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Archive for February, 2012

Using Bikes To Compete for Tech Talent

February 27, 2012 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

One of the perks tech companies are using to lure talent is bikes and bike amenities — which inherently includes dignified bike access to where ever employees will be working every day. A quick 3-minute radio segment (the player starts at 19:07 automatically) from the uber-popular radio show Marketplace (wiki) tells us what companies like FourSquare (New York City) and Google (Mountain View) are doing to be bike-friendly:

Companies are in a race to outdo each other on bike friendliness. Google not only gives employees racks and lockers, the company will donate to charity if employees ride to work. Etsy‘s got an in-house bike mechanic. In New York, Foursquare just chose a new location for its headquarters, based on where biking would be easy.

To me, FourSquare’s move is the ultimate in bike-friendliness — we bikers don’t need showers and pumps and cheerleading (though all of that could be nice) — we just need the absolute bare minimum required to allow us to ride our bikes to the office: a safe, convenient, direct, dignified route to the office, and some place to lock our bike so it won’t be stolen — nothing ‘rocket-sciency’ about this formula, and not too much to expect from any and every company, and every city council, in my opinion.

Of course, FourSquare is a much newer company than Google, and has the advantage of being born just three years ago (wiki) — right when bicycling was starting to takeoff again in major, developed countries. And FourSquare has the advantage of being in urban New York City, where a major biking renaissance has been occurring, with cycletracks appearing all over the city. Google is ‘saddled’ with a zillion employees (to FourSquare’s 100) — the realities of the real estate market helped push Google onto the wrong side of Highway 101 in suburban Mountain View, CA.

We wrote just a couple of days ago about how Google needs to help achieve part one of the ‘bare minimum requirements’ that would allow employees to bike to work at Google — on-street cycletracks/bike lanes/etc.

One company not mentioned in the article was Facebook (wiki). Though they probably have a very young staff, generally speaking, they chose to move their corporate headquarters recently out to a place which makes Google’s location look like Times Square in Manhattan. This place is so desolate, so anti-human, so bike-unfriendly, one has to wonder if Facebook management didn’t have it out for cyclists and would-be cyclists. Yes, there is talk about improving bike and walk access to the Mars-like landscape that surrounds and protects the Facebook headquarters from non-motorized humans (look at the entrance — it’s literally a freeway) - you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.

Finally, it’s been said that Apple could change the slave-labor conditions of its sweatshops “tomorrow” if Apple told them to do so. Similarly, Google could snap their fingers and have the Mountain View city council study then approve and implement bike infrastructure all throughout the local Googleplex street network — first bike lanes, then buffered bike lanes, then cycletracks — it’s so obvious and easy it’s hardly worth mentioning — only, it still hasn’t been done yet.

In other news:

  • Google’s bike directions now offers a legend to help differentiate between the Level of Service (LOS) of various streets/paths along your bike route: bike-friendly, bike lane, or separate trails/paths.
  • RideTheCity.com has launched in LA, and also launched an iPhone app update.
  • Big article on Google Transit, with info on real-time (NextBus-like functionality) API/feed format. Includes link to startup transit app-maker company, Embark (not the auto/bus PR firm, EMBARQ).
  • An interesting, if flawed, analysis of Google Maps Driving Directions vs. Transit vs. whatever functionality from the founder of the now-defunct WorldChanging.org (wiki).
  • Google Street View is moving into Botswana — it’s already got a bunch of cool street view imagery from South Africa, including photos of actual BRT stations.
  • SF Bay Area to get bike-sharing.
  • The hype on Long Beach is making it seem like the Portland of SoCal.
  • Gas prices soaring. In response, I think we bicycle advocates should pound on this refrain: “Let us ride (by building appropriate bike facilities).”
  • Even Hitler knows mandatory helmet laws are a bad idea (NSFW)
  • Ciclovia’s coming to Dallas. And Long Beach?
  • Santana Row is the best urban design I’ve seen anywhere in America
  • The true origin of PARK(ing) Day?
  • A few months ago there was talk of redefining LOS by defining it for walking and biking, but it seems to have slipped off the radar. It popped up again.
  • Paris starting to make sense - allows cyclists to run red lights
  • This would be awesome for getting up hills
  • The answer to transit-dependence is not more and faster bus service — it’s allowing people to go where they want to go when they want to go under their own power.
  • Truth about BRT systems is slowly slipping out into the light of day
  • I’ve been less of a fan of StreetFilms since they started pushing BRT so hard, but this film is great
  • Brad Pitt rips automobility while talking about baseball (tip)

 

On-Street Bike Lanes More Important Than Off-Street Bike Paths

February 24, 2012 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Photo on right: Joe Linton

That is, if your goal is to get more people on bikes more often for more reasons — daily commuting, errand-running, socializing, etc. — you should spend more of your dollars on on-street infrastructure rather than off-street infrastructure. Several studies, however conflicting, suggest the same - “More specifically, provision of good quality separate cycling facilities alongside heavily travelled roads and linking to everyday facilities that people need to use…”. In other words, cyclists and would-be cyclists are human beings that have places to go and things to do, and they sometimes/often want to be able to do them quickly and conveniently.

If your city has $10M to spend on bike infrastructure (as if), then the breakdown between on-street and off-street facilities should fall towards the on-street side. Whether it’s 51/49, or 99/1, or somewhere in between, is up to you and your city to figure out.

Most times I’ve suggested this online, I was treated as a blaspheme. I knew I had to be correct because how could we suggest that women should be forced to ride a pitch-dark bike path at night when most Americans, men and women, are afraid to walk around even their own neighborhoods at night? [Unless we're just planning to keep women at home?] We know women are more risk-averse than men (thankfully!). Should we just throw women under the bus? [I will not ride a bike path at night, so being afraid of getting jumped or worse is not specific to women.]

This thought crossed my mind recently because Google is expanding their campus again, and there are some bike paths in the area and little to no worthwhile on-street facilities — the question is, which projects should we go after, and with what percentage of our resources?

Right now there is no dignified way for a biker to get from civilization — downtown Mountain View, or really, any place west of Highway 101 — to the Googleplex [the recommended bike route is 3.8 miles whereas a car can get there in about 2.6 miles (non-highway)]. A biker could choose to take some trail that’s often dark and/or flooded out and, by its very nature, lacks social safety (Did he shut down his blog?), etc., but we need to allow normal human beings to hop off a train or bus in downtown Mountain View/wherever, and simply ride to the Googleplex, on their own bike or on the soon-to-be-coming bike-share bikes — without fear of losing life or limb. And it has to be the shortest route possible — shorter than is possible by car. There are actually a couple of beautiful streets near both the start and end of the trip — it’s only about a 2.5 mile walk — we should work to make this direct route walkable first, then bikeable, and if there’s any room left over we can talk about other ways that people might want to get around.

If it was up to me, 99% of our collective resources — monetary, political, etc. — from Google, city council, workers, citizens — would go to on-street facilities. On-street facilities simply have to take precedence, for obvious reasons.