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


Neal Peirce,, and Market-rate Parking

August 29, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

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 A blurb on the home page offers this greeting and description:

Welcome to! 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.”

How To Calculate the Speed of a Commuting Bicyclist

August 25, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

That’s not something I’ve thought too much about, but we know that BBBike does it, so presumably, if Google Maps were to provide a “Bike There” feature, they would want to provide a travel-time estimate, so they would need to be able to estimate the speed of the average bicycle commuter. Fortunately for us, Joel Fajans, a physics professor at UC-Berkeley, has done the research. He introduces his work with physics and bicycles this way:

Combining my work and hobby, I’ve spent some time investigating the physics of bicycling. Did you know that to turn a bike to the right, you actually push the handlebars to the left? And contrary to the beliefs of most physicists, the stability of a bicycle has little to do with the angular momentum in the wheels. I’ve written a nontechnical summary, and a technical tutorial paper on the bicycle steering. The calculations in the paper were done in MathCad, and can be downloaded.

A PDF version of the article is here.

We’re big on research, so it’s great to find another great source of good information.

Can’t say the “push the handlebars to the left” makes sense to me, but what do I know? I guess you push on the left side of your handlebars and pull on the right side.

From this page, we read that Melanie Curry is the managing editor of ACCESS, a transportation journal published quarterly by the University of California Transportation Center at Berkeley.

I stumbled onto the work of Fajans when doing some quick research for a post about stop sign laws.

A cycling professor, huh? Hmm. Remind you of anyone?

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, 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. 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. 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, The first blog in the network is San Francisco, at News and information at the main URL,, 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, 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, I started thinking, “Why doesn’t Palo Alto have a bike blog? Where is” (I was living in Palo Alto at the time.)

The more I read, 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 seemed to have an amplifying effect. Whatever bike advocates in Portland were up to, they were made more effective because of—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

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.

Google Testing Walking Directions

July 10, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

This is not just hearsay—this has really been released into the wild, in Beta (test) form, for a few users in a few different cities. Google Operating System blog has a screenshot, and backs it up.

The one curious thing that jumps out at me is the lack of a “Public Transit” option on the screenshot; there is a “Drive” option and a “Bike” option. Not necessarily all that interesting, but curious. Once you start talking about walking or biking directions, you have to start planning for true multimodal transport directions—being able to get a route based on your specific walk/bike/mass transit/drive preferences.

This is a great development. We’ve talked before about how we need to put pedestrians at the top of the transportation hierarchy (something which not everyone may agree with), and this new feature will help us to do that. Our FAQ #9 addresses walking directions. Lots of people who signed the petition, left comments on this blog and other blogs, and sent emails were very interested in walking directions, so I’m very happy to see that they are finally getting them, or hopefully will be shortly.

A lot of the expertise that Google developed and/or acquired to make this happen can only mean very good things for our efforts to see bicycle directions.

In the meantime, we can hope that Ride the City continues to fill out their offering, and then expands it into our cities and towns.

A quick aside: a company that works in the “online directions” space, based out of New York, is HopStop.

So, a hearty congrats to the Google folks! We wish them the best of luck in rolling this out around the world. Let’s push for bicycle directions next!   :)


July 10, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

Reddit is a popular social news website. Today, we made their front page:

Now, we just need a bit more help to push it up to the top and keep it there for a bit. It could help us get lots of exposure, so please consider rolling over there, doing the quick sign-up (which does not require an email address, I don’t think), and voting up our petition. I’ve been an on-and-off-again user of Reddit, so I already had an account.