luck enough to know and be related to several people from Indianapolis since before 2007, when the beginning of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail was being conceptualized. The main goal was to create a vast network of beautiful protected bike/pedestrian paths around the city center to connects the city's five downtown Cultural Districts, neighborhoods and entertainment amenities, and "serves as the downtown hub for the entire central Indiana greenway system". Fast forward to today, and Indianapolis' Cultural Trail has become a reality, yet it has been flying under the radar compared to some other bike initiatives like, for example, New York's Citi Bike. That's too bad, because the Indianapolis Cultural Trail deserves the spotlight, and should serve as a model for other cities. It is the biggest bicycling infrastructure achievement in North America and yet it's still practically a secret.

See for yourself how cool it is:

Above is a map of the Cultural Trail (you can see a large version here). What's amazing about it is that it was built with philanthropic dollars. This could be a model for other cities where tax dollars are scarce.
Via Indy Cultural Trail, Streetfilms

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Riding a Bike to School Will Make You Smarter

Teen girls who walked or biked to school in a Spanish study performed better at school in verbal and math skills that their peers who rode the bus or got to school in a car, according to a 2011 research study funded by the Spanish National Research Council. More recently, the results of a large Danish study from 2012 show that driving kids to school in a car is doing them a disservice. This large study by researchers from the University of Copenhagen and Aarhus University followed 20,000 school kids aged 5-19 in some of their daily activities. The researchers were interested to see whether a good breakfast made a difference in concentration levels - an idea that is fairly well accepted in the U.S.

The group of kids walking or biking to school concentrated better than those driven to school or taking public transport, and the effect lasted throughout the morning hours. On average, active students scored 8.2 - 8.4 on a concentration test (of a possible 10) while non-active students scored an average of 7.6 - 7.8. This was more than the concentration difference shown between students who did eat breakfast (8 - 8.15) and those who didn't (8.1 - 8.25).

Unfortunately, in the Nordic nations and in the U.S., the trend for how children get to school is going in the opposite direction - more children are getting driven to school than ever before. Parents perceive walking and biking to be dangerous, while actually things have gotten safer for cyclists in many, many places, and overall fatalities are trending downward.

Of course, correlation is not causality, so it can't be said with certainty that riding a bike to school will make you smarter, anymore than it can be said that driving in cars will make you fat. With biking, there are so many other benefits, real and perceived, that it certainly seems worth a try to get parents off the driving-the-kids-to-school frenzy.

Via: Ecoprofil (Swedish)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Bike Maker

Bike Maker
The short documentary below tells the story of Harlem bike maker Ezra Caldwell of Fast Boy Cycles. It's beautifully shot and Ezra's story is quite touching (he was diagnosed with cancer in 2008). I'll let you see for yourself, but be warned that it might not be entirely safe for work because of a bit of swearing and some 'medical' nudity when he discusses his illness. But what truly matters is that like the best documentaries, it doesn't just tell us about the obvious subject matter, but also about human nature in general and the universal pursuit of happiness.

The video below gives you an idea of some of what Ezra does when he makes a custom one-of-a-kind bike:

You can find more on the Fast Boy Cycles blog. Ezra also posts a lot of bike stuff on his Flickr page.
Via Vimeo, Fast Boy Cycles

Monday, June 3, 2013

New Vending Machines for Cyclists

Express Biker bike parts vending machine
A company called Express Biker has created a self-serve vending machine that sells bike parts. The goal is to help cyclists who might be riding late at night or far from bike shops, where getting a flat tire (for example) would be very inconvenient. The vending machines will sell things like tubes, lights, co2, patch kits, various tools and parts.

There are already two machines in function in Brooklyn: One on the border of South Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant at the Emporium Gas Station on Flushing Avenue, and one at the Mobil Gas Station at 415 Empire Blvd. a few blocks away from Prospect Park. They want to partner with outdoor locations near major bike routes throughout NYC that are open for 24 hours, such as gas stations, parks, etc.

It reminds me a bit of this free-to-use bike repair station, though this one only has tools and an air pump (these should be everywhere, in my opinion):

Boston is also getting vending machines, but for bike helmets. As programs for renting bikes expand across the nation, so too do programs and infrastructure that support cyclists -- and Helmethub's aim is to keep cyclists safe, and without an excuse for riding helmet-less.

helmethub imageHelmethub is launching a solar-powered vending machine in Boston in July. The vending machines, each holding 36 helmets, will be located next to Hubway locations, the city's bike-sharing program. Cyclists will be able to rent helmets for about $2.00 at the same time they pick up their rented bike. The machines can even dispense three different sizes of helmet to make sure it fits the user correctly.

When helmets are dropped off by users after use, they're picked up by the team and sent to Helmethub headquarters to be inspected and cleaned before being placed back in the vending machines. The machines provide real-time info to the team so they know when each machine needs to be restocked, or used helmets need to be picked up.

I love seeing this initiative to keep cyclists safe, especially those who are renting bikes and so are less likely to own their own helmet. We'll see how Helmethub's new program works throughout the summer and if it is successful, perhaps other cities will adopt the system to go with their bike-share systems as well.