Google Maps Bike There…for a safer, healthier, happier world. :-)

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20,000

March 08, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

We hit 20,000 signatures for the petition yesterday. Good work, everyone.

No word yet from Google.

I sent a ‘product suggestion’ email using an online form on Google’s site - I can’t find the form right now.

And I just used another form here to let the Google.org folks know about our efforts.

International Women's Day

March 08, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

Today is International Women’s Day - March 8.

C’mon - you mean to tell me that bicycles have played a part, and might still be able to play a part in helping to liberate women - wherever in the world they may face oppression??

Well, yes.

We first stumbled onto this aspect of bicycling when we read A Message from the President. That is, a message from David C. Joyce, President of Ripon College, and thought leader (as far as we can tell) behind the Velorution Project. He writes:

Interestingly, no single group benefited from the invention this advent more immediately than women. During the 1890s, the proliferation of bicycles helped women out of their corsets (in the collective sense) and steered fashion toward practical clothing. Likewise, Ripon College’s first four graduates in 1867 were women… another example of empowering women for the future.

How cool is that??

The bicycle wiki page has a bit more. Here’s the first graph from the wiki:

The diamond-frame safety bicycle gave women unprecedented mobility, contributing to their emancipation in Western nations. As bicycles became safer and cheaper, more women had access to the personal freedom they embodied, and so the bicycle came to symbolise the New Woman of the late nineteenth century, especially in Britain and the United States.

If that’s not interesting enough for you, then how about this link we found at the Freakonomics blog, which states that oil production is inversely correlated to women’s rights:

Why has the Middle East lagged behind the rest of the world in women’s rights and political participation? The strictures of Islam receive a fair share of the blame. Michael Ross of UCLA tells us otherwise. The real reason, he argues, is oil.

Michael spoke today at Yale about a new paper of his in the American Political Science Review. He argues that women’s participation in the formal labor force is a driving force in the development of women’s rights and participation. Oil production tends to crowd out local manufacturing, and so oil crowds out job opportunities for women. That is, the discovery of oil in a less developed country, he argues, sideswipes the development of women’s rights. The discovery of oil might even set back previous gains.

It gets more interesting. If you ignore oil, Islam tends to be associated (statistically) with poor women’s rights. After accounting for oil, that Islam-women’s rights correlation goes away. Variation in oil production seems to explain much of the variation in women’s rights within the Middle East, as well as between the Middle East and the rest of the world.

It’s far from proven - it’s just a paper - but wow, what if it’s true? What if it’s only partially true, or even only 10% true?

That would mean that more bicycling - with its corresponding decrease in demand for oil production (or even a slow-down in demand growth) - would imply/infer/create/correspond to a better/stronger women’s rights.

There are myriad economic and moral arguments for Google to provide bicycle directions in the main Google Maps interface, but of all the moral arguments - even if the oil study turns out to be flawed/wrong - the idea that we might be able to bolster human/women’s rights by promoting cycling is just way, way cool.

Other Efforts

March 07, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

We added a page called ‘Other Efforts‘ which lists a few of the other bicycle-route mapping initiatives. I’m sure we’re missing at least a few - we just have to go through the email again - but feel free to send us a reminder.

We only added sites/services that we felt made some effort to actually provide bicycle directions - that is, turn-by-turn/street-by-street directions of how to get from ‘Point A’ to ‘Point B’ on a bicycle. Of course, there is a lot of room for interpretation, here.

Thanks to Alex Rabe for putting together the rockin WordPress table plugin, wp-table - which we’re using to show all the ‘Other Efforts‘ in that HTML table. This plugin saved us a lot of time/effort.

San Francisco Bicycle Coalition - 8,000 strong?!

March 07, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

That’s a whole lot of members:

Through day-to-day advocacy, education, and working partnerships with government and community agencies, the SFBC is dedicated to creating safer streets and more livable communities for all San Franciscans.

Our active 8,000 members represent San Franciscans of all ages, from all neighborhoods, who are working towards more safe, efficient, and green ways to move around our city.

Because of our efforts, the number of residents biking for transportation has doubled in the past 10 years. Today, over 30,000 San Franciscans use bicycles as their primary mode of transportation. (Source: 2006 David Binder Poll)

The SFBC is the largest bicycle advocacy organization in the country - that’s no joke. That number - 8,000 - wow.

We just wanted to give a shout out - say ‘Thanks!’ for picking us up. Here’s the blurb from their weekly bulletin:

While it’s good to see the “Take Public Transit” option in addition to “Drive There” on Google Maps, you know we’d all like to see a “Bike There” option. If you agree, have a look at the Google Maps ‘Bike There’ website and then sign the petition. Thanks to SFBC members Chloe, Emily, Jeremiah, and Christopher for the tip.

Thanks for looking out, Chloe, Emily, Jeremiah, and Christopher - and to the folks who actually put together the newsletter/bulletin/website.

And thanks to Andy, bike commuter extraordinaire, for letting us know where that massive influx of Bay Area signatures originated. :)

How to Survive a Zombie Attack

March 06, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

My roommates aren’t avid cyclists (yet), but they are avid zombie fanatics. We went to go see Diary of the Dead. (Did you know Google does movie listings?)

This led to the inevitable post-movie breakdown, and references to the best book evaaaaaaaaaaaah - The Zombie Survival Guide.

The top ten lessons for how to survive a zombie attack?

  1. Organize before they rise!
  2. They feel no fear, why should you?
  3. Use your head: cut off theirs.
  4. Blades don’t need reloading.
  5. Ideal protection = tight clothes, short hair.
  6. Get up the staircase, then destroy it.
  7. Get out of the car, get onto the bike.
  8. Keep moving, keep low, keep quiet, keep alert!
  9. No place is safe, only safer.
  10. The zombie may be gone, but the threat lives on.

Yet one more reason for Google to provide bicycle routes on Google Maps.

Conditions are perfect

March 06, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

I was reading through my feed reader and this post from LA Streetsblog popped up (Streetsblog is/are part of the The Open Planning Project (TOPP) - the same folks who produce those cool videos you’ve probably seen) - they were exploring whether or not LA might be prepared for an oil crisis.

Soon after reading the LA Streetsblog post, I checked in on the petition signatures and noticed a signature from New Zealand.

It was then I was reminded of one of my favorite songs of recent times — ‘Business Time‘ by Flight of the Conchords (who are from New Zealand). One of their key phrases in the song is ‘Conditions are perfect’.

I figure that’s pretty much what we’re witnessing right now, in terms of the worldwide bicycle movement. Conditions actually are perfect - or seem to be nearly so. Whether you’ve battled weight gain, are tired of sitting in traffic, hate paying an arm and a leg to fill your gas tank, or are concerned about climate change - the bicycle is the way to go. And these are just four very specific conditions that many of us think bicycling can help us address (I actually qualify for all four), but they are by no means the only societal problems that can be addressed with a movement towards a more bicycle and pedestrian-friendly existence.

I read a blog post from the Bike Commute Tips Blog about how folks with more money ride more/further (UK Times Online). I’m not sure what the implications of the report are, but I found it very interesting. The article is titled, ‘Ride a bike? You must be rich’:

The richer people become the further they cycle, according to official figures overturning conventional wisdom that the bicycle is largely a poor man’s mode of transport.

The richest fifth of the population cycle on average 2½ times as far in a year as the poorest fifth.

The Department for Transport’s National Travel Survey indicates that the poorest fifth, despite being five times less likely to have access to a car, are very unlikely to consider cycling as a solution to their transport needs.

The flip side of that UK Times Online article might be this article from The Miami New Times. Not to stray too far from what has been at least one of the major themes of this petition - safety - the article is titled ‘Cyclists Court Death Daily’. But the part that had the strongest impact on me was the section about Antonio Morales, which starts towards the bottom of page three:

Morales is one of Miami’s class of invisible bikers — laborers, the elderly, the working poor, immigrants who come from countries where two wheels are still the dominant mode of transportation. The city’s bike activists tend to be affluent and middle-class, easy to peg as any other latte-fueled crusaders. But head across the tracks — anywhere west of Biscayne Boulevard — and it’s obvious the people to whom bikes matter most aren’t Miami’s upper crust at all.

So, again, none of us has to buy into anything more than our desire to have bicycle routes mapped on Google Maps, but if you are concerned about many of today’s societal problems, we’re starting to see a clearer picture emerge of how bicycles, along with bicycles lanes and bicycle maps and other bicycle infrastructure, might be able to help us alleviate and/or even fix some of these problems.

I think that the worldwide enthusiasm we’re seeing for this petition is a reflection not just of the passion that many of us feel for Google’s well-thought out and well-engineered products, but of our genuine belief that things can, should, and will be better. If we could have a tool like this available at our fingertips, and made available to the tens of millions of people who would never have otherwise seriously considered biking as a commuting option, then we can bring about real changes - we can really help bring about a safer, healthier, and happier world.

Italiano, and ilikebike.org

March 05, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

Bibì Bellini of ilikebike.org has blogged about us, and has also done an Italian translation of the petition, which I’ve also added under the ‘Italiano’ button up top.

To see an English-language translation of ilikebike.org, click here. I have to say, this Google Translate tool seems to work pretty well - I can make out 95% of what is written, and figure out most of the rest from context. As an example, here is a Google translation of the top of the ‘Project’ page:

My name is Bibì Bellini. I live in Castel San Pietro Terme (BO), I am a journalist, but especially a cyclist. I do not have a car and my journeys I make them on bicycles and public transport: I boast of being environmental impact near zero.

For some time I have taken upon me the greatest gandhiana saying “Be the change you wish to see in the world” which is why among other things go by bicycle.

Very cool. So, the translation is missing some consonants and things like that, but it’s easy enough to make out. [If there are obvious mistakes in the Google translation, feel free to point them out, please.]

I really like the Mail Art for Bike project, which seems to be a type of collection of bicycle-themed mail/postcard artwork from around the world. Very cool. Bicycle art is cool because people like me can actually understand it and appreciate it. :)

Thanks again, Bibì!

Google.org Calls on U.S. Congress to Support Renewable Energy

March 05, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

Google.org is the non-profit arm of Google.com. Yesterday, they let Congress know that the various tax credits in place to continue to support renewable energy were important to Google, and to the world:

Yesterday Google.org, along with representatives from the business and venture capital community, called on the U.S. Congress and the Bush Administration to work together to quickly approve extensions of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) and Investment Tax Credit (ITC). The PTC and the ITC are tax incentives designed to spur the market for renewable energy and are critical to financing a new renewable energy generation. The credits are currently scheduled to expire on December 31, 2008.

Speaking at a news conference at the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference, Dan Reicher, Google.org‘s Director of Climate Change and Energy Initiatives, said: “We are at the dawn of a green energy revolution that could fundamentally reshape the way the world generates energy. It is critical that we get the policy right in order to drive investment in clean energy and push these technologies out of the lab and into the mainstream. Policy makers can make or break this revolution.”

If you’re not up on this green energy tax credit stuff - it’s very important. The interesting aspect is that renewable energy companies need to know now whether these tax credits will be in place next year so they can get busy planning for financing, construction, etc. If they can’t plan new projects - there won’t be new projects - it’s that simple. Google.org goes on to quote some facts and figures about jobs and so on. So, importantly, even a significant delay in re-authorizing these tax credits (subsidies) can greatly harm renewable energy initiatives.

If you don’t like the idea of subsidies, in general, then you should probably not be crazy about the $65 Billion in subsidies the U.S. government gives out to various U.S. industries every year. The best figures I’ve seen for the ‘Oil and Gas’ industry, for example, go about $5 Billion or $6 Billion a year. There’s ‘Ethanol’ - about $7 Billion or so, last time I checked. The list goes on. I couldn’t find one perfect source to cite, but these numbers seem to comport with what folks all across the political spectrum are saying - the Public Policy Institute, Cato, the GAO (Government Accountability Office), etc.

All that said, you don’t have to agree with Google.org, or me, or anyone else about the course of action we should take, save for one thing - if you sign the petition, you’re signing up to help us persuade Google that providing bicycle routes on Google Maps would be a very good thing. :)

And if you are Google.org (or anyone else) and you are interested in cutting emissions from wherever they come from - and however they contribute to climate change, then you’ll want to know about a growing consensus that cutting transportation emissions via fuel efficiency and other ‘clean energy’ technologies is not enough:

EU policies focusing mainly on improving vehicle technology and fuel quality are not enough to reduce the transport sector’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, argues the European Environment Agency (EEA).

Read the report here (pdf).

The Kickstand

March 05, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

Thanks to at least one member of The Kickstand (blog) for signing our petition. From their home page:

The Gainesville Community Bicycle Project, aka The Kickstand, is Gainesville’s newest community center. At our collective bicycle shop, you will gain access to tools, parts, and knowledgeable volunteers who will help you learn to build, fix, and maintain your bicycle.

Bicycles are empowering! With transportation comes opportunities, and anyone-regardless of age, race and/or gender-can enjoy the benefits of bicycle ownership. We hope to pair up recycled bicycles with those who need them, and engender a spirit of sharing and community around these two-wheeled wonders!

In Austin we have Austin Yellow Bike, and it probably wouldn’t be too much to presume that there are projects like these all over the U.S. and the world.

The closest college/uni to me is UT-Austin, and they have the Orange Bike Project. The University of Toronto has Bikechain. Ripon College has the Velorution Project.

If you don’t yet have a place like The Kickstand in your town, then start one. If you don’t yet have a program like Bikechain at your school or college or university, then start one. Don’t worry if you have no experience in organizing anything - everyone has to start somewhere. Don’t be deterred - plenty of people will say ‘no’ - plenty of people will say, “yeah, but…” - forget the haters - just keep pushing ahead. It won’t happen overnight. You’ll face plenty of obstacles, but your persistence will pay off.

And don’t be afraid to involve your local bike shops. Go and talk to them. Tell them your ideas. Tell them about the programs you read about online. Bring a print-out. Ask them how you can help each other be more successful. Listen to what they are saying. Chances are, they’ve been there, and done that. They can become your greatest allies. And many bike shops are small, community-type shops that may be hurt by big school/government-subsidized programs - we want to find ways that we can all be enthusiastic supporters of the major programs that are going to change the landscape for bicyclists and pedestrians. All of this is just my opinion, of course. :)

Thanks for representing, Kickstand, and best of luck to y’all, and to everyone making this happen!

Et tu, Москва?

March 04, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

And you, Moscow?

Yes. Unfortunately, the people of Moscow also must deal with hazardous road conditions if they want to hop on their bicycles:

Some maintain, however, that there is no point in extra bike stands, calling the roads “mental and unsafe for cyclists,” some think that the bike culture is just not for Moscow, mainly because of the extreme cold in winter and slushy dirt in-between seasons. With a distinct lack of bikes around the city and a knack of creating six lanes of traffic on streets designed for three, Moscow certainly does appear user-unfriendly for cyclists. Could it possibly pull some experience from other European cities such as London or Paris, where a large number of people cycle to work safely, crossing parks and cities on special cycle lanes?

[The bold is mine.]

I’ve just been looking for an excuse to use the caption from this cartoon. There’s no comparison, the context doesn’t match, etc., but now I’ll be able to sleep tonight. :)