Google Maps Bike There…for a safer, healthier, happier world. :-)

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Archive for March, 2008

Conditions are perfect

March 06, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

I was reading through my feed reader and this post from LA Streetsblog popped up (Streetsblog is/are part of the The Open Planning Project (TOPP) - the same folks who produce those cool videos you’ve probably seen) - they were exploring whether or not LA might be prepared for an oil crisis.

Soon after reading the LA Streetsblog post, I checked in on the petition signatures and noticed a signature from New Zealand.

It was then I was reminded of one of my favorite songs of recent times — ‘Business Time‘ by Flight of the Conchords (who are from New Zealand). One of their key phrases in the song is ‘Conditions are perfect’.

I figure that’s pretty much what we’re witnessing right now, in terms of the worldwide bicycle movement. Conditions actually are perfect - or seem to be nearly so. Whether you’ve battled weight gain, are tired of sitting in traffic, hate paying an arm and a leg to fill your gas tank, or are concerned about climate change - the bicycle is the way to go. And these are just four very specific conditions that many of us think bicycling can help us address (I actually qualify for all four), but they are by no means the only societal problems that can be addressed with a movement towards a more bicycle and pedestrian-friendly existence.

I read a blog post from the Bike Commute Tips Blog about how folks with more money ride more/further (UK Times Online). I’m not sure what the implications of the report are, but I found it very interesting. The article is titled, ‘Ride a bike? You must be rich’:

The richer people become the further they cycle, according to official figures overturning conventional wisdom that the bicycle is largely a poor man’s mode of transport.

The richest fifth of the population cycle on average 2½ times as far in a year as the poorest fifth.

The Department for Transport’s National Travel Survey indicates that the poorest fifth, despite being five times less likely to have access to a car, are very unlikely to consider cycling as a solution to their transport needs.

The flip side of that UK Times Online article might be this article from The Miami New Times. Not to stray too far from what has been at least one of the major themes of this petition - safety - the article is titled ‘Cyclists Court Death Daily’. But the part that had the strongest impact on me was the section about Antonio Morales, which starts towards the bottom of page three:

Morales is one of Miami’s class of invisible bikers — laborers, the elderly, the working poor, immigrants who come from countries where two wheels are still the dominant mode of transportation. The city’s bike activists tend to be affluent and middle-class, easy to peg as any other latte-fueled crusaders. But head across the tracks — anywhere west of Biscayne Boulevard — and it’s obvious the people to whom bikes matter most aren’t Miami’s upper crust at all.

So, again, none of us has to buy into anything more than our desire to have bicycle routes mapped on Google Maps, but if you are concerned about many of today’s societal problems, we’re starting to see a clearer picture emerge of how bicycles, along with bicycles lanes and bicycle maps and other bicycle infrastructure, might be able to help us alleviate and/or even fix some of these problems.

I think that the worldwide enthusiasm we’re seeing for this petition is a reflection not just of the passion that many of us feel for Google’s well-thought out and well-engineered products, but of our genuine belief that things can, should, and will be better. If we could have a tool like this available at our fingertips, and made available to the tens of millions of people who would never have otherwise seriously considered biking as a commuting option, then we can bring about real changes - we can really help bring about a safer, healthier, and happier world.

Italiano, and ilikebike.org

March 05, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

Bibì Bellini of ilikebike.org has blogged about us, and has also done an Italian translation of the petition, which I’ve also added under the ‘Italiano’ button up top.

To see an English-language translation of ilikebike.org, click here. I have to say, this Google Translate tool seems to work pretty well - I can make out 95% of what is written, and figure out most of the rest from context. As an example, here is a Google translation of the top of the ‘Project’ page:

My name is Bibì Bellini. I live in Castel San Pietro Terme (BO), I am a journalist, but especially a cyclist. I do not have a car and my journeys I make them on bicycles and public transport: I boast of being environmental impact near zero.

For some time I have taken upon me the greatest gandhiana saying “Be the change you wish to see in the world” which is why among other things go by bicycle.

Very cool. So, the translation is missing some consonants and things like that, but it’s easy enough to make out. [If there are obvious mistakes in the Google translation, feel free to point them out, please.]

I really like the Mail Art for Bike project, which seems to be a type of collection of bicycle-themed mail/postcard artwork from around the world. Very cool. Bicycle art is cool because people like me can actually understand it and appreciate it. :)

Thanks again, Bibì!

Google.org Calls on U.S. Congress to Support Renewable Energy

March 05, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

Google.org is the non-profit arm of Google.com. Yesterday, they let Congress know that the various tax credits in place to continue to support renewable energy were important to Google, and to the world:

Yesterday Google.org, along with representatives from the business and venture capital community, called on the U.S. Congress and the Bush Administration to work together to quickly approve extensions of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) and Investment Tax Credit (ITC). The PTC and the ITC are tax incentives designed to spur the market for renewable energy and are critical to financing a new renewable energy generation. The credits are currently scheduled to expire on December 31, 2008.

Speaking at a news conference at the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference, Dan Reicher, Google.org‘s Director of Climate Change and Energy Initiatives, said: “We are at the dawn of a green energy revolution that could fundamentally reshape the way the world generates energy. It is critical that we get the policy right in order to drive investment in clean energy and push these technologies out of the lab and into the mainstream. Policy makers can make or break this revolution.”

If you’re not up on this green energy tax credit stuff - it’s very important. The interesting aspect is that renewable energy companies need to know now whether these tax credits will be in place next year so they can get busy planning for financing, construction, etc. If they can’t plan new projects - there won’t be new projects - it’s that simple. Google.org goes on to quote some facts and figures about jobs and so on. So, importantly, even a significant delay in re-authorizing these tax credits (subsidies) can greatly harm renewable energy initiatives.

If you don’t like the idea of subsidies, in general, then you should probably not be crazy about the $65 Billion in subsidies the U.S. government gives out to various U.S. industries every year. The best figures I’ve seen for the ‘Oil and Gas’ industry, for example, go about $5 Billion or $6 Billion a year. There’s ‘Ethanol’ - about $7 Billion or so, last time I checked. The list goes on. I couldn’t find one perfect source to cite, but these numbers seem to comport with what folks all across the political spectrum are saying - the Public Policy Institute, Cato, the GAO (Government Accountability Office), etc.

All that said, you don’t have to agree with Google.org, or me, or anyone else about the course of action we should take, save for one thing - if you sign the petition, you’re signing up to help us persuade Google that providing bicycle routes on Google Maps would be a very good thing. :)

And if you are Google.org (or anyone else) and you are interested in cutting emissions from wherever they come from - and however they contribute to climate change, then you’ll want to know about a growing consensus that cutting transportation emissions via fuel efficiency and other ‘clean energy’ technologies is not enough:

EU policies focusing mainly on improving vehicle technology and fuel quality are not enough to reduce the transport sector’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, argues the European Environment Agency (EEA).

Read the report here (pdf).

The Kickstand

March 05, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

Thanks to at least one member of The Kickstand (blog) for signing our petition. From their home page:

The Gainesville Community Bicycle Project, aka The Kickstand, is Gainesville’s newest community center. At our collective bicycle shop, you will gain access to tools, parts, and knowledgeable volunteers who will help you learn to build, fix, and maintain your bicycle.

Bicycles are empowering! With transportation comes opportunities, and anyone-regardless of age, race and/or gender-can enjoy the benefits of bicycle ownership. We hope to pair up recycled bicycles with those who need them, and engender a spirit of sharing and community around these two-wheeled wonders!

In Austin we have Austin Yellow Bike, and it probably wouldn’t be too much to presume that there are projects like these all over the U.S. and the world.

The closest college/uni to me is UT-Austin, and they have the Orange Bike Project. The University of Toronto has Bikechain. Ripon College has the Velorution Project.

If you don’t yet have a place like The Kickstand in your town, then start one. If you don’t yet have a program like Bikechain at your school or college or university, then start one. Don’t worry if you have no experience in organizing anything - everyone has to start somewhere. Don’t be deterred - plenty of people will say ‘no’ - plenty of people will say, “yeah, but…” - forget the haters - just keep pushing ahead. It won’t happen overnight. You’ll face plenty of obstacles, but your persistence will pay off.

And don’t be afraid to involve your local bike shops. Go and talk to them. Tell them your ideas. Tell them about the programs you read about online. Bring a print-out. Ask them how you can help each other be more successful. Listen to what they are saying. Chances are, they’ve been there, and done that. They can become your greatest allies. And many bike shops are small, community-type shops that may be hurt by big school/government-subsidized programs - we want to find ways that we can all be enthusiastic supporters of the major programs that are going to change the landscape for bicyclists and pedestrians. All of this is just my opinion, of course. :)

Thanks for representing, Kickstand, and best of luck to y’all, and to everyone making this happen!

Et tu, Москва?

March 04, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

And you, Moscow?

Yes. Unfortunately, the people of Moscow also must deal with hazardous road conditions if they want to hop on their bicycles:

Some maintain, however, that there is no point in extra bike stands, calling the roads “mental and unsafe for cyclists,” some think that the bike culture is just not for Moscow, mainly because of the extreme cold in winter and slushy dirt in-between seasons. With a distinct lack of bikes around the city and a knack of creating six lanes of traffic on streets designed for three, Moscow certainly does appear user-unfriendly for cyclists. Could it possibly pull some experience from other European cities such as London or Paris, where a large number of people cycle to work safely, crossing parks and cities on special cycle lanes?

[The bold is mine.]

I’ve just been looking for an excuse to use the caption from this cartoon. There’s no comparison, the context doesn’t match, etc., but now I’ll be able to sleep tonight. :)

Momentum - The Magazine For Self-Propelled People!

March 04, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

momentum_mag_janfeb_08.pngMomentum Magazine jumped in early to help give our petition a boost back in the good ‘ol days - a loooong time ago. Well, less than a week ago, but that actually was a lot of signatures ago. :)

Their main blog link is here, and their RSS feed is here.

A blurb from their home page (momentumplanet.com) reads:

Momentum Magazine reflects the lives of people who ride bikes. Momentum provides urban cyclists with the inspiration, information and resources to help them fully enjoy their riding experience and connect with their local and global cycling communities.

You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but I think just the opposite is true for magazines, and judging from their list of previous covers, Momentum Magazine is definitely something you’ll want to check out.

Thank you, Momentum!

…whoops - not sure how I forgot the cover picture. That cover is from the most recent edition - Jan/Feb 2008.

Torture

March 04, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

But this is a good kind of torture - it shows us what is possible. We have to set our sights high - very high.

Very cool stuff! :)

…not sure if this came out clearly or not - basically, I’m saying I’m jealous. It’s late.

Austin Miller

March 04, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

Austin Miller was a 15-year old boy who was killed while riding his bicycle in Beaverton, Oregon. He and a transit bus somehow managed to collide. The accident happened about three weeks ago.

About a year before his death, Austin wrote in his school newspaper a column titled, “Please Do Not Run Me Over“.  The article is just straight up and talks about why we need to do everything we can to address bicycle safety. One thing that Austin Miller seemed to understand very well is that our lives, as bicyclists, are constantly on the line. Some responses to this petition seem to suggest that we should just get over it - that this whole ‘safety thing’ is really nothing more than alarmist drivel - that maybe we just need an injection of bravery. There are several things that can cause this type of reaction, I think, but one of them seems to be the belief that things are fine the way they are. Well, for me, I don’t believe things are anywhere near fine the way they are. And I hope you feel the same.

The final two paragraphs of Austin Miller’s article, about a year before he died:

Bikers will always be here; as long as it costs less than driving, helps us stay fit and pumps those feel-good chemicals throughout our body, we will remain on the early morning pavement, and that will not change. There is no excuse for a driver who does not pay attention and mind not only other cars but bikes. You cannot control other people’s actions, but you can control your own. Why anyone would rather sit inside a massive metal death trap for their commute is beyond me, but there are those with family, disabilities and other impairing things keeping them from biking. There will never again be a society 100% dedicated to driving or biking. It is like all other integration that had to happen in history-it takes time, patience, and a great deal of compromise.

There will always be hard feelings about this subject-we can only hope that no one will get hurt or loose a loved one due to a lack of responsibility and respect for the road. These are dangerous times, and especially for bikers, our fate lies not only in our hands, but in the hands of the drivers of which we share the road. I am glad for every day I reach the X point unscathed, but besides doing everything I can for myself, I cannot control you, I can only mutter these few words in a hope that it might do good: please do not run me over.

I don’t think it’s fair that Austin, or any child or adult, should ever have had to wonder if they would reach ‘the X point’ uninjured. And it’s obviously not something we can let stand, now.

Whenever I think about tragedies like this, I get angry - very angry. And when I think of the suffering of the family - mom and dad, brother and sister, an entire community - I know I’m going to be part of the solution, and that I have to get busy right now.

National Center for Safe Routes to School

March 03, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

I’d never heard of them before, but the National Center for Safe Routes to School (SRTS) is definitely an organization that would appear to have goals very similar to ours. Their ‘About Us’ page says this:

Established in May 2006, the National Center for Safe Routes to School assists communities in enabling and encouraging children to safely walk and bike to school. The Center strives to equip Safe Routes to School programs with the knowledge and technical information to implement safe and successful strategies.

The National Center for Safe Routes to School is maintained by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center with funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration.

One of the key outputs of the Center appears to be the Safe Routes to Schools Guide. The guide is:

a comprehensive online reference manual designed to support the development of Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs. It provides links to other SRTS publications and training resources. Readers of the online guide can pick and choose specific topics based on their interests and needs, such as guidelines for adult school crossing guards or tools to create school route maps.

There is an SRTS wiki page.

I sent an email to everyone on their contact page, which includes folks with email addresses from the organizations already mentioned, and bicyclinginfo.org and tooledesign.com.

I also sent an email to the listed Texas contact person. Anyone else care to email the 49 other states? :)

There is also this entity called the SRTS National Partnership - I have no idea how it is different, or if it is different in any meaningful way, from the National Center for SRTS.

Washington City Paper

March 03, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

Thanks to Washington City Paper for the shout-out.

Find out more about Washington City Paper in Wikipedia.

The District is a good town (<sniffle>). (music)

p.s. there’s a little meetup going on in DC starting tomorrow.