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Making a Difference During Bike-To-Work Week

May 14, 2008 By: Brandon Warga Category: Uncategorized

Hello!

My name is Brandon, and for the past few weeks I’ve been helping out behind the scenes at Google Maps “Bike There”. Peter, the driving force behind this blog, has urged me to post and introduce myself, but I’ve been wary to do so because I’m playing such a small part.

We’re now in the middle of Bike-to-Work week, and it’s got me thinking about bicycle advocacy—the central theme of this blog. A lot of people don’t get involved in bicycle advocacy because they think that it means making a big effort—organizing a group ride, giving a speech at your workplace, or spending your free time at the local bike co-op.

It’s true that we—well, almost all of us—could do more, but that’s not the point. Advocacy is about doing what you can to make a difference. Every little gesture counts. So when you answer a coworker’s questions about your commute, help a stranger patch a flat, or even obey the rules of the road to show drivers that they can share the road with bikers, you’re acting as an advocate of bicycling. And you’re making a difference.

Even though I could do more to advocate for bicycling (and I plan to!), helping out at Google Maps “Bike There” is a good first step. I hope each of you will make a small gesture of advocacy during Bike-to-Work week, even if it’s just smiling at the motorists you pass in traffic.   :)

Happy cycling!

Google Bike Month logo?

May 01, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

There’s not one that I know of. Not yet, anyways.

The pictured logo is the special Google Earth Day logo. Pretty cool, huh?

Google has a long history of creating special holiday-themed logos-check them out.

Do we have any artists in the house who want to take a stab at a Google Bike Month logo? Or maybe develop a Bike-to-Work-Day logo?

Crisis politics, marketing, and the Tipping Point

April 28, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy, Finances, Uncategorized

Courtney Dudley /AMERICAN-STATESMANI’ve previously mentioned the phrase “Now is the time” to emphasize my impression that we could possibly achieve a whole lot very quickly if we really went after things, as opposed to just sitting back and taking advantage of current economic conditions-namely, rising gas prices.

This post is a short thought to drive that point home and perhaps make it a bit more concrete.  :)   Many of us already do all that we can. Still, I think this is an important point to make.

Let me get to it.

The short version:

A little bit more work right now can save us a lot of work later.

Or:

A little bit more work right now could possibly turn the tide. It could it could help move us up to and over the tipping point (book), because right now, at this moment in time, the tipping point is closer than it’s ever been before-and it’s a temporary condition.

Certain political ideas (possibly with some roots in military and humanitarian affairs?) that have attained particular prominence over the past few years can be lumped under the banner of “crisis politics”. The key theme of these ideas is that when people are in a state of crisis, they just want a solution that works. It doesn’t have to be a good long-term solution; it has only to be a solution that is good enough to get them and their families to tomorrow.

People in the U.S. are not starving or anything (yet), yet they’re having to make cuts to all their discretionary spending. And rice rationing is already occurring at large retailers. People aren’t quite panicked yet, but there are folks who are looking around, thinking, “What is going on?” The article linked above states, “people will not give up their cars,” but they leave out the context for that assertion, which is that “riding a bicycle in most parts of America can be very daunting for the uninitiated.” We need to let people know that this situation can change very quickly.

I think someone (one of the national bicycle coalitions?) should put together a quick marketing campaign that we can implement on the local level. We need to have smart, soundbite-ish answers for helping transition people out of their cars and onto their bikes. We need to do a much better job of talking up the real economic benefits of dropping your car. We can go after two-car families first, and we can appeal to what people hate most: dropping $40 or more at the gas station every week. We need to get people’s attention and say this:

We know things are rough. And we think we can help. Really. You see, you probably think it’s only those people in spandex and teenage kids who ride bikes, but it’s not. More people are riding bikes every day. They ride their bikes to work, to school, to the grocery store, wherever. And check this out. Go buy a bike and ride it to work one day a week; each Friday, give your car the day off. (It’s usually a dress-down day, anyway. You’ll love it.) Do that for six months, and the bike and any gear you got with it have paid for themselves! And you just lost that ten pounds you’ve been trying to get rid of forever. Trust me. It will be the best decision of your life.

We should all tighten up our marketing message and when the media outlets come calling, we’ll be prepared. I’m afraid that we’ll be talking about global warming when most people will want to be reassured about the safety of riding their bike. Or that we’ll be talking about how evil cars are instead of how much money it’s possible to save by riding your bike. (And it’d be nice if we could put concrete figures and calculations to our claims and open them up for scrutiny). We need to have our 10-second, 30-second, and 2-minute elevator pitches ready. And we need to be consistent. What I’m arguing for is a bit of media savvy. I think it can make a big difference to any campaign.

An Austin area church did some marketing Sunday morning when it held church outside and guaranteed a price of $2.49 per gallon of gas at a local gas station. Pretty cool stuff. I’m not suggesting that us cyclists have the money to do something like that, but could we not be as creative? Could we band together and come up with a contest to convert one or three drivers to cyclists by, say, providing them with fully-equipped commuter bikes (rack, lights, etc.), a training class, a discounted car sharing membership, a bikepooling buddy for their first two months, and finding them a good, safe route from their home to their work? I think we could do it, and we could do it well. We’d have to be careful not to come off wrong (arrogant, conceited, or superior), since I suspect lots of drivers have negative impressions of cyclists and cycling. But I know we could do it and wind up with people falling in love with cyclists and cycling. Bike Month might be a great time for such a publicity stunt.

And here’s the thing: we’re not offering a temporary fix. This is not a one-day affair. We’re gonna get you into better shape financially and physically, and we will have helped you change your life for the better permanently.

Further, it’s not like we have to sell umbrellas in the middle of the Sahara. We are selling what might be the closest thing to the fountain of youth and prosperity that the world has ever known. Maybe that’s a little lofty, but still, you get the point.  :)

Some folks in Portland run the Breakfast on the Bridges fun. You really can’t call it a program because, to me, that label would not do it justice. The type of imagination and humanity embedded in events like this suggest a whole new way to think about your commute, your relationship to others, and your life. Yeah, you still have to get to the office, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could just hang out for a few minutes looking at some beautiful scenery and enjoying a coffee and a chat in the outdoors before you get to the office?

We should be bold enough to propose big ideas, participate in bold initiatives, etc. It is possible that a Level 5 effort over the next six months to a year could be more important than a Level 9 effort for the following five years. It is possible that you might just find out that there is political and popular support for an idea that would have been considered outrageous just six months ago (such as bike highways?). So, go ahead and propose it.

There’s also a word of warning, here. Lots of people are going to push for anything that lets them get to tomorrow, even if it’s a new 12-lane autos-only highway or some other monstrosity. There won’t be any logic or coherence to the arguments. Instead, any objections will be explained away by the people who stand to make boatloads of money from the projects. We need to be prepared to respond with proper rejections of unsound development, and be able to offer good alternatives.
:)

Tags:

Bicycles…

April 24, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

Helping extra-terrestrials get home since 1982:

E.T. will be proud of Google once they complete this feature request. :)

Not one more dollar to car culture

April 24, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

I’ve been meaning to post this forever, and now I’m a couple days late, but better late than never.

Spacing Toronto tells us about a cool petition-the petition is not a piece of paper, but a car!

The project was put together by a crew called Streets Are for People. This is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long, long time. It goes to show the creative things people can come up with when they get together.

See? Cars aren’t completely useless. :)

Official word from Google: "Nothing new to share"

April 13, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

I chickened out of calling Google on the phone, but I did send an email to the ‘Press only’ email address and got a very nice response - if not a commitment.

Because you’re not supposed to quote folks’ emails without explicit permission, I’ll paraphrase Google’s response:

Thank you. Everyones’ efforts and enthusiasm are awesome. Unfortunately, no new information to share.

So, we press on.

Now that we’ve heard something more than just an internet rumor about bicycle directions on google maps, I’m feeling a bit more confident that this can/will happen. Still, without official confirmation from Google, I think we need to continue to build momentum for this feature request, and that includes working on all of the associated tasks - like making sure our local governments have valid/accurate/up-to-date bicycle route information available in digital format.

Does your hometown newspaper have a bike column?

March 29, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

Boston does.

When I first read about that column, I thought, “Awesome! I wonder if Austin has a bike column?”

The answer appears to be ‘no’, but I’m not quite sure yet. Some towns may have a ‘commuter/traffic’-type column, but I think it’s important to have someone who is specifically looking at cycling issues.

I tried to launch a low-key campaign to convince my local paper, the Austin American-Statesman, to start running a regular bike column, but there hasn’t been much interest yet. I figure I’ll plug away on my own, as time permits, and just hope for the best. I really don’t know the best way to do it - I figure I’d just start writing emails and letters whenever I could, and try to keep track of people I’d contacted, maybe eventually follow-up with them - and that includes the newspaper, of course.

But, you should work on this for your town, too. I feel like there needs to be a lot more education on cycling - both for drivers and cyclists - and a newspaper column is an awesome way to achieve that. It just seems to me that cycling is such an important and growing part of our lives - a phenomenon, really - that we need to dedicate real resources to it.

Thanks to Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space for the reminder.

The Google Transit Earth Day Challenge

March 29, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

This effort to get bicycle directions provided in the native Google Maps interface is based, in part, on the belief that if you want something and you don’t have it, then you should go after it. And that might even require working with other people to get it done.

If your town does not yet have Google Transit available, you might want to think about pushing your city/town to make it happen. There are a number of reasons why getting Google Transit in your town might have a strong side benefit to our ‘Bike There’ efforts - the biggest might be the expertise and experience gained by your city’s transit and public works staff - both administrators and the actual techies who set up the data feed, etc. If we are able to pull off a Bike There feature on Google Maps, the solution is likely to look very similar to the ‘Take Public Transit’ solution.

Google has put forth a challenge on their LatLong blog - get your town up and running on Google Transit in time for Earth Day - April 22. It might be a bit late to accomplish that goal if your town hasn’t started yet, but you never know. And, better late than never.

Also, it appears to be a fairly straightforward process. For you techies, check out the Google Transit Feed Specification. There are already open source tools to help transit IT shops get their feed together. There are discussion forums, a wiki, and other things to help.

Here is the Google Transit post on this subject:

I recently attended a conference for technical staff in the public transportation industry. I told them about the great progress Google Transit has been able to make in the past year:

  • integrating transit information directly into Google Maps by making stations and stops visible and clickable
  • promoting transit as an alternative each time we show driving directions in an area where we have transit data
  • expanding coverage from nine agencies in the U.S. to more than 30 agencies spanning three continents

But, of course, we don’t do this on our own: we rely on transit agencies to share their data with us so that everyone — residents, tourists, and lifetime riders — can benefit from having the information at their fingertips. Taking public transport is a great option for people to reduce their impact on global warming, so I issued a challenge to those at the conference: get your agency up and running on Google Maps in time for April 22, 2008 — better known as Earth Day.

We’ve already had several agencies get in touch with us, but with over 200 agencies in the U.S. alone, we still have a lot of ground to cover. So now I’d like to extend this challenge to everyone: if your local agency isn’t already participating, get in touch with them and let them know that you’d like to see their information on Google Maps.

One of the coolest aspects of all this Google Maps-inspired technology is that we’re getting more open government. So, many towns, including Austin, have opened up their feeds completely to the public, which means we can analyze and even use the data to create applications ourselves - whether they are Google Maps mashups, or whatever.

RideFridays.org

March 28, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

Ride on Fridays - it’s a great idea:

What is this about?

It’s just an idea.

Fridays: Give your car the day off.

Going to work? Headed to the store? Have errands to run?

Try it without the car. Instead, carpool, take the bus, walk, ride a bike. You probably have even more options where you live.

Every little bit makes a difference! Just imagine if you turned those 1- or 2-mile drives to the grocery store into a walk or a short bike ride. That would change everything!

Maybe you’re already doing this? Let us know about it.

Or let us hear about it in the comments.

It’s just an idea …

Good job, RideFridays folks! :)

Google Maps Street Views for 13 more cities

March 27, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

Google Maps Street ViewToday, Google announced the release of the ‘Street View’ feature for 13 more areas (one of which was Austin), and expanded coverage for an existing 6 metro areas.

Be sure to try out the panoramic images - by clicking and dragging you can get a 360 degree view from any coverage location, and you can even look up and down with pretty good range, too.

The ‘Street View’ feature of Google Maps is huge for us cyclists because it really lets us get a view of what is going on any particular street just as if we were cycling there - and the images are a lot more recent than the satellite imagery. The camera that is taking the pictures is 6 or 7 feet off the ground.

If your city has the ‘Street View’ feature, you’ll see a button right in Google Maps, just next to the existing buttons in the upper-right - Traffic, Map, Satellite, Terrain. [Which buttons you have probably depends on coverage in your particular town.]

Check out a snapshot of San Jacinto Blvd in downtown Austin, Texas. It’s a one way with a bike lane, and it’s my main route into downtown.

You can imagine where the technology is going. If we can get bicycle directions on Google Maps, then we’ll be able to actually see exactly what our route looks like from where we start all the way to our destinations. We’ll be able to actually see the bicycle lanes - which ones are ‘real’ and which ones are just stripes on a narrow garbage-strewn shoulder. We’ll be able to check out any tricky intersections, how we are going to navigate left turns, and we’ll basically become better-prepared riders.

At a minimum, this is one more tool that would-be cyclists will be able to use to get more comfortable with using a bicycle for transportation.

This Street View addition for Austin will allow the Austin Bicycle Advisory Council and the City of Austin Bicycle and Pedestrian Program to have better information available to them during meetings. And groups like Walk Austin will certainly be interested to see street-level views of many of the dangerous intersections in town.

Good stuff.

…Streetsblog LA uses a helmet cam to show us a stupid bike lane, but now we could use Google Maps Street View to get at the same information - if not in full video. Incidentally, bike lanes that end without warning - all too common, unfortunately.