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Archive for September, 2008

Crazed Driver Attacks 74-year old with Shovel

September 30, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: News

Many car drivers see all roads as their roads, and if you happen to occupy some piece of street real estate that they feel entitled to, you might just experience their meltdown:

A 74-year-old Sanitation worker was viciously beaten with a shovel Saturday after an impatient motorist stuck behind his garbage truck went berserk.

Juan Ramos and a co-worker were picking up trash in Washington Heights about 6:30 a.m. when the motorist jumped from his car and began screaming at them to move.

When the angry man threw glass, Ramos’ colleague brandished a shovel at him. But the irate driver grabbed the shovel away, Ramos said, and his frightened co-worker drove off in their rig.

It’s a little odd that Ramos’ co-worker gave the assaillant a weapon with which to attack Ramos and then promptly took off, but that’s another story.

What is not surprising to any of us that have ridden bikes is road rage. That is, some lunatics in cars will do almost anything to get you off the road, even resorting to criminal physical violence.

Let’s put out an APB, catch the attacker, and make sure he gets the punishment he deserves. Who would attack a 74-year old man, especially one who was just doing his job? Let’s get some more details on this alleged criminal and seek justice for Mr. Ramos, and for society.

"Cities Rethink Wisdom of 50s-era Parking Standards"

September 22, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Development

That’s the headline from an Associated Press story today, which details how 50-year old parking regulations are crushing our cities and towns:

WASHINGTON - Alice and Jeff Speck didn’t have a car and didn’t want one. But District of Columbia zoning regulations required them to carve out a place to park one at the house they were building.

It would have eaten up precious space on their odd-shaped lot and marred the aesthetics of their neighborhood, dominated by historic row houses. The Specks succeeded in getting a waiver, even though it took nine months.

“The Parking Professor,” Donald Shoup, is quoted. We first mentioned Professor Shoup here.

The whole “fix parking” meme seemed to get a boost when the NYT wrote about car-less or reduced-car condo construction in cities like Portland and Seattle. One interesting tidbit from the article: dropping the car parking requirement from a downtown condo could remove as much as $40,000 from the cost of that condo, an important consideration, especially if you are an affordable housing advocate. (Or even if you’d just like to own your own home someday.)

Cubix Micro-condos in SFSan Francisco micro-condos Cubix were recently completed, in part because they didn’t have the heavy parking requirements of more traditional condo developments. The $300,000 pricetag for about 300 square feet is what you’ll get, which doesn’t necessarily sound great, but that price is a lot more doable for people than the typical cost of a San Francisco home - $750,000. Less parking means more residences and people, fewer cars, more density and all the great things that can come with increased density.

In the Q&A session of John Pucher’s talk at SFU (for which I haven’t completed the transcription yet), Pucher noted how we needed to change laws so that proper bicycle development had to occur from the outset of each new project. He mentioned one example—how many policies in European countries prevented urban sprawl; only in extreme circumstances could builders get permission to build housing so far away from everything else. It’s just one example of a public policy that can help us get to a more bikable, sustainable future. Things that are closer together are easier to get to by bike.

New parking regulations—such as dropping or reducing “parking minimums”—would help cities increase their population densities in productive, sustainable, and life-enriching ways.

Early CERN Computer Network Was On-line Bicycle

September 22, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Well, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN is offline again after an accident, but I managed to uncover some good bike history in the process of trying to figure out whether we were going to be here to see our bicycling future.

CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, was founded in 1954, before the internet and before high-speed internal networks (even before intranets). [The Large Hadron Collider is relatively new, but CERN is not.] So how did scientists move data from Point A to Point B back before the internet? According to this CERN FAQ page, they moved data by bicycle:

Fact 26) In the 1960′s CERN’s main data network was the famous bicycle on line. Tapes of data were loaded into a basket on the bike and then rushed over to the computer centre.

In a book called How the Web Was Born, we get a few more details. CERN used to be outfitted with massive mainframe computers. At least one set of them would be for data collection, and another set would be for data processing, and they were in different physical locations. So:

Physicists would take the tapes off their data acquisition computers and rush them over to the computer centre on their bikes, where they would load them on one of the big number-crunchers for analysis. ‘It’s a hell of a bandwidth, that, when you work it out,’ laughs Gerard. The central computers would process jobs at different priorities, and the bicycle online priority came top of the stack. By 1975, however, both OMNET and FOCUS were becoming overstretched, so the laboratory decided it was time to build a general-purpose data communications network and put an end to the on-line bicycle, leaving physicists to get their exercise elsewhere.

The Physics department of CERN apparently has a free bike rental program (conditions), too. Nice.

It seems the worlds of physics and bicycles keep overlapping. The now-infamous CERN rap includes some choice bicycle lyrics:

Now some of you may think that gravity is strong
Cuz when you fall off your bicycle it don’t take long
Until you hit the earth, and you say, “Dang, that hurt!”
But if you think that force is powerful, you’re wrong.
You see, gravity – it’s weaker than Weak
And the reason why is something many scientists seek
They think about dimensions – we just live in three
But maybe there are some others that are too small to see
It’s into these dimensions that gravity extends
Which makes it seem weaker, here on our end.
And these dimensions are “rolled up” – curled so tight
That they don’t affect you in your day to day life
But if you were as tiny as a graviton
You could enter these dimensions and go wandering on
And they’d find you…

And we know that those brainy types like to get around campus on two-wheeled vehicles:

CERN staffers use bikes to travel through the Large Hadron Collider's 16-mile tunnel. The LHC is the largest particle accelerator ever built. When the machine is running, particles taken from hydrogen atoms will zip both ways around the loop at close to the speed of light. CERN

CERN staffers use bikes to travel through the Large Hadron Collider

I guess it’s not possible to make too many wrong turns once you’re inside the 27-kilometer (17-mile) radius that is the O-ring responsible for accelerating the particles. Nonetheless, I’m sure our physicist friends support our petition just the same.

This page tells us, “Weather permitting, bikes are a ubiquitous and favored form of transport around CERN.”

The Exploratorium Museum website has a Science of Cycling section that tells us, among other things, about how energy efficient bicycles are. When you look at the chart, below, it’s pretty astounding how much more efficient riding your bike is than every other form of transportation:

This fact has been stated many times in many places, but that chart really drives the point home.

Well, maybe the CERN physicists are looking to replicate the success of previous physicists in more ways than one:

All of this physics talk reminds me of a project I did back in the day: the old bicycle wheel/gyroscope/spin-it-on-a-string routine. In the following video, Professor Walter Lewin of MIT is pretty energetic. This is Lecture 24 from his “Physics I Classical Mechanics” course at MIT, now part of MIT’s OpenCourseWare Project (free online classes/course materials). If you’re interested in the physics of bicycle wheels-in particular, angular momentum, pure roll, torque, mass, gravity, radius, friction, f=ma, tension, omega, procession, frequency, and net forces and torques-then this video is for you:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLy0IQT8ssk

The physics demonstrated in the video go towards explaining why turning on a bicycle works the way it does: non-intuitively (to turn to the right, start by turning left).

And in case you’re wondering if the LHC has destroyed the earth yet or not, you can find out here and here.

Meals on (Two) Wheels

September 18, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Great story in the Portland Observer about some Meals on Wheels folks who decided they only needed two wheels to do what they do:

Kyle Lyles, 65, has reinvented the concept of meals on wheels.

Three times a week, he loads a bicycle trailer with coolers containing up to 15 meals, and brings them to local recipients of the Loaves & Fishes meal site at the Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Senior Center.

Lyles originally bought the trailer to transport his own groceries, but hit on the idea after he retired and read that Meals on Wheels was having a hard time keeping volunteers due to rising fuel costs.

Just in case you haven’t heard of Meals on Wheels, Wikipedia has a brief definition:

Meals-on-Wheels are programs that deliver meals to individuals at home who are unable to purchase or prepare their own meals. The name is often used generically to refer to home-delivered meals programs, not all of which are actually named “Meals on Wheels.”

The national-level agency that coordinates activities with local chapters is the Meals on Wheels Association of America.

This part of the story cracked me up—that ah-ha! moment that we all get once in a while:

Across town in northeast Portland, a New Seasons Market employee Jamie Gabel independently thought of a similar concept, launching of a “meals on bike wheels” delivery program at the Concordia store.

“The idea first came to me on a perfect fall day in Portland, when I was delivering meals in my car,” Gabel said. “It was one of those days where you want to be outside so you can hear the leaves crush under your feet. So I said to my coworker, ‘What a gorgeous day. I wish I was on my bike.’ Then it took me about two seconds to realize that I COULD do this on my bike! All I needed was a bike trailer and some willing volunteers.”

I’ve never done Meals on Wheels myself, but my brother did it a bunch and he seemed to love it.

About a month ago, one of the Austin bicycle coordinators sent out a quick announcement email about a similar program starting up in Austin on September 15 (about three days ago), at Meals on Wheels and More.

Congrats to everyone involved in all of this awesomeness. Absolutely brilliant.

BBBike Can Be Ported to Other Cities

September 17, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

We first wrote about BBBike back in June. At that time, we were a bit taken aback by just how many features the desktop version of BBBike had. The problem was, the tool was only available for a couple of German cities.

Well, a couple of German PERL hackers (the desktop version of BBBike is written in PERL/TK), Wolfram Schneider and Andreas Hetey, have attempted to port BBBike to some new cities, including Amsterdam, Basel, Cambridge, Colmar, Copenhagen, Cracow, Erlangen, Freiburg, Hannover, Karlsruhe, Laibach, San Francisco, Wien, and Zuerich. That is, they wrote a tool to convert OpenStreetMap data to a format that can be consumed by BBBike. (I think.)

Alas, there is a catch. The data used for these new cities is from OpenStreetMap.org, and that data is not yet optimized for bicycle travel. That is, it does not know about things that are important to bicyclists, like where the bike lanes and paths and hills are.

But we can help by contributing to the OpenStreetMap project—specifically, by adding to the data already available in our towns, especially bicycle-related data. I actually couldn’t tell you exactly how bicycle-related data needs to make it into the OpenStreetMap project. I’m guessing you can just click on specific roads and routes and designate them as having bicycle lanes, et al. I’ll have to look into this more.

Wolfram suggested that the software was very much still in beta, and that we should really download the desktop version if we wanted more than 20% of the features available.

You can view a video of Wolfram and Andreas presenting their “Copenhagen port” of BBBike at the YAPC::Europe::2008 (Yet Another PERL Conference) here, and a PDF of their slides is here. I’ve embedded the blip.tv version of their presentation below:

I tried the online version of BBBike for San Francisco and it seemed to do an OK job for some routes, but not for others. That’s about what we’d expect given the state of the data. Maybe give your town a spin and see what you come up with.

For those places without great OpenStreetMap coverage yet, I’m hoping the GPS-enabled iPhone and soon-to-be-released Gphone will help with that a bit. Of course, we still need to add in the bicycle data.

Most if not all of BBBike is released under open-source licenses like GPL. You can download it and accompanying datasets in one or more forms here and here.

byCycle.org Creator Hired by Portland Transit Agency

September 17, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

byCycle.org BikePortland.org reports that the creator of byCycle.org, Wyatt Baldwin, has been hired by the local Portland area transit agency, TriMet (wiki).

Baldwin says he hasn’t been hired to work specifically on byCycle.org for the agecy, but he doesn’t necessarily seem to rule it out either, hinting that he could be trying to bring true multi-modal transport mapping options to the TriMet Trip Planner.

Here’s what BikePortland.org indicates is the status of byCycle.org:

Baldwin says he’s considering “open-sourcing” the code and “releasing it into the wild”. His hope is to let others take over the main development of the tool and he thinks making byCycle open source “will remove certain barriers and lead to a better product overall.”

Of course, our petition mentions byCycle.org specifically (even though we got the list of cities wrong):

The Google Maps-based third party site, byCycle.org (http://byCycle.org/), provides these features for two metro areas - Portland, Oregon and Madison, Wisconsin, and there are countless other mapping initiatives around the world aimed at accomplishing the same goal.

I don’t know the trajectory of byCycle’s development, but I have a good idea of how side projects can go based on my own personal experience. They are often done in the late-night hours, after a full day of work or school. At first you think nothing of dedicating a couple of months to something that you think is so cool, and the initial feedback starts coming in and you’re totally psyched about it all, but then things always need to be improved and fixed and updated, and you want to be a perfectionist because that’s the type of service you want and expect for yourself, but it all just gets to be very, very time consuming—mentally and emotionally exhausting or just plain boring. And then you hit full burnout. The suggestions keep rolling in from well-intentioned people, but you don’t have the time or energy to continue to improve your service; you want your old life back, some free time, and so forth. Do you even respond to an emailed suggestion when all you can manage to say is, “I’m tired,” or, “Sounds good, but that’s a lot of work”? Will people think you are rude? That you just don’t care?

Fortunately, we developer-types have at least one option, and that’s open-sourcing what we’ve done, and it seems like Wyatt is considering this option.

Finding funding is part of why we should all be voting for Bike the City-Pittsburgh once a day over at the Pittsburgh Innovates site. It’s quick and easy, and it might just help push this bike mapping thing forward a bit quicker.

If TriMet is smart, I think they’ll give Wyatt two or three days a week to continue work on byCycle.org, kind of like Google’s 20% time, but increasing it to 50% time.  :)

Already, Wyatt and his partner on the project, Lauren Donohue, have provided an invaluable service to the bicycling community. They led the way (in America, at least), showing that such a bike routing service was possible and valuable. It certainly gave an air of plausability to this feature request and petition, and I’m sure y’all remember having your friends and even fellow bikers tell you, “It can’t be done.” Well, the existence of byCycle.org proved that it could be done. Big task? Yes. Possible? Yes.

Incidentally, I’ve been thinking a bit more about how good technology can affect the world in very positive ways. I told the Google Transit guys at the recent TransitCamp that Google Transit was absolutely excellent. I wasn’t trying to curry favor, either—I think it’s an incredible tool. I got at least one other person saying, “Agreed.” This might sound a bit out there, but I think Google Transit is so good, that it could possibly be deserving of some type of major award—something like a Nobel Prize—if they had one for engineering or environmental impact or something like that. When they add a “Bike There” feature, they can count on my vote.  :)

I have a feeling that very few people know about Google Transit, even in cities and towns where it is available. That’s a shame, and we should try to let people know it’s out there. Here’s a video of the service:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MngAUnhDDbg

Why an award for Google Transit/Google Maps? Because, as the video suggests, “Google Maps makes taking public transit easy.” The convenience of getting transit directions directly from Google Maps is comparable to the ease of hopping on a bicycle with bicycle-sharing systems around the world. Simply put, if we make taking transit easier, more people will take transit, which is good for all of us, even drivers.

Yahoo's Purple Pedals

September 15, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Start Wearing Purple, Yahoo!

Yahoo has a new ad campaign called “Start Wearing Purple“; the main theme song is Start Wearing Purple by the band Gogol Bordello. Great song.

Part of the new ad campaign is a set of custom-made bicycles, colored purple (Yahoo’s primary color), that automatically takes pictures and uploads them to Flickr (a photo-sharing website that Yahoo bought) with a mounted digital camera. The pitch: “Bikes + Flickr + GPS + Purple + holy moly”. The bikey contraptions will capture “the life of a bike” in various towns across America (San Francisco, New York, San Diego, Jersey City, and Bethel, Vermont) and a few spots around the world (Copenhagen, the UK, Sydney, and Singapore).

Purple Pedals - How it works

The images in this post are taken from the Purple Pedals Owner’s Manual (pdf).

LifeHacker has a pretty extensive write-up on the bikes.

The main URL for the Purple Pedals project is at http://startwearingpurple.com/purplepedals, but be warned—the site is heavy with Flash (i.e., for users with slower computers, the site is very sluggish).

There are lots of “Street Views” we can’t get from Google Maps because some paths are off-limits to cars, so this can actually fill out some gaps in the terrain. Here are the pictures from one of the San Francisco bikes.

Seems like a fun project. Bravo to Yahoo! for generating more excitement about bicycling!

TransitCamp Bay Area 2 Report

September 13, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

TransitCamp Bay Area 2
Just got back from TransitCamp 2—definitely a cool experience. Here’s the idea behind TransitCamp:

TransitCamp is inspired by BarCamp. Bar Camp events are powered by participation and collaboration. TransitCampBayArea will highlight the public transit system in the Bay Area Region and will bring together transit officials and citizens to discuss stuff like: getting schedules on the go, the future of the Bay Area transit system, experiences and observations (not complaints, though), the websites, cool ideas for attracting more riders, etc.

Lots of transit-type folks were in attendance: folks from transportation agencies, at least one San Carlos official, transportation advocates of all types, at least one mostly-bicycle advocate (me!), a few regular transit riders, and at least a couple of guys from the Google Transit team.

I managed to corner Joe Hughes. I’m not sure what Joe’s position/title at Google is, but it’s obvious from Googling around that he’s been heavily involved in transportation/technology issues for a while (I found this funny story after a brief search on Joe’s name.). Bottom line, he knew about our website and petition, and thought it was very cool, but couldn’t comment one way or the other on what Google may or may not be doing with respect to bike mapping. He mentioned that when they first released Google Transit in the Portland area, about 30% of the feedback were requests for bicycle route mapping. So, no new news, unfortunately.

One of the folks present at the meeting was Aaron Antrim, who heads Trillium Transit Internet Solutions. I first found out about Aaron and his company when researching Google Transit, right about the time this blog started. I’d meant to cover Trillium earlier, but I dropped the ball. Nonetheless, Aaron’s company is important because he helps smaller agencies get online with Google Transit, in particular, those small-to-midsized transit agencies that don’t have dedicated IT staffs. I’d like to see the numbers, but I have a suspicion that transit ridership numbers started ticking upwards in cities and towns where Google Transit started rolling out. I think it’s that good. It would be difficult to tell now, with gas prices changing so rapidly, but it seems like Trillium provides a great service. The Google Transit Google Group (message board) is filled with folks from various towns all over America asking for Google Transit in their town. At that point, Google can only say, “Please have your town create and publish a data feed that conforms to the GTFS specification, and we’ll make the rest happen.” So maybe Trillium can fill some of the in-between space there.

I’m going to post a few more notes on today’s sessions over at the San Francisco Bike Blog when I get a moment.

The Moment We've All Been Waiting For

September 11, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

John Pucher

The new issue of Momentum Magazine is online, and John Pucher, the “Bicycle Scholar,” has written the first article in his three-part series on making cycling for everyone:

The most important approach to making cycling safe, convenient, and attractive for everyone in northern European cities is the provision of separate cycling facilities along heavily travelled roads and at intersections, combined with extensive traffic calming of residential neighbourhoods.

Depending on how you want to chop that sentence up, we only need to concentrate on these two or three primary directives to start seeing big changes in bicycle mode share. I’ll share all three:

  1. Provision separate cycling facilities along heavily-traveled roads
  2. Provision separate cycling facilities at intersections
  3. Extensively traffic-calm residential neighborhoods

That’s it. It’s not rocket science. Of course, we need to do all the other stuff along with these major directives, but these are the big ones. It’s simple enough for us to remember, simple enough that we can drill it into our politicians’ heads that this is what we need and expect to happen. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel—Europeans have been living and learning about integrating cycling into society for thirty years—it’s up to us if we want to take advantage of their hard work and, often, sacrifice.

I’ve made a big deal about Pucher’s research in the past, and I’m absolutely thrilled that Momentum took the opportunity to ask Pucher to rework his paper into a magazine format to get it in front of more people. And I plan on sending a quick note to Professor Pucher to thank him for taking the time to get this done. It’s that important.

Now, it’s our turn. We need to put this information in front of policy-makers and advocates. We need to do whatever we have to do to make sure that this message comes through loud and clear. We need to first convince ourselves that an on-street bicycle network is not enough, and then we need to take that message to all the people who have the power to make things happen. We need to educate the public at large to the myriad benefits of bicycling, and then tell them how we can get there.

For my part, I plan on making sure this research gets in front of, as best I can, my city’s mayor, town councilors, bike/walk people, citizen representatives, local bike advocacy group, and anybody else I can think of that needs to know. I don’t know exactly how I’ll go about doing it yet, and I’m definitely going to ask for help, but I’m going to do the best I can. And I don’t mind that many of the people in this list know more about biking and bike advocacy than I’ll ever know—this is too important to be bashful. And I don’t plan on being pushy with the information; I just intend to make sure that everyone who is in a position to influence public policy on bicycle infrastructure is in the know about specific policies that have worked extraordinarily well overseas.

For many folks in the list, we should be able to achieve some type of face-to-face meeting, and that, I think, would be best so we can relay how important this information is. It will set the framework for all future decisions that will be made regarding infrastructure. I might generate a simple one-page diagram, or even try to go about creating that shortened digital presentation I mentioned at the bottom of this post. I think a good digital presentation would be especially powerful for public education on these topics. For instance, all over San Francisco for the past and upcoming few weeks, there will be neighborhood movie nights—just a big projector set out in a small park in the neighborhood, organized by locals. If we can put together a quality presentation (or even borrow one from StreetFilms, maybe even start with one about Sunday Streets), we might be able to convince organizers to allow us to show a short clip. And if not, we can try to organize events ourselves.

A couple of weeks ago I ordered a few back issues of The Lance Issue of Momentum Magazine. When I was still in Austin, I made a commitment to send a copy of that issue to each of our town councilors and the mayor, and I’m about to make good on that commitment. I want all of our elected officials to know we’re serious about achieving our objectives. I want them constantly bombarded with our messages, from all angles. I want to make it socially and politically unacceptable for them to take any action which provides anything less than the the best facilities for bicycles and pedestrians. I want to be able to ride to work in safety. I want my kids to be able to play in the neighborhood streets in safety. I don’t want my kids to be showing signs of heart disease when they’re five years old, or needing a liver transplant by the time they’re fifteen, all because they had no safe place to play or ride a bike. I want livable streets, and I want them now. It’s largely up to us; if we educate people and pressure our politicians, we’ll get our livable streets.

I’m sure of it.

Pittsburgh Innovates; RideTheCity.com

September 11, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Pittsburgh Innovates Pittsburgh Innovates is an “ideas contest” where the best two ideas will receive up to $10,000 and $20,000 in funding, respectively. And RideTheCity.com is entered into the contest. Read about it directly from the RideTheCity blog, found here. This is a big deal because it’s a real chance for RideTheCity to start expanding, and we can play an important role in that effort.

Each of us is allowed to rate each participating project every day. I’ve already checked out a few of the other projects, and some seem kind of cool, but none as cool or innovative as RideTheCity.

Ride the City Pittsburgh

Here’s a blurb on the contest from the contest home page:

Submit your Innovation. Show a connection to Pittsburgh. Get Votes. Win up to $20,000. That’s right Pittsburgh! It is your turn to show us what you’ve got!

The future is being invented right here in Pittsburgh. Amazing innovations in medical devices, software, robots, and polymers occur here everyday, but there hasn’t been a place for people to share their ideas and achievements. The Pittsburgh Innovates contest is here to allow people to show off technologies with a connection to Pittsburgh. For those of you without an innovation, but with an interest in Pittsburgh, can see what is happening and rank your favorite submissions.

Your rankings decide Pittsburgh Innovates 2008’s 10,000 dollar winner. A panel of distinguished judges from Pittsburgh and beyond will decide Pittsburgh Innovates 2008’s 20,000 dollar winner.

RideTheCity’s connection to Pittsburgh is co-founder Jordan Andersen, who attended Carnegie-Mellon University (wiki), which is located about three miles from downtown Pittsburgh.

The contest started a couple of weeks ago, and it runs through October 26. Let’s vote RideTheCity up! Below is a short screencast showing how to vote every day. And don’t worry about voting every day—you can actually rate each project up to once a day:

How many times can I rank an innovation?
You can rank each innovation once per day.

If you’d like to see the full-size version of this screencast, click here.

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