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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 http://startwearingpurple.com/purplepedals, 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!

TransitCamp Bay Area 2 Report

September 13, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

TransitCamp Bay Area 2
Just got back from TransitCamp 2—definitely a cool experience. Here’s the idea behind TransitCamp:

TransitCamp is inspired by BarCamp. Bar Camp events are powered by participation and collaboration. TransitCampBayArea will highlight the public transit system in the Bay Area Region and will bring together transit officials and citizens to discuss stuff like: getting schedules on the go, the future of the Bay Area transit system, experiences and observations (not complaints, though), the websites, cool ideas for attracting more riders, etc.

Lots of transit-type folks were in attendance: folks from transportation agencies, at least one San Carlos official, transportation advocates of all types, at least one mostly-bicycle advocate (me!), a few regular transit riders, and at least a couple of guys from the Google Transit team.

I managed to corner Joe Hughes. I’m not sure what Joe’s position/title at Google is, but it’s obvious from Googling around that he’s been heavily involved in transportation/technology issues for a while (I found this funny story after a brief search on Joe’s name.). Bottom line, he knew about our website and petition, and thought it was very cool, but couldn’t comment one way or the other on what Google may or may not be doing with respect to bike mapping. He mentioned that when they first released Google Transit in the Portland area, about 30% of the feedback were requests for bicycle route mapping. So, no new news, unfortunately.

One of the folks present at the meeting was Aaron Antrim, who heads Trillium Transit Internet Solutions. I first found out about Aaron and his company when researching Google Transit, right about the time this blog started. I’d meant to cover Trillium earlier, but I dropped the ball. Nonetheless, Aaron’s company is important because he helps smaller agencies get online with Google Transit, in particular, those small-to-midsized transit agencies that don’t have dedicated IT staffs. I’d like to see the numbers, but I have a suspicion that transit ridership numbers started ticking upwards in cities and towns where Google Transit started rolling out. I think it’s that good. It would be difficult to tell now, with gas prices changing so rapidly, but it seems like Trillium provides a great service. The Google Transit Google Group (message board) is filled with folks from various towns all over America asking for Google Transit in their town. At that point, Google can only say, “Please have your town create and publish a data feed that conforms to the GTFS specification, and we’ll make the rest happen.” So maybe Trillium can fill some of the in-between space there.

I’m going to post a few more notes on today’s sessions over at the San Francisco Bike Blog when I get a moment.

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; RideTheCity.com

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 RideTheCity.com 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.

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.

RideTheCity.com Profiled on Major Tech Blog, TechCrunch

September 03, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

TechCrunch is the major blog covering all things Internet these days. It tends to focus on game-changing, technology-driven startups.

A few days ago they profiled RideTheCity.com, who we profiled a couple of months ago. Here’s what TechCrunch had to say:

RideTheCity is a cool mash-up application that allows you to plan bike routes based on safety and speed. By typing—or selecting—a start and end location in New York City, the application will find the safest and quickest routes by factoring in bike routes for “safest” trips and the shortest travel distance for the quickest trips.

The project is run by three bikers, Jordan Anderson, Vaidila Kungys, and Josh Steinbauer (Full disclosure: I went to college with Jordan but found out about this via NPR.) who connected Google maps to a few basic heuristic rules and added a cool logo. The GIS data comes from the city itself and is merged with Google Maps for display.

“Sometimes the most daunting thing about riding a bike in New York is figuring out the best route to take. How do you get to the bridge entrances? What’s the best way to Central Park from the Hudson River greenway? We created this website to help beginning bicyclists answer those questions,” said founder Jordan Anderson.

Just a small secondary link from that article to our site (http://googlemapsbikethere.org/) managed to bring us to a crawl. Let’s hope that the extra attention for RideTheCity.com helps bolster their efforts. And thanks to RideTheCity.com and TechCrunch.com for raising the profile of our collective efforts.

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.