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Archive for June, 2008

John Pucher is Published

June 28, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy, Green

The SFU City blog (Simon Fraser University, in Burnaby, Vancouver, Canada) lets us know that John Pucher, The Bicycle Scholar, and his student/colleague, Ralph Buehler, have just been published in the latest edition of Transport Reviews, a 6-times yearly academic journal that uses the tagline, “A Transnational Transdisciplinary Journal.”

Sounds like an interesting journal!

[Is Ralph the infamous graduate student of Pucher's who failed his German driving test multiple times because he didn't properly account for the possibility that bicyclists could do something erratic and unpredictable? "Buehler? Buehler?" Yes, they're spelled differently. :) ]

The paper appears to be the formal study that supported his much-talked-about presentation at SFU a few weeks ago, a presentation which I tried to transcribe, with some success, here. I’m very happy to be able to see the study, because I missed a few city names that I’d like to do more reading-up on.

The title of the paper is “Making Cycling Irresistible: Lessons from The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany.”

You can download and study the paper here (PDF). [Thanks, SFU!]

Going back to #14 on the Big Initiatives list, I want to say (and this is just my opinion, of course) that this is awesome! :D That is, we should be thankful that John is one of us. He and Ralph (hey, Ralph is one of us, now) have done the research—now we just need to check it out, analyze it, see if it holds up to tough scrutiny, and then if it does, put it into practice (presumably, it’s already been subjected to some rigorous scrutiny, but there’s nothing like thousands of eyes to find any potential weaknesses). We can send the Thank You emails and all that, but at the end of the day, in my opinion, the best way we can thank John and Ralph is to educate ourselves, educate others, and then get this bicycling party cranked up by making good use of this research.

I know I plan on studying this report in detail. The in-person presentation was so overwhelming that it was tough for me to come away with much more than a feeling of, “Wow, we have a lot of work to do.”  :)

That’s part of the reason I wanted to do the transcript, but having the formal paper is even better. The structure of it will allow us to better analyze and make judgments about the data and findings, so we can act appropriately.

Even the abstract feels enlightening to me all over again (the bold emphasis is mine):

This article shows how the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany have made bicycling a safe, convenient and practical way to get around their cities. The analysis relies on national aggregate data as well as case studies of large and small cities in each country. The key to achieving high levels of cycling appears to be the provision of separate cycling facilities along heavily travelled roads and at intersections, combined with traffic calming of most residential neighbourhoods. Extensive cycling rights of way in the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany are complemented by ample bike parking, full integration with public transport, comprehensive traffic education and training of both cyclists and motorists, and a wide range of promotional events intended to generate enthusiasm and wide public support for cycling. In addition to their many pro-bike policies and programmes, the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany make driving expensive as well as inconvenient in central cities through a host of taxes and restrictions on car ownership, use and parking. Moreover, strict land-use policies foster compact, mixed-use developments that generate shorter and thus more bikeable trips. It is the coordinated implementation of this multi-faceted, mutually reinforcing set of policies that best explains the success of these three countries in promoting cycling. For comparison, the article portrays the marginal status of cycling in the UK and the USA, where only about 1% of trips are by bike.

It’s pretty clear that what John and Ralph are saying, “Here in the U.S., we can do anything and everything we want to promote bicycling, but if we do not take care of these two provisions, we fail. It’s that simple. If we don’t make these two things happen, we will not have a bicycling culture, period.”

Those two things are:

1. Separate cycling facilities along heavily travelled roads and at intersections.

2. Traffic calming of most residential neighborhoods.

There you have it. From his presentation, I remember John saying that we really need to do all of the things he talked about in order to support a comprehensive, integrated approach, but this abstract makes it clear that those two objectives must be completed to some minimal level before we’ll achieve our overall goals.

I would like to see this paper reworked into a very high quality digital presentation, maybe in Flash, and shortened to about 10 to 15 minutes, tops, so we can put it in front of lots of people—in particular, all city councilpersons, mayors, other officials, and even regular citizens.

Bicycle Friendly Business Program

June 26, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Yes, this is awesome: The Bicycle Friendly Business Program from the League of American Bicyclists:

Bicycle Friendly business program

Bicycling is good for communities, for businesses, and for people. It promotes active, healthy lifestyles, reduces traffic congestion, and improves air quality — and it’s fun!

The Bicycle Friendly Business (BFB) program recognizes employers’ efforts to encourage a more bicycle friendly atmosphere for employees and customers. The program honors innovative bike-friendly efforts and provides technical assistance and information to help companies and organizations become even better for bicyclists. This new initiative complements the League’s Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC) program, which has been recognizing cities and towns for their bicycle friendliness since 2003.

It’s brilliant. What else is there to say? Congrats to the League of American Bicyclists on a job well done!

This was definitely something we were hoping for, so this goes to show that if I think something is a good idea, then someone thought it was a good idea two years ago, and someone started implementing it at least six months ago.   :)

More on the program:

What is a Bicycle Friendly Business?

A Bicycle Friendly Business (BFB) is a corporation, organization, association, or nonprofit that actively promotes bicycling for transportation, recreation, exercise, and sport. A BFB practices social responsibility by weaving bicycling into the business culture and gives employees the opportunity to be active stewards of their personal and environmental health through bicycling.

The Bicycle Friendly Business program evaluates applicants’ efforts to promote bicycling in four primary areas: encouragement, education, engineering, and evaluation.

This is absolutely incredible. The website is full of news and information and questions and answers about everything related to bicycling and businesses.

Now it’s up to us. We need to go over the site, read through everything, and then take it to our companies. We can go to HR, the Health & Wellness folks, other cyclists, anyone we can think of. We should express an interest in participating in the BFB Program whether we think our company is ready yet or not. If our company is not ready yet, we can at least go through the survey and application process (free, thanks to the Bikes Belong Coalition and Trek), and find out where we stand. A business can earn a status of platinum, gold, silver or bronze . If we don’t earn a BFB designation the first time around, no worries—we just get to work and re-apply in six months. It’s easy. We learn a lot in the process. We get more people biking and interested in biking. It’s an absolute win-win situation all the way around.

Businesses can apply twice a year—in March and in August. The next application deadline is August 15. So you can apply up through and including August 15th. If your business earns a designation, you’ll be notified and you can set up a press conference, you’ll be listed on the League of American Bicyclists website, you’ll be included in a national press release, and so forth. It really seems like a very well thought out program.

Anyone in the business can fill-out the application survey. We just need a “business leader” to sign off on it. That could mean a whole bunch of different positions, depending on the size of your company, but I figure the HR department is a good place to start. For myself, I’m planning on taking it straight to my HR Manager and making sure all my fellow cyclists know about it, and I’ll see what we can get going. I can’t wait!   :D

…p.s. I’m guessing I saw this new here, and I’m hoping we can somehow revisit the Carfree Portland 2008 Conference via video, but I’m not sure about that one yet - I’m checking with Stickam and CrankMyChain.tv.

…Update: We found a fairly obvious “we will save you money” argument for businesses:

Cities could restrict car traffic

If regulations take effect, employers would have to encourage transportation options

By Margaret Allen
updated 4:00 a.m. ET June 23, 2008

Hammered by highway congestion, North Texas cities could soon try to pressure large employers to cut the car trips their employees take to work, in exchange for getting major highway construction on adjacent roads.

Urban planners at the North Central Texas Council of Governments hope to see such city ordinances in place by 2009, according to Senior Program Manager Natalie Bettger. The goal is to both reduce traffic congestion and cut pollution to improve the region’s dirty air.

The article is worth a read.

Two websites mentioned in the article:

  • http://www.bestworkplaces.org/
  • http://www.tryparkingit.com/

I like the idea. Why not? As long as we make sure that the North Central Texas Council of Governments knows that lots more people will voluntarily bike to work if we have the appropriate bicycling infrastructure.

I’d also like to make sure that all of these organizations know of the Bicycle Friendly Business Program.

Thanks to the Austin Cycling Association email list for the tip!

Reach Out to Those Not Like You

June 26, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

In our Big Initiatives list we suggested it might be a good idea—a responsibility, even—to reach out to others in your community who may not “look/act/speak/be” like you. Some organizations are helping to lead the way.

While perusing the SFBC website tonight, I noticed that their banner image had changed to the image you see at the top-right. Their regular banner image, I believe, is the one to the left, here.

Why the change? I suppose it’s because this weekend is San Francisco Pride—one of the world’s most popular gay pride events. Technically, it is called “The San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Celebration,” so it covers all those groups of people (LGBT).

There’s another company that knows how to reach out to its audience. If you search a certain search engine for pride san francisco, you might just end up with search results that include adsense ads on the right that look like this:

The rainbow stripe is not usually there. I presume this only happens during pride week, and I’m not sure Google has ever done it before. Nonetheless, it shows Google reaching out to a group of folks who have traditionally been considered social minorities.

I think it’s very cool that SFBC and Google do this, and I suspect there are lots of ways that us bicycle advocates can show people in our community that they’re important to us.

And it doesn’t even have to be a recognition of some group along race/class/sexual orientation/religious/cultural lines. You could do something as simple as celebrating the graduating high school class, or a local hero, or the friendly dog or cat that always greets you at the local hardware store. You can and should reach out to social and cultural minorities, to make sure they feel welcome, and you can and should also try to find ideas and themes that represent the common bonds we all share—our collective shared experience.

Let the creativity begin!   :)

Marc Benioff: No more status quo

June 26, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Marc Benioff is the chairman and CEO of Salesforce.com, an uber-successful and still-growing software company headquartered in San Francisco. If there was one company that I would say is even remotely similar to Google, it would be Salesforce.com.

Why?

Because it’s clear to me that Benioff wants to win; he wants to change the world of software. More specifically, he wants to bring about “The End of Software,” and that will be delivered via “software as a service,” or SaaS. Google is a growing SaaS provider, though they haven’t been as in your face about it as has Salesforce.com.

And Benioff is not shy about letting people know that he intends for his company to lead the way. He has a vision for the future, and that future is exactly where he’s taking us. We can go actively, passively, or kicking and screaming, but we’re going. Benioff and Salesforce.com are going to see to it.

I believe all of us bicycle and walking and mass transit advocates should be this confident—this bold. We don’t need to be showpersons or uber-marketers, but we do need to believe that our vision of the future is the correct one, and that that future is exactly where we intend to take our friends and family, our neighborhoods, towns, cities, states, countries, and planet.

Benioff is one of those Silicon Valley types—smart, brash, bold, and some other words that folks have used to describe him. (more)   :)

But I like him. Or, at least, I like the character he plays on TV.

I think that type of positive confidence can be infectious, and it can help win people to our cause. For me, I can’t say I’d get all that excited about software as a service (SaaS), but I can get very excited about cycling, and walking, and good urban design, and vibrant communities.

Benioff and Salesforce.com are in the news again because they just announced a new partnership with Google to provide more application integration stuff. In the video at the link, Benioff had this to say:

I don’t have time or patience for the status quo…for people who are trying to control innovation or stop the future.

I like this sentiment. A lot.

It’s what I’d like to tell car people when they try to stop us from improving our streets and our lives.

No! We’re done with standing still. We’re making things happen right now. We’re not gonna wait another day.

I feel like many of us advocates still feel timid about declaring openly that we’ve set out to change the world for the better. My message with this post is, “Don’t be timid.”

Bike lanes on auto-dominated roads are good progress, and necessary, but they’re not sufficient, and we should constantly challenge ourselves to demand more and better facilities. We should not want “equal” facilities - we should want more and better for bikers and walkers and mass transit riders than for automobile drivers. It’s time to start evening things out a little bit. Road Diet needs to be a very common term in our collective lexicon.

I think there are some interesting parallels where Salesforce.com and the rest of the fledging SaaS industry was about ten years ago, and where the bicycling/walking/new urbanist movement is today. Benioff used to talk about “The End of Software.” He sounded like a lunatic just ten short years ago. But he was confident in his vision, and look at where we are now: Saas has obviously emerged as a viable technology. The hottest software companies on the planet are either SaaS providers, or are trying to be.

SaaS: Ten years ago, Benioff was selling a pretty good thing.
Cycling: Today, we’re selling a great thing.

SaaS: Ten years ago, Benioff seemed pretty sure of his success.
Cycling: Today, many of us are certain of our success.

SaaS: Ten years ago, people scoffed at Benioff’s phrase, “The End of Software”.
Cycling: Today, people scoff at the idea of The End of Cars.

SaaS: Today, there are a lot fewer people who scoff at the idea of “The End of Software.”
Cycling: Ten years from now, there will be a lot fewer people who scoff at the idea of The End of Cars.

No more status quo.

Toronto Cyclists Union Promotes Local Advocacy

June 21, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

When I first read about this, I was a bit blown away. I can’t articulate exactly why I think it’s such a great idea, but in my defense, sometimes you just know great things when you see them. This idea (which might not be brand new; read-on) and implementation from the still-new Toronto Cyclists Union seems to be something great.

Here’s what you see if you click on the My City link of their home page:

The Toronto Cyclists Union strives to provide a strong, unified voice for all cyclists, from all parts of Toronto. No matter where in our city you live, we want to bring together people for the common goal of ensuring that cycling is a legitimate, accessible, and safe way of getting through our streets.

Which ward do you live in? Who’s your councillor? Where are the bike lanes in your neighbourhood? Will the City’s bike plan affect you? What cycling events are going on near you? How can you find other local cyclists, and make changes in your part of Toronto?

Find out about advocacy and events in your neighbourhood

There is more on the page, but this top half of the page is what I’m after. The final text and link get to the real magic:

The argument is “local advocacy”. Yes, advocacy at the city/town level is important, as is advocacy at the state/province and national levels, but don’t forget about advocacy that’s super-close to home—your neighborhood or ward.

Sounds simple enough, right? It is, and sometimes the best ideas are simple. We can often be on the lookout for these grand solutions and we may inadvertently neglect doing the obvious infrastructure work—organizing at the (very) local level.

Clicking on Ward 20 produces this:

I was reminded of this ward idea when I saw it posted over on TheWashCycle blog.

And thanks to joe (from BikingToronto?) for pointing out that Toronto Cyclists Union may have actually gotten the idea to connect users with their individual wards from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. And that seems very possible. Not that it matters, but I want to give credit where credit is due. We all need to continue to borrow ideas from one another and expand on them.

I’ve poured over the SF Bike Coalition website before, but somehow this “wards” idea never struck me; it just never made an impact on me, and I’m sure I had to run across it before because it’s a main link (Current Actions) on their website. My guess is that maybe I just didn’t identify the phrase Current Actions with this idea of local advocacy. (If you think about it, it’s almost micro-advocacy.)

The link on the Toronto Cyclists Union site, on the other hand, reads My City. That, to me, could actually make a big difference. These days, everyone knows what “My <whatever>” means. Ever since the rise of YouTube, every site seems to have a “My <whatever>” section where you can customize the type of information made available to you, fill out your user profile, and generally take more responsibility for your user experience at that particular website. The same applies to the real world regarding cycling conditions in the ward you live in. And the real-world application requires some extra effort, too.

The Toronto Cyclists Union also tells us explicitly to “find out about your ward, who represents you at City hall, what events are going on, and what other opportunities are there to connect with cyclists in your community.” It could (and I would argue, should) actually go further and tell us to contact our local councillors, either by phone or email or both, and tell them our story, tell them who we are, where we live, how important bicycling is to us, and so forth. How do we cycle? When do we do it? Do we take the kids to school? Do we do our grocery shopping via bike? What is it we like about cycling? Why do we think it’s important for our neighborhood and our city? How can our neighborhood be improved for cycling? How can our councillor help us improve cycling in our ward? What specific initiatives are we working on that could affect our ward?

Our local politicians should hear all of these things from us, so let’s make it happen.   :)

…looks like I forgot to mention that each ward page also lists all the local bike shops and bicycle user groups (BUGs) in your local/ward area. Very cool stuff. Not sure how I left that out. Duh. Sorry.

Ride the City

June 16, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

Ride the City

A brand new website called Ride the City, based out of New York City, is a very nice bicycle directions application. In fact, I’m pleasantly surprised at how nice it is.

That makes me very happy because I feel that, as bikers and walkers, we deserve the best. Every time we ride or walk somewhere, we’re helping to make the world a better place, and yet as of now doing so can still be very challenging in some places. That’s my take.

Ride the City’s clean, crisp, very pleasant and easy-to-use interface seems to suggest, “Cyclists and pedestrians deserve the best, so here you go.”   :)

Gothamist covers Ride the City here, and StreetsBlog covers them here.

Right now they only cover New York City, but our hope is that they will be able to expand coverage to all of our towns and countries, eventually.

The site does not actually do walking directions yet, but maybe we can convince them to work on that as soon as they’ve managed to make sure the bicycle directions functionality is top notch. Another petition! Kidding.

Ride the City uses Google Maps to show you your bike route, and it even uses the same simple one-line address entry-type system that Google Maps uses, so entering an address is super-quick and easy, and it’ll be familiar to all of us Google Maps users.

I tried some directions from a place I stayed in Manhattan, “350 W 18th St.” (see screenshot below), over to a place I stayed in Brooklyn, “5th and 1st, Brooklyn,” and it seemed to work. Already included is the ability to see bike shops along the way, to navigate by the most direct, safe, or safest routes, and the directions show which segments are bike lanes and which are greenways. Very cool stuff.

I’m very excited about Ride the City. It is pretty much exactly what we’ve been hoping for: a Google Maps-based bicycle directions application. It’s just awesome. As they continue to ramp up functionality and tighten up the service, it should be a huge boost for the City, and a huge positive for all of us who hope/expect to have this available in our towns in the future.

A website like Ride the City has direct benefits to lots of people, of course, but I particularly like the idea that it proves an application like this is possible, and it can be very useful to people. It seems like the possible is mostly taken care of; now, we just need to wait for reports from New Yorkers to find out if the useful part is true, too. I suspect it will be.

There are myriad features Ride the City can and probably will add over the coming months and years ( it already seems they’re busy improving and adding features), but this is a tremendous start. I’d highly recommend breezing through their very informative FAQ—it answered the first five questions that popped into my head.

Question #14 is very important because they basically told us how they did it, which is very cool of them:

14) What kind of technology did you use to build Ride the City?

Ride the City was built almost exclusively from open source software and tools. Here are a few technologies worth highlighting:

    • A Postgresql database with the PostGIS extension.
    • pgRouting components for route optimization: There would be no Ride the City without it!
    • OpenLayers mapping library for drawing markers, vector lines, and popups.
    • Google Maps API as a base map in OpenLayers. We also use Google’s geocoding service.
    • uDig Desktop GIS: uDig connects directly to our remote PostGIS database. A few quirks, but total genius overall. It was a lifesaver in terms of data cleanup since I could run it on my MacBook.

The whole shebang runs on a linux server hosted by Micro Resources. Special thanks to Gary Sherman for his expertise and support on getting all these things to work together.

The blog/faq are Drupal. All the custom development was done in PHP and javascript.

Of course, we’re still hoping that Google will eventually see the light and implement bicycling and walking directions in the main Google Maps interface, but this is a great great start. I think it’d be awesome if Google just went ahead and acquired Ride the City and BBBike so we can accelerate this whole “bicycling lifestyle” thing a little bit.   :-)

Oh. One thing I forgot to mention was Ride the City’s very cool feedback form. If there is a particular road segment that you don’t like, just click it on the map, rate it, and add any comments. It supposedly ties right into their back-end data, which presumably means it can directly affect the routes that get provided. They already show little warning signs next to segments where people have reported potential dangers. I read about their feedback form on their initial blog post. I’ve never been crazy about the “wiki” style of bicycle routing—that is, routes would be recommended based on everybody rating particular routes or roads—but Ride the City seems like they may have actually found a manageable, intelligent way to do it. Time will tell, but this particular piece of technology alone, in my opinion, is extremely noteworthy. So, I’ll be anxious to see how it works out.

We’ll definitely be following Ride the City closely. And don’t forget to check out and subscribe to their blog in case you don’t want to wait for us to report on the latest goings on with Ride the City.

This is a great great development. Bravo to Ride the City, BBBike, and everyone else pushing to make this functionality available to bikers everywhere.

BBBike

June 15, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

About three and a half months ago, we received an email from Markus Heller (English) of Berlin, Germany. He mentioned that there was a great bicycle directions tool available for Berlin, and that it was called BBBike (English language version here). We wrote back and said something like, “Thanks! We’ll be sure to check it out!”

Well, I’m not sure if I ever checked it out. It’s possible, but I don’t remember it.

So, apologies to you, Markus (and to the developer(s) of BBBike), and thanks!

[Markus seems to be pretty heavily involved in the carfree living movement, which is very cool. The one word that excites me as much as bicycle is car-free. Check out his website/organization, autofrei wohnen (in English), which I believe stands for car-free living. And don't forget the Towards Carfree Cities 2008 conference going on starting Monday, June 16, in Portland, Oregon, and lasts all week. And big score if they can manage to pull off the live webcast. This looks like it's going to be a great event.]

I just happened to be going back through my Gmail inbox and stumbled upon our initial conversation and I quickly realized that I’d overlooked a very important site. I noticed it this time because John Pucher mentioned the existence of such a site, if not by name, in his presentation. The initial notes I took while listening to the talk looked approximately like this:

  • Bicycle route mapping (in Berlin, Germany)!!! This is the text from the relevant slide:
    • Free internet bike trip planning in Berlin:
    • Cyclists enter origin, intermediate stops and final destinations of their intended bike trips.
    • Cyclists can indicate preferences:
      - desired speed of travel
      - direct arterial streets or secondary roads
      - type of pavement
      - volume, speed and mix of traffic
      - on-street lanes, off-street paths, parkways

If I had realized what Markus had sent a few months ago, I would have been very excited. But, I’m just happy to know it’s out there and helping people, and helping to push the boundaries of what is possible for bicycle directions.

Here is a screenshot of the web version of BBBike:

BBBike Web Interface Screenshot

I tried BBBike and it definitely seems cool; seems like it works pretty well. There is an online web version, and there is a downloadable version, too (screenshots). I only tried the online option. I just started picking random starting and end points and then looked at the routes produced. I can’t say for sure that it was picking the correct routes—either the safest or fastest or whatever—but I was very impressed that it seemed to route me on greenways, through parks, and so forth. It allows you download all the GPS information for your mobile device, and can produce a map as an image, as a Google Map, and more.

And, as far as I can tell, it’s completely open source, so you can download and modify it. I perused the source code (mostly in PERL), and it seems very clean and readable. There aren’t many comments in the code, but that might even be a good thing—me trying to decipher German would not be pretty. :) I can’t say the source code made a whole lot of sense to me, as I’m still a novice with all this GIS mapping technology stuff, but I definitely think it’s cool that it’s there to download and modify if we want, etc.

The also appears to be various sorts of extensions and plugins for BBBike—for CMS software like Mambo, for web browsers like Firefox, and more. In short, it seems like BBBike has been around for a while and is a solid, mature, sophisticated offering. I mean, it can deal with wind speed and tell you how many traffic lights you have to go through on your journey. How ridiculous is that? Brilliant stuff. It’s the least that cyclists (and pedestrians) deserve.

Contact information for the author of the code/project is below, in German (possibly with a Croatian address (?), but here is an English translation):

Autor: Slaven Rezic
E-Mail: slaven@rezic.de
Homepage: http://www.rezic.de/eserte/
Telefon: +49-172-1661969
Donji Crnač 81, BiH-88220 Široki Brijeg

So, thanks to you, Slaven!

There’s a link to the ADFC Berlin (English) - what seems like the “German/Dutch Bicycle Club.” (Don’t quote me on that translation.) I always think it’s great to see people in countries all around the world working on the same issues we’re working on.

Google's New PDF Viewer

June 15, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

Austin Bicycle Map imageMany of us have seen and used bicycle maps—those pretty PDF documents with bike lanes and whatnot drawn on them. (Here is the Austin Bike Map) They help us get from Point A to Point B in relative safety.

Well, now we can almost view them using Google Docs. I say almost because the new feature is still pretty limited— you can’t zoom in on the PDF yet, for instance, making it pretty much unusable as a potential online bike map viewer. And you also can’t share PDFs publicly yet; to share  you have to send Google Docs email invites out. But I suspect these things will (may?) change in the not-too-distant future.

This feature could make getting bicycle directions just a bit easier, because we could avoid having to download and install and figure out how to use Adobe Reader - the free-but-bloated PDF viewer that I suspect most folks are familiar with. (Adobe created the PDF file format)

Viewing a PDF can sometimes be a hassle. You may have to save a PDF to your hard drive before you can open it. You can get different “Download” vs. “View” behavior depending on which browser you’re using, or which computer you’re using. You can get annoying popups from Adobe telling you that you need updates, or that you’re missing some piece of their software, and so forth. In short, viewing PDFs can be a royal pain. I figure it’s possible that Google Docs’ new support for PDFs might help alleviate some of these issues. At a minimum, it could be one less piece of software we have to install on our computers to get the information we need.

So what does this mean for our efforts? Well, not necessarily a whole lot at the moment, but it does represent something: one more step that Google has taken to help “organize the world’s information,” and it could help us bikers in several ways.

By allowing PDFs to be easily viewed online, we’ve taken the extremely valuable data that is locked in PDF-based bike maps and made it easier for people to access. For our particular efforts, of course, we’re most concerned with having easy access to bicycle route information. We want bicycle navigation on Google Maps, but there are plenty of things that can make our lives easier in the interim. This might be one of them.

If you use a mobile device like a Blackberry or an iPhone, this should make it easier for you to pull up a bicycle map when you need it. It seems as though there are PDF viewers available for those devices already, but again, this could be one less piece of software that we have to worry about installing (It’s possible this feature is not available for Google Docs on mobile phones, yet.).

I feel like this small feature of Google Docs also helps to reinforce this very positive notion of making public data freely available, and making it easier for people to use. We’ve talked before about how much free GIS data there is available, at least in America, and how Google is now working with companies like ESRI to make that data easier to access, understand, and use. We’ve mentioned efforts to push governments to open up public data to….the public.

In summary, a seemingly-small step, but a worthy one, nonetheless.

VZ Navigator

June 07, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

VZ Navigator / AtlasBook Navigator

VZ Navigator (wiki) is a GPS navigation software application you can download to your Verizon Wireless cellphone. In addition to the standard driving directions, the program provides bike and walk directions, though I’m not sure of their quality. One of the settings screens allows you to change your “Vehicle Type” from “Car / Motorcycle” to biking or walking.

The application has been around for at least a couple of years, but it is getting new attention these days with the better display capabilities of new phones, and the groundswell of interest in location-based services (LBS).

My roommates just bought bikes and decided to look into using VZ Navigator to get around unfamiliar areas. It does seem to work, in that it claims to provide “bike directions,” but the quality of those directions remains to be tested.

Google is still doing things in mobile maps. They have the cool “My Location” feature for mobile phones, like BlackBerries:

And the Google Mobile Blog just let us know that Google Maps for mobile devices now has Transit directions available—just like Google Maps in your browser.

Now, if we can just convince Google to push a bit more in the direction of bike and walk navigation…   :)

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Bike Emory; Fuji University

June 03, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Emory University (wiki), in metro Atlanta, Georgia, now has a bike program called Bike Emory, and it looks awesome! Thanks to Atlanta Bicycle Campaign for keeping us informed.

Emory is sometimes referred to as “The Harvard of the South” (HofS), along with Duke University, Rice University (HotS or not, the Rice Administration needs to start doing something with bikes. Granted, they’re in Houston, but still), and Vanderbilt University (ditto, Vandy). Public schools that have been referred to in this way include The College of William and Mary (when the only bike-related page to pop up for a school is the bike registration page for the on-campus police department, we know that college it not dedicated to bikes, yet; let’s go, Administration of W&M.), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (also home to the HSRC), University of Texas at Austin (where you’ll find the Orange Bike Project and a significant amount of content on their…transportation page, of all places?), and the University of Virginia.

With the success of programs like Bike Emory (and the Ripon Velorution), I would suggest that perhaps a new colloquialism or two is in order: “The Emory of the North”? “The Ripon of the Southwest”? :)

Fuji University is a new program by Fuji Bicycles with the following aims:

to assist colleges and universities around the U.S. with their sustainability objectives. Together with school administrators, Fuji hopes to reduce automobile dependence and promote a healthy lifestyle of cycling and walking on and around campuses.

This is the first project for Fuji University, so if this goes well I hope we can expect more of this kind of thing. I added Bike Emory to #4 on the “Big Initiatives” post.

As soon as this is posted I’m going to send an email to our local bicycle email list and see if I can convince someone to get in touch with Fuji straight away. Or, since we’re home to Sir Lancelot, and we know he’s tight with Trek, I figure we might give them first shot, but maybe the fair thing to do is just what it appears Emory did—contact all the big players and see who gets back to us first with a can-do attitude. We’ll see. UT Austin already has the Orange Bike Project, and I’d like to see them get some help. I would argue that UT Austin is the flagship school in Austin, so once we get this place rockin’, we are in a better position to take the program to all the other local schools.

There appears to be four organizations involved in at least some way in the effort to make Bike Emory happen:

  1. Emory University
  2. Fuji Bikes/Fuji University
  3. Bicycle South, a local bike shop
  4. Clifton Community Partnership, the local neighborhood association

I say Bravo! to everyone involved. And I would argue that doing the legwork up front to involve multiple organizations will more than justify that effort in the long run.

Check out some coverage from a local news channel here (video is down at the moment).

The Chronicle of Higher Education has written about the program here:

At Emory, Getting Students Out of Cars and On 2 Wheels

Atlanta — David Hanson describes himself as a cycling addict — a guy who owns a half-dozen road bikes, spends his spare time training for benefit rides, and dreams of one day opening a bike shop, where he can fiddle with bikes all day long. For now, he has a respectable if more staid position as the associate vice president for administration at Emory University — but with a recent project, he has managed to wrap his love for biking into his job.

A couple of years ago, Mr. Hanson wrote to a handful of major bike manufacturers in hopes of starting a partnership that would get more Emory students on pedals and out of their cars. Fuji, a bike company, responded right away, and Pat Cunnane, the president of Fuji made a trip to Emory to shoot pictures of the campus, look at bike culture in the area, and find out whether a bike program would be viable on campus. Atlanta, unlike New York City or Portland, Ore., isn’t exactly known for being a good biking town. In fact, it rates at the bottom of some lists of bike-friendly cities in biking magazines.

To add to the excitement, Bike Emory sponsored a video contest to promote biking (original post here). The deadline for submissions has already past, and I don’t think they’ve announced a winner yet, but I did manage to find this gem of a submission—this thing cracks me up:

It only includes references to the best movie evahh (except for all the other best movies ever)! And parts of the movie are particularly relevant to future college graduates. :)

OK, OK, you I convinced me—here’s the trailer (and if you want to see “that scene,” you’re gonna have to go get it yourself):

…the Emory Bike!

…we have a winner!