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Archive for the ‘Advocacy’

Your Signature Is More Powerful Than You Think

September 05, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Taking action, even with as small an action as adding your signature to a petition, can make a big difference. I won’t try to equate the importance of getting a “Bike There” option on Google Maps to the prevention of human rights abuses around the world, but I make no bones about the importance of this feature request, both to justice (social, environmental, transportation) and the myriad other ways that bicycling can benefit society.

I found the following video at the Osocio blog, which tracks “social advertising and non-profit campaigns from around the globe.” This particular video is called Ink, and it’s a follow-up to the original ad, which was called Your signature is more powerful than you think. The original ad is in French, so I decided to use this one, which is in English—they’re both great:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iiN7CNJO1gI

The ad was produced for Amnesty International France. The main Amnesty International amnesty site is here.

Police Crackdown in St. Paul

September 02, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Amy Goodman getting manhandled by St. Paul policeI was not planning on writing much about the bike-sharing programs (Bikes Belong) at the DNC and RNC conventions. As much as the programs could help bring biking to the masses, I didn’t want to do anything that would legitimize the conventions— each seems anti-democratic to me. Large corporations are throwing around millions of dollars at the conventions. In some countries, they call it bribery; here in the U.S. it’s called lobbying.

It seems like only a few days ago, it was popular for major U.S.-based television news programs to condemn the government of China for human right abuses, spying on their citizens, and brutal police crackdowns. It was easy for all the networks to point their fingers at the Chinese government and say, “Shame.”

I knew we were likely to see the same thing here in the U.S., at one or both conventions. It was only a few short years ago when the New York Police Department indiscriminately arrested thousands of people because they dared exercise their First Amendment rights to free speech.

Well, yesterday Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, and two of the show’s producers, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, were arrested while carrying out their journalistic duties. Check out the video of Goodman’s arrest, below:

[httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYjyvkR0bGQ]

Democracy Now! is the best contemporary radio program in existence. I’ve linked to their articles and videos before. Amy Goodman is one of the most prominent pro-freedom activists in the world, today. She openly challenges power—whether Democratic or Republican—and she does it to protect the innocent and powerless.

To see Goodman get manhandled like that—and arrested without cause—makes my blood boil. She’s one of us, trying to make the world a slightly better place. That’s what being an activist is all about: not being satisfied with the status quo. Democracy Now! covered Portland bike issues back in April. It’s the type of news program that gives voice to people who are otherwise ignored by the mainstream media. Those people are people like us: transportation and bicycle advocates who will not easily break into the pages of our national news media, bound and dominated as they are by automobile advertising interests.

Whether it was the Republican National Committee, the St. Paul Police Department, the FBI, or the Secret Service, whoever was responsible should be held to account. If people broke the law and illegally arrested clearly-credentials news reporters, then they should be held to account, up to and including being arrested and held, themselves. But it should be done legally. The idea that some organizations will only have to pay a small fine for their abuse of power, and only years after the damage was done, is not acceptable.

Earlier in the weekend, Elizabeth Press, another Democracy Now! producer, was detained and held at a house when the police raided it. Some of us might recognize Press’s name from the awesome work she’s done on StreetFilms. What is going on in St. Paul?

The police forces in St. Paul should not be unleashed to raid, intimidate, interrupt, interfere, jail, and/or harass protesters, including and especially journalists. We should all be left alone to work to change the system democratically, and we should be free from state interference. Isn’t that what America is supposed to be about?

An AP photographer was also rounded up in the mass arrests.

For me, like John Pucher, bicycling is about more than just bicycling—it’s about justice. Poor people should be able to get on a bike and get to safety. Women should be able to bike to and from work just as often as men. Poor communities should not have highways driven through the middle of them, subjecting them to noise, pollution, and social stratification.

To me, bicycling, freedom, justice, and democracy are all linked; they are all interdependent. We need to be able to carry out our advocacy work without fear of being subject to a government crackdown.

As soon as I found out about Amy Goodman’s arrest, I called the St. Paul Police Department, and then the jail. We managed to pressure the police to release Goodman after about three hours, and Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar after about six hours. That was three hours and six hours too long, respectively. None of them should have ever been arrested. We need to pressure public officials, the St. Paul police department, the FBI, the Secret Service, and the public at large that government crackdowns, in the form of harassment, arrests, and intimidation, are not acceptable.

Here are the best folks to contact to complain about the treatment of protesters and journalists:
* The GOP
* The St. Paul Police Department
* Your elected representatives

I would suggest we also contact the FBI and the Secret Service, but honestly, those guys scare me.

The National Guard was also involved. I thought the Posse Comitatus Act protected us from the use of federal troops exercising police powers within the U.S. This shows how much I know about law and order.

And, in an ironic twist, there were plenty of bicycles to be seen being used by protesters and the police, alike. The police even used them as battering rams to attack protesters, which is not exactly what I had in mind when I started this petition. I was thinking the police might be more interested in riding their bikes. In fairness, they did seem to do a bit of that, too.

If you’re like me, and not great on the phone when confronting public officials, then write an email. Anything helps—every single email, every single call. They’re all important. I’ve seen it happen too many times: contacting your representatives can work. Phone calls are best, but an email can work, too.

Also, keep tuning in to Democracy Now! for updates as they come in. Unfortunately, I’m sure there will be more violence, and more harassment and arrests of innocent protesters and journalists alike. The St. Paul Police Chief, John M. Harrington, seems like he’s been given free reign by the local courts and local and national politicians to arrest whoever he wants for however long he wants. It’s unacceptable. We have to stop it.

We have to look out for each other. Do what you can.

The Most Extraordinary Thing You Ever Saw

September 02, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy


Bill Cunningham, fashion photographer for The New York Times, has an audio slideshow of New York’s 3rd and final-for-this-summer Summer Streets day. To say that Cunningham is enthusiastic about this event, would grossly understate his sentiments. “Euphoria” is probably closer to what Cunningham thinks about opening up streets to bikes and pedestrians.

So how do we use our successes in Portland, New York, and San Francisco to help propel our movement ahead even faster? Fortunately for us, folks have been thinking about this for a long time. Sustainability expert Eric Britton wrote about a “car-free Thursdays” program way back in 1994; his paper is a good place for us to start.

If you haven’t yet stumbled upon Britton’s information-packed website at ecoplan.org, now is as good a time as any.

Neal Peirce, Citiwire.net, and Market-rate Parking

August 29, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Citiwire.net

Neal Peirce writes about city stuff; he does it well, and he’s been doing it for a long time. From a speaking event he did about five months ago in Portland, we get this description of Peirce:

Neal Peirce is a foremost writer, among American journalists, on metropolitan regions—their political and economic dynamics, their emerging national and global roles. Known widely as a lecturer on regional, urban, federal system and community development issues, Peirce has been a familiar figure before civic, business, academic, and professional groups nationally. He has appeared on Meet the Press, The Today Show, National Public Radio, and local media across the country.

Peirce wrote an article this past March that was very popular in the bike blogosphere—”Year of the Bicycle?.” Now, Peirce and his colleagues have launched a new website and column at Citiwire.net. A blurb on the home page offers this greeting and description:

Welcome to Citiwire.net! We promised to focus on a new American narrative in these dispatches, and this week’s columns match. My Citistates colleague Scott Polikov, president of the Fort Worth-based Gateway Planning Group, describes exciting new development economics that match the today’s sustainability imperatives. My regular column focuses on pathbreaking barriers to the automobile’s total dominance of our local communities.” — Neal Peirce

I’ve only read a couple of articles so far, but I really like what I’ve seen; it might be something you want to check out, too.

Peirce’s latest column touches on a bunch of subjects, an especially-important one being market-rate parking:

A few cities are starting to charge true market costs for parking on public streets. Example: fees of up to $40 for four hours near the new baseball stadium in Washington, D.C.

I think market-rate parking could have a huge impact on downtowns, so much so that we should have included it in our “Big Initiatives” post (along with a few other great ideas). San Francisco is about to launch its trial of this market-based parking, and I can’t wait to see what happens. Donald Shoup is just the latest example of why paying attention to research is so important.

Of course, Streetsblog has a couple of excellent video interviews with “The Parking Professor,” Donald Shoup, here and here (in chronological order). Shoup is a professor of urban planning at UCLA, and has written a book that becomes more important every day in our congested downtowns, The High Cost of Free Parking. If you weren’t already aware of this market-rate parking concept, when you get done watching these videos, you’ll think, “Wow. We need to do this in our city right now.”

Summer Streets in NYC

August 11, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

The first news reports of New York’s experiment with a ciclovia, Summer Streets, are starting to trickle in. Gothamist has a quick rundown:

The first Summer Streets Saturday, where the city closed 7 miles of Manhattan streets (between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m.) to create a vehicle-free boulevard for people to stroll, bicycle, and and just enjoy, seems to be a big hit. Of course there were complaints from drivers trying to make their way around.

We listed ciclovias as one of our recommended Big Initiatives. (For those that don’t know, ciclovia is a Spanish word that means “bike path.” The term is used in Latin America to refer either to a permanent bike path or an event where streets are temporarily closed to automobiles so that other forms of transportation may have primary use. See this Wikipedia entry for more information.)

Portland was the first big city in the U.S. to get on the board, and now we have New York City. The New York City—the most populous city in America.

This is absolutely tremendous. If we all collectively decide that New York’s Summer Streets program was a full-on success, then there’s no way that opposition to these programs will stand a chance. Whatever complaint gets raised, we’ll have a ready reply: “Then what about New York?” Nonetheless, let’s hope that business opposition is not too strong.

And now is probably a good time to start thinking about how we need to educate the public at large on the benefits of a bicycling/walking culture. We suggested a coordinated campaign in the Big Initiatives list, and John Pucher, the Bicycle Scholar, has said that this education component is important if we want to be successful like our European brothers and sisters.

If we can make it in New York, we can make it anywhere. :)

[Photo by themikebot]

Postscript: Awesome! Clarence just posted his video of NYC Summer Streets. That was some quick turnaround time. Get some sleep, dude! You rock!

GMBT in the San Francisco Cycling Examiner

August 02, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

The San Francisco Examiner is a U.S. daily newspaper (wiki). The San Francisco Cycling Examiner appears to be a bike blog that runs on the Examiner website. It’s authored by Ben Marks, an avid bicyclist and senior editor at Sunset Books.

Yesterday, he gave our petition a bit more publicity:

If you’ve ever taken the back way to get to the Century Cinemas on Shoreline Boulevard in Mountain View, you probably noticed all those baby-blue bicycles parked in front of the numerous office buildings that make up Google’s growing campus. According to fortune.com, bicycles are the main way Google employees get from building to building for lunch, meetings, or whatever. I’ve even seen Google bicycles parked at the cinema itself.

Be sure to check out the rest of his post and subscribe to his RSS feed if you’re into that sort of thing.

I would love to see a bicycle blog in every major daily in every newspaper around the country and around the world.

40,000 Signatures!

August 02, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

That’s what I’m talking about!

40,000 is getting to be a very respectable number. A good while ago, I was thinking we should be able to get to 50,000 signatures without too much of a problem, but I didn’t want to jinx our efforts by saying so.

Let’s see who number 40,000 is and what they had to say:

40000. Camren
Von Davis
Boulder, CO
United States
As someone who doesn’t own a car and uses a bike to commute, I would definitely appreciate a “bike there” function. That would be wonderful and wonderfully helpful for me and a lot of my peers here in Boulder.

Couldn’t have said it better. Sometimes it feels like I could use a Google Maps “Bike There” feature nearly every single day of the week.

Way to represent Boulder, Camren. We hear it’s a good biking town, and it’s bound to get even better, I’m sure.

Bikers, Pedestrians Seeking Better Web Maps

August 02, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

So says the Baltimore Sun newspaper in a reprinting of an Associated Press article:

“They haven’t yet reached the Holy Grail of ‘I want to go from here to there, show me my options,’” said Bryce Nesbitt, a walking and biking advocate in the San Francisco area.

The first challenge: how to account for factors that make bicycle and walking routes different from driving paths.

Pedestrians need sidewalks, but don’t have to abide by one-way streets. Walkers and bikers can cut through paths or trails not meant for cars, but they must avoid highways. Bikers, unlike walkers, need to think about whether a road is paved, and are prohibited from sidewalks in some cities.

I usually try to track down everyone mentioned in the article, including the author of the article, just to let them know about our efforts, but I’m a bit on the busy side at the moment. I figure I’ll try to ping Bryce Nesbitt since he’s in San Francisco, my new locale. If anyone wants to let the good folks in Philly and Broward and other areas know about our efforts, that’d be awesome.

Google’s implementation of walking directions was definitely a very positive step for all of us.

Google Maps "Walk There"; Walk Score

July 23, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

We saw some news about this a couple of weeks ago, and now the beta Google “Walk There” feature seems to be fairly widely implemented:

It’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and when it’s not too hot, it feels like a waste of gorgeous weather to get behind the wheel or hop in a cab. Doubly so when you’re traveling to a city you’d love to explore, and you’re pretty sure that you could walk from your hotel to the aquarium, if only you could figure out the way. You could try to use driving directions from Google Maps, but city centers are always a maze of one-way streets and no-left-turns. These driving directions from a local hotel to the Seattle Aquarium require numerous contortions in order to obey one-way streets and find a route under the freeway, taking you out of the way of where you could go by foot:

The above image shows driving directions from a Seattle hotel to the Seattle Aquarium. Notice the funky left turn onto 2nd Ave. I guess I had forgotten about just one of the many ways driving is often so wasteful.

Reading more at the Google LatLong blog post on this awesome new feature, we see that now the “Public Transit” directions now include better walking directions. They used to basically just say something like “get yourself to the bus stop over at 123 Jones Ave.” and drew a big arcing arrow path, but now they provide real walking directions for those parts of your public transit trip where you’ll be walking. Very cool stuff.

Walk Score is a very interesting and very important venture. I had first heard of them months ago, but didn’t pay them much attention; I had not yet connected the dots of how bikeability and walkability and open spaces all fall under the same umbrella called “Livable Streets.” We all wanted the same things, I just didn’t see the big picture yet.

So, a few months go by, the Livable Streets and biking and walking movements continue to pick up steam, and then Walk Score releases a report on America’s Most Walkable Neighborhoods and Cities. It looks at data for 2,508 neighborhoods across America.

And then I get an email that mentions that Google played some part in Walk Score, and sure enough, there it is on the Walk Score website:

Advisory Board

The Walk Score advisory board includes urban planning, environmental and technical experts from institutions such as The Sightline Institute, The Brookings Institution, and Google.

That doesn’t necessarily mean a whole lot, but it’s something. Google took some of their time to work on what is a very important public policy initiative—essentially advocating for more livable communities, or, at a minimum, a renewed dialogue on the role of transportation in America.

Walk Score is so important because it is helping to push the idea of livable communities into the public imagination, and it helps promote this with actual data and scores. They give this basic premise on their website:

About Walk Score

“What I can walk to” is a common home-buying and apartment-renting criterion. Walk Score’s patent-pending technology calculates a Walk Score for any property and shows a map of what’s nearby with reviews to help you find a great neighborhood.

Walk Score launched in July of 2007 and over 1 million addresses were searched in the first month. Walk Score has been featured in over 500 blogs and 75 newspaper articles and radio segments.

Our Mission

The Walk Score mission is to promote walkable communities. We believe that walking is good for our health, our communities, and our planet.

Very cool stuff. And you can visit the site, punch in your address, and get the Walkscore for your location. From there, it can serve as a tool for you and your neighbors to try to increase your walk score. The Walk Score algorithm is not perfect yet, but it should continue to get better and more accurate with time.

There are lots of folks who have played a part in Walk Score, among them (I’ll probably miss some, sorry) the main software house responsible for the tools, Front Seat. The Advisory Board is full of heavy hitters. Zillow.com provided information on the neighborhood boundaries.

The legislative action that Walk Score asks us to pay attention to is the upcoming Transportation Bill—the big Congressional kahuna that’s passed once every ten years. Talk about pork city. I’m not sure how much effect we’ll be able to have, given that Congress and other leaders have approval ratings that all seem to be the lowest in the history of America, and most encumbents seem to get re-elected for virtually their entire lives, but I’ll listen to whatever the Walk Score folks say. We can sign their petition, which sounds like a very good idea, and I’m sure we should all be following it as closely as we can, calling our reps, all the usual stuff. The legislation scene is not my game, but it’s crucial, of course, so when an organized group of citizens says they need our help, we need to be ready to support them if we agree with their cause. Transportation for America seems to be the driving organization behind the petition and lobbying Congress for more money for livable communities. They’re going to need all the help that they can get, so even if we only have a couple of minutes, we should definitely help them out however we can.

If you want to keep up with what Walk Score is up to—and I think that would be a worthwhile endeavor—they have a blog and a newsletter.

BikeBlogs.org: The Bicycle Blog Network

July 16, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

In our Big Initiatives post, #13 was to:

13) Create and promote a “town hall”—virtual and/or physical—that can connect the entire bicycle, pedestrian, and mass-transit community.

Well, we’re finally going to start addressing the “virtual” half of this equation, with what we hope will become a worldwide bike blog network, BikeBlogs.org. The first blog in the network is San Francisco, at sf.bikeblogs.org. News and information at the main URL, bikeblogs.org, will be restricted to news about the operation of the network (e.g. new city/town announcements), and possibly national and international bike news. If a local bike blog, like sf.bikeblogs.org, covers a national news story, it will do so by relating it back to the local community. This makes sense for various reasons, but it goes particularly well with our mission of helping to build up the self-sufficiency and vibrancy of the local bike community in each city and town we operate. We want to be able to mobilize when we need to.

Since about the second time I visited BikePortland.org, I started thinking, “Why doesn’t Palo Alto have a bike blog? Where is BikePaloAlto.org?” (I was living in Palo Alto at the time.)

The more I read BikePortland.org, the more I became convinced of its importance to the bicycling community, there. Of course there were hundreds/thousands of bikers participating all over Greater Portland to make good bike things happen, but BikePortland.org seemed to have an amplifying effect. Whatever bike advocates in Portland were up to, they were made more effective because of BikePortland.org—and they knew they had a voice in the media that would give them a fair hearing. And for everyday bike riders, they could learn the ins and outs of riding a bike, and could easily get involved in bicycle advocacy because of Forums and other collaboration features of the website. We want every town to be able to experience this.

StreetsBlog is a great blog (network) that is doing great work, too. They already cover New York City and Los Angeles.

StreetFilms, while not necessarily a bike blog network, is having a tremendous impact on bike advocacy efforts all over the U.S., if not the world. Their films are forces of nature; they’re so good that sometimes I think long-time bicyclists must have suffered an awful lot to justify our good fortune these days. In our advocacy efforts, we sometimes have only to point to a full-motion, skillfully-edited, and highly informative video clip of exactly the type of public policy we want our local governments to adopt. The videos are overpowering. They’re an absolute gift. I’m glad StreetFilms is on our side.  :)

And there are countless other hard-working bloggers, videobloggers, Twitterers, etc., all over the U.S., and all over the world who are helping to bring that shared sense of purpose to their towns, and we applaud them all—please keep up the good work. It is true that anybody can blog, but not everybody has resources (time, money, etc.) to write an informative blog that really serves the public good.

At a high level, BikeBlogs is no different than any other type of bike advocacy—it’s organizing—pooling resources and working together to be larger and more effective than the sum of our parts. We want to help those hundreds/thousands of bloggers out there who really love bicycles and the bicycle lifestyle, but don’t have the several hours a day to spend keeping their blogs updated often enough, dealing with technology issues, trying to dig for bike information from the recent town council meeting while holding down a job and taking care of the kids, and so forth.

And we’re particularly concerned that smaller towns might not have the resources to make a stand-out bicycle blog. We want to do everything we can to make sure that Small Town, USA, and Small Town, Anywhere In The World, is able to start and run a first-class bike blog.

We hope this works. We’ll give it our best shot. And if you think you might like to help, or if you’d just like more information on this project, please check out the growing FAQ at BikeBlogs.org.

Having the “physical town hall,” I believe, is equally important. It can even be someone’s living room, and it can be as often or seldom as you want—once a month or once a week; it’s up to y’all. Some of the bike shops in Austin, TX would have a weekly or monthly Bike-In Movie Night (old article), kind of a play on the old Drive-in theatres; they can be multi-functional meetups. And maybe they should be: too much policy talk can get boring in a hurry.