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Archive for the ‘Advocacy’

Shades of 1973

October 03, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Gas shortage!

ATLANTA (AP) — Motorists are rising before dawn so they can be at the filling station when the delivery truck arrives. Some are skipping work or telecommuting. Others are taking the extreme step—for Atlanta—of switching to public transportation.

Across a section of the South, a hurricane-induced gasoline shortage that was expected to last only a few days is dragging into its third week, and experts say it could persist into mid-October. The Atlanta area has been hit particularly hard, along with Nashville and western North Carolina.

Those lucky enough to find gas are paying more than drivers elsewhere around the country.

“I’ve used up gas just looking for gas,” said Larry Jenkins, a construction worker who pulled his red pickup truck into a Citgo station in Charlotte, N.C., on Monday. The sign said $3.99 a gallon, but the pumps were closed. Many filling stations in the area have not had gas for days.

Schools are closing down. Government agencies. People working from home to conserve gas. Some are even riding their bikes. All sorts of crazy stuff.

Not to make light of what seems to be a pretty serious situation in some parts, but it’s pretty odd to think that in Atlanta, Georgia, people are waiting in line for hours at a time to get gas and sometimes still can’t get it. I was only being born in 1973, but that’s all I can think of when I see people waiting in line for gas.

Between the hurricanes and the mystery that is ever-rising gas prices, it’s a perfect storm. There’s no better time for us to push for big changes in policy. During the ’73 oil crisis, Congress passed the 55 MPH speed limit and CAFE standards. Thirty-five years later we haven’t made much progress on CAFE, and as far as I’m concerned, I hope auto-makers continue to get their way. Taxpayers will only put up with so many $25 billion bailouts. The electric car is a pipe dream, and I predict we’ll continue to see more bikes on the road every year as automakers continue to trot out “concept cars” at their yearly events. Keep up the good work, Detroit.

Think those fancy-shmancy electric cars from our high tech friends in Silicon Valley will save us? I got $5 that says they won’t be around in five years. Any takers?

I’m curious if the anti-car sentiment is starting to spread throughout the rest of America. Most Americans were already skeptical of big business, with polls suggesting that super-majorities of us thought that corporations had too much influence over our elections—and that’s on both sides of the aisle. Then we have the $25 billion automaker bailout. Now it looks like we’ll be giving another $700 billion to some folks because they failed, too. Then we have the rising gas prices which nobody seems to be able to explain. Lots of Americans thought invading Iraq, whether they agreed with it or not, would lower gas prices; now that it hasn’t happened, they feel duped. The recession has workers stressing more over all of their bills. People who are losing their jobs and losing their health insurance, which leads to bankruptcy, which leads to foreclosure, and further slowing of the economy and deadening of neighborhoods and towns, and increases in crime. Lots of us are barely making rent, and lots of us are losing our homes. Some people will choose to keep their cars so they can sleep in them. Others will discover the bicycle and say goodbye to their car, gas prices, the DMV, taxes, insurance, parking tickets, oil changes, fender benders, traffic jams, and a stressed-out life.

Now is the time to demand big changes. Nobody’s using that extra car lane, so take it away from cars and give it to bikes. Take away that bridge lane and give it to bikes and pedestrians. Take away that empty parking lot and set up a bike station. Take away the empty train seats and install more “bikes on board” capacity. Demand safe routes to schools for all of our kids. Jump on the bike-sharing bandwagon along with every other big institution in the U.S. Follow the lead of forward-thinking cities around the globe that have served as inspiration for those of us who are not so forward-thinking—does your town have a bike-sharing program yet? What about your workplace? Hospital? University? Church? School?

Thought about quitting your day job and pursuing a healthier lifestyle by selling bicycles? Do it. You’ll be helping yourself, your family, your community.

Now is the time.

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:


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, 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 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. Creator Hired by Portland Transit Agency

September 17, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy reports that the creator of, 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 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 indicates is the status of

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 specifically (even though we got the list of cities wrong):

The Google Maps-based third party site, (, 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, 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 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:


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, 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!

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;

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 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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What's Wrong with Bike-Sharing?

September 09, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

A lot, says Greg Beato, of Reason Online. The Reason Foundation is a libertarian think tank/publisher. I think Beato misses the point, saying this in his concluding paragraph:

But if a bike-sharing program’s utility mostly lies in how much secure parking it offers—and it does—why bother with the bikes? And the sharing? Let users be responsible for obtaining their own bikes—that’s the simple part of the solution.

Secure bike parking is just one of the many utilities of a bike-sharing program. And really, “secure bike parking” is encompassed by the one overall functional utility of a bike-sharing program—to make bicycling extremely convenient. Many folks have bicycles “in their basements or in their apartment balconies,” as the Washington D.C. bicycle coordinator said. Even those necessary maintenance tasks—digging out the old bike, dusting it off, making sure it has air in the tires, making sure everything is working—prevent people from biking. Bike-sharing programs address that head-on.

Bikes Enable Single-Moms To Keep Moving

September 07, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

In an article about increasing bicycle ridership in the Netherlands, due to rising oil prices (of course), we get this nugget:

The bicycle has also become something of a fashion statement for the upwardly mobile, as illustrated by the growing popularity of the “bakfiets,” a two-wheeler with a large cart attached to the front and selling at 1,400 euros (2,000 dollars) apiece.

“For some it is a display of wealth, but some, like my single-mother clients, don’t have a choice—it is still cheaper than a car,” said Rijkeboer.

I love that single-mothers in the Netherlands seem to have the option of controlling their own destinies; they don’t have to rely on the public transit system to get them and their kid(s) to their destinations. Let’s make that a worldwide phenomenon.